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 and adults have less winter skills.

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The beginning of our hike with Dad in the lead.

Therefore I 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 adventure!

We drove up our mountain as far as we could get in 4 feet of snow, then we unloaded the kids and the snowshoes.  Once everyone was strapped in we went for a bit of a hike asking the kids to pay 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 a different route that would take us to the same spot.  Cut their own trail. They looked a little surprised, as the forest canopy was 60 feet above them and the ground was covered in snow.  So we stopped and talked a little bit about the surroundings, things they may not have noticed on their own.  We asked them to look at our trail back 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 when they faced the direction of the truck.  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 had no 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 and off they went with their 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.  Their dad tracks for a living so he was teaching them ways to see if they were fresh and to notice size and shape differences.

One time our path started to shift a little north and we had to remind the boys to look at 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 our truck appeared over the bank and huge smiles washed over their tiny faces.

It was a day of triumph.

Fire Makers

Hazards vs. Skills: Fires with children

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This is a funny story, kind of, now that it’s in the past I guess I think it’s funny.  Here’s a little back story first. This summer was awesome. Dear friends of ours fell in love with the area when we moved here and on our 1-year mountain anniversary they moved their family of 5 into our guest cabin while they shopped the area for a home of their own. Our kids are all around the same age and they decided to homeschool for a while until they had their new life here sorted. We woke up to a full class of eager adventure-hungry homeschool kids every morning. My girlfriend and I were awfully busy keeping these little minds busy this summer, but we had a blast and the kids all learned a lot.

Now this last summer was one of the driest summers on record for much of British Columbia. It was a scorcher in most places but the worst part was that we barely had a drop of rain past May. The fires around the province were fierce and they were everywhere. Travel had to be planned around highway closures and it seemed that everyone was on standby and watching for smoke. Our house was no different. Perched atop this mountain gave us a unique vantage point and the opportunity to watch water bombers while keep an eye peeled for smoke on the neighbouring hills.

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One day in August we had our own close call when smoke billowed from the cigarette-fire on the other side of the mountain and it started racing for the peak. We were lucky, but were also prepared.  I had just finished having a brewed-by-friend coffee at the guest cabin and was walking back to my house when the black smoke started thundering into the sky from over the peak. Luckily, both she and I are “preppers”.  We’ve got stocked emergency kits, we know where all our documents are and we’re passing those neurotic (albeit helpful) qualities down to our children.  The kids had their just-in-case bags packed and ready like the good little preppers they are. So when that smoke started climbing we had 5 kids, 4 adults, 4 horses, 6 dogs, 6 cats, a rabbit and a hamster packed and ready in 30 minutes.  Now I should add that we also had a cow and 70 chickens at this time that we were going to turn loose as we drove out the driveway.  We’re not saints, we’re realists and it wasn’t actually possible to take it all.  It’s possible that I may have thrown Big Momma (my favourite chicken) on my lap as we sped away, but I guess we’ll never know.  We waited for the evacuation but luckily it never came.  In two trucks and two trailers we had food, water, fuel and emergency supplies to keep us all alive for a week at least.  It was a feat and a half but we did it and we were immensely proud of ourselves.

So how do two neurotic planners with emergency savvy kids get caught with their pants down in fire season?  Well… they have kids obviously.  In the middle of a heat wave, surrounded by tinder and passing water bombers you never expect to hear, “The boys are trying to start a fire under the bushes!” Back to reality and off our high horse these two mountain mommas were tossed.  I don’t think either of us have ever ran so fast. Again, we were lucky and the kids didn’t have all the skills to start a fire yet.  It became the lesson of the season that’s for sure.  They were so embarrassed, we almost didn’t need to get mad.  You know that mental lapse we all have at some point in our lives, that moment where curiosity seems to trump common sense and we fear that maybe we’re not actually very smart?  Come on, I know you’ve felt that way too.  Well this was the case for our boys, and even for us in some ways.  Luckily when the dads came home from work it was a funny story rather than an evacuation notice.

So I bet you thought this was going to be a post about being prepared for fires and how to drill in to your kids the dangers of fire and how to prevent them.  That’s part of it really and without the back story you may think me a fool, but this is actually about teaching your kids how to make a fire.  This will be age appropriate of course, but you’re the parent and only you know your children. I now hurl the responsibility and discretion up to you whether your kids are ready for this.

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Now in each of my boys’ Adventure Packs they carry a couple of homemade lightweight   and some waterproof matches.  My eldest now has a flint stick and striker that he got with a leatherman, but he doesn’t know how to use it yet.

Learning how to make a fire is essential to survival, you need to keep warm and it’s helpful to eat – although you can live for a long time without it and a granola bar or a protein bar will tide you over.  We started by making homemade fire starters one day as a homeschooling project.  We took lint from the dryer and melted and poured wax on top.  The wax helps slow down the burn of the lint so that you have a longer light time for the tinder you use to start the fire.  I quick gust of flame is often not enough to get the fire going, especially when you’re using cold or wet tinder and kindling.  We stored our prepared fire starters in tiny tins that I had left over from tea samples.  They were light and waterproof – perfect.  I suggest using what you have laying around, even if it’s just a ziplock bag.  Keywords being – LIGHT and WATERPROOF.  We made three each so the boys could have two in their pack and use one to test.  Below are some pictures of the boys making their magic.

