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.

 

12940041_223221898049122_435229545_n
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.

20190203_181325
Homemade duck stew. Made with love by an 8 year old.

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.

20180720_085948
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.

20180720_091250
Liard, BC Hot Springs 2018
20180722_161411
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!”

20180722_161729
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.

20180722_174005
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

21616395_10159151615865447_1407774259238494116_n (1)

Please note, some of my posts contain affiliate links.  Please refer to the disclaimer for further information.

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.

22089349_10159232657680447_5451500450356540854_n

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.

NJ- J's fish
First fish caught solo and cooking for dinner.

NJ - Crabapples

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.

20170403_193213

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.

28165174_10159850003985447_7666742829431958972_o
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.

28234842_10159850004565447_8100584296915862803_o
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.

28235028_10159849997545447_5185505647610347392_o
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.

 

Let Them Be Wild

Learning how to let go, even just a little bit.

As a fairly neurotic parent, I find great difficulty letting go of the reins and allowing my children to venture and learn solo.   Nevertheless, I believe at the core of my soul that letting them loose and controlling less is ultimately going to create, in my case, better men.  It is impossible to grow and learn and develop when we’re stifled.  Take a candle for instance, with a little room to breathe it burns but it will not grow, give it even less space and it will suffocate completely.  let me be wild I find that children living under helicopter parents are similar.  They don’t have the opportunity to learn anything; they’re spoon fed information and there is almost no engagement whatsoever.  How many times do you see parents answering the questions they just asked, or asking leading questions to “help” them find the answer?  It’s like we assume our kids are adorable little morons.  Personally I fight hard not be that parent, so if this sounds familiar don’t fret just keeping trucking.  At least if we’re trying it means we care, and that is more than our kids could ever ask for.  When in doubt help less.

When we moved to this mountain top all my boys wanted to do was run.  They wanted to kick off their shoes and get lost in the woods.  We did lots of hiking and foraging and collecting leaves and flowers and seeds that we found on our journeys, but they really wanted to test their skills solo.  Now we’re on 6 acres of land that backs onto endless miles of crown land (or government land depending on where you’re drinking your coffee at the moment).  We can walk out of our back gate and literally go forever, it’s fantastic.  At 4 and 6 years old however, I wasn’t about to let my kids run rampant in the forest.  As a true-to-form helicopter parent from the suburbs I wanted to see them, hear them, tell them to be careful stepping over that log and to watch out for the stinging nettles.  Nevertheless, I dug down deep and mustered a solution that allowed them to be “free” and me to be able to hover – I strapped our dogs tracking collars to their backpacks.  I could stand on the deck, or do the dishes and watch every single step they took, the direction they were looking and the meters from my handheld.  It was brilliant.  We had a strict rule that they needed to stay on the path that we’d made and take a dog, which didn’t allow them nearly as much distance as they felt (and it kept them within hearing range), but it allowed them out of the gate and into the wild ALONE.  They walked this path, with their Adventure Packs and all the survival skills they’d been taught about 100 times this past year.

21616395_10159151615865447_1407774259238494116_n

22049843_10159232647950447_718868376923406024_n

There is nothing my kids love more than hitting the trails and bringing things home to examine and wonder about.  Our rock collections are ridiculous and I always seem to have seeds and feathers and bones scattered on every flat surface in my house.  They search for treasures and creatures, they track different animals and compare their features. They practice physics and the laws of motion, they experiment with biology and study taxonomy.  They learn patience and care and measuring and monitoring.  They are better students because they are wild, because we let them loose.  We learn so much about the world around us, that often I go in with a plan or a lesson in mind and when we emerge from the bush the list of things we learned is only outdone by the list of things I need to look up because I didn’t go in prepared with the answers.

It’s hard some days to find a balance, or even to find my footing.  It takes a lot of motivation (for me) to get out, and some serious effort to foster their focus without controlling the learning.  I try and take a jump in/step back approach.  When I see a learning opportunity, I highlight it or point it out, ask a question that requires some critical thought and then step right back out of the situation while the wheels turn.  I keep a notebook for questions that they ask so that I can look up the answers when we get home.  Nothing is more humbling that home or forest schooling to remind you of how little you actually know about the world.

21557888_10159151614700447_7867325623008872388_n

So take this bit of encouragement from a mom that tries and fails regularly, because it’s still working.  Despite my failures, I can see that it’s working because I am watching my boys become everything I’d ever hoped they would become: strong, independent, intelligent, brave, kind and self reliant.

Get outside, follow their lead and learn whatever they’re in the mood for.  Find the strength inside to get outside, even on the days you want to binge watch the latest trash TV or become a FB zombie.  Let them go, let them run ahead without you.  You’ll catch up and they’ll have stories of adventure when you get there.

 

 

 

“… But can’t you hear the Wild? – it’s calling you.  Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us; Let us journey to a lonely land I know.  There’s a whisper on the night-wind, there’s a star agleam to guide us, and the Wild is calling, calling… let us go.” – The Call of The Wild, By: Robert Service