Friday, December 7, 2018

A day in the life of three New Zealand homeschool kids

It's not my aim to sell homeschooling to you, but I must say that I'm falling in love with it a little bit more every day.

Some days are hard. Some parts of days are hard. But on the whole, it's a blessed life. Especially on glorious days like today, when we get to ditch the books and go adventuring instead.

A friend of ours has been talking about the Lake Wainamu bush walk near Bethell's Beach for a while now. It's one of the few tracks still open in the Waitakere Ranges, after most were closed at the start of this year to prevent the spread of Kauri Dieback disease. I figured the walk probably gets busy over the weekend, but luckily our family doesn't have to wait for weekends to go exploring our beautiful countryside.

This morning I looked at the blue skies and decided it was a grand day for an adventure. I packed a picnic lunch and the kids' togs and towels, and then we set out for Lake Wainamu.

The drive there was beautiful. It took us through picturesque farmland and native bush, but nothing could have prepared us for the spectacular scenery at Lake Wainamu. I'll let my photos do the talking, although they really don't do it justice.

Enormous black sand dunes. The kids felt like they were in a desert.
Oasis sighted. A glimpse of the lake in the distance.
Sliding down the sand dune towards the lake. 
Washing hands in the lake before a picnic lunch.
The start of the Lake Wainamu loop track. 
Walking anti-clockwise around the lake. 
Big sister to the rescue when little brother's legs got tired. 
Washing hands in a stream halfway around the lake, before having another snack. 
And then this stunning waterfall surprised us all. 
The kids were so refreshed by swimming in these cool waters.
The girls even dived under.  
At the end of the lack track, back where the dunes meet the river. 
Following the river back to the carpark. 
It was a big day. We left home at about 10am and didn't get home till after 4pm, but the kids all managed the walk admirably, I think because the scenery kept changing the whole time and made things interesting. The kids all took turns carrying one of the backpacks, while I carried the other.

I thought it was a good opportunity for them to build their stamina, while breathing in fresh air and seeing more of the gorgeous world their loving God has made for them. S told me she will remember this day for as long as she lives.

We were completely knackered by the time we got back to the car, so I'm sure we'll all sleep well tonight.

I highly recommend the Lake Wainamu to anyone living in or visiting the Auckland area. (I also highly recommend homeschooling, if it's something you feel nudged towards.)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Loving the backyard life

We are a week into summer here in New Zealand and this How to Dad video totally sums up how it's been. Five minutes after I took the photos for this blog post, it started raining so heavily, I thought it was hailing.
My garden seems happy about all the rain though. Everything is shooting up and producing fruit. We enjoyed a lovely morning tea of strawberries, asparagus and carrots yesterday, and a homegrown salad with dinner last night. A lot of produce still needs to ripen before we can eat it though, so I'm exercising my patience.
Tomatoes.
Potatoes and spinach.
Cucumbers, lettuce, kale and marigolds. 
Blueberries.
Peaches.
Plums. 
Broccoli gone to seed. 
I let this broccoli plant go to seed, because I had already harvested several heads off it and now I'm hoping to collect its seeds and recreate the same broccoli abundance in the future.

The enjoyment I get from seeing my plants grow is only surpassed by the joy I get from watching my children play outside. They are always up to something out there, when the weather allows it.
L checking for eggs. 
A couple of days ago, our neighbour gave us a 25KG bag of organic wheat she wasn't able to use for her wheat-pack business because it had wheat weevils in it. She thought my chickens might enjoy it, and she was right.
The chickens are loving the wheat and I've been experimenting with soaking it first to make it more digestible for them. My kids like taking turns spooning the wet wheat into the chicken run, like real farmers.
My kids have always liked climbing our Titoki tree, but recently they've set it up as their base of operations. S rigged up a swing out of an old hose, which she hung from one of the branches. She tied a piece of wood to it and, now the kids take turns swinging and chatting away to each other about kid stuff.
Another outdoor area the kids gravitate to is the mud table that J's godfather built J for his birthday. My children mainly use it as a potion creation centre or a construction workbench. We placed the mud table near the fairy table, so the kids hop between the two and use that whole area of the garden like an outdoor home.
J's other favourite outdoor game at the moment is trampoline soccer/football. He kicks the ball against the net and works out all kinds of trick, chatting away to himself the whole time.