 

Once our fire starters were complete we took them out into the snow to see whether the boys could make a fire on their own.  They dug a deep hole in the snow about 2′ in diameter, they scraped the bottom of the hole bare so that their fire would be on as little snow as possible.  They went to the surrounding trees (and into our wood shed) and got tiny sticks (think needle sized and up), pine needles, lots of moss and then some larger sticks.  They put their fire starter down first and surrounded it with moss, gently resting the tiny sticks above the mass.  Now we make a lot of fires at our home as our house is exclusively wood heat, so the concept of needing the fire to breathe and general fire building is not new to them.  The idea of building it in the cold, with snow that turns to water when melted and keeping it out of the wind were all new challenges that they had to solve.  With a little encouragement and a sitting on cold knees while they SLOWLY fed the fire, it worked!  Success using only one fire starter, but it did need a lot of patience.

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Snow Fire Success

 

Adventure Packs For Kids

Packs for kids on the move

There is a big difference between a Survival Kit and an Adventure Pack. A Survival Kit is needed when preparing for a disaster where kids need to be fully prepared for the unexpected. They are generally loaded with supplies for a multitude of scenarios. That being said, with the amount of things needed to survive it is often unrealistic to expect a child to be able to pack it. It’s remarkable how quickly weight adds up and as parents we need to be realistic in their abilities.

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Loaded and adventure ready!

An Adventure Pack on the other hand, is packed the same way every single day and your child carries it with them when they venture outdoors. Now the unexpected can still happen, and for that they have the pack. These packs are designed to keep my kids alive for 48 hours: keep them dry, warm, hydrated, fed, and safe until help arrives. These packs are my children’s most prized possession. They always know where they are, and even my five year old knows how to restock it.

Now Doug from Outdoor Survival TV has a fantastic tag line that we now use regularly. Below is a short video of what he puts in his kits.

Stay Put – Stay Warm – Get Bright – Get Noisy

We made Adventure Packs when we moved here, and with personal experience they’ve modified slightly. Here is a list of 15 Essentials:

Make sure you are using a size-appropriate Backpack with good support and that fits well.  Check out our outdoor or mountain supply stores, or take a look at the link above.

  1. Glow Sticks – We purchase these at dollar stores, you can buy in big packages and throw a few in each pack.
  2. Small Head Lamp – Now there are budget friendly headlamps, but generally they’re terrible. Not bright and the batteries die quickly. Invest in s decent
  3. Extra Batteries – again quality here is key. Also, wrap in a bandana to keep batteries warm (which will increase battery life) and your child can use the bandana as trail marker if needed
  4. Heat Parka/Poncho – These are cheap and light. Try and find something in a reflective material or brightly coloured.
  5. Light Weight Rope – essential for making a shelter, and many other “what-if’s”
  6. Heat Packs – Also known as hand/foot warmers depending on where you live. We buy these in bulk and always have a few in each pack.
  7. Snacks – High energy and comfort. Protein bars, granola, even some candy. This is where many people blend distraction and comfort. Would a pack of lifesavers distract long enough to calm down your child a little bit while they wait for help?
  8. Water Bottle – Teach water conservation and make it a smaller one, remember your child has to carry it.
  9. First Aid Kit – You can make your own or purchase one. Throwing it in the pack isn’t enough, make sure you teach your kids how to bandage, treat a burn, and disinfect.
  10. Bear Bell – Highly debated and personal choice. My boys wear one on their packs, but some people believe it’s as much of a dinner bell as it is a deterrent.
  11. Whistle/Compass Combo – A whistle is ESSENTIAL!! Imagine being 100ft from your child in the woods and still not being able to hear them. Also, teach your children to use a compass from an early age. A vital skill and you don’t want to be trying to rely on google maps.
  12. Fire Starter/Waterproof Matches/Flint and Striker – You’re the judge here. My kids keep homemade fire-starter in their packs and this year they added flint sticks and waterproof matches.
  13. Swiss army knife/Leatherman – I find this a complete necessity and my kids adore using theirs. Whether they’re trying to set up camp, entertain themselves by whittling wood or using it for preparing food (even gathering food).
  14. Para chord Survival Bracelet – This is something new to our kits, but it’s lightweight, useful and the combos can alleviate some of the weight by combining items.
  15. Nature Journal – With pens and pencils (optional, we use this as part of our homeschooling). This is great for documenting but if they’re stuck and alone it can also be a good distraction and time killer.
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Adventure never takes a day off.

Now keep in mind that this is about getting your kids out into nature and improving their critical thinking and confidence skills. For me, this doesn’t mean dropping them off in the woods and going home for a quiet coffee. Our children are allowed to venture off the property onto crown land, but it is season dependant and within limits set out as a family. These packs come on all of our family adventures too and this is where they learn the skills – we learn together.

Do you have any ideas to add? We’re always changing our arsenal as we go, and I’d love to hear how you do it where you are!

 

 

If you’re looking for ideas for Adventure Pack staples, take a peek at the links below:

 

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”.