Integrate, Don’t Segregate

Parenting Community

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I have been thinking about what skills I might need in order to live in community.  I have thought about what would help to make me feel safe and comfortable.  What would allow me to feel fully present and myself?  Thinking about these questions made me realize that the times when I’m most comfortable are when I’m alone and don’t have to worry about anyone else.  Clearly, this defeats the purpose of community!  Second to that is when I’m with my family.  When we’re together, everything is as it is.  We mess up, we make it right.  We know that we will be loved and held even in our darkest times.  Family is forever.

Reflecting on time spent with my children, I can’t help but acknowledge the difficult times we’ve had.  There have been many things said and done that I wish could be taken back.  But they can’t, they can only be learned from.  Working to be a respectful parent, is actually working to become a more respectful person.  The time I sit and reflect on what I could have done differently, in hopes that next time I will do something different is reconditioning my mind.

Being detached from the outcome.  Being able to sit with difficult emotions.  Not trying to fix other people’s problems.  Using non-violent communication.  Sustaining judgement while solutions are found.  These are the skills I need for community life.  I already am learning what I need to know about living in community because what I will bring is who I am.  In community, I will make more mistakes, and say and do things I wish could be taken back.  And I will learn.

The challenge now is to apply what I’ve learned to adult contexts.  It is easy to fall into old patterns, and to expect more of adults, because, well, they’re adults.  Children’s responses are just closer to the surface because they’ve had less conditioning pushing them to conceal their innate responses.  But we are all people.  And all of us are at the mercy of our inner child and the stories we continue to carry with us.  Adult or child, we all want to be treated with respect, to be understood, and to be truly heard.  No matter what age, we want to feel valued.

Open House

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I can understand why people find it so stressful to move.  My inner perfectionist has been awakened by the need to have the house looking spotless for prospective buyers.  We have decided to list our house ourselves for a short time to try and sell it to someone who is like minded.  As a result, we hosted an open house this past weekend.  Getting ready for it made me realize just how comfortable I am now with a bit of mess.  Feeling the need to ‘impress’ other people gets my dander up every time.  My poor children had to suffer through my demands to keep toys put away, keep their hands off the freshly painted walls, and not dig holes in the back yard (which I think was the hardest for them, since we’re experiencing an unseasonably early Spring).

I can also see how my attempts to control the state of our space has pushed my children away.  The effects of attempting to micro-manage them can be seen so clearly in this time when we push up against a new (unhealthy) way of being.  Actually, it’s more like returning to an old way of being, one I hadn’t realized just how glad I was to let go of!  My inner landscape isn’t as calm, and neither is my children’s.  The work, the chores, and the state of the house has taken priority over our relationships.  This doesn’t feel good.  What has been lost is our connection, which I am now having to work hard to recover.  The process is difficult because my inner resources are depleted due to my own emotional processing over leaving this home.  We have been working hard to ready ourselves for this transition.  Now that we’re living at the edge of public and private life, I want this process to be over quickly so that we can move on with our lives in the way that is meaningful to us…to be with each other again.

Creating illusions is not what we’re about.  We have had to put our values on hold for a while to meet the values of the world at large.  In fact, I feel like I’m a hypocrite for creating the consumer driven illusion of  perfection.  This has not been an easy task, since I take my decisions and my integrity very seriously.  Life doesn’t stop just so that you can sell your house, but the expectation is that it should, since a home needs to appear as though it is easy to always maintain unsustainable levels of cleanliness and order.  In effect we are commodifying our lifestyle in an effort to sell this home.

The people who came through our home didn’t see us scrambling to wash the windows on Saturday morning, or compromising our integrity by throwing out the paint rollers to save time over washing them thoroughly for reuse.  They also couldn’t see me feel the void of not having the volume of my children fill the space or the starkness at seeing all of their books neatly lining the shelves rather than the surface of our sofa.  Homes are meant for living in.  Selling a home is a prime example of how our culture thrives on the outward appearance of perfection as an attainable and desirable goal.  But what this experience has made so very clear for me is that there is always an expense.

Modelling Grace

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Parenting consciously is just plain hard work!  The journey is as much about the children as the parent.  I have grown and learned so much about myself as I have ventured down this path of gentle parenting.  But as difficult as it is to look at the ways I could be more gentle with my children, it is even more challenging to find ways to be gentle with myself.

