A diary of the projects, hurdles, rewards and family life at we recorded at Wise Acres, our former homestead in Horsefly, BC. (Careers and teenagers have forced us back into the city, at least for a little while.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Crossing Lines

Warning: some graphic content related to butchering beef. We chose not to share the pictures.

I got a call from Rainer, one of our new Horsefly friends:

Rainer: Erich - you mentioned you wanted dog food. Well, we had a steer with a hernia that had to be put down. If you want to come over and butcher it, you'll save a lot of money.
Erich: uh... okay... so what would that entail?
Rainer: I've already gutted and skinned it, and it's hanging from the fork of the tractor. so we would cut it into smaller pieces. They are still heavy, so I need your help.
Erich: uh... okay... And exactly what would I be doing then?
Rainer: You can use our bone saw to cut it into smaller, meal-sized chunks. Bring a cutting board and a sharp knife.

Erich: uh.. okay... and that would be the dog food?

Rainer: Well, you could cook up some of the meat - if it smells like urine, the steer had too much adrenaline in the blood and you should not eat it. It' still okay for the dogs.
Erich: Of course.

So I spent an hour during an early lunch yesterday helping Rainer get the beef cut up into about six manageable sizes, and we hung these in his meat cooler. I then went back with G. and I spent a few hours cutting up one side of ribs and half of the spine into meal sizes. G., who was amazingly comfortable with the whole process, held the freezer bags open for me. (Rainer wasn't around, as he had to leave for a few days, but Gigi dropped by, picked up G. and they went off in the Kubota "mule" to fetch a herd of Icelandic horses.)

The photo is from the Big Bear Ranch web site.
I would have never guessed even a few months ago that this was a line I would ever cross. However, I believe that we must have our eyes open to our food sources, and if we choose to eat meat, we should be comfortable with the realities of it's source. (No, the meat aisle is not a "source".) Our dog food is higher end (they deserve it for protecting us from the bears, don't they?) and we have to buy 100 lbs per month. I'm getting high-grade, organic grass-fed beef for about half of the price we pay for the dog food because I am willing to do some of the work myself. I think it's worth crossing some comfort lines.

Sidenote: there was this odd moment, when I was standing at the table in the doorway of the barn, sawing through the spine, watching a black-cloud storm cross acres of pasture while I stood in sunlight, and everything was in a real-life slow-motion sequence, that, for the first time ever in my life, I felt I should be listening to opera.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Girl Effect and Heifer International

Recently, I saw this video on a friend's blog (it's only two minutes and I found it quite powerful):

And it got me to thinking. Erich and I would probably say that social justice is very important to us, we don't have faith in the trickle down approach and know that there are a whole lot of vulnerable people in the world and how fortunate we are. But what has been bothering me for a while is what are we actually doing about it? It's important for us that our girls understand these things too...it's time for us to put our money where our mouths are. So this morning, as I was doing my usual survey of favourite blogs, I came across this one, at the Crafty Crow and got really excited! Because while I found that video inspiring...I wanted to have something to do. I did some research into this organization called Heifer International and I really LOVE what they do!

This is from "Skip to My Lou"...

“Heifer International works to end world hunger and save the earth. For close to 60 years, Heifer has helped more than four million impoverished families in 128 countries lift themselves out of poverty and achieve self-reliance.

The idea is simple and it works. Instead of providing hungry families with a non-renewable source of food, Heifer International provides a “living loan” of an animal. The family’s health and standard of living is greatly improved by what that animal can provide. This might be milk from a cow or goat, eggs from poultry, meat from rabbits, draft power from water buffalo or wool from llamas.

Key to success of the program is that Heifer provides extensive training in animal care, ecologically sound agriculture practices and community development. The result is to transform not just families, but the environment and community.

Another key cornerstone of Heifer International is “passing on the gift.” Families who receive an animal repay the loan by passing on one or more of the animals’ offspring to other needy families. That family passes on their gift to another family and so on. So one gift multiplies through the community.

Heifer International currently provides more than 27 types of animals that provide food and/or income to struggling families in 48 countries (including the U. S. )”...and Canada, check out the list of projects.

