Where there is a will there is a way

Friday, February 22, 2013

Midway Island


The Kaipatiki Project (local conservation/education centre) shared this on Facebook - I felt I had to share it.

I read this introduction first:  

"This video is about an island in the ocean at 2000 km from any other coast line. Nobody lives, only birds and yet....You will not believe your eyes!!!!!!!"

Friday, February 15, 2013

How to make paper mache dinosaur banks (step-by-step)

This project was almost too major - I almost threw them out in frustration.  With Troy's dinosaur, I stopped after only half finishing the paper mache and then the balloon shrunk, so I had to do reconstruction and fixing.  I also left them out at another stage and it rained - so more reconstruction.  But in the end I was glad I hadn't given up because the dinosaurs had alot of character despite being imperfect.

For a smaller project, make smaller dinosaurs (blow up the balloons less).  Or don't stop the paper mache halfway through - or leave them out in the rain! 

We got this idea from a book based on the kids TV program called Art Attack by Neil Buchanan (ISBN 9781405307451).  These dinosaur banks were called "beastly banks".

Stage 1. Paper mache using white (PVA) glue and water.
Georgie and Troy (7), and Lucan (5).  Although he loved the banks, Luke didn't yet have the patience to make one.

Blow up a balloon, and tape on rolled up printer paper for the neck and tail.  Tape on toilet paper rolls which have been cut in half for the feet.  For extra structural strength, also wrap and twist wire to support head and neck - we found it essential and both dinosaurs were later supplemented with wire.  I also glue-gunned the wire construction to the dinosaur.  Get the children to tear up alot of newspaper, and get a small bucket with PVA glue (white glue) mixed with some water.  Dip the strips in the glue solution and cover dinosaur.  This is the time to "go with" the character of your dinosaur, bringing it out.  You can add ridges to the back with folded newspaper.

Tip: You can create a reptilian wrinkly texture for the skin by adding toilet paper to the wet surface.  But don't touch it too much or it will ball up and tear away!

Coin slot and cork hole underneath
When you are done the paper mache and it is dry, cut a coin slot in the top, and a circular hole underneath in the belly, the same size as the cork you are using.  Coil up a piece of wire around your cork to size it, and paper mache the metal ring to act as a hole liner to give it the hole strength.  (I originally gluegunned in a plastic tube, but since it rose up too high with its ridge inside the money couldn't get out - so I had to cut it out and do this later with a glue gun and fabric.  It would have been far neater to do it at this stage.  Photo below.)

Stage 2: Paint with white primer. 

Tips: We used really good quality white primer paint (usually as a prep for walls).  This paint provides a great base for decorating and fills in and seals the sculpture.

Stage 3: Decorate your dinosaur bank using acrylic paint and/or paint store samples. 

Get the kids to mark out their designs with a marker first, and then they can start filling in.  After they have done what they can handle, help them finish it off nicely so they'll be proud of their dinosaurs.

When they are done, they are like characters - encourage the kids to name them.  Polka-dot and Tiger are friends - as the girls who made them are.

Great ideas for activities to do with kids - building concentration and unleashing creativity

1. Make bread dough they can make creatures out of - which they can eat after.

Number One on my list because this is my kids (and their friends) favourite thing to do at our house.  It's actually really simple to make basic bread dough.  Here is my no-measuring method.  As long as you have some of all the ingredients below - and enough flour, you can't really go wrong:

First, get about 3 cups of warm water in a mixing bowl.  Then, sprinkle yeast (any kind) over the top of the surface.  Sprinkle some sugar to feed the yeast.  After a minute or so, it will start to foam up.  (You don't have to wait, but you can.)  Then, add a sploosh of oil (optional, but this added fat will make it more of a treat, and also decrease stickiness).  Add a large pinch of salt.  Don't stress about doing it perfectly - as long it all the elements are there, you will have dough.

At this point you have the brew to make the dough.  Mix it with a wooden spoon (or any spoon you have), then start pouring flour in, slowly.  It will at first make a sticky soup.  At the point where it becomes hard to stir, get your clean hands in, stir and mix around with your hands, adding more until it's - just barely - no longer sticky, or only just.  Try to get it to cleave all together as one mass.   

