Chicken Dinner

You may recall that some time ago, our long-time vegetarian family made the decision to eat some of our chickens. We love our birds, and are so grateful for the eggs they provide our family, but the truth is that sometimes some of the birds have to go. It’s not possible to maintain a closed-loop system without eliminating some of your animals from time to time, and after a lot of discussion we concluded that it would be easier on our consciences to slaughter our chickens here at home as humanely as possible than to sell them and have no idea what their fates would be.

I will admit it was hard for me to come to terms with slaughtering our chickens, at first. Equally hard to come to terms with was how much I loved that first chicken dinner we had. I was not expecting to enjoy chicken so much! Now that chicken has become a somewhat regular part of our diet, I decided it was time for me to help Jae with the slaughtering process, to take responsibility for the birds I raised and the food on my plate. Until now, Jae has done the “dirty work” without me, often with a friend lending a hand. This was weighing heavily on my conscience.

So, with rations dwindling in the kitchen and a rather tight budget for the week, it became apparent that it was time for another chicken dinner – and it was time for me to help Jae with the slaughter.

When I first stepped outside and saw the chosen hen sitting calmly on the porch, I nearly lost my nerve. A panicky feeling settled in on me and I thought, “I can’t do this! I’ll have to go back to being veg!” I took a deep breath and held the chicken in my arms. She looked at me, calm as can be, and I stroked her feathers. I thanked her for the eggs she’s given, spoke words of gratitude to her, and as I looked into her eyes I felt myself calming down. The hen wasn’t panicking, why was I?

I held the hen out in front of me, her head resting lightly on the chopping block. Still she was calm; I could feel her heart beating steadily, not racing, not alarmed. A split second later, Jae’s axe came down on her neck and it was done. No squawking, no panic, no distress. Just a calm bird who was with us one moment and gone the next.

Jae told me he’d be alright to finish the job if I felt I needed to go back into the house, but I wanted to see the whole process through from start to finish. I was surprised by how very OK I felt about what had just happened (truthfully, I had thought I’d be a mess of tears). It felt good to take responsibility for my dinner, and I was so relieved to see first-hand that the hen had not had one moment of distress or suffering.

So now I know how to slaughter, clean, gut and butcher a chicken – and if you have the stomach for it, you can see the process for yourself.  If you’re a staunch vegetarian or someone who hasn’t faced the reality of what it means to eat animals, you might want to skip past the following photos.

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Awakening

Oh, dear! We’re almost in mid-February! It occurred to me this morning that it’s time to start planning the gardens for Spring, time to decide which seeds to order, time to plot out which plants will grow where. It’s time to start looking at incubators and decide how much we want to spend to hatch our own eggs again this year (last year’s homemade incubator, while it did give us chicks, didn’t have the hatch rate we had hoped for).

I love this part of Winter, when suddenly it feels like it’s time to come out of hibernation and start living again. It’s not quite Spring, we can’t feel Spring in the air just yet, but I do feel a restlessness and a tug to start preparing. It feels wonderful.

This year, Spring will be extra special. We’re only about seven weeks away from the birth of our newest family member, and my nesting instincts are hitting hard! I am driven to mop the floors every day, almost compulsively, though I only seem to manage mopping twice a week or so. I wash the dishes a few times a day. I am becoming neurotic about the laundry. My house is still a mess (my children have a funny way of creating chaos in a room I’ve just finished cleaning), but I’m busier than ever with chores and preparations. It’s funny what an impending birth will do to a mama.

Yes, mid-February. A glorious time of year, a time of renewal and awakening. Thank goodness it’s here.

Life Without School

Before our first child was born, Jae and I knew that no offspring of ours would be attending school.  As new parents, we assumed we’d use a curriculum, but as our children grew and taught us more than we anticipated (and after trying out Waldorf and Enki curricula), we realised that a curriculum was not necessary – and actually stood in the way!

So, we became a family of “unschoolers”. We don’t set out each day to teach our kids; instead, we involve them completely in our daily lives and trust that they will learn everything they need to survive in this crazy world.  Just as they learned to sit, crawl, talk, feed themselves and use the toilet without any direction from us, they are learning to read, count, add, subtract and more all on their own. Kids are hardwired to absorb everything from the world around them, to acquire the necessary skills for surviving – and thriving – in the community in which they live. I’ve come to realise that sitting down to teach a child who hasn’t asked to be taught actually thwarts their learning process.

