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Six days with three kids and three adults crammed into a campervan might sound a bit like torture. I have to say I was a little apprehensive about the idea, despite being the one who suggested it. But the children’s sheer excitement was contagious and once we were on the open road and with a good weather forecast predicted, the stress levels waned.

Camper van.

William and the van

The goal was to spend time together, travel to amazing places and have fun. We definitely met our goal on this adventure.

Campsite - beachside.

Yes this is how close to the beach we camped – wild places!

I’d never travelled in a campervan, and it felt strange to be a tourist in my own country. And it had been a long time since I’d been to the West Coast. It always seemed too far away when my kids are the kind that says “are we there yet?” every ten minutes. Funnily enough, this time they didn’t – the kids were so thrilled with the van that the journey became more important than the destination. In fact it probably didn’t matter where we went, as long as we were in our van. Unfortunately all this happiness meant lots of singing – repeating the same songs over and over again. Yes it drove us crazy!

top bunk.

We slept the three children cross-wise in the top bunk – it meant the adults could stay up later reading in the rest of the camper.

Having the freedom to stop wherever we wanted was quite powerful. And the West Coast is perfect for this.  There are so many magical places just around the next bend in the road. But some good preparatory planning meant we could take full advantage of this freedom.

West Coast lake.

Many of the camp-sites were beside beautiful lakes like this one

Here are my top tips tried and proven true on this adventure:

1)    Making sure we had plenty of easy food and snacks on-board meant that if the kids were hungry, we could pull in anywhere and have a picnic.

2)    Pre-cooking a couple of meals before we left meant that we could have dinner on the table within 30 minutes even from our tiny kitchen. It’s amazing how hungry you get when you’ve been out in the fresh air all day!

Lake Kaniere.

Exploring the shores at sunset

3)    A bit of reading up beforehand on campground sites proved vital. It meant we could decide, depending on how far we had got, where we were going to pull up for the night. From Kumara Junction south we found amazing basic campsites, most beside gorgeous lakes – thanks to the DOC South Island campsites brochure.

Lake Kaniere

Lake Kaniere camp ground.

4)    Despite being self-contained I didn’t want to bring heaps of toys with us and besides, the holiday was about getting out and about. We kept it simple and it was just the right amount to keep them happy:

  • Some activity books and pens for keeping them occupied while cooking dinner or if the weather turned bad
  • A t-ball set and ball for at the campground when the weather was good
  • A book for each child to read as part of the bedtime settling down routine
  • One important cuddly toy for comfort.
Doing activity books.

Activity books kept them happy inside….

Playing catch.

… while ball games kept them occupied outside at camp!

5)    A good torch was essential for finding the toilet in the dark. It also was useful for a pre-bed game of spotlight tag! Sand-fly repellent was also a must for the Coast is renowned for these bity bugs. And of course a first-aid kit for emergencies.

6)    Jandals for everyone meant less dirt was traipsed into the van when we were camped up. A box near the front door for all the shoes also proved handy for keeping these all in one place.

Weka.

Cheeky weka at one campsite kept us entertained.

Word of warning – campervanning is not really the budget holiday that it’s sometimes marketed as. We got a good deal but then you add on insurance, gas and diesel. We had to call into the occasional commercial campsite to power up the van’s battery and recharge cameras and this did prove quite expensive. Most places charged per person so we ended up paying $60 – $70 per night – which when you add onto the hire charge for the van was about the same cost as hiring a motel room or entire bach!

Campsite.

Commercial camp-sites were usually a chance to catch up the laundry too.

But you can’t put a price on the experiences we gained on our adventure. And I know the children will always remember their week coasting in the campervan.

Franz Josef Glacier.

Franz Josef Glacier

Family.

From left to right Robyn, Josie, Taylor, Stu and William.

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Grandma Doreen.

My grandmother Doreen was a seamstress, she kept every scrap of fabric just in case it could be useful later.

This is a shortened version of an article first published in Tots to Teens magazine, April/May issue

Sustainability may be the catchphrase of the 21st century, but it’s actually old school. It was only two generations ago that clothes were worn until they were worn out; mended, patched, darned, passed down then finally torn up and used as cleaning rags. “Waste not, want not” was my Grandmother’s mantra. It was the way they lived.

These days in our commercially-driven society, we are constantly bombarded with messages to buy! Buy! Buy! You need the latest phone, the latest toy, the latest fashions. We are using and throwing away more stuff than ever before.

But the earth is a finite place. And everything we do is connected. Every living thing on this planet relies on the same basic things as we do; clean water, clean air, food and a safe home.

Many people around the world have realised that these basic needs are in jeopardy because of the way we live. Because we are simply using too much stuff.

Sustainability is about changing the way we think and behave. It’s about making good choices. To be aware of how we might impact the environment, our community, and the world.