I love that my children are making our backyard their own now, connecting to it and the place that so much of our food comes from. We are setting down roots here, and it feels good.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Life lately

Hey Friends!

There's so much I've been wanting to share with you lately - things I've mentioned in passing here and there but haven't had the time to do a full post about - so today I thought I'd write a brief catch-up post on all sorts of different things.

If I forget to mention something you've been wondering about, please let me know in the comments below or on Facebook.

Our chooks
Lovely shady spot at 3pm in the afternoon. 
The chickens are onto their third raised garden bed already. I've been moving them fairly quickly because I wanted to get each of the gardens planted as soon as the chickens had fertilised them a bit. I'll probably leave the chickens in their current garden for a while, as it gets morning sun and a little bit of light evening sun, but is mostly shaded from the hot afternoon sun, making it the ideal place over summer. I've also attached a small tarp to the top of the chicken coop, which can extend over the run a little way to protect the chickens from rain or sun if need be.

Moving the chickens is pretty easy, as long as I have the help of one or more of my children to lift the coop, platform and run with me. The chickens don't seem too unsettled by all the moving around either, which is good.
Homegrown eggs. 
One of the chickens has been laying every two or three days, and the other chicken doesn't lay at all. It would be nice if they both laid, because that would probably keep us in all the eggs we need, but I'm not too worried. I mainly wanted chickens for the job they do fertilising my gardens and eating pests.

Our garden
Kale and cucumbers. 
I planted telegraph cucumbers in the first garden my chickens had lived in. Unfortunately the ducks then jumped into that garden and ravaged the kale that had been protected by the chicken run, trampling the newly planted cucumber plants in the process. I think the cucumbers might survive, but I planted a couple more just in case. We love cucumbers around here.

I've planted potatoes and spinach into the second garden the chickens lived on. I've also liberally sprinkled it with coriander seeds I saved last year.

The garden the chickens are currently on only has a zucchini plant in it, but that's getting a little bit damaged by the chickens, who seem to like nesting on it. It might not survive the chooks.

Strawberries.
Strawberries are going gangbusters all over the show. There are always lots that can be found by anyone wanting to go on a treasure hunt around our yard. J ate the first homegrown raspberries this week and there are blueberries, blackberries, plums, nectarines, peaches, feijoas, apples, nashis, lemons, oranges and mandarins currently budding or setting fruit.

House painting
I spent most of October painting the upper level of our house. It all got done thanks to some stellar weather, and is looking like a whole new home. I went for a single colour palate to keep things fresh and simple. I'm really pleased with how it turned out and thrilled that I won't have to climb up scaffolding again anytime soon.

Homeschooling
The children and I went to the Auckland Botanic Gardens this morning for a wander and a picnic with our homeschool group. We listened to Anne of Green Gables on our drive there and the kids were inspired to name all the little woods and groves we came to by Anne-worthy names like The Whispering Woods. We had a delightful time.

J finished his first Good and the Beautiful language arts and literature curriculum this week. He loved doing it and flew through it. He's now confident on all his letters and the sounds they make, so I've purchased another Good and the Beautiful curriculum for him that will help him learn to read. I'm planning to buy him a Math U See curriculum also, because L has been learning so much from the one she's doing and we both find the DVD explanations really good.

I managed to purchase a lot of science equipment last week from a woman who has just finished up homeschooling. I bought a microscope, a bunsen burner, a magnifying glass, beakers and other items that will help us do interesting experiments at home. I think science will be a focus for us in term one of next year, once I get my head around it.

The girls are making great strides on their music lessons. L has started doing group violin lessons once a fortnight, in addition to her individual lessons, and she really enjoys those. S is preparing to play We Three Kings at her Christmas recital next month.

