Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Our summer camp - a wild success!

Our wilderness and homesteading summer camp last weekend was a huge success.  In fact, it went so well that I shed a tear or two in our closing circle, when all the kids shared what they loved best about our camp and what their favorite learning was.

After spending two whole days and nights with these ten kids (including our own three), we bonded with them and started getting to know their personalities, and I can honestly say that each one of them touched my heart.

I also fell in love with my own family even more than I thought possible.  Watching my husband teach these kids with his patient, strong and gentle manner, observing my thirteen-year-old and eleven-year-old sons help guide and lead the other kids... my heart is full.

Do you want to come along and see what we all experienced?  I took 800  (!!!) photos, so to distill them down into this one blog post feels like torture.  

If you want to send your child or grandkid to our camp, we will do another camp August 19 to 21.

The kids arrived on Friday around 5pm.  While we waited for everyone to trickle in, the kids started to get to know each other playing "Capture the Flag", or rather capture the towel.

It's amazing to me how quickly kids form friendships when they play these games.

We ate a home-cooked meal around the campfire while we all introduced ourselves and laid down some ground rules for safety and respect.

Before it got dark, we planted some cedar trees to teach the kids about conservation and forests.  Shovels in hand and not deterred by the drizzle, the kids showed plenty of enthusiasm and curiosity.

Then we headed to the tipi for a powwow around the fire and a popsicle treat.   Steve demonstrated how to make a friction fire (without matches), and we all told stories of our favorite encounter with wild animals. 

The boys slept in the tipi, and the girls got to spend the night up in the fort/treehouse.

They got up bright and early the next morning (their choice, not ours!).  I bet none of them had ever done a sit-spot at 6 am, which is a practice where you quietly sit outside for ten minutes and observe things around you.

After breakfast, we headed to the barn to milk goats, which turned out to be a favorite for many kids.  My goats are gentle, docile and big milk producers, and a couple of the kids remarked on how milking them felt like squeezing big water balloons.  

After another rousing game of "Capture the Flag", we ventured into the forest to our magical camp filled with moss and huge cedars and big leaf maples.

The rope swing that marks the entrance to the camp was a huge hit.

Here, Steve taught the kids how to build a debris hut - a functional shelter made with sticks, leaves and moss.

Next came the fire challenge, where the kids had to work together to build a fire that burns a string that's suspended over it.  This is surprisingly hard and really brought out their competitive (but fun) spirit!

The last skill we taught in this magical spot was how to make cordage from  natural fibers to make ropes.  

After heading back to our homestead and devouring lunch, I showed the kids how to start making fermented bread.  I teach this in my online fermentation course as well, and it's a big hit with people who have a hard time with gluten, since this bread is much easier to digest than conventional bread.

You think they had fun getting their hands into flour, water, and yeast?

Next: bow making!  A lot of kids counted this as their favorite.  Steve has taught this art to hundreds of people, but there's nothing like watching kids work on their bows!

That evening, we led a treasure hunt to another magical place close to our homestead.  We call this place "the grotto", a cave-like, fern-draped spot at the creek.  Steve and our sons had hidden some treasures a couple of days before (antlers, arrowheads, feathers), and it was up to all the kids to pay attention and find them.  They got to keep what they found.  Sorry about the deer vertebrae, parents.

They needed a little help finding the treasures, and it turned out they also found stuff we hadn't hidden ourselves, including a garter snake and lots of huckleberries.

See the snake draped around his finger?

That night found us back at the fire pit, where we consumed the only non-organic food we serve at our camp: the obligatory marshmallows.

Before bed, Steve told more stories around the fire in the tipi.  The kids conked out hard after a long, active day, and nobody complained about how loud the frogs were that night.

The next morning, after sit-spot and breakfast, we headed to the pigs so the kids could meet them as well.  

After finishing their bow and getting an archery lesson, we packed a picnic and headed to one of our favorite swimming holes at a wild creek.  There, the kids built rafts, devoured three loaves of the bread we had made, plus my home-made goat cheese, learned about tracking in the sand, swam in the glacial water, buried themselves in the sand, and practiced making friction fires.

