Let go of the reins and trust your kids.

I often feel spent. I am overwhelmed and exhausted. I am alone. Most days I spin in a cloud of guilt and disappointment. Sometimes, I am truly so tired it makes me weep, even if only for a brief moment. The truth however, is that I am not alone. I am a member of a phenomenal tribe, albeit an odd one. Some people in this club stumbled upon it, fell accidentally into a dark and scary pit only to claw their way back to a new sense of normal. Others were guilted into joining, manipulated you might even say. Some ached, yearned and begged to get here; trying for years just to join this regular, mundane, and common community of people. At some point, nevertheless, we all became parents and this simple moment changed us all forever.

As a mother that homeschools two bright boys, I am consumed with doing the best I can to make them whole, make them successful (whatever that ends up looking like in the end). I don’t have the luxury of sending them off to school and having the ability to blame a collective of teachers for the things they didn’t teach them, or taught them too well. I am judged every, single, goddamn day. Yes, even by you. Now this judgement is not always negative, sometimes the praise that’s equally hard to take. We have good days and we have many poor ones, like every other poor bastard in this club – it’s rough in here.

Some days I want to curl up like a 80’s mom and watch daytime soaps, eating bonbons all day – that’s what you guys did right? Oh right, you still live with the same judgement even though your kids are grown. You are STILL the one looked at as either a failure or a success when people assess your grown children. Even as adults doing our own stumbling, our own parenting or heaven forbid those of us choosing not to be parents – you’re getting judged. This systemic judgement can dictate our lives and ultimately it’s our children that it affects. Let’s lay off a bit.

You’re probably reading this thinking this is an attack on a judgmental society and perhaps that’s where it stems from, but this is a calling to all parents: Go a little easier on yourself. Take a breath. Regroup. Don’t try so hard to be on your A-game every day. In the end, your kids – they’ve got this.

I’m a very lucky woman; I likely have the hardest working man ever made. He doesn’t take sick days, he doesn’t laze around and most of all he never, ever, ever complains! Now I understand this is what a million and one mothers would kill for, but I’m telling you there are moments when that is hard to match. There are days when I feel broke down, tired, spent and so exhausted I could cry – but in the back of my head I know my other half (my better half) is out there working in the snow, sleet, mud and 45 degree weather and when he gets home he’s not going to complain for a single moment. So I look at our children, pull up my socks and I trudge through. With little effort and zero love and attention to what we’re working on – we continue. We persevere.

Now here my friends is the kicker, and I learned this today. We try so hard to get as much done in a day as we can. We compete with those imaginary Jones’. You know, the ones that are struggling just like us? I worry about what to say at the grocery store when someone hears our children homeschool and proceed to ask my six year old “What is 12X11?” (P.S. don’t do that shit). But the worst part is, we judge ourselves the most – at least I do. I worry more about how I’m teaching, how I’m parenting and how my children move through life more than anyone else could. Maybe that stems from an icky society but either way it’s time to move past it. Time to loosen the reins and give our kids the credit they deserve.

This week has been a nightmare homeschooling my kids – like send them away on the bus tomorrow and be done with it, that kinda hard. My husband, my rock, Mr. Strong and Steady, he’s been away at work this week and that’s very hard on the boys. Truth be told, it’s always hard on them and I knew this, but I still didn’t alter expectations. I have been fighting with my kids everyday to get school work done and they’ve been willing to fight me until we’re almost in tears. It’s been the week of groundings, threats and a lot of separation. I am having a hard time without him near, I always do, but I forgot to think about the boys struggle this week. I pushed and pushed when really they needed to be given the space to mourn, to long for, and to learn on their own terms – instead I pushed. So today we’re hitting the 7-day mark, which is always the turn around. The time where our new rhythm takes over and we’re OK knowing that he’ll be back when he can. So what happened today? Well, my kids got back into their rhythm, got their feet back under them and they took the reins. They didn’t want to do book work today and that’s OK (it’s also a Sunday, so you can see I have moments of sitting on the throne of Helga’s House of Pain), but instead they wanted to “adult”. They wanted to research things on their own, wanted to make a full dinner (I can smell the amazing moose stew and fresh apple pies from here) and they wanted to learn things like “how much soap to use in a laundry swap.”

