Month: August 2015

Biggering our Brood

This morning we had the extreme pleasure of going to pick up our chickens!  We stopped en route to pick up some wood shavings and peat moss for bedding.  We were told by another homesteader friend about including peat in the bedding.  There are a few benefits.  The chickens do the work of mixing it in with the wood shavings, it reduces the smell due to its high absorption rate and when it comes time to clean out the coop, the former bedding can go right onto the garden beds as rich compost once it sits for a year.  We then headed to my friend’s place on the far side of the city to meet the new additions to our brood!

The children were very excited to meet the chickens, and spend some time with my friend’s son, who happened to be cuddling a chicken when we arrived.  He showed us around their urban farm.  My children especially liked meeting their rabbits, since they’ve always wanted their own!  It was nice to see their birds free ranging in the yard, something we hope to be able to carry on.  Failing that, there’s the garden enclosure that didn’t get planted this year that is now full of delicious things for chickens to eat.  We don’t have a fenced yard, and there is a dog who lives next door.  We’ll have to see how that goes.  We’ll find out this afternoon after the children finish their rest times.  Right now they are in the coop, getting used to their new surroundings a bit.  I left some food in there for them, so they’ll hopefully associate it with ‘home.’

My friend has been thinking for months about which of her beloved birds she was going to give us.  I can’t imagine how difficult that choice was for her, as she and her sons are very close to them all. We feel so blessed to add some of her loved and well cared for chickens to our homestead. It has been a long time coming since we’ve wanted chickens all along, but due to a rat problem had to redo our coop before trying again.  It feels so right now that the day to have chickens again has arrived.

I am excited for my children to have the rhythm of animal care introduced.  I am also looking forward to fostering a closer bond between my children and the food their eat.  The more levels of food production and preparation I can involve them in the greater chance they will learn the true value of what they eat.

Introducing the new additions to our family:

From left to right: Goldie who is a mixed breed who was hatched in a classroom and is already a good layer.  Then the three Swedish Flowers, Brownie who was named by my oldest son, Daisy who was named by my middle son, and Lucky the rooster who was named by my friend in honour of his narrow escape from her soup pot!   We decided to take a rooster mere hours before my friend’s chicken harvest in hopes of having some chicks of our own in the Spring.

Welcome to your new home!

“Vacationing”

The truth about vacations with children is that they are hard work.  We just returned from a trip to the city with our three children, aged 5, 3, and 1.  We had an amazing time.  We visited family, an aquarium, a train museum, took a ride on transit, and visited a science centre.  All together we stayed two nights.  One would think that two nights would be manageable.  I suppose it was manageable, but not easy!  Packing to leave took me a whole day, mind you it was well punctuated by life with three little ones.  While away, none of us slept as much or as well as usual, which is to be expected, despite the ace accommodations we had!  We were blessed to be able to stay with my sister and brother-in-law, who gave us the run of their basement, which is set up to be a rental unit!

Boundaries are pushed when you travel.  The children ate more sugar and prepackaged foods than usual.  Their bedtimes were later and all their naps missed.  I do not have children who sleep well in the car, stroller, carrier, or anywhere that is not a bed to be frank.  But we did it.  We did it and we had a great time.

I thought it took me a lot of time to pack for the trip, but unpacking is a whole other thing!  Usually when I return from a trip, a few loads of laundry and some tidying up are all that are required.  But this time it seems like we are trying to dig ourselves out from under a mountain of laundry and mess!  I just unloaded the car before coming in to write this post.  I am feeling stretched.  I wonder how much of the stress of traveling is actually caused by my own needs for regulation and self-care that are not being met.  I am tired and feel like there’s a huge number of things to do, and no time to do it!  Life keeps churning here whether we’re present for it or not.

Just before we left we ordered a new mattress, decided we were going to move our bedroom to the basement, realized we needed to fix the toilet that is constantly running water, and the night before we left the drain pipe under the bathroom sink broke, rendering it useless.   Before we left, it felt like we could do it all!  I was energized and looking forward to our vacation.  But now that we’re back and buried under all the things that somehow fit into our minivan, I’m feeling overwhelmed!  I suppose I was taking a vacation from the idea of having responsibilities.  But they are real, they are wanted, and now that the trip is over, they need attention.