So we (The Meyrick-Zirnhelt family) have joined a team of people through Skip to My Lou and are participating in a Read to Feed initiative, to raise money for Heifer International...you can find out the full details here, but the idea is that we are collecting pledges from folks like you, kind of like a walkathon but instead of sponsoring per mile, you would be sponsoring per book that G. reads or we read with V. between now and September 14th. Or...if you would like to join in, you can download a pledge sheet, a reading log and info sheet to let sponsors know what you are doing.

If you would like to sponsor G. or V. you can email me privately at joanne_meyrick@yahoo.com, Erich and I will match the amount raised dollar for dollar....you can also donate directly or check out our progress here.

There are some great videos about some of the Heifer projects here ( I really liked the one on the Urban Agriculture initiative and the Women in Livestock Development project).

**FYI -excerpt from Wikipedia - A 2005 report by the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance (WGA) found that Heifer International met all of its standards for charity accountability. The WGA found that Heifer International is truthful in its representations of how money is spent, does not allocate an excessive part of its budget for fundraising or administrative expenses and makes its financial statements readily available to the public.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

And the winner is...

Just got back from the Horsefly Fall Fair, we had a lot of fun and came home with some prizes!!
V. was the big winner...

she got this huge basket for Best in Show for her drawing of "The Purple Train Ride".

She also got first prize for her knitted bracelet...which made her the "High Aggregate Winner" for the preschool group :) (an award of $20 from the Horsefly Women's Institute).

M. got two awards for "Judge's Choice" for her drawing "The Merry-go-round and the Choo Choo Train" and her coloured and sewn, Farm Animal sewing cards...which means a cash prize of $35.

G. also got a few first prize ribbons, one for her drawing and one for her baking and a second prize for her knitted chicken. She also won the prize at the fair, for creating a contraption out of coffee filters, pipe cleaners, elastics and string that would hold marbles and run down a zip line.

The girls were absolutely thrilled and delighted to be able to go up on stage to receive their awards.

I also got two second place ribbons for my skull and crossbones hat and my felted handbag...

...okay, but I do have to tell you that there were only two entries in the category ;) Erich won third place for his "Gwendyberry Jam" a combination of Saskatoons, Blueberries and Huckleberries that G and Wendy picked for us.

There were also a variety of livestock to check out, including some alpacas, llamas, cows, swine, fjord horses, icelandic horses, goats, sheep, herding dogs, turkeys, chickens, rabbits and dogs. There were also many fine looking vegetables and some interesting, massive zucchini. There were also pony rides, wagon rides and a wonderful barbq lunch.

Have I mentioned lately, just how much I love Horsefly?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Our Creative Family

Due to a combination of some rainy weather and being inspired by this book...

our house has been a whirlwind of creativity just lately. The book is written by Amanda Blake Soule...who also writes an excellent blog called SouleMama. She posts the most beautiful photos and I find her posts about crafting and general parenting to be joyful and inspiring. The book is really a collection of gems from her blog, with a lot of how-to's for various activities thrown in.

In particular, she makes a few points that really resonate with me:

1) "Less is more" - in so many things but specifically, she is talking about the toys, activities, crafts etc that we do with kids. I couldn't agree more...although my kids have often lobbied for the toys that make a lot of noise and do all kinds of things...the things that they have got the most from ( and usually last the longest) are toys that require them to use their imagination e.g. a cardboard box, our old clothes, scarves, wooden blocks, fabric, wool, toilet paper rolls, etc, etc.

2) "Investing in a little together creative time reallys pays off" - I have found that nothing draws kids (usually away from the TV) more quickly than Mom sitting down at the table with a pile of art supplies. She makes the point in her book that when children are 'filled up' in terms of their needs for parent-to-child time, they are more likely to go off and be content doing their own thing. I have found just recently that we have been spending our mornings doing craft projects together and by the afternoon, the kids are off doing their own thing, leaving me time to work on my socks...

or make bread or get dinner going or write a blog post.

