Processing Meat with Children

**Graphic images may be disturbing to some viewers.  Please be advised**

On our little growing homestead we raise our own meat, we hunt and we fish.  It’s both a lifestyle and a teaching technique for our children.  Being an animal lover and a complete sentimentalist I used to leave the “ending of life” job to my husband, he was the action and I was the support.  Over time and certainly when we moved up into the quiet mountains it became essential that I was comfortable and confident enough to the slaughter.   My husband goes away for much of the winter and I am left to care for and manage the livestock.  With that responsibility comes the inevitable hardship of having to put things down, luckily with time it has become easier.

 

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Some of our teenage chickens

The first time I ever had to put something down was horrific.  I had raised a batch of chicks that had just turned into teens.  I free range my chickens all over the property and rarely has there ever been an issue.  Come to think of it the only time that having them loose was a problem was that particular day.  My boys had a pony and for some reason he got a bee in his bonnet and started running around haphazardly, chickens at foot.   He ended up stepping on one of my chickens and it was dying a horrible death, but not quick enough.  I can’t handle suffering at ALL.  I am a huge supporter of assisted death and the first one to run and grab a gun if something is down and out – I don’t have it in me to prolong any of that shit.  So here I was staring at this poor chicken and I had two choices, I could kill it or I could walk away and pretend it wasn’t happening and let it die on it’s own.  Living in town at the time I had limited tools at my disposal.  So I quickly looked around and found a big cinder block only a few meters away.  I knew that it would do the trick in an instant and I could turn away and not look.  Truly, I felt it was the cowards way out.  I got into position, got ready, took a huge breath, turned my head and dropped it.  Done. Instant.  I walked off and cried.

Now the funniest part, albeit the only funny part of this story was the reaction I got when I told my husband.   The man is a hunter through and through, and although he occasionally has difficult moments putting things down – they’re rare.  I was expecting a “Awe honey, that must have been hard.  Good for you.”   But what I got was “WHAT?!? A cinder block? Are you in the mafia?” Then he told his friends and they ALL responded the same way, I was “up close and personal, brutal, savage and a little scary.”  Despite the shock, what I came away with from that was that ending suffering was worth just about anything to me.  It was in that moment that I knew, despite breaking my heart a little, I would be just fine on my own when shit went sideways – which no matter how well you plan it always, always does.

20190203_134139So jump forward almost a decade and things are a little different.   If a rooster turns nasty he’s in the stew pot within a couple of hours, if something is sick and not getting any better – done.  Last week for instance I needed to slaughter our ducks.  I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I knew it needed to be done and I couldn’t wait until my husband came home from work.  So bundled up and out I went in -20 degrees to catch my ducks and turn them into supper.  Once they were slaughtered both my boys said they wanted to come out and help me process the meat.   Now we hunt a lot, so having them help cut, grind, wrap, is nothing new but they really liked these ducks so I didn’t know how it was going to turn out.  I knew that they wanted to help so that I didn’t have to do it, “Don’t worry mom, we’ve got this.”  Astonishingly they nailed it! They chopped off heads, legs, helped me pluck a few, skin others, de-bone them and then my eldest made us duck stew for dinner.  They were simply amazing and both enjoyed it a lot.

 

I know that as my boys grow up they aren’t going to need me to provide in a way that many kids do.  They won’t ever worry about food, where it comes from or how to get it.  They have a strong grasp on the animals that make the most meat the fast and economically.  Both of them help plan which animals will come onto the farm every year, how we can make the most money off of them and what the turnover should look like.  They haven’t even been on the ground for a decade and they have this stuff down pat.  A decade ago I was still in tears dropping cinder blocks on chickens.  It’s in these moments that I am both proud of my boys and that I know we’re on the right track as parents, at least in that regard.

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Homemade duck stew. Made with love by an 8 year old.

When is it Ever Going to be Enough?

We live in a going-green culture of Jones’. The environmental movement is rolling along like a runaway train and I can’t help but wonder to myself if I’m making that much of a difference. I don’t think we have it in us to fully reverse the effects of greenhouse gases, heal the stratospheric ozone depletion, return the ocean waters to the quality they once were or even to turn our waste into usable energy – not globally anyway and most definitely not in my lifetime. Regardless, I have been hell bent and determined to do my part and make a difference, because I have children that need to live here long after I leave. Unfortunately, both the problem and the solution lay within the small things, the daily efforts and the little adjustments we make to our tiny worlds. In a culture of judgement, long-dicking and incredible (perhaps even unobtainable goals) are my little adjustments enough? Are yours? And who are we to say either way?

