Saturday, June 22, 2019

How our garden is feeding us over winter

Even though it's winter here in New Zealand, my garden is still cranking out a decent harvest each week - and I'm loving it.
I have my pick of kale, spinach, coriander (cilantro), basil and parsley every day for salads, smoothies or sandwich toppings.
I've also been harvesting and boiling beetroot to add to my salads when I feel like it. They add such a lovely pop of colour. Yesterday, I even remembered to chuck the beetroot leaves into my smoothie for an extra iron boost.

Nut Fox has starting laying an egg a day, and although they're pretty small (since she's a young Silkie), they taste great. Rosie Posie is a few weeks younger than Nut Fox, but she should also start laying soon. Fluffles seems to have aged out of laying for us, but that's okay. She's still leaving her fertiliser deposits around the raised beds, which is the main reason I wanted to get chickens.

Fruit-wise, our feijoas only finished a week ago, but we're still getting a steady supply of limes, mandarins, lemons and oranges. In fact, I'm drinking a freshly squeezed lime juice as I type this. It's my absolute favourite drink.

Oh, and it's not just fresh garden produce we're eating. Many of our dinners also feature homegrown veges I froze during the summer months. I regularly throw grated zucchini, tomato puree or cherry tomatoes into meals such as curry or spaghetti & meat balls.

It's so satisfying eating all this fresh, vibrant food we grew right here at home. And it seems like every year the harvest is multiplying, especially now that our fruit trees are getting more established. I can't wait to see what next year brings.

What has your garden been producing for you lately?

Monday, May 13, 2019

Our homeschool schedule for term two 2019

After a fantastic Easter holiday, we're back into all our homeschool activities for term two. This is what's keeping us out of mischief this term...

The girls have both signed up for netball again. Last year we were blessed to have the girls in the same team as each other, which meant training and games were all at the same time. Alas, this year they're in different teams, so we're out at the netball courts three days a week. The girls love it though so it's worth it. Netball is such a fun sport.
L is still doing Suzuki violin lessons and will be performing in her first ever Town Hall concert this month. She's nervous about it, but there will be so many other children performing with her, I think she'll be okay.

We really tossed up whether to continue S's piano lessons this term. Her teacher is wonderful, but S has been throwing way too many tantrums around practise time at home. In the end, I decided to keep her in the lessons because I think music is so valuable, but it wasn't an easy decision when lessons cost as much as they do. She seems to be doing better this term, so I'm glad we kept her in.
As part of our Christian homeschool group, the kids are all doing Touch Rugby for their sport this term. The group also runs art classes, and this term J is doing salt dough modelling with the littlies, while the girls do lino screen-printing. All the kids are loving their art classes.

Last week we stayed after the official sessions had ended and had lunch with everyone and then played for a couple of hours. My kids all ended up playing soccer on the field with their friends and didn't want to leave.

Every term we go on a couple of trips with our Christian homeschool group. This term we've already been rock climbing at Extreme Edge in Panmure. That was such a great day and we're now planning to hold J's birthday party there, because it was so fun.  With our homeschool group, we'll also be going to the Auckland War Memorial Museum in a few weeks. Oh, and we're going to see the stage show of Annie, as an extra activity one of the mums organised.

The kids also attend classes run by another homeschool group, and this term J is doing the Little Ferns nature class again because he absolutely loved the one he did last term. Every week the teacher brought in such interesting and exciting material from nature - like birds nests and fossils - and she ran really fabulous activities that the kids got so involved in. This term, J is also doing Gymnastics, Art Play and Fit Kids.

S is doing a polymer modelling class, a Jazz fun dance class and a visual art landscape painting class.

L is doing the same Jazz dance class as S, as well as basketball and a Lego class. We tried to get her into the polymer modelling class with S, but it booked up too fast. The homeschool group is getting bigger and bigger each term, with more families joining. I'm not sure if that's because more families are homeschooling, or if more people are finding out about the group.

For our school work at home, we are continuing to use Math U See for mathematics, but we are also supplementing that with Prodigy Maths sometimes, which the kids all love.

We are continuing with The Good and the Beautiful for language arts, literature and geography. I've been so pleased to see how J has progressed in his reading. He's the only child I've ever taught to read, so it's amazing to see it actually happen like it did for the girls through school.

We trialled Mystery Science last term and it was a roaring success. I've now bought us a subscription because it's so well-done and we wanted to unlock all the mysteries. We were able to get a discount on our subscription through NZCHENZ, so definitely check that out if you homeschool and are wanting to get subscriptions to different online resources.

