Insects in the Classroom

insectsintheclassroomcoverI’m pleased to announce the release of Insects in the Classroom!

This collection of insect information and activities is the only one of its kind written specifically for the New Zealand classroom. Special features include:

  • Background information about insects and their relatives
  • Instructions on how to care for live insects in the classroom
  • A dozen buggy classroom activities
  • Student-friendly identification guides designed for the New Zealand school yard
  • Insect-themed colouring sheets and worksheets

The book is released in conjunction with a new outreach programme for schools–Bugs and Books–that uses science as the inspiration for writing.


The Art of Food (or Beauty and the Beets)

img_2953-smTwenty-seven years ago, when I became a vegetarian, I had no idea that doing so would be an artistic adventure, as well as a culinary one.

The dietary change came easily and quickly. Because I was actually thinking about my food, I ate much better than I had before–a lot less pre-packaged swill, and a lot more fresh ingredients. I never missed the meat.

The artistic change has come more slowly and has only really blossomed in the past two years of blogging about food. In the past, I concerned myself with the look of food only on special occasions. Most of the time, I didn’t pay much attention to the aesthetics of my meals.

Now, even meal preparation has become an artistic experience. I notice how water beads on the surface of a tomato or how yellow carrots contrast beautifully with the dark kitchen benchtop, I choose vegetables for their colour as well as their flavour, I appreciate the vision of my ingredients lined up in little bowls waiting to be cooked. Sometimes, I’ll pick the vegetables for dinner a little earlier than I have to, simply so I can enjoy seeing them heaped in colander in the kitchen.

Being a gardener makes the aesthetics all the more rewarding to me–when the fruits of my labour are as beautiful as they are delicious, how can I help but be pleased? And, of course, I’m thinking about colours when I plant my vegetables too.

I say the aesthetics are part of the vegetarianism because I can’t imagine a raw chicken leg looking nice sitting on the kitchen bench. There’s something about the vegetables that’s pleasing, whether raw or cooked. Maybe it’s the colours. The vegetable palette is more varied and bright than the meat palette–snow white cauliflower, dark green spinach, deep magenta beets, bright green peas, sunny yellow squashes, scarlet tomatoes…Cooking with those vegetables is like dipping a paintbrush into the colours and creating a work of art.


No More Grammar

img_2951I’ve spent the last three days—11 hours each day—editing. I have no brains left to write a blog—they have all leaked out, stabbed by excessive punctuation, and strangled by curly quotes. If I see another comma, I will scream. I’ve had my fill of cut-and-paste errors. No dependent clauses can depend upon me this evening.

Instead, I will head to the garden, or to the piano. I’ll ignore infinitives, and banish adverbs. I will say whatever I please, and not worry about sentence fragments. Sentences without verb. Subject. Object.

  1. Do. Not. Care.

The English language can take a holiday this evening. Tell the Oxford Style Manual to stay home. I won’t answer the door. Come back tomorrow.


Get Outside—See Cool Stuff

The swarm--apologies for the image quality; I'm allergic to bee stings.

The swarm–apologies for the image quality; I’m allergic to bee stings.

I’m trying to make myself go out for a walk at lunchtime every day. I’ll admit that I can be a bit of a slave driver when I’m working, and I don’t always manage it. I have a tendency to simply work through lunch, and then suddenly discover it’s late afternoon.

In truth, the walks available to me from my front door aren’t necessarily all that inspiring—endless agricultural fields in every direction.

But you can’t experience anything if you don’t first go out. Yesterday, I took the most boring of the boring walks from my house—the one that doesn’t offer so much as a mailbox for the first kilometre. Don’t ask why I chose that way—maybe I wanted to clear my mind, as I’d been doing intense editing all morning.

On this most boring of walks, I happened to see something awesome—a honey bee swarm.

We are blessed with many nearby apiaries, and I always have a plentiful supply of bees to pollinate my garden vegetables, but even so, it’s unusual to spot a swarm. This one was hanging in a drooping mass off the neighbour’s fence.

Bees swarm to create a new colony. It’s usually the old queen who leaves her hive with a large portion of the workers. A new queen will hatch in her absence and take over the old hive.

The swarming bees leave the hive and gather nearby while scout bees search for a new hive location. This is what I saw—the resting swarm. It likely flew away to a new home within a few hours. Where those bees are now, I don’t know, but I hope they found a nice place nearby from which to visit my garden.

So, my most boring walk was amazing. That reminds me, I still haven’t gotten out for a walk today. Time to step away from the desk and get outside. Who knows what I might see?

Proof We’re Lame

A boat shed in Duvauchelle

A boat shed in Duvauchelle

It was Mum and Dad’s annual day out today. We dropped the kids off at summer camp in the morning, then had the whole day together with no other obligations.

Yeah! Party time!

Or not.

We brought our wetsuits and snorkels, thinking we might do some snorkelling…

But it was cloudy and chilly.

