Apr 23, 2009

Outdoor Hour - focus on rocks

In this week's Outdoor Hour (#4) we are encouraged to pick a focus topic, to give our Nature Time a bit of direction for the next few weeks. Given Miss5's obsession with bringing home pocketfuls of rocks, I thought that would be a good place to start.

We went for a wander around the neighbourhood. We live in a hill suburb that was part of the post WWII housing boom in this country. I had a pretty good idea that if we ventured down one of the roads cut into the side of the hill we might get to see some exposed rock and perhaps discover what sort of rocks lie beneath our neighbourhood.

Sure enough, we found this lovely cutting only a block from our house. The road cutting is at least 40 years old, and possibly more than 60 (the suburb expanded in the 1960s, so the road may have gone in then, or it may be from the early days of the suburb in the mid 1940s).

Close-up of the rock layer

We've got no way of taking a rock sample, since we don't own a rock hammer or pick, and after emailing a geologist friend of mine, we aren't going to buy one. They are expensive pieces of equipment to have on hand for what might be a passing fancy in a 5 year old! However, she did suggest that a heavy household hammer and a heavy duty chisel in the hands of an adult would do the trick for most rocks, being careful of flying rock chips and shrapnel (i.e. wear safety goggles!).

So as yet, the rock remains unidentified, but at least we found it!

Then we wandered around to a nearby playground. The kids chased a magpie, rolled down the grassy hill, played on the swings and merry-go-round and generally had a good time.

While walking we also stopped to use our ears and heard little warbly birds which we think were probably silvereyes/waxeyes - since they were the birds we could see in the tree close to us.

Another fun trip out!


Apr 22, 2009

Confessions of a pregnant homeschooling greenie

Looking back over my blog, I'm aware that it may be possible to come away with the impression that things like homemade bread and yoghurt are standard fare in our house, that disposable nappies are only reserved for dire emergencies, that we have an extensive and productive garden and that we spend oodles of time immersed in improving books.

Time for a reality check

If these things get blogged about, it is generally because they're so novel and exciting that I want to share them.

Sure, before we were expecting baby#3 I hardly used disposable nappies/diapers, and I cooked from scratch most nights, and I almost never used the clothes drier. But there come times in your life when you just need to *let it go* and do it the easy way.

I had a day about a month ago when I looked at the wet clothes in the washing machine, looked at the bright sunny day outside, and gave in to my exhaustion. The clothes went into the drier because on that day it was honestly a choice between using the drier and leaving the clothes wet in the machine. Since then I confess that the drier has been getting quite a work out.

I also confess that I can't recall precisely the last occasion I used cloth nappies. I know it was within the last few weeks, but I think it was actually Merl who put them on Miss2. It wasn't me!

Tonight for tea we had fried chicken-and-cheese-sausages with tomato sauce (ketchup), and as a token gesture, a corn-on-the-cob each. That was it. No wholesome fresh-dug potatoes, or wholemeal bread, or salad, or anything. Sausages and corn. Miss5 looked at her plate and said "this isn't a very healthy meal, Mum". I replied, "Nope, but it's not too bad - you've got corn, and you can have an apple for dessert."

My microwave is getting quite the workout too.

The 'garden' is currently one bare circle waiting to be planted out, and one circle full of wheat-grass that is overgrowing the valiant struggle for survival of the veggies. And some herbs. Mint mostly.

As for the books, well, we do spend oodles of time immersed in them. They just aren't all 'improving' ones! Miss5 reads tonnes and tonnes of Asterix. I read bulk quantities of historical whodunnits (okay, I do get annoyed if the history is wrong, but they still really are pulp fiction). Merl reads a lot of fantasy/science fiction - some of which is brilliant and 'improving' - some of which is pulp escapism.

We are happy, lazy and messy people. When I get less tired then I will be able to lift our sights up out of bare-minimum housework. But until then, *letting it go* is working quite well for us!


Apr 21, 2009

HTML hassles

As you can see, I'm playing with the templates. But I seem to have broken that neat little function of being able to put most of the post behind a cut.


I'll see what can be done

[later - Ta da!]

Aha! I am the champion :) I worked it out without having to ask merl for help! (he set it up in the first place)


Apr 20, 2009

Family Treasures

Not my books - this picture is from somewhere in internet-land. But aren't they pretty?

I was examining the bookshelves at my Dad's house the other day, as is my habit, to see which books I wanted to rescue that day.

You see, although my Mum was a prolific reader and book hoarder, my Dad is not a reader. He has been known, now that Mum has passed away, to randomly sweep a shelf of books into some bags and donate them to a book sale.