I have a tremendous circle of intelligent, environmentally savvy, planet loving, ground kissing, nature inspired people in my life. Many of which have been on this journey of minimizing their environmental impact longer and with more dedication than I have. I have gained so much knowledge from these people and have done a good job implementing many adjustments to our life, but where does it end – better yet, when are we satisfied with our efforts?

Truth be told, I have made leaps and bounds in the last two years reducing our footprint. I spent over a year researching gardening and permaculture, designing my beds, planning my seeds carefully to give me the highest yield with the least amount of work – seriously, how busy can a girl expect to get? I now have a beautiful garden that produces more bounty than we can eat, so I learned how to process everything. My husband has always hunted and we now hunt a lot as a family. A few years ago, to save money we decided to learn how to process our own meat. We now process ALL OF IT. It takes us about three full day to process an entire moose and it feeds our family for almost a year. The meat that we raise on our farm we process as well. We’ve managed to create a very self sustaining little oasis here at home, so my focus was driven to the next stage: plastic use.

We spent November making “unsponges” for our house and for family, using only recycled scraps from our old sewing projects – *poof* went the plastic sponges we used to use. I don’t use bags for my produce, not even the reusable mesh ones (because those are plastic too). I have fabric reusable shopping bags and I make my own cloths. In order to reduce packaging we now buy everything we can in bulk and we only buy it at places where I can bring all of my own jars to fill. I have made our laundry, dish and hand soap liquid from pressure canning soap nuts. All in all we have a pretty good little system going.

I know that in general we’re a judgmental species. I try hard not to be but I often struggle. I see it a lot in groups of like-minded people talking about making environmental strides. I mean come on, I can’t think of a worse place to judge peoples efforts and commitments than somewhere where the entire purpose is to improve ourselves and the planet. Maybe an addiction meeting? I’ve never been to one myself, but I can’t imagine the group saying, “I hate to break it to you Karen, although you’ve gone from snorting coke to chewing gum you’re still in fact failing. This is still an addiction.” Fuck no, wouldn’t happen – that wouldn’t be very “supportive”. On the other hand, I’ve joined a couple of groups working to reduce plastic waste and that’s exactly the tone that comes from the discussions. For instance, someone was making and selling the mesh bags for produce. Suddenly, this guy proclaims “Ah, I think you’re missing the point. Purchasing new plastic materials isn’t addressing the problem, you’re only contributing further.” Well yes in essence he is correct, however, give the woman a break. If she makes a thousand of these bags and keeps 50,000 disposables from the grocery stores out of the landfill it’s still some kind of victory.

I have friends that can’t give up paper towels or K-cups, can’t go to town without getting a coffee but never remember a to-go cup, that buy bottled water and still use plastic straws (SAY IT ISN’T SO?!?), does this mean they aren’t doing their part? No. It means that they haven’t adjusted those pieces yet and maybe they never will. It doesn’t mean that my life changes are more significant or better, it just means they’re different. In this house I haven’t mastered making all of our own condiments, so my fridge is still full of plastic, plus we still go through a god awful amount of water bottles every year because we can’t seem to remedy the problem that leads to it – but we’re brainstorming. Does that mean that all the other strides we’ve made don’t count? Nope, sure don’t.

The Dalai Lama says that “Love is the absence of judgement.” In fact, I believe every organized religion in the world asks their followers not to judge. If we know it’s wrong, why do we do it? Perhaps it’s human nature? Maybe we’re just a group of hypocrites not willing to put in the hard work and practice? Who knows. I do know that no matter how hard we try we’ll never get anywhere comparing our progress to others, and we won’t make nearly as much of a difference to this place, if we can’t be proud of the little changes we make.

10 Days in the Yukon

A peek at our journey to the North

Every year we design our homeschooling curriculum loosely around a trip for the following year.  I find it helps me stay focused and it feeds the boys interest throughout the year.  I choose research topics and units based on hands-on experiences we can do on our trip.  In order to avoid boring ourselves, we choose places that neither my husband or I have been.

