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.)

Friday, April 25, 2008

From Toilet Paper Roll to Golden Butterfly

It all started when V came running out of the bathroom this morning, toilet paper roll held high in the air, Olympic torch style, yelling..."I used the last of the toilet paper!! I can make something with this!!" Such excitement...out came the paints, tissue paper, pipe cleaners, glue, scissors and anything else they could dig out of the craft cupboard.

It's Nana's birthday this week-end so everyone is thinking of gifts we can make. M. painted a lovely golden picture and told us that "Nana be so happy with this." G. made some beautiful handmade cards...

and found a lovely brooch at our local thrift store and V. created this lovely golden butterfly...

This morning when I got up I wondered, what are we going to do today? My kids never cease to amaze me with their creativity and I am so grateful that we have the lifestyle where they can come up with such great ideas and run with them.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

On Learning at Home

We are in the final stretch of our first full 'academic' year of learning at home and I am deciding whether or not to re-enroll G. with SelfDesign for next year or to try out our local school in Horsefly. My main reason for considering the school is for G. to meet some other children in our new neighbourhood, which may be slightly harder than our current neighbourhood where she can walk out the door and find a wide variety of playmates.

In the past, G has struggled in the school environment (Junior Kindergarten, Kindergarten and Grade One) and this year we decided to try learning at home and overall it has been a much more positive experience for both of us. G's favourite activities are handwork, anything physical and outside (hiking, biking, climbing, running, swimming, skating) and although she likely won't admit it...math! Just lately we have really been getting into Dr. Seuss books and the Asterix 'comic' books...so much fun! My biggest challenge this year has been creating the time and space for Gwenna and I to pursue some of her interests and my letting go of years of programming of what 'school' and 'learning' should look like. In this process I have read a lot about learning and education reform. Right now I'm reading this book:
It is written by a guy who is a high school teacher in the public school system but he and his wife homeschool their four children. He has a very interesting perspective. I just read this and had to share it...

"Rousseau (Jean- Jacques) insisted that children were - contrary to the Christian doctrine of original sin - good in the most basic sense of the word; the job of educators was to help them develop "naturally" or in accordance with their "natures." Rousseau's educational treatise 'Emile' espoused limited academic work prior to age twelve and plenty of physical activity, play and games for children out-of-doors. Young people, the book suggested, should pursue their education in the world of nature and not in texts or schools. Only after age 15 does Emile, the book's hero begin to pursue academic training in ethics, religion and history. Even then, the bulk of his learning arises out of his experiences in the world. According to Rousseau, a child should be educated not merely for future employment but as a human being, with senses fully alive and independence of thought fully developed, with nature as the ground of his learning and his education gently cultivated by thoughtful and sensitive adults. The notion is one to which, more than two centuries later, many homeschoolers still subscribe."

This book is my favourite so far...

This is my favourite John Holt quote:

"Birds fly, fish swim, man thinks and learns. Therefore, we do not need to motivate children into learning by wheedling, bribing or bullying. We do not need to keep picking away at their minds to make sure they are learning. What we need to do, and all we need to do, is bring as much of the world as we can... into their lives; give children as much help and guidance as they ask for; listen respectfully when they feel like talking; and then get out of the way. We can trust them to do the rest."

In my gut...this just makes sense... but sometimes that niggly voice in my head gets the better of me and I do 'get in the way'. One perfect example was the other day...I am quite keen to be working on G's reading and writing...she is not so keen. She is perfectly happy to pick up a book every once in a while and work her way through it, she loves to make books and write stories, when the mood strikes her. I have seen the progress she makes in both reading and writing when I back off and let her take the lead but...every once in a while I think, we should be doing more writing practice, so the other day, I said let's sit down and do some writing G....after some cajolling (on my part) and much whining (on her part)...she brings this note to me...

Okay...makes sense to me. We spent the rest of the afternoon tracking down, catching and releasing moths, looking up what moths eat and why and picking buttercups to make bookmarks with. Hmmm...maybe we will re-enroll.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Growing Local Food

("woodpecker's excavations and saskatoons", via flickr, courtesy of withrow)

I've spent a little time looking into native edible plants of the Cariboo. If we are to grow our own produce, I think having fruit of local origins gives us the greatest chance for success. Obviously, we'll still need to work around some of the staples, like tomatoes and peppers, but I feel that we should take advantage of anything that grows strongly with little help.