I won’t go into too much depth about unschooling. I could write a whole series of essays addressing our reasons for keeping our kids far away from the school system, our choice to abandon curricula and our trust in our children, but that would take a long time and I’d rather spend that time with my kids. Instead, I’ll share with you what a day of unschooling might look like in our home. At the end of this post you’ll find a plethora of links for further reading and information about unschooling (or, “life learning” as I prefer!) – please do take the time to peruse! You might find your mind blown ;)

What does a typical day look like in this house where school does not exist? That’s impossible to answer, because there is no “typical” day. Each day is different, with endless options nestled snugly inside of the rhythm of our home. There are several constants – family breakfast, daily chores, feeding the animals, collecting the eggs, etc – and within that framework anything else goes.

Most days include a craft of some sort. My kids are wildly creative beings – all it takes is for one of them to ask for paints or crayons or glue, and all three of them are bursting with excitement at the thought of making new art. A perennial favourite that lingers from our Enki days is watercolour painting. The kids will spend up to two hours at a time on a good day – and sometimes only half an hour – quietly concentrating on their paper & brushes, taking their colour choices very seriously.

Some days, the kids enjoy felting. They like needle felting well enough, but really love wet-felting, getting their hands warm and soapy wet, squishing that wet wool between their fingers. Their creations always look more or less the same – oddly-shaped clumps of felt with no real definition – and usually end up in the compost pile. It’s not the result that matters, it’s the process. It’s the joy of creating something with one’s own hands.

Then, of course, there’s fort-making with blankets. What child doesn’t love that? There’s usually a fort monster to go along with the blanket forts – inevitably a big brother trying to scare his younger siblings.

Puzzles! My children are drawn to puzzles. We do several puzzles each week in this house. The kids are getting really good at figuring out how pieces fit together. One year ago, I helped out quite a lot. Now, I might make a suggestion here or there if the kids get stuck, but mostly I sit back and watch in amazement as they figure it all out on their own. It’s so incredible to watch learning in action!

We do a lot of train play, too. This is Robin’s interest du jour, and Lynden is only too happy to help him figure out how best to put his tracks together. The kids have come up with some pretty elaborate railroad arrangements across the living room and bedroom floors. Of course, causing a train wreck is absolutely delightful, complete with epic sound effects and mourning family members.

Reading is a favourite pastime. There is not a day that goes by without reading happening. We’ll all pile on the couch together, snuggled in close, and work our way through the chapters of the Little House on the Prairie series, Roald Dahl books, Narnia, and more. On a day when something lighter is in order, we’ll go through a stack of our favourite picture books. The kids love the nature stories and fairy tales from the Enki curriculum, and often ask for those as well – we read seasonally-appropriate stories and the kids will sometimes draw pictures to go along with what we’ve read.

Lynden has a dinosaur obsession (and I do mean obsession), and has accumulated several dinosaur reference books and dino encyclopedias. He’s learning to read simply because he wants to be able to look things up in those reference books on his own, without asking for help. He has an extensive knowledge of dinosaurs, the various eras, and the creatures that came before & after dinosaurs. He wants to be a palaeontologist when he grows up.

Raina loves music. She spends her days singing and takes Suzuki Method violin lessons. Here’s where I’ll make a confession – as a Suzuki violin teacher myself, I expect daily practice of my students. But my own daughter? I follow her lead. Some days she practices three to four times, some days not at all. There are times when she cries because I just can’t bring myself to do a fifth practice in one day, and times she shrugs because she doesn’t want to play. Our approach to practice wouldn’t work if Raina were in school like my own students are – school changes the way kids approach learning, and structured teaching requires structured practicing (homework/review/etc) to be effective.

Robin’s starting to want to use the toilet like his older siblings. At 20 months of age, he gets really upset if he pees on himself, and will want to get out of the tub rather than pee in the water. All of our kids have “potty-trained” themselves, on their own terms – I foolishly tried to get Raina out of diapers before our third baby was born, and quickly realised the error of my ways when she rebelled against me, hard. I dropped the issue, and months later she started using the toilet all on her own.