Life will calm again.  It always does.  I am learning to appreciate the times where I feel ‘on top of things,’ noticing them as they come.  It is with gratitude for the easy moments in life that I am able to be carried through the busy times. I am looking forward to when things calm down again, because I have good reason to value it!  Being away and pushing this edge has taught me just how much I value a simple life.  Small and slow solutions is such a difficult concept to practice!  I reminded the children of this morning, and failed to remind myself, that we need to be gentle with each other and ourselves as we return to our regular rhythm again.  So for now, I’ll try to stay centred, take it one breath at a time, and one task at a time, and eventually it will all get done.

Anticipation

We lost a great deal of our orchard blossoms early in the season during a frost.  It was a disappointing day.  We tried hard to save them, throwing a sheet over each tree, which knocked off some of the blooms in the wind before we decided to remove them.  After the frost hit, Rob got up before sunrise and misted the trees in an effort to prevent the frost from doing damage, a trick we learned from an excellent DVD we own called, “The Permaculture Orchard.”  We still ended up losing most of our fruit.  We have some pears coming on and a few apples.  Last year we were only able to harvest four pears and four Asian pears.  It looks like we’ll have an equally scant year this time around.

We have many interesting and different varieties of fruit.  Apple, pear, plum, corneilian cherry, paw paw, chum.  We are eagerly anticipating the year when we can sample all of the different varieties, selected for winter heartiness, disease and pest resistance.  I can’t wait for the day we have to give fruit away because we couldn’t possibly consume it all!  But this year, I look forward to sampling whatever our orchard offers us, no matter how small the yield.  There is nothing quite like biting into something you’ve grown yourself.

Roosting

A friend of mine recently put out a call for someone to take a few of her beloved chickens.  She ordered some Swedish Flower eggs in the Spring, and didn’t expect almost all of them to hatch!  For this reason, we will be getting three hens and a rooster!  We are so excited for their arrival, although it has meant a great deal of work around here.  The last time we had chickens was nearly five years ago.  It was a good experience at first…until the rats came.  There were a lot of them.  Seems our first attempt at creating a chicken coop wasn’t entirely small rodent proof.  At first we were in denial about just how many rats there were, until one dramatic evening when Rob went into the barn to put something away.  Before he could turn on the light, he noticed the straw beneath the chickens feet heaving.  When he flicked on the light, he saw over fifty rats scurry up the walls and out of the barn.  After that we removed all the chicken feed at night, in hopes they would look elsewhere for food and shelter.  Turns out that rats aren’t overly particular about their dinner, and turned to eating chicken poop when their feed was in short supply.  But the day one ran up my arm and hurled itself across the barn as I attempted to take out the garbage was the day we decided to get rid of our first lot of chickens.  They were delicious. The rats vacated not long after that, since it was late fall and they needed somewhere with more food to survive.

Since that time we’ve always dreamed of having chickens again.  What I want to say deterred us was finding the right breed.  The first lot were Chanteclers, which are supposed to be wonderful laying hens for northern climates.  They turned out to be so skittish that they would run in terror from the feed we threw in their general direction.   This created a huge problem, since this is generally how you call your birds home.  They were so fearful in fact that we thought there was something wrong with one of the birds because it sat still most of the time and would come close to us.  It also had some feathers that stuck out at the sides of its beak.  We affectionately named this one ‘mutton chops.’  Turns out once this hen started laying eggs that they were blue!  What we thought was a ‘sick’ and docile bird turned out to be an Easter Egger!  The only one of the lot we liked much.

But when my friend offered me her birds, which had a most wonderful description, I couldn’t resist. This meant I had to face the real reason we haven’t had chickens again..the great deal of work it was going to be to overhaul our coop.  Accepting the birds meant the work on the coop had to be done, despite a good likelihood that we will be moving from this home.