The sheer enormity of saving the world might seem too big a task for the average person. But if person starts with one small change, it can happen. And that’s exactly what the Earth Day campaign to collect ‘A Billion Acts of Green’ is all about. You can pledge your act online at www.earthday.org/2012.

Children too can be empowered early on to take part. The future world after all, is for them. Here are some pledge suggestions for different ages and stages:

Under five

  • Paint or draw on both sides of the paper. Use your paintings as wrapping paper for truly unique gifts.
  • Set up a box to collect bits and pieces for creating art – like bottle tops, boxes and ribbons.
  • Keep taps off while brushing teeth.
  • Look for the numbers on the bottom of plastic containers so you can help sort the recycling.
  • Find someone to hand your clothes onto when you out grow them.
  • Make your fifth birthday a green party – make invitations and decorations out of recycled stuff, serve fresh food on large plates instead of small disposable ones. Tell your guests to bring gifts they have made themselves or recycled from their own stash. (See seven steps to throwing an Earth Day party!)
Josie picking tomatoes.

Helping in the vegetable garden is a great way to learn about food and where it comes from!

5 – 8 years

  • Make green choices with your school supplies – buy recycled books and corn-starch biodegradable pens.
  • Turn off the light when you leave a room. Unplug your stereo or other electronics when you are not using them.
  • Start a swap club – get together with friends to swap books, CDs or games that you are bored with.
  • Collect paper that’s only been printed on one side (ask your parents first) Cut it up and staple them together to make a message pad for by the phone.
  • Ask your parents and friend’s parents to start a walking bus to get to school – or car-pool on wet days!

9 – 12 years

  • Ask for a solar charger for a present and use re-chargeable batteries in all your battery-powered toys.
  • Go green surfing: make a list of websites with ideas on how to be eco-friendly. Share the list with your friends and school teachers.
  • Write a letter to your favourite celebrity and ask them to support a local environmental trust. E.g. http://www.projectlitefoot.org/ top sportspeople are inspiring kiwis to become environmental champions.
  • Ask for a piece of the garden to grow your own vegetables and fruits. Look at a globe to see how far food has travelled to get to your cupboard!
  • Write a letter to your local council to make the streets safer for cyclists and to invest more in public transport.

But above all else – provide experiences! Love the Earth by getting to know its special qualities….

Josie and William at Peters Pool.

Peters Pool, Franz Josef

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I’d been meaning to check out the Little River mudslide all summer, but when I read this article online I was finally inspired – Girls who play in dirt grow up healthier.

And with Earth Day coming up soon, it seemed appropriate to start celebrating by covering ourselves in it! All you need is a slope, water and dirt and lots of bottoms!

mudslide.

No brakes - gravity has hold of us!

Standing up at the end is not so easy!

Josie and Mum - who says girls don't like dirt!

PS – next post will be top tips for throwing an Earth Day party … mud-pies might have to be on the menu!

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Egg-hunts for Easter? That’s so old hat. Instead, Josie (a.k.a Super ladybug) and I have decided to go on a backyard bug-hunt.

Super ladybug.

Super ladybug a.k.a. Josie!

We’ve had some lovely bug close encounters just recently. It’s that wonderful time of year when we are harvesting our autumn crops, cutting back shrubs and trees ready for winter, and as we do so, we are uncovering some cool critters.

Like this amazing praying mantis that we found on the basil! He was pretty feisty, boxing at us with all his might, which just showed off the wonderful blue spots on the insides of his legs that identified him as New Zealand’s native mantis.

NZ praying mantis.

Josie meets a praying mantis

And our swan plants that we planted this summer are still producing crops of Monarch – this one landed on Josie’s knee to dry its wings! I haven’t quite convinced myself to plant onga onga nettle though – I know it’s a favourite of red admirals but it seems slightly bizarre to plant tree nettle in a home garden!

Josie and Monarch.

Josie and Monarch.

That is of course the best way to welcome insects – plant up your garden with plants that insects like.  Butterflies are attracted by lots of nectar and so like plants with flowers to rest and land on. The NZbutterfly website has some detailed fact sheets about each species of butterfly and what plants they like. Bees also like lots of nectar and they are pretty handy for pollinating flowers.  Native shrubs like Olearia, hebes, shrubby tororaro, and pittosporums like kōhūhu and tarata / lemonwood are all favourites of insects.

red admiral.

Red admiral

Of course anyone with a compost heap and vege garden would welcome worms as they help with important jobs like aerating the soil. Areas of long grass or hedges become refuges for insects to over-winter in and a good layer of mulch or leaf litter on the garden will also encourage insects.

So, to find out how insect-friendly our garden really is, we decided to see what else we could find. On the Department of Conservation website we found instructions on how to make two really cool traps to catch insects.

And to keep ourselves busy while waiting for our traps to catch something, we had a go at an inside insect hunt as well.