There is no television in this house. No video games. Sometimes our kids will use the computer to watch nature documentaries and dinosaur specials. Sometimes they’ll use my camera to take photos, which they use for a “game” they created – zooming in really close and trying to guess what the object in the photo is when it’s blown up 800x’s. Without the distraction that too much technology brings, they are free to be their amazingly creative selves all day.

Of course, we regularly make trips into the wilderness, exploring local woodlands and creeks and trails. Outdoor play & exploration is what we live and breathe for. My children can identify coyote poop, raccoon poop, deer poop, the tracks of a half-dozen different animals, several birds of prey by sight, trees by their bark & leaves, and so much more. They don’t see themselves as separate from nature – they are part of nature, they belong to the woodlands just as much as the coyotes and raccoons do.

Oh, and socialisation? Yeah, we get plenty of that. We’re blessed to have a large network of homeschooling & unschooling friends, a great family, and the Ontario Early Years centre nearby. The kids are regularly interacting with folks of all ages, races and social classes, with people like them and people completely different from them. They’re not restricted to a classroom with 30 kids the same age – the world is wide open before them, and all people are worth saying “Hello” to.

You’d like to learn more about life learning, I’m sure. Who wouldn’t? Here are some great resources to get you started -

Creating Our Own Structure – unschooling.ca
What is Unschooling? – Natural Child Project
Radical Unschooling – Sandra Dodd
What is Unschooling? – John Holt
Are We Teaching Ourselves? – “Yes, I Can Write” blog
Unschooling for Social Change – FreeChild Project

We sure do love our lives. Our days are mostly happy, my kids are mostly happy, we have almost limitless time together to love & support each other. I can’t imagine sending my kids off to an institution every day, leaving their minds in the hands of impersonal strangers who change from year to year. No, thanks. We’ll keep living as though school doesn’t exist, and keep on loving the lives we have.

Oh, and what child would rather sit at a desk all day instead of doing this?

Circle of Life

Some time ago, I mentioned that our vegetarian family was making some big decisions about eating more sustainably and providing for ourselves in an effort to reduce our dependency on the grocery store.  Our goal is to become self-sufficient, and let’s face it: eating grocery store food is not self-sufficient. It’s not Earth-friendly, it’s not wallet-friendly, and it’s not sustainable in the long term.

So we had to make some choices. Remain vegetarian and rely on the grocery store when the garden is out of season, or eat some of our birds & locally-caught fish and put a huge dent in the number of grocery trips we need to make.

We went with the latter.

Jae and I had many reasons for being vegetarian and raising vegetarian children, including a concern for the welfare of farm animals. We weren’t interested in sending our birds to the local abattoir, knowing that they’d be stressed out the entire drive there, stressed out moments before death, and killed by a stranger.  The only way to ensure that our birds were treated with respect and given a stress-free death was to do the killing here at home.

And so, with a sharpened ax and a friend to lend a hand, Jae slaughtered several of our birds.  He feathered them, gutted them, and put them in the freezer.  The kids and I said words of gratitude and respect to the birds, talked about the Circle of Life, and had a very lengthy discussion about why we had chosen to kill & eat some of our chickens.  Each time we have a chicken dinner, we say a few words of thanks for the life that was given to sustain our own lives.  We eat with consciousness and awareness.  We take nothing for granted.

I don’t really know what to say when people ask me why we’ve started eating our birds – the answer is too complex and emotional to sum up in a short conversation.  Our reasons for NOT eating meat were very long, and our reasons for eating our birds are just as many.  There are the issues of food security, animal rights, environmental degradation, industrial agriculture, economic freedom, health and well-being… and how each of those things ties into the next. The world we live in is so complicated and corrupted, and we’re trying to do the best we can for our family and our planet. A few years ago I wouldn’t have thought that would mean eating meat, but now I’m in a place where it just makes sense to do so. Life is funny like that – nothing is absolute, nothing is certain.

It was not easy to make the choice. It wasn’t easy to confront death, to become the bringers of death.  But once we made the leap, we knew we had made the right choice for our family.  In every ecosystem, there is a predator.  Our farm is an ecosystem in itself, and we are at the top of the chain.  That’s just life – everything in balance, everything a circle of birth and death.  The great Circle moves us all.

A Bug in the House

Wednesday morning, it started. Raina awoke, sat up in bed, and promptly puked all over me. Robin woke up moments later, coughing and crying. Lynden made his way downstairs for breakfast, but threw up halfway down.

