Catch and Store Energy

The Greatest Things

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“Great Things are done by a series of small things being brought together”

-Vincent VanGogh

As we inch our way into 2018 we have found ourselves commiserating about all of the things that we did not accomplish in 2017.  The gardens weren’t well tended and yields were low, we didn’t have any goslings in the spring, the duck eggs we bought to hatch and raise were eaten by a raccoon, we haven’t completed the renovation project that we thought would be done at the end of October, we still don’t have a farm plan, we haven’t planted any fruit trees, we have not started our forest garden, there are many odd jobs that need to be done around the farm, and so on.  Really, the list could go on for days.  There is an infinite list of things that we can not accomplish.

The trouble is, this laundry listing of all that has not been done is not fruitful.  It doesn’t honour all that has been done, never mind the effort used to accomplish life, failure or not.  Looking at our shortfalls doesn’t help to energize us or empower us toward future goals.  It takes the wind out of our sails, leaving us feeling defeated, and so we will be.

This realization comes along with a deeper truth, that having a set of defined goals can be troublesome. In 2017 we grew more than we could have ever dreamed but in ways we could not have predicted that directed us away from our ‘goals.’  When you have a goal in mind and fail to meet it, it makes you feel like a failure.  This is outcomes based thinking, and our culture thrives on it!  We have decided to approach the coming year on the farm with a vision for how it could be rather than with a list of goals.  We are keeping an openness to the growth and learning that needs to take place and therefore remain open to what naturally presents itself.

It’s time for us to cultivate more of what we do want in our life.  As Bill Mollison says,  “You don’t have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency!”    If we can allow our problems to define the pathway to creative solutions and growth then we will be on the right path.  Not to mention life seems to have a way of forcing us into small, slow solutions.

In the spirit of cultivating more of what we desire in our lives, we have started to dream about our coming year.  We asked ourselves and our children a few questions, like, “What would you like to do this year?  What would you like to learn this year?  What do you want to grow this year? ”  So far our list looks something like this:

Rob – plant an apple tree collection, transplant potted perennials into the earth, establish windbreaks, move the nut trees out of the garden plot, learn to draw comics

Julie – take forest school certification, make writing part of my weekly rhythm, grow an abundance of raspberries, gooseberries and french beans, appreciate my gifts, practice self-care regularly, raise turkeys

Oldest (7) – learn to write, buy a peahen and start a peacock business, plant lots of raspberries, buy all the Lego Star Wars sets, make a feature length film

Middle (5) – learn to play the ukulele, plant blueberries, learn to read and write, learn how to keep left and right straight in your mind, more playdates with friends, take a family vacation

Youngest (3) – learn to cook, learn my ABCs, grow corn and carrots, raise snorty pigs

Even if we complete one thing on the list, that is a success.  Dreaming it alone is a success because being together through the journey is the real definition of success for me.  Honouring the efforts of our loved ones and ourselves is reward enough. Some list of things checked off  becomes meaningless if we’ve taken the successes for granted.  The trouble is, when we forget to celebrate our successes, we’re left with a void.  Perhaps one that culture at large hopes to be filled with ‘things’ give our consumerist driven ideals.

As we have turned our negative outlook around, beginning to look at all we have accomplished this year instead, we have been astounded at the list.  This past year has brought major life shifts and yet we have accomplished a whole awful lot!  We have geese!  We now have a brood of Australorp hens and one beauty of a rooster named Grandfather Featherlegs!  We have a freezer full of ducks and chickens from our own land!  We doubled our garden space this year!  We are still eating fermented salsa verde from the fall!  We have a freezer stocked with tomatoes and tomatillos waiting to be processed!  We have bags of popcorn in the cupboard that we grew!  We have a stock pile of saurkraut!  We are getting close to finishing our renovation project and our friends will be moving in soon!  Rob no longer has a day job!  I have a full time job so we don’t need to worry about money!  And so on…really once I get on a roll, it’s hard to stop!  All the little moments, choices and efforts add up to a pretty meaningful year of accomplishments.  Bringing forth into the light the abundance that we experience, again and again, will help to retrain our brains.  We need to break free from the oppressive thoughts of scarcity.  It is the fear of not having enough that keeps us from recognizing all of the ways that we do.  If we keep honouring the many ways we have enough, and in fact live in abundance, then I’m hoping one day we will find we are free from self-sabotage.  Let us create a vision, but respond to change.