The kids may or may not be waiting on you.  You can do this ahead of time and place a dish cloth over it so it will rise up - but you can also whip this up on the spur of the moment and give them a chunk to play with.  It will still have the same educational and creative value!  (And it will still taste fine.)  After all their playing, and the time it sits in a greased pan, it will have risen enough.

Anyways, make sure when you give the kids their handful of dough that you keep the surface on the table in front of them sprinkled with flour as they won't be able to deal with very sticky dough.  You can keep a bowl or cup on the table for sprinkling the dough or table as needed.

Ideas for making things - start them making balls or sausages.  Cookie cutters and child sized rolling pins to use.  If they aren't afraid to make things, just let them go, but their experience will be much improved by you participating and showing them how to make things.  After they are rolling, you can let them go.

You can use pinto beans to make great eyes - but limit their use of them - they are hard and not really edible.

It's important to set a greased pie pan or baking pan beside them for them to place their finished, focused creations into as it gives them a sense of accomplishment when they can see what they've made.

Have the oven heating up to 160 degrees C (or 360 F).  Even little kids can brush butter and sprinkle sugar over top their finished creatures.

Troy made me laugh as I was filming her and Luke for my blog, she just started hosting her own video tutorial on how to make a dough critter.  I didn't stop her - their video is below.


2. Make things out of junk or scrap materials.  ie houses, cars, animals, whatever they want to build.

 Josh (above) loved making armour and and a sword for his clay creature out of a bottlecap, wire, cloth, a toothpick, bit's he'd found.  The monkey guy also has a drum set made out of bottlecaps.

It may look scrappy to us - but their imaginations are firing away. Get a glue gun - wire, pliers, use a drill to make holes in plastic things, or just sew things together with a big needle (even cardboard).  Double sided tape, card, old interesting objects you come across - save them in some designated area (if you can mentally handle the chaos).  Real order can come out of the right amount of chaos.  Too much and you are a hoarder.  Too little, and you are a fusspot.  Get the right balance for craft activities as you go!

I still remember the endless possibilities I imagined when I found a neat object.

It's so cool to hear their ideas come out.

3. Make your own toy out of clay 


Craft stores sell a type of clay that hardens when you cook it in the oven ("Sculpey" in NZ, "Fimo" in North America).  Sculpey even sellsglow-in-the-dark modelling clay!  A bit expensive- around $7 for one block from Spotlight ($5 if you're a member) - but worth it for a special gift, as plasticine which stays squishy forever quickly gets ruined.  I did have Troy practice on squishy plasticine first -

The dog in the photo below has glued on felt eyes as the eyes Troy made didn't stand out.  Always fix screw-ups in a positive way - it teaches the kids that lesson.  We named him "Snifter" - as apparently he likes sniffing rear ends.  The horse I helped Troy with in your hand on the left we named  "Spirit".  He glows green-white brightly in the dark.

3. Take them to the library 

They need fuel to fire their imaginations.  They won't have anything in their heads, ideas of what to make, without stories.

I remember when my mother first introduced us kids to the library - and all the worlds that were in there to be found.  She just took us there and let us choose whatever we wanted, but also at times introducing us to great books.

Let the kids choose anything they are interested in.  My mother would occasionally show me something she had heard of that was supposed to be good - famously, to me, C. S. Lewis's Narnia series.  This series ended up being one of my ultimate favourite.

This is not a small idea - this idea is essential.

4. Make a creature or animal out of paper mache, then paint it.

The polka dots on the dinosaur bank on the right (named "Polkadot") were all drawn by Georgie (7) and painted by her.  Then Troy painted the green back ridges for Georgie, and added glitter. I was able to tie it all together for her by filling in around the polka dots neatly, painting with a bright sample of wall paint.  
For the dinosaur bank  on the left ("Tiger"), I admit I took over and painted it after Troy (7) got frustrated with marking the stripes.  But she gave lots of input.  I mixed red acrylic paint in to the blue-green colour I was using to shade the belly and feet.  

