Sunday, October 21, 2012

Christmas is a-coming!

Christmas is coming!  In about ten weeks, in fact.

Our Christmas Child boxes were dropped in earlier this month, with help from Munchkin.

This year we only managed to do three boxes ourselves, with help with another three from my mum.  I had to budget cut this year, and it was either Christmas Child boxes or knitted blanket.  I chose knitted blanket as it is my sanity time!  Still really happy with what we've managed to do in the end...

My boxes are always so well-equipped!  I just can't help myself.  I keep seeing things that would be so useful for these kids who have almost nothing.  This year, I had the bright idea of putting the marbles and/or necklaces into a tiny plastic container with a lid.  This means the kids have something to store their tiny precious things in.  It seems strange, but it sounds like they often have nothing to store their personal belongings in once their shoebox has disintegrated.  I'd love to have made bags for each box - a little zipped pencil case, and a bigger shoulder bag for school books, but I ran out of time in a big way.

Priority list for next year: bags, cute plastic containers and/or cups/bowls, nice clothing items (I'm learning to sew a gathered skirt for myself, hoping that maybe I could do a few for boxes - well, I can always dream - next year is a study year so I guess that it is unlikely).  Oh, and stationery as always - Warehouse Stationery has a big back-to-school sale early January and I will be there!  I'm planning on getting a whole lot of stationery for us for the year (drawing books for Munchkin, highlighters for me, etc) as well as my Operation Christmas Child stash.  Ten cent exercise books, yay!

Drop off locations close in NZ on 25th October!!!  You still have four days to get your box in - so head out today and do some really fun shopping! 


The Effects of Wind

We've had the typical spring winds around lately.  Gusty, blowy wind.  Last week I got home one day to discover I could hardly get the car in our driveway.  Our poor banksia rose, in full bloom, had sucumbed to the force of some heavy wind gusts and collapsed almost onto the driveway.  It was a little top heavy, to be sure (okay, it was very top heavy!), but we'd also had strong enough wind gusts while I was out to tip over our outside table and chairs. 

The car is supposed to go about where the banskia starts here - there was 'just' enough room to squeeze past, with much scraping and squealing!

Fortunately the fence is not broken (it is actually growing through the fence, planted on the neighbour's side), so we borrowed the long-handled loppers from my dad and attacked the banksia.  It seems completely wrong to hack away at it when in such a show of colour.  Very cruel.  But there were no other options.  So it has had a severe and rather crude haircut.  Not that you would know if you hadn't seen it just before the trim.  There's now a huge pile of cut banksia by the compost bin, and a banksia that is now upright again against the fence. 

And what to do with all those amazing yellow flowers?  Display them, of course!  That way we could at least enjoy them for a few days longer.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chook Chook, Chook Chook and the Ritz

You might be mistaken in thinking that all chooks are the same. A chook is just a chook, right? Chicken, hen, chook…whatever the name they are same.

Well, you might just discover you are mistaken.

Chickens are like people. They have their own likes, dislikes, and personalities. I’m discovering this even applies to foods that one breed will love and another dislike!

I have four chooks. Plus there’s the three my parents own, who live in the same garden as mine. Three different breeds, plus some really interesting personalities.

The only relationship Tui has to her namesake is the iridescent sheen of her glossy black feathers. She is a quiet, dependable, and sedate girl. Not easily ruffled, she gazes at the world through gorgeous black eyes rimmed with lashes. Tui likes to eat. She has a voracious appetite, even for a chicken.

Stomie is similarly a quiet fluffbum, named for the lovely grey tones in her feathers rather than her disposition. You might think she is a big bird, but interestingly, the New Hampshire Reds feel heavier…Stormie and Tui are either lightly boned, or mostly all feathers! Stormie came to us later than the other girls, as a replacement for Red Fred (rooster). She’s quite a shy girl, usually at the back of my little flock when it’s feeding time. But for all that she will tolerate a pat when picked up.

Tui and Stormie are both rather partial to lettuce of any sort.

Midge and Madge
Midge seems oblivious to the fact that she is only half the size of the big Australorps she shares a home with! She is noisy, bossy, and delightful. As is Madge, but Midge, although the smaller of the two, is definitely the bossier! Midge and Madge love to dig, which I guess is inherited from their Sussex breed. But in all other ways they are bantams. They make about twice as much noise as the big girls, on a quiet day! They are busy little girls, and lay a good sized egg for their small stature. I think we often miss out on the charm of little eggs these days – all store bought eggs seem to be a 7 or larger. My little girls lay about a 5…pretty impressive for a bantam, but still a small egg. Just the right size for Amy’s lunch of eggs on toast. After all, I eat eggs for the yolk and only tolerate the whites, so a smaller egg that is mostly yolk suits me just fine!

Both the Light Sussex Bantams love chickweed. They will always be the first to run up for a juicy worm and can dig up a storm. Midge is so fixated on food that she will literally walk out the cage door as soon as you open it! I guess she does need to get in first to ensure she can eat without being accidentally trampled!  I love that you can pick up both bantams at the same time.