“Collect the moments one by one, I guess that’s how the future’s done.”

-Feist, Mushaboom

So let’s celebrate what we have done, and stop worrying about the relentless ‘to do’ list.  Because we have purpose.  Because we have drive.  Because we have vision.  We can trust that what actually needs to get accomplished will be done.  What drives our actions is the passion we have for our vision.  So vision with us…let’s make this world a better place!  What visions do you hold for 2018?

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12 Ideas for Rebuilding Connection

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It happens every once in a while that I find myself at odds with my children after several months of getting on so well.  Somehow we lose our connection and end up trying to control each other in some way or another.  We fall into the trap of making our lack of connection about ourselves rather than recognizing it as relational.  When undesirable behaviours amplify and begin to take a front seat in our home, I know it’s time to take a step back and look for a way out.  It is in these times where we’re all feeling tight and frustrated that we need to revisit how we are exerting our power.  We need to refocus from ‘power over’ to ‘power with.’

Every time I find myself in one of these phases of disconnection, I try to think back to the previous time, thinking hard about how I managed to resolve it.  But I am never quite sure how it was that I got out of it the last time.  It seems that simply drawing attention to the problem as a lack of intimacy and placing some conscious effort on rebuilding it seems to do the trick…with slow but steady results.

I feel like restoring connection is rather like a slow cooking stew.  I know some good ingredients to put in the pot, but almost never follow a recipe.  Sometimes it turns out great while other times it ends up a mediocre meal.  But at the end of the day, no matter how stellar the meal turned out, we have all eaten.  Not only that, we can cook up a new stew the next day and hope for a winning combination.  Once we get the hang of it again, we seem to be able to knock out great tasting food day after day…that is until we’re missing some essential ingredients one day and find ourselves needing to revisit the recipe.

I find myself just on the far side of one of these disconnected states now…on the heels of birthday week – my three children were born on April 6, 8, and 9 – which throws us all for a loop.  So I have been reflecting on how it is that we are steadily climbing our way up out of the darkness.  After some reflection, I realized these strategies are great for parents, but can work for any relationship in need of more intimacy.

So here are some ideas I’ve thrown into my stewing pot of re-connection:

-spending lots of time outdoors together, especially in unstructured environments.  We took a lot of hikes in the woods this past week!

-spending a day (as often as possible) doing what they want to do.  If my children can’t agree, thy each get one choice.  Yesterday we baked muffins, made a huge outdoor fort, had a picnic and spent some time creating with Play Dough.

-giving more hugs, kisses and snuggles.

-going out of my way to notice and respond to positive interactions that are happening in our home.  For example, my sons were trying the comfort the baby while she was upset during dinner.  They came up with many creative ideas and games to help her through it.  They ended up calming her down and helping her through the meal.  I made a point of telling each one separately just how helpful that had been and how grateful I was for their creativity and compassion.

-looking forward to things yet to come by talking about them in advance.  For example, we have been making a plan for the coming day at bedtime, each telling something that we are looking forward to the next day.

-taking genuine interest in what they’re working on.  I get them to tell me about what’s interesting them, encouraging the conversation with probing questions to deepen it.  This includes making space for just that child, including eye contact and physical contact if possible.

-play with my children by joining into their games.  This week I’ve been building Lego creations alongside them on the floor.

-roughhousing.  This is more my husband’s forte, but I’m pretty good at instigating tickle fights!  A note on this – it is key that everyone involved is enjoying themselves.  Consent is a huge part of feeling connected.  We stop all roughhousing and tickles at the first ‘no.’  Teaching consent, even at a young age, is imperative learning for all relationships that happen outside of our home.

