Saturday, August 11, 2018

Garden update August 2018

Hi friends! It's been so long since I've done a garden update, but it feels like spring has come a little early this year, so my thoughts are turning outdoors.

I've been making a lot of green smoothies lately, to take advantage of the abundant leafy greens I have growing. My smoothie recipes are ever-evolving, but my latest one featured silverbeet, spinach, three types of kale, parsley and mint from my garden.

While wandering around my yard last Saturday, I noticed the soil level on the raised bed pictured above was getting low. I'd recently sprinkled seaweed and used coffee grounds on all of my gardens, but that hadn't increased the contents of any of them by much, so I got to thinking about where I could gather more free garden fillers from for this particular bed.

On a whim, J and I drove to a couple of local cafes hoping to gather more used coffee grounds, but one of the cafes was closed and the other one had its own composting system. Not wanting to waste a car-trip, I filled up three large plastic containers with wood mulch that had been dumped at a local park and carted them home instead.

I was thinking about clearing out the low raised bed completely to refill it, but several of the plants in it were well established, so in the end I just moved the smaller plants to the next raised bed down the hill (pictured above) and dumped a layer of wood mulch around the more established plants. I also added sheep manure to help the wood mulch break down.

I was racking my brain for what else I could add to the garden to top it up, when it suddenly occurred to me that I have a compost bin full of grass clippings and various other garden material I've been chucking in there over the past year. Now, I must admit, I've mainly been using this compost as a place to dump garden waste, and haven't taken the time to stir it, or been particularly careful about my ratios of brown to green materials. As could be expected, when I opened it up, I discovered it hadn't broken down particularly well, but I figured it would break down eventually, mixed in with the wood mulch on the raised bed, so I pulled it out and spread it around.

Taking a break from the raised garden mission for a minute, I pulled out my loppers and pruned my nashi tree (pictured above) and one of my apple trees, which were both looking a little criss-crossed. I've never pruned a fruit tree before, but I understand the theory of it from having done a Certificate in Horticulture, so I decided to give it a go. Since it was my first time, I didn't take off many branches, just the ones that were obviously growing into the centre of the tree instead of out. If I had any doubts about a branch, I left it on, figuring I could get it next year if I need to.

I then spent an hour mowing our lawns and refilling the large compost bin with the grass clippings. It is always a treacherous affair mowing our lawns in winter, when the clay soil turns to bog, but it had been sunny for a couple of days so I got away with it.

I was definitely in the gardening mood and it was such a nice day that I just kept going. I emptied one half of my rotating compost bin (the half that has been composting away while we filled the other half) and sprinkled that over the raised bed I was trying to top up, as well as around my citrus trees, which always need more loving.

I had to take a shower after emptying the rotating compost bin, because there's no way to do it without getting smeared in stinky compost. I figured that was a good time to call it a day in the garden.

But I was straight back into it on Monday afternoon, when S helped me pull out the dormant asparagus crowns from around my citrus trees and move them to the raised bed I've been trying to fill. It was a tough job pulling them out. They did not want to budge. Their roots have really spread out since I planted them in the citrus garden last year. I needed to move them though, because over summer and autumn they were shading out our citrus trees. Since we'd all much rather eat fruit than asparagus, it was an easy choice to shift the asparagus.

I then collected another three containers of wood mulch and used it to finish topping up the raised bed I'd been filling, as well as to fill in the gaps I'd created in the citrus bed when I pulled the asparagus out. I'll need to top up the whole citrus bed with soil before spring really hits, but need to pull out all the strawberries and then replant them in the fresh soil to do that, so it's quite a big job.

My other gardens are doing their own thing at the moment. The other half of my wraparound deck garden is currently growing lettuce, carrots, coriander and strawberries.

The gardens I topped up and planted in June are doing well. I harvested some of the silverbeet for my smoothie this week and everything else is growing nicely (lettuce, broccoli, spinach, basil, kale and coriander).

This avocado tree planted itself from a discarded stone in the perfect spot, exactly where I wanted a big tree to grow to give us privacy from the road. It's doing well there, and even if we never get an avocado off it, I'll still be happy it's there. (I hope we do get lots of avocados though!)

Our feijoas are filling in and getting taller. I'm hopeful we'll get fruit off them for the first time next year. We all LOVE feijoas.

This plum tree, which I thought had died, has just started budding again. I'm so relieved. My other plum tree did die, so I'm not sure if this one will actually fruit unless I plant a companion plum tree for it, but at least I won't be starting completely from scratch.

