The Willard HomesteadThe Homestead, the Emporium and simple living on our funny farm.

  • Planning for Spring – the garden

    As a relatively new homesteader and gardener, I always LOVE to hear what others are planting in their gardens. With this in mind, I decided to share what I hope to plant in mine!

  • How we make raw dog and cat food.

    One of our most requested ‘recipes’ on facebook is the recipe for our raw dog and cat food!
    Hard to believe isn’t it?

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    Making raw pet food doesn’t need to be difficult or fancy. It can be quite simple!
    If you’re just beginning to make raw pet food, you can start out with the basics, one step at a time. Here’s how we progressed over the years and how we make our raw pet food now.

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    Our goal is to feed our pets the very best we can, but as a family with 6 kids, it needs to be for the least cost too. To achieve this for 6 dogs and 11 cats we needed to get creative.

    When we first began feeding raw almost 14 years ago, we had one cat and one puppy. Two years later we added a second dog. During that time we simply purchased meat during sales. Ground chicken, turkey, ground beef, ground pork, anything that was on sale or on clearance because it was close to date or on date. We’d buy in bulk when possible, and freeze until it was time to make more pet food. My preference was ground meats so that I didn’t have to cut it all up and try to put it through my food processor. That machine saw a LOT of wear and tear in those years! I just received my second ever food processor at Christmas and will finally put my first one into retirement.

    Now that we’re feeding 17 animals though, it’s just too costly to be buying meats from the grocery store. For a while we were buying pre-made raw pet food, Mountain Dog Food. Once we moved to the prairies we were unable to find meat at a low price in the stores. Buying it already pre-made through a raw food seller was the cheapest way to go, but it was costing us about 250.00-350.00 per month for just the 6 dogs, and 2 cats. Once we knew we would be adding lots of barn cats, we needed to think this through. If you’re not interested in making your own food though, or can not buy meat cheap, look into pre-made! It’s the next best thing and you’d be surprised by how many companies actually make raw food now.

    Once I realized we needed a new tactic for finding meats, I had the idea to advertise looking for old freezer foods locally. I simply posted on our local ‘garage sale’ facebook page. I let people know I was looking for freezer burnt meats, fruits and veggies, especially wild game for pet food. If anyone had some, to please contact me and we’d happily pick it up and put it to good use rather then the old meats being thrown into the garbage! No one wants to throw away food, and this appeals to many people. It’s a wonderful form of recycling so don’t be shy about asking!

    Since we live in a small town, word has gotten around and now we never run out of meats. There are LOTS of people who hunt around here and if they still have wild game in the freezer from last year, they give it to us to make room for their new game!

    It’s been asked, how do I know if these meats are ok for our pets. I personally feel the better question would be, how does one know pre-made pet foods are ok for our pets? We have no way of knowing what is being thrown into kibble and processed pet foods. The regulations are so loose on pet foods. When I make my own pet foods, I SEE and handle every piece of meat I feed our cats and dogs. If something looks or smells ‘off’, I discard it but to be honest, I’ve never had to discard anything, or not use it in the pet food.

    Except once…
    I opened a pretty white paper wrapped package and upon opening it I gasped and jumped.
    Inside was the most colorful, complete, beautiful BIRD. I have no idea what kind it was, and it caught me off guard completely! I expected to open a package of raw meat, and here’s this complete bird ‘looking’ at me in this pretty white paper. I fed that one to the wild animals at the property line. lol I really don’t throw away anything. Ha!

    Now I know to watch for those pretty white paper packages. I actually receive a few every so often and it’s become a treat for our barn cats to receive a whole bird. I’m no longer scared to open them, and maybe one day I’ll actually find out what these pretty birds are that people hunt and freeze, whole!

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    The only cost to us for these meats is picking it up, and keeping it in freezers. In our shop we have 3 freezers full of discarded meats JUST for the pets. We currently have goose, duck, buffalo, deer, moose, wild boar, lots of wild game sausage, beef, pork, chicken and turkey. Our pets are SPOILED!