Our ‘new’ rat-proof chicken feed storage unit

My in-laws came over on Saturday and helped us with the project.  Rob’s dad has built hundreds of cages for shrikes and came equipped with a roll of industrial strength wire and an air powered staple gun.  His expertise was invaluable, and he had a plan to create a room within the barn to keep all rodent life out.  We were able to piece together the coop using materials that we already had between the two families.  He showed me how to use the staple gun (which was an intense experience!)  Rob did a lot of the cutting of wood and his Dad and I worked in the coop putting the pieces together.  Rob’s mom took the kids all day while we worked.  She even braved a trip to the library with a newly walking baby girl, who likes to get into everything!  It was so nice to feel so supported in our work.  It felt so right to spend a day working and playing together, breaking midday to share lunch.  It was so generous of them to spend the day with us, and we appreciate their help with such deep gratitude.   We didn’t finish the coop on Saturday, but decided to stop working late in the afternoon with only the front and door left to finish.  It had been a long hot day, and we appreciated cooling off in the pool in the late afternoon sunshine.

Sunday, Rob took the kids and I worked to finish the coop.  It was definitely an empowering experience to finish the project myself…well, mostly, Rob helped out during the children’s rest time!  I’ve done my share of construction while completing my visual art degree, but chose to use hand tools for most of the process, since that’s what appealed to my creative (and tentative) side.  Using power tools is a whole other experience.  I had my hand at a staple gun and used the chop saw too.  Not sure I’m a huge fan of these implements, but it was a power-trip to be sure!

Putting in all that work in our barn has me feeling more nostalgic than ever about this place.  I love it here.  I think the new chicken coop is amazing.  If any rodents find their way in, they deserve whatever food they can find!  We even upgraded our feed storage…if you can call using our old freezer an upgrade!  But what I have learned is that it doesn’t matter where we end up, the support of our community is what matters, and we will make sure it comes with us to our new home!  We will pick up our birds next week sometime.  Before then, we need to find some bales of straw and fill the freezer!

 

Goals meet Reality

I often have great ideas for what I’m going to accomplish in a day.  The day starts off with a bang, getting the children through their morning routines and into a rhythm.  My morning energy leads to noticing all the things I could do.  As we enjoy our day together, meandering through what calls to us, the list of possibilities grows.  I think of things that need to be done  and tuck them in the back of my mind for those sacred hours after the children go to bed.  I have big plans to mulch my flowerbeds, fold the four baskets of laundry or finally wipe that yogurt smear off my front window.  Then dinner happens, the children go to bed and I am faced with a messy kitchen and no energy for the now crumpled list that lies in the back corners of my mind.  The garden waits, the laundry waits, the yogurt smear waits.

It has taken me three children to realize that there will always be more work.  “Catching up” on the laundry is futile.  No sooner is the last load done, folded and put away, that it happens for someone to have a leaky diaper, requiring a full bedding change.  It doesn’t seem to matter how many days I experience the same pattern of setting goals for my evening hours, only to find myself reading instead.   I still keep trying.   Perhaps this is the human spirit or just my way of being able to continue the journey.  I like to think of it as creating a vision, but responding to change!  Regardless, I no longer feel guilt over self-preservation.  My evening often has a yield beyond accomplishing domestic tasks.  Without some down time in the evenings, I find I’m not refreshed enough for the next day.  I’ve pushed through too many nights of staying up a bit too late in order to try and ‘get it all done’ to know that it leaves me strapped the next day.  What was a beautiful home the night before only explodes again because I lack the energy to sustain it.

My messes, like the weedy perimeter of a garden holds the sustainable growth for our future.

Empathetic, But…

I have written before about how my family values extreme empathy.  We try to meet each other first by empathizing, whether it’s adults or children.  We try to validate feelings and then work to find solutions.  What is becoming clear to me is that even though we have this goal, it isn’t always achieved.  There are nuances in our language that are preventing our sentiments from coming through.

A huge culprit in the way of our empathetic encounters is the word ‘but.’  I find myself trying to work my agenda into  statements of empathy.  I say things like, “I can see you are upset about getting your diaper changed.  You don’t want me to change your diaper right now, but it’s time for your nap.”  or “I understand that you don’t want to put your shoes on, but we have to go now.”  The empathy is there, but it is inserted as a placation.  Real empathy does not have a hidden agenda.  Real empathy isn’t rushed through.  It serves to allow ourselves to truly hear the other side in an effort to understand what it might be like to be in a different position.