We drove into Akaroa to visit a couple of art galleries and have lunch on the waterfront…

But a cruise ship had just disgorged 2,000 tourists into the town, and it was so crowded, we left.

We ended up having toasties, chips, and a beer on the deck at the pub in Duvauchelle, watching the wading birds and a luckless pair of hitchhikers. Then we went for a short walk and came home.

Lame, lame, lame.

It was a lovely day, but we could have done all that with the kids. In fact, our summer outings with the kids are usually more exciting than that.

Truth is, I wasn’t surprised. It happens most every year. We have a week with no kids in the house, and what do we do? We go to work, we weed the garden and mow the lawn. Sometimes we might go so far as to rent a movie.

No all-night dancing, no dinners out—just the normal routine, with less washing up needed afterward.

Is that lame? Perhaps. I like to think of it as an indication that our daily life is pretty darned good. I like to think of it as an indication that we enjoy spending time with our kids, and our kids don’t stop us from doing the things we enjoy.

So tomorrow, I’ll have a nice long work day (I have lots of editing to do!), and when my husband comes home from work, we’ll make a delicious dinner. We’ll spend the evening sitting on the couch reading, and then we’ll do it all again the next day. Not really too hard to take.


Saturday Stories–Biodiversity

2017-01-05-09-03-54-cropOn our recent tramping trip to Mt Somers, my daughter and I whiled away the evening setting writing challenges. We chose three words at random from magazines in the hut, and used them in a story. The words that inspired this story: rhyolite, biodiversity, and me.

We hiked to the summit and set up our camp on a windy knob. I would have preferred to camp lower down, but the wētā we were studying lived in the cracks on the rhyolite cliffs just below the summit. We would rappel down from the top, our collecting jars in a sack attached to our harnesses, to gather our subjects.

“Caroline, you go first,” said Mark.

“Me?” I had hoped to watch one of the more experienced climbers descend first. I didn’t want to show the others how nervous I was about it though, so I stepped into my harness and tightened it.

At the brink I paused to make sure everything was ready. I knew if I glanced down even once I’d chicken out, so I kept my eyes on the rock in front of me as I slowly made my way down. I focused on admiring the beautiful, angular columns, the reddish colour. I looked for likely wētā hiding spots. I glanced up and saw Sophie coming down a second rope to my left.

I stopped at a small crevice and fumbled in my bag for a collecting jar and the bent wire ‘wētā tickler’ we all carried to nudge wētā out of their lairs. Focused on the insects, I forgot my fear, forgot the dizzying drop below. I fished out two wētā, then lowered myself a few more metres.

The rock was different here. Less columnar, more green than red. Did the wētā only live in the rhyolite? I didn’t know. I was curious to find out. I probed a near-circular hole in the rock with my wire.

The rock seemed to shiver.

I froze. Was that an earthquake? We’d never talked about what to do if we were on the cliffs during a tremor. All my fear of heights came rushing back.

I waited for a minute, eyes shut. Nothing happened. I opened my eyes and looked up at Sophie. She was poking intently at a crevice, as though nothing had happened. I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. Funny what your imagination can do. I laughed at myself and took a moment to relax my taut muscles and clenched fists.

Calm again, I poked my wire into the hole once more—it was the perfect size for a wētā.

There was no mistaking it this time. The rock moved. I yelped and pulled back my hand as a large yellow eye snapped open in the rock face to my right. There was a rumble, and suddenly a huge head detached itself from the cliff face in front of me. A huge, reptilian head. It snorted, and a wisp of smoke curled up out of its nostril—the hole I had probed for wētā.

Too startled and frightened even to scream, my mind lit on one thought: the biodiversity of Mt. Somers was greater than anyone had ever guessed. And unusual insects weren’t the most interesting things up here.

I wondered if we would make it home to tell anyone.

The View from the Compost

img_2929-smI finished turning the compost today—a back-breaking, exhausting job I don’t particularly enjoy. After I added each layer, I climbed on top of the pile to even it out and water it. From my two-metre high perch, I had a lovely view. I admired the neighbour’s seed radishes—wide stripes of white and pink flowers marking the two varieties he is crossing this year. It looked more like a curtain than an agricultural field.

Then I turned to admire my own garden. Well, actually I just turned. I’ll admit that I was a little surprised I found the view so nice.

The early January vegetable garden is always gorgeous—everything is at its peak lushness. I expected to find that attractive. But surveying the entire “production” side of the property from my perch, I was pleased to note that the whole place looked surprisingly lush. The berry beds are dense and tidy. The extra vegetables planted in my “overflow beds” (because 300 m2 (3230 ft2) of vegetables naturally wasn’t enough) are growing well, too. The artichokes look a little sad, and the grass paths are brown, but that is to be expected in the heat of summer.

The overall effect was one of lush productivity. I spent a little extra time on top of the compost pile to enjoy the view. It made today’s brutal job a little bit nicer.