We're still working through Story of the World Volume One for history, although we're getting close to the end. It's cool to see how the stories work their way into the kids' playtime. J went through a stage of drawing Minotaurs after we studied ancient Crete.

The kids are also part of an after-school club that meets once a fortnight at our church. Every term there's a new theme, and this term the theme is ancient Egypt. The kids have been exploring the food and culture of the time, and having so much fun doing it. Older kids dress up like Egyptian characters to run the activities for the younger kids, so it gives them great leadership experience too. I think L will be part of the older group next year. 

We've been listening to audiobooks in the car, like The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and The Princess Academy and The Goose Girl series by Shannon Hale. Now L has started carrying a wireless speaker around the house to listen to audiobooks every chance she gets. We borrow the audiobooks for free through our library.

I think that's everything we're up to this term. It definitely feels like a busier term than last thanks to netball, but I've still got a couple of days each week when we're completely at home, so that helps me catch up on stuff around the house, and breathe.
Kitekite Falls.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

How the chore chart is working for us

A few weeks back, I told you about a new chore system we'd implemented for the kids.

We've been using this system for almost two months now, so I thought I'd update you on how it's going, mention some of the changes we've made to the system, and explain why I think it's important for kids to do chores.

How it's going
It's going surprisingly well. The kids are taking pride in their work and doing a better and better job each week.

I still have to remind them to do their chores sometimes, especially if they're on dishes, but I've added an incentive to help motivate them with that.

The kid who does the best job of managing their chore for the week gets a 20c pocket money raise.

Cool, huh?!

I tell them every week that the behaviours I'm looking for when deciding who gets the pocket money raise are:

  • doing their job without needing to be reminded
  • doing their job with a cheerful attitude
  • doing their job to the best of their ability
  • doing their job every day

I figure that in the real workplace, people are rewarded for doing their work well, so this incentive will teach my kids about how the real world works. It also means that the children who regularly do their work well, will get compensated more for their work than the children who are not so diligent. I'm happy to reward the hardest workers more.

Apart from adding the pocket money raise incentive,  the child in charge of bathroom for the week now has to wipe the vanity down each day. (Previously they just had to clean the vanity, shower and bath once in a week.)

That's because my children were usually choosing to clean the vanity, bath and shower all in one day, which made it hard for me to compare their diligence in doing that job against the other jobs that require daily attention - dishes and toilets. By requiring a daily wipe down of the vanity, I'm now more fairly able to compare diligence in the three different areas of responsibility, which makes it easier to judge who should get a pocket money raise each week.

Why I think chores are important for kids
In our parents group, which meets monthly, we've been discussing the current age of entitlement our kids are growing up in, and thinking about ways to combat it and/or make the most of it.

I think getting kids to do chores can help them understand that they are not the centre of the world, but are part of a larger community that depends on them.

Doing chores can teach children responsibility, how to meet obligations, how to pitch in even when the work ain't fun, how to take pride in a job well done, and that the world isn't here to serve them, but that they can make the world a better place by their contribution to it.

I've just ordered the book, Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, from the library on the recommendation of a friend, so I can delve into other ways to teach my kids about serving and helping others.

Now I'd love to hear your thoughts on raising outward-looking children.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Chicken update - Did they survive?

The last time I posted about our chickens, I'd built a separate emergency run for the newbies to hang out in during the day. It was to keep them safe from our original chicken, Fluffles, who had turned into a ferocious pecking machine at the sight of the two new invaders.

We kept the new chickens separate but side-by-side to Fluffles for a couple of weeks, so she could get used to them visually. It meant we had to manually shift them into the coop at night and even then, we were putting them in a box inside the coop, so Fluffles wouldn't run them outta town.

The little chickens didn't much like getting moved about at night, so they started settling down under the BBQ tray in their run area to sleep. I really wanted them to sleep in the coop with Fluffles, so she'd get used to them and because it was drier in there, so I made the call to reintroduce them to Fluffles' run full-time.
There was a bit of pecking, to be sure, but no blood was drawn and the little chickens got good at running away from Fluffles, using the kale for armour. The littlest chicken, Rosie Posie, also got good at hiding behind/under our medium-sized chicken, Nut Fox.