Some days those battles you’re having need to be tossed to the side, it’s not worth it and it doesn’t matter. Go for a walk, get some fresh air, and if all you have in you is the effort to boil water – them make a pot of tea and watch TV. You won’t find any judgement here. We have a hard time in this club. The expectations are high, the judgement runs thick and our own obsession with “making” the next amazing person is gross. Let’s be kind to our kids, kind to each other and give ourselves a little slack. There isn’t a child in this world that doesn’t’ want to learn, so if they’re having an off day – give it to them! We all have those days and they’re hard. Push through mommies and daddies, cause these amazing little beasts are growing every day. Give them the benefit of the doubt and trust that they know when they need a day off. Everyone needs that sometimes, even Mr. Strong and Steady.

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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Cheep! Cheep! Is that Spring I hear?

Top 5 Ways to Raise Awesome Chicks

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Veronica – Barnevelder

Nothing says springtime like an incubator buzzing.  It’s always hard for me to wait and time my hatching just right.  It gets so cold here that I don’t like hatching before it warms up, but I need to balance that with being a rather inpatient gal.  I’m a lucky girl however, with a VERY good husband for he has allowed me to designate an entire room in my house to chickens.  I have a “chick room” designed simply for incubating, hatching and brooding chicks.  It’s fantastic in the early months of spring when it’s just a little too chilly to let those babies outside.  Who doesn’t love having chicks in the house anyway?

My Top 5 Ways to Raise Awesome Chicks:

1. Handle Your Chicks Regularly. 12797998_254433651570763_393543114_n(1)

This makes your chicken life SO much easier.  The babies that I’ve hand raised are so much easier to deal with as adults, than adult chickens I have purchased.  If you ever need to handle or doctor your chickens, you’ll want them as calm as possible around you. (Make sure your hands are washed, so that you aren’t introducing germs, parasites or any potential diseases to your new babes.  This is especially the case if you have a flock of chickens, or are handling any other birds.)

 

2. Feed Age/Stage Appropriate Feed. 

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Using bribery to increase handling by children – Especially important with young roosters.

If you are raising chicks for the first time this is essential and you need to do some research.  The growth stages of chicks is fast and you don’t have a lot of time to remedy mistakes.  Protein, vitamin and trace mineral level needs very at every age stage and the results of using accurate levels will make a huge difference to your chicks.  They will be larger, stronger, healthier and produce less waste.  Read a couple of non-biased studies and you’ll see the difference.  Quality feed is well worth the small additional cost.

 

3. Invest in a Good Brooder.  

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Marbles in the water dish prevent drowning

You can buy awesome kits or complete brooders for raising your chicks, or you can make one and get the same results – your choice.  We built ours and the kids still love adding new things to keep the chicks happy and entertained.  You can see some great ideas for brooders and coop ideas here. Your chicks need a warm, safe place to grow.  They need ample fresh water, food and a clean space to move and grow.  The temperature should be around 90F for the first week, and should be reduced by around 5 degrees each following week, until the chicks have their all of their feathers.  If your chicks are huddled up to or under your heat source it’s not warm enough, however, if they are all as far away from your heat source as possible it’s too warm.

Note: The chicks have moved the shavings away from the paper they are standing on, and you DO NOT want your chicks standing on plain newspaper – Bullet 4 will cover this.

chicken splint4. Keep them on a textured surface. 

This is a factor that most new chick owners are unaware of.  Chicks need to be kept off of anything slippery: newspaper, vinyl, linoleum, hardwood etc… Although handy and generally easy to clean those little feet have nothing to grip onto and some pretty serious developmental issues can follow.  Splayed leg for instance, where one or both of their legs slides to the side (looking similar to a break), makes the chick unable to walk.  Typically this results in the chick getting culled or you playing chicken doctor like me and finding a way to make the worlds smallest splint.  Let me tell you this was one of the most time consuming and frustrating jobs of my life.

I tend to have multiple surfaces in my brooder, typically shavings on one side and a folded towel on the other.  My brooder is large with a lot of room to exercise and we add stimuli to keep them thinking and prevent boredom.  I elevate the water, to prevent getting shavings inside.

