Sunday, 29 January 2012

Adobe Kindergarten Play Ground

Back at work last week and loving it!  We had only half numbers so it was a nice ease back into the swing of kindy.  Kindy is the New Zealand pet name for kindergarten, the latter name which I find so formal and kinda German, really!  We borrow so much from other languages!  And kindy is so much more child-friendly too!  
View from Katikati Kindergarten building, early morning
We have a very tight privacy rule when showing photos of children on the Big Wide Web, because of what some really sick people do with them!  So I am unable to share photos of our lovely sustainable kindergarten in action, but I have some without children, which I can share.  The teachers I work with, all identified that our brightly coloured, box-like play ground structures were ageing and needed replacing.  The boxes are manufactured here in New Zealand and a popular addition in most Early Childhood settings.  They are very costly and only have a 5-7 year life span.  We wanted something aesthetically pleasing, that ran along the lines of sustainable.  Earlier on, I had attended an adobe workshop at Te Puna Quarry Park and had suggested this to my colleagues as a crazy throw-away idea.  To my surprise, they thought it was a grand plan and ran with this idea, and we started to throw some ideas around.  Boy, did we dream Big!  We were building a play-house, a fountain, an amphitheatre, garden surrounds, structures to challenge their agility, climbing over, under, through, and to top it all off, the cherry on top – a pizza oven!  We were ever so enthusiastic!  We contacted the “expert” of adobe building, and he and a mosaic tutor would come down for a week at the end of our January holidays to run a workshop.  We then had to advertise the opportunity to learn the art of adobe building, so our “learners” became our labour force.  Brilliant idea!  6 workshop attendees  people signed up.  Parents within our kindy community offered help.
Part of the "Great Wall of Katikati", with swings bar in background
Then came the reality check.  We approached a very helpful Western Bay of Plenty Council representative, whose job description as an eco-building advisor, free service, to come and help us measure up and draw the plans for us.  A jovial German arrived, listened to our over enthusiastic ideas, looked at our primitive plans on paper and clucked his tongue, whilst shaking his head furiously.  “This is how it is,” he said.  “You have great dreams but great dreams require much, much more space than you have!  Sorry!”
Our little Hobbit House, complete with Earth roof
So we argued back and forth on the architectural merits of each structure we were to retain and those we had to drop.  The amphitheatre – too large a structure.  Drop.  The fountain – logistically too tricky to fit in.  Drop.  The pizza oven – would we use it often enough, baking Maori bread (Rewena) and pizza to warrant the space?  No?  Drop.  (Secretly, we all thought we could add it at a later stage!)
What we were left with, was the adobe house, the “Great Wall of Katikati” to challenge their balance skills and agility, and to offer them opportunities for risk management, a tunnel, and a Billy Goats Gruff bridge.  There was a lot of nail-biting as we had to convince not only our parents of the merits of this crazy idea, but also our Umbrella organisation.  The latter was most intrigued and as they support our journey of sustainability, gave us the go-ahead.  We then had to collect tonnes of clay, cement, newspaper, (sand we took from our enormous sandpit), coloured bottles and mosaic materials.  We literally climbed mountains of challenges, and then we started to doubt ourselves.  Could we really pull something as large as this project off, successfully?  There were no pretty pictures in catalogues to show us what it would look like.
Our new addition sandpit shade from sliding panels of
Our tutors arrived and we rearranged the kindergarten into accommodation for them, requiring much moving around of furniture to create privacy for each of the make-shift “bedrooms”.  Mattresses were borrowed and the end result was a rather Bohemian-style living space.  We worked like pack-horses every day, taking turns on each of the areas of labour: cake-mixing in the concrete mixer, mosaicking and building with the adobe “cake-mix”.  A giant brick mould was used to form the adobe in situ (on site) bricks, which were then sculptured into rounded organic shapes when slightly malleable, reminding me of loaves of bread.
Looking out across the sandpit decking
Our sandpit shade made with renewable resource bamboo,
harvested on local builder/craftsman Clive Lee's own land.
Renewable forestry Redwood timber shed in background
stores all our sand play toys.
A 7 day project in our holiday time left us with aching bodies and weary minds.  We felt like we had built the Great Wall of China.  We eagerly awaited the first day back, to see what the children would make of it.  Our hearts plummeted when we witnessed our children excitedly scrambling over, up, under the wall, bumping into one another in their bid to conquer it.  We had several bruises to nurture that day.  We nearly sobbed that afternoon when the children went home.  So much time, energy and hard work for nothing, we lamented.  It’s a failure!  What can we do?  Let’s talk to the children the next day.   Next day arrived, and before we had time to talk to the children, we noticed a natural set of “wall” courtesies beginning to emerge from the children themselves.  We watched as they negotiated, began to take turns and work co-operatively after their rush to conquer on the first day!  Phew!  I think we all nearly cried again, this time from sheer relief and delight!
The bridge where many a Billy Goat has had to run for their lives
Anyway, that was a long time ago, the structure is 2 and a bit years old, it has weathered well and the children love it!  Accidents are far and few between, even with newer children arriving and learning to take responsible risks.  It appears like it has always been there and we can’t imagine kindy life without it!  We often have visitors to come and view it.  We have since even hosted our own successful workshop, adding on an extra garden surround.  I am still holding out for that pizza oven………………….