Digging around led me to this paper: "A Regional Profile of Non-Timber Forest Products Being Harvested from the Cariboo-Chilcotin, British Columbia Area". The paper is worth reading if you're into this kind of thing. It also has a nice summary of the industry and population of the region. (Disclosure: I am related to two of the people listed in the acknowledgements, Cherie-Lynn Bailey and Sam Zirnhelt, though I had no idea they were involved till I read it!)

I was able to identify some potential candidates, however, for our garden:
  • many berries: blueberries/huckleberries, saskatoon (we have several bushes behind our house here in Westbank), raspberry, strawberry, choke cherry (my grandma had a choke cherry tree and used the fruit for jellies), and high bush cranberry
  • root vegetables: cow parsnip, mountain potato, nodding onion
  • herbs: yarrow, wild rose, lilies, wild sarsaparilla (I do dream of making home-made root beer)
I have no idea if a mountain potato will be any good. If it were very good, it would be on store shelves, or at least at the farmer's market. But it can't be that bad either, and it won't hurt to try. I just need to find some...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Simple rewards...

So in the last few months, little M's speech has been getting more and more developed and lately she has been throwing out phrases like "be right back" and "where are you??", much to the delight of her parents and sisters. She really loves to sing, her own unique versions of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", "Old Mac Donald had a Farm", "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Happy Birthday". Hers is a strictly solo act...don't even think of trying to sing a long.

As she is our third and final baby, we are savouring these moments. Especially this one...
Tonight as I was putting her to bed, we sang our songs, had a little cuddle and then in her sweet, little sleepy voice she says with a sigh " I love you momma"....it just doesn't get any better than that.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Some family history

This week we were lucky to have a visit from Erich's Dad, John, 'from out east'. Like we have said before, we love visitors, so this was a nice treat. In talking with him, I realized that we have forgotten to mention part of our story, as to why we chose to make our homestead in 'the Cariboo". The Zirnhelt's have a long history in this part of BC, dating back to Erich's great grandfather bringing his family there in the early part of the 1900's.

Clarence, Erich's Grandpa, bought the store at 150 Mile House for $500 during the Depression. It was here that he met Erich's Grandma Harriet, who came to the region from Vancouver to teach at the local one room school house. They were married and raised their family at 150 Mile House. Clarence had an entrepreneurial streak and ran several businesses, from a hotel, to selling propane appliances to people around the region to getting involved in the fur trade buying local furs and selling to the Hudson's Bay Company.

Clarence's brothers Henry and Al both had ranches in the area and their sister Marcella and husband Jack ran the local gas station.

When I first went out to meet Erich's BC family, during our honeymoon, eleven years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting his Grandparents and was instantly entranced by the amazing stories they told of their lives in the Cariboo. Erich's Grandpa was a gifted story teller and told of his days in the store, trading furs with the local "Indians", of running the post office and of the fire that burnt down the house they raised their five kids. We went out to Beaver Valley and drove past 'Uncle Al's' place that still stands (and is called 'Aunt Ida's' now), to visit the next generation of Zirnhelts living on that land. Recently, the fourth generation of Zirnhelts took residence in Beaver Valley.

This is a picture of Erich and the girls in Barkerville, standing in front of the mailboxes that came from the store at the 150.

As a child of immigrant parents, I am still fascinated by Canadian history and intrigued by the connection that the Zirnhelts have to this area. Last summer, we took our girls to the museum at the 150, that happens to be the schoolhouse where Erich's Grandma first taught. It was a very powerful feeling to be standing in the same place with my girls, as their Great Grandmother stood and where their Grandpa went to school some years later. This is certainly, part of the draw for us to this area.

This summer the Zirnhelt Family Reunion will be held out in Beaver Valley. We are very excited to be able to attend.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Piggery Prose

Speaking of books...

