Month: December 2014

Bring on the Solstice Darkness

I was recently sent the link to a beautiful article published in The New York Times about how the introduction of man-made light has had an enormous impact on our levels of consumption.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

“In the modern world, petroleum may drive our engines but our consciousness is driven by light. And what it drives us to is excess, in every imaginable form.

Beginning in the late 19th century, the availability of cheap, effective lighting extended the range of waking human consciousness, effectively adding more hours onto the day — for work, for entertainment, for discovery, for consumption; for every activity except sleep, that nightly act of renunciation. Darkness was the only power that has ever put the human agenda on hold.

In centuries past, the hours of darkness were a time when no productive work could be done. Which is to say, at night the human impulse to remake the world in our own image — so that it served us, so that we could almost believe the world and its resources existed for us alone — was suspended. The night was the natural corrective to that most persistent of all illusions: that human progress is the reason for the world.”

~Clark Strand, The New York Times, Dec. 19th, 2014

The article raised the point that because we are not forced into a restorative evening by the waning light, because we have control over it, we feel we can extend that control to nature itself.  I had never considered the impact of our control over light and darkness.  When I stop to think of it, I’m astounded at the significant role light plays in our modern lives.  We are no longer bound by one of the most present cycles of nature in our lives.  Could this be the root cause of consumerism?  Stress?  Pursuit of happiness?

I really enjoyed reading the article, feeling that it made some salient points.  I often think about how as a culture we do not value human sleep enough.  People will often comment about how early my children go to bed.  In our home we value sleep more than most, for our children at least!  I can honestly say that its difficult for me to give up my ‘free time’ in the evenings by going to bed early, but I do know that I have better days when I’ve had more sleep.  The same is true for my children.

As we head into the holiday parties penciled on our calendar, a part of me cringes to think of how their sleep will soon suffer.  This in turn will start an unravelling of their behaviour and ultimately get in the way of our ability to connect as well.   Mount on top of that the undercurrent of the holidays; consumption, and all of a sudden I want to welcome the darkness as well!

But in my mind, this idea extends further, into how rest plays a large part in our human connectedness.  We have pushed ourselves so far that many people don’t know what true rest is.  With our ability to create light where there was none before, we are able to have active evenings, which is yielding quite a different result.  Even an activity like watching a movie, which seems passive, is consumption and forces us outside the present.  The time we normally would have used to slow down and connect to those around us has become cluttered.  There are now so many options in the evening that distract from participating in community.  Darkness provided space for community building.  It added diversity to our lives.

Have a blessed Winter Solstice.

Read the original NYT article here.

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When to Jump

We dream about moving to a larger property.  We’d like to move somewhere with enough acreage to house some livestock, with 10 or more acres.  We would love to build our own natural home or earth ship.  We would love to live off the grid.  The dream world looks so beautiful.  But when my bleary dreaming eyes begin to refocus, I see that we would have so much property to manage, many animals to care for, a home to retrofit (at the very least) or build at best.  All while Rob is working full time outside of the home, and I am very busy with three little ones.  This doesn’t even account for the extra monthly expenses, as acreage comes with a hefty price tag, both in the property value, but also in upkeep.

We have flopped back and forth on the issue so many times.  What should we do?  When should we move?  What about our current place?  We’ve already got something great, and we’re living in it!  Our house is awesome.  We’ve done a lot of work to make it lighter on the planet.  We have half an acre of property and the ability to keep chickens.  This fall, Rob planted the last tree to complete our forest garden guilds.  We have only had two of our trees produce fruit so far.  There is so much potential here that we’d be walking away from.  There are also all of the memories housed in these walls.  All three of my babies were born upstairs.  Emotionally I don’t know if I’m ready to leave.

But part of me wants to just jump!  Sometimes I feel like we’d be better off if we just did it.  Humans are wonderful at rising to a challenge.  I’m curious to see how quickly we could make our own safety nets.  But the realities of living with three little ones allow my practical side to step in, convincing me to wait with thoughts like, ‘How could we possibly build our own home?  I can’t even seem to get the laundry folded and put away!’

I enjoy looking at real estate online.  Somehow looking at properties makes me feel like I’m making change.  As my husband put it last night, it seems easier to sit on the computer looking at real estate and dreaming of how our lives could be than embracing the one we have.   Looking for a new property is shopping on a grander scale.  Voyeuristically looking at the lives of others through their homes pictured online is not helping anything.  On some level, I have the hope that I’ll find a new life for us which is somehow better than the one we’ve got here.  The truth is, I won’t.  I know this.  I know that happiness is created not bought.  So why do I keep doing this to myself?

In the end, I think it’s my impatience that is the problem; I’m wanting the progressions to have already been made, so that we could be in the position to make our leap successful.  I fear nothing more than making the leap then learning we were ill prepared, and ending up failing at our own dream.  Impatience and the ‘want it now’ mentality is so ever present in our society, especially at this time of year.  I find myself with yet another deep dredge of consumerist thought that I’m frustrated still exists in me.

So what we’ve decided is that we need to do the work to get ourselves ready to jump before we actually do.  We don’t want to end up with more debt and less time; this is the antithesis of our goal!  We have been working so hard to create space in our lives, not take it away.  So for us, it’s better to err on the side of caution, allowing ourselves the time and space to work out the details in advance.  In the meantime, I’m going to stay off of the realtor website and instead work on refining our holistic goal.  Our hope is to live in line with the intentions of our holistic goal, and wait for the universe to shape this into our reality.

Making the Bed

I read a study once that said that people who make their beds every day are happier.  I have thought of that study often; questioning its validity.  How can you judge happiness, this is not a quantifiable thing?  What significance does making a bed really have in the scope of the events in a day?  I hardly spend any time in my bedroom during the day, why should it matter if the sheets are rumpled?  But in the end, perhaps my questioning of the study is rooted in the sheer fact that my own bed goes unmade most days.

As I made the bed this morning, I again thought of this study.  I was feeling particularly happy this morning.  I had the time and space to spend a moment making the bed.  I rarely get this.  But I didn’t really have extra time.  Rob was downstairs with our three, trying to get ready for work, eagerly awaiting my relief.  So what made this morning different?  My mood.

I spent a lot of time tidying up our house yesterday evening.  My morning always seems better when I wake to a tidy home.  We read once about the broken window theory, how in New York City if there is graffiti on buildings, the incidences of graffiti rise exponentially.  The idea is that maintaining a sense of order creates a culture of order, and likewise with the reciprocal idea.  I often apply the broken window theory to areas of my own life, finding it particularly applicable to the state of my home.  If I have mounds of laundry in the corner (a frequent sight), it seems to give the children license to cover the floor in toys as well.  If no one else is tidying up, then why should I?  In addition, it seems like less work to tidy just one thing that is out of place, rather than tackling the whole mound.  It is amazing, and difficult to admit how much my emotional state is affected by stuff.

Perhaps the bed making study wasn’t about making the bed at all.  Perhaps what it really was measuring was that people who have space in their lives are the happiest.  I have been working hard to simplify our lives, making our lives hold less so that there is room for more.  My thoughts on making the bed this morning encouraged me to clear some more space.  Get rid of more stuff.  Reduce commitments outside the home.  Clear away my unproductive thoughts.  Decluttering life is a slow process, but unquestioningly worth while.

Trading Post

Pressed Flower Ornament – Made by Sunny, aged 10.

This past weekend we attended a trading post organized and hosted by friends of ours.  This was the first event of its kind that had been hosted and attended.  The day was beautiful in every possible way.  There was a giant glowing Christmas tree, good food, but most of all great people.

So this is how it worked, we were all asked to bring things from home that we had made or were in good condition but had no use for.  In addition, it was requested we bring some baked goods for the snack table.  We were to come prepared with our items ‘priced’ using a point system (1 point per 25 cents).  The points were intended to be a guide to trading value, especially to help the little ones involved.  We piled our contributions onto tables set up in a very large living room which used to house an indoor pool.  There were six families participating, most of which were larger than ours.  The event began with an introduction about what we were going to do and a reminder to embody the spirit of generosity.  We went around the room to each table and did a quick show and tell of the items we’d brought and their point values.  This allowed us to get an idea of what we all had to offer, but more importantly it gave us the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the larger group.  After the introductions, the bartering began.  The understanding was that there would be no ‘forced trades,’ meaning that a trade had to be mutually agreeable, and we all had the right to say no.  The points were definitely used as a guide, as people were very flexible in their bartering, often choosing to consider what was being offered rather than an even points for points trade.  I brought home many fresh baked goods and handicrafts, most of which will find their way under our tree this year.

The tone of the afternoon was what stuck with me the most.  The day lacked traces of competition or judgement.  It was anything but the bustling feel of a shopping centre.  There were many children in attendance, and rather than being forced to ‘behave’ in an overstimulating environment, they were encouraged to participate.  Many contentedly played with toys around the room when they were finished with their own trading pursuits.  The children were allowed to be children; excited and playful.  Unlike most adult parties that children attend over the holidays, there were no expectations from adults to hear platitudes of thanks.  The children were granted the freedom to manage their own trades.  The utterances of thanks and gratitude were genuine, heartfelt, and meaningful.  The interactions between children and adults were rewarding because they were mutually respectful.  The trading allowed children to feel their own success and achievement after a trade.  The parameters of the event levelled the playing field between child and adult – which is such a rare occurrence.  There was tangible joy and such a spirit of giving in the air!

I would say much of the joy I felt that afternoon came from being included in playfulness myself.  The children were allowed to rise up to meet the adult world, but as adults, we were also invited to engage our own sense of gaiety.  Something about the afternoon struck up the magic of Christmas I remember from my childhood – a carefree approach to joyousness.  Presence.  We were forced in a way to be present with our trading partner, both wanting to come to a mutual agreement over the deal.  Despite the hubbub of the room, we had to attend to the one who stood before us, humbly requesting a trade.  Creativity abounded as people tried to figure out how to come to a decision together.

Most of what was offered was consumable, except my table of ex-craft show jewelry, painted ceramics and whatnots cleared from my home during our recent purges.  Items were offered in earnest.  No one came with expectations of what they’d bring home, it was rather an opportunity to experience something different.  We were instead opened up to possibilities…potential.  I have found that when I can approach something with an open mind and heart, this is where the opportunities I could not have imagined myself find a spark.  I didn’t know anyone else in attendance other than the family who invited us.  It became clear quickly that we would be able to easily come together, because our conversations had focus over items we’d made or brought.  It was very easy to strike up a conversation with someone I’d never met before.  A community feel was born as we buzzed in one common space for separate but common goals.  There were no awkward silences, or feelings of not fitting in, just a general acceptance of what we all had to offer, in all senses of the word.   Conversations over trades turned into conversations of our lives.  It was beautiful.

End of a Life

Yesterday we said goodbye to a well loved tree in our yard. The twin trunks supported a treehouse that was a favourite spot for play.  The shade from its leaves provided much needed refuge from the summer sun.  The branches have held my babies in swings since they were newborns.  Now it is in pieces all over our yard.

I knew this day was coming, as we saw its bark peel back, exposing its tender flesh below.  It became knobby and harboured more fungi than I’ve seen a tree sustain before.  Living cycles are natural, but the passing of something so dear to us leaves me grieving.  We loved that tree.  And we still do.

The boys have been having a great time with it still, making up stories about the cut logs and branches.  Working intricately with its pieces, still pulsing the fragrance of life.  We plan to make huglekultur raised beds of the rotten wood and branches, and use the upper limbs for mushroom spawning.  Our tree will live on in new ways, just as all things in nature do – earth to earth, water to water, air to air, fire to fire, ether to ether.

Thank you Earth, for the blessing of our giving tree.

Best Hummus Recipe

I haven’t posted a recipe for a while, so I thought I would share this one for my favourite hummus!

Ingredients: 

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 5 gloves garlic, minced
  • splash of Olive Oil
  • 2.5 c cooked or canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • ¾ c tahini or natural peanut butter
  • 1.5 tbsp Braggs or soy sauce
  • ½ c lemon juice OR ¼ c water + ¼ c apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ c fresh parsley, chopped (I have used dried too!)
  • 1 tsp salt

 Directions: 

In a small saucepan, saute onions and garlic in a splash of oil on medium heat until onions are translucent. In a food processor, blend the onion mixture, chickpeas, tahini, Braggs, lemon juice, parsley, cumin, and salt until you reach the desired consistency.