Integrate

Nut Cracking!

They saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them…so we’ve all decided to go a bit nuts around here!  We purchased a nut cracker last year, which never made it out of the box.  This year, we had a big crop of walnuts as well as some pecans and heartnuts we purchased from a nut farm we visited recently that were sold in their shell.  The children have been having a great time cracking nuts on the back deck.  Makes for a reasonably mess free snack…a quick sweep and we’re done!

The nutcracker we purchased, called “Grandpa’s Goody Getter” is very easy for them to use.  It automatically sizes the nut and requires very little force on the lever to crack the shells.  Even my three year old is able to load the nuts and crack them himself.  The black walnuts are a bit more difficult, since the shells are harder and thicker.  My five year old cracks the walnuts, with everyone else standing well back to help prevent shards of nutshell hitting someone!  The children feel so good about participating in the process.  There is something about mining the nut themselves that definitely adds to the allure.

Bringing children as close as possible to food production has wonderful results.  My children eat more healthy food directly from our property than they ever would from their dinner plate.  Participating in the harvest has an amazing way of making food taste better!  It has been amazing to see how trusting them with a bit of responsibility has allowed them to blossom.  I am able to step back and watch them help each other.  When children feel valued and respected, they are able to value and respect others.

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Hunkering Down

Harvest season has been a long haul this year.  I have had a hard time keeping up with everything, from the influx of fresh food, to the realizations that we need to move on to bigger and better things.  The crux of our business is from the two greenhouses Rob and a friend took on as well as a small acreage at a different site. The reality of trying to balance home life, Rob’s full time job, the vision for our property, the gardening projects offsite and other (numerous) commitments we both have outside the house has been trying at times.  At times it has been overwhelming!  I have never resented abundance before and feel embarrassment over the feeling.  The bushels and bushels…and bushels of food kept appearing, and along with them the commitment of work needed to preserve the food, and as the days ticked by the smell of rot crept in as we failed to keep up with it all…not to mention our impressive crop of fruit flies!

Rob is amazing at getting things done…especially when it comes to processing food.  He is often the one coaxing me out of my reading chair in the evening to process this or that.  As a result of nearly two months of work (salsa, salsa verde, a variety of soups, dried tomatoes, fruit leathers, fermented tomato sauce, fermented beets, stewed tomatoes, watermelon jerky, sauerkraut, fermented hot pepper sauce, dried pears and apples) I believe that tonight will be the last night of this very long haul!  We are left with cucumbers to turn into a fermented relish and a few more watermelons to dry into jerky.  Mind you, our back porch is covered with squash and pumpkins that will need attention, but not for a while yet.  We have some space before we have to deal with them.  I see it as time to recover from the marathon this has been!

I am excited that this day signals the ending of a very difficult chapter in our life.  A chapter where we were required to keep going despite the protests…from our children, our bodies, our minds and our hearts.  It is time for us to pull in our roots.  As a plant prepares for winter, we too shall bring back our extended selves.  It is time for us to recuperate.  It is time to start enjoying the abundance of our harvest.  We have such a high yield!  And we have certainly gained more than just edibles this year.  While reflecting on this past few months, it is hard to miss the fact that it was not the processing of food that was actually causing us stress.  At the edges of the stress, we realized that it was that the food preservation had to be squished in around all the other things.  The stress came when it couldn’t be the focus we needed it to be.

We have learned so much from the past few months.  We set out in the Spring with the goal of figuring out what it is that we wanted to do with ourselves.  Our plan was to have one crazy year to try things out and see what came of it all.  We wanted to gain clarity about what we wanted to do with our lives.  How did we envision our future?  What were our real goals?  We aimed to hone in on our holistic goal.  After a lot of hard lessons, what we want to do is now clear.  We want to be homesteaders living debt-free.  We are not sure just how this will manifest, but more than ever we are eager to find as many ways as possible to integrate all the parts of our lives.  What this year has taught us is the true value of integrating, not segregating.  We want to be farming our own land, producing our own food, and using our energy and creativity for our own goals.  As we wind down the busyness, slowly pulling inward, we have the opportunity to hunker down, turn inside and to each other to begin visioning how we make our dream a reality.

Harvest Season

At this time of year, harvest is abundant!  Processing food for the winter months is all consuming and the incoming volume of produce seems relentless.  We have been working our way through bushels of tomatoes, peppers, apples and cucumbers that have blessed our counters.  It’s hard to see that volume of perishable food as a blessing when you’re drowning in domestic tasks, but it truly is.  We have such gratitude for the fresh fruits and vegetables that have come to us from toxin free environments and loving hands.  In the midst of feverish attention to kitchen tasks, I am trying to stop and remind myself that this food will sustain us, that my work now will be what sustains us.  The process of storage and use undulates between stressful and easy.  The beauty is in this binary relationship of catching and storing energy for later release.  This burst of hard work makes room for the more laid back introspective months to come.  I love the ability to pop down to the cellar for a jar of this or that in the winter, opening a jar of homemade whatever brings back a rush of summer in the midst of snow covered branches.

There are other harvests happening at this time too, as we take stock of how we spent our time this past year.  We have been noticing which things we’ve put our energy into that were fruitful and which were not.  It is in the harvest season where we already begin to dream ahead to next spring, postulating on which plants to keep and which to replace with something different.  Did we have enough of this or too much of that?  We are also thinking on our time as a commodity as of late.  Looking at how we spend our minutes, with too much of this or too little of that.  The beauty of harvest is that even though our hands are busy, we are set to a task which helps our busy minds sort out the emotional harvest of the year.

The Sound of Crying

Our culture has a very low tolerance for crying.  I know this because I feel it in my gut every time one of my children begins.  I think that our mammalian instinct to run to the aid of our child has been misplaced.  Instead of a genuine care for the well being of our child, our instinctual response has been directed toward ‘making it stop.’  I frequently observe people trying to find ways to stop the expression of children’s heavy emotions.  It’s like some sort of emergency when a child cries.  People leap from chairs into action like something I’ve never seen before.  It would be one thing if we were rushing toward our children to comfort them and be present for them during their difficult emotions.  Instead, many people say things like, ‘You’re alright’ – which clearly they aren’t, or try to distract the child by whisking them away from the situation toward something else.  I only wish this type of urgency could be redirected toward things which warrant our swift attention.  If only we were that on fire for something we actually have the right and power to control…ourselves!

There are indeed safety considerations when we are thinking of children crying, because it is fear that moves us to action in a hurry.  But most of the time my children’s cries are over emotional hurts rather than physical ones, and the fear is more of being judged as a parent than for the well being of our children.  Our children who cry because they want to be heard, understood, and ultimately comforted in their moments of discomfort.   I want to raise children who know how to embrace a diverse range of emotions including the not so savory ones, with the knowledge that they will pass.  Our emotions can blow over, just like clouds, if we are able to learn how to honour them while they are here.  When we fail to acknowledge our emotions, then they find unhealthy ways to stay within us, manifesting and expressing themselves in other and unexpected ways.  Should we not be valuing expression of emotions in order to value the person?

I am learning to slow myself down.  When someone is crying, I begin by taking a few deep breaths and centering myself.  I don’t pretend to be separate from the culture I was raised in and still participate in.  I make mistakes, and sometimes feel impatience towards my crying child.  What I can do is try to push back against it, recognizing what a wonderful gift I have in knowing that there is a different and in my opinion, better way – to choose support.  I make a lot of mistakes, but don’t we all.  Honouring my self as a learner in need of my own support  who is also capable of my own emotional storms is only human.  And in effect, good modelling for my children.  So long as compassion remains at the heart of my interactions, the way I ‘make things right’ when I’ve messed up may be the most valuable lesson of all.

Earlier this summer during a visit to a local splash pad (an interesting invention that is ace at wasting water) we met another family with two young children.  The young boy had recently had eye surgery, taking him from legally blind to nearly perfect vision.  The day we met them was the first day he had been able to play outside since regaining his sight.  He and his sister  were running around so quickly that at one point that they hit each other head on.  There was an audible crack when their heads made contact.  I watched the little girl fly backward onto the concrete, hearing another thump.  My eyes welled.  I felt helpless, but my discomfort swelled as I heard their mother’s first reaction…”You’re alright.”

Perhaps it was her own discomfort in feeling there was nothing she could do to make it better.  She couldn’t undo their pain.  She couldn’t do anything to remove the hurt.  But what is available to us as parents is the opportunity to meet our children emotionally.  We have the ability to comfort them.  We have the capacity to be present for them in their struggles.  This is what I wish for myself in difficult times; compassion.  Why is it that we cannot treat our children with the same compassionate respect that we hope to receive ourselves?