We made some rainbow rice, thanks to this great recipe from happy hooligans.

Bugs hiding in rainbow rice.

The bugs are hiding in rainbow rice!

I buried the bugs in the rice and then Josie “hunted” them down. Josie was so funny – she carefully uncovered by random scattering of insects, and then carefully placed them in lines – one line per rainbow stripe. Then she covered them back up again! She has a wonderful sense of order.

Happy entomologist.

Josie is a happy entomologist - even if she can't say the word!

I thought William would be too old for this activity but no, he was right into it as well. His approach was to pull all the bugs out, smooth the rice down with the back of a spoon. He then placed the bugs on top of the rice, grouping them by colour – which he then said was camouflage!

William uncovers the bugs.

William on the hunt for bugs

Anyway, we can’t wait ‘til Easter Sunday to check our potato traps – let the bug hunt begin!

Colour-coded camo bugs.

Colour-coded camo bugs as sorted by William.

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A great way to get your children excited about reading is to make them the star of their own story. It’s also a great way to record all the many adventures you have together!  These days anyone who has access to a digital camera can make a book; either online or at your local photo shop or chemist that has one of those photo printing booths.  You can either rewrite the familiar classics with your own unique twist as I have done here , or choose to tell your own unique story.

We’re going on a tramping trip
(with William and Josie)
Concept stolen from ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ by Michael Rosen


Josie and the red door.

Josie and the red door (2010)

We’re going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

William @ Craigieburn Forest Park.

William @ Craigieburn Forest Park (2008)

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve.

William @ Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve (2011)

Oh no!

We’ve reached the green and shady forest
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it,
we can’t go around it,
we’ll have walk through it

Trip trot trip trot trip trot hop

Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve.

Josie @ Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve 2011.

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Ngatuhoa Stream.

William and Dad crossing Ngatuhoa Stream (2007)

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Temple valley.

William and Mum @ Temple valley (2007).

Oh no!

Here’s a rushing braided river
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it,
we can’t go around it, we’ll have wade through it

Link arms and wade wade wade wade

St James CA.

William and Josie St James CA (2011)

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Hanmer Forest Park.

Hanmer Forest Park (2011).

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

St James.

St James CA 2011).

Oh no!

We have reached the wavy tussock grasslands
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it,
we can’t go around it, we’ll have to go through it

Swish, swish, swish, swish

Ben Ohau.

Ben Ohau (2007).

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Ben Ohau (2007).

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Otukaikino.

William @ Otukaikino with friends (2012).

Oh no!

Here’s an oozy, peaty wetland
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it,
we can’t go through it, we’ll have to go around it

Squelch squelch squelch squelch

Swing bridge

Swing bridge Aoraki/MT Cook (2009)

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Family at Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Family at Aoraki/Mt Cook (2009).

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park (2009)

Oh no!

Here’s a big snowy mountain
We can’t go under it, we can’t go around it,
we can’t go through it, we’ll have to climb over it

Climb climb climb climb

Arthur's Pass (2011).

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Kura Tawhiti.

Josie & Ben Kura Tawhiti (2012).

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Kura Tawhiti.

William @ Kura Tawhiti 2012

Oh oh

We’ve found a scary limestone cave
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it, we can’t go around it, we’ll have to go through it

Tip toe tip toe tip toe

Cave Stream.

William and Dad @ Cave Stream (2008).

What’s that sound?

Roar!

It’s the taniwha!

Taniwha at Te Puna Quarry.

William, Josie and cousin Taylor on the Taniwha at Te Puna Quarry (2010).

Quick, run home

Over the big snowy mountain—climb climb climb
Around the oozy peaty wetland—squelch squelch squelch
Through the wavy tussock grasslands—swish swish swish
Through the rushing river—wade wade wade
Through the drippy rainforest—trip trot trip trot hop
Back home, in our front door, up the stairs and into bed.

Phew.

Josie reading her book.

Josie reading "going on a tramping trip" (2012)

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Josie and I were in the garden and she turns to me, touching a tree and says “this is a forever tree mum; its leaves stay green forever”. I was immediately charmed with the phrase and my clever daughter. And even more so a few nights later when giving her a goodnight cuddle she started practicing saying a very difficult word – jew sid jewus. Jewsidjewus. “Did you learn that word at preschool?” I asked. “Yes” she said, “Rebecca told it to us. It means trees that lose their leaves”.

Well she couldn’t say the word but she knew what it meant. And at three that’s something. Talking to her teacher Rebecca I passed on that Josie was sharing her knowledge at home.  Rebecca informed me that the children were asking why some leaves were changing colour and some weren’t and that triggered the subject. I was even more impressed now – child-centred inquiry-based learning. Letting the children ask a question, and then help them find the answer.  I am so grateful for the quality care that Josie is receiving while I am working!