I really wanted to move the whole run area to a new spot, so Fluffles wouldn't feel so territorial, but I needed to wait for our potatoes to be ready to do that.
J and I finally dug up the last of the potatoes last week, so the girls were able to help me shift the coop, platform and run to the raised garden where the potatoes had been. (Check out this post to see how our chicken coop system works.)

I threw big handfuls of aged grass clippings from the compost bin into the potato garden first, and the chickens went to town looking for bugs in it as soon as they arrived in the new run.
Since moving the chickens to the new spot, I've noticed way less pecking by Fluffles. It's such a relief to see the chickens living together in relative harmony.
The younger two are definite besties, but Fluffles can hang out with them serenely too, most of the time.
The two gardens we moved the chooks out of were completely cleared out by the chickens. Nut Flox and Rosie Posie even ate all the kale, which Fluffles had never touched. I'm planning to turn over the soil in these gardens, to get the aged soil from the bottom up to the top, ready for planting some tasty autumn crops.

Although, for the life of me, I can't think what to plant at this time of year besides spinach and lettuce.

What crops would you recommend I plant (autumn in the southern hemisphere)?

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Homeschool's not all rainbows and unicorns

Most of my posts about homeschooling have been overwhelmingly positive. That's because, in general, I'm incredibly positive about it. When I see the changes wrought in my eldest daughter over the past year, I'm blown away. She's so much more confident and self-assured than when we pulled her out of school towards the end of 2017 due to anxiety.

However, we've had a rough start to this homeschool year, so I thought I'd share a bit about that to give you a counterbalance to all the happy stories I've shared.

Nothing in this life is perfect. Even homeschooling. Everywhere we go, there we are, fallen humans making mistakes.

Our family started its 'official' school year on February 11, after a blissful two-month holiday.

Unfortunately, I came down with a cold on February 12. It both sapped my energy and made it so I woke up dozens of times a night, not getting the rest I desperately needed.

The cold left me with no energy to deal with anything. But I had to deal anyway.

It was our first week back and all our groups and music lessons had started back up right alongside us. I didn't want the kids to miss out on them.

Also, the first Friday back, we were to set off on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure to Tiritiri Matangi, and I couldn't just not go, so I pushed through. But I somehow managed to get heat-stroke on the trip, which made me a complete write-off for the weekend afterwards and delayed my recovery time even longer.

Queue the song, Faded. That was me.

The thing is.... kids know when you're not really present. They have a sixth sense for it.

Suddenly fights over ridiculous things escalated at the drop of a hat. Everything was a drama. Simple schoolwork tasks like writing the letter 'P' in a handwriting book precipitated tears and fits of rage over how impossible it is to write the letter 'P.' (True story. That's 45 minutes of my life I'll never get back.)

No one was getting much work done because even the most basic tasks took way longer than I'd expected them to, due to meltdowns.

I was spending what little energy I had trying to calm the wailing one - whichever one that happened to be at the time. Meanwhile, my eldest was quietly plodding on with her work and reading books in her downtime, saving my sanity even as I felt guilty that she wasn't getting the one-on-one attention her good behaviour deserved.

It was all around hard, and I asked myself more than once why we were doing this. Why we were homeschooling.

All my kids could be off at school. I could have my days completely to myself (bliss for my inner introvert). The house could be tidy. Our meals could be organised. Somebody else (much more qualified than I) could be dealing with all the learning meltdowns and dramas. And I could rest when I was sick.

Life would be so much easier. (For me at least.)

But my eldest is happier out of school. Whenever we visit her old school now, she points out the corner she used to cry in during lunchtime. There pangs my heart.

I could send the youngest two to school, since they are the causes of 98% of the drama. But then the oldest would be by herself a lot, and we'd be back in the halfway land we were in before, on the school timetable and needing to be back for school pickups; missing out on the freedom that homeschooling brings.
Photo taken by my daughter of her violin.
And then, when I really think about the fortnight of misery we had, I realise that, even though I didn't get as much done with the kids as I would've liked, the stuff we did do was worthwhile. And we did it together.

Paul and I were able to look at where things were going wrong and think of strategies to teach the kids to help them deal with their crazy big emotions. Those strategies have started to make a difference and now I'm looking towards the coming weeks with more hope.