-being mindful of making connection a priority.  This commitment changes my body language, tone of voice and general response to my children.  It also reminds me to slow down and patiently wait for the storm to blow over.  We are not a family who uses computers/cell phones/etc. while the children are present, but during disconnected times I make extra effort to further reduce all use of technology.   For example, my blogging time during rest time is reduced to ensure the children do not see me using the computer at all.  This really brings the focus back to the people, and they can feel it.

-remembering it is more important to listen to understand than to respond.  Releasing my need to ‘fix it’ allows me to roll with the waves of emotion a lot easier.

-taking time for myself.  I let go of things I think I should do in order to pursue things that feed my soul and try reduce my own use of technology which I find allows me to ‘escape’ but doesn’t actually refuel myself.  If I can treat myself with compassion, I will have more of it to give my children.  In order to be mindful, I need to be connected to myself.  To make space for this, I re-prioritize how I use the times where I am not normally with my children, like rest time and after they’re in bed.

-lighten up!  I look for ways to focus on joy.  I look for ways to have fun, laugh and find opportunities to turn a situation around.  I share statements of gratitude, and encourage my children to do the same.  Life always offers more than one perspective.

 

What ideas do you use for re-connection?

Grocery Store Meltdown

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Today is birthday week at our house.  My daughter, now 2, was born on April 6th.  Today is my eldest son’s birthday, he is now 6 and tomorrow, April 9th my second son turns 4.  Needless to say, birthday week is a crazy one around here.  I try to make each child’s birthday special for them, doing whatever it is that they choose for the whole day (within reason of course!) The children have not been sleeping well because they’re so excited!  Then factor in the cake and ice cream, increased levels of sugars in their diet – I let them eat cereal for breakfast and parfait with store bought granola for snack.  Add to that jealousy the children feel as they watch their sibling enjoy their special day.  Needless to say we’re a bit out of sorts.

Yesterday was our day off from birthday celebrations, so we headed to the grocery store to stock up on the things the boys wanted to have for their birthday meals.  The children, excited at the prospect of getting to choose their menu were having difficulty containing their excitement.  I usually have the littlest two ride together in the car.  But as they grow it is getting harder and harder for them to share the middle leg hole space!  My middle son was feeling uncomfortable and asked to come out of the cart.  Ensuring I had his attention, I confirmed that he had to stay near me and not touch things on the shelves in order to be able to stay out of the cart.

The two boys did a decent job of containing themselves in the aisles, but things started to unravel when they started playing horse and rider in front of the supplement shelves, lined with tiny bottles.  When I asked them to stop, pointing out the density of products on the shelves as well as the dirty floor, my younger son began to spin instead.  Dizzy, he knocked into the elbow height bottles, knocking every over.  Bless my eldest, who helped him to line them back up with careful precision.  Now spinning again, I had to remind my middle child to help with the mess.  He helped as much as he was able.

Shortly after, the boys decided it would be funny to play a game on me and head to the next aisle over on their own.  My eldest was gone only a few seconds before he thought better of the plan and came back to find me.  My younger son held out until I could maneuver the now heavy cart around the end cap to find him.  Reminding him what I had told him when I lifted him out of the cart, I placed him back in the seat.  He was not a willing participant, but I got him into the seat without too much commotion.  He continued to protest in new ways, clearly not wanting to be at the store any more.  His disdain turned into bothering his sister by squishing her leg and leaning over to compress her body.  I asked him to stop several times, but was unable to think of an alternative to him sitting in the cart…and taking the 2 year old out was not an option!  Despite my attempts to use sportscasting and non-violent communication by the time we reached the check out line she had grown tired of his antics and began hitting him in an effort to get him to stop.  He was quick to join the party, adding a chorus of cries to the mix.  I wanted to leave for the sake of my children.  But with three small children to manage by myself, a cart full of unpaid-for groceries and no other time to accomplish this errand, we had to find a way to move though the last of this shopping trip as gracefully as possible.

