Obtain a Yield

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.

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Weed Whacking

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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?

How to Step Into the Darkness

We are blessed to live in Canada, with four seasons.  The season of autumn signals the beginning of turning inward.  A time for dreaming and planning while cozy indoors for the winter months.  But it doesn’t seem so enticing as the days are growing shorter and we are losing the time in daylight to wrap up the loose ends of summer.  Why is it that we are so afraid to head into the darkness?

It is out of the darkest times that the most growth happens.  it is in the darkness that we are at our edge.  People don’t like to be pushed to their edge.  That place within ourselves where we feel if we were to go any further we’d never find our way back.  But if we keep back from our edges, we would be missing out on those places from which the most growth happens.  For it is at the edge where two habitats intermingle and create something beautiful, abundant and new.  It is at the edge of ourselves where old meets new.  It is at this edge where the possibility of freedom exists.  Where the pressures of labels and expectations can be blurred.

Heading into the winter months, I feel resistance.  Although I am craving a slower time and rhythm, if it weren’t for the leaves falling and the looming frosts, I would not concede to more hours indoors, less light, and the abundant heap of clothing that adorns my entryway.  Although I know winter brings with it a beauty unique to the cold darkness, it doesn’t help me stop resisting its presence.  Likewise, it is difficult to make the choice to go into emotional darkness.  It feels unsafe and not to be trusted.  Why do we not trust ourselves enough to know we will come back out into the light?

We trust that spring will come again.  We trust that the sun will rise again tomorrow.  But we do not trust that we will again be happy if we choose to enter into periods of personal darkness.  But like the seasons and the days, it will pass.  Unlike natural cycles, our voyages into and out of darkness come without warning and recede without announcement.  They ease in and out slowly, as to confuse us as to where it came from and when it left.

Perhaps it is because we have not been well equipped with the skills to weather the storm.  We are not taught we can accept the deep and dark emotions.  We are taught instead to keep everything under control.  Our culture likes to pretend that everything is alright. We teach our children not to cry, saying ‘you’re alright’ to cherubim faces streaked with tears.  We have been taught to not trust ourselves by having our forms of personal expression muzzled.  We are schooled to believe that our interests aren’t as important as what the curriculum dictates.  Every time our inner desires were redirected, we were given a the message that what we valued was not worthy, and our inner voice was not to be trusted.  Think of the number of times we have received the message that what we feel doesn’t matter.

What can we do to regain the skills we need to trust ourselves?  How can we learn to trust those times when we need to head into the darkness and towards our edge?  Having had many experiences with sitting in darkness recently, I know that practice helps!  Watching myself fall in and out of dark periods has been building my courage and confidence to accept the darkness when it comes.  Framing my periods of darkness as storms that will blow over gives me the perspective I need sometimes.  It has also shown me that the more I can accept and perhaps even embrace my dark emotions and welcome them in with self-compassion, the easier the storm will be to weather.  When I am calm through the emotional turmoil, letting the waves of emotional burden crash upon a serene shoreline, the clouds blow over much quicker.

Knowing where to look for the light has also been something I use to come back from my edge.  For me, I find light in small things.  A smile on my child’s face, light dancing across the living room floor, the way the leaves flutter to the ground in the breeze, the sound and warmth of a crackling fire.  When I am able to notice moments of natural beauty, it brings me back to the present moment.  Presence brings me back.  Finding my moments of light allows the darkness to fade and the sun to come out again.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” — Haruki Murakami