    About every 7-10 days we pull out one large tub full of meats. I like to mix a variety into every batch we make including organ meats. Once it’s defrosted enough to cut, we slice it up and put it through our meat grinder. This big grinder is new to us. For a long time we had to cut up our meats and then we upgraded to the meat grinder attachment for my kitchenaid mixer when I received a sears gift card. That actually worked quite well but was a little slow once we were feeding so many. If you’re just feeding 1-6 pets though, I’d say it should be enough for you.

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    We grind up ALL the slices of meat. It is a messy job! I was tempted to edit the photos to remove the bloody cutting board etc. but then thought better of it. It’s messy. There’s no way around it. If you’re squeamish about raw meats (you won’t be for long ha ha) then you can use tongs (I do) to handle the meat or even kitchen gloves. My husband just uses his hands. (He was never scared of diaper duty either… lol)

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    When my old food processor became too tired, and cracked, I began to use my blender for this next step.
    I take a mix of fruits and veggies and put them through the blender (now I do this with my new food processor). I add in garlic and whole eggs, including the shells (we have chickens, so I usually give the dogs the cracked eggs etc..)
    Often I’ll add in some flax oil, or cod liver oil, or anything else I feel is healthy for them. If I have old coconut oil, I’ll add that in.

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    We have found that icecream buckets work the very best for us. They are plentiful, free, easy, and we go through one a day for our 17 meat eating pets! My goal is usually to make 7-10 buckets each time. Now that we have the big grinder though, my new goal will be to aim for 14 buckets at a time so that we only have to make it once every 2 weeks instead of weekly.

    If I only had a couple of pets to feed, I’d use yogurt containers. Then you could take one out every day or so. ๐Ÿ™‚

    20140107-095334.jpg(Ground meats awaiting the rest of the meats to be ground and added.)

    You’ll also notice that I make the same food for the dogs and the cats. The ‘rule’ of thumb for a raw diet is 60% protein & 40% other for dogs, and then 80% protein and 20% other for cats. However, because most of our cats are barn cats, we expect that once they are no longer kittens they will find mice to eat. For now, they are also supplemented with kibble (just so they always have food on hand, since they are still growing) and we give them any and all fish, ducks, etc. that we receive with the freezer meats. The extra whole meats they receive up their % of protein intake. I also like that they are receiving the extra vitamins etc. from the fish. They will often receive an extra meal of salmon, trout, duck, a whole bird, scallops, and even crab and lobster some times!

    One last addition I put into each bucket of raw food before we mix it all up, is DE, or also known as, food grade diatomaceous earth. This keeps our pets worm free, flea free, and disease free. We do not vaccinate our animals (or ourselves for the most part) except for those vaccines (rabies) that are a must in whatever area we live in.

    We also feed our dogs (and some times the cats) lots of bones. LOTS and LOTS of bones. Every kind too. This week they’ve been chewing away on a deer carcass a friend gave to use, and some pork hocks.

    What types of dogs are we feeding?
    We have Teagan (shown in the photo with the kitten) who is a 2.5 pound long coat chihuahua (3 years old), Jasper is a 12 pound papillon (5 years old), Bentley is a 26 pound Corgi/Chihuahua cross (almost 2 years old), two 40 pound Shelties, Shiloh (almost 14 years old) and Levi (almost 12 years old), and last but certainly not least, our German Shepherd Scout who is just over 70 pounds and also almost 2 years old.

    20140107-115923.jpg(*this isn’t Scouts usual meal, lol, that would be an appetizer. I just have her the small plate to snap her photo.)

    Our cats range in age from Patches (Alesia’s cat) who is over 15 years old (we’ve had her since before her birth, as we also had her mother!) and who has moved from Ontario, to BC, and now to Saskatchewan! Then Cleo is Julia’s flame point siamese who is 2 years old. Bibble is Shaylah’s cat and he’s almost a year old and kind of the ‘boss’ of the barn cats. The rest all range in ages from almost a year to about 6 months old. They are all kittens, and barn cats in training. For now we keep all the kittens up in our barn loft with a heater and they are permitted to come down into the barn as each one feels ready to make that move. It’s a bit of a scary life though for barn cats here in the rural country. They are needed to keep the mouse population down (we’ve had them in the barn, the shop, AND even in the ceiling of our home this winter!) but unfortunately with coyotes, foxes, and lots of other wildlife around, I do prefer them all to grow up a little ‘scared’ of the great big outdoors. So far it’s worked well with the ones old enough, and brave enough, to leave the loft. They are brave enough to come about when we are working, but when we are inside, they tend to stay inside the loft as well. We had one adult cat given to us who was ‘too’ brave and sadly she disappeared. I know this is a part of farm life, but if we can raise them (train them) to want to stay CLOSE to the barn at all times, I’m certainly going to try my best to do so.

    I figure once spring comes and things warm up, most of them will be ready to start exploring. By then they should be so accustomed to being in the loft for morning and night raw food feeding time that they’ll want to stay close to home. That’s my hope!

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    So there you have it! How, and why, we feed our pets raw. Our passion for raw food is reconfirmed over and over. In all the years we’ve been feeding raw we’ve only had two bouts with real sickness and both times we were able to pull the dogs through. I’m convinced both times were parvo.
    We’ve had one bout of feline sickness (which showed up shortly after a stray adult cat started hanging out in our barn loft with the kittens), but with the kittens good diet, the addition of colloidal silver where and when needed, we pulled them through as well without much more then sniffles and messy eyes.

    The only thing we couldn’t pull a cat through was when Elsa’s cat licked up a bit of antifreeze last winter that had spilled in our shop and she had gotten in. There was nothing that could be done that time. It was very sad for all of us, especially Elsa.

    Our eldest dog (14 year old sheltie) has had some sort of very large growth on his chest for quite a few years now, (it was aspirated, but there was no conclusion as to what it is and it’s shown up around muscles so it can’t be cut out). It seemed to get larger and then in recent months it’s begun to shrink up. He’s old, and looks the part of Old Farm Dog, but he continues to follow all of us around whenever we go for walks or work outside. He’s the slowest of the pack, but still happy and playful!

    My hope and prayer is that each of our pets will be able to live a long healthy life and die peacefully in their sleep!

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  • Does what we eat matter most?

    I was reading a blog post this morning.

    God cares a lot more whatโ€™s in your heart than whatโ€™s in your fridge.

    When our eldest children, now 20 & 22, were babes it seemed the main concern of ‘social’ groups/mom groups was that our kids looked good and behaved. Today it seems that how we feed our family, and if we do or do not agree with vaccines, is forefront. What’s forefront often changes, yet while it’s ‘popular’ it can make and break friendships between mothers.
    No matter what is forefront, most often it’s just a distraction from what we should really be focusing on.

    Ourselves. Our behaviours. How we treat one another. Being good role models for our children.

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    The truth is, who we are, who we are raising our children to be, and showing Christ’s love through it all (as Christians) should be foremost.
    And what another does, how they eat, how they raise their children etc. should not be the most important thing. We don’t need to agree with each other 100% to be a support to one another.

    For our family, we eat the way we do because of a simple scripture that has been a favourite of ours for over 16 years. It’s taken just that long to finally live it out too!

    1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
    Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
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    I’m not concerned so much about winning respect, but I desire to see ‘good fruit’ as proof of our lifestyle being right for us. Our children are our fruit. Part of our goal of a country lifestyle has always been to benefit our children, and aid us in raising them to be aware of the world around them. Nature, animals, people. Loving and caring for them all while seeking God’s will for their lives.

    We raise as much of our own food as possible because it is an important part of leading our quiet life and working with our hands. (I emphasize ‘our’ because I feel ‘our’ way need not be everyone’s way!) Growing/raising our own food has simply evolved through our desire to live the lifestyle we have chosen. It’s not just about eating better and being healthier. What good are those things if we do not live ‘right’? If our attitudes stink or we get ourselves so busy making healthy food that we ignore our children?

    Eating healthy homegrown foods is simply a side benefit. A wonderful side benefit, as we raise these six children of ours. Our heart, our attitude, our behaviour, and how we love one another while living this lifestyle is what determines how our children will thrive as good persons.

    Not the food we eat.

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  • DIY Vanilla Extract & Vanilla Cane Sugar

    Can you guess what I’m making today?

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    Homemade vanilla extract!
    I’ve been wanting to make it for quite some time, years actually, and today is finally the day!
    I’m hoping some of my beans are not too old. It took us forever to finally get to a liquor store and buy some booze. lol It’s quite ironic actually. In our first years of marriage we probably spent as much funds at the liquor store each week as we did at the grocery store!

    But that was a life time ago…

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    We contemplated whether I should use vodka, or rum, for the vanilla extract. Hubby figured rum would be a better flavour in the long run, and I tended to agree, so we went with that. It was pretty much the same price as the vodka and for whatever reason, vodka didn’t seem appealing to either of us.

    Making homemade vanilla is really quite easy. I simply googled and found LOTS of recipes which all said basically the same thing.

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    Take some vanilla beans, aproximately 3-4 beans per cup of alchohol.

    Slice them down the middle, leaving about the top inch of bean intact.

    Place the beans in a container.
    I was planning on just putting them straight into the rum bottle but was a little short on the beans for so much rum. Instead, I used these starbucks iced coffee bottles. I personally don’t like starbucks, but my eldest, Alesia, loves these coffees and when she treats herself to a coffee, she brings me the bottles. They are my go to bottle for my DIY Elderberry Syrup too!

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    Once the beans are in the bottle, simply add the alcohol of your choice.
    I’ve read that vodka, rum, and even bourbon are good. One site said you can actually use any alcohol. Most sites said 80 proof was best to ensure that your vanilla wouldn’t go bad. So we used 80 proof.

    Now all I have to do is leave the vanilla extract for a month or two, shaking it about once a week, until I deem it ready! Not sure how long that will take exactly, as this is my first time. I’ll share a photo and info as I go through the process.

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    With the two vanilla beans I had left, I chopped them up really fine to make myself some vanilla sugar!

    I used my favourite cane sugar (favourite because of taste, and cost, I buy it at well.ca when it comes on sale for 25% off).

    I put the sugar and the two chopped up beans into a glass jar and I’ll leave them in the cupboard along with the vanilla extract for the next month or so, until I feel it’s ready.

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    If I find the vanilla isn’t really infusing the sugar, I may consider throwing the jar of sugar and vanilla bean into my food processor to turn it into a ‘powder’ to see if that will help infuse it better.

    For now, I’m just playing around with what I’ve got, and having fun in my kitchen!

    How about you? Have you made vanilla extract or vanilla sugar?
    If not, are you planning to?

    Let me know if you’d like me to share more blog posts like this one. I love to hear from you!

  • Winter hardship on the Homestead

    I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve blogged, A goal I have for the new year, is to blog more. Even if it’s just a recipe I’m working on that day, photos from around the homestead, whatever we’re up to at the moment. I want to do better at keeping up here on our blog. We even have our very own blog domain now! So I had better put it to better use!

    I also really enjoy writing, and I really enjoy sharing, so I really should be blogging more. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    We’ve been busy around the homestead with Christmas, and everything leading up to it. Three of our girls were involved in the church Christmas play. Alesia (dd 22 yrs) wrote the play and the twins (now 14) acted in it. We finished up our homeschooling the week before Christmas to leave time for baking, tree decorating, and cleaning. Plus we celebrated the twins birthday on Dec. 8th. They are FOURTEEN now. How’s that even possible. My babies are FOURTEEN.

    After more than 7 months, our home is finally beginning to look unpacked. We still have work to do in the family room & our book nook, but yesterday I finished up our tiny master bedroom. It is officially BOX FREE! Although we’ve lived here since last spring, we spent so much of our first months here on the homestead working outside getting things ready for animals, gardening, and harvesting that bounty, that the inside of the house has been a little neglected. Most walls are still void of our pictures and photo’s! It’s kind of ironic since those photos and pictures were up rather quick in the last two homes, only to be taken down and packed back up again within months,

    As I wrote this Sunday, I was sitting with my feet up on the fireplace hearth while warming my bones. We intended to go to church that morning but as we were about to go and the kids were finishing up their chores, Elsa came in from the chicken coop and let us know that our beloved Banty cross rooster Charlie had died. Our temps have been bitterly cold and I guess it was too much for him. Instead of church, we spent our morning adding extra insulation to the chicken coop. We made their coop smaller with square hay bales for extra insulation and sheets of plywood with insulation on top, so that they are confined to a smaller, and lower space, that the heat lamps should be able to keep up with better. Loosing animals on the homestead is the one part of homesteading I do not enjoy. Our hope is to build a whole new coop in the future but for now, our added hay bales should do the trick for the rest of this winter. I sure hope so!

    Before I finished writing this, we lost our eldest hen. She wasn’t doing well that morning either, but we hoped she’d make it. She was almost 4 years old and a rare colour. We had hoped to have chicks from her and Charlie next spring. We knew we may be pushing it with her age but were still hoping for the best. Loosing animals is a hard reality of homesteading. The more animals you have, the more animals you loose over time. It’s just the way things go.

    On a brighter note, while warming up by the fire I spent a few minutes reading up a bit in my new book, The Encyclopedia of Country Living.

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    Such a great wealth of information in one big book! I’ve been waiting an awful long time to purchase this book. Now I really don’t know why I waited so long! If you are interested in learning any of the things mentioned in the above cover photo, your money will be well spent! Don’t hold off like I did. I really wish I hadn’t!

  • Lies our children believe.

    I spent part of my morning fighting a battle.

    A battle that I’m unfortunately, not new to. Neither are you.
    A battle for the minds and hearts of our children, a battle we often have to fight for ourselves too.

  • My child is worth more than my pride.

    I’ve had a huge revelation today, thanks to Alesia, my eldest (22 years old) child. I know, she’s rolling her eyes at me now… stating she’s not a child. I know at 22 she’s an adult but she’ll still ALWAYS be MY child. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    But, back to my revelation.
    It can be painful to admit how much I learn from my children. They truly cause me to grow, continuously.

    In my opinion, it’s life’s greatest blessing, and also life’s hardest pill to swallow.

    Alesia and I were discussing a past argument/disagreement between Elsa (my Aspie girl, who can frustrate the dickens out of me!) and myself. Through the course of our conversation, she mentioned a past argument her and I had, a number of years ago, when she had gotten into BIG trouble.

    When I had found out about something, I was MAD. I honestly don’t even remember the full specifics of the ‘what’ or ‘why’ I was so mad, but she reminded me of my reaction, of my anger. She also reminded me, not in a judging way, but simply factually, that it had not been the correct way to deal with her. That yes, she had done wrong and deserved to be reprimanded, but it still wasn’t right to get so angry.

    I chuckled a little, and responded with something like, “Oh you just wait and see when you have a teen! Then you’ll understand!”

    And you know what?

    It’s true. One day my daughter will most likely have a teenager, and that teen will give her some trouble. And quite possibly, my daughter will become angry with my future grandchild and they will go through what her and I went through.

    Or… maybe not? Maybe the future could be different for my grandchild?

    I pondered on my daughters words off and on all day today.

    When she came home from work she started getting ready for her evening out. When I noticed she wasn’t quite so busy, I asked her to come talk with me when she had a few moments. That I wanted to speak with her before anyone else got home.

    I had spent my day swallowing my pride, bit by bite, and now it was time to share my revelation with her.

    I let her know I had been thinking about what she had said. I told her that she was right. That my anger in the past, was wrong. That it didn’t matter what she had done, it was up to me to be sure I let her know that SHE is worth MUCH MORE than my pride, and I wanted her to know I was wrong. She was right.