Joanne pulled this book out of the library for me (she was laughing evilly for some reason unrelated to the book itself):

It was first published in 1881, and some of the advice is dated. (Who knows, the whole chapter about icehouses might come in handy sooner than we hope.)

But the thing that made me laugh and cry at once was the beautiful writing. Here's the leading sentence from "Chapter VII - Piggeries":

Because swine are blessed with keen appetites, strong digestion, and hardy constitutions capable of resisting a great amount of neglect and ill-usage, they have been, and in too many instances are yet, the worst used animals kept for the profit of man.

The laughable part is the art that went into this sentence - "blessed with keen appetites". And the word 'piggeries'. That makes me laugh. Piggeries. "Yoo hoo! Leopold! What dost thou in yon piggery?"

What's sad? First, that modern-day written English is never this clear and facund (yes, I used 'facund' in a sentence). And second, that the state of the pig farm hasn't improved, especially in the big-business meat processing industry. The authors would have been disquieted.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Books that inspire

For those of you who know us...you will know that Erich and I LOVE books. In fact, it was our mutual love of reading that drew us to one another in the first place...(I remember thinking I could definitely marry a man that could read Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. ) So since we've been thinking and talking about self-sufficiency, we've been reading... A LOT. We are faithful friends of our public library and usually have between 40 and 50 books signed out at a time. I am always so amazed that this service is available to us at no charge. Their vast collection always surprises me and even when my local library doesn't have the book I want on hand, I can put a hold on it and they will let me know when it comes in. Delightful! I often pull away from the library, laughing evilly as if I have gotten away with something...I mean really, doesn't it just seem too good to be true sometimes?

The first book we read was this one..
I love Barbara Kingsolver. I have enjoyed her fiction writing and her short essays before, so when I saw that she had written a book about her family's efforts at self-sufficiency and eating locally, I felt I could justify adding this one to my personal collection so I used some of my gift cards and ordered it. As usual, her writing had us both laughing, gasping and nodding our heads as we read through it. It's a book we both refer to often...as in "I'd like to make cheese...like Barbara" or "wouldn't it be great to raise turkeys...like Barbara?".

"I want to live in a society where people are intoxicated with the joy of making things."

William Coperthwaite, from A Handmade Life

One of the books recommended to us was the one pictured above by William Coperthwaite, A Handmade Life. In the book, he talks a lot about hand-crafting, from tools, to clothing to housing. I just love the image of the hand on the front of the book. He also talks a lot about living simply and the impact of this type of lifestyle on community and society. He also introduced us to yurts, which we briefly considered as a housing option.

Working with my hands is a joy I have fairly recently re-discovered. Our brief experience with Waldorf education revived my interest in knitting. My mother taught me to knit when I was a teenager...but it was something that I had little patience for at the time. Last year I picked up the needles again and I have been knitting fairly constantly ever since. Using my hands to create something gives me such a deep, nourishing feeling of satisfaction. It continues to amaze me that I can take the raw materials of wool and some needles and create something beautiful (and practical) with my own hands. I also love the lessons that my girls learn in the process. I want them to see the value in handmade goods and understand the labour involved in the making of goods and that they don't just magically appear on store shelves. See sidebar for some of our creations...

Living the Good Life - How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World by Helen and Scott Nearing, was another book that really opened our eyes to what the 'good life' has to offer. Helen and Scott Nearing wrote this book in the fifties, chronicling their experiment with subsistence living during the depression of the thirties. This is the first time I had heard about and considered the concept of 'bread labour' and it completed blows apart the assumption that one has to be part of the big economic machine of the market economy. This is an excerpt that explains it well:

"We have no intention of making money, nor do we seek wages or profits. Rather we aim to earn a livelihood, as far as possible on a use economy basis. When enough bread labor has been performed to secure the year's living, we will stop earning until the next crop season. Ideas of "making money" or "getting rich" have given people a perverted view of economic principles. The object of economic effort is not money but livelihood. Money cannot feed, clothe or shelter. Money is a medium of exchange, - a means of securing the items that make up livelihood. It is the necessaries and decencies which are important, not the money which may be exchanged for them. And money must be paid for, like anything else. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote in Men and Books, "Money is a commodity to be bought or not to be bought, a luxury in which we may either indulge or stint ourselves, like any other. And there are many luxuries that we may legimitately prefer to it, such as a grateful conscience, a country life, or the woman of our inclination."