For many years the Yukon had called.  Through anecdotal tales and literary glory, others experiences of the vast expanse had created a desperate ache inside my gut.  Once we decided that our home school trip would take us farther North than any of us had ever been our excitement began to boil. Luckily, we had quite a few books on the Yukon, but we lucked out at some second hand stores and added to the pile.  We jam packed as much as humanly possible into ten days.  We drove between ten and fourteen hours a day for the first week, in order to see as much as we could, and honestly we could have stayed another three months and been busy.

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Wading through the creek at the end of the hot springs.

On our second night we stayed at the Hot Springs in Liard, BC.  It was an easy and beautiful ten minute saunter into the forest, with an odd and invigorating smell, somewhat like sulfur.  It was cold but the ground was warm, which created this steaming mud and fauna unlike anything I’ve ever seen.   The long plank path lead straight through a remarkable meadow swamp.  Moss, lichen, and fat bulbous leaved plants pushed through the shallow warmth of the grass and swamp like pools.  When we reached the end of the path, we found their stunning pool.  The cool end of the pool lead into a tiny little stream, barely two feet deep.  We paddled through on our tummies – down and through and around.  It wasn’t very far, but it seemed a million miles away as the other guests disappeared into the forest behind us and everything was silent.  The plants above us and all around morphed into a jungle, and we instantly felt like we’d changed continents.  Ferns hung over head, clinging to soggy logs and slick stones.  It was truly remarkable.

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Liard, BC Hot Springs 2018
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Dawson City 2018

Wandering around Dawson City with two kids in tow one one of my favourite days.  It felt as if we had stumbled back in time.  Other than a few fresh coats of paint on various buildings, it was easy to see that upgrades had never been a priority, which was a wonderful surprise.  It was hot, which we found odd complaining about since we live in a bloody desert but it was surprising.   The streets were dirt and the sidewalks were made of planks, which made the dust settle and stick to our sweat for the long haul.  It was icky and the kids were tired.  We were so thirty and the map of the town is made up of landmarks and historical points of interest, so unfortunately GET DRINKS HERE wasn’t marked.

Nevertheless,  what an incredible place.  The sagging churches, dilapidated billboards and old broken buildings were amazing.  A town supported almost entirely by the tourist industry and yet, since the gold rush it had clearly never made enough money to make it truly take off.   The Dawson City Museum was incredible – a true highlight for a couple of gold rush crazy kiddos.   We stumbled into a little gold shop along the river and they had this incredible display of gold taken from all the different mines.  We wandered and wandered, and around every corner was “wow!”

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Justin and Rhett walking the streets of Dawson City 2018

We got incredible lucky and had a friend with family that owned a gold claim just outside of town and we were invited to stop by the mine and see how a real gold mine worked.  The boys found a little bit of gold, got to try out the equipment and then we had a Lynx casually wander by while we were panning.  It was a fantastic day.

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Home of Robert Service – Dawson City

The hardest part about driving so hard and for so many days is we were ALWAYS tired.  It truly was an exhausting trip.  By day 7 we had one boy wanting to camp everywhere and experience more, and the other wanting to pull 20 hr days and get home ASAP.  Nevertheless, with limited time off every year and wanting to get as much done as possible, rarely are our vacations truly a vacation.  Although this is just a smidgen of what we did on our trip, I hope it inspires you to go and check it out.  We’re going to go again!

 

Our Favourite Everyday Curriculum: Exploring Nature With Children

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We spend an incredible amount of time outdoors, so it’s no surprise that I continually try to find ways to incorporate our adventure and exploration into our everyday school work. For the last year and a half, we have guided our home study around a fantastic curriculum called Exploring Nature With Children.  It gives children the opportunity to fall in love and connect with nature through a variety of mediums.    There are works of art work to look up, a themed poem and suggested reading supplements that you can add in order to explore the topics even further.  It’s perfect when teaching a variety of ages because everything can be simplified or expanded as needed.

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One of my favourite attributes of the Exploring Nature curriculum is the additional readings.  These you can find your own, however having a list of titles and authors allows for an easy lesson when you’re having a rough week and could use a little extra support.  Who doesn’t have one of those now and then, right?

Once a month we go to the library and take out the supplemental readings for the following few weeks.  Most of the artwork we look up online, but occasionally we take out a book for further study.

We each started a Nature Journal which we keep in our adventure packs.  We use this journal to document and draw different things that we learn about and examine each week.  As a family that spends a lot of time in the bush, I found the nature journal was a light and compact way to continue learning on the go.