I liked this too:
"I began to notice that when I was able to fit a bit of creating into my day, I was more centered, at peace, and fulfilled. All those things made me a calmer, more patient, and more mindful parent. My needs were getting met and I was therefore able to meet the needs of my children even better." I discovered the same thing, when I picked up knitting a few years ago.

3) Keep good quality art supplies within reach for when inspiration strikes - I have recently done a reorganization of our art supplies and have put our essentials ( e.g. beeswax, beeswax crayons, pencils, pencil crayons, paper, scissors, glue and a mixture of pipecleaners/straws etc) in kid friendly containers out on shelves.

I have also put out some baskets for handwork projects we have on the go - right now these are some finger knitting, a few embroidery hoops and some hand knitting. All these items are getting much more use than when they were contained in the cabinets behind closed doors.

A word about quality - Amanda makes a point that children should use good quality art supplies and I have to agree. We have gone through more crayola crayons than I dare to imagine over the years, but last year I bought G. some quality art supplies, beeswax block and stick crayons, some beeswax pencil crayons and some nice watercolour paints and paper.

These crayons have never broken, the pencils sharpen perfectly and the paper just displays their work so beautifully. The kids also know that these are special supplies and to treat them that way.

So with all of that on my mind and the Horsefly Fall Fair coming up...this is what we have been up to...

These are drawings the girls will be entering in the fair...

"A Merry-Go-Round and a Choo Choo Train" by M. Age 2

"The Purple Train Ride" by V. Age 5

"Carnival World" by G. Age 8

G. is also working to complete this little knitted chicken she started a while ago...

We have all just started to learn embroidering, from a Klutz book we got as a gift. It's quite a nice activity because it has a varying level of complexity, i.e. V. can do a basic design,

and G. , who really likes sewing, can also do a more complex design or create one herself, as she did here...

and here...

One of the challenges of having three children of varying ages, is finding something that they can all participate in, that fits their various abilities. M. has been wanting to get in on some of the needlework that has been going on around here and I found the perfect activity for her in The Creative Family...homemade sewing cards...we made these today from colouring sheets I found online...

Now M. can 'sew' to her heart's delight. It also fits with her current interest in anything related to farm animals, her favourite being the 'moo cow'.

Painting is also a hit with everyone. We collected these rocks from the Horsefly River a few weeks ago and when there was a break in the clouds, we headed outside to paint them...

I found a great recipe for play dough...which is another craft that seems multi-generational...

it's made with drink crystals and it looks and smells great!! Here's the recipe...

Smelly Play Dough

1 up flour
1/2 cup salt
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup water
1 tbsp cooking oil
Unsweetened drink mix )three flavours for three different colors)

Combine flour, salt, and cream of tartar in saucepan. Stir in water and cooling oil. heat, stirrin, until very thick and hard to stir (The mixture will resemble mashed potatoes). Remove from heat. Let cool 5 minutes.

Turn out on a lightly floured surface. Divide in 3 equal parts. Add 1 tspn. unsweetened drink mix to each part. Knead until pliable and an even color. Wrap in plastic wrap to keep fresh.
From "Jazzy Jars - Glorious Gift Ideas" by Marie Browning

And finally...there's nothing better than crafting in your pajamas...

Do something creative...today!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I came, I sawed, I conquered

A few weeks ago my cousin Sam picked out a chainsaw (a Husqvarna 55, or a "Husky" as we woodsmen call them) and some gear for me. At first I was a bit skeptical - it seemed like a lot of gear. However, the more I read and talked to people, the more I realized that this was a dangerous tool, and that I'd better Wear the Gear.

This is me wearing the gear. Laugh all you want, but I felt pretty tough in my Kevlar chaps.

Managing a chainsaw requires some common sense (as the manual indicates here) but there are some good lessons and practises to learn before trying anything.