    I told her that I want her to truly understand, that her father and I feel our relationships with our children are worth admitting when we are wrong. That our child/parent relationships come first. Our children come first.

    Of course, if I had been a better living example to my children all along, shown them that they ALWAYS come before my pride, through my daily life, I would have never needed to have this conversation with her.

    But, I’m not always a good living example. I fail. I have issues with pride, stubbornness, shame, and a whole long list of past hurts that have built up one wall after another, and another, and another.

    But over the years, I’ve learned that walls don’t just keep out hurts. Walls keep out fullness of joy too.

    The look on my daughters face when I told her I was sorry, and I hugged her and told her I love her…

    That look, was instant joy to my heart.

    And I realized my that daughter, my relationship with her in these few short moments we have left under the same roof between the busyness of our days, really is worth so very much more than my pride.

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    *Alesia, and her wonderful man, Johnny. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’m so very proud of these two!

  • Brewing Kombucha

    Kombucha brewing day here on the homestead.

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    The top jar is two brand new baby scoby’s for a local friend.

    I started with one large scoby from Delia at Delia’s Pantry. Now I’m up to eight definite scoby’s. Enough to brew for my family and more!

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    Biggest brew yet. Six jars for us. Should make for 12 litres finished kombucha with enough left over for the new batches next week.

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    I bought a big jar of pickles from Costco this week, because I prefer the bigger jars over the 2 quart size.
    First we need to eat the pickles though! lol

    The large jar shown in the photo is actually my cookie jar!

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    Although I love glass, to keep things simple for my family, that includes four teens, I use plastic 2 litre drink bottles for my second ferment and for storage in the fridge.

    I’m the only one that handles the first ferment, so glass is fine. A couple of our children are quite ‘klutzy’ though, so for their benefit and ease of mind, I use plastic after I’m done with the first ferment.

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    If you’re interested in learning about kombucha and it’s health benefits, google will be your best friend. It’s easy to find ways to make your own!

    Don’t be scared to give it a try!

  • Duck Dynasty, Skeletons in their closet.

    For my fellow Duck Dynasty fans. As always, they are keeping it real. This is the story of the skeletons in their closet.

    Our family loves the Robertson’s, because although they are rednecks in the USA, and my husband and I are in Canada and come from very different backgrounds, our tale, our history, is still very similar.

    One day we will share our story, our skeletons, but that time has not come yet. For now, I’ll share the Robertson’s story, because they share it so much better than we could ever share ours:

    Five skeletons in the Robertson’s family closet, through three generations.

    Well worth the time it takes to watch, to the end. Best video I’ve seen in a long while.

    http://www.ijreview.com/2013/11/96798-duck-dynastys-robertson-family-has-skeletons-here-are-five-of-them/

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  • Winter on the Homestead

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    Winter on the homestead.

    I know not everyone loves the thought of freezing temps, ice cold winds, frozen water buckets, and putting on so much winter gear that it takes you longer to ‘suit up’ than the actual work of doing chores…

    But there’s just some things I absolutely love about winter on the prairies.

    The peaceful daily rhythm is such a contrast to the absolute busyness that is late spring, summer, and harvest on the homestead.

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    Sitting by the fire on slow days after school is complete and there’s no gardening to be done.

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    Even shovelling snow. It’s a chore I actually really enjoy. I’m not fond of ‘useless’ exercise, and I’m often too busy to exercise just for the sake of exercise. Snow shovelling has a purpose, and it’s a great workout! Bonus!

    To really enjoy winter to its fullest here on the prairies, my hope is to one day afford some snow shoes. I remember using snow shoes in elementary school once or twice years and years ago in Alberta. It was great fun! Cross country skies are another goal one day… Another fun winter sport that would be awesome here on the prairies!

    In the mean time, I’ll continue to enjoy my time by the cozy fire and perhaps I’ll break out the knitting bag again soon. Or join Shaylah in some wool needle felting.