Our Star Magnolia tree has been blossoming abundantly and scattering its petals like snow over our lawn. Beautiful.

My rosemary is almost as tall as our fence. It thrives in this hot spot against our house.

These are some of the pretty flowers I planted back in June. The purple ones are spreading well, and seem to have settled into their new home nicely.

So that's how my garden is looking at the moment. There's always more I'd like to do, but then I think back to how my garden looked when we bought this place two-and-a-half years a go, and I remember to be grateful. There was not an edible thing here when we moved in, and now there is an abundance.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Frugal Fun No. 22

This week I enjoyed several lovely (and free) morning walks. I haven't been exercising much this year and the weight's been piling on, so I got to thinking about what exercise I would actually be motivated to do. I always love walking when we're holidaying at the bach, because the beach there is so beautiful, but I didn't think I'd be motivated to walk near our house because we live on quite a busy road. However, I found a walk near home that takes me off the beaten track, and it's beautiful and serene. I really enjoy it. (Not quite as much as the beach, but pretty close.)

Last Saturday I told you I was taking the kids to a fun, free activity that afternoon. It was a harp exhibition called 100 Harps, where harpists performed, people sold harps, and anyone could play on harps themselves in a "harp petting zoo." As a teenager, I longed for a harp. I had visions of myself playing one while wearing a long flowing white dress, all angelic-like. It never came to anything, but now at least I can say I've strummed on a harp. (Bucket-list item 44 ticked.)

I took the kids to the harp petting zoo first, and they all had a little play. Then we went and watched a performance before heading back to the petting zoo again. The children were so much more expressive on their harps after watching the concert.

It was a beautiful afternoon, so after we left 100 Harps, I took the children to the Blockhouse Bay playground for fresh air and exercise. The playground looks out over a beach, and I COULD NOT resist filling up one of my reusable bags with seaweed for my garden. I just threw the bag into the washing machine after I had emptied it and now it's back into its normal shopping bag rotation.

On Sunday we had friends over for lunch - a simple potluck affair of rotisserie chicken, buns, oven chips, coleslaw and salad vegetables. Afterwards we all drove into the city to go to Cakes 'N' Ladders, a board game cafe that our friends have been to several times. You pay $2.50 per person per hour you're there, and get to play any of the board games in the cafe. It's a good way to try out board games you've been thinking about buying. The kids played several games with each other. Unfortunately I was coming down with a cold, which got the best of me while we were there, so us adults had to cut our game short. We all headed back to our house where I had a nap while Paul ordered pizza for everyone for dinner.

I knocked my cold on the head pretty quickly by taking lots of vitamin C, taking three drops of Lugol's iodine solution daily, and eating a clove of raw garlic.

This week I was able to make use of my emergency container several times. It's a container I keep in the boot of our car and it's filled with spare clothes for the kids, including togs and rain coats. It also holds a towel and a light blanket. We used jackets from the container twice this week, when the weather did a sudden 180, and we also used the blanket for the children to sit on during a class that was held on a cold wooden floor. I'm so glad I put this container together.

I've been trying to make the most of the abundant kale currently growing in my garden, by whizzing up green smoothies for my breakfast most days. I usually throw kale, spinach, parsley, frozen okra, frozen strawberries, frozen blueberries, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, collagen powder, cinnamon, vanilla, vitamin C, Natvia and water into my Thermomix and whizz it all up until smooth. I was adding a teaspoon of spirulina powder as well, but I've just run out so I'll need to buy more. My kids won't go near these smoothies, but I don't mind them.

On Monday morning I had an appointment with Voice Therapy at Auckland Hospital, because I've had a hoarse voice for almost a year now. The Voice Therapist stuck a camera down my nose and had a good look at my vocal chords. She showed me the videos after she'd finished and it was pretty fascinating. To make sound, your vocal chords are supposed to move towards each other at the same time, but mine have adopted a subtle follow pattern, which the therapist thinks might be due to nerve damage. I had a terrible cold when I went to SISTAS conference last year, but I sung anyway and it might have permanently damaged my vocal chords. I'm pretty devastated at the loss of my voice, because I've always loved to sing and now that's not really a possibility. My voice also gets tired reading to the kids, and I can't put the expression into their stories that I'd like to. I'm going to voice therapy again next week, where the therapist will work with me to make the most of the voice I do have. In the meantime, please pray that my nerves will heal and my voice will come back. I miss it.