Well okay, he only did it once. But in that shelf of books was a leather-bound copy of the Wind in the Willows, with beautiful colour plates, which Mum had been given as a child. I had quite deliberately left this book at Dad's house because I thought it would be safer there than on a shelf in my house, with the hands of small children reaching for it. Aaaaarrgghh.

I haven't quite articulated to him how devastating this was, but I did quietly request that the next time he gets an urge to purge books, could he call me first and I can go through them first? I didn't want to upset him, really, as there is nothing he can do about it anyway - and it is only a book, and I do have another copy of the Wind in the Willows (which is beside the point). And it was at least partly my fault for not telling him that I had left the book there on purpose - I had already removed plenty of books from his house, so he was reasonable in assuming that I had already taken anything I really wanted. But it being at least partly my fault just makes it worse, of course. Anyhow, he has promised not to get rid of any more books. phew.

However, I no longer see Dad's house as a safe place for books, so I rescue a bag or two each time we visit.

This last time, I spotted a copy of the Pilgrim's Progress. Which I confess I have never actually read, but which, like a lot of classics, is on my list of things to read 'one day'. So I picked it off the shelf and popped it into my bag (along with an encyclopaedic dictionary, a NZ pictorial history, some dictionaries of music, the Tell Me Why books...).
Book Depository picture - not my Great Grandma's copy

It turns out that this Pilgrim's Progress was a Miller's Flat Presbyterian Sunday School Prize awarded to my Great-Grandmother for achieving 52% in Scripture and 56% in Catechism in the Assembly's Exam, in December 1908.

How cool is that?!

I am very happy to have rescued this book - it even more than makes up for the Wind in the Willows, because this is the only thing I possess that was my Great-Grandmother's, whereas I have lots of stuff (too much stuff, to be honest) that belonged to my Mum. This is my Nana's mother, who died when Nana was only 13 years old. I can only imagine how much my Nana must have treasured this book.

The only thing I know about my Nana's mother is that she died young, and that my Nana believed that if she had lived my Nana would have been allowed to finish her schooling and perhaps even attend university. In the event, Nana (their only child) left school when her mother died, to keep house for her father.

But now I have her Sunday School prize of 1908, and I shall treasure it. It is a treasure not just for the book itself, though I'd have been happy to find any copy of The Pilgrim's Progress, and not simply because it is a link to one of my forebears about whom I know very little, but mostly it is a treasure for what it meant to my much loved Nana. This book was one of the few links she had to her own mother.

And now it is mine to treasure in turn.

Apr 18, 2009

Outdoor Hour - Autumn tree study

For this week's Outdoor Hour we continued with the studies in the order they were written - meaning we're up to #3 (starting to draw) - and we took Barb's advice and incorporated study #36 - the seasonal tree study.

Miss5 chose the ornamental cherry tree that we can see from our living room window. This is a great tree for climbing, and is also where we hang the bird feeders in winter, so is one of the girls' favourite trees. The aim is to follow the tree through the year and note how it responds to the changing seasons.

It was a beautiful Autumn day, and we spent most of the morning outside soaking up the warm (but not hot) sun, and using all of our senses to study the tree and its surrounds.
Miss5 even drew a picture of the tree in our nature book! Usually she refuses to draw, as her perfectionism rears its head, and she wants to colour in an outline that I have drawn. Which is completely fine - we all do new things when we feel confident enough to try. I usually make some comment about it being her drawing, and not to worry too much if it isn't quite how she wants it to look in her head - which she usually completely ignores and simply re-states her position that I should draw it and she should colour it in. Which is what we usually do, since I don't want it to turn into a big "issue" - it's hardly the end of the world if she doesn't draw things free-hand! As Anna Botsford Comstock says, no child should be compelled to keep a nature journal.

So I was pleasantly surprised when she decided to draw her own picture of the tree this week. If I recall correctly (it was some days ago now), she said something along the lines of "everyone is bad at something when they first start learning, aren't they Mum?", which I gently reassured her was correct - and that the important thing was to enjoy what you're doing, and the more often you do it the better you become.

Apr 11, 2009

Queen Cleopatra #2

Life is full of silly coincidences, isn't it?

This week a Facebook quiz told me that the Shakespeare character I most closely resembled was Queen Cleopatra. Now I have actually never read Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra (although it is sitting on a bookshelf less than a metre from me), but I understand that the comparison is, um, unlikely. But who am I to question the accuracy of a Facebook quiz?

The concidence of this week was that we finally got around to making a Cleopatra wig!

Miss5 has had an interest in Ancient Egypt on a long, slow simmer for 2 or 3 months now. It started with a chapter book about young Cleopatra which captured her imagination. The fires were stoked with the arrival of a box of books from my sister, which happened to contain the Egyptian Queen Beauty Book, from the British Museum. I've already blogged about her milk and rose petal bath. We've also made a sparkly Egyptian dress.