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…

Needing a Break ≠ Failure

We had a crazy hour around lunchtime yesterday.  Over the summer we have fallen out of the rhythm of tidying up before lunch and dinner, which has put us right back into power struggles over the issue as we try to reestablish our routine.  The children did not want to begin tidy-up time, despite several warnings it was coming.  They began running around getting out more things and generally getting into mischief.  I cleaned for what would usually be our tidy-time then shifted to make the children’s lunches in order to get the baby eating (and stop getting more toys out!).  I returned to tidying up, encouraging the older children to help, as it would take much less time to get to eating our lunches should we all work together.  This was generally not accepted, although they did help with a few things.  As we finished, the final task was for my three year old to put away the costume he had just taken off that was now on the floor.  The request threw him into complete melt-down that ended in a fight with is brother and a broken bowl.  When I got that cleaned up (I would normally have them clean their own messes, but in the case of broken dishes, I will do it for them) and people settled, my five year old asked for some crackers.  I decided to oblige for fear of creating another eruption…the children were clearly very hungry!  I put the crackers on his plate, which threw him into meltdown.  He didn’t want them to be wet by touching his pickle, and proceeded to throw them all over the kitchen.  My response was to leave, saying, “I need to leave because I feel like I’m going to yell at my children, and I don’t want to.”  I went into the next room, sat down and took some deep breaths.  What I heard from the kitchen was a return to happy conversation and the noises of children enjoying their lunches.  I could have chosen to address the behaviours right then and there, enforcing their need to clean up after themselves, but I didn’t. I chose to leave the situation rather than escalating it.  When I went back into the kitchen, everyone was fine again.  The food was being eaten, including the crackers that had since been picked up.  It is really hard to leave conflict in the heat of the moment.  For some reason the fight instinct is much stronger than the one for flight.  I ask my children to do this all the time – in the middle of conflict, I suggest they leave before they get into a fight.  This time I was able to model it, and more importantly experience what it feels like to leave in the heat of the moment.

The past couple of months have been very stressful for me for a number of reasons.  There has been a lot going on.  As a result, I have been stretched, pushed, and generally stressed out.  There was not time or space to properly process all that was happening due to the pace of life with three littles and the circumstances of the situation.  I am finally feeling like I’m recovering from what has been a very dark period in my life.

In the middle of it all, I didn’t know what to do to help myself.  I felt lost, and frustrated.  I was not parenting the way I wanted to be, or how I knew I was capable of.  But I had no way to be any different.  There was not space to make it so.  But what I didn’t think of in the throes of the chaos was to ask for help.  What I really needed was an opportunity to walk away, to have a break from the conflict.  In retrospect, I now realize that if I had asked for a day off, there are many people in my life who would have stepped up to provide the relief I so desperately needed.  I am so blessed with loving family and friends!  But what held me back was an inability to care for myself, rooted in my pride.  I didn’t want to admit that I was finding it all to be too much.  Our culture has such disdain for people who ask for what they need.  We suffer silently, afraid to ask for help.  But a break, even if it were just for a few hours would have helped me to return home to myself!

This past weekend I had a full day away from the family.  The yield from being apart for even just a day has been amazing. The past three days have been much more enjoyable for everyone in the family.  I have been able to restore my inner calm so I no longer feel the need to nag the children.  I now have more capacity for patience and compassion for myself and my children.  Although I hate to admit it, my children have benefited from the break as well.  Since we spend all of our time together, it is helpful to clear the air every once in a while.  The result of taking time apart has been that this week we have been much more respectful, more loving, more cuddly, and generally it has been more enjoyable to be around each other.  Now that I’m beginning to see the light at the other side of the darkness.  I can honestly say that I have learned an insurmountable lesson from this journey.  I know now that what is best for everyone is for me to have self-compassion.  Allowing myself to recognize that the journey can be difficult sometimes is alright.

I have been learning in many ways that sometimes the best conflict resolution is to walk away.  A break can bring such clarity.  Time away offers the space to stop reacting to it.  Asking for help does not speak of failure, but in fact the opposite.  When I ask for the support I need, I have in fact succeeded.  Having the courage to take time for myself allowed me to gain perspective about the ways in which I was trying to grasp at the illusion of control.  Without that oppressive old paradigm thinking, I have been able to reacquaint myself with what’s really important to me…my family.

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.