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

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Our homeschool activities for term 4

Hey friends,

Last term I jumped from homeschooling one child to two, and this term I've jumped from homeschooling two children to three. Luckily the pattern stops there, since I don't have any more children to homeschool.

This term our schedule should be a little lighter than previously. The girls have finished club netball for the year and J has finished Kindy. We've also taken a break from formal swimming lessons for the term, although I'm planning to take the kids for casual swims at the pool when our other homeschool friends are there.

J's Kindy graduation ceremony was really sweet and made me cry. I had been thinking I'd keep him on at Kindy till the end of the year, or even until he turned six next year, but he asked to graduate. I think it was a right of passage for him. He'd watched all the older children at Kindy turn five and graduate, so his expectation was that he'd do that too. It seemed like a bit of a shame to have him leave when he didn't need to, but he had been there for over two years and was ready to move on, so I agreed.

He'll be pretty busy homeschooling anyway since, now that he's five, he can join our Christian homeschool group. The group meets once a week to do a sport and an art class. This term we're doing netball and string art. (Last term the activities were Maori and Celtic folk dancing.) It's pretty awesome that the sport for this term is netball, since that will allow the girls to keep up their skills in the off-season, and it gives J a chance to learn the game the girls love so much.

With our Christian homeschool group we'll also be going on a couple of excursions. One is a picnic at the Auckland Botanic Gardens and the other is to watch the stage performance of Shrek the Musical.

We are also part of another homeschool group that meets once a week. In that group, both my girls are taking a robotics class and a creative journaling class. L is also doing a jazz dance class while S and J do a Christmas crafts class together. J will also do Kiwisports so he can burn off some energy. This particular homeschool group meets next to a library, so J and I always spend the first hour reading books together. We both love it.

J has been desperate to do athletics all year, because he loves running and jumping. I took him to his first meet up with a local club this week and he loved it. Neither of the girls are keen to do athletics again, but I'm hoping they'll get so bored watching J every week, they'll end up joining in too.

L is continuing her Suzuki violin lessons and I've been amazed by how much progress she suddenly seems to be making. She spent most of the year working on variations of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, really mastering her technique, but now all that groundwork is paying off as she has started learning new songs in rapid succession. It's making practise time much more exciting for all of us, I tell you.

S is also continuing with her piano lessons this term, and even though she isn't doing them through a Suzuki teacher, I've been encouraging her to practise all of her songs every time she sits down at the keyboard, just like she would with the Suzuki method. It means she warms up on the songs she knows well, before tackling new songs. It also means she never forgets a song once she learns it, so she will always have a large repertoire to play. And it means she spends most of her practise time mastering songs, and only a small portion of her practise time on the difficult task of learning new material, so that overall she feels more competent about her skills whenever she sits down at the keyboard.

I have both girls filling out a 100-days-of-music practise chart at the moment. Once they've completed their charts, they'll be rewarded with a prize that they can not earn any other way. It was a motivation technique I picked up from the Andrew Pudewa homeschool conference this year and it's been really motivating for both girls. (Andrew Pudewa is the director of The Institute for Excellence in Writing and a regular speaker at homeschool conferences. I picked up so many helpful ideas from his conference.)

J isn't doing any formal music lessons yet, but we bought him a ukelele for his fifth birthday and he has fun strumming on that and doing his music practise like his big sisters.

The only other formal class happening this term is an after-school art class that L goes to. She's been going to this art class all year and absolutely loves it, as well as the group of girls who take the class with her.

I recently renewed our annual Friends of the Zoo pass, so we'll be spending lots of time at the Auckland Zoo while we have that. We went there with friends during the recent school holidays, but it was so busy I felt exhausted by the end of it. I love going during the week when it's not so packed. One of the perks of homeschooling!

This morning the kids and I went to a Literary Quiz organised by my wonderful friend, Erin, from Auckland Home Educators. The kids had so much fun and are already asking when the next one will be.

The homeschool shelving unit I set up in our dining room is working really well for housing all the kids' schoolwork. J has his work in a little filing divider under the stationary on the top shelf; L has her bookwork on the next shelf down; S has her work on the shelf under that; And I use the cupboards at the bottom to store stamps, water paints, washi tape, drawing paper and various flashcards and educational games.

