Freedom Fighter

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Patterns for consumerism are so easy to slide into.  This way of being and relating to the world has become so innate that it feels normal.  Our family is dedicated to reducing the number of purchases we make, but still, we end up slipping into the mind trap of ‘consumption means progress.’

We are just edging away from a very busy season in our lives.  We completed a tiny home project where we converted the unfinished addition to our home into a 400 sq. ft. apartment.  The result is wonderful.  The apartment turned out great and we now have some of our best friends living with us on the farm!  Although it is easy to minimize what a labour of love this project was now that it’s complete, the truth is, it was hard work.  There were many late nights, a lot of frustration and an overall exhaustion that befell our home. What the project meant was many months of stretching ourselves to our maximum edges and beyond them some days in order to get the project done.  This had a trickle down effect for our children.  Not only were we as parents strapped for energy, but our children were parched for attention and authentic connection.

Part of the process of creating the backhouse apartment was accumulating many items.  We tried to use as much recycled material as possible, but not everything we accumulated was able to be used.  We were in the state of increasing our volume of ‘stuff’ for nearly a year.  With little time to manage it all, things became heaped upon each other making a giant mess of our workshop and parts of our yard.  We just simply didn’t have the space to deal with it all.  We have been feeling the pressure of disorganization and our inability to keep up with the demands of maintenance around the farm.  Every job has taken many times longer because tools haven’t been put away properly and oftentimes we need to sift through piles of items to locate what we need!  It’s easy to recognize in hindsight how inefficient this is.  But at the same time, it is with a compassionate heart that I recognize how very hard we worked.  It is real to say that the project would not have been finished if we took the time to tidy as we went.  We were doing the very best we could and it was still impossible to stay on top of it all!  Our lives are very full!  Between homeschooling and caring for our children, running a farm, my full time job, Rob’s nursery business, an auto-immune paleo diet and the related health issues, not to mention everything else life brings!  There was no time for management since life required us to push forward in order to keep our heads above water.

This year when garage sale season rolled around, I was in full accumulation mode!  I was excited as I always am to experience the thrill of finding something unexpected that someone else no longer needs.  Weary from a year of full time work, I was ready to hit the streets and find the bargains, as well as some instant gratification!  It’s amazing how alluring it can be to experience that thrill of a great find.  It was also appealing to run away from our trashed and neglected homestead.  The draw was somehow to finding that perfect ‘something new’ that would fix it all.  This thought of course was not so overt on the three Saturdays I spent driving around shopping from people’s driveways.  My subconscious wanted the solution to cleaning up our lives to be easy.  But the reality is, even if I found the item that could revolutionize our lives, I would not be any further ahead in doing the actual work of implementing it!

“Bandaids don’t fix bullet holes.”

~ Taylor Swift

I had been feeling exhilaration at going to yard sales and coming home with new items.  But beneath the surface there was also a dissatisfaction with how my time had been spent.  After a morning wandering from home to home buying what other people didn’t want anymore, my children and I were more connected to the stuff we toted home than each other.   This commodification of our lives wasn’t really made clear to me until Rob and I were talking through our plans for today.

Today is the day when the wealthy neighbourhood nearby has their town-wide yard sales.  The town is renowned for having great stuff and people travel from all over to attend.  I try to go every year, arriving at 7am before things get picked over and the crowds show up around 10.  I usually find some clothes for myself, some Christmas presents for my children and a few odds and ends for Rob, the household or the farm.  More stuff.  

We have been talking about looking for ways to live more authentically as of late.  We’ve been lamenting about the state of our homestead.  We’ve been working through how to meaningfully connect with our children while still getting the work done.  We’ve taken action for change in our lives when I accepted a new part time job for next year.  We are sacrificing money for the lifestyle we want.  Yet here, on this Saturday, one of the two precious days I have with my children, I’m willing to get up early and go to yard sales without them, or drag them around looking at things I don’t really want them to buy.  It became clear to Rob (before me) that this was a juxtaposition of our values.  What were we really choosing to value here?

It took me some time.  I had to sit with the decision for an hour or so.  I had to feel it.  I had to acknowledge my emotional connection to the event.  To wanting to find the deals.  I had to get real about how much I was valuing stuff.  I had to get honest about valuing stuff over the people in my life.  Not easy ideas to rumble with.  It became clear over the course of my hour mulling it over that what I really want for my life is not found at any yard sale.   Used or not, cheap or not, I was still bringing home mounds more stuff!  And the inevitable work that comes with managing it.  It is work to find a place for it, organize it, deal with what has to go because we have something new to fill the space, and so on.  I was able to realize the whole picture…that the management of stuff is not how I want to spend my time.

In our over-scheduled consumer-driven culture, we have to make a concentrated effort to create space.  Not just physical space, because our 50 acres can hold it all!  The type of space I’m seeking is in freedom.  By clearing things from our lives, both tangible and time drains, we can clear the mental and emotional space needed to see what we really want for ourselves and our families.  Space has the potential to highlight for us what is not serving.  Had we had more space during the backhouse renovation, we could have kept things more orderly.  So now, when I do have the choice…I’d like to make it.

If you want freedom, you’ve got to fight for it. 

So…we stayed home this morning.  We spent time fixing fences and plugging holes in the barn where the mink got in.  We tidied the yard where the children had made a village out of recycling that had since been abandoned.  We played with ducklings and chicks.  We cleaned the bathroom together.  We read books.  I washed the cupboard faces.  We played lego.  I swept the floor for the first time in 2 weeks.  We connected.  To our stuff…the stuff we already own.  To our homestead.  To our animals.

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The Greatest Things

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“Great Things are done by a series of small things being brought together”

-Vincent VanGogh

As we inch our way into 2018 we have found ourselves commiserating about all of the things that we did not accomplish in 2017.  The gardens weren’t well tended and yields were low, we didn’t have any goslings in the spring, the duck eggs we bought to hatch and raise were eaten by a raccoon, we haven’t completed the renovation project that we thought would be done at the end of October, we still don’t have a farm plan, we haven’t planted any fruit trees, we have not started our forest garden, there are many odd jobs that need to be done around the farm, and so on.  Really, the list could go on for days.  There is an infinite list of things that we can not accomplish.

The trouble is, this laundry listing of all that has not been done is not fruitful.  It doesn’t honour all that has been done, never mind the effort used to accomplish life, failure or not.  Looking at our shortfalls doesn’t help to energize us or empower us toward future goals.  It takes the wind out of our sails, leaving us feeling defeated, and so we will be.

This realization comes along with a deeper truth, that having a set of defined goals can be troublesome. In 2017 we grew more than we could have ever dreamed but in ways we could not have predicted that directed us away from our ‘goals.’  When you have a goal in mind and fail to meet it, it makes you feel like a failure.  This is outcomes based thinking, and our culture thrives on it!  We have decided to approach the coming year on the farm with a vision for how it could be rather than with a list of goals.  We are keeping an openness to the growth and learning that needs to take place and therefore remain open to what naturally presents itself.

It’s time for us to cultivate more of what we do want in our life.  As Bill Mollison says,  “You don’t have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency!”    If we can allow our problems to define the pathway to creative solutions and growth then we will be on the right path.  Not to mention life seems to have a way of forcing us into small, slow solutions.

In the spirit of cultivating more of what we desire in our lives, we have started to dream about our coming year.  We asked ourselves and our children a few questions, like, “What would you like to do this year?  What would you like to learn this year?  What do you want to grow this year? ”  So far our list looks something like this:

Rob – plant an apple tree collection, transplant potted perennials into the earth, establish windbreaks, move the nut trees out of the garden plot, learn to draw comics

Julie – take forest school certification, make writing part of my weekly rhythm, grow an abundance of raspberries, gooseberries and french beans, appreciate my gifts, practice self-care regularly, raise turkeys

Oldest (7) – learn to write, buy a peahen and start a peacock business, plant lots of raspberries, buy all the Lego Star Wars sets, make a feature length film

Middle (5) – learn to play the ukulele, plant blueberries, learn to read and write, learn how to keep left and right straight in your mind, more playdates with friends, take a family vacation

Youngest (3) – learn to cook, learn my ABCs, grow corn and carrots, raise snorty pigs

Even if we complete one thing on the list, that is a success.  Dreaming it alone is a success because being together through the journey is the real definition of success for me.  Honouring the efforts of our loved ones and ourselves is reward enough. Some list of things checked off  becomes meaningless if we’ve taken the successes for granted.  The trouble is, when we forget to celebrate our successes, we’re left with a void.  Perhaps one that culture at large hopes to be filled with ‘things’ give our consumerist driven ideals.

As we have turned our negative outlook around, beginning to look at all we have accomplished this year instead, we have been astounded at the list.  This past year has brought major life shifts and yet we have accomplished a whole awful lot!  We have geese!  We now have a brood of Australorp hens and one beauty of a rooster named Grandfather Featherlegs!  We have a freezer full of ducks and chickens from our own land!  We doubled our garden space this year!  We are still eating fermented salsa verde from the fall!  We have a freezer stocked with tomatoes and tomatillos waiting to be processed!  We have bags of popcorn in the cupboard that we grew!  We have a stock pile of saurkraut!  We are getting close to finishing our renovation project and our friends will be moving in soon!  Rob no longer has a day job!  I have a full time job so we don’t need to worry about money!  And so on…really once I get on a roll, it’s hard to stop!  All the little moments, choices and efforts add up to a pretty meaningful year of accomplishments.  Bringing forth into the light the abundance that we experience, again and again, will help to retrain our brains.  We need to break free from the oppressive thoughts of scarcity.  It is the fear of not having enough that keeps us from recognizing all of the ways that we do.  If we keep honouring the many ways we have enough, and in fact live in abundance, then I’m hoping one day we will find we are free from self-sabotage.  Let us create a vision, but respond to change.

“Collect the moments one by one, I guess that’s how the future’s done.”

-Feist, Mushaboom

So let’s celebrate what we have done, and stop worrying about the relentless ‘to do’ list.  Because we have purpose.  Because we have drive.  Because we have vision.  We can trust that what actually needs to get accomplished will be done.  What drives our actions is the passion we have for our vision.  So vision with us…let’s make this world a better place!  What visions do you hold for 2018?

Forced Growth

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A whole lot has happened in our lives over the past year, and in the last 6 months in particular.  It is impossible to imagine the day you get a phone call from your vacationing father telling you that your mother has been hit by a car while cycling.  Nothing can prepare you.  The journey has been long and difficult with relentless complexity.  Our lives have become exponentially more full…we now have more to do than we ever thought possible.  But our expansion has also filled us with a deep appreciation of every moment we have together.  My mother’s view of life from her electric wheelchair is certainly different than before her accident, but she continues to inspire us all with her determination and positive attitude.

To complicate our lives further, a couple of months ago I was offered an increase in my teaching contract to a full time position.  Out of necessity, I now teach other people’s children all day.  My husband left his job at the beginning of September, which was set in motion before my mother’s accident in May.  He is now the official homeschooler.  We are making it work, although I miss educating my own children.  In fact, I just plain miss time with them.  I feel amiss in prioritizing my commitment to our family.

Somehow when you need to, you expand.  Every time I have felt that growth was not possible, it became possible.  When I question my path, the reasons for me to ‘show up’ appear in abundance.  Sometimes we just don’t have a choice but to be present for what we’re being called to do.  Instead of being able to opt in or out, I get to choose how to navigate my circumstances.  How to be within the throws of a nightmare.

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”  
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
 I had a vision for how our life would be when we moved to the farm.  How we would grow in spaciousness and increase our resiliency.  What I didn’t want to believe was that my vision was fantasy.  This year has brought me the growth in resiliency I sought, but definitely not in the pleasant spacious way I had planned it in my visioning.  Growth has been a byproduct of difficulty and suffering.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
For all that has happened, I am now changed.  Goals for the farm remain nearly untouched.  My work and home life balance needs to be addressed.  Connection with my children is an ongoing challenge.  My health hasn’t been great as a result of lifelong autoimmune issues.  Supporting my parents through the development of a new way of life can’t always get first billing either, leaving guilt to fill the rest of that page.  There just doesn’t seem to be enough time.  So I have found myself calculating the costs and benefits of what takes up the hours of my day.  What can I let go of so that I have space to rekindle the parts of my life that I desire?  How to I carve out enough space to feel alive…to thrive.
During this past season of my life I have been forced through a very narrow passageway.  The reality is that many of the things that fill my life space are obligations – some of which I love, but obligatory none the less.  I have hope that soon I will emerge from the constriction of this birth canal, changed, new, and ready for a period of rapid growth.  I still hold my vision for a beautiful future, but I also hold the reality that the future is now.  Hoping that someday life will straighten out and become easier, more blissful, spacious and in line with my idealized visions is the fallacy.  Because my life can be that now.  I get to breathe ease, bliss and space into the tiniest cracks of my life.  I have the opportunity to make my idealized visions a reality in each moment.
There are no guarantees that I can ‘build’ anything for my future or that even if I did that it would match my plans.  But joy is not a destination.  It is built one moment at a time.  It is in the smallest spaces where glimmers of abundance can be found.  I feel like I’m finally getting the point of life…to define oneself within ever-changing sets of external circumstances.  The pieces of reality that create our lives cannot be changed and the future cannot be predicted.  What I can change is how to hold my present reality in balance with the past and the future.  Holding present, past and future simultaneously with detachment from specific outcomes is what allows me to grow and move forward.
 “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature-the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

– Rachel Carson

So I welcome 2018.  I welcome this chance to remind myself of the turning of the wheel.  To release the burdens of 2017.  To reel in my line and cast it again.  To remember that life can once again be approached with resolve, hope and vision.  The past cannot be changed, but my future continues to be defined.  Moment by moment I have the opportunity to choose how to live within it.  Indeed it is this, the gritty hard work of living, that creates a life.  I get to decide how I will shape and define the raw materials life hands me into a work of art.  I am the sculptor.  And so I sculpt.

 

Feels like Home

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There has been a long period since moving to the farm where I have missed the old house.  It is not so much a laundry listing of things I miss about it (although this has happened on numerous occasions), but it presented more as a guttural emotional response at the loss of my previous life.  There was something about that place that was so entwined with my identity.  And isn’t that just it, when we invest ourselves in place, it becomes much more difficult to uproot ourselves.

It was as if we were root bound, having grown tighter and tighter within our undersized container.  In order to free ourselves, we ripped ourselves from the pot, tearing apart our roots, separating them, damaging some of them in order to allow new growth.  I feel as though I left many roots behind.  Not the ones that breath life into me (my family, my creativity, nature), but gone are the tiny side shoots that were numerous but fragile.  They were not salvageable.  But these roots are slowly being replenished with new ones.

I looked at some photographs of the old house several weeks back without feeling the lurch in my stomach that I had grown accustomed to when reflecting on life before the farm.  As we approach spring, we can’t help but get excited!  Things have already started to accelerate around here.  Orders are coming in for the nursery’s spring pick up date, we have received a grant to plant a wind break of edible and useful trees, the tree cuttings are rooting in our basement along with many flats of annual seedlings, plans are being made for the sustainable cropping of the fields, the tarp is laid for the breaking of a new garden bed, and the research has been completed for the expansion of our barnyard – soon we’ll have lots of chicks and ducklings running about the place.  We are drowning in abundance!

In addition to all of the farm related tasks, which Rob has been amazing at taking the lead on (I prefer to take the role of ‘best supporting character’), we have been adjusting to a different sort of life.  I am now back at work part time, teaching Kindergarten gym for the most part.  I miss being home with my own children.  And they miss me.  I have become very busy, trying to juggle all of my different roles (mother, teacher, employee, farmer, wife, writer).

After a stint where I wasn’t sure my extreme efforts were making any sort of positive difference in this world, I have decided to pursue a project that has been on my heart for quite some time.  I am beginning to write a book about family life and parenting – Permaculture style!   The writing is in the early stages so it is all still really exciting and I can’t seem to work on it enough!   Because we’ve got so many things vying for our time, like always we’re jostling priorities so that I can carve out time to make it happen.  I have taken to a nightly routine of writing for an hour after the kids go to bed.  So far that seems to be satiating my writing appetite.  Perhaps more blog posts will roll out of me too now that I’ve remembered (yet again) just how important writing is to sustaining me.  I am home.

Thank you for reading this update…I know it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me!

 

Let’s Do This!

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This is beyond us. This is more than personal. What we are being called to do is to live freedom. Be freedom. Don’t apologize for being radical. Be it. Live it. Push it…because it’s what is needed to survive.

Bring up the heaviness that has sunk to the bottom. Mix it in. Blend the hearty nourishment that has settled beneath the depths, largely forgotten. Bring it up. Make waves and turbulence when you do. Don’t be afraid to drown. Fearlessness will actually be what keeps you afloat. Fear is a cage we create for ourselves. An entrapment that will starve us in the end. We can choose to move beyond the bars of our confinement with our eyes, our minds or our full selves when we grow enough courage to make the flight through the open door.

The surface is oily – it slips and slides reflecting and refracting light. It is elusive and escapes our stirring. It is beautiful, but it is an illusion because it is disgusting at the same time. The surface is only a shape-shifting mirage. It is not real.  What we see is not representative of what’s buried in the depths. It is thin and vain. It can’t be mixed – only skimmed form the surface. So trust and reach deep for the good stuff. Don’t be disillusioned by the surface grime that will only serve to mat your feathers flightless.

Get real. Get honest. Get to the bottom of it.  Savour the fulfilling roots at sustain us all. Connect to earth. Connect to each other. Look past the illusions of freedom that have become delusions of hollow meaning. There is nothing real in what you cannot grab hold of.  Talk to people not screens. Hear heart songs not gossip. Be engaged. Be in real time. Be in control…of what you do with yourself. Of how you choose to meet the world. Be mindful of what pulls you from your roots. From each other. From what’s real and meaningful. Stop straining. Force should not be necessary for this is a natural process.

Don’t engage the dramatic escapades of the media. Or each other. Call it out! Don’t sit idly by watching it all fall apart. Name it as fear mongering. Keep a soft heart. Stay close to your attachments. Make them your focus. Attachment determines our existence –for it is more important to us than food or water. So cling to those you love and those who love. Build form there…together. Visioning , creating and actioning…together. Secure your community. Both the externally and the one within. Stop waiting at the wall. Step out onto the dance floor and give it all you’ve got. Break out your best moves without shame. Take love seriously. Bomb the world with it. Forget the war on terror…this is a war on fear. Let’s get our rage on!

Get Low

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Fear has a way of shackling our souls – tying us down with invisible tethers.  Finding a way to rise up out of the darkness must happen in small increments.  There are ways to move into it – taking tiny steps toward the light.  Or just tiny steps, walking anyway – moving slowly and gingerly, stabbing at the air even when there is no light.

To be successful we must find a way to bring balance to ourselves, bringing our centre of gravity low against the earth.  Shifting our centre of gravity allows us to feel our way through on all fours.  We can be more centred and toppled less easily.  That way when we inevitably do make contact with the immovable, we may come up against it skillfully so as not to lose our stability to it.

So get low.  Go underground and root.  Find the ways through the darkness.  Through the mess…combat crawling on all fours.  Get low.  The way things are isn’t working.  The point has been made clearly.  Surrender to the chaos and find a way.  In the darkness we can make something. From the roots up we can build what we desire.  The tower is crashing down.  It is time to find shelter.  Get low.

Be one with the earth.  She knows no mess.  Her refuse becomes life – death reborn into fertility.  Send down your roots.  Create what you desire by choosing it.  Fumble in the darkness to feel the obstacles…not with your hands – but with your heart instead.  Echo locate.  Send out love and see what comes back.   If it is not returned, find new shelter.

There is no clarity.  There is no way to plan.  Only by clambering about in the darkness will we learn how to feel our way out.  Creativity cannot be underestimated.  Its full power is unleashed in extreme circumstances.  The way might not be easy, but it is there.  Brace yourself.  Get low.

Get smart and reconnect with your mammalian side.  We know how to do this.  The constructs of humankind have clouded the waters.  But we can remember.  We will remember.  We are being pushed with increasing force toward change.  Toward a destiny we’ll never be ready for.  But we are more prepared that we give ourselves credit for.  Get low.  Touch the earth.  We are earth.  Remember.

Keep moving through the darkness.  Keep looking for the light.  The stillness of paralyzing fear mark you for prey.  Camouflage.  Stagnation also breeds decay.  Find small ways to keep sanity.  Keep moving.  Stay sheltered.  Look for beauty amidst the darkness.  Find the beauty.  Be the beauty…recognizing you already are.

The marks we are making are lasting.  But we get to choose whether they’re marks of destruction or creation.  Both are necessary for change.  Both are needed to move forward.  Find ways to move through the mess.  Get low.  Establish roots.  Connect.  Know when to strike.  Remember.

 

Be Brave

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There are days where it feels like I’m not getting things right.  Days when I wonder what it is exactly that I’m offering this world.  There have been a lot of these since we moved.  I wonder how to share my gifts as I’m trapped under a mountain of work.  I think about how I can help myself to be present to the things that are happening around me.  The pace feels too fast for me to hold on to.  I have twinges of regret and a desire to be perfect worrying that I’m letting people down.

I am working hard to be true to myself.  I am trying so hard just to be me.

I want to be strong enough to weather these days.   And I am.  And I do.  But the pain of feeling my way through this cycle again and again feels so very hard.  I am working hard to be true to myself.  I am trying so hard just to be me.  Sitting in the journey.

I have such a deep desire for things to be different.  I crave community, meaningful relationships and work.  Some days I don’t feel like its possible and I want to run and hide, doing as little as possible to engage with the outside world as I can.  I don’t understand how our culture can be so dysfunctional and yet function.  And I don’t really know how to be within it’s dysfunction.  I want to find the right people.  I want to make room for myself to be.  I want to be strong.  I want to be self-assured.  I want to choose joy.  I want to live my truth.  I want to be someone who makes a difference.

Ironically it is my feelings of unworthiness that indeed make me so.  If I can be strong within myself and steadfast in my convictions;  to respect others, to respect nature, to be true to my ethics, to be honourable,  to be honest, to love, to choose joy, to be the best I can be, to be kind to others and myself, to be courageous enough to stand up for what I believe in, to uphold integrity, to show that I am capable, even when I make mistakes, to accept mistakes as learning, to let go of what other people think of me, to be patient, to show gratitude, to connect, to be me…then I will be living the life I’ve always wanted!

Don’t be perfect.  Be brave.