We’re Having Fun…Right?

This summer has been a busy one around here.  We’ve been racing from one event to the next, taking weekend trips and day trips – packing as much into our days without coats as possible.  We are tired.  We are all tired.  What seemed like  a good idea at the beginning of the summer, to get lots of small trips and experiences in during the good weather, has left us feeling like we hopped on board a ride we really didn’t want to be on.

Don’t get me wrong, we have had so much fun!  Or at least I think we did.  We got to enjoy so many attractions and things outside of our regular home rhythm…which is what I thought I wanted at the beginning of the summer.  It was what I wanted.  A break from the routine.  A chance to experience things beyond what we normally do.  But now that I’m at the other end of the summer, with all of our wild adventures behind us, I’m ready to settle down into a predictable pattern again.  I am grateful for the solid four days in a row that we have been able to have predictable naps and bedtimes.  I am eager for our days to flow more predictably for a while. I am welcoming the chance to maintain my homestead and embrace the housework with more joy in my heart.  This is something that just doesn’t feel possible when I am not able to create the time and space to enjoy the routine tasks because we have places to go.  The season is changing.  I am ready.

Our counters are piled high with things from harvest, watermelons we plan to dehydrate, cucumbers that will become fermented relish, peaches that will be pureed for fruit leather, and three stock pots full of this year’s frozen tomatoes awaiting stewing and canning.  There is a lot to be done.  But the work is enjoyable, when I am able to create enough space to view it that way.  When I am pulled out of the house so often,  it is impossible for things to get done.  The work piles up, and when I finally do get to it, I begrudge it because I feel like I need a break!

Being on ‘holiday’ with three little kids it turns out, isn’t really a vacation at all, since I spend a full day at either end packing and unpacking.  While away the children are distracted by the new sights and sounds, and do very well, but aren’t really at their best.  We were doing amazing things, like visiting train museums, seeing an aquarium, interacting at a science centre, and visiting with family and friends.  But intertwined in all of these amazing experiences were a lot of tears, long car rides, potty accidents, and general frustration.

The fall out of my children’s lack of sleep and pushing their limits of social interaction usually lasts a week after things return to our regular rhythm.  Our summer has been so packed with ‘fun’ that these periods of regulation have been overlapping!  There hasn’t really been a time to return to our ‘normal’ rhythm until now.  I am really tempted to get out of the house and ‘do something’ since it feels like uncomfortable to sit with all of this unfocused energy, but I’m trying to stay the course.  I want to weather the storms with my children in the safe place of our home so that I can support each of them much as possible.  It seems easier to stay on the band wagon and keep them busy and doing, but I know this isn’t a long term solution, because it certainly isn’t the lifestyle I want to live.

Under the allure of new and exciting experiences, and perhaps a peppering of feeling like we’d be ‘missing out‘ if we didn’t, we did a variety of things this summer.  I have successfully attained a break from home life, but in doing so, I have bought into the overculture of doing.  Our family has forgotten how to just be.  Today is the first day in a long time where I feel that we are successfully making our way back to reclaiming ourselves as human beings.

Building Community with Skill Share

This past weekend we invited friends over to learn how to graft fruit trees!  Rob and a couple of other attendees have attended workshops with Ken Taylor to learn how to graft onto root stock.  There were a few reasons for us to host a work party.  Realistically, we have been meaning to do this grafting for a while, but it never seems to make it to the top of the ‘to do’ list, so scheduling a time on the calendar with people coming over made it possible to get the work done.  We also enjoy having many like minded people around, and any excuse for a gathering is a good one.  We were also excited to share the skills we’re developing with others.  The most beautiful and unexpected part for me though was sharing the process of learning – that messy bit where no one really is sure they’re doing the right thing.  Muddling through the learning process with others to support and guide each other made the whole process so much more enjoyable.

We took it slow.  We started by watching a short video demonstration of what we were about to do before heading out to the garden.   During the grafting process we took time to pause and talk, look at each others work, ask questions, and generally meander through the afternoon together.  It was nice to have a relaxed but purposeful atmosphere.  There were many children in attendance as well, which added to the joy of the afternoon.  Because there were so many adults around, no one really had to watch them, they were playing close by.  It all seemed so natural.  There was flow to the afternoon, as the grafting finished up, we drifted into a pot luck dinner.  People came and went as they needed to.  It was easy.  It was what I envision life should be like.  It was a taste of life lived in community.

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!