Make No Waste

Grocery Store Meltdown


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.



Red Lights


Last night as I was coming home from a primordial movement class I was stopped by a red light.  I sat there daydreaming through a song that had come on the radio, reflecting on the nourishing experience of the evening.  Then I clued into how long I had been waiting there for the light to change.  I considered running the red, since it was late, and there were no visible cars.  I thought better of it…being someone who does not like to chance things by breaking rules. A few cars passed by in the opposite direction.  Then the song”Renegades” by X Ambassadors came on the radio.  I listened to the song in its entirely…another 4:17 passed…the light was still red.  As I sat there, I considered running the red a few more times.  Then it dawned on me that there was a different way!  I didn’t need to sit there waiting,  I could turn right on the red, then left into the plaza on the corner, then right again onto the road toward home.  I smiled at the notion, and did it.  As I continued my drive home, I continued to glance at the light in my rear view mirror.  It was still red for the entire time it was visible to me.

I don’t need to break rules to get what I want, I just have to find new, different, and creative ways to work around road blocks.

Let’s be RENEGADES!!!!!!!!

Setting Limits with Children Effectively


When I read about respectful parenting or mindful parenting I was always confused about setting limits.  There are very few examples in the literature, which makes it hard to figure it out.  Once we did away with punishments, I found myself at a loss for what to do.  When I was no longer relying on punishments, I couldn’t quite figure out and effective way to help keep my children safe.  We spent some time trying to figure it out – which didn’t make any of us particularly happy, but has served us well in the long run.  But then, isn’t that how all change happens?  I thought I would share a bit about what I use to help set and maintain limits for my children, not because I am an authority on the issue, but because if I could help someone else through their parenting transformation, it would be a worthwhile thing to do!

When setting limits, the most important thing to do is to ensure all children are safe.  If the situation is something like a fist fight between children or they are engaged in an unsafe activity like playing with the stove for example, I stop the activity immediately.  Sometimes I can use words, sometimes a gentle hand to restrain a child, sometimes I have to put my body in the middle of it, and sometimes I have to move a child to a safe space by picking them up or guiding them there.  I try to communicate as clearly and calmly as possible through the whole thing what it is that I’m doing and why.  The key to success here is how I follow through on this.  Once I know everyone is safe, then I can take a moment to regain my composure if needed.

Most importantly, when setting limits, I need to keep my emotions under control.  If my children see me react in a big way, they know they’re hitting on something that is an emotional catch for me and will turn it into a power struggle in an instant.  This is the most important element for me, and the most difficult!  It is something that I still don’t do consistently, because, well…I’m human!  Before responding to any situation (unless it is a safety issue – as addressed in the previous paragraph), I try to take a moment for myself.  A deep breath often works well for me.  The point here is to gain some self-awareness about my own inner landscape and how it may be contributing to the situation.

When I started with limit setting over punishment, I began to notice my emotional reactions only after a blow-up – I would reflect on how I could have done things differently in hopes of making a different choice in the moment the next time around.  Then I began to intermittently notice in the moment that I was spinning my own emotional story about the event, which led to engaging with my own past hurts, judgements, etc.  This was/is a particularly difficult phase to be in.  It is painful to watch yourself do things you don’t intend…especially when they are hurtful to those around you!  Here is where I remind myself that no one is perfect.  Not only that, but it is in my imperfection that I am the most effective teacher for my children.  What my children see me do to ‘make things right’ after I have made a bad choice is the best kind of teaching – modelling!

Once I have myself as under control as possible I will relocate myself so that I’m close to the disruption, if I’m not there already!  Proximity can often solve an issue in an of itself.  When children know you’re nearby and will step in to help them if things go off the rails, they are far more willing to try solving the problem themselves because they feel supported in the process.  This comes with time, as it is related to building trust in each other.  I remind myself to trust that the children can sort it out themselves, and my presence reminds them that their safety is my top concern.

If the dispute is between my children, I will interject with sportscasting, narrating what I see happening – just the facts.  Often I will also use non-violent communication techniques to relay back to my children the information they’re telling me about their emotional state.  The key to both of these strategies is to avoid judgment.  Deep empathizing with their situation helps to reconnect us and it allows me to keep my perspective on their needs.  To do this, I listen to each of them, repeating the problem back in my own words if necessary to reassure them; showing that I understand.  I will often ask questions about their emotions.  Something like, “Did it make you feel angry that he took your marker?” or “Are you frustrated because you can’t get your shoes on yourself?”  I will ask if they need help to fix the problem, or if they know how to fix it themselves.  Often being heard is enough to help my children through a problem and I can stop here. Sometimes what they want me to know, understand or do is not appropriate.  So following the clarification of the issue, I will set and maintain a limit.  This sounds something like, “I know you are really excited to play at the park.  Right now, we need to go home for lunch.  I’m going to put you in the car now.”