Today I decided to set up a second small bookshelf in our dining room to house our shared homeschool library. This library includes reference books, bibles and read-aloud story books. On the top of the bookshelf I've set up a looping basket, which I'll explain shortly.

For our main unit study this term, we're studying Ancient History using The Story of the World curriculum.

To support this ancient history topic, I've set up a looping basket full of books I bought secondhand from the library's three-for-$1 stand. The basket lives on top of the new bookshelf in the dining room, and is easy to carry to wherever we want to work.

This week I took the basket out to the deck and the kids worked on our outdoor table there. We were learning about how the Minoans used to somersault over bulls' backs to entertain crowds in vast arenas. Immediately my kids had to try this for themselves on our trampoline, imagining they were somersaulting over bulls' horns. I don't think they'll be forgetting about the Minoan bull jumpers anytime soon.

For Language Arts and Literature, all the kids are doing The Good and the BeautifulThey're each on a different level, so I sit down with them individually at different points of the day to help them with their work.

I also get the girls to do copywork each day, which is something I picked up from Darci Isabella, a YouTuber who homeschools, and then which Andrew Pudewa also spoke about as being highly beneficial for helping kids to adopt sophisticated patterns of language. We tend to alternate copying a Bible passage with a poem.

I recently purchased Math U See Delta for L's maths curriculum and am finding it excellent. L watches a DVD at the start of each lesson, which explains the maths concept for the lesson in an easy-to-understand way, and then she works through the pages for that day's lesson.

I want to purchase Math U See for J and S as well, and hope to do so when our government funding for homeschool comes through sometime soon.

In the meantime, S is doing Step Ahead Maths and J is doing maths worksheets that I print off for him from Education.com. I bought a lifetime membership earlier this year, and I'm so glad I did because J requests multiple worksheets daily. At the moment he's going through a connect-the-dot picture phase, which has actually been really good because he's learned his numbers and his alphabet doing it, and has also learned skip counting in twos, threes, fives and tens, which will help him with multiplication later.

I also try to do lots of hands-on activities with J to help him cement his alphabet and numbers, like drawing them in coloured salt, or forming them out of play doh, or painting them with water paint.

And if you made it to the end of this post, you're amazing! I think I'll stop there, but feel free to ask any questions about what we're doing.

Emma xx

Saturday, October 13, 2018

We're getting chickens!

Hey friends!

I'm excited about today's post. It's been a long time in the making.

If you've been following Craving Fresh since its early days, you'll know we had chickens about ten years ago, but had to give them away because there really wasn't enough room for them in the yard we had at the time, and they were stinking up the place.

Now that we have a bit more room and I have my gardens set up the way I like them, I've reached the point where I want chickens to make my property more of a permaculture space. Chickens provide fertiliser for the gardens, they eat spent plants, weeds and scraps, and they keep the unwanted bug population down, all while providing eggs for us to eat. They are a permaculturalist's dream and I keep watching YouTube videos about people incorporating them into their homesteads in clever ways. Check out Justin Rhode's channel if you want to see what I'm talking about.

So, as much as I've dreamed about getting chickens again, I didn't think it would ever happen. For one, Paul was dead set against the idea (and still is). Two, I wasn't sure how to incorporate the chickens into our yard in a way that wouldn't result in all my gardens getting demolished, and everything getting covered in chicken poop.

But then my really clever and kind brother-in-law, Ben, designed the perfect solution for our space. And built it. And dropped it off to us these holidays. So the decision was made for us. Happy days!

I'm going to take you through Ben's design now, so you can appreciate how clever he is.

What he's built is a moveable chicken coop and run, that fits over my raised garden beds and can be moved in three parts.

Part 1 - A platform for the coop to sit on
Ben built a platform for the coop to sit on, which clips onto the end of any of my raised garden beds.

Folded metal bands hook over the edge of the garden bed and vertical metal bands dig into the ground to help support the platform from the other side. The platform allows the coop to float next to the garden bed, without taking up any space on the garden.