I had already read the manual, but then our good neighbour Wally came over and reinforced the advice:

  • don't fall a tree when it's windy, or gusty - it can completely surprise you by pushing it in an unexpected direction
  • don't run the saw during hot weather - sparks from the muffler can easily start a fire
  • clear an escape route
  • keep children and dogs far far far away
  • don't over-exert yourself - the saw is heavy (~30lbs) and your holding your arms at odd angles
  • expect to be scared a few times

My first tree falling did end up scaring me. I'd picked a falling direction, and also ensured that if it were to fall in the opposite direction the way was clear. An opposite direction fall is always possible, as the "hinge" you create by notching on one side then cutting into the other promotes a fall along a 180-degree path. Your goal is to have it fall towards the notch. In this case, however, I'd mis-judged the tree's centre of gravity, and late into the cut towards the notch, the tree leaned backwards. Not a lot, but enough to pinch the saw blade. With my heart thumping in my ears and sweat burning my eyes (Kevlar chaps may look cool, but they are hot!) I flicked the saw's switch to off and leaned against the tree towards the notch, trying to pry the saw out. The tree was heavy (I'd guess over 500 lbs) and not easily swayed, but I was first able to get the bar out, then another push freed the chain too - somehow without damaging it. The tree then fell, exactly away from where I'd intended. All this happened in about 5 seconds.

I recovered by picking and eating some nearby Saskatoon-berries. (Joanne's right - they are pulpy, mealy, seedy and taste vaguely of pine tar, yet they are delicious!) I was then able to limb the fallen tree, gather up the logs, and do the same to a second tree that DID fall where I'd planned.

So some lessons from my first tree-falling outing:

  • chainsaws don't start when the switch is in the STOP position (it took me 30 minutes of frustration to figure this one out - incidentally, I also have trouble getting my cards into ATMs the right way around)
  • chainsaws are very heavy - my arms were shaking after this hour of work
  • newly cut trees, and thus their logs, are also very heavy - I'd estimate that a log is twice as heavy when it's fresh as opposed to when it's had a year to dry
  • work in cool weather
  • ALWAYS make sure the opposite falling direction is clear - I knew this before, but know I really know it
  • limb the tree before bucking it - logs with big branches are that much harder to handle

I have a lot of trees to clear, but I'll be waiting for cooler weather. There's no rush - we have stockpiles of beetle-killed pine all over, good enough for ten years of firewood we figure - so the only urgency is to clear land for whatever beast Joanne come home with next.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Saskatoons and lagoons...

This week-end we got the house back in order after our vacation and got back to the tasks involved with homesteading.

We've been waiting for the Saskatoons to get ripe for a few weeks now and this week-end we harvested a pile of them. I'm not too crazy about the taste but Erich and the girls like them...the girls like them a lot. G. loves to pick berries...I do too...it kind of feels like winning the lottery when you move a leaf and find a big cluster of ripe ones. Erich was borrowing a weed whacker from Wally so G. went with him to their place with berry bucket in hand. Wendy took her around their property and showed her that the wild blueberries are also ready. Now that G. knew what to look for we discovered a bounty of them on our property as well!

Last night we turned those lovely berries (or what was left of them anyways)and some huckleberries that we bought at the Farmer's Market, into these...yum!

With the Horsefly Fall Fair coming up on August 23, we have been considering what we could enter. There are loads of categories from livestock to just about anything handmade. The children's categories are so wonderful! For the pre-school set for 10 cents you can enter any of the twenty categories from best decorated mudpie (8" or 9" plate using flowers, leaves, etc) to your favourite collection (of any type) to a children's story (as told to an adult). In the primary (5 to 8 yrs) class there are 25 categories and include baking, potted plants, a variety of arts and crafts, a lego construction (must be your own design) or a short story about "The Vegetable I Refuse to Eat" explaining your reason why.

We were thinking of entering our jam but I will admit we are a little intimidated...too bad they don't have a special class for newbie homesteaders ;)

Now to the lagoon part, I know you have all been waiting for! Wally let us borrow his gas powered weed whacker so we could clear some of the overgrowth around our septic lagoon. So Erich, got in there and mowed down some of the longer items...being very careful not to fall in!

The lagoon needs to be kept clear of debris so the sun can get to it and the natural evaporation can occur. That's all I'll say...just be glad this is my post and not Erich's...he does love to talk septic.