If things continue, I offer my children a choice.  This allows them a way to gracefully exit the situation, saving face and avoiding a power struggle.  A situation like refusing to go to bed might have me offering a choice like, “You can go up to bed on your own, or I can take you, which would you prefer?”  If the child doesn’t answer in 20-30 seconds, I will take action on the choice that best suits me…so in this case, I will pick them up to go upstairs to bed.  I make sure to only offer the choice once and follow through with reasonable swiftness.  This ensures that my children listen to my words and trust that I will do what I have said.  Usually following through on a choice does not end in a grand display of refusal, since after a few times through this, children come to expect that you will take action.  In the event that they don’t respond well, I return to non-violent communication methods to understand their emotions, asking questions while I continue to follow through with the choice, reminding them they can make a different choice next time.

It sounds so easy in writing, but offering choices is difficult sometimes.  There are many instances where there is not a clear choice.  An example that comes up for us a lot is poor behavior once the lights are out for bed.  Knowing that unfavourable behaviours are rooted in unmet needs alerts me to take note and pay attention to what my children are saying so that perhaps the next day I can do something differently prevent this situation.  But noting that there is a need is not so helpful in the moment, especially when the kids are in an out of the bathroom slamming doors and yelling for us to come up for another hug and kiss…waking up the neighbourhood as they do!  The tricky part of this situation is getting them to calm down enough to communicate.  I try to use a non-verbal form of non-violent communication – empathizing with how difficult it must be for them to go to bed when really they still want to be near us and play.  If they can hear that I understand and answer a few questions, we can open the conversation.  Then a choice like, “Do you want to go back to bed yourself, or shall I take you there?” can be received.

The following are some paraphrased guidelines I use on offering choices from the book Parenting with Love and Logic:

  1. Choices shouldn’t include limitless options. Two clear options are all a child can really deal with in order to make a choice. Don’t add another choice because your child suggests it. Tell him: “That was a good suggestion. These are the choices I’m offering now. We’ll try your suggestion next time.”
  2. Use parent-approved choices only. Offer choices that guide your child toward the outcome you’re seeking. Make sure both options offered are 100% okay with you. If you offer two choices hoping your child will choose “a” instead of “b”, your hesitancy about “b” will act like a magnet and cause your child to choose “b” instead of “a” every time.
  3. Take action when a child doesn’t choose. If a child won’t choose between the apple or the cranberry juice you need to choose for her. Follow through and choose so your child comes to understand that when you offer her a choice and she doesn’t choose, the ability to choose goes away. You can say, “I know you’re upset that I had to choose the juice for you. I have another choice for you to try now. Would you like to drink what I chose for you now or not have juice right now?”

Examples of what I do are hard to come up with out of the moment.  The framework of how I progress with my children through a problem varies from situation to situation – like permaculture is site specific.  Setting and maintaining limits actually helps to build connection and trust.  As difficult as it is to see in the moment, situations where I need to set limits are the very things I need to pay attention to for growth.  They are the weeds in our garden.  They are the indications that there is a deeper unmet need.  Setting limits is really an art form.  Like with permaculture, a set of systems can be applied, but you have to just try them out, fine tune them, learn as you go…and get messy in the process!  This is why permaculture style parenting really needs mindful presence and to be treated as a process.  For this reason, when a situation is resolved and I consider that the storm has blown over, I take a moment to reflect on our interactions.  How did I do with regulating my emotions?  How did my children do with the limit?  Was it a necessary limit?  Do I need to revise the limit?  What could I do differently the next time to make it a better experience?

To sum it up, here are the strategies I use for effective limit setting:

  1. Ensure children are safe.
  2. Regulate your own emotions.
  3. Get close to the action.
  4. Sportscast or use non-violent communication to demonstrate you understand the problem, allowing children to solve it themselves.
  5. Offer a choice once and follow through immediately.
  6. Reflect on the situation – make changes if necessary.

Clearing Space


Now that we have decided to sell our home, we are working hard to clean the place up.  We have so many things!  Being a homeschooling family with a permaculture (make no waste) outlook means that we have a hard time letting ‘useful things’ go sometimes.  Like the pile of bricks lovingly brought home in our Honda Civic that have sat stacked against the fence ever since.  Or how about the pile of tree intended to become hugelkultur beds?  The piles of baskets?  Where did they come from?  The…list goes on and on.