And we still had a lot of really great times, even amongst all the tantrums and tiredness...
  • We went swimming at the local aquatic centre a couple of times. 
  • We got cute new chickens
  • We caught a ferry to a really great island. 
  • We had a playdate with lovely friends. 
  • We went to church. 
  • We spent weekends with cousins. 
  • We did athletics. 
  • We went to many great classes at our homeschool group.
  • We did music lessons. 
  • We learnt about volcanoes with fun science experiments. 
  • J nailed two new maths concepts (adding plus eight and plus nine). 
  • We went to the library where the girls learned how to order books on the computers there, so now they're reading even more books than normal. 
  • We started a new audiobook (The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis) for when we're driving around in the car. 
  • The two younger kids built a hut in the backyard. 
  • We rustled potatoes from our garden for dinner.
  • Paul and all three kids played Starlink in the evenings so I could rest. 
  • My eldest daughter started taking photos of everything for her new photography class. 
  • My middle daughter baked a cake all by herself and fed it to her siblings for afternoon tea so I could rest.
  • That same daughter then pretty much moved in next door, where they've just installed a gymnastics bar. 
  • The kids embraced their new chore responsibilities. (I've even added a couple more incentives with their new chores, which are really helping to motivate the older two at least.)
  • The children all sent letters and parcels to their dear friends, who have moved away.
  • And many more good things besides.
So homeschooling can be hard sometimes, but I still reckon it's worth it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Decadent chocolate bliss ball recipe

I've been promising you this chocolate bliss ball recipe since I did my What I ate in a day post during the summer holidays.

I make a batch of these chocolate bliss balls about once a fortnight, because they're delicious and handy for lunchbox fillers. They really hit the sweet spot after a savoury meal, and they're full of nutritious ingredients which make me happy to have the kids eat them.
We ate a lot of them when we were exploring Tiritiri Matangi last week, and I was so glad I'd brought them because they gave us the energy boost we needed on the uphill climb.

My kids didn't used to like bliss balls overly much, until I developed this recipe. Now they're all in love.
The secret ingredient, which has made all the difference, is cacao/cocoa butter. It gives these bliss balls a real chocolatey taste and texture, when mixed with cacao/cocoa powder.
Cacao butter chunks
I usually eyeball the measurements for this recipe, but for you I've tried to measure them out so that you can recreate it. It's pretty forgiving if you've got a little more of this and a little less of that. Generally speaking, I try to go for equal proportions of dates and nuts, and then just throw in whatever else I want.

The base recipe below will give you a basic chocolate bliss ball. You can then add in whatever you like of the optional extras to incorporate more nutrients and flavour to the recipe.
Base recipe

  • 2 cups nuts, eg. almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts* or a mixture
  • 2 cups pitted dates
  • 1/4 cup cacao or cocoa powder
  • 2 chunks cacoa or cocoa butter (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 scoop (3 tablespoons) vanilla protein powder
*Brazil nuts have a somewhat dirt-like flavour that can overwhelm the bliss balls, so I usually just add a few of these for their selenium content, but use another nut for the majority.

Optional extras

  • 3 tablespoons chia seeds (for Omega 3 fatty acids)
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (high protein source)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries (nice flavour)
  • 3-4 vitamin C tablets (orange or blackcurrent flavour goes well with the chocolate)
  • 3 tablespoons freeze-dried raspberry
1. Place all the ingredients in a food processor or high powered blender and blend until a meal-like texture is formed and the nuts have begun to release their oil.
2. Take a heaped teaspoon of the blended mixture and roll between the palms of your hand to form a ball shape, squeezing together slightly to create a firm ball.
3. Repeat until all the mixture has been shaped into balls. (Recipe makes between 20 and 30 bliss balls.)
4. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks. 

If you make this recipe, let me know what ingredients you decide to try and how it turns out for you. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Introducing our new silkies to the flock. Mistakes were made

Our family lost one of its members over the summer holidays.
We came home to the sad news that Saffie, our little bantam chicken with the red crown, had flown over the fence and been attacked and killed by an animal. My neighbour had been looking after our animals while we were away, and was very upset to have to break the news.
I had put the chickens and their coop in an open run area over the Christmas period. I thought they'd enjoy having more room and trees to play in, since I wouldn't be there to bring them fresh material each day like I do when they're in their enclosed run.

Fluffles and Saffie had seemed fine in the open run leading up to our departure, and I hadn't seen them try to escape once, but apparently we had abnormally high rainfall here just after we left, and I suspect Saffie went exploring for drier land. The area I had put them in at the bottom corner of our section does tend to bog up in really heavy rain. (I hadn't thought that would be a problem in the middle of summer. My mistake.)