To maintain the limit, I stopped their hands gently, saying “I won’t let you hit each other.”  When my daughter tried to start the fight again, moments later, I held her hands firmly but gently, saying, “I won’t let you hit your brother.”  I asked her to tell me when she was ready to stop hitting.  It didn’t take long.  Once I released her hands, the hitting stopped.  For a time.  I tried entertaining them all with a game of ‘I Spy’ while we waited.  Participation was waning when my middle child decided he would like to get out of the cart.  I set another limit…”It is not safe for you to stand in the cart.  You must stay sitting down or I will have to put the buckle on.”  Cheekily he tried again as I was distracted with loading the groceries onto the conveyor belt.  On went the buckles.  Then the cries of protest erupted.   It didn’t take long for my son to begin the hitting again.  Again, I maintained the limit, “I will not let you hit your sister,” holding his hands gently to stop him.  When he was finished trying to hit again, I released his hands.  He continued to cry for the duration of the check out process.

Once we finished, my eldest needed to use the bathroom.  I stood there and talked to my middle son about what had happened.  He expressed how angry he had been because I made him sit in the cart and put his buckles on.  I listened.  Then I asked if I could tell him my dies of the story…how I needed him to be safe by being near me in the store and staying seated in the cart.  Also by not hitting or being hit.  He understood, ending with, “I love you mommy.”  We hugged, rejoined with my eldest, and headed out of the store.

It was the first time I haven’t felt embarrassed at this type of misbehaviour.  I was able to keep my temper under control for the whole thing…an remarkably, I didn’t even have to think about it!  For the first time, in the moment, I felt like I knew what to do to help my children.  For the first time I wasn’t worried about what other people thought of my children, my parenting style, me.

After the whole thing was over, and we were heading home, I pondered what was different.  Nothing really.  That was probably the worst behaviour we’ve had at the grocery store.  The difference was in myself.  My ability to keep calm despite the fact that my children weren’t was new.  Detachment from my children’s behaviour was new.  Usually I feel like the way they are behaving is a reflection of myself…but not this time.

Ironically, this day, this one day where I felt like I nailed it given the circumstances, having confidence in the way I had handled it, a woman stopped me on the way out of the store saying:

“We’ve all been there.  And if people say they haven’t they’re lying.  You’re doing a great job.  Don’t worry about it!”

I uttered a quick “Thank you,” with as much of a smile as I could muster, feeling pulled from my disconnection from judgement and proud that I didn’t really need any congratulations this day.  I knew that I was doing right by my children.  Yes, they had a loud and unsavoury emotional experience at the store.  But people have big and difficult emotions and as a culture we hide them away all to often.  Perhaps we created a disturbance for other people who were shopping there, but really, that is their problem.  My problem is to figure out how to support my children through their emotional turbulence the best way I am able.  I am building confidence because I see that my efforts to be a mindful and respectful parent are working.  I am beginning to more consistently access my ability to be vulnerable, and in doing so I am finding that I am more connected to my children…and myself.  The difficult moments aren’t what matter…connection does.

 

Thanks to Janet Lansbury for her post which inspired me to share this story.

 

Apple Grape Fruit Leather

This past week when visiting friends, we were offered some of the grapes that were growing as a carport.  What a beautiful gift to be given!  I took a bag full.  They also offered us some apples from a tree that had split and fallen down.  I’m amidst so much processing of food at the moment that I didn’t take too much of either offering.  What I did take however, I turned into something wonderful!

I juiced the grapes and then poured the remaining mash through a strainer, mashing it with a spoon to extract as much juice and fine pulp as I could.  I ended up with 24oz. The remaining pulp was enjoyed by my chickens!

Then I took 24 apples, cored them and put them through the food processor, mixing them with the grape juice to help the processor blend the fruit better.  I blend the fruit until it is very smooth, like a store bought applesauce texture.