The items we’re purging are from the life we are slowly leaving behind.  As I pick up each item and consider whether or not it brings me joy, I am realizing just how much we are moving away from our days and home being filled with consumer culture.  I have been trying hard to pare down our possessions for a very long time.  But the idea of leaving this home has given me the gumption to look at these decisions in a new way.  I’m tired of living my life from a place of fear and scarcity.  Saving things for one day when we ‘might’ need them doesn’t make sense for the majority of the things we have been stockpiling.  Could we get by without the excessive stock of egg cartons, should there one day be a shortage in the world?  Did people not do without them once upon a time?  Although we don’t want to make waste, having all of this stuff is actually wasting the most precious of all things to us…our time.   I will not be wanting for vinyl tablecloths in the future, nor will I care about that book I never read.   If life comes to a place where we exist in a place of scarcity…and by this I mean real hard times, I have a hard time believing that the luxuries of a consumer driven culture will be of much benefit for survival.

A major time vacuum in our home is laundry.  We have been trying to think of ways to reduce this task to it’s minimum.  I read a great blog post about converting one room in the home into a shared closet/laundry room, which sounds wonderful!  But given our current trajectory, and wanting the problem fixed now, I opted for something different.  I have reduced the children’s wardrobes significantly instead.  Their drawers now hold  10 pairs of pants, 10 seasonal shirts (long sleeved right now for winter, but we kept 10 short sleeved shirts and 10 shorts for summer), 10 pairs of socks, 10 underpants, and 3 sweaters – since these are easily reused and also very bulky.  I have struggled with how many articles of clothing a child really needs, and how few things we can ‘get away with.’  I decided to settle on 10 as a trial run.  Although admitting to 10 items per category seems high, it reduced what was in their drawers by about half!  This alone was a big step…recognizing just how much excess there was!  Why did I choose 10 items per category?  I thought it would allow laundry to be done once a week, with a few extra items for good measure…because mess happens a lot around here and sometimes a wardrobe change midday is required!  The first week I thought about reducing down to less, but I’m going to give it a while first before pushing ourselves too hard.  Our laundry tasks have been drastically simplified, but that hasn’t made up for the fact that I still need to get it washed, folded and put away!  Amongst the other (never ending) tasks of the home, laundry still gets left by the wayside sometimes…as we deem it to be less important than other things in our life.

Numerous bags and boxes of stuff have already been moved out.  How did we have this much stuff?  And how is there still so much left!?  There is no shortage of things left to purge!  We’re trying to reduce the contents of our home by at least half.  Which is no small feat given how much our cupboards contain!  I have to keep reminding myself that this upheaval is just a storm, and when it passes the water will look even more beautiful.  I have to remind myself of this often, because the mess that is created as our carefully packed possessions explode into the living spaces.  What I have learned is that clearing out, while decorating for the holidays, while also experiencing real life with three littles can be very hectic at times!  The laundry isn’t getting folded for a reason!

I love my home to look tidy, and I also have some ace packing skills…which together have created a problem.  Cupboards are stocked neatly but excessively.  Being good at packing means I can always find space in the dishwasher for one more bowl…but it also means I can make room for that ‘thing’ in the cupboard too.  Finding that I have stockpiled 10 shower gels at the back of the bathroom closet was a bit of a surprise.  I knew I had extras, but could only see one since the rest had been carefully hidden lined up behind it.  In cleaning out the bathroom, I also found upwards of 15 toothbrushes!  These ‘useful things’ end up not being all that important for a family who uses one bottle of body wash a year and use an electric toothbrush!  We’ve decided to donate our excess to a local charity that helps homeless women get back on their feet.

I don’t want to spend my time tidying and cleaning.  It’s not that I dislike these tasks.  I actually find immense reward in completing a cleaning project!  But these tasks do not define my life.  The more things I have, the more they distract from the things I actually want to spend my time doing.  Each stolen moment I spend trying to cram too many bibs into the tiny drawer in our kitchen.  Each second I spend staring into the overcrowded closet looking for the thing I need.  Each minute spent re-configuring and reorganizing spaces to fit all the stuff.  This is all wasted time.  If I were to add up those moments, seconds and minutes, and I’m sure I’ve spent at least a year of my life shuffling stuff around.  It’s time for it to stop…because the less stuff we have the better our life gets.


Clothing Swap!