It’s that lovely time of year again – cold & flu season.

Lucky for us, the puking passed quickly. The kids are now battling sore throats, coughing, epic snot, and mild fevers.

And, for Raina, really horrible jaw pain that doesn’t seem to be linked to ear infection, toothache or swollen lymph nodes. It’s concerning enough (and painful enough) that I called Telehealth and was advised to bring Raina in to a doctor.

It has been a very long time since my children have seen a doctor. By and large, I find them unnecessary – especially for a healthy, thriving child who is developing well. As a new mother, I dutifully brought Lynden in for his “well-baby” visits, and quickly learned what a joke those visits are. I don’t need an “expert” to tell me that my child is growing well – I can see that with my own eyes. I don’t need an “expert” to give me feeding advice (particularly when that advice is flat-out wrong and outdated, and doesn’t pertain to an exclusively breastfed baby). I don’t need to be given a biased, misleading sales pitch on vaccinations at every turn.

After several well-baby visits, I decided to stop going. Some families really do need this service and can benefit from it, but why does a healthy child of a well-informed mother need to see a doctor on a regular basis? It doesn’t make sense.

So, Jae and I decided we’d limit trips to the doctor, going in only when illness or injury made it necessary. When 2-yr-old Lynden became quite ill with vomiting and diarrhea for days on end, we returned to our doctor. She barely looked at my son, told me there was a virus going around, and said he’d be fine within days. To make a long story short, Lynden wasn’t fine within days, and over the next six weeks continued to deteriorate. We made FOUR trips to our doctor, who kept telling me Lynden had a virus, until he went to hospital for dehydration and I decided enough was enough.

We never went back to our family doctor, and my children have not seen a doctor since. Instead, we went to a Naturopathic Doctor, who sat down with me and my child for nearly an HOUR, going over our history in very thorough detail. What was Lynden’s diet like? What did mama eat in pregnancy? What was Lynden’s birth like (a beautiful midwife-attended homebirth)? What was the colour and consistency of the diarrhea? Etc. No stone was left unturned. By the end of that appointment, our Naturopathic Doctor was fairly certain that Lynden was dairy intolerant. Within days of eliminating pasteurised goat’s milk, the vomiting stopped. Within two weeks, the diarrhea went away. Colour came back to Lynden’s cheeks.

Doctors are useful, sometimes, when they are needed to diagnose or fix a very real problem. Unfortunately, the Western world has set doctors on an untouchable pedestal, where they are looked at as an absolute authority on health. It’s sad, because doctors typically only address symptoms with prescription medications instead of determining underlying cause and promoting genuine health, balance and well-being. They know only what they were taught, and rely on (often flawed) textbook knowledge to treat problems that can usually be permanently solved with diet and lifestyle changes. They create dependence on pharmaceutical drugs (which carry their own problems and side effects) instead of promoting genuine healing. And in a society that reveres doctors nearly as gods, we do not question their solutions to our problems.

I’m not interested in pharmaceuticals as a fix for non-life threatening problems, and over the last three years we’ve been very successful in healing ourselves naturally. We’ve used food and dietary changes to combat gut problems, rest and herbs to battle the flu, and a vibrant & healthy lifestyle to stay mostly in good health, avoiding the majority of the bugs that have swept through my music students and our homeschool friends. When one takes care of oneself, eats well, gets enough sleep and treats the body as a precious temple, one finds that health is the norm and doctors are very rarely needed.

That being said, I do feel that mystery jaw pain with a fever warrants a little bit of investigation. So, for the first time since infancy, Raina will make a trip to the doctor today. Once we know what the problem is, I’ll be able to form a plan of action to solve it. Wish us well!

Giving Thanks

Tonight we enjoyed our most local Thanksgiving dinner to date – a stuffed chicken from our flock, mashed potatoes from the neighbour, wild peas foraged by Jae, and grilled zucchini from our garden.  Our absolutely delicious meal was followed by an even more delicious pumpkin bread made by my mother-in-law (thanks!!). We couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Our list of gratitudes is very long this year. We have been so blessed, in so many ways, and I’m overwhelmed just thinking about everything we have to be grateful for:

~ New life. This year we’ve been blessed with another pregnancy and the anticipation of a new child joining our family. No matter how many times I go through this wild experience of growing a fetus, I never cease to be amazed by the miracle of life.