While I was at my voice therapy appointment, Paul took the kids down the road to The Domain, The Winter Gardens and The Auckland War Memorial Museum. (He said they were able to pack so much into the hour because they didn't stop to take photos.) The kids LOVED the museum and have been begging to go back, so guess where Paul will be taking them when I have my next appointment?

On Tuesday night, Paul and I went to our regular parents' group and our friend babysat for us. She goes to the same parents' group, but on another night, and on those nights I babysit for her.

This week I started reading the recent release, My Plain Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows, but I just can't get into it. It's killing my life-long love of Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre, so I'm not sure if I'll finish it. I really loved these authors' first book, My Lady Jane, so I'm pretty disappointed that this book isn't living up to my expectations. Definitely go read My Lady Jane though, because it is awesome.

This week I also read (and actually finished) another book called All Your Perfects by Colleen Hoover. It's about a couple dealing with infertility and it made me cry, but in the best possible way. It's got some mature content, so I'd recommend it for more mature readers. It will definitely make you appreciate your spouse more.

I got both these books out from the library, because the library is awesome.

I've got more library books in my to-read pile, but lately in the evenings I've usually been watching YouTube to unwind. I really love Darci Isabella's channel, and through her I was introduced to Justin Rhodes' homesteading channel, which I'm also really enjoying. Both these YouTubers are making me long for my own flock of chickens though, and Paul is dead-set against that idea unless we move to somewhere with more land. Maybe one day.

This week was our first week of full homeschool activities this term, and it gave me a good idea of what term three is going to be like. Some days were seriously go-go from morning to night, while others were more relaxed. On the busy days I started to get anxious, worrying about whether we were going to be late to our activities. But then I realised I was stressing about the possibility of being late, not the reality of it. And I decided not to worry about something that hadn't even happened yet. If we ever actually were late for something, I decided I would deal with it then. It was amazing how much this inner pep talk calmed me down. We were slightly late a couple of times during the week, but it didn't actually matter anyway.

L has been coughing a lot in the evening this week, so last night I plugged in a diffuser in her bedroom and set it running with tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, and the World Organics essential oil combinations, Vitality and Joy. The diffuser was one my sister-in-law gifted to me, and I love it. I love being able to freshen the air in my home with essential oils. They smell amazing.


A friend recommended this Peanut Butter, Chickpea and Banana cookie recipe when I mentioned I had bananas that needed using. I ended up baking the cookies a couple of times, because they were so moreish. First I soaked and cooked up a big pot of chickpeas to use as the cookie base, because it works out a lot more economical to cook beans from scratch than to buy them tinned. The cookies turned out a lot softer than our other cookie recipes, more like a soft brownie, but the kids devoured them anyway so I called this recipe a win. It's certainly a lot healthier than our regular cookie recipe and any time the kids eat a healthy alternative to their favourite unhealthy treat, I do a happy dance.

I'm cooking a big meal for our church's youth group leaders this weekend, and I've been mulling over something frugal, simple and tasty to make. I've finally settled on pumpkin soup, so I'm currently simmering a big batch of chicken stock on my stove to use as the soup base.

On my kitchen counter, I also have a jar of milk kefir doing its thing, as well as an Easiyo container of yoghurt brewing. I used a couple of tablespoons from the Easiyo starter packet and mixed it with one cup of milk powder to make the yoghurt. It works out quite a bit cheaper than using one whole starter packet per batch of yoghurt.

I forgot to mention it, but when we went away on holiday, we turned the hot water off at home. It saved us a huge amount on our July power bill. Each week I get a power usage email, and I can see a sharp drop off on the days we didn't have the hot water cylinder running.

L seems to have shot up lately and outgrown a lot of her clothes, so I took her shopping at Kmart last night. While we were there, I found Be Kind tops in the clearance section, so I bought one for each of the girls. "Be Kind" is a constant catch phrase in our home, and I thought that having a visual reminder could only be helpful.

I think that's all my frugal news for now. What have you been doing to save money lately?

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Frugal Fun No. 21

Hey friends, as I mentioned in my last post, we had a very frugal holiday in Rotorua last week thanks to Paul's wonderful work, which paid for the entire week. It was back to reality this week though, footing our own bills again.

We got back from Rotorua on Sunday afternoon, by which point Paul had come down with a hideous flu so he pretty much fell into bed and hasn't really emerged all week. That meant all the unpacking, washing, cleaning, cooking, looking after kids, etc, fell to me. I was so grateful to have homemade pumpkin soup in the freezer, as I pulled it out and quickly reheated it in a pot on the stove.