We are going to see Shrek the Musical at the Aotea Centre next week, which should be a fun experience for the crew.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free - Galations 5:1
This week the children and I spent every spare minute doing creative journaling, after a friend showed me her gorgeous journaling Bible at homeschool group. You can check out my friend's pages on instagram. They are stunning.

And that will have to do for this update, as my laptop is running out of batteries and my charger has stopped working.

Emma xx

Monday, November 19, 2018

Easy mango lassi recipe

As the weather heats up, my kids have been craving mango lassis, which they discovered earlier this year on our Rotorua holiday.

To satisfy their craving for something cool and refreshing, I've developed a super simple mango lassi recipe that only takes a minute to whip up in my Thermomix. (It might take longer in a less powerful blender.) My kids devour these drinks, and equally enjoy them in ice block form - I just pour some of the mixture into an ice block mould and freeze for a couple of hours.

Ingredients

  • 3c frozen mango pieces
  • 2c vanilla yoghurt
  • 227g tin pineapple pieces with juice
  • 1/2c water (or more to get a good mixing consistency)


Method

  1. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed until smooth.
  2. Serve and enjoy. 
This recipe makes three good-sized mango lassis, with a little bit leftover for ice blocks. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

New seating with storage for our dining room

Hey friends and fellow frugalnistas,
I've been dreaming of a bench seat with storage for our dining room since I started homeschooling L a year ago. It just seemed like the best idea, since the dining table is where we do most of our bookwork.

I was trying to work out how I could build something custom for the space when my neighbour asked if I wanted a low shelving unit her husband had already built that her family no longer needed. I snapped it up when I realised it was the perfect height for our dining room and had three cubbies - one for each of my children. It's super sturdy too and comes on wheels, so it's easy to shift around when needed.

The only thing the shelving unit was missing was a soft squab to sit on, so I started crafting one up as soon as my lovely neighbours dropped the bookshelf off.

To make the squab, I simply cut down a foam mattress we already had to the size of the top of the bookshelf. I then covered the mattress with a white slip cover that I sewed out of an old duvet cover. The slip cover buttons at one end, so can be removed for washing.
I then sewed what basically amounts to a colourful fitted sheet, to go on top of the white slip cover. It's even easier to remove than the slip cover, and should hide any food stains fairly well with its colourful pattern.

I don't have a sewing machine, so hand-sewed the whole thing. It took aaaages, but inspired L to get sewing too and we had a lovely time crafting side by side. She made herself a book bag, which she's really pleased with.
I already had the fabric for the fitted sheet cover, and I reused elastic from a worn out fitted sheet to make it, which means that the entire seating area cost me nothing out of pocket.

I still need to work out exactly what I'm going to use each of the cubbies for. At the moment they're taking the overflow from our homeschool shelving unit, which might be all they need to do. I'll have a proper look at all our homeschool stuff and figure it out at some point. Right now I'm just enjoying having somewhere to put books and science equipment that we don't use on a daily basis.

The kids love sitting on the new bench seat, and our cat has adopted it as his new favourite place to sleep, so everyone's happy with how it's turned out. We can easily fit three children along the bench seat, where we only used to be able to fit two dining chairs, so it should make entertaining guests easier too.
It's funny because the longer we stay in this house, and the more we customise the furniture to our needs, the larger the house feels to me. I'm really loving our home. It's my happy place.

Monday, October 22, 2018

One week chicken update

Hi Friends!

How has your week been?

I know many of you were excited to hear how the chickens were settling into their new custom-designed moveable chicken coop, so I'm thrilled to bring you this update on how the first week went.
My friend, Anna, delivered the chickens to us last Sunday evening. Thanks Anna!
We deliberately chose to move them after dark, when they had settled down for the night, because it was easy for Anna to lift them from their coop into a travel box and drive them over to our house. The chickens were so sleepy, they settled really quickly into their new coop.

We have apparently inherited a White Bantam and a White Silkie. My daughters have named them Saffie and Fluffles. (Fluffles is the fluffy Silkie.)
The chickens were very nervous their first full day here, but they've gradually got used to us and their new home.

