Maximize the Edges

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.

Hunkering Down

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

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

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

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

Harvest Season

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

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

“Vacationing”

The truth about vacations with children is that they are hard work.  We just returned from a trip to the city with our three children, aged 5, 3, and 1.  We had an amazing time.  We visited family, an aquarium, a train museum, took a ride on transit, and visited a science centre.  All together we stayed two nights.  One would think that two nights would be manageable.  I suppose it was manageable, but not easy!  Packing to leave took me a whole day, mind you it was well punctuated by life with three little ones.  While away, none of us slept as much or as well as usual, which is to be expected, despite the ace accommodations we had!  We were blessed to be able to stay with my sister and brother-in-law, who gave us the run of their basement, which is set up to be a rental unit!

Boundaries are pushed when you travel.  The children ate more sugar and prepackaged foods than usual.  Their bedtimes were later and all their naps missed.  I do not have children who sleep well in the car, stroller, carrier, or anywhere that is not a bed to be frank.  But we did it.  We did it and we had a great time.

I thought it took me a lot of time to pack for the trip, but unpacking is a whole other thing!  Usually when I return from a trip, a few loads of laundry and some tidying up are all that are required.  But this time it seems like we are trying to dig ourselves out from under a mountain of laundry and mess!  I just unloaded the car before coming in to write this post.  I am feeling stretched.  I wonder how much of the stress of traveling is actually caused by my own needs for regulation and self-care that are not being met.  I am tired and feel like there’s a huge number of things to do, and no time to do it!  Life keeps churning here whether we’re present for it or not.

Just before we left we ordered a new mattress, decided we were going to move our bedroom to the basement, realized we needed to fix the toilet that is constantly running water, and the night before we left the drain pipe under the bathroom sink broke, rendering it useless.   Before we left, it felt like we could do it all!  I was energized and looking forward to our vacation.  But now that we’re back and buried under all the things that somehow fit into our minivan, I’m feeling overwhelmed!  I suppose I was taking a vacation from the idea of having responsibilities.  But they are real, they are wanted, and now that the trip is over, they need attention.

Life will calm again.  It always does.  I am learning to appreciate the times where I feel ‘on top of things,’ noticing them as they come.  It is with gratitude for the easy moments in life that I am able to be carried through the busy times. I am looking forward to when things calm down again, because I have good reason to value it!  Being away and pushing this edge has taught me just how much I value a simple life.  Small and slow solutions is such a difficult concept to practice!  I reminded the children of this morning, and failed to remind myself, that we need to be gentle with each other and ourselves as we return to our regular rhythm again.  So for now, I’ll try to stay centred, take it one breath at a time, and one task at a time, and eventually it will all get done.

Goals meet Reality

I often have great ideas for what I’m going to accomplish in a day.  The day starts off with a bang, getting the children through their morning routines and into a rhythm.  My morning energy leads to noticing all the things I could do.  As we enjoy our day together, meandering through what calls to us, the list of possibilities grows.  I think of things that need to be done  and tuck them in the back of my mind for those sacred hours after the children go to bed.  I have big plans to mulch my flowerbeds, fold the four baskets of laundry or finally wipe that yogurt smear off my front window.  Then dinner happens, the children go to bed and I am faced with a messy kitchen and no energy for the now crumpled list that lies in the back corners of my mind.  The garden waits, the laundry waits, the yogurt smear waits.

It has taken me three children to realize that there will always be more work.  “Catching up” on the laundry is futile.  No sooner is the last load done, folded and put away, that it happens for someone to have a leaky diaper, requiring a full bedding change.  It doesn’t seem to matter how many days I experience the same pattern of setting goals for my evening hours, only to find myself reading instead.   I still keep trying.   Perhaps this is the human spirit or just my way of being able to continue the journey.  I like to think of it as creating a vision, but responding to change!  Regardless, I no longer feel guilt over self-preservation.  My evening often has a yield beyond accomplishing domestic tasks.  Without some down time in the evenings, I find I’m not refreshed enough for the next day.  I’ve pushed through too many nights of staying up a bit too late in order to try and ‘get it all done’ to know that it leaves me strapped the next day.  What was a beautiful home the night before only explodes again because I lack the energy to sustain it.

My messes, like the weedy perimeter of a garden holds the sustainable growth for our future.

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!