Then, because I'm crazy, I stayed up way too late on Sunday night working on a photo album for J's upcoming birthday. I've made three photo albums for each of the girls to date, but so far J only has his baby one. I'm definitely in catch up mode because I don't want him to feel like the forgotten last child. If I get the album finished with plenty of time to spare, I'm hoping I'll be able to order it on sale.

The girls and I were able to eat the pumpkin soup leftovers for lunch later in the week, so it was the meal that kept on feeding us.

Monday was a really busy day of washing, homeschool activities, sports and grocery shopping, so that night I again made use of freezer supplies for dinner and reheated a Moroccan chicken meal I had in there. I served it with brocolli and rice that I'd cooked in the rice cooker with chicken stock that I'd also pulled out of the freezer. This particular Moroccan meal was one that the kids hadn't enjoyed the first time around. I was aware of that, so I tried to sweeten the deal by frying tortillas in butter to serve as a sort of Naan bread side. They all LOVED the faux Naan, even if they had to suffer through the Moroccan meal.

I hung the washing out on the line on our deck, where it's undercover, and kept rotating in new loads over the course of the week. A couple of times I used the drier or hot water cupboard to finish off loads where they hadn't completely dried in the winter air.

On Tuesday, the girls and I went ice skating with our homeschool group. Going as a group saved us quite a bit on ticket prices. I packed water bottles, a few mandarins, brazil nuts, chocolate and other snacks in my handbag to keep us going, so we wouldn't be tempted to buy food at the ice skating rink.

Afterwards, we went to The Rock Shop in Henderson to buy a piano music book for S, who has just started piano lessons. While we were there, I also purchased a sustain pedal for our Casio keyboard, so S can use it for her practises since we don't have room for a piano in our small house. We bought the keyboard off my parents, when Dad was having a clear out of their house. We've set the keyboard up in our lounge, and the kids sit on our ottoman to play. The ottoman was one I bought second hand from the Salvation Army Family store, and it doubles as our Duplo storage container.

While at The Rock Shop, I also bought a ukulele for J's upcoming birthday. I want all the kids to have instruments they can play when the mood strikes. L has her violin, S has the keyboard and J will have his ukulele. Of course, they can all play on the keyboard when S doesn't need it for her practises, and they do. L is actually quite excited about learning everything S does at her piano lessons. I will encourage J to share his ukulele with his sisters as well, although the violin is out of bounds as it's too delicate.

From The Rock Shop, the girls and I went to Henderson's Super Centre to run more errands. First we bought lunch, since I hadn't been organised enough to bring a full lunch for us. For the girls I bought Subway's Sub of the Day, which we cut in half so the girls could share it. I bought salmon sushi for myself from St Pierre's.

Next we went to Kmart to buy socks for the girls and lunchboxes for J and L. With all three kids going to a homeschool group this term, we needed more thermal lunchboxes to carry our Thermos Funtainers and other snacks in. Kmart had a good selection at an affordable price. That's where we got S's lunchbox from last term, and she loves it.

While we were at the Super Centre, we also popped into Kathmandu as I've been wanting to purchase good sleeping bags for the kids. Kathmandu had a sale on sleeping bags, and I was very tempted to get them there and then, but I held off as we'd already spent a lot of money this month on the new term of homeschool activities. I've taken a photo of the sleeping bags I want to get though, and when they go on an even better sale - 50% off or more - I'll purchase them to give to the kids for Christmas.

Tiredness caught up with me on Tuesday evening, so I bought Korma Curry and Naan bread for dinner from a local takeaway shop. We had enough leftovers for a hot lunch in our thermoses at our homeschool group later in the week, so that made me feel a little bit better about splashing out.

On Wednesday morning, the girls and I went down to the local football pitch to cheer on our homeschool group's soccer team, which was playing in a "World Cup" with teams from various West Auckland schools. (My girls weren't able to compete in the football tournament as they were too young.) Each of the teams represented a country, and had put together a project about that country which we checked out while we were at the football pitch. Our homeschool group had done their project on Russia, so when we got home, the girls and I watched a few YouTube videos about Russia: We watched one about Lake Baikal, which is the biggest lake in the world; We also watched a video that compared the size of Russia to other countries and continents (it's massive!); We watched a video about Moscow's ornate underground railway stations; And we watched a Crash Course on Russian history.