I must admit to rather liking Midge and Madge.  My husband has pointed out that perhaps this is because they are a lot like me??  After all, I am small with a big personality too!

Polly, Molly, and Dolly
The New Hampshire Reds are officially still unnamed. It is a bit hard when they all look identical. I suggested Polly, Molly, and Dolly to my mum as something easy but it hasn’t really taken! My parents’ New Hampshires are a flighty bunch, although we’re finding them much better with age and more regularly handling. They are lean looking birds, but lay the biggest, dark brown eggs! One of them somehow manages to pop out an almost round egg!

All our chooks go crazy over anything soaked in yoghurt or milk. They think leftover rice or chow mien a fabulous treat.

And they seem to like their new home.

Aka “The Ritz”

Or “Chook Cage Version 2.0”

A few major design improvements. Namely, larger. My little cage would suit four bantams or three big birds okay, but was a bit small for my four. This one is also made bigger so that it takes up fully half of one of the wooden garden beds. That means we can have two chook cages on one bed, preparing it for the next round of planting.

Doors open both on the same side, rather than at either end, as of course one end is usually smack bang in the middle of a vegetable garden (as I discovered when trying to open the wire door on the old cage into a patch of lettuce!). Wooden door is not the whole height either, as we found it would clog up with dirt and get jammed being so close to the ground, so this one has a little lip top and bottom to allow it to open without jamming on either the dirt or the roof. Only I have discovered that this does mean a small space to get at the nest box – too small to put an Australorp in there from the outside! A Bantam, on the other hand is no problemo. The other major advantage to the new design is a LOT more covered area. My old cage just didn’t have enough. It ended up shrouded in a tarpaulin most of the time, but this one hopefully has enough ‘verandah’ to keep the girls at least partially dry. They are chickens, after all. Not too much molly-codling required.

The new cage has a deeper nest box. It retains the handles on the top of the wire end. The plywood end, however, has a rope handle fitted by my dad (thanks Dad, for that and everything else you’ve done to help me get the cage finished!). The Ritz is rather heavy. You can’t hold both sides like you can on the little one, so this really does require a few people to move it. But I guess that’s the price you pay for a larger residence! It’s actually slightly lower than the old one, but still big enough that I (or Munchkin) can get in through the wire door when needed.

The Ritz is also unpainted, because it took me HOURS to paint the last one. Possibly more time than it did to build it. Time being at a premium around here, this one is ‘au natural.’

It is much better built. I am really pleased with the progress I have made in my building experience. I learnt to ‘countersink’ this time (that means drilling a bigger hole through half your bit of wood, so you can ‘sink’ your screw down into it – that meant I could avoid the really, really, really long screws that were nearly impossible to get straight!).

I enjoyed using my new drill, and new drill bits. I still borrowed Dad’s saw. It’s the best! But I did manage to cut mostly straight this time – with the help of a cheap mitre box I bought. Grin.
I have now moved onto my next building project – a guinea pig hutch. It is sitting in my garage, half finished. It will probably still be there in a month, at the rate I’m going. After that, I might have to down tools for a year. Study time is creeping ever closer.

And here's the final improvement:  A new grain dish made by my ever creative dad! 

He permanently attached a terracotta dish to a piece of wood, so the girls can't tip it over every time they try to dig!  Their pellets already sit in an automatic feeder made of downpipe, another of his creations.  I think my girls rather like their new home.  They are certainly providing us with eggs and digging up a storm!


Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Bit on the Wild Side!

I went to a workshop on edible weeds earlier this year. It was really enjoyable! And it reminded me of an amazing little weed that I used to know, back in the days when I had zebra finches and spent most of my day asleep (read: when I first had chronic fatigue). I have reacquainted myself with it and am once again enjoying its benefits.
What is it? Chickweed! Thus called, I am sure, because birds absolutely LOVE it. Mine sure did. And my little bantams do now (the other two chook breeds think it is okay, but the bantams go crazy when they see chickweed!).

I’ve had a few people wonder how to identify it so thought I’d share some photos and descriptions here. It really, truly is a fantastic plant! It grows fast, like a weed. Funny that!
You can use chickweed raw in smoothies, or salads. It is such a mild flavour, no one will notice it in a salad. Seriously, they’d think it was one of those fancy salad greens. Just cut the very ends of the plant, with the plumpest leaves and avoid big stems. You could also throw it into a stirfry or casserole right as you serve it, so the leaves wilt rather than fully cooking.

Apparently chickweed can actually help us absorb nutrients from other foods. It is high in vitamin C and minerals. Wild greens usually are higher in nutrients than their garden contemporaries. Greens that grow wild are often stronger tasting simply because they are packed with more goodness. Greens grown for centuries in gardens tend to be grown for milder taste and longer keeping, which results in less nutrients. My workshop host told us that On average wild edibles have three to seven times more iron, 20 to
30 times more Vitamin C, and 20 to 50 times more Vitamin A. Wild edible plants also contain more Omega-3 than cultivated greens.