When we came home, it was time to organize all their stuff, hold our closing circle, give them their buck skin bag gifts we had made for them, and say goodbye.

Steve and I are very tired, but very happy, and our hearts are full.  We love sharing our knowledge with children, and I think we sowed some seeds this weekend.  Maybe the seed for one child was kindling a love for animals, or maybe it was experiencing the garden and picking peas straight from the vine and popping them in the mouth still warm from the sun.  Or maybe it was watching Steve making a fire without any matches, and getting to try it themselves.  Maybe it was about finding comeradery with other kids in a respectful, safe way, or maybe it was about picking wild berries.

I don't know.  Maybe the kids are happy to get back home, play with their devices and walk on concrete instead of mud.  But I do think they all enjoyed themselves.  In fact, some kids asked when they can come back.

Any time, honey.  Any time.

PS: If you want to send your child or grandkid to our camp, we will do another camp August 19 to 21.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Wild berries and one berry bush you should plant in your yard

On my morning walks with the puppy, we see big piles of bear poop.  What I find fascinating is not so much the fact that bears walk the same path as I do, but that we also love the same food: Their poop is full of cherry pits.  Sometimes we see a bear up in a cherry tree, breaking limbs as it climbs up and down and stuffing its face with cherries.

The bears and us love this time of year because it's like a giant candy store in the woods.  Cherries, salmonberries, thimbleberries, red and blue huckleberries, wild strawberries and blackberries - they all entice us to slow down our steps and pick them.  And so we do.  

Going for a walk with Eva can't be called walking this time of year.  She takes a few steps, picks berries straight from the bush into her mouth for half a minute, takes some more steps, picks berries for another half minute, and so on and so on.  

It makes me happy to watch my kids and their friends enjoying this wild food so much.  I can't imagine how much good nutrition these berries are packed with!  

It helps that the picking location is so gorgeous: our local forest, filled with giant cedars, wild creeks, wildflowers and yes, bears.

Red Huckleberries

At some point the boys' friend (the pink-haired dude) found a garter snake and held it up in the air, which freaked Eva out.  Her 13-year old brother Kai decided now was a good time to tell her the snake would come chase her, which resulted in loud, panicky wails from Eva and a stern talking-to from me to my eldest son.

He's usually very kind, but he must have felt like showing off in front of his friend.  In our family, I don't tolerate unkindness (even though I understand the role of bigger brothers usually involves some teasing of younger ones), so when Eva and I caught up with the boys ten minutes later, Kai was waiting for her with a hand full of huckleberries that he had picked for her as a peace offering.  Now that's better, dude!

Yep, that's tears.  You know, because snakes are chasing her.

These lessons learned out in the woods are priceless, and observing my children interact with their world warms my heart unless it doesn't when one of them is being a pain.  Most of the time, I feel blissed out when we're out here.  I mean, look at this: we are picking berries and are probably getting one million times the antioxidants and vitamins we need, the scenery is gorgeous, the puppy happily frolics, and I deeply breathe air that smells like moss, ferns and cedars (and bear poop).

By the way, I am not worried about the bears, not at all.  We don't have grizzly bears here but rather shy, more elusive black bears.  They are more scared of us than we of them, and wouldn't you be terrified to hear loud humans shrieking about berries and snakes?

What else are we picking?  Check it out.  Here are my favorites - thimbleberries (Rubus parviflorus). They have such an unique taste, almost like apricots.

Salmon berries!  There are red ones and golden ones, and they are the first berries of the season, so we have to race the birds to get them, since our feathered friends love them as much as we do.

Wild strawberries!  They are tiny but incredibly flavorful.

Here are little native trailing blackberries, which are not black yet but are working on it.  We'll be ready for them.

And here's the thing: we are not only stuffing ourselves with wild berries, but also berries we planted in our garden.  When we first bought our property 14 years ago, we planted several varieties of less common hardy superfood berries.

While many people only plant blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, we wanted to take it a step further and planted Goumiberries (Elaeagnus multiflora), Seaberries or Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), Honeyberries (Lonicera caerulea), and Aronia berries (Aronia melanocarpa).  