What has surprised me most is how much I love the chickens. I didn't think I was much of an animal person, but I spend loads of time out in the garden, observing the chickens to see what they like and don't like. It brings me so much joy.
It's like my own personal Garden of Eden out here. Especially when the ducklings wander over to say, "Hello."

We've even had two eggs already! (The little white ones in the carton below.)
According to Anna, only Fluffles lays eggs, and she's a bit sporadic about it, but I'm hoping we can change that. We've been crushing up egg shells and dropping them into the run for the chickens to eat so they can replenish the minerals they need to form their own egg shells. I'm hoping this will encourage Saffie to start laying again. Can you think of anything else I can give her to help her lay?
We've been feeding the chickens some of our food scraps and I've also been throwing a few handful of slightly aged lawn clippings into their run each day. I found the chooks weren't really digging through the wood chips the way I'd hoped. I think the chips too big and heavy for them.

Saffie and Fluffles really love scratching and pecking at the lawn clippings though. They eat the aged grass and look for grubs in it, spreading it around the run, which helps cover up their poop and keeps the odour down. This was exactly what I'd hoped they'd do, because I want the chickens to build up the soil in this garden bed before I move them onto the next one.

I'll need to do another layer of wood mulch over the lawn clippings soon, otherwise it will end up a sludgy mess. I think I'll sprinkle wood mulch first and then seaweed, because apparently that's a good food source for chickens and it will also help build up minerals in my soil. I'll try to remember to collect a container of sand when I'm at the beach too, for the chickens to peck at.
Anna gave us her old chookateria and waterer for the chickens. The waterer has been great, and my daughters take turns filling it up with fresh water every few days. I placed it up on the wooden corner of the run, which is a good height for the chickens and helps keep the water clean. It is also shaded by the wall of the coop for most of the day, which keeps the water cool.
The chickens didn't seem to be using the chookateria though. I wondered if they were too light to open the lid. It also took up a lot of room in the run, so I removed it and have been using the pipe feeder my brother-in-law, Ben, made instead. It's perfect because it's mostly vertical so it doesn't take up much ground room. The chickens can easily come along and peck at the food whenever they get hungry.

It hasn't rained since we put the pipe feeder in the run, so I'm not sure what will happen to the little bit of exposed food when it does, but at least most of the food is protected by the sealed pipe.
I threw in a big handful of fresh grass that had gone to seed this morning, and the chickens seemed to enjoy eating the seeds off that. I like adding new things to their run each day, to keep things interesting for them, since they will be confined to one garden area for a few weeks.

I had hoped the chickens would eat all the old kale down in the chicken run area, but they only nibble at it and tend to use it as shade cover instead.

They're not as destructive in the garden as I thought they would be. That's actually a good thing though, because it means I'll be able to put the chickens in my asparagus garden eventually, and they shouldn't destroy the asparagus like I had feared they might. It gives me more options for moving them around my various garden beds.
The flap I designed for the end of the run works really well. It's super easy to open to throw grass clippings into the chicken run.
To access the other end of the run - for changing the water and throwing in grass clippings - I just swivel/slide the coop on it's platform away from the run to create a gap.
Anna gave us wood shavings for the coop, which forms a lovely soft nesting area and absorbs the wees and poop. I remove the poop daily and put it on other gardens. It's a great fertiliser, and the main reason I wanted chickens.

I saw on a recent YouTube video by Darci Isabella that she uses pine needles for her nesting boxes, so I may try that as a free resource underneath the wood shavings. I can't imagine pine needles absorbing liquid in the same way the wood shavings do, but they'd smell nice at least.
I've also been sprinkling Diatomaceous Earth on the chickens' bedding area, to help kill any flees and mites that might try to harbour there.

The whole system Ben created is working beautifully and is so easy to operate. Even Paul has been pleasantly surprised. I think he's coming around to the chickens!

That's about all the chicken news I can tell you for now.  Let me know if you have any other questions.

Emma xx