I love that this book was written so long ago but is still so relevant to me today. The Nearings use all kinds of quotes in their book, which I also love, like this one:

"The prudent husbandman is found
In mutual duties, striving with his ground,
And half the year the care of that does take
That half the year grateful return does make
Each fertile month does some new gifts present,
And with new work his industry content."
Virgil, Georgics Book II, 29 B.C.

This is our latest find and it may make our must-have list as it is a reference for just about everything...

I'm currently reading the section on keeping sheep...stay tuned for more about that!
Got any recommendations for us? Please leave us a comment!

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Septic's (sic) Guide to Wastewater Management in BC

(Image via Flickr courtesy of cobalt123. Considering the topic, why not show something pretty and nice-smelling?)

Last week I wrote about our well. Well this week, I felt it would be appropriate to write about the dirtier end of the dousing rod - the septic system.

One of the subjects on our purchase of the property was to check the condition of the septic system. I have no prior experience with anything remotely resembling this, so I googled away, hoping to find some information to help me unmuddy these waters before I waded into this (hopefully forever figurative) morass. I found nothing. Even without "BC" as a search condition, there isn't much published out there.

However, once I had a specialist or two involved, my confusion began to flush away. They introduced me to the rules in simple terms, and eventually I learned about the BCOSSA web site.

Some background...
The system on this property is a lagoon, supposedly low-maintenance and inexpensive. The waste matter is sent to the bottom of the lagoon by gravity (and your house should be higher than the top of the berm - you can figure that one out!), then naturally treated anaerobically in the depths of the pool, and as the 'fresh' water rises to the top, it eventually evaporates. There is almost no seepage into the ground, unlike leeching fields. Ideally, every member of the family should be accommodated by about 500 sq.ft. of lagoon surface. The regulations for those in BC are pretty straightforward:

Sites are considered to be suitable for a Lagoon system when they have, in addition to the standards outlined in Table 2-6 and Table 2-7:
  • a minimum area of 4.0 acres;
  • soils with a soil percolation rate equal to or slower than 60 minutes/2.5 cm (1 inch) or Kfs less than 20 mm/day and no rock within 1 m vertical depth from the bottom of the lagoon;
  • a minimum unsaturated vertical depth from the bottom of the lagoon of 0.91 m(36");
  • a soil percolation rate equal to or slower than 60 minutes/2.5 cm (1 inch) or Kfs less than 15 mm/day at the lagoon base, below the lagoon berms and in the completed berms; and,
  • a slope no greater than 12% (except where berms are designed by a Professional).
(excerpt from section LAGOON SYSTEMS,
of the SEWERAGE SYSTEM Standard Practice Manual Version 2)

Lagoons should be oriented along the surface contours in order to reduce slope variation. When laying out a lagoon consider potential for future replacement or addition of further cells.

Remove all trees from the lagoon and berm area, and around the lagoon for at least 50' to encourage evaporation.


A fence should be built that:

  • completely encloses the lagoon area;
  • is made of woven wire or barbed wire
  • If barbed wire, to be a minimum of 7 strands with the first strand starting 3 inches from the ground and the following strands spaced evenly;
  • is 1.2 m (4') tall; and,
  • has access from one side by a locking gate (any gate should be kept locked);
  • has signs located on each gate with a warning of “NO TRESPASSING — WASTEWATER LAGOON.

of the SEWERAGE SYSTEM Standard Practice Manual Version 2)

So we needed to ensure we are meeting at least these minimum requirements. Also, we wanted to find out what it would take, assuming that it wasn't large enough, to increase it's size so that it could handle the deluge caused by three (eventually) teen-aged girls.

The first thing the we did was had a certified planner visit the site. As I understand it, these individuals aren't allowed to do any construction work. They basically draw up a plan (that is filed with the ministry of health) to indicate what must occur to maintain the system's certification. They may also be contracted periodically to perform maintenance duties (like emptying out the tanks, if you have one).