That night my cousin and his wife came over for dinner, so I served us all roast chicken, roast potatoes, gravy, green beans, peas, broccoli and cole slaw. The cole slaw was a bagged supermarket one, to which I added roast almonds to spice it up a bit. It was a very simple, but delicious meal to feed a crowd, and it got the job done.

Thursday was another busy day of sports, homeschool activities and library time, and I think Paul picked up on how tired I was getting running everything solo for the week, so he ordered us Pizza Hut for dinner. We had lots leftover, which served as lunch for the kids on Friday. For my own lunch I made a green smoothie (using kale, spinach and parsley from my garden, as well as frozen berries, frozen okra, spirulina powder, ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, collagen powder, cinnamon, vanilla, vitamin C and Natvia), and poached eggs on gluten-free toast.

On Friday morning, I popped into a local coffee shop on my way back from my morning walk and asked if they had any spent coffee grounds. They'd just pulled out a bag full of them from their coffee bin, so I gratefully took the coffee grounds home and sprinkled them on all my vegetable patches and around several of my fruit trees. I did a bit of weeding while I was out there, and also pulled out all the dead asparagus stalks. It felt good to be out in the garden, reconnecting with it after our long holiday away.

The kids and I then walked, biked and/or roller-bladed down to a kids' playtime/parents' cafe morning at our local church and the kids enjoyed playing with the toys and listening to story time there before biking/walking/roller-blading back home again.

I then spent a good couple of hours baking and catching up on housework while the kids played an epic (and very caring/sharing) game of Mario Monopoly. I made banana oat bran muffins to use some of the over-ripe bananas from our fruit bowl, but I forgot to add the baking powder so they emerged more like pancakes. They still taste okay, but the kids aren't devouring them they way they usually do with my muffins. I made the muffins with coconut oil and coconut sugar, to make them slightly healthier, but then I undid all that good work by sprinkling them with chocolate chips.

I've still got a couple of ripe bananas to make something else with, and my friend has shared a recipe link for Peanut Butter, Banana, Chickpea Cookies on my Craving Fresh Facebook page, so I'm cooking up a big pot of chickpeas in preparation of making them. I always love finding yummy baking recipes that are secretly healthy. Whatever chickpeas I don't end up using for this recipe, I will freeze in one-cup portions in my freezer for future recipes.

Once I had finally whipped my house into shape on Friday, we all sat down to an afternoon of bookwork. J loves doing bookwork with his sisters, and has a clearfile full of worksheets I've printed out for him. We managed to get all our bookwork done just in time to head out to Friday Club at our church, which is a programme for kids in the community. The theme this term is Carnival, and the kids loved every second of it.

On Friday evening, I cooked up a big pot of chicken barley soup using the leftover roast chicken from Wednesday night. I added a small packet of brown rice to the pot, since it had been sitting in our pantry doing not much all year. I get a strange sense of satisfaction clearing stuff out of my pantry.

Usually I whizz up the leftover chicken bones from stock and soup to apply directly to my garden, but this time I experimented with putting the bones into my rotating compost bin along with ripped up pizza boxes. Since rats can't get into the rotating compost bin, I'm interested to see what happens to the bones and whether the smell gets noticeably awful, or whether adding the cardboard and other wood mulch is enough to make it a good composting option for them. It's certainly an easy option.

I sat down at my computer desk again on Friday night and printed off worksheets from Education.com to fill J's homeschool folder. The girls kept asking me to print off worksheets for them too, and both ended up sitting on my bed filling them out. I'm really glad I bought our lifetime membership to Education.com. It's coming in so handy.

I also ordered the free level two Language Arts and Literature course from Good and the Beautiful for S, and printed it off on our colour printer. I remembered to print double sided this time, to save on paper. I've stapled the various chapters together and now we're ready to go starting next week. L is still working through level three of this curriculum, and it's really great.

Last night I felt like I was coming come down with Paul's flu, so I dosed myself with vitamin C, fish oil, iodine and raw garlic. Whooeee, raw garlic burrrrns! I still feel like the bug is on the cusp of becoming something more, so I'm taking vitamin C every hour or so and drinking plenty of filtered water to try and knock it on the head.

Saturday is the one day a week the kids are allowed screen time, so they're currently playing various games or watching Netflix/YouTube while I type this. I gave them popcorn and fruit for breakfast, and made myself a Trim Healthy Mama Chocolate Muffin in a Mug. Paul is still sick, so he's in bed. I'll take the kids out this afternoon to a special free activity I'm really looking forward to. I'll tell you more about it next week.