This project will definitely need your help.  But there is lots for the kids to do themselves (like ripping up paper - and helping with paper mache - and painting).  In the paper mache "piggy banks" above (they have slots cut in their tops, and corks under their bellies) the kids have helped paper mache them with strips of newspaper dipped in PVA glue (white glue) and water.  The base was a balloon, with toilet paper roll feet cut in halves.  The neck is rolled and scrunched paper.  Some wire was needed to provide structure and support to the long neck and long tail.  For more details on how we did it, click here.

We got this idea from a book based on the kids TV program called Art Attack by Neil Buchanan (ISBN 9781405307451).  These dinosaur banks were called "beastly banks".


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Seeing the light: switching to rechargeable batteries


I have been slowly and slyly converting all of our family's batteries over to rechargeable, over the past year. 

Yes, they most definitely cost more at the time - but it's that long term benefit that I can see that makes me do it.

It's about $30NZ to get 4 rechargeable batteries.  But the benefits are that far less toxic batteries are generated (by far my only reason for doing it).

However, there is a great financial blessing when you switch over to rechargeable batteries - as well as an ease of stress when using digital cameras...however "cheap" you get them, you don't have to buy batteries any more, which feels great. 

Personally, I just enjoy the absence of guilt.

This is our family's personal battery stash from before switching to rechargeable in the photo above - I had been collecting and saving for a very long time, waiting to turn them in to the city's hazardous waste pickup locations (like that's going to happen).  You can also turn these in to your local "transfer station", and they will dispose of them properly for you.

I recently found a way to replace Shane's trusty big ole flashlight (photo below above on the left).  They don't make rechargeable batteries that size.  The bulb was broken by one of the kids.  I went to the auto parts store to look for another.  I found they don't even sell this type of flashlight anymore - the same brand one is made with an LED now.  So I bought a very affordable ($15) flashlight that runs on 3 x AA batteries, and has heaps of LEDS on it on the side, and on the end  - it's very bright.  It's supposedly for fixing cars.  Works for me.  Look at the difference in the waste it would generate in 2 years (give or take).

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Kids Making Shortbread Cookies

Shortbread Cookies Recipe

340g butter
(room temperature or warm it up in microwave)
1 cup sugar
3.5 cups flour
1 capful vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

100g chopped dark chocolate

1 interesting silicon cookie mould - we were lucky to find this fabulous Butterflies and Bugs silicon mold at the Warehouse for $10.

Step 1 - Premeasure ingredients, or measure on the fly, but have the kids take turns dumping them in.

Step 2 - Once all the ingredients are mixed except the chocolate, it will be difficult for the kids to stir.  First, get them to wash their hands!  Then they can all stick their hands in to help combine the butter with the other ingredients.

Step 3 - Squish the dough into the silicon mould, getting it into all the corners so that the cookies come out well.  Leave a little space at the top for the chocolate bits.  Sprinkle the chocolate all over the cookies randomly and press in.

Bake for 20-25 minutes (depending on size of cookie) at 180 degrees C (160 degrees C fanbake).

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Shane's amazingly simple greywater invention

We were lucky to move into a house where the previous owners had modified our laundry water to divert into a pipe into a bathtub outside.  But our bathwater and shower water were wasted.

In Stillwater, everyone is on "tank water", which means that all our water is from the rain, caught and collected from the rooftops into storage tanks.  We have a sink filter for our drinking water.  So our home is essentially a "rainwater house".  I think that's very cool and independent - except during the dry summer when there isn't enough water to water the garden.  The rain doesn't fall to water the garden, and we aren't collecting more to just have alot to spray around.  So if you reuse the water you've used to wash your laundry, and now - bathwater -  you are using the same water twice.  The plants definitely don't mind a little soap in the water - although we do use mild eco-brand soaps and laundry detergent.  And I "hold the vinegar" (that definitely kills plants) in the laundry at this time. During the winter, it rains so much that the plants don't need watering.

