Self-Regulate and Accept Feedback

Freedom Fighter

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Patterns for consumerism are so easy to slide into.  This way of being and relating to the world has become so innate that it feels normal.  Our family is dedicated to reducing the number of purchases we make, but still, we end up slipping into the mind trap of ‘consumption means progress.’

We are just edging away from a very busy season in our lives.  We completed a tiny home project where we converted the unfinished addition to our home into a 400 sq. ft. apartment.  The result is wonderful.  The apartment turned out great and we now have some of our best friends living with us on the farm!  Although it is easy to minimize what a labour of love this project was now that it’s complete, the truth is, it was hard work.  There were many late nights, a lot of frustration and an overall exhaustion that befell our home. What the project meant was many months of stretching ourselves to our maximum edges and beyond them some days in order to get the project done.  This had a trickle down effect for our children.  Not only were we as parents strapped for energy, but our children were parched for attention and authentic connection.

Part of the process of creating the backhouse apartment was accumulating many items.  We tried to use as much recycled material as possible, but not everything we accumulated was able to be used.  We were in the state of increasing our volume of ‘stuff’ for nearly a year.  With little time to manage it all, things became heaped upon each other making a giant mess of our workshop and parts of our yard.  We just simply didn’t have the space to deal with it all.  We have been feeling the pressure of disorganization and our inability to keep up with the demands of maintenance around the farm.  Every job has taken many times longer because tools haven’t been put away properly and oftentimes we need to sift through piles of items to locate what we need!  It’s easy to recognize in hindsight how inefficient this is.  But at the same time, it is with a compassionate heart that I recognize how very hard we worked.  It is real to say that the project would not have been finished if we took the time to tidy as we went.  We were doing the very best we could and it was still impossible to stay on top of it all!  Our lives are very full!  Between homeschooling and caring for our children, running a farm, my full time job, Rob’s nursery business, an auto-immune paleo diet and the related health issues, not to mention everything else life brings!  There was no time for management since life required us to push forward in order to keep our heads above water.

This year when garage sale season rolled around, I was in full accumulation mode!  I was excited as I always am to experience the thrill of finding something unexpected that someone else no longer needs.  Weary from a year of full time work, I was ready to hit the streets and find the bargains, as well as some instant gratification!  It’s amazing how alluring it can be to experience that thrill of a great find.  It was also appealing to run away from our trashed and neglected homestead.  The draw was somehow to finding that perfect ‘something new’ that would fix it all.  This thought of course was not so overt on the three Saturdays I spent driving around shopping from people’s driveways.  My subconscious wanted the solution to cleaning up our lives to be easy.  But the reality is, even if I found the item that could revolutionize our lives, I would not be any further ahead in doing the actual work of implementing it!

“Bandaids don’t fix bullet holes.”

~ Taylor Swift

I had been feeling exhilaration at going to yard sales and coming home with new items.  But beneath the surface there was also a dissatisfaction with how my time had been spent.  After a morning wandering from home to home buying what other people didn’t want anymore, my children and I were more connected to the stuff we toted home than each other.   This commodification of our lives wasn’t really made clear to me until Rob and I were talking through our plans for today.

Today is the day when the wealthy neighbourhood nearby has their town-wide yard sales.  The town is renowned for having great stuff and people travel from all over to attend.  I try to go every year, arriving at 7am before things get picked over and the crowds show up around 10.  I usually find some clothes for myself, some Christmas presents for my children and a few odds and ends for Rob, the household or the farm.  More stuff.  

We have been talking about looking for ways to live more authentically as of late.  We’ve been lamenting about the state of our homestead.  We’ve been working through how to meaningfully connect with our children while still getting the work done.  We’ve taken action for change in our lives when I accepted a new part time job for next year.  We are sacrificing money for the lifestyle we want.  Yet here, on this Saturday, one of the two precious days I have with my children, I’m willing to get up early and go to yard sales without them, or drag them around looking at things I don’t really want them to buy.  It became clear to Rob (before me) that this was a juxtaposition of our values.  What were we really choosing to value here?

It took me some time.  I had to sit with the decision for an hour or so.  I had to feel it.  I had to acknowledge my emotional connection to the event.  To wanting to find the deals.  I had to get real about how much I was valuing stuff.  I had to get honest about valuing stuff over the people in my life.  Not easy ideas to rumble with.  It became clear over the course of my hour mulling it over that what I really want for my life is not found at any yard sale.   Used or not, cheap or not, I was still bringing home mounds more stuff!  And the inevitable work that comes with managing it.  It is work to find a place for it, organize it, deal with what has to go because we have something new to fill the space, and so on.  I was able to realize the whole picture…that the management of stuff is not how I want to spend my time.

In our over-scheduled consumer-driven culture, we have to make a concentrated effort to create space.  Not just physical space, because our 50 acres can hold it all!  The type of space I’m seeking is in freedom.  By clearing things from our lives, both tangible and time drains, we can clear the mental and emotional space needed to see what we really want for ourselves and our families.  Space has the potential to highlight for us what is not serving.  Had we had more space during the backhouse renovation, we could have kept things more orderly.  So now, when I do have the choice…I’d like to make it.

If you want freedom, you’ve got to fight for it. 

So…we stayed home this morning.  We spent time fixing fences and plugging holes in the barn where the mink got in.  We tidied the yard where the children had made a village out of recycling that had since been abandoned.  We played with ducklings and chicks.  We cleaned the bathroom together.  We read books.  I washed the cupboard faces.  We played lego.  I swept the floor for the first time in 2 weeks.  We connected.  To our stuff…the stuff we already own.  To our homestead.  To our animals.