What have you been doing to save money lately?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Action packed holiday in Rotorua

Hey friends, I'm finally getting a chance to sit down at my computer after a busy holiday in Rotorua and then a busy week of post-holiday washing.

Rotorua was fantastic.

The trip was an all-expenses paid week of fun times with the development team from Paul's work, and their families. Since Paul's brother works for the same company, it meant we had family on the holiday with us too, which was really special.

We all stayed together in the same house, which was behemoth.
Above is a photo of my bedroom that I took when we first arrived. It stayed that tidy for approximately 3.7 seconds. After the first night, J couldn't hack it sleeping with the cousins in the kids' room, so he joined us on a makeshift bed of pillows on our bedroom floor.

The house came equipped with a spa pool, which we made good use of. The spa had beautiful views out to Lake Rotorua, which, of course don't show up as well in this photo as they did in real life.

We dedicated one lounge of the house to the development team, and they set up their desks and computers in there so they could code away at any time of day or night. Paul enjoyed the easy commute to work that week. It wasn't all about work for the guys, however, as they did get to join their families on several touristy activities.

Me and my sister-in-law on the gondola. 
Our first group activity was a sedate ride up Rotorua's gondolas and then an adrenaline-pumping ride back down on the luge tracks.

Our second activity was a mums and kids trip to Rainbow Springs, so the development team could get a full day of uninterrupted work in back at the house.

While at Rainbow Springs, we took advantage of the guided Kiwi tour and the bird show, as well as the Big Splash log flume ride and the adventure playground.  The kids also loved feeding the trout and playing on the various little playgrounds that have popped up around the grounds.

The third activity of the week was a Mums' only afternoon out at Polynesian Spa. We got to soak in the amazing mineral pools and then luxuriated in one-hour full-body massages.

After our massages, we spent half an hour unwinding in a relaxation room, drinking plenty of water and herbal tea, before heading to the cafe for a complementary fresh juice. I had a mixture of beetroot, carrot, ginger, orange and apple juice, which was heavenly and felt very cleansing. The whole afternoon was complete bliss, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Our fourth activity was a trip out to Waiotapu to see some of Rotorua's natural geothermal wonders.

Despite being a winter holiday, we enjoyed really good weather all week. Walking around Waiotapu was particularly enjoyable, especially with such unusual nature to behold. On our way out of Waiotapu, we stopped our cars again to see the bubbling mud pools, which are free to visit. I think they were the kids' highlight of the day, as they were so fun to watch pop and explode.

Technically the fifth activity of the week was when the development team went out for a movie night together, but since that didn't include me or the kids, I'll move onto our final group activity of the week, which was a visit to Whakarewarewa Maori Village.

Thermal cooking pool - constantly 90-100 degrees C.

A guide took us on a tour of the village, and it was fascinating to see how the villagers makes use of their geothermal waters to cook and bathe. It only takes 30 seconds to soft boil an egg in their large thermal cooking pool. I'm seriously jealous and am wishing I could somehow tap into geothermal in my own backyard.

While touring the village, we stopped and watched the geysers erupt for a while, took in a Maori cultural performance and then ate a thermally-prepared lunch / hangi in the cafe.

My sister-in-law and I bought matching hats in one of the cute gift shops at Whakarewarewa.  Actually, my sister-in-law bought her hat first, then I saw her wearing it and had to get one too. The colour is to-die for and I don't mind being twinsies.

As if the week in Rotorua hadn't been fabulous enough, Paul and I also got to celebrate our eleventh wedding anniversary while we were there. Since we had an Aunty and Uncle on tap to babysit, we went out for dinner at a gorgeous little Italian restaurant, and then wandered across the carpark to a new entertainment complex where we played a 3D motion-master-type shooting game and then a round of mini golf. It was a really fun night out - completely spontaneous and perfect, even if Paul did win everything.

As far as homeschooling on holiday went, I didn't sit down and do any bookwork with the kids, but I'm sure they were absorbing more from their real experiences of Rotorua than they could have from a book anyway.

Now that we're back into a new school term at home, I've been printing out photos of our trip and getting the kids to journal about their holiday to help cement some of those memories for them.

The whole week was wonderful, and it was a genius team building/ loyalty-building exercise for the company. All the families are 100% behind the company now. Well played!