This makes for a thinner and more flexible end product.  I poured the mixture (done in two batches) out on Excalibur teflex sheets to dehydrate at 145˚ for 45 minutes to warm it up, then at 115˚ overnight.  This technique drastically reduces drying time, but doesn’t heat the food enough in the initial 45 minutes to ‘cook’ it, so it remains a raw food.  The result was great.  If I were to make it again though, I would use less apples for the amount of grape juice I had, just to make it taste more like grapes.   If I didn’t have too much to do already, I’d be out there foraging for more grapes and apples!

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.

Respecting Play

I have struggled with the idea of playing with my children.  I have never considered myself as being too ‘good at it.’  I’m not sure how that’s even possible, but I often feel like I have ‘better things to do.’  It stings just to write those words.  I watch my husband return home from work and jump right into the kids games, building lego creations together, imagining space trips on the sofa, or having a rough housing session on the rug.  I am in the habit of witnessing it, not participating in it.  I often would marvel at my husband’s ability to fully engage with their play.

I am great at being present for my children’s play and have happily existed alongside it.   I am mastering the art of letting them do their own thing without interjecting to help or try and direct their work – because play is the work of a child.  But for the most part I rarely involve myself in their games.  There are many times where I am invited to play with my children, but choose instead to be near them while I fold laundry, unload the dishwasher, put laundry into the washing machine, tidy the spaces, prepare food, hang laundry on the line, sweep the floor, or any other number of things on my unending ‘to do’ list.  The truth is I choose something else.  I make the jobs a priority.  And they do need to be a priority sometimes, or else our life would start to unravel.  But perhaps questioning the reasons why I’m not choosing to participate is the more important issue worthy of some attention.

Yesterday I returned from a weekend retreat to pick up my children at my parent’s place.  They had watched them for the day, since Rob and I both had commitments yesterday.  The children were glad to see me, and started to get riled up in the basement shortly after I arrived.  They had been planning to head outdoors to feed the fish in my parent’s pond before my arrival, so I encouraged our transition to outside.  Once outside, a spontaneous game of cops and robbers emerged.  My son asked me if I would be a robber.  I agreed, running wildly all over my parent’s back yard until they caught me, taking my hands and gently leading me to the ‘jail’ behind the storage shed.  The game was splendidly compassionate.  The ‘cops’ treated me so kindly, offering me water and good food, like eggs, bacon, toast with butter and ice cream.  Somehow, I was always able to escape, making for a predictable outcome each time around.  It was wonderful.  I was invited to join in their game.  I had fun with my children, rather than by just watching them.  I let them dictate the game, but brought out my own sense of play within their structure.  I was trusted enough to be invited in.  I trusted myself enough to step in.

Perhaps it was because I was away from my own home and list of chores that I could participate fully.  Or maybe because I missed my babies, and wanted to engage meaningfully with them once reunited.  Or perhaps it was because I had just allowed myself to be away from the family in order to do the work of ‘play’ for myself.  Regardless of the reasons, the lesson was clear: it is when I can turn off the endless ticking of my internal ‘to do’ list and engage my full self in something that I am truly rejuvenated.  Feeling like I’m stealing away from the pile of dishes to guiltily write my blog for example, is not helping me to reclaim true inner peace.  It is when I can let loose and be free from my mind’s bidding with the knowledge that it will certainly be there for me to pick up again when I’m ready, that I am able to follow my heart instead.  When I listen with my heart, then I can really play.

Play feeds the soul.  It is a way to catch and store energy!  My adult self has forgotten this for the most part.  The overculture is great at maintaining the illusion that I’m ‘wasting time’ when I am doing anything but work.  Anything but ‘producing results.’  But what is grossly undervalued in our society is how play sparks joy!  Being joyful without money or things goes against the industrial growth mindset.  It is for this reason that I consider uninhibited play to be a form of activism.  I can sing, dance, run, drum, pretend or barrel roll down a hill for free.  The things that bring the most joy are free, an in fact, aren’t things at all.  I am beginning to taste the sweetness of freeing myself enough to play.  Opening up times for fun without destinations in mind.  Time dedicated to no outcome.  But out of this release of expectations there is indefinitely an outcome anyway…one that is more beautiful than anything I could have imagined.  Play invites connection.

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.