A week ago, I hosted a clothing swap!  The intent was to subversively reject Black Friday, which has turned out to be today.  Those who attended my swap were too polite to speak up about my error!  Just goes to show how in touch I really am with consumerism.  In any case, I wanted to write about the experience because we had a lovely evening.

The idea of a clothing swap is to trade clothes you no longer want with other people.  The number of items you bring does not have to equal the number of items you take home.  The clothes are piled in the centre of the room, and you take what you like.  Anything that does not find a new home is donated to charity.

For our swap, I invited many people, but only a few were able to make it.  It was nice to have a small gathering.  Since there were just four of us, we could really help each other through the process of selecting clothing that looked nice on us.

When people arrived, we enjoyed some of the (ridiculously numerous) snacks that I had prepared and drank wine and homemade hard cider.  When we determined that everyone had arrived, we dumped the clothes into one large pile on my rug.  It was like a treasure hunt searching through the clothes mountain.  I tried on a lot of things, and kept several.  We each started our own ‘stash’ where we put the things that we wanted to keep.  I found some really neat things, some that I would have picked up in a shop and many things that I likely wouldn’t have even tried on otherwise!

It was a wonderful evening filled with conversations and laughter with lovely people that I’m glad to call my friends.  It was nice to choose clothes I liked without having to worry about the price tag or the environmental impact of my purchase.  For all of us, what we brought to the swap were bags of clothing we were planning to get rid of anyway.   I got rid of far more than I kept.  And what I did end up keeping were things that freshened up my wardrobe in unexpected ways!  We all enjoyed ourselves so much that we plan on having another gathering in the springtime!

How to host your own clothing swap:

  1. Set the date – if you’re trying to coordinate it with a special event day, be sure to check your calendar!
  2. Invite your friends!  I invited lots of people, but the party ended up being small.  I would say, smaller is better.  Although I’ve not hosted a large clothing swap, it might get ugly if people were fighting over the same items!
  3. Find a full length mirror to set in the shared space, near where the pile of clothes will be
  4. Create a ‘change room’ (We used my bathroom), but most people just changed in the common space.  I wore a tight tank top and just changed in front of my friends.
  5. Prepare some snacks
  6. Gather.  Explain the process.  If there are disputes over who should get what item, have a vote – the person who is voted to look the best in the item of clothing takes the prize!
  7. Have fun!!!
  8. Take remaining items to your local thrift store, so they can find a new home.



Modelling Grace


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.

Weed Whacking


How may things are needlessly judged as weeds?  What makes some things less worthy to be considered as the indicators of a need?  Isn’t it the weeds that show us where we need to plant more of what we do desire?  But our culture is expert at sussing out ‘weeds.’   The trouble is that sometimes problems deemed ‘undesirable’ have been inappropriately condemned.  Goldenrod is a wonderful medicinal plant, but is frequently confused with ragweed for causing allergic reactions.  Consulting Google Images for photos of ‘ragweed’ turns up numerous pictures of Goldenrod.

‘Weeds’ we embrace in our home include: crying, anger, mess, mistakes, sadness, defiance…and there are many more!  These behaviours are generally not well accepted in society, for children or adults.  Our culture tries to fix them and keep them under control in an effort to create a visage of perfection.  But it is in fact these darker emotions and undesirable things that are the indicators of need.  Crying can be a release of pent up emotion.  Anger an indicator that things are out of balance.  Mess is evidence of creativity.  Mistakes are the best way to grow and learn.  Sadness is a cry for connection.  Defiance demonstrates a need for control.  Although I have simplified these greatly, there is always an underlying cause for difficult ‘unwanted’ behaviours. But it takes courage to have presence with difficult situations.  Apart from fear of being judged for not keeping in line with the general populous, sitting with uncomfortable feelings and situations reveals how little control we actually have and indicates the depth of real work that needs to be done to resolve the issue.

If you want to grow fewer ‘weeds,’ consider planting more of what you do want.  For example, if a child is often defiant, what are ways to give them more opportunities for control in appropriate ways?  Could they be choosing their own clothes?  What to have for lunch?  What about engaging in play that is directed by the child and allows them to ‘boss’ around the adult?  Or an extra curricular interest that allows them to control the full outcome of a long term project?

What I see happening is the removal of weeds at first sight of them.  Our culture rips them out, squashes them and stifles them before they have time to be fully expressed.  Many plants are considered ‘weeds’ are in fact the most useful and potent plants we can grow!  In our effort to judge and keep things under control we hack down that which has potential.  What opportunities are missed because we lack acceptance?