Miss5 has been asking for some time now to make the Egyptian wig described in the book. But the instructions said to start with lots of black or brown wool, proceed to make lots and lots of plaits and then attach these plaits to a head band.

Miss5 can't plait yet. Now I may be the worst homeschool mum in the world, but I'm just not going to sit down for an entire afternoon plaiting wool, when I know that even if she sat beside me and learnt how to plait she would completely lose interest after about 5 minutes.

So I'd been pondering it for a while when the solution came to me - polarfleece! Polarfleece doesn't fray at a cut edge, so it is perfect for making fringing out of - and what is a wig, if not a long fringe? So, one excursion to the fabric shop later, we had the supplies. They didn't have black fleece, so we settled for brown, and Miss5 chose a very sparkly trim as the headband - fit for a princess indeed.


She really is excited - she's just trying on her 'sophisticated' face

And of course, Princess Clary had to have a turn too, because she wants to feel what it is like to have hair

Miss2 getting in on the act

Miss5 was so excited that she wore it for the rest of the day, and Daddy was very surprised to find that we didn't have Miss5 in the back seat of the car - Royalty had accompanied us to collect him from work!


Apr 9, 2009

Outdoor Hour Challenge #2

This week's Nature Study was to "Challenge yourself to take another 10-15 minute "excursion" outdoors in your own yard again this week. Before setting out on your walk, sit with your children and explain to them that when you remain quiet during your nature time, you are more likely to hear interesting things..."

We spent about 15 minutes sitting in the backyard near the tree house, just listening to what we could hear. Well okay, I spent it sitting. The kids explored the 'jungle' section of the garden, but they were fairly quiet and we did keep stopping to see if we could hear anything.

Miss5's comment was "but I want to go for a walk - there is not as much nature in our garden as there is outside the gate!" But her mean ol' Mum had had a terrible night's sleep and was really only capable of wandering out to the garden and sitting on the chopping block. We'll go for a walk next week maybe!

Once back inside (and after lunch) we sat and had a think about what we had seen, heard and felt while outside (as suggested in the study).

One word for things you heard
bells, birds, chickens

Two words for things you saw
blue sky, grey sky, brown leaves

Three words for things you felt
rough brown bark, splintery smooth wood (the saw horse), soft green grass.

Nature journal
We are keeping a family nature journal this year, with Miss5 perhaps keeping her own volume next year. I did the writing and drew some outlines and Miss5 happily coloured in things that we'd seen and heard, adding in her own little pictures as needed.

I'm enjoying this series!


Apr 7, 2009

Chickens update

Miss5 takes most of our chicken photos. An endless fascination.

I recently had someone ask me for a chicken update - especially with how well they are coping as the weather turns cooler. So here it is!

The girls are doing well. Belle went into her molt almost as soon as she arrived, but after a few weeks started laying again. Abigail looks like she's just starting her molt now - we've had only one egg to 'harvest' for a few days now (although back to two again today), and there are feathers starting to fly around the coop again. I hope she gets it over with before the winter arrives properly or she'll be a little chilly for a week or two!

While we were in Wellington for our holiday a couple of weeks ago the weather down South here took a turn for the worse. (Remember, in this part of the world, 'South' means closer to the Pole and further from the equator - i.e. colder). I got a worried text message from our friends who were chicken-sitting - would our chickens cope if it snowed and what should they do?

Well, actually I had no idea :) But there wasn't much they could do anyway. Before we'd left we had moved the dome to the most sheltered part of our section - right under some trees that would provide protection from the wind and rain. The chickens still like to sleep in their beer-crate nesting box, so would be out of the wind and close to each other for warmth. I also know that plenty of people keep chickens in this city, and I've not heard of a chicken freezing to death. (Trust me. It would make the newspaper. "Unseasonal Cold Snap. Feathered Family Pet Falls Fowl of Freezing Temps").

So my advice was not to worry. To give them extra food the next day (they eat more when they're cold), and to make sure they had plenty of straw in their coop and nesting box.

In the event the snow never arrived (or if it did, it was not in this part of town), and they coped just fine.

Chickens are pretty hardy animals. They will go off their lay if they get too cold and miserable, but they don't lay in winter here anyway, as there are not enough hours of daylight for them.

Advice I have heard includes feeding them warm porridge in the morning and making sure their sleeping quarters are dry and draught free. Also to make sure their water is neither too cold nor too hot - I guess warm water in the morning on those really frosty days.

The key thing to remember about chickens in this climate is that our climate isn't really that cold! People keep chickens in places like Russia and Canada (with fancier and warmer accommodation than I'm providing, to be sure).