The inside of the Hobbit House with decorative alcoves
and glass bottle highlights allows for quiet reflective time

Friday, 20 January 2012

The Green Life

I found this awesome image online, think it is just amazing, as it sums up everything we want to achieve and all that we strive to do.  Thanks to the creator of this picture.  It is positive and powerful!
Spence, my little enthusiastic Bugerator
I was sooo excited yesterday with the smallest of discoveries.  I have an explosion of sap-sucking shield bugs in the garden, perhaps they are the only ones who could survive the deluge of rain we have endured over our usually dry summer!  They have an incomplete metamorphosis, emerging like little black pin-heads, mini-versions of the bigger, less appealing stink bugs they grow into.  So I have these ugly guys all skulking under veggies.  I know they are not beneficial insects and so with great revulsion, I grab at them, trying to minimise the contact time they are in my hand to stink it up, drop them and try to stomp them into their next incarnation.  Only trouble with this method is a) they stink you in the merest contact time, b) they sometimes sense your approach and just drop - so well camouflaged in the undergrowth that you can't relocate them, c) once I've dropped them, I can't always find them to stomp them d) my new gumboots have huge tread and so there have to be several stompings to actually connect with these little wee buggers!  And this method is just gross!  Sometimes you find copulating bugs still stuck together and you just know they are going to be producing hundreds more unlovable offspring.  Disgusting little fellas.
 Anyway, yesterday, I happened to have a small container in hand, and a pocket knife, which I use for harvesting zucchini.  I found a shield bug, which I swept into the container with the end of the blade.  He lay on the bottom, no means for escaping, so I gleefully repeated the action with the next villain.  When I had 3 entrapped stink bugs, I hurried over to the chook house and emptied the contents onto the ground.  In a flash, Spence had gobbled them up.  Whaaaa?  I tried it again.  Truly amazed that the chooks would eat a stink bug, and then repeat the action with no obvious repulsion, was amazing!!  I spent the greater part of half an hour, harvest forgotten, as I stink-bug hunted, thrilled with my new discovery.  I felt deliciously evil as I fed my problems to the ever expectant chooks who were by now, waiting for each delivery with anticipation!  The adage came to mind "one man's junk is another man's treasure", from now on, my bug-culling days are over and my chook-treat gathering days have begun!  Bring it on!!  Yeeeha!

The Harvest
Last night's Nature Supermarket haul
Summer's finally here!  The garden has recovered from a battering of bad weather and is starting to produce abundantly again.  I picked our first kamo kamo (Maori squash), zucchini, beans, strawberries, tomatoes, cystal apple cucumber (little white orb in foreground) and blueberries last night.  We are really enjoying a fantastic strawberry feast every 2-3 days.  I have started freezing beans for winter consumption as there are too many to physically eat at the moment.  I planted up 2 more tepees of beans, in the hope that we have an extended mild autumn - they are doing well.  Last weekend, my friend, Eva, came over to help do some collaborative weeding.  What a great time, to be working and socialising the day away!  I taught her how to play ukulele in our 20 min tea break - it was great to see the concentration on her face give way to sheer joy.  How easy it is to learn, and how great that the world is embracing this tiny little instrument originating in Hawai, introduced by the Portuguese!  The answer to World Tension!
Eva discovering her inner child's musical joy
We have glutted on Globe Artichokes, so the last bloomers were left to bloom and this is the result:

The semi-fluorescent indigo of a flowering globe artichoke

no photo-shopping, just true blue
We have had several helpxchange requests over the "festive" season, and finally, a Belgium couple will be arriving tomorrow for a week.  It is always fun to discover new ideas and share thoughts on life and living with people from all over the world.  And a totally sustainable and beneficial way of living, for them (accommodation and food) and for hosts (work exchange).  Who knows what we will accomplish this week with an extra pair of hands?  Sadly, my holidays finish and so it's back to work for me next week but I go with the knowledge that our helpers will be toiling away back home.  And anyway, I love my job so it's not all bad!

There is an event happening in Auckland today, as I type, called The Big Day Out.  Basically, it's an all day music concert.  Tickets cost about $160.  My daughter was stoked to be asked to work, unpaid, in the Hare Krishna food stall there, after working at the Exodus event in Papamoa.  She managed to get her friend a work spot too.  My son wanted to go too, but as is the Capricorn way, he left it to the last minute.  He was willing (against our good advice) to cough up his hard earned cash to buy a ticket.  11th hour and the ticket had not yet been purchased online, when my daughter sweetly informed him, she had secured him a spot working in the Hare Krishna food stall, One Love.  The look on his face as he beamed at the thought of not having to spend his cash, and still get to be at the event was unforgettable!  Sweet!  He actually hugged her!  Another unforgettable moment.  Doesn't happen often!

Disaster Strikes in Threes
Gardening is not without it's disasters and this summer we have all but lost our passion fruit, nectarines and now our fig tree too.  But hey, what's that bumper sticker............"Sh*t happens!"  We will give our nectarine one more season to bump up it's immunity to fungal brown spot rot, if it doesn't, it's the Queen of Hearts treatment "Off with your head!".   Luckily we have 2 more fig trees so if the third one doesn't recover and set down some deep anchoring roots again, same treatment.  And our passion-fruit - we can always plant another.
Our wind battered fig tree which was all but flattened twice,
finally dealt a severe blow (pun) and we had to prune it right
back to bare trunk as it couldn't hold up it's weight anymore.

The victims of an untoward summer - our passion fruit
are doomed!  It was looking so healthy and I anticipated all
the lovely fruit we would be eating but it dies daily in front of our eyes.

Garden Images from yesterday evening
Garden disasters aside, I took a wee wander around the garden last night, marveling at how light it was at 7pm!  Summer time for real.  Took these images below:

Yacon  growing in the garden, a celery/granny smith apple-tasting
root vegetable from South America.  A new addition in our garden.
Click link if interested in more information.

The first of our day lillies.  Beware the clothes-staining stamens!

Our recycled kiwifruit bin planted up in kumara (sweet potato)
starting to take off.  There is a special Maori way to planting these.

The tomato and basil bed inter-planted with marigolds.

Dwarf beans in the hothouse provide plenty beans for freezing.

Yellow zucchini peeking out

New Banana bunch silhouetted against the darkening skies
The area weeded collaboratively by Eva and I, with sawdust pathway

The giant seed heads of sunflowers attract many yellow finches

A treasure peeking out from under the foliage...............mmmn,
I love a spicey pumpkin soup in winter!

Our purple pole beans

Plums starting to blush-ripen reminds me I will have to bag
them from the birds soon (recycled onion net bags).
So all in all, the garden has had it's fair share of disasters this summer but it continues to produce prolifically and there is always plenty to share with visitors, friends and neighbours.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Wonderful World

Our wet, wet garden captured from our bedroom window,
note the pair of doves on the washing line.