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The Greatest Things

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

-Vincent VanGogh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Feist, Mushaboom

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

Feels like Home

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There has been a long period since moving to the farm where I have missed the old house.  It is not so much a laundry listing of things I miss about it (although this has happened on numerous occasions), but it presented more as a guttural emotional response at the loss of my previous life.  There was something about that place that was so entwined with my identity.  And isn’t that just it, when we invest ourselves in place, it becomes much more difficult to uproot ourselves.

It was as if we were root bound, having grown tighter and tighter within our undersized container.  In order to free ourselves, we ripped ourselves from the pot, tearing apart our roots, separating them, damaging some of them in order to allow new growth.  I feel as though I left many roots behind.  Not the ones that breath life into me (my family, my creativity, nature), but gone are the tiny side shoots that were numerous but fragile.  They were not salvageable.  But these roots are slowly being replenished with new ones.

I looked at some photographs of the old house several weeks back without feeling the lurch in my stomach that I had grown accustomed to when reflecting on life before the farm.  As we approach spring, we can’t help but get excited!  Things have already started to accelerate around here.  Orders are coming in for the nursery’s spring pick up date, we have received a grant to plant a wind break of edible and useful trees, the tree cuttings are rooting in our basement along with many flats of annual seedlings, plans are being made for the sustainable cropping of the fields, the tarp is laid for the breaking of a new garden bed, and the research has been completed for the expansion of our barnyard – soon we’ll have lots of chicks and ducklings running about the place.  We are drowning in abundance!

In addition to all of the farm related tasks, which Rob has been amazing at taking the lead on (I prefer to take the role of ‘best supporting character’), we have been adjusting to a different sort of life.  I am now back at work part time, teaching Kindergarten gym for the most part.  I miss being home with my own children.  And they miss me.  I have become very busy, trying to juggle all of my different roles (mother, teacher, employee, farmer, wife, writer).

After a stint where I wasn’t sure my extreme efforts were making any sort of positive difference in this world, I have decided to pursue a project that has been on my heart for quite some time.  I am beginning to write a book about family life and parenting – Permaculture style!   The writing is in the early stages so it is all still really exciting and I can’t seem to work on it enough!   Because we’ve got so many things vying for our time, like always we’re jostling priorities so that I can carve out time to make it happen.  I have taken to a nightly routine of writing for an hour after the kids go to bed.  So far that seems to be satiating my writing appetite.  Perhaps more blog posts will roll out of me too now that I’ve remembered (yet again) just how important writing is to sustaining me.  I am home.

Thank you for reading this update…I know it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me!

 

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.

Choosing Joy Over Fear

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“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed.”

-Albert Einstein

There is a difference between intention and our emotional attachment to our intentions.  One can still have the intention for something to come to fruition, while detaching emotionally from it turning out in a certain way.  Although it is difficult to do, nearly impossible at times, the natural world and the unfolding of the mystery of the universe will take us along for the ride whether we concede to it or not.  All the while we must continue observing and interacting with the shifting and unpredictable landscape.

Someone said to me recently that although our emotions are real and an important piece of the puzzle, they do nothing to change the outcome of any situation.  Seeing them as separate from the event somehow makes it easier to feel emotion in its intensity, and let it pass through, knowing the situation will advance regardless of how I feel about it!  In my opinion, getting caught up in the emotional mess of life usually pulls me away from my intentions.  ‘The voice of reason’ – which is a lovely placating way to describe fear – pulls me back from living out what I feel innately called to do.  When I find myself working my mind around the ways to figure out the final outcome, the destination, I know I have hopped back on the ride.  This mental wandering into the unknown, the unknowable does nothing but fuel emotional fires.

Having our focus set on the end result is effectively driven by our consumerist society, where we get instantaneous results and gratification, served by the invisible hands who have done the hard work of bringing us cheap consumer goods.  This illusion that we create for ourselves, over and over again, sets us up for malcontent in all other areas  of our lives.  We expect the same results, ease and unseen support  and are left feeling marooned instead when it does not spontaneously appear.  Seeking joy outside of ourselves and removed from connection is enforcing a message that cheats us out of enjoying the journey and ultimately trusting that everything will work out as it should.  The consumer gears have sped up to the point where our culture often sees work as undesirable, which is an attitude that robs the joyfulness available to us in the process.  In focusing on the destination alone, I have missed the journey.  I have missed life.

We have found the farm of our dreams and our conditional offer has been accepted.  As a result, I have been fixating on the sale of our home.  It has not happened.  I am stressing myself out by trying to find ways to make our home more appealing.   I wrack my brain about how things might work out, or how they might not.  While the inner storms rage, I try to keep everything ‘together’ – an approach to life I thought I had left in the dust until we put our house up for sale.  Not only is it stressful to maintain a visage of perfection, but it isn’t real.  The more my life looks great from the outside, the more I realize what is lacking on the inside.  What happens when I strive for external perfection is that my internal self becomes bound.  I am no longer able to ride with the flow of things.  I try to control.  Once I unleash that beast, it seems to lash out at anything and everything it has a hope of affecting.  Feigning control is a joy thief.  I feel like I’m ruining my current life because I’m so worried about my future life.  My fear about what may or may not happen is causing me to lose sight of what is and sits right in front of me.  A loving husband, three amazing and adorable children, a beautiful house we still call home, a wonderful and supportive group of people we have the pleasure of calling family and friends.

When I can refocