Month: July 2015

First Steps

My littlest has started walking.  Gone are the days where she must be carried, but then again, gone are the days that she must be carried!  Change always means I am leaving something behind.  Sometimes I am happy to move on and release what no longer serves me.  But at other times, change leaves me feeling like I’ve lost a part of who I am.  In this case, it was my daughter who changed.  As her mother, I feel mixed emotions of the joys of watching my baby grow and develop in healthy ways and feeling a loss of her ‘babyness.’  Her learning to walk a bittersweet victory.

When change happens, it is worked and worked and worked, and then one day it just is.  There has been a week or so where my daughter has been walking with teetery steps, unable to go much distance.  But her determination in her ability to walk motivates her to try again and again.  It has only taken a few days for her to find her balance and her confidence as she makes her way throughout our home.  It was beautiful to watch her succeed after muddling through the first steps of her journey.  I am reminded to never give up despite things not seeming easy in the midst of it all.

My daughter’s walking journey has been extra special for me because I didn’t coax her into it.  Unlike my first two babies, for whom I walked them tirelessly back and forth across the house until my back ached, this baby I let learn on her own, at her own pace and in her own time.  She patiently waited and waited. For many months she pranced around the coffee table and alongside the sofa.  She still wasn’t ready.  It was July first when she took her first few unaided steps.  From then, it has taken nearly four weeks for her to blossom from just a few steps into a toddler who can take the whole house.  She waited at the edge of change until she felt comfortable to step forward.  And when she did it was with wonderful success!

Upon reflection, my daughter already knows how to use and apply many permaculture principles.  She’s got small slow solutions covered!  She had a vision, and responded to the changes in her physical capabilities in order to work towards it.  She sat at the edges of her ability for quite some time, pressing slowing into them towards growth.  She was able to catch and store her own energy, learning incrementally the skills she needed to build on in order to walk.  She integrated what she was learning about her own body so that when she was ready to try something new her progress was rapid.  She was a master at self-regulating, accepting feedback from her body and surroundings.  She obtained a wonderful yield – she can now walk on her own!  I was able to stand back, observing and interacting with her progress, maintaining safe boundaries within which she could grow and flourish.  By choosing to give her the opportunity to develop in her own time, I feel we have really valued nature’s gift of natural development.

It is amazing to see how quickly she is adapting to her new skill, but perhaps it is because it is in fact not new at all.  She has been working on ‘walking’ since her birth.  She has been watching her family walk around her.  She has been building core strength since learning to roll and sit.  She has been testing her legs by raising her body to stand from a squat, pulling up on the side of her crib.  She developed her coordination as she learned to crawl, feeling those first tastes of freedom through movement.  She tested her balance from the safety of the sofa’s edge.  She tested the water many times as she took one or two steps before sinking to the floor.  She knew what she was doing and she knew when she was ready.  So in fact, it  took her a very long time to develop the skill of being able to walk.  But it was the point of visible change that took no time at all.  That moment of transition where suddenly she was walking.

This is how change really happens.  Strengthening slowly, but punctuated with bursts of energy and motion forward.  Much of the work that happens toward the change is unseen, or seemingly unrelated.  Our desired change is always in the works, but the motion is not yet visible in a recognizable form.  When we are determined enough, we will try again and again until we are able to take those first few steps toward freedom.  Then one day without great pomp and circumstance, when the change is upon us, we take those first few unsteady steps into the unknown.  It is then that we are reminded that change is difficult.  A challenge.  But worth it.

Thank you dear baby girl for showing me the way to persevere in the face of change.  You are such a blessing!

Child’s Play

We went to the park this morning to meet the children’s grandmother and great-grandmother.  It was a beautiful summer morning made better by being together with four generations of people we love!  The playground was bustling with children running feverishly from activity to activity.  My children participated wholeheartedly in the slides, monkey bars, and teeter totters.  The gross motor activities were great for my boys, who enjoyed testing their agility on the rock wall and pushing their limits by daring themselves to run the steep slide by themselves.

What I noticed about my children is that they were not engaging in activity at the same pace as the other children.  They were content to stand aside and watch another child race past and down the slide.  They were happy to observe another child use the spinning chair first before deciding to try it themselves.  Some may view this as an inability to engage with other children.  I see it as a healthy connection to their inner voices.  They are already observing and interacting with their environment.

Less than an hour into our visit, my eldest was drawn to a small creek that ran through the shade of an old willow tree alongside the edge of the playground.  The buzz of a gas powered edge trimmer held by a man wearing protective ear and eye wear was working it’s way along the opposite bank.  I tried to redirect his desire to head to the creek.  When the worker had made his way down near the end of the creek, I allowed my son to play in that area.  He was so happy, so much more engaged.  It wasn’t long until his younger brother and sister came to join him.  They were still observing and interacting…but this time it was with the rapids, the plants, the water, the crayfish and the frogs.  They befriended some (much older) children who were catching crayfish upstream, taking a peek at their latest catch.  They fell in the water and got muddy.  I heard many other parents and caregivers distracting their children away from the creek, worrying they would get hurt, wet or dirty.  Isn’t this what childhood is all about?  Risk taking to build self-confidence?  The learning my children had in that creek was of far more value to me.  Especially as they coaxed their grandmother under the footbridge to check out the huge crayfish they found down there!  What a beautiful moment.  They were drawn to the natural space.  They were happy to be muddy and wet on a hot day.  And it wasn’t just the water drawing them in, since following their creek stomp, we headed over to the splash pad where again they stood mesmerized by the flurry of activity around them.  I don’t think my three year old went in the water, he seemed content to run around the outside of the concrete pad splashing in the puddles.  I have to admit that a rocky stream with critters seems much more appealing to me than water jets spraying at eye level in unpredictable ways.

I’m so pleased to be raising children who value nature and unstructured play!  I am satisfied with their desire to play in the shady creek instead of the sun drenched desert-like play park. I admire their ability to follow their hearts and sources of joy rather than worry about trying to fit in.  I want to preserve that for them for as long as possible.  In all honesty, this is what I wish for myself…

Decluttering

We spent the day cleaning our barn out yesterday.  It felt so good to get things moved out of our space that we no longer have use for.  It is always an interesting balance to strike between ‘making no waste’ and becoming hoarders!  We have taken the stance that if we have a project in mind right now for an object, then it can stay, otherwise, it is better served somewhere else…anywhere but in landfill!  I now have a shrinking pile of things on my front lawn for free, that people can pick up to use!  It feels so good to know that the items will be used.  Having things stored in my barn is wasteful.

I keep returning to this idea of decluttering in my life.  I am constantly searching for ways to simplify.  Living with less stuff seems to speak to me.  Perhaps it is because it offers the opportunity to strip away something of the consumerist culture that is ever present, despite efforts to quell its influence on our family.  Moving though my days, it is amazing how often I come in contact with consumer ideologies.  We don’t have television and very rarely listen to the radio.  We don’t read newspapers or subscribe to any magazines.  This reduction of media flow cuts out most advertising.  We still have two bundles of flyers appear in our driveway every week.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I was really interested in price matching and couponing to reduce our family’s grocery bills, making the appearance of the flyers at least useful.  I found that I began buying food that I don’t normally purchase to ‘get a deal’ and began to question just what type of ‘deal’ I was in fact getting!  Now when the flyers come in, sometimes I glance through a few (the stores that sell organic products), and the load of them ends up filling our recycling bucket.  I am almost ready to toss the lot without even looking at them, but when organic food is on sale, I will still sometimes stock up.  The truth is that the food that goes on sale is rarely whole food, and when it is, it is generally not organic.  As we move away from shopping in a grocery store, the time I use every week to shop the flyers would be put to better use preserving food I’m buying in bulk from local growers.

It is this cyclical thinking that keeps me spiraling.  I’m working my way toward detaching fully from mainstream life, but I’m just not ready for a full break away yet.   What is feeling more productive is to keep pushing towards it.  Leaning into our edges wherever we can in order to make some progress.  When climbing a mountain, any amount of progress is progress.  And so, I’m always on about clearing out our spaces.  I crave minimalism.  A life where what we’re living with is only what we’re currently using.  It is difficult to let go of some things.  Things that have bits of my identity tied up in them.  As I consider tackling my studio, with the bin of fabric that has sad untouched for years, the pastels, charcoals, and paints that speak the word ‘should’ instead of ‘inspiration.’  So for me, clearing of things is a way of clearing my energy.  Clearing my assumptions.  Clearing my holding patterns.  And so, I keep pushing against it, leaning into it, as uncomfortable as it is, because one day I will be able to release my grip and find the freedom I’m searching for.  My hope is that one day I will find I have declutteedr my inner landscape too.

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I’ve read every decluttering book I’ve been able to get my hands on, and these are by far my two favourite resources:

Your Spacious Self: Clear the Clutter and Discover Who You Are

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Blackberry Chia Seed Jam – Only 3 Ingredients and Ready in 20 minutes!

This recipe looks so easy and great I had to share it!

Old World Garden Farms

There is nothing like picking wild blackberries. The anticipation of the red plump berries turning into a dark, luscious, sweet treat makes our mouths water.

Wild blackberry canes growing next to our farm. Wild blackberry canes growing next to our farm.

We are very fortunate to have a batch of wild blackberry plants right next to the farm. Unfortunately, it is on the edge of a wooded area and right next to an even bigger patch of poison ivy.  As many of you know, I get poison ivy extremely easy. So this week, I put my protective clothing on (jeans, long sleeve shirt, boots and gloves) in the mid-summer heat to pick the ripe ones off the vine. The gloves serve a dual purpose as they also protect me from the thorns sticking out of the bush, designed to protect the delicate crop.

After we pick the berries the first thing we do is make a cobbler and…

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Creating a Homestead

I have started back into looking at real estate sites.  Wondering what life could be like if we were to move to a farm and homestead on a larger scale.  I have dreams of living somewhere off grid with a woodlot and a stream.  Enough room for pastured chickens and perhaps even a jersey cow.  But the dream doesn’t consider the hefty bill that comes along with it.  How is it that one is to transition to a larger property when it seems like such a better idea to pay off our mortgage and stay put?  The trouble is I still have this niggling feeling like we aren’t yet living the life we’re capable of.  I feel like a change is on the horizon.  The difficulty is waiting for its arrival.  We are sending out some pretty strong intentions to move toward a homesteading life, but as I have discovered, a homestead is just as much in the mind as in the land.  We are working toward making more of our own food, and preserving what we can while it is in season.  There are many things we are doing to be homesteaders on half an acre.  I have big plans to have chickens again in the spring and to try my hand at bee keeping next summer.  All of that is available to me right here, right where we are.

I reflected on this process back in December, and came to the conclusion that we should focus on living in line with our holistic goal and everything else would fall into place.  This spring and summer have been wild with activity.  We have been stretched in many ways, trying to keep up with our ideas and commitments.  We had given ourselves a year to decide what to do next, but here we are half way through that year feeling no less confused.  The hours we’ve spent initiating and actualizing projects off of our property have been wonderful and have taught us so much about what we value.  But we have not yet made time to refine our holistic goal!  This has left us feeling unfocussed.  The past six months have helped us to come to some clarity about what is and is not making our hearts sing.  It is easy to think something is satisfying when it really isn’t, when the idea of it is, but the action is not.  Rather than trying to pursue permaculture in a way that makes money, we are learning to follow our joy, hoping the money will sort itself out.  People bring the most creativity and skill in the areas they have a passion for.  It is lovely to read books and watch videos about other people who have found their niches and how they are making enough to live abundantly using permaculture principles.  What is not yet clear is how our family will wind our way toward the self-sustaining lifestyle I crave.  Many of the things we are interested in have the potential to pay the bills.  But this leads to the argument for seeking financial freedom from our mortgage so that we have fewer bills to pay!  The mental cycle is endless.  There is always another angle to consider, another reason to return to a previous idea, keeping us circling around a decision.

When I have made big decisions in the past, it’s because I knew they were the right ones.  I am not someone who leaps in quickly.  I think on things for quite some time until I can’t deny that a big change is imminent.  At the edge of change, somewhere deep in my gut I felt a compulsion to make it happen.  I have that feeling about moving to a farm, but there is no clear way to make that happen yet.  Like my approach to so many things, I don’t want to force it.  When I try to make it work, I usually only end up killing the creativity.  This happens all the time with my artwork.  Once I get too into my head, the creative spark fizzles out and I am left second guessing and feeling anxious.

I have been checking the real estate sites, but not as frequently.  I feel the action is keeping me open to the possibility of the right property coming along and sending the intention out clearly over and over again.  I also view the properties with an intuitive eye now.  If it doesn’t seem right, it’s not.  No point in forcing the issue.  There is nothing pushing us from our current home, other than a feeling of unfounded urgency.  My rush is because I don’t feel like I have time to waste – the planet is withering and I feel I need to act now in order to secure my future and a future for my children.  When considering the planting of fruit and nut trees that take years to produce a yield, it is discouraging to think of delaying that another five years.  But what I am allowing myself to consider more and more is that the trees we plant are not just for us or our family, but they are for future generations.  In this subversive act, we are planting hope for the future.  I’d like to believe that any love and care we offer to our current property is an investment in the future of mankind.

Wishing our time on this property away, as we watch the weeds take over our garden beds and some food bearing crops wither, is not creating joy for us.  We are not engaging our own land, but are looking elsewhere in search of something better.  What we have right here is pretty awesome!  If we put as much effort in here as we have been extending beyond our property, we could be enjoying the yields of this farm rather than wasting its potential while suspending it in the midst of indecision.  And so we are again trying to hash out our holistic goal.  We have also decided to identify the things in our life that are not bringing us joy, from the items in our home, to the way we use our time and space.  Once these snags are identified we can find creative solutions to abate them or just decide to simply let them go.  There may come a time when a new and big opportunity to move comes along, or necessity pushes us from this nest, but for now, we wait.  And wait.  And wait.  Thanks to some lessons learned from a toad, it will become clear when we are to jump.   For now, we can hunker down and put in some serious time here.

Lessons from a Toad

I spent a few hours with a toad this week.  I sat with it in the garden, watching its movements and observing they way it lives.  I have had a fear of toads (and frogs and snakes too) since childhood, when I spiked a high fever involving hallucinations of amphibians and reptiles crawling out through a hole in the ceiling plummeting onto myself.  I felt trapped, unable to move likely due to being sweaty and tangled in the sheets.  I am over the worst of this fear now, as I no longer have anxiety when I see them, now I just experience surprise at their presence.  I am able to allow my logical mind to process their proximity as harmless.  So being able to sit with a toad for some time was cathartic in many ways.  While sitting with him, I learned some lessons that I thought I would share.

Toads spend a lot of time contemplating.  The toad I watched would hop a distance, then wait.  Then move slightly in a sort of walk, then wait.  He did much more waiting than moving.  There was no hurry.  There was no reason for him to rush.  He was not particularly threatened, so he could take his time in order to not become threatened. I have a tendency to want to rush into things, rather than waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.  I become impatient with the process.  The toad was all about the process.

Sometimes the toad took a great leap, and sometimes he just shuffled.  This is true for life.  There are times where a great leap is required to make ground.  Where I have to assert great energy toward inciting big changes, and other times where a small adjustment is required for a better view, or just to get more comfortable.  Both are necessary ways to move through change.

Toads have the capacity to turn their heads slightly.  I had always thought that they moved their eyes or had to move their entire bodies in order to increase their range of vision, but as it turns out, they have a neck of sorts.  They must have a pretty good range of vision, between their eyes being atop their heads and being able to turn their head slightly.  Movement might mean a toad would get noticed, so anything he can do to look around and take in the world from a place of stillness is an advantage.  Our culture promotes the opposite of this.  We are all hurried to keep up to the pace of life we’ve created for ourselves, and rarely slow down enough to make observations.  Our culture values productivity.  Looking is not productive…unless of course it could save your life!  Being at the top of the food chain has its disadvantages.  We have lost touch with our ability to be present because we don’t rely on this skill for survival.  When I consider it in these terms, I realize that getting back in touch with my alert and intuitive sense of self is the only thing that can save me from a crumbling society.

I spent nearly two hours with the toad, over which time he moved about a meter (3 feet or so) hopping a few times, adjusting himself several times, and turning his head a couple of times.  Meanwhile the rest of the garden was a flurry of activity.  Birds, butterflies, bees and insects hurried about while the toad by contrast waited.  It seemed as though his waiting was put forth in an effort to attain a goal, for after his movement toward the shade of the back of the garden, he found a hollow in the ground to hunker down into.  Perhaps it was a spot he’d visited before.  Once he reached his destination, he settled in by digging his hind legs beneath the soil slightly.  Then he waited again.  And waited.  And waited.  After some time, he fell asleep.  But even in slumber, he opened his eyes every ten minutes or so to make sure everything was still as he’d left it.

I have much to learn from the toad.  Pace.  Contemplation.  Careful calculation of when to exert my effort and when to reserve it.  The art of camouflage.  Knowing when to jump with confidence.  The beauty of stillness in a bustling world.  The slow pace with which I can pursue my dreams.  Look (a lot) before leaping.  Blending in doesn’t mean I’m lost.  The importance of  repeatedly checking yourself against your goals.  It doesn’t matter what the outside world sees, or think they see, what matters is the depth to which I understand my goals and how to reach them.  How to be fully present with what is on the journey.

What a gift it was to be able to sit with a toad.  For a few hours, I was able to avert my fears and learn from him.  Perhaps my fear of the toad extends beyond his exterior to what he represents…that which stretches me.  I have found an ally whose lessons I am grateful for.

The Day After the Day After

A predictable schedule works for our home.  We have a predictable rhythm to our days.  But summer seems to throw a kink in this wheel, making it wobble and veer to one side.  There are more things to do in the summer, and as it seems, so many reasons to cast aside the schedule we’ve worked so hard to establish.  Our family rhythm really gives us a container to live within, but when it is gone, we’re more free to explore and flow through our days together.

The last few weeks have been a series of events that have taken us out of our normal rhythms.  We have had a wonderful time sharing in the company of each other and living without the stress of watching the clock.  I feel so much more rested as a mama, since I’ve had a break from my routine and an opportunity to cultivate diversity in my days.  My children are able to rise to the challenge posed by abandoning our schedule, but it is when we try to return to ‘normal’ that things start to unravel.

I find the day after my children get a solid night’s sleep they are pleasantly sleepy and contented to be at home (because usually the ‘busyness’ has taken us afar) but it is the day after the day after that we start to run into trouble.  Yesterday was that day for me.  I struggled through my post yesterday, as I was interrupted by a crying baby, a crying toddler and a crying child all trying to resist naps or rest time.  So much crying.  I became frustrated and rushed through my post, and will only get around to reading it again when I’m finished today’s!  I realized just how important my schedule is to my functioning.  My children also thrive with the predictability, and seem to understand what it feels like to be fueled with good food and enough sleep.

When they are tired, hungry, or have been eating poorly, they start to unravel.  Of course this doesn’t happen when we’re busy, engaged in new exciting activities, and ultimately overstimulated.  It happens when we start to regain the stability of our daily rhythm that these things seem to appear.  When my children actually begin to tune back in to how they are actually feeling, retreating from beyond their edge.

This time around the transition back to normal has been noticeably more smooth.  Perhaps we’re learning how to come back to ourselves.  My children have been letting their emotions out…a lot…but in acceptable ways.  Knowing our schedule, routine, rhythm will still be there for us when we’re ready to return to it.  But more importantly we’re working on really knowing that we’ll be there to support each other on the journey home.  In consciously pursuing radical empathy and compassion we are growing trust in our love for each other in spite of our imperfections.

Trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.

~Alan Watts