Anyways, Shane rigged up a neat system which was just a lid which closed off the shower/bath pipe in which he'd drilled a hole, and glued an attachment for the hose into it.  He also added silicon to aid in waterproofing.  He cut some garden hose, attached it to the lid, which diverts the bathwater into a tub which I bucket to give life to my garden plants.  But unless I want the water, the hose connects to a "holey" hose which has been placed along one of our gardens - so it waters the garden automatically after we pull out the plug from the bath.  Of course, it is important that the outlet is lower than the bath to use gravity.

How to compost the contents of your vacuum cleaner easily

Awhile ago I posted about digging all the insides of my vacuum cleaner bag out with gloved fingers into the compost.  Man is it easier with a bagless vacuum!  Our vacuum cleaner died, so I insisted on a bagless one for this reason (wanting to compost all the dust to cut down on waste going to landfill).

How do you compost the contents of your vacuum cleaner easily?  Buy a bagless vacuum.  Now this is realistic for anyone to do easily. 

Just try not to vacuum up anything plastic!

Photo courtesy of Lucan Dale, 5 (bribed with chocolate).

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Pumpkin patch

When we bought our house, Shane and I had been longing for land to use as we wished.  We basically fought for territory - Shane got the front yard, and I got the back - so we could both experiment at our will.

But somehow, I couldn't figure out where to put my pumpkin plants - as they tend to get tangled with everything else.  I cleared them some space in an area that used to be choked with weedy, ugly groundcover - in the front yard....  Now look at  them go!  Creeping into the non-veggie garden space - with lots of space for them to grow unhindered.  (Shane said he doesn't mind though.)

I am guiding the growing branches to the concrete area above, and to the space along the bushes below.

Aren't the baby butternut pumpkins cute!

I planted butternut pumpkin plants sown from seeds saved from one I had bought to eat from the grocery store.  I could also have squashes and crown pumpkins as I transplanted random seedlings from the compost as well.
 Earlier Stage - the same 5 pumpkin seedlings a few months ago (in December):

When to plant tomatoes

This year I planted my tomatoes pretty late, and was feeling glum about that - worried that my crop wouldn't be bountiful. But I was insistent on using all my great heritage (Koanga Gardens) seeds, so I planted seeds around Labour Day (Oct 22).  (Usually people are planting big seedling plants into the garden then).  Just a note for myself for next time - August would be the earliest sowing time for the sub-tropical region of Auckland.  Apparently you just need 3 warm, frost free months for a good harvest. (I just looked it up on this great NZ website - www.gardengrow.co.nz. Has every plant you could want. Wow.  Will use this site when I make a beautiful growing calendar.) The summer has been so hot though, so I think my crop may be fine all the same, which is making me very happy.

I am planning to try to make pasta sauce, and even tomato sauce (that's ketchup to you, North Amerikeens).

I have heirloom jam tomatoes planted that are apparently supposed to be good for saucing this year, some regular jam tomatoes (using saved seeds from a tomato from my friend Bridget's plants), and some random interesting heirloom ones given to me by by friend Debbie (Chocolate Stripes).  For the full biodiversity of tomatoes you could grow here, look on Koanga Gardens' website seed list here.  I am going to save the seeds from the tomatoes I grow this year that I like best, not worries about if they mix and mingle.  I can culture my own favourite variety, right?

One of my seed-sown (end of October) babies, actually getting big.

A stick I picked up on a walk is a useful (and free) support for this plant.  The natural character of a forest stick provides a useful notch to support the tomato plant's weight.

I rip up old t-shirts to use as stretchy staking ties.  You can also buy stretchy cotton cord at the garden store, but this is free, and also gets rid of old horrible t-shirts for me - a great cycle.  

I also bought some curved bamboo sticks to stake the tomato plants on.  Since I want alot of tomatoes - although most gardeners do prune the laterals off tomato plants as I did last year (so that the fruit it produces will be bigger and the plant will be tall and straight), I just read in a book by Australian author and gardener Jackie French The Best of Jackie French: A practical Guide to Everything from Aphids to Chocolate Cake  (Harper Collins September 2000), ISBN 0-7322-6551-7) that she doesn't prune her tomatoes.  She feels that if you do, you get less fruit.  She also says to feed them well, that it's impossible to overfeed a tomato plant (as in over-fertilize).  I figured that all those branches of the vine that appear to grow in various directions might be just like having more than one plant coming off the same vine.  Meaning: if I feed the plant well enough, perhaps then it's fine to have unpruned tomatoes that are also good quality fruit.  Hopefully can just guide all the crazy directions of branches of the vines onto these curved hoop stakes and have heaps of tomatoes this year?  So unlike last year, I am allowing them to be like vines.  Besides, Jackie French is obviously a creative woman, so is probably a great and tuned in gardener.  (She has also written children's books, historical novels, etc etc.  All her books are listed here at www.jackiefrench.com).