As I continue pushing my edges and expanding myself and trying to improve, I often feel like I’m failing.  Change is not easy.  And this path of mindful parenting is a long journey towards real and sustainable change.  Self-compassion is what is needed in the face of it all.  Just as I want my children to feel understood and held in their moments of regret, I also need to be gentle with myself when I mess up. There are ways to own our mistakes, realizing them for what they are, doing what we can to rectify them, and releasing them.

Modelling for my children what to do when I do mess up is showing them how to be in the world.  In reality, I’m providing my children with the best possible teaching about what to do when we mess up; we do our best to make it right and try for change again tomorrow.  What more could I hope to teach my children?  No one is perfect…let’s stop pretending it’s possible.

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.

Goal Oriented

I am currently struggling with my lack of defined goals for the future.  Now that I’m a stay-at-home unschooling mom, I feel lost at times, wanting there to be some sort of tangible short term goal to reach.  There isn’t one.  And as far as my children’s education is concerned, I don’t want there to be one.  Freedom to mess about in the process is where the learning actually happens.  I know this from many years in the classroom, where I was required to deny this of my students on most occasions in order to teach to an overwhelming curriculum.  Setting the mind on one goal ignores the possibilities held in all other options.  Like scattering seeds to the wind, one doesn’t know which ones will be carried the furthest, which ones will root and grow strongest, and which ones won’t take at all.  All one can do is wonder and scatter the seeds anyway.

So why is it so difficult for me to apply this lens of free form creativity to my own life?  I am having to ‘unschool’ myself in order to find happiness without goals.  It is a slow process.  I feel like I have been trained to be goal oriented.  It is a great thing to be able to write on my resume, but my current ‘job’ is not conducive to this approach.  The harder I push toward a goal, the harder my children resist.  The more depressing downside to goal setting is that focus on a goal separate from oneself often overshadows the here and now.  If I am constantly striving for something, then how can I possibly be present with what it is that is happening?

When you get used to measuring yourself by incremental measurable successes, hoop jumping of sorts, then it becomes difficult to notice small progressions toward the ultimate holistic goal of living a happy fulfilled life.  Of course I delight to I see my children having fun, engaging with nature, playing well together, helping or supporting others, but somehow these glimmers of beauty don’t ‘measure up’ as a goal reached.  This is inherently a problem of perception.  Perhaps it is because they, like me, have a learning process that spirals around, leaving much room for the messiness of life.  Then there are the tasks of a mother that never end; the dishes, the laundry, the meal preparations, the kitchen cleanup, the toileting and diapers.  I get excited sometimes to ‘catch up’ on laundry and get it all put away, only to find that another load needs to be done a day or two later and the cycle continues. There are no external reward systems for being a good mother.  I won’t be getting a sticker, a pay raise, or an A on my test paper.  It is highly likely that I also won’t be recognized for my efforts.  Noticing my success needs to come from within.

I am trying to grow my capacity to take time to be truly grateful for the moments I get to share with my children.  It is such a privilege for me to be home with them.  It is so important and so necessary to honour the beauty in our days together.  From experience, I know that deeply feeling moments of joy, pride, and wonderment gives me strength to carry on through the more treacherous parts of the journey.   Although I feel a vastness of future spread out before me, with no idea where I’m headed, I realize that this is truth whether I have a goal or not.  The goal is only something my mind has conjured up to maintain the illusion of control.  Rather than wracking my brain trying to figure out my future, I want to be able to trust that everything will work out alright, and as it should.  I want to be able to sit in the mystery, and be alright with it.  Maybe even one day, I will be able to delight in it too.

Edible Weeds – Forage Your Yard!

“A weed is a plant whose virtue is not yet known”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is a photo tour of five ‘weeds’ likely growing in your yard that you can eat!  We use all six to make our ‘weed salads’ which we eat all summer long!  The children love finding and eating many of these plants in the yard as well.  There are several other uses for each as well.  Weeds are great at up-taking nutrients from the soil, so eating them provides a great source of vitamins and minerals.  Their nutrient density is far greater than that of cultivated greens, as they grow in places where they will thrive, not in soils used repeatedly for mono-cropping.  With that in mind, be careful where you harvest from, ensuring the area has not been sprayed or contaminated.  To avoid this problem, we harvest from our own yard.  So, here’s my list of edible weeds to try:

1: Lambsquarters – a beautifully mild and soft leaf.  Great substitute for spinach in recipes, but we usually eat it raw as a nice base for salad.  Leaves can also be dried and powdered to make a flour substitute.  Lambsquarters has the second highest in nutrition of all wild foods following Amaranth.  It is high in Vitamin A and K, and also a great source of calcium and protein.