Part 2 - A chicken coop
The chicken coop sits on the platform described above, floating out from the end of the raised garden bed. It will provide a place for the chickens to sleep, lay eggs, and find shelter from the rain. We had lots of rain over the past few days, and the coop stayed nice and dry inside, so I think it will be a lovely home for the chickens.
The roof of the chicken coop is hinged and can be propped open for cleaning out the coop and collecting eggs. The coop has rope handles on either side to allow me to lift and move it to other parts of the garden.

The coop has two roosts built into its back corners, where the chickens can sleep at night. It also has a wooden nesting box with two compartments that Ben built for the chickens to lay their eggs in. The blue sheet plastic on the bottom of the coop is removable for easy cleaning.

On the back of the coop is a small top-opening door, which can be hooked open or locked closed.

I will lock the door closed when the chickens are inside the coop and I want to move them to another garden bed. Otherwise, the door will remain latched open so the chickens can move between their coop and chicken run, which I'll show you next.

Part 3 - A chicken run
Ben built this chicken run to fit exactly over my narrowest raised garden beds. I have five raised beds in total, but two are slightly narrower and longer than the other three. When the chicken run is on one of the three shorter gardens, as above, I'll use bricks to cover the slight gap at the end, otherwise the chickens might try to escape through it. The bricks will also help keep the run in place, if we have strong winds. The open end of the run butts up directly against the back wall of the chicken coop, so the chickens can easily move between the run and their coop, without escaping.

When Ben delivered the run, it wasn't covered with anything, so I got the chance to figure out how I wanted to enclose it. I chose to cover the main part of the run with square aviary wire to give the run extra stability, and then used cloche fabric to cover the exposed end of the run, so I could open that end to throw food scraps into the chooks.

I used a staple gun to secure the cloche fabric to the bottom and sides of the run, after I had sewed a fold into the top of the fabric and threaded a curved cloche wire through it. The ends of the cloche wire are longer than the fabric, so they can hook into the aviary wire on top to close the flap. It's really easy to unhook the wire to open the flap from the top, and then hook it closed again.

In order to be prepared for the incoming chickens, I spent a few minutes yesterday sketching out a garden plan and figuring out which order I'll rotate the chickens through my garden beds. There may come a point that I don't want the chickens on any of my vegetable gardens, at which time I'll move the chickens to another area of my yard, possibly with a larger, more open run area. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

The first garden the chickens are going into has been growing kale for a couple of years and needs a change of crop. The original kale plants went to seed and more kale plants popped up from that seed, so it's been kale, kale, kale ever since. I've also got kale growing in another couple of gardens, so I won't miss this lot. The chickens will get to eat the kale that's in there, as well as any slugs, snails and white butterfly caterpillars they find. They'll also turn the soil over for me and poop into everything, fertilising it nicely.

Before setting up the chicken run today, I topped up the garden it went onto with homemade compost from one half of my rotating compost barrel, and then covered that with a layer of wood mulch. The chickens should have fun scratching through the mulch, looking for worms, pooping in everything and turning it into lovely soil for my next crop. I'll try to add a few more loads of something like lawn clippings into the garden while the chickens are there, to get it nice and full before I move the chickens onto the next garden.

The other item Ben built for the chickens was a chicken feeder. It's pretty ingenious. He made it out of three bits of pipe fitted together, with the ends blocked off by plywood. You remove the top section of pipe to tip the chicken food inside. The food then gravity feeds down to the bottom section which has a hole cut out of it for the chickens to peck the food. I've taped up the hole for now to keep the food fresh until the chickens arrive, but it should be a good system for keeping the chickens fed if we need to go away for a weekend.

Now that we have this brilliant system all set up, we need chickens. Hopefully they'll be arriving tomorrow. We're just getting two, from friends of ours who are moving cities soon and needed to find a new home for their chooks. It will be interesting to see how this moveable system works with actual chickens in it.

I think that's everything I can tell you about the chickens for now. I'll update you when the chickens are here and tell you how it's all working in practise. In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions about our chicken system.

Emma xx