I can't wait to try all her recipes for what to do with the tomatoes after: tomato paste (which I  love), tomato sauce, dried tomatoes, tomato jam (like fruit jam).  (She places recipes for that fruit or vegetable after the gardening advice - great eh.) 

Apparently the first tomatoes brought back from South America were yellow.  Yellow tomatoes today are lower in acid.  

Loved this also from the Jackie French book: apparently the time to plant tomatoes traditionally is when you can sit on the ground comfortably for 10 minutes, "bare-bummed, but it isn't essential" - which is August to December.

Bu I am used to Canadian weather,so I had better not try that.  I would probably find it comfortable year round.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Favourite top performing eco-products that have stood the test of time

Some ideas I have tried for the sole purpose of having less impact on the environment have not been enjoyable or practical.  However, these products have stood the test of time as being used all the time and loved by my family, as well as a good idea in terms of the environment.

Stainless Steel Drinking Straws

When I visited home last year, my sister-in-law Iris had these.  I loved them, and bought ordered some before I returned home.  They prevent the waste of buying disposable straws, and they don't ever wear out.  Over the past several months, although I also have some plastic coloured twisty straws available, my kids actually prefer the metal straws nowThey are lovely to use, try them!  They look really cool in adult cocktails as well.  They don't really require the cleaner thing that comes with them - just hold them under the tap and the pressure of the water will swoosh them out.  They are of course dishwasher safe. 

The set that I bought were called "Handy House Stainless Steel Drinking Straws", but a few companies make them.  You can order them from Amazon.com, search for "steel straw". 

RethinkNZ Reusable Fresh Product Bags

I still get compliments from fellow shoppers and cashiers whenever they see me using these.  They reduce plastic waste every time I buy veggies and fruit from the grocery store as I don't use the plastic film bags, but they are also preferable in function.  They are strong, breathable, you can weigh your fresh produce in them, and just keep your fruit or veggies in them in the fridge or cupboard if you like.  If they eventually get bits of veggie matter caught in them you can throw them in the wash.

You can get these organic cotton net bags at this NZ website, RethinkNZ.com.

Ginger Pye Reusable Sandwich Wraps

Since we started using them over a year ago, we haven't needed to use any plastic cling wrap (Glad wrap, Saran wrap).  My kids love having their own print to identify their wrap.  I clean them by spraying with a vinegar/water solution and wiping.  Or if I want to get serious, I immerse in water and wash with dish soap and hang to dry.  Happy, fun, responsible.  Unlike the "Glad Wrap" commercials that I hate, I can truly mean it when I say, "Better living, everyone."

You can order these ones in NZ, made by two sisters, at www.gingerpye.co.nz.

Ecostore Lemongrass Soap

I have tried all the varieties of Ecostore Soaps, but I love his one.  It smells  great, doesn't cost that much, contains true and genuine lemongrass extract.  Ecostore was started in 1993 by a couple (Malcom and Melanie Rands) who were living in a permaculture eco-village (growing their own food amongst the forest) and didn't want to pollute their water supply.  They did some research and were horrified by the chemicals that were in the products they were using.  They developed their own products (consulting with medical and chemistry people).  Since then it was grown tremendously, recently expanding into the USA (which will fill a sorely absent niche there).  (I recently saw a short piece on them, which led me to become more loyal to them - rather than just seeing the products on the shelves.)

You can find their products in every supermarket in New Zealand.  If you're farther away just wait a little bit (if you're my family I plan on sending you a sample of all of these great eco-products!)  Their website with all of their products is here: www.ecostore.co.nz