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Lambsquarters

 

2: Plantain – young leaves make a nice addition to salad in moderation, as the leaves can be a bit tough.  Older leaves can be cooked like spinach or used it instead of cabbage for ‘cabbage rolls.’  Rich in iron and vitamins A and C.  As a side note, plantain is great when used as a poultice on stings or bites, just chew it up, spit it out, and pile it on top of the affected area, covering with a large leaf or bandage to hold it in place.

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Plantain

 

3: Clover – Lovely little round leaves and flowers that make a nice addition to a salad as well.  The petals of the flowers have a beautiful sweet taste, so I usually pluck them before serving to take advantage of this!  It is also considered to be one of the richest sources of isoflavones.  It makes a lovely tea and can be brewed to assist with women’s moon cycles or menopause.  Clover is a source of calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and vitamin C.

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Clover

4: Mallow – a soft mild tasting, but slightly mucilaginous leaf (gummy-like quality once chewed) that makes a nice addition to salads.  The flowers are also edible, but the cheeses (flower buds) are particularly good!  Great source or flavinoids and vitamin C.  Another side note, Mallow tea left to steep for a long time in not quite boiling water is great for dry coughs or hoarseness.

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Mallow
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Mallow Cheese

5: Wood Sorrel – I saved my favourite for last!  This ‘weed’ is everywhere and tastes amazing!  Its distinctive heart shaped leaves make it particularly easy to spot.  It has a sour, lemony flavour.  It makes a delicious addition to salads, including its little yellow flowers.  The leaves are soft and delectable.  We also use this plant as a garnish for the top of soups.  Although I haven’t done it yet, I’m sure if I collected enough of it, I could make a sorrel soup!  High in oxalic acid, so should not be consumed in large quantities often as it inhibits the uptake of calcium.  This ‘weed’ is particularly high in vitamin C, and has historically been used to treat scurvy.

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Wood Sorel

Driving Forces

The minivan wove down the entangled road toward a new experience.  It hurried us through space, in order to reach a destination not possible on foot in the time available for travel before sunset.  The dust curled up from the gravel road announcing the impact of the metal behemoth against the earth.

The blessing of car travel hadn’t yet been made visible to my three children in the back seat as this is all they’ve ever known.  The days of travel by foot or horse have long passed.  In their stead are shiny metal manifestations of mother earth.

That day, summer sunny and hot was not unlike most.  Traveling toward something which seemed to offer up a better option to staying home.  An opportunity for adventure, learning, or just to escape routine.  Two-thirds of the way to our destination, the van ceased to respond to pressure on the gas pedal.  Creeping onto the side of the road, I offered myself a silent moment of gratitude for bringing the cell phone – an item purchased for emergencies that is forgotten at home the majority of the time.  I am not interested in being connected to the rest of the world all the time.  But this time…this time I was.

A call was made to my in laws – to the home intended as our point of arrival.  With mild questioning regerding how it is that one runs out of gas with three small children in the car and a rebuttal identifying the last user of the vehicle as their son, including the important detail that the nearest gas station is located nearly at their front door – help was on the way.  I rummaged through the glove box, producing boxes of raisins for the children that were still edible.  I nursed the baby and turned up the insidious children’s music – the kind where adults actually pretend to be poor singers in an effort to sound like children.  A few games of eye spy later, help had arrived.  Gas was funneled into the great black beast and she rolled again.  This time into the gas station.

Many lessons were leaned that day, but top of the list was just how staggering the act of getting into a car, turning a key and pressing the pedal can transform the unfolding of our lives.  The vehicle and its fuel represent an incredible amount of embodied energy.  Metal mined from the bowels of the earth, plastics and gasoline conjured up from extracted oil comprised of ancient decayed lifeforms, rubber from trees growing on the other side of the planet.  Effort from the miners, forgers, chemists, designers, assembly workers, truck drivers, oil extractors, oil refiners, advertisers, retailers and everyone in between.

There will be a day when life returns to living within a walkable radius.  Perhaps my children will be lucky enough to never know this time.  In the meantime, I will do what I can to ensure they know the depth of their privilege.