What a wonderful world!
I love being on holiday.  I love it even more when the rain stops.  Even more when the sun shines!!  Today the sun shone early in the morning, so I knew it would be a good day!  I bounced downstairs in my cut-off denim shorts and skimpy bikini-style top.  I wasn’t going to miss one minute of that precious sunshine!  So at 8am, I was sitting outside on our daybed, book in one hand, organic coffee in the other, lapping up the sunrays like a solar panel!  After 20 minutes of that, I leisurely surveyed my diary to see what I had planned for the day.  First off: a walk.  Off I set, with my sunglasses, hat and a plastic bag.  One has to travel incognito in a small town, otherwise you are bound to limit your mileage as you meet all sorts of contacts on the way.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” is a great motto.  On my walk yesterday, I noticed that there was quite a lot of litter on the roadside, so today I came armed with a bag and a mission.  I would gladly break my stride, in order to collect the roadside refuse and that’s just what I did.  The plastic bag was bulging on my return approach to home.  The contents included a few aluminium cans, a glass bottle, a few pieces of glass, plastic lids and wrappers, paper, plastic straws and even 2 rubber car parts (think they were mirror surrounds).  So all in all, I felt quite pleased that I not only increased my heart rate (Lord knows I need cardio-workout) as well as tidied up my “backyard”.  Then about 50m from my driveway, I noticed a council roadside refuse bin – which I gratefully dumped the bulging plastic bag into. 
A quick bite to eat, another cuppa coffee and I set about the other diarised tasks – sowing wildflower seeds on a small patch of soil that I had weeded yesterday, and making “poor man’s capers”.  Last night I went around the garden, collecting the fat little seeds of nasturtium flowers that carpet many of the areas under my fruit trees.  Nasturtium seeds are edible, a wonderful source of Vitamin C and make an outstanding cheaper version of true capers.  They make a fine addition to pizza! The recipe is as follows:

Poor Man’s Capers
Boil, then cool mixture comprising
·         1 cup white wine vinegar (I use Apple Cider Vinegar)
·         1 smallish tspn salt
·         1 small onion, thinly sliced
·         ½ lemon, thinly sliced
·         ½ tspn pickling spice
·         1 clove garlic, crushed
·         4-6 peppercorns
·         ½ tspn celery seed
Allow mixture to cool.  Put nasturtium seeds into small jar.  Pour cooled liquid over, seal and keep in fridge.  Ready to use in 3-4 weeks.  Or check out this website for an even easier version:

Rinsed nasturtium seeds

Poor Man's Capers, ready to lie in refrigerated
marinating for a few weeks before using
  I used my time in the sunshine today to also collect basil leaves and chamomile flowers which I dried in the dehydrator.  Done and dusted!  As I sat in the lovely warmth of the beautiful sun, I marveled at how time-consuming chamomile collection is – I don’t think I ever appreciated my cuppa chamomile tea as I will now that I am growing my own!
Time-consuming chamomile flower collection

Basil leaves in dehydrator - takes approx. half hour to dry
  I spent a bit of time sewing during the first part of the week, making extra lunar pads to get me through the moon phase, having made half a dozen a few months back and loving the feeling of not contributing to the masses of landfill waste, I decided to make a pair of heavy duty over-nighters, as well as a few lighter flow ones.  I hope this does not offend any readers out there, the topic of being “sustainable” however, covers many different areas of the house and garden!!  Anyhow, seeing as the sewing machine had been left out, I quickly zipped up a small bag today and a few patches on my gardening shorts (never knew that I wipe my hands so often on the “bum zone” that I had actually started to wear the fabric thin!!).  Then I printed them, for good measure.  Check out the results……………………
Ex -trouser leg bag with fringe benefits
Printed patches ensure longer life for gardening shorts
Take one unused pajama top
Cut out several inserts from cotton fleece
and towelette fabric, include one waterproof liner
Pin several layers of inserts to pad outer

Shanti likes to interfere with projects!  

End result, wacky little aeroplane-shaped lunar pads!!

Every possible moment I had today was spent within the rays of the sun – I never strayed too far!  I have suffered under the weather clouds for the last few weeks and this sunshine was like an energy boost that I desperately needed to restore my sense of sanity.  What can I say?  When others fan themselves and declare that it is too hot, I feel that my rocket is about to be launched into full steam ahead.  I am definitely a sun-lover!

Mike has bought a huge 10kg bag of carrots to kick-start our juice fast.  Every year, we try to do a juice fast to clean out the pipes in the body, kinda like a spring-clean.  Think about it: our bodies are spending 80% of it’s energy on digesting food, so when we juice fast, the nutrients are available at a cellular level, within 15 mins of ingesting, so the body can then focus on cleaning out and healing any “dis-ease”.nnWe follow Don Tolman’s juice recipe and boy, is it delicious!!  The key to success is to sip constantly throughout the day, so the body is always processing all the nutrients, which negates the feelings of hunger.   One can juice fast exclusively for 2 weeks for a healing process if sick or unwell, however, this time, we will simply be juicing for 2-3 days for a little clean out and may even add fruit to eat.  We prefer to do this a few times through the year, rather than an extended fast, which requires a HUGE dose of discipline.  This is the recipe for one person and is the MINIMUM amount per person per day and can be doubled if necessary:

Cabala Juice
2.5kg Carrots
2 x red Apples
1/3 fist-sized Beetroot
2 x green Apples
1 Lemon, skin and juice
2x yellow Apples
The colour of the apples targets the different emotions one goes through during the fast but is not crucial.  Yellow apples are hard to find and include varieties like Freyburg.  Note the highlighted letters spell out Cabala, a good tip for remembering the ingredients.

Our trusty old Oscar juicer, one of our best investments in health care
Liquid gold Cabala juice
I also managed to pick a large quantity of produce from the garden (the sun really does charge my batteries), mostly beans.  As I already have 2 bags of purple beans waiting to be eaten in the fridge, I processed this lot for freezing.  3 bags full to see us through autumn/winter.   The joys of self-sufficiency.  The birds are getting to our figs before we can - mental note, prune severely end of summer, so that next fruit crop is within human reach!!  We are still collecting heaps of berries - had berries with ice-cream for a decadent breakfast yesterday - yum!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Creative Time

Cabin Fever
So it is early January, it should be really hot and the cicadas should be screeching up a din but it is still cold and raining!  When will Global Warming reach New Zealand???!  I feel so cooped up and I grow weary of movies and indoor projects.  I need a little sun to warm my internal solar panels.  Seems the chooks too, have given up on scratching for a living.  They sleep continuously inside their warm and cosy den, not even venturing out when fed.  Who would blame them??
Found these cool old pics of some chooks, which remind me a bit
of our little gals, Spence is a little like these ones.

Liz is a little like these birds.  I think her previous name, before
we adopted her, was Ginge, as in Ginger.
Not much been happening in our backyard on account of the Big Wet.  If the rain lets up for a couple of minutes, we scoot outdoors to collect any produce, mostly berries, pole beans, zuchini, cauliflower and apple cucumbers.  The excitement of picking the first ripe hothouse grown tomatoes is one of the only highlights in this gloomy gardening weather.  On Thursday, I packed up my gardening gear and set off for a friend's garden.  We did some collective co-operative work in her vegetable garden (she has 12 hectares, so her veggie garden is nearly the total size of my entire garden!  The weather was overcast and it drizzled a little but all in all, a lovely day to work on someone else's space.  Afterwards, she gave me a Bowen Therapy and I gave her a back massage with hot rock therapy using the rocks we collected from her stream (we discovered they did not hold the heat very well - black, dense rocks work well, not porous ones).

Strawberries, blackberries and yummy berries.

Homegrown salad - lettuce, zuchini, cucumber, borage and
 nasturtium flowers.
My daughter reinvented her father's old shirt which had been spoilt with a few splodges of splashed bleach (not sure how that happened).  I helped her cut off the neck binding and cut the long arms off short.  Then she took a little bleach in a cup and painted designs onto the shirt......... voila!  When her father opened up his present, he had not a clue that it was his old shirt and he was ever so chuffed with his new up-cycled t.shirt!
An indoor project - upcycling an old t-shirt

The back of the personalised t-shirt made especially for Mike 

Making and Creating
My son and his friend are going flatting this year.  They are skateboard enthusiasts and so put their heads and hands together to make this nifty little skateboard rack for their flat.  Quite ingeniously crafted out of scrap wood they found in his garage.

The skateboard rack holds 4 skateboards without taking up too much
floor space.
My daughter also crafted this unique little bracelet out of cotton thread and fimo (oven-hardened clay).  It is thrilling to see our children embracing the art of making and creating.
A bracelet handcrafted by my daughter for her friend for Christmas
Shayni also made this unique Maori-inspired stretcher
earring for Cam
My son also tie-dyed a t.shirt for his father, so Mike sports some rather trendy shirts at the moment!
Mike posing for a photo to display his new tie-dyed
t.shirt that Cam made and knee stool for gardening,
which Shayni made for him.

So all in all, it's been a time of making and creating, with my children hopping on board for the ride and creating some awesome stuff themselves.  It's wonderful when they feel inspired to be creative, rather than being stuck in front of a screen!  Hallelujah!