~ Garden bounty. Despite the craziest growing season I’ve ever experienced – flood-worthy rains late into the spring making it impossible to plant “on time”; a mega heat wave sweeping through in July (with not enough rain); a record-breaking wet and cold September causing the last of the garden not to ripen – we still got quite a lot of food from our garden.  We enjoyed tomatoes throughout the season, mountains of cucumbers, watermelon, zucchini, salad greens, dry beans, peas, garlic, several varieties of chives, basil, and so much more. Mother Earth is amazing and we are so thankful for every bite of food She has provided.

~ Healthy children. ‘Nough said.

~ A strong roof over our heads.

~ Sheep and goats. We love our livestock. We enjoyed delicious, rich, raw goat’s milk in the Spring and I’ve carded up some delightful locks of wool for spinning. These lovable ruminants keep our grass (somewhat) in check, provide great company, and always give us a laugh.

~ Family togetherness. I never could have imagined how much I’d come to appreciate having Jae home every day. Quitting the rat race has been the best thing for our family, and I am so grateful for everything that comes with having two parents at home. With my horrible pregnancy sickness (which seems to be passing, hooray!), I’ve come to rely on Jae more than ever before, and I am eternally thankful for everything he’s done over the past two months. I can see how much the kids love having him home, too, and it fills my soul.

~ Abundance. Despite living on less money, our cupboards are filled with healthy, wholesome food. Our freezer is full of free-range, organically-fed chickens. I have a closet full of yarn for knitting winter wear. I have a sewing machine for creating new clothes. We have everything that we need, and everything that we want. Life is very good.

~ Loving and supportive family, on both sides. We are blessed.

~ Loyal egg customers. We’ve had so many steady & supportive customers purchasing our eggs, that our chickens now pay for themselves and bring in a some pocket change each month, in addition to feeding our family. We’re SO grateful for the folks who buy our eggs week after week, who send emails with awesome feedback, who spread the word to friends, and who support local & organic food. Thanks, guys! You add such an element of awesomeness to this life we’re living!

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers. I hope you are just as overwhelmed by the blessings in your lives. May the Earth always provide well for you!

On Living with Less

You may recall that Jae quit his job over the course of the summer in order to be free, in order to live the life of our dreams.  What, exactly, does that mean?

It means we are living on a lot less money, but that we have a lot more time together as a family and a lot more time to do for ourselves on our farm.

It means we are making a casual income. I teach violin lessons a few hours per week. We sell eggs our hens have laid, I knit hats that folks have ordered, I spin yarn to sell. We are fortunate to live in a country that gives mamas a child tax benefit, and that helps to pay for our car.

Beyond that, being jobless means we have much more time to take care of life for ourselves instead of buying things. I’m knitting the kids some winter sweaters, instead of working to buy them, with yarn that I’ve spun instead of purchased. We’re preserving food from our garden, instead of working to buy groceries. We’re foraging for wild edibles, and even ate one of our chickens the other day – a decision that I was completely comfortable with after nearly an entire lifetime of vegetarianism (stay tuned for a post on slaughtering your own animals – it may not be what you think!). We are doing what we can for ourselves instead of paying corporations to do it for us.

Despite the cold and rainy weather, we’ve got produce coming out of the garden, ready to be canned and enjoyed on a cold winter’s day.

Hot peppers - salsa in waiting.

Tomatillos, soon to be salsa verde.

Living on less also means living with less – and we’re ok with that. In fact, a life with less is a freer life. It is liberating to free oneself from STUFF, to deny the urge to spend money, to appreciate what you have and find new uses for old things. We’ve also realised how much of what we do have, we don’t really need. A large-scale purge is in process, and soon bags full of things will be donated to the local thrift store.

Living on less means working with your friends and neighbours to get things done. It means exchanging a helping hand on a friend’s farm for some bales of hay to get your livestock through the winter. It means trading a hand-knit hat & mitts for some cloth diapers. It means giving some eggs for basket of produce. It means forming lasting bonds & friendships and creating community.

Living on less also means having plenty of time to enjoy life’s beauties and wonders. How amazing the little things can be! So much to marvel at in something as small as a bouquet of wildflowers.

For our family, living on less means more togetherness, and there’s nothing I cherish more than the time I have with my loved ones. These are the best days of our lives.