So Saffie is no more, and Fluffles has been a lonely little chook without her bestie. She's taken to crowing at dawn to call for her friend (sorry neighbours!). I rang Bird Barn a few weeks ago to ask if they had any silkies for sale, and was told they would have some ready in about four weeks.

The kids and I popped into the store on our way through Henderson on Thursday to check, and bought the last 16-week old silkie that was definitely a female. We also bought a younger silkie that the guy in the store was pretty sure was a female. (We can exchange the younger one if it turns out to be male.)

We bundled our new silkies up in a cardboard box and brought them home to introduce to Fluffles.
At first we put the silkies into the coop area, which I lined with fresh wood chips to make it smell more neutral for them. They explored around in there for a couple of hours, while Fluffles stayed out in the run area - avoiding them.

A couple of times I spotted Fluffles peaking her head into the coop and then backing out again. It was only when she got frightened by me watering the garden, that she went right into the coop with them and sat there quietly.
Fluffles came back out when I stopped watering, and a little while later the littlest silkie, Rosie Posie, followed her out into the run. The 16-week old silkie, Nut Fox, took a little longer to adventure out, but eventually did too.
All seemed calm.
We sat watching them for a long time, and they were all friendly to each other, cuddling up and exploring the area happily.
But then as the evening went on and it was getting time to bed down for the night, Rosie Posie, started to get upset, calling for her brothers and sisters and looking for a way to escape.
She even jumped up onto the kale, looking for a way out.

This seemed to upset Fluffles, who then became territorial, pecking at Rosie Posie and even Nut Fox when she got too close. The pecking began to escalate in ferocity and I grew concerned.

I had L climb into the run to rescue the new chickens and I quickly bundled them back into their travel box (which was fitted with breathing holes) and put that in the coop area so everyone could go to sleep safely for the night.

That solved the safety issue temporarily, but how could we keep them safe from Fluffles the next day? Our family was heading out early in the morning to catch a ferry to Tiritiri Matangi, and would be gone for the whole day. I had visions of Fluffles pecking Rosie Posie to death if I left them all in the same run area unattended.

As soon dawn broke and it became light enough to see outside, I was out there unrolling chicken wire and cobbling together a makeshift run area next to the existing one. I had read online (in a mad feverish research panic) that it's good to have new chickens in sight of the existing flock, so they can get used to each other visually before trying to assimilate them physically into the flock.
It took about an hour and a half to get the new run enclosed. I was deeply grateful to Paul for getting the kids all ready for our day-trip inside while I hammered and assembled. We would have missed our ferry for sure without his help.
I nailed the chicken wire to the outside of the raised bed with scrap pieces of wood to make the area really secure. (I had visions of wee little Rosie Posie falling down between the wire and the outside of the raised bed if I didn't, and the vision wasn't pretty.)
Because there's a gap between the two raised beds that the runs sit on, I had to block the end of the gap off with bricks. I then used an old BBQ tray to bridge most of the gap, and covered it with the nesting box from inside the coop, so the chickens would have somewhere off the dirt to snuggle down during the day for rests. They can even go underneath the bridge into a little patch of grass if they want to. I put a footstool in the gap to act like a step for them down to the grassy area.

I only had the one waterer, because I hadn't been anticipating separating the new silkies, so I quickly made another one out of an ice cream container. I just cut a corner off the lid to make a gap for the chickens to drink from, while the remaining part of the lid protects most of the water from dirt and evaporation.
It took the new chickens a while to figure out how to drink from the ice cream container. I don't think they had drunk from it at all before we got back from Tiritiri Matangi, and they were really thirsty by the time they finally did. (I kept pouring water into the container to show them it was there.)
Even then, they were just pecking water drops off the lid at first, until Rosie Posie accidentally discovered the proper water gap by falling in a little bit. It was a happy accident because now she and Nut Fox are drinking from it like pros.

My plan from here is to keep putting the new chooks into the coop with Fluffles at night, separated by the cardboard box. After a week of letting them get used to each other in the side-by-side runs during the day, I'll try moving them all to a new neutral run area on one of the other raised beds. I just have to dig up my potatoes first, so I'll have a space to move them to.

If you've had experience introducing new chickens to a flock (or to a single, older chicken like in my case), please share your wisdom. I realise a little bit of pecking does happen as they determine the pecking order, but Fluffles is so much bigger than the other two, she could do real damage if we're not careful about this.

The new chooks are so adorable. They get super excited when I come to visit them, and come right up to me, chattering away. I don't want anything bad to happen to them.