Permaculture for Children

Our Candy-free Halloween Party

Last year I wrote about what I wished Halloween could be for our family.  I dreamed of a day when we could enjoy the spirit of Halloween in community without the abundance of candy and general tone of consumption.  I wanted it to be filled with joy, excitement and good wholesome fun.  This year, with the help of a friend, we were able to realize my dream!

Our gathering went like this:

4:00 – Gathered and greeted each other
4:15 – Made Halloween lanterns using recycled jars, tissue paper, wire and watered down white glue
4:45 – Ran Races, including a monster eyeball race (carry an olive on a spoon), three legged race, and potato sack race.
5:05 – Played Games, like tossing a beanbag through a pumpkin’s mouth, pin the tail on the cat and a spider ring toss.
5:30 – Pot Luck Dinner
6:00 – Bobbing for apples
6:15 – Pumpkin Pinata that was filled with raisins, fruit leather and non-edible treats like pencils, erasers, stickers and stick on moustaches!
6:30 – Spooky forest walk where we followed the trail to view the candlelit pumpkins each family carved and brought with them and the children carried their Halloween lanterns!
It was a busy evening for me, being the one to direct the action.  But it’s what I love to do.  Sometimes I struggle with the balance between being the leader and being the mom.  But Rob was there with me, so he could be there for the children when I was otherwise occupied.
The races were a riot!  There were no prizes, and that was fine.  The best part was that the adults wanted to be part of the fun too!  One of my friends requested an adult sack race – what fun!
The pinata was a great success!  The boys and I made the pinata the week before Halloween by using paper mache over a balloon.  We were sure to make it strong since we knew there would be lots of children wanting a turn!  We painted it orange and added a traditional pumpkin face.  The children had a great time taking turns to whack it.  Seems we made it strong enough, as it was the fourth round through all the children when it finally burst!  I will never forget the look in the child’s eyes who burst that pinata.  She was so excited and pleased with herself!  The children were each given a small bag to collect one of each of the things that had fallen.  They were so wonderful about it.  There was no pushing, shoving, crying, or any other negative feelings.  I saw children sharing and helping each other choose what items to take home.  It’s amazing what candy frenzied sugar greed does to an atmosphere!
The children really loved bobbing for apples.  This is a holiday tradition that isn’t done anymore for ‘safety’ reasons.  I’m not too sure what the safety concerns are…drowning?  swapping germs?  eating healthy food?  This was reported to be my children’s favourite part.
The forest walk at the end of the evening was particularly magical for me.  With the ‘work’ done, I was able to be more present to enjoy the experience.  The children’s lanterns flickered down the path as we stopped to admire each others pumpkin carvings.  The children enjoyed seeing the pumpkins so much that we decided to walk to trail twice!  This was a beautiful shift for me from what is usually a rush to knock on a door to trick-or-treat, completely ignoring the pumpkin sitting to the side of the stoop.  We were able to enjoy each others artistry!
Despite the rain and cold damp evening weather, after the last family had left, we decided we needed to do it again next year!  Perhaps next year will be bigger and better!  Getting more people involved will help to diversify the event, and take a bit of the performance pressure off of me.  I am ever grateful to my friend for helping me put this together and hosting this party.  Not only that, but her willingness to contribute and participate full force in my vision was amazing.  I hold deep gratitude for all who attended as well.  Those families willing to step into the edges, making bold choices to diverge from mainstream culture.  Halloween night this year was everything I had hoped for and more!  I feel truly blessed…
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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.

Mushroom Innoculation

At our party last weekend, we had intended to do grafting and mushroom inoculating, but didn’t get to the latter.  Rob has been working on evenings this week to complete the task, which is not difficult, just time consuming.  Amassing the items required for the job was the most tedious part.

We have been collecting wax for a while, getting a bunch of old beeswax from a friend (which inadvertently attracted a swarm!) and kept it for this purpose.  We didn’t want to make waste of a paintbrush by covering it with wax, so my husband and eldest son had a good foray around the yard looking for a brush substitute.  They settled on a dried Queen Anne’s Lace flower.  It worked well!

The process went something like this:  Find the appropriate type of healthy wood for the mushroom spawn you have – logs should be at least 6″ in diameter.  If the wood is old and dried out (in other words, older than a couple of weeks or stored in the sun) it needs to be soaked over night.  For our sawdust spawn, we drilled holes in the wood 7/16″ wide and 1/2″ deep spaced 6″ apart in a diamond pattern.  Plug the holes with spawn by pushing it in the holes with a dowel.  Cover the hole and spawn with wax to protect it from weather and insects.  Find a shady spot for the logs.  Wait.

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.

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!

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.

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!