And our final project for the day...was to put a roof on the chicken yard to finally (I hope) foil their escape attempts. They have been completely free ranging for the last few weeks, which is fine except for three things...one they lay their eggs all over the property, so we have been having to buy our eggs from the gas station (they sell local organic eggs) and two, Farlee is no longer interested in chasing them off of our deck so we are getting tired of stepping over piles of chicken poop and three, they have taken a liking to Farlee's food...which is not good for Farlee and likely not great for the chickens either! I will still let them out for a gad about, likely in the afternoon, but it would be nice to know they are contained when I want them to be.

Wow...it was a busy week-end!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Horsefly...top vacation destination!

This week we have been on vacation with some good friends from Oakville, Ontario and we have had a blast! Our friends arrived last Friday with their two children who are about the same age as V. and M. It is amazing how kids who haven't seen each other for a few years can just pick up where they left off. They rented an RV in Vancouver and spent two days working their way up the Fraser Canyon and into the Cariboo.

We really lucked out with the weather, with most days reaching mid twenties with a few clouds in the bright blue sky. We spent the first few days just hanging out in Horsefly, getting them acquainted with the place and the people. We had lots of trips to Darlene's for ice cream and hikes along the river and some great campfires at night (with scotch and cigars for those who were inclined).

On one trip, the boys went over to Big Bear Ranch, our neighbours, to pick up some organic pork ribs to make Rodney's famous ribs. As they arrived Gigi and Rainer were weighing cows and treating some who had pink eye and the guys got to jump in and help out. Talk about knowing where your food comes from!

Photo courtesy of Big Bear Ranch

On Monday, we rented some canoes from Cariboo-Chilcotin Canoe Rentals and headed over to Horsefly Lake Provincial Park for a few days of camping. This was the first time our family had been in a canoe and we all loved it! I was pleasantly surprised at how calm all the kids were and how well G. did at paddling the canoe. We saw a few loons, a beautiful bonaparte gull and several deer at the water's edge. It was so peaceful just paddling along...I can definitely see a canoe in our future.

Photo courtesy of Chris Campbell.

Our week ended up with a visit from our neighbour Wally, who came by to offer the kids rides on his ATV.

We were quite sad to see our friends leave on Saturday but they did promise to come back next summer and reported that this had been their best family vacation ever!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Welcome to the Funny Farm

G. has been asking for a rabbit for well over a year. For her birthday, we thought a dog would be better...more fun, less poop? But after Violet started her biting phase, and her leash pulling phase and her jumping up phase, G. reminded us that she 'asked for a rabbit'. So, after I saw an ad at the corner store, for someone selling rabbits, we decided to take the plunge. As we were talking about it V. reminded us that she had always wanted a cat and we said she could have one, once we moved to our property...as it would have to be a barn cat, as Erich is allergic.

Yeesh...okay, so here we have ....'Daisy'...I mean 'Mittens'...(name discussions are still on-going)...

Mittens is crazy cute...I have never been a cat person but I really like this cat and she is super easy to care for. She was instantly litter trained (she is way too small to be an outside cat right now...so thanks to Reactine she will be indoors for now) and provides us with endless entertainment as she tries to climb the logs on our house or stalks, then attacks a fly on the floor...or a peice of lint.

And this is 'Timmy' or more recently 'Hopper'....

Hopper is an Angora rabbit, and apparently his coat is spinnable if you mix it with a little wool. You 'harvest' it's hair by just gently pulling on clumps when it gets really long (kind of like when a dog sheds it winter coat). He is very calm and let me cut out a few matted clumps of hair, so I think he would be happy to sit and have his hair thinned.

G. is still getting used to the rabbit's frequent pooping, and picking him up is still a bit difficult as his claws are quite sharp and his feet hopping about as he gets comfortable with us. He is six months old and spent the lat few months in a cage that was way too small for him...I don't think lack of attention or exercise will be a problem here. He has a big dog crate to live in and a fenced run to hop around in...if he ever gets put down that is.