I have started to reflect on the use of the word ‘but.’  When I think of times I’ve heard it when all I really needed was to be heard myself, I can attest for the fact that it devalues an entire response.  Hearing something like, “I know you’re really tired and not feeling well, but I the kids really need to eat dinner.”  The value of expressing my discomfort of being tired and sick was lost as soon as the word ‘but’ joined the party.  It is as though the word negates everything that comes before it.  It’s a word that supersedes.  The word ‘but’ gets in the way of unconditional empathy.  Unconditional empathy speaks of unconditional love.  And so, it is no longer a word that is welcome in my home (although it still comes knocking from time to time).

The difference between using and not using the word ‘but’ may sound something like this:

“I can see that you don’t want to have a nap right now.  You look really frustrated, but it’s time to sleep”

versus…

“I can see that you don’t want to have a nap right now.  You look really frustrated.  It’s hard when you want to keep playing and mommy says it’s time to sleep.  I understand.  I want you to have a good rest so we can play together this afternoon.  It’s time for a nap.  I’ll see you when you wake up.”

In the second example, I did not change the outcome.  The child is still expected to have a nap.  I included a few extra sentences of empathy, without using the word ‘but.’  I also included and a separation of the empathy from what has to happen by explaining why it has to happen.

Here is another example:

“I know you want to buy that toy.  It is difficult to see something you want and not get it, but you have already got a firetruck toy at home.”

versus…

“I know you want to buy that toy.  It looks really neat.  What do you like best about it?  Yes, those flashing lights and sounds are really cool.  It looks like it would be a lot of fun to play with.  I want us to choose only the best toys to bring into our home.  We already have a firetruck, so we’ll leave this one for another boy or girl to buy.”

I feel like a bit more effort up front to find connection during my expressions of empathy goes a long way.  It’s rather like in permaculture where a lot of time is spent in the design phase before beginning the actual work!  I have been trying to revise the language I am using with the children and am seeing some amazing results.  Now, I just have to have empathy for my process of change, as I count the number of ‘buts’ that are still uttered!

Dirt Cookies: Sharing the Heaviness of Life with Children

How is it possible that we have people so impoverished that they have to eat dirt cookies in order to trick their stomachs into thinking they’re full?  They have no food.  My husband brought up that he had seen this video last week as we sat around the dinner table.  The children were curious, asking about what the cookies looked like, what they tasted like, and ultimately asked to watch the video.  We elected to talk about solutions rather than spending our time watching something that would perhaps be disturbing for them.  But what has been more interesting is how they have been carrying this idea with them, that there are children in the world who are eating dirt to survive.  They bring it up frequently, as it is something beyond their understanding of the world, and I presume the idea was a bit jarring, as it was for me as well.  My children have lived a very sheltered and privileged life.  We have never known hunger.

At first, my children wanted to bake some cupcakes and send them to Haiti.  After some discussion about what might happen to the baked goods on the long journey across the world, my five year old son has decided he will donate money to help these people find something better to eat.  He recently started a t-shirt business, upcycling t-shirts to fund a Lego police station that he wants.  He came up with the idea of getting the rest of the money to buy his Lego station (which is now only about 3 more shirt sales), then sharing the remainder of his profits with hungry children.  An admirable solution for a young boy!

When we first brought this up with the children, I was a bit fearful of burdening their young souls with life’s ugly side.  The side where people aren’t as privileged as us, to the point where they struggle for their necessities.  I questioned whether my children are too young for these harsh realities.  What I was surprised by was his willingness to rise to the occasion.  He expressed a genuine desire to help out.  We do a lot of talking about ‘the golden rule’ in our house and after the fact, I see this as an extension of that discussion.  I think our effort to look for solutions rather than wallow in what’s wrong with the world is where real change can be made.  I hope to inspire my children toward making a difference and teach them that along with their privilege comes an opportunity to help others.

The truth is, extreme poverty exists.  The more I can normalize it, the more my children can move beyond an ‘us and them’ mentality and can rise up to find small solutions to big problems.  We will continue to talk about dirt cookies.  I plan to fully avoid the ‘you should eat your dinner, there are children in the world who are eating dirt cookies instead’ angle.  This helps no one.    Guilt should not be a motivating factor towards action.  What I do hope for is that my kids will be able hold in their hearts the difficult reality that there are children in the world without enough to eat and that we can do something about it.