Last year, while hiking the mountain with fellow homeschool friends we started a nature journal game.  The kids varied in age from 5 to 12, so we needed to find something flexible.  We separated (in a meadow, where we could still control safety) and found something to draw.  Afterwards we came back together, lay our sketches out and worked as a group to try and find the plants that others had done, using only the sketch as a hint.  Then we discussed the plants we couldn’t identify, looked them up and labelled them all.  When I look back through the last year of doodles, sketches and paintings that we’ve done in our books, those pages always make me smile.

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First fish caught solo and cooking for dinner.

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I find this a very flexible curriculum, one that I can morph easily and change expectations based on age and ability of learner.  Sometimes the journal entries take over and become the kids favourite part, other times they find a strong connection within the examination of the subject or the themed  poem.  No matter which part they connect with in any given week, it’s never dull and the boys always look forward to it.

Although we used this last year, I find we don’t learn enough in a single week of study that doing it again the following year is repetitive.  Change it up, add more depth, a new set of eyes and get the family outside – that’s all it’s really about after all.

If this sounds like something you’d like to try, pop over to Lynn’s site http://www.raisinglittleshoots.com and download it from there.  There is also a great Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/exploringnaturewithchildren with some of her stunning journal entries, a great community of like-minded adults and other Charlotte Mason style ideas to add to your week of study.  I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!

 

Take A Moment

Homeschooling from a mountain top is like any homestead, small town, isolated place.  It’s you, your kids and if you’re super lucky a parenting partner for back up.  Nevertheless, there is a fine line between savoring your time together and getting all together touched out, talked out, space invaded and fed up with family time.

As parents we often feel this way and there are piles of social media posts, blogs, and books to back it up.  Memes about needing mommy time, wine o’clock, date night or any excuse for a breather flash across a parents screen daily.  It’s natural and it’s reasonable.  There are days, weeks or even months when your little one is extra clingy, touchy, angry, or needy.  The truth is that although there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way, we rarely give our kids the opportunity to feel the same.

Today during a typical “Why can’t you just be kind to your brother?” conversation, my eldest started to walk away.  I called him back to finish our conversation.  His response was “Do I have to?”  So, true to form I told him that he did.  You know the whole obey your parents, it’s rude to walk away in the middle of a conversation, you need to talk things through, blah, blah, blah.  However when we were through, I thought to myself he’s just peopled out and I didn’t give him the opportunity to feel that.  We’ve had a long couple of weeks as I have been sick and practically useless.  The boys have been a fantastic help and taken excellent care of me, but now that I’m on the mend we’re all starting to show the signs of needing some alone time.   We’re edgy, and short fused and wanting to be somewhere else for a few minutes.

Parents own the need of occasional personal space and alone time.  We are so confident that it’s OK to feel that way that we write jokes and memes and we even get it printed on shirts and the bottoms of our socks.  Growing up my mother had a magnet on the fridge that said “Raising kids is like being pecked to death by a chicken.”  She would laugh and laugh, show all her friends and I always felt bad.  I didn’t feel bad for me or my brother, but I felt bad that that was the feeling she was taking away from being a parent.  Luckily, I don’t feel that way about parenting, but I do know that I need healthy breaks for my sanity.  These breaks don’t even need to be away from my family, they can be in the garden, or in a book, or in a hot bath, or with a quiet whiskey under the stars.  They are simply small moments alone with my thoughts.

Our children have the right to these breaks as well, and typically we snag that from them.  We have all this “rule and order” that’s been passed down generation after generation on how kids should behave, but we rarely give them the same space to compose themselves that we take ourselves.  They need a moment to walk away and regroup, a moment to think about what they’re feeling to prevent a meltdown, a moment to not get corrected, hounded and managed.  Maybe they just need a little peace and quiet or the ability to say “in a minute” and keep playing with their toys without getting scolded.  With all I have in my heart I love my children, but sometimes I need a moment and so do my boys.

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A Toast: To the Mountain Dwellers

For the desperate and the depressed, impatiently waiting for Spring.

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The winters get long here. They’re lovely, serene and the depths of silence and snow hug you close through the cold stages and allow you to center yourself. The food is hot and nourishes the depths of your ever expanding winter belly. In some ways, we hibernate; like the bears we get silent and still and warm and fat. We find ways to survive the seemingly endless winter months, entertaining ourselves with the temporary pleasures of snow games and exploration. Then comes a point where the patience begins to wane and we start planning for spring, pretending we’re closer than we really are: Garden plotting, seed starting, hatching eggs, maintenance and renovation plans, fishing trips, camping goals and the dream of diving off logs into the cool crisp lakes. Wanting to stretch in the springtime sun as we emerge from our cocoon, refreshed and ready to take on the real new year.

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This moment however, is the hardest part of winter. When the warmth and brightness of spring begins to tease you and torment the soul you didn’t know was desperate. It’s a time to feel lost and lonely within yourself. Your ideas and effort are spent, the novelty of snow men, snowmobiles, snowshoeing and winter games have worn off, the holiday glow is long forgotten, and you’re desperate for change.

This is when I start to feel unsatisfied with who I am and what I’m doing. The big questions start rolling in: Why? Who am I? Other than a mother and a motivator for this stunning life we live, who am I? On the rare occasion that I walk alone, how is it I can’t talk to myself anymore? I’ve lost my inner voice, my constant. What do I need to do in order to find her again?

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I sit with a coffee staring at the beauty and grandeur of where I live, truly grateful for the luxury and a little guilty that at that moment I want more. Even though the days are getting longer and warmer something makes them drag on, for it’s still not enough. I long for the grass on my toes and the dirt between my fingers. I long for the blue glow from the TV to disappear. I long to sit on the deck with my love and drink whiskey while we stare at the sky, contemplating whether the city lights or the stars are further away.

So here’s a toast, to you and to me. A toast to the last stretch of winter and the sneaky arrival of spring. A toast for all of our desperate souls that seem to run out of patience and sink into despair at the same time every year. We’re almost there and it will be just as glorious as every single spring before.

A Game of Lost and Found

Empowering Children to conquer more and believe in themselves.

 

It has been cold here the last little while, hovering around -20 for over a week.  It’s hard to get out and get motivated in the winter sometimes, but I strongly believe that it’s more important in the winter.  It’s easy to sit inside and cuddle up with a book or binge watch Netflix and our modern day luxuries don’t force us outside like they did decades ago.  As a result, children and adults alike have far less winter skills that we used to – so we’ve decided to change that as a family.

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The beginning of our hike with Dad in the lead.

We find way to engage the kids outdoors and teach them skills without them realising it isn’t just a game.  My husband and I wanted to get them out for some fresh air and exercise, and the kids were in the mood to act like zombies, so like the good little mountain parents we occasionally are – we invented a game.  We played this amazing game a couple of weeks ago and it’s sure to be repeated many times even during the summer months. A game of  survival, critical thinking and adventure!

We drove up our mountain as far as we could get in 4 feet of snow, then proceeded to unloaded the kids and the snowshoes.  Once everyone was strapped in we went for a bit of a hike asking the kids to pay CLOSE attention to their surroundings as we walked.

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Five and Fearless

Once we’d gone a ways (with a clear snowshoe path leading back to the truck), we asked them to lead the way to the truck but they couldn’t take us on the same route.  They needed to think about it and find an alternate route that would take us to the same spot – cut their own trail, if you will. They looked slightly forlorn, as the forest canopy rose 60 feet above them and a deep quilt of snow covered the ground.

We talked about the surroundings, the details, the things they may not have noticed on their own.  We asked them to study the trail we had left in the snow and think about where the truck was.  Could they point in the direction it was parked?  We asked them to look at the sun and compare it to the position of their body while they faced the direction they intended to walk.  When facing the truck it was slightly passed their right shoulder.  We were less than 20 minutes from the truck so the sun would move very little before we returned.

We didn’t give them the compass, so the boys (aged 5 and 7) had to get us back on sheer brain power.  They looked around for a minute, talked about it between themselves, made a plan and off they went with dad and I in tow.

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Taking turns leading the way

They chose a pretty route that followed an active set of coyote tracks over a hillside and into the forest.  The ground was alive with animal activity.  They looked at the tracks and the different sizes, trying to guess how many were in the family.  It hadn’t snowed in several days, so it was possible that this was days worth of activity from the same family members, therefore increasing track numbers.  My husband tracks for a living so he was teaching them different ways to analyse them and to tell how fresh or old they were.

At one point our path started to shift a little north and we had to remind the boys to notice the sun and turn their bodies back to the body/sun position they had started with.  We climbed over boulders and logs, we dipped down below fallen trees and we trudged though snow as deep as the boys.  Just as they were getting a little frustrated and feeling the shadow of defeat creep up our truck appeared over the bank. Huge smiles of pride and success washed over their tiny faces.

It was a day of triumph.