My plan for winter at this stage is to continue converting the rabbit hutch into a nesting box/roosting house that we'll set up next to the dome over winter, and use the dome more like a deep-litter run. This is a 'work in progress' (which means that it has been started and not finished...).

Changes made since the 5th dome post:
- water container. When we were given the chickens, we were given one of these

Self-filling water dish

Or at least, something that looks very similar (you wouldn't believe how long it took me to find a photo of this on the 'net. There are too many products in this world for cats to drink out of). This works very well, so long as you peek in whenever you wander past the dome and scoop out the dust and straw and muck that they've kicked into their water in their scratchings. Once a day to clean it out and refresh the water is fine. The chickens drank more in the warmer months, but I really like the security of knowing that they will have water if we forget for some reason - especially now that Miss5 has the responsibility of feeding the chooks in the morning. So long as I have fed them and topped up the water the night before, this is not something she needs to worry about.

Okay, that's probably the main change :) Everything else is pretty much the way it was the last time we took a tour of the dome.

The biggest thing, really, has been that we've started using the dome over the veggie patches. Having done this for two patches, now, I can say something with feeling. Do NOT feed your chickens wheat seeds while they are on a veggie patch. Linda Woodrow feeds hers sprouted wheat, which would be okay since it is unlikely to survive the chickens and the elements to turn into wheat. But I now have a lovely veggie bed with seedlings of cabbage, cauliflower, red cabbage, kale, kohl-rabi, and turnip... and wheat everywhere! Am not impressed.

I am not feeding them wheat any more, since they clearly aren't eating much of it, and am giving them pellets morning and night. I found that with the size of this dome, the chooks devastate everything growing inside within 24 hours and are back to depending on outside food sources after that.

However, the veggies are loving being in the freshly chickened veggie beds, so that part of the permaculture equation is working well!

For our instructions on building the dome, start here


Apr 3, 2009

Outdoor Hour Challenge #1

I've found a lovely resource for Charlotte Mason-style nature studies.

The Handbook of Nature Study blogsite has got over 50 once-a-week Nature Studies, each lasting about 20minutes, based on Anna Botsford Comstock's Handbook of Nature. (available free online here).

Each of these studies is called an Outdoor Hour Challenge, despite them not lasting for an hour. So this is our new regular posting - our participation in the Outdoor Hour Challenge.

The site creators recommend doing the first 5 studies, then joining in with the current challenges, so at this stage that is the plan.

Outdoor Hour Challenge #1

First, I ascertained that the reference book for these studies is not available at our local library. Then I checked its availability for purchase. My oh my the current exchange rates have put a damper on my 'just buy it from Amazon' plans. 6 months ago the NZ dollar was buying 80cUS, it's now buying about 48cUS. Not pretty. So despite my distinct preference for paper books over electronic books, I pursued the electronic option. If, after a few weeks, I decide that we'll continue with these studies, I may seriously consider buying it then.

I dutifully did my reading from the book, and was so taken with her viewpoint and opinions that I bored Merl silly by continuing to read bits out to him while he was trying to read a book :)

On Tuesday the kids and I went for a walk to the local park/playground. This is a fairly utilitarian green space with some swings and a see-saw and three young trees. All the way there I was gently calling attention to things in the gardens we walked past, to the complete lack of interest of my children.

When at the park, I decided to pick up a few of the autumn leaves that had fallen from the young trees, thinking that if Miss5 didn't get interested in anything then at least I would have something to investigate.

Happily, on the way home, she collected a rock off the road, so that was brilliant.

At home, we sat around the table and looked at the things we'd collected, and generally just chatted about our walk.

That night I found a couple of online field-guides to identify rocks and trees, and the next day we investigated the rock. Miss5 had recently read the Magic School Bus Rocky Road Trip, so we had a look at their discussion of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, then used the Rock Key to id the rock - Basalt!

Cleaning the rock from surface dust etc

Some of our tools

The next evening I identified the leaf as coming from a maple tree, using this guide, and passed the information on to Miss5 (which failed to rock her world, given that she had never been interested in the leaves to start with).

In all, a successful wee study. Miss5 was quite interested in investigating the rock (her favourite bit was using the magnifier that Grandma had given her for Christmas), and we've begun a 'rock collection' in an egg tray, as recommended in the Magic School Bus book. She has always come home with pockets full of rocks and gravel whenever we go anywhere, and now we can at least see something to do with those stones (other than sneak them out to the garden, or getting annoyed when a pocket full of gravel ends up in the bottom of the washing machine!). Perhaps it will encourage a level of discernment about what stones actually get brought home... but that might be too much to hope for.

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