The plan indicated we should enlarge the lagoon by adding a cell (after testing the adjacent soil), and clear out some of the weeds growing around it (as they interfere with the evaporation caused by sunlight). Once these things are done, the system can be certified. Adding a cell is actually pretty simple - you dig a hole next to the current lagoon, build up some berms, then remove a portion of the old berm.

So next we contacted a ROWP (Registered Onsite Waste Water Practitioner), who is allowed to perform the design, construction and installation, but not allowed to do any work not recommended by a planner. (I guess this makes it harder for two parties to work together at overcharging a customer.) He can easily dig out the new cell, and can also perform the testing to confirm the soil can handle it, as the planner did recommend that a couple test pits be dug.

This is our next step, but we can't do it till the ground is a little less saturated from the snow. If the test pits pass, then a new cell is dug out, and we're all happy. If the pits fail, well, then... that's a bit of a problem. If we can't use the lagoon, we then have to consider a full septic tank system. This is more costly than digging a hole and putting up a fence, by a factor of ten!

I apologize for the dry topic. Though I could write about this ad nauseum, I've restrained myself.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Blogging with a purpose

How exciting!! We won an award and what makes this so much fun is that it was from some ladies whom I greatly admire and have provided me with so much life-altering inspiration and it was the first blog I ever read! I was very lucky to meet these women in my homelearning journey and while I don't see them as often as I would like their blogs keep me tied in to their community and continue to motivate me.

So Thank you Nicola, Heather, Katherine and Samantha at Four Friends and a Blog.

Now to nominate some of my favourite Blogs with Purpose:

1) A Handmade Life ... Of course Heather at A Handmade Life comes to mind immediately...she is an awesome person and Erich and I always look forward to reading her blog, especially all the yummy food posts. She also loves to read and has the best book recommendations.
2) SouleMama ...Another inspiring woman, her blog is so beautiful! She always posts the most amazing pictures and the awesome creative things she does with her family are an inspiration to me.

I will have to give some more thought to 3 more...

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Keeping it simple...

Well the house is listed...so now we wait. While getting our house ready, we did a fair bit of decluttering. This is something I have wanted to do for quite some time but always got overwhelmed at the sheer volume of stuff we have to go through. As often happens...we got down to the crunch so this time instead of sorting through the clutter ( a huge job) we basically just pulled out all the non-essentials, put them in bins and sent them off to storage...kind of cheating really. But...I am so enjoying being in our clutter-free house! I am amazed at how much it affects my state of mind...I just feel so much lighter. It makes sense, but I'm just surprised at how much different I feel. That feeling of ...I just can't do another thing...has been replaced by ...sure let's do some crafts (especially now that we have all this counter space to let things dry!).

Our new house at Wise Acres is approximately half of the square footage of our current place so by necessity, we will have to streamline this operation, and I am really looking forward to it! Over the last few months I have been siphoning off the toys that get little attention and by the time we move, I hope to be down to the much loved, and most played with items.

Watching the girls play this afternoon has confirmed for me what I have been learning over the last year or so and that is...simple is best. All of our backyard toys are packed away at the moment so I pulled out a bucket, filled it with some water and handed them some paint brushes and rollers I had in the garage. These items kept all of them busy for most of the afternoon, when they finished up here:

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Spring learning!

Since moving to BC, I find I am much more interested in the weather and the change of seasons. I suspect that it has to do with spending sooooo much more time outside with the kids but I also find that with the mountains and lakes as backdrop, it is hard to ignore. It certainly changes your perspective on our place in the whole ecosystem being relatively small...unfortunately our 'footprint' is large.

When people hear that we homeschool, they often say, wow that must keep you busy. Well, yes it does...in a way... but it is also really easy to build learning into our day, when you combine such a rich, natural playground and a child's natural curiosity with well...nature! These are some of our recent science adventures...

And for us... even better when we can combine arts/crafts and nature...

And just lately....the girls have been coming up with all kinds of pulleys, look-outs and sightings of all kinds from here, at the back of our yard:

Just imagine the fun we will have with 10 acres to roam and a few chickens, goats, sheep and some dogs hanging around!