But learning doesn’t have to stay at preschool, as Josie was also gently reminding me. So we took a trip into the botanical gardens. It was a gorgeous day, just perfect for wandering amongst the many different trees.

William and Josie in Christchurch Botanic gardens

William and Josie in Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Josie was very quick to point out all the leaves that were changing colour, oranges and browns, yellows even.  She found a marvellous leaf – large enough for peek-a-boo. It was learning by osmosis – by exploring the world around us and taking it all in.

Josie

Josie plays peek-a-boo

And back at home, we decided to make our own “forever trees”. There are so many wonderful art projects you can do with autumn leaves.

There’s leaf rubbing – put a leaf under paper and rub over the top with wax crayon until the shape appears.

William doing leaf rubbings.

William doing leaf rubbings using autumnal colours

Spatter-prints are effective – arrange leaves on the paper, dip an old toothbrush into paint. Use a stick to rub the bristles so fine spatters of paint go onto the paper around the leaves. Lift the leaves to reveal their shadows.

Or even more achievable for pre-schoolers, focus on the colours. Collect papers of different kinds of greens, browns, yellows, oranges – old magazines or wrapping papers can be recycled for this!

Josie creates her evergreen forever tree.

Josie creates her evergreen forever tree

Cut them into leaf shapes (we used zig-zag scissors) and glue them onto your wonderful forever tree.

Forever trees.

Josie's forever trees, evergreen on left, deciduous on right

For a wonderful book about New Zealand’s native trees – most of which are forever green as Josie says – Andrew Crowe’s Life-size guide to native trees is the best.

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Our lives are so busy these days. As working parents in a commercially-driven world where success is the measure of worth, we are constantly rushing from one appointment to the next. Get up, go the gym, take the kids to school, go to work, pick up the kids from school, go to swimming lessons, violin lessons, ballet lessons, art, karate, play dates, cook dinner, put the kids to bed, go to the gym, night classes, choir, committee meetings, PTA…

Sometimes we just need to stop, listen, be still and take time to be in the moment.

Daisy's Flat.

Quiet times at Daisy Flat.

Sunday 4 March 2012 was Children’s Day. And I was too busy to publishing this blog on the day! (shame) The theme of children’s day for 2012  was ‘treasure our children’. We shouldn’t need a day to tell us that our children are a gift and that we should spend time with them. But with all this constant drive to improve ourselves and be successful, we sometimes forget to just be together. As a family. All of us. Not Mum and Josie while the boys go to swimming. Not Dad and William while Josie goes to ballet. All of us. Spending some time together marvelling at the world we find ourselves in. It only needs to be ten minutes. Ten minutes of being in the moment.

Here are six simple experiences to just be “in the moment” with your children. These can be done by children of any age, even (especially) infants.

1)     Lie under a tree and look up at the branches together. Watch the leaves blowing in the wind, and the way the sun sparkles as it flicks between the spaces. Close your eyes and listen.

2)     Find a warm rock and lie like lizards. Worship the sun by feeling how it warms the rock – or your driveway if you can’t find a suitable stone. Put your cheek or hands flat against the stone and feel its warmth.

3)     Go for a walk at the quiet end of the beach – no spades, no boogie boards, just you. Take off your shoes and find a spot where the sand is really wet. Scrunch your toes in the sand. Wiggle side to side and watch your feet. Close your eyes and listen to the waves.

Josie aged 9 months.

Josie at nine months explored the sand using multiple senses!

4)     Find a wild space (they are getting rare) where the grass is growing long. Get down low and look through the grass. Play hide and seek, or crawl pretending to be tigers. Look for butterflies and insects flitting from flower to flower. Lie down and close your eyes.

5)     When it rains sit in the window and watch the raindrops travel down the glass. Follow them with your finger. Pick on each and have a race. When it stops – or even if it doesn’t put on your coats and boots and go stomp in some puddles. Raise your face up towards the rain and you guessed it – close your eyes. Take a deep breath and smell the rain.

Down in the forest. Down in the forest

6)     Read a book together. Snuggle into a beanbag and cuddle. Down in the Forest, retold by Yvonne Morrison and illustrated by Jenny Cooper is great for really small kids as it’s a remake of an old rhyme “Over in the meadow” so it has wonderful rhythm and repetition as well as being familiar. It also features different families with each verse – a kiwi family, weta family, tui family and more, so it’s a wonderful choice to celebrate and read as a family.

in an old kowhai tree
lived a sweet mother tui
and her little tuis three.

“Sing!” said the mother
“We sing!” said the three
so they sang so sweetly
in that old kowhai tree.

P.S. This week is Seaweek, an annual celebration to reconnect with the sea and what it can teach us. It is being officially launched at an event from Auckland Zoo tonight. Stay tuned for sea-themed reads and maybe some other fun stuff to do! The website has lots of competitions and resources too so check it out.

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