Granted, these berries are not as sweet and delicious as the more common ones, but they are even more superior in nutrition.  For example, Aronia berries have the highest concentration of antioxidants than any other fruit.  Goumi berries have the highest lycopene content of ANY fruit, which means they are a powerhouse and anti-cancer food.

If you can plant only one of these, I would recommend to make it a Goumi!  We eat as many as we can fresh and freeze the rest.

Sometimes, I can't find the kids anywhere, and when I yell their names, they answer me from under the Goumi berry bush, picking and eating berries by the handful.

What's your favorite berry?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Turning 44, and one of the things I've learned

On the same day as the shooting in Orlando, I turned 44.  My husband, kids and I were hiking on a mountain top to an abandoned fire lookout, kayaking on a magical lake, and feeling lots of love and joy.

A day later, when I found out about the tragedy, I started feeling guilty about all the bliss I felt on my birthday.  The guilt lasted exactly 10 seconds, because I realized that the kinds of feelings I experienced on my birthday are exactly what the world needs in the face of insanity, fear, hatred and death.  We need love, joy, community, family.

I am so heartbroken about what happened.  And as always in the face of unspeakable grief I am holding my loved ones close, trying to teach them inclusivity, that we humans are so much more alike than not and thus should treat each other like brothers and sisters.  

Anyway.  I am now 44, rapidly heading towards the half century mark.  I think this would freak me out more if I didn't feel so healthy and strong.  Honestly, I feel more vibrant than I ever have.  

My hair is turning grayer, my wrinkles are deepening, my hands are looking like the appendages of a woman 20 years older than me (I don't wear gloves when gardening or washing dishes), but I feel wiser, deeper, and more seasoned. 

I think ageing has a lot do do with our mindset.  Our culture tells us that we will get aches and pains, that we will get sick, tired and ugly.  Well, I have an issue with that paradigm.  There's nothing that says we can't get healthier and more alive as we age, right?  I jump on that band wagon!  Jump with me!

The hike up the fire lookout was gorgeous.  Wildflowers, sweeping vistas, ferns, gnarled trees...

Don't worry, she didn't kill it. This butterfly was dead, and she was sad and insisted on a proper burial.
On the way down, I lagged behind.  Steve, who knows I like my space, took the kids with their chattering and noisy enthusiasm and led them down the mountain, while I quietly walked alone, blissed out.  The afternoon light was so soft and pretty, bathing everything in golden light.

The backlit flowers seemed to call out to me to stop and admire them.  I reflected on how much I've learned from flowers.  Mostly it's about how to be fully present, to exist in a grounded way and letting their light and beauty shine unapologetically.

What I love about flowers (and everything in nature, really) is that they just ARE.  They live fully in the moment without judging.  Lupins don't look at a daisies and say "Gosh, I wish they weren't so different from me!".  A rose doesn't lament that one of her petals is a different size than another one of her petals, wishing she looked different.  She just keeps on blooming her butt off, spreading her gorgeous fragrance.  One flower doesn't judge another: "Look at that bitch!  Who does she think she is for showing off like that with her vibrant colours?  I wish she kept it down a little."

I totally wanna live like that.

That night, we slept in our friend's tiny cabin and went bicycling (me) and eating cinnamon rolls (the rest of my family), and then headed to Pearrygin Lake to kayak.  Steve gave me a kayak for my birthday (!!!), so we naturally had to test it.  The lake's surface was like glass and took my breath away with its beauty.

My son Luke must have rolled his eyes at me because I kept exclaiming how gorgeous it was.  By the way, you know what the kids' present was for me?  They cleaned out the fridge after I hinted how much this would mean to me.  Have I told you how much I love these kids?  

What are you holding near and dear these days?

PS: I am giving away a spot in my self-paced, start-and-end-whenever-you-like fermentation course at the Woolly Moss Roots blog.  Head on over there and leave a comment to win it.  Even if you don't win, you can claim 10 percent off.  Get the coupon code at Woolly Moss Roots.