I was given some great advice at the workshop:
If you don’t know for sure what it is, don’t eat it. And make sure the plants you use have not been sprayed. I don’t pick from the reserve or road verge for this reason.

So how to tell chickweed from every other weed in the garden?

Chickweed likes it moist. I’ve had this monster plant growing in my garden over winter – it must have liked the blood and bone I sprinkled there because it was HUGE. Here are some pictures.

Sadly I managed to accidentally pull it out when weeding a few days ago. Very big sigh. Amy, you fool! It was too late to try putting it back in. Ugh. I miss my chickweed. I’ve got a few other plants here and there around the place. One by the worm farm, another beside one of the rose bushes. But none compare to my vege garden one!

Identifying chickweed is quite simple.  It is bright green. Not shiny or glossy, just bright. Not fluffy either. Just a lovely bright green. It has stringy branches, and is a ground cover. If you pull gently, often the little branch will snap on the outside but stay together inside, like this. The leaves are opposite each other in pairs, and are pointed ovals. Chickweed has lots of little tiny hairs on the stems and under the leaves.

If you look closely at chickweed, you will see that its flowers actually have 5 tiny little petals, each one with a really deep indent (split) in it. The flowers are very small. Grain of rice small.  See how small it is beside the fallen jasmine flower?

The biggest mistake to avoid? Confusing chickweed with milkweed.  Milkweed is a euphorbium and is poisonous. It often grows in our gardens. You can see it here mingling with chickweed (photo from my local weed identifying workshop as I don’t have any of milkweed for you).

Can you tell the difference? Milkweed grows upright. It has green to yellow leaves. They are kind of twirly on top. The stems exude a white sticky sap when broken. They are sometimes redish. See it there – in the middle of the photo? The chickweed is all around it. Plus there’s a few buttercup dark green serated leaves, which are also poisonous.

Just remember that chickweed has bright green, opposite leaves with little hairs and white flowers and you will be fine! I always pick my greens very carefully to make sure no other plants accidentally get in the mix. Plus I remove any non-edible weeds from the garden! That makes life a lot simpler.
So there you go. Chickweed. Try some today. Seriously, it’s free food, so why not have a go?! Boyo and Munchkin eat it, so it can’t be all that bad.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012


We don’t have a sand pit.

My boy loves sand. Absolutely LOVES it. Give him a sand pit and leave him to it. For HOURS. Seriously, when this kid goes to kindy, you will know where to find him.  If there isn't any sand available, then dirt will do instead...

While we might not have a sandpit, we do have rice. A big, big bin full of it. And some food colouring. And an oven.  Coloured rice!
Oven tray, plastic mat, and the rest is up to him.
Hours and hours of entertainment.

Okay, so there was some rice in the carpet. Nothing a good vacuum won’t fix, and totally worth it for the wet day fun we’ve had.

We didn’t have a road mat either (Munchkin was given one this week. He carried it to the car. He carried it from the car into the house. I just wish you could’ve seen it! The mat is taller than he is, and there he was proudly carrying it between his arms, ends sticking out either side of him. Mummy helped him step up and down stairs seeing as he could hardly see!).
So we improvised. We did have a bit big of paper that had wrapped Mummy’s new pin board. And we have felt pens. Mummy drew some roads, an airport, a petrol station and such. Then we drove Munchkin’s cars around. And around. Then the request came for some flowers, snails, and assorted other pictures. Then more cars driving around, and planes taking off and landing. That bit of paper has been used over and over again. It’s had to be retired now, as it got pretty ripped in the end, but for what was just a bit of rubbish it has provided so much entertainment.

Munchkin didn’t have a car garage. I’ve been berating myself that we didn’t get him one for his birthday. Of all the things he spends time doing, playing with his car collection is number one, every single day. Reading books is number two, just in case you wanted to know. Going for walks is a close third. Playing with cars outside is probably fourth (but that’s still playing with cars!). We didn’t have quite enough money at the time and some other things we wanted to get him, so no garage. I’ve spent the intervening six months trying to save up for one. Finally got one yesterday! Wahoo!! Don’t know who is more excited, Munchkin or Mummy. Grin. He loves it, of course.

But back to the pre-wooden-car-garage days. Mummy found a couple of off-cuts of plywood from her building endeavours. We fished a few empty boxes out of Munchkin’s stash (for when he wants to sellotape and glue giraffes, etc!). And wah-lah. We had some ramps. This is really just a miniature copy of the big ramp Munchkin’s had for ages. It lives against the wall behind the couch until he asks for it. Then it sits tucked into the front of Mummy’s chair, and he drives cars down it. We originally got it to run his wooden kangaroos down, but anything that rolls is fair game!

What have you found yourself improvising with lately?

Isn’t it amazing how versatile kids can be, when we let their imaginations take flight. I am looking forward to seeing what ideas we come up with as Munchkin gets older.  After all, sometimes the best toys are the ones we make for ourselves, the things that require a little bit of imagination to really 'see' and use well.