Fitting in, in the Slocan Valley

Fitting in, in the Slocan Valley

Slocan Lake, as seen from Idaho Peak

Most of my postings make it sound like we are completely isolated here. I did enjoy having time as a family when we arrived but we are by no means alone. The valley in which we live, the town, even the neighbourhood, are all full of very interesting people and things to do. The thing is, everybody is so very different from each other.

I’ve been trying to learn more about the area, reading about the Doukhobors (Russian pacifists who were exiled and setup communities in the valley where we live), the Sons of Freedom (a sect of the Doukhobors who set fire to their own homes while standing naked in protest to the government, had their children taken away to residential schools and who made terror attacks), also reading about the Japanese interment camps that were setup to take Japanese during WWII (but the Japanese had to build their own homes with no insulation and had little food the first winter). This valley has a lot of history and I don’t remember learning about it in school.

One thing I don’t know much about is aboriginal people. So when my sister sent me the link for a free 8-week program learning about aboriginal culture I jumped at it. Topics to be discussed were herbal baths and ethnobotanical education, perfect! I signed up without another thought. Two weeks later I looked up the dates to put them in my calendar and came across another part of their website. It reads, “Who: self-identified Indigenous cis women and their families, as well as other marginalized populations such as trans, 2 spirited and intersex women.” Apparently, the course is about learning to deal with trauma. This is about the trauma the aboriginal people faced in their lives or past generations. While I am very glad this workshop exists, I am also very glad that I didn’t show up there the first day as unaware as I was! How embarrassed I would have been to be selfishly there just to learn about herbs in their culture.

Some of the people around are very different to those that I’ve met before, especially in Europe. I love Europeans (why I lived there for 11 years and live with one here!) and I am Canadian and grew up in Canada, but these are not Europeans or Vancouverites. There are real hippies here, many people who grew weed for years and years to sell (and who think our herbs are weed despite our explanations), others who take drugs for spiritual journeys, and those who arrived here buying a section of forest and did absolutely everything themselves by hand. Some people live in Nelson and see others every day; some live on their remote land and see others only when absolutely necessary.
I’ve had people tell me I look different, maybe that’s my Belgian heritage, and maybe some think our commercial approach is be boring, but we are having no issues making friends and really like and respect our new friends and neighbours.

The thing about life here in the Slocan Valley and the Kootenays is that because people are so different, as long as you respect them and their history and differences, it seems that you can live together and appreciate each other.

Little Slocan Lake, where a family with 100 sheep, etc. lived in isolation for decades

As for selling herbs, no matter their background, most people respect their bodies and mental health. Therefore, for people here and elsewhere, we need to find out which herbs help people instead of just what is easiest to grow.

The home birth

The home birth

Waiting for the big day

What a relaxing experience. It was so lucky that neither baby nor I had any complications, that we had the most amazing midwife/gynaecologist, and that this was my second child. I think if any of those things had been different, the whole experience would have been different, but it wasn’t. 

My mom was visiting and had been around for days, we were doing various projects and hanging out. It was pretty relaxed. After a shockingly painful first birth (it wasn’t bad compared to others but the pain sure took me by surprise when I thought I’d rather die than continue and even after a course I had no idea how to manage contractions), I was expecting the worst. I was two days overdue so received a sweep from my midwife during our appointment the day before. The midwife prepared me to be induced the following week, she said I was pretty far off as the baby hadn’t dropped and my cervix was back and closed. Saw my neighbour in the grocery store afterwards and she gave me the ingredients to a labour cocktail (which thankfully I didn’t need) so I bought all that to prepare at home. Then Rob and I went around running tons of errands in Nelson, ate spicy thai for lunch, I drank tons of fluids and finished up paperwork in the evening. So I went to bed relaxed. At 4am my period cramp style cramping contractions woke me up. After 30min I started to time them and they were about 5min apart so I woke Rob up. He made me eggs for breakfast (which I later threw up…) and I called the midwife at 5am. No answer. So I ate and bounced on a ball and called again at 5:45. No answer again.

I was a bit concerned but it was still early days so no panic. Finally at 6:15 the midwife on call phoned and told me she’d sent the two midwives on the day shift to see me. One called and said I was still early so she’d be by at 10am. A little shocked at first, I realized this is what I needed to expect from a home birth.

Out for a walk between contractions

Meanwhile I took a bath for an hour, walked around the garden in a robe and sat on the love seat swing in our garden (where I threw up after a particularly bad contraction in front of a very confused Klara). At 10:30am the midwife arrived and said I was 5cm dilated. Apparently I had already been 2cm the day before but all other signs had showed that I was far off. 

Then the midwife left to an appointment in the nearest town 10 minutes away.

Rob prepared the bed and we thought it might be time for my mom and Klara to head off to my sister’s place for the day. It was impossile to keep things together in front of Klara, even though my mom was occupying her.  

I was told not to take another bath as things might progress too quickly. So I sat on a ball in the bathroom and listened to a hypnobirthing youtube video. First time listening to the whole thing and it was quite relaxing to listen as I breathed through contractions.

An hour later my favourite midwife showed up at the house with all her equipment. She set everything up for a while: the baby emergency equipment station in the bedroom, all the supplies, etc. After a while of hanging out she put in my antibiotics at 1pm (needed them as I had that bacteria they test for).

It was just so weird: the whole time though I was still able to breath through contractions and felt relaxed.

At 2pm, I was still traumatized from my first birth and expecting things to get crazy so I asked for my water to be broken. The midwife called the second midwife to tell her to come back from her appointments and we all went to the bedroom, after I thew up again with another bad contraction, and the midwife broke my water. 

I lay on the bed for a couple of contractions but it was too painful so I asked to stand up and put my hands on the bed. I even asked if I could deliver this way (since in Switzerland for Klara in the hospital there didn’t seem to be another choice than to lie in the hospital bed to push). So I stood there and moaned while the liquids poured out of me. After 4 contractions I felt the baby already dangling between my legs (yes, without the epidural you feel everything!). I asked Rob to take pictures or describe things but he was in shock and had forgotten the phone downstairs. Not that I’d post those pics here…

Then the baby was out! Rob didn’t even have time to catch him! (the midwife did 😉

See what I mean about relaxed? We just went step by step. The second midwife got stuck behind a hay delivering truck on the road so only arrived as they baby came out. She heard “it’s a boy” as she walked up the stairs to the bedroom.

It took 30min for my placenta to come out but I was ecstatic that it was over so didn’t mind the moving and pushing, etc.

The following part was a bit painful though. After managing the birth I decided to go through the 4 separate stitches I needed without anesthetic. Ow!

I lay on the bed for the next 4 hours with our new little Samuel trying to nurse and cuddling him while the midwife cleaned my legs and they both did paperwork. Rob had to go outside and take care of the animals. Sam was 55cm and the midwife had to measure him twice to be sure, he is quite a big baby.

I really never thought it possible but what a relaxing experience! After all that back and forth a home birth was 100% worth it. Sam also turned out to be the calmest baby I could ever imagine and in great health so I am so very grateful.

Farm life never sleeps

Farm life never sleeps

Whoever said that writing a blog, consulting, taking care of a newborn, taking care of a toddler, building a social life in a new place, and running a farm wouldn’t be easy (and that was pretty much everybody I know) wasn’t lying. It is indeed a challenge. I have a two week old baby and I am prepping for an interview for a second consulting contract in two days. It is nearly midnight and I just took a quick shower after finishing laundry and Rob is still downstairs finishing off the jam that we were making tonight with the kilos of strawberries that are growing in the garden. We froze strawberries, fed them to all the neighbors we had over last night as a little get together to introduce Sam, and have now made two batches of jam, a batch of syrup and two batches of strawberry muffins. In addition to Klara eating them constantly too. Although, Klara is such a help in picking them that her eating as much as she can take (or even me eating so many) isn’t putting a dent in the amount we are harvesting. 

We have so many projects ongoing but they are being overrun by this damned pool! I’ve spent countless hours trying to clean the pool (figuring out how to setup the vacuum, putting chemicals in, vacuuming, putting more chemicals, waking up in the night and running outside to turn off the filter because I can’t sleep knowing how much electricity that thing it consuming!). Rob built a fence around it which took a while too, once we figured out how we should build it. In general, pools are such a complete waste of resources but now that we’ve invested so much in this one I at least want to enjoy it. Rob’s daughters are arriving in a few weeks too and the whole experience here for a 8 and 9 year old is considerably different with a pool.

Other projects were building raised beds: buying the wood and treating it, digging out all the plants from the hoop house beside the pig field to access the sand, carrying up the sand from the field in a wheelbarrow, buying soil and peat moss, etc. to fill the raised bed, building the bed. Then finally planting the beds.

We’ve also started work on the deck. With my mom here for two weeks it was a huge huge help and she actually helped with projects around the house too. I would wake up from a nap and she had scraped old paint off the deck so I could treat the wood. In addition to taking care of the kids and cooking and cleaning up. Completely amazing. I am trying to keep on top of things since she left, hence the title of the blog post – farm life never sleeps. The work has now taken the place of my nap. With a newborn feeding every 2 hours minimum, although Sam is an angel who sleeps well and hardly ever cries, he likes to be held always and I do need to be up half the night feeding him.

It is so fun though!!!

Then a dog killed a chicken

Then a dog killed a chicken

This is Summer. The chickens peck at her enough that she would never hurt them. They even eat her food and she runs away.

Just when things were calming down before the baby. I was taking a nap and Rob comes into the bedroom with an awful look on his face. He had gone outside to find Eva lying on the ground, a chicken on her paws and Eva licking it. Oh, and the chicken was ripped open with a leg over her shoulder! Rob ran to yell at Eva and as Eva ran off the other chickens came to peck at their friend. They started with the yolk of the egg that was inside her… great friends!

We weren’t sure if Eva killed her. Innocent until proven guilty and all. But there was no way a hawk came down with Eva and Summer outside and no other animal could have gotten in there either. I googled it and wrote to the dog training school nearby, both sources said it was most likely Eva playing with the chicken and accidentally killing it. 

Then there was the matter of what to do with this dead, ripped open chicken. We weren’t going to eat it and couldn’t give it to Eva. We googled again if we could give it to the pigs. Apparently yes, so the pigs got their treat. 

That evening, as I was putting the pigs to bed (giving them some last food and closing the door to their house) I noticed that the head and throat and both wings of the chicken were lying on the ground near the pig house. Not wanting to attract bears or other animals to the pigs, I had to pick them up and get rid of them. So, I walked all the way to the river with the dogs and threw the head and wings in. 

Now Eva has to stay on a leash whenever we aren’t outside with her. We asked the dog trainer for a private lesson at the farm for tips but the trainer mentioned a method involving tying a dead chicken to Eva’s neck! Ew!

Her personality did not change a bit after she was spayed. A week later she was back outside harassing those poor chickens.

EDIT: Eva has since killed another chicken! I didn’t put her on the leash one day since I thought Rob was taking her for a walk. We were sitting inside with my sister and nephew talking and I forgot about the walk. Then my sister left and about an hour later Rob goes outside to find Eva chewing on a poor chicken’s neck. The chicken was still alive and apparently he could see the heart beating inside the open chicken. My nephew was in for a treat as he then witnessed Rob chop the head off the chicken and feed it to the pigs. We couldn’t eat this one either as it was probably full of Eva’s bacteria – and she eats all the chicken and dog poo outside so she has tons of bacteria. She has been spayed since but that changed nothing. Eva is a hunting dog and now needs to be on a leash whenever we aren’t outside or the chickens aren’t in bed. Luckily we are outside a lot and she sleeps outside now so gets to run around at night. However, we are down to 6 chickens…

The Mystery of our Swiss Cat

The Mystery of our Swiss Cat

Poor little Minette. “Saved” from the cat refuge in Switzerland last year by us and brought to Canada this year, that little kitty had no idea what was coming. 

Minette slept inside in Switzerland but we left her outside for weeks on end while on vacation. She lasted much longer than the other two cats we had adopted there – one running away after a week and the other dropping dead after a month (two apartment cats which had been given to us from friends moving to the Seychelles). I felt terrible for those two cats. As for the one that dropped dead, he had no injuries or anything. Minette on the other hand got stronger and stronger living with us and we felt that she was ready for Canada. 

Coming here, she stayed inside for 2.5 weeks but once she was outside she refused to sleep inside anymore (could be because the dogs sleep inside at night, even though she slept upstairs and they sleep downstairs).  But then she disappeared. Three nights away, not eating her food or coming by for the daily evening cuddle: we were worried. Then she showed up. Totally battered. She slept on the couch downstairs (which she would never do before – scared of the dogs) and finally went upstairs to the guest bedroom and slept under the duvet for 18 hours straight. Then she went outside again and now it has been 3 nights without her again. I am fearing the worst. 

I’ve been speaking to parents at Klara’s playgroup events and the stories are not reassuring. There is a playgroup somewhere every day of the week, within a 30min drive of our place, where I can take Klara for a few hours and there is no shortage of small talk for me while there. Today, two parents ended up being almost neighbours and had the bad stories. One told me that she had 5 alpacas and 4 were killed by a cougar one night. The cougar jumped the 1.8m fence, killed the alpacas and dragged them back over the fence! The cougar was killed by conservation officers afterwards. A second cougar was killed by the elementary school after days and days of the children not being allowed outside to play during school. Also hearing stories of coyotes, bears and raccoons. 

Obviously, Minette wouldn’t have come home after a cougar or bear attack but just hoping she recovered out there on her own. My deepest hope is that she came in to sleep the 18hours and then turned into the Punisher and went back out to hunt the animal who attacked her. And that she won. 

Ouch!

EDIT: 5 days later Minette finally came home! Looking scarier than I could imagine, missing the fur below her ear and with a permanent angry expression. The good thing is she is cuddling and jumping and overall looks to be healthy. She has just indeed become the Punisher. 

Finally things are getting going on Paradise Farm

Finally things are getting going on Paradise Farm

After an intense first two months (six weeks for me as Rob got here a bit earlier than me), the pace of life here is finally slowing down as we get into the groove of farm life. 

Rob first built a 1.8m heigh fence around the front of the property, renting out a machine that allowed him to dig fence posts. He also installed the gate. He built the chicken house, and we made a chicken run to use in emergencies. He also built the pig house and made all the pig fencing. 

We had also converted a tractor storage area into a hoop house and now it has two kinds of cucumber growing in it with watermelon and soon tomato and peppers. 

In the front garden we already had two kinds of apple trees, two peaches and a plum. In addition to asparagus, blackberry, lots of strawberries and some grapes. We added a pear and cherry tree, 3 blueberry bushes, 6 raspberry bushes and some more grapes. 

I’ve got the veggie bed planted and mulched in the walkways. It now has beds with seedlings or direct seed of fennel, carrot, potatoes, two kinds of onions, garlic, two kinds of lettuce, white chard, normal swiss chard, two kinds of squash, zucchini, two kinds of beets and two kinds of broccoli. The reason for the doubling up of veggies in the garden is because we received such a nice present from my old colleague Nathalie (thanks Nathalie) that contained ancient varieties of veggies, so we planted them alongside traditional varieties. We did this last year in Switzerland and I realised why industry had changed the varieties (cucumbers with super thick skin and slightly bitter, etc.) but I am still hoping some of these ancient varieties that Nathalie gave will compete with their evolved or modified ancestors. 

Then we have the famous herbs. Rob prepared two garden beds in different locations of the lower field today. These will be test plots for herbs. As the soil is incredibly sandy, I don’t think we will have much success with herbs other than rosemary, thyme, lavender and other mediterranean herbs, but we will see. We have those in the greenhouse ready to plant out but also have tons of lemon balm and basil to plant, as well as savoury, marjoram, chervil, nettle, cilantro and dill.

The dilemma is, if only those few mediterranean herbs grow on the lower field, is that all we grow? We only sell those herbs, plus the flowers (chamomile, verbena, calendula, rose hips) for tea that we grow on the pig field when they are done digging it up. 

Or, do we make nice beds for the cilantro, dill, etc. which need rich soil in the front garden? Seems pointless if these herbs can’t grow on the land since we can’t grow large quantities. On the other hand, limiting ourselves to so few herbs lower down is pretty risky. We have 8 acres and that land was meant for growing large quantities of herbs. 

Another two options are trading some pork with our neighbour for large quantities of her horse’s manure in the fall and digging that into some of the lower field. That could give us richer soil – who knows if it’ll be enough. 

Or, just planting asparagus. We have ideal conditions for asparagus. Hesitated for a minute to switch and grow that but it is totally the opposite of our plan – and we must stick to the plan!

Now that the house is setup, we have our things and furniture, animals are ok (other than kitty – but I wrote a separate post for that), and garden is ok, I am feeling a bit better. Luckily the little bit of consulting work is keeping my worries of financial ruin at bay as well, and when that stops we will figure something out. 

Our 2021 harvest is already coming in! Check out our shop for the freshest dried herbs possible.
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