5. Introduce to the Flock Early 

When, where and how you introduce chicks to the rest of your flock depends on several factors.  What is the season and temperature outside, for you need to make sure your chicks are fully feathered and old enough to withstand and temperature changes without a hen to keep them warm.  How large is your flock and how sensitive your flocks pecking order is also plays a huge role, as your chicks safety is your number one concern.  Also, it’s never a good idea to just throw your babies in the coop.  When I am introducing chicks I set up a metal crate inside the coop and the chicks live in the crate for several days but separated for their safety.  I find this gives them a good opportunity to watch and learn.  They see how the older chickens interact with each other, and they get a feel for the pecking order without having to be apart of it.  It also gives my hens an opportunity to watch the chicks and get comfortable with them.  When i’m ready to release, I do it at night with the lights out.  Typically, when the chickens wake up no one is the wiser, however, I do leave the crate in the coop with a small barrier door (chicks fit under but chickens don’t), so that if needed the chicks have a safe place to run and hide.  My goal is to have my chicks out and learning from the masters early.

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Sprout (the worlds kindest rooster) leading some girls out for a morning stroll.

 

What Makes a Mountain Child?

By a learn-as-you-go mountain mommy

So, what is a mountain child anyway? We live in the mountains, surely that’s enough.  I had to ask myself something similar a while back.  I thought about what it was I wanted my children to take away from our experience here.  Childhood is limited after all.  We don’t have nearly as much time as we think we do to secure those lessons, those understandings.  So what was it? What was the grand idea I wanted them to take away from all of this?  And I don’t mean the only thing I wanted them to learn, I mean the advantage I wanted them to have from living here.  I wanted to raise men that got their values, their foundation and their work ethics from living above the skyline.

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Frozen River Play

The first thing I wanted to teach them was survival.  My kids have long been adventurers, they’ve got “Survival Packs”, they hike, fish, hunt, and play like any wild children do.  But here’s the thing, the reality – we live in the bloody mountains! As amazing as that is, it comes with some danger and those risks need to be prepared for.  We live with cougars, bears, bobcats, Lynx, Coyotes and Wolves. This preparedness is not something you can learn in a book, its knowledge you gain through experience, time, and learning from other people’s mistakes. So to prepare them in a fun way, we play survival games: What do you do if? How do you build the best fort if you NEED to sleep in it? If you’re lost in the bush, and you’re seven years old… how DO you survive? How do you make a snow fort, that’s safe and effective? Stay Visible, Stay Loud!  I’m pretty confident in my boys outback skills.  I’m not saying they’d slay a mountain lion, but I think if they were lost they would have a strong foundation to fall back on.

Since moving up here, I have become surrounded by an amazing group of smart, nature savvy women who are as passionate about raising their kids and doing it in the mountains as I am.  We learn a lot from each other.  Last year, with a lot of guidance from a fellow mountain momma we started to forage for food and medicine.  The boys learned how to make poultices to stop bleeding, about plants that help bites and stings and we even made a huge batch of Natures Polysporin that we now use exclusively for both ourselves and our animals.  They don’t know a lot yet, but they’ve got a good arsenal and they can distinguish between some pretty similar look-alike plants.

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Physics experiments in the creek.

After survival, I wanted our boys to have an excellent grasp of the plants and animals that surrounded us.  We’ve spent countless hours learning about tracks, and scat and markings on trees.  At the beginning of this school year I decided to purchase the Exploring Nature with Children curriculum.  This curriculum gives us a theme within nature to study and follow each week, and in addition gives us an example of art and poetry that coincides with the week’s theme.  Both the children and I have enjoyed this curriculum immensely.  There are plenty of extension activities to expand it and it moves along nicely with The Handbook of Nature Study, by Anna Botsford Comstock. We write about and illustrate what we see and learn about in our Nature Journals: we document the weather changes, the leaves of different trees and how to differentiate them, the way that nature changes throughout the seasons and any little critter we come across.  It’s a way to blend science, art, writing and math all in one place – and the kids never know its “school”.

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Learning how to be self sustaining

The boys started hunting with their dad this year, and we spent a lot of time learning what ethical hunting looked like, what your responsibilities as a hunter are and also how to process what you’ve harvested.  We processed enough meat this year to feed our family and a friend’s family for a year.  The kids were involved every step of the way – after all, if you’re going to eat it, you’d better know where it came from and what goes into getting it to your plate.

So I guess when someone asks me why I’m raising my kids in the mountains, I have pretty good answers now.  They’re prepared, they’re outdoors and active, they’re aware of the nature that surrounds them and the responsibility we have to protect it.  They’re awesome kids that lead a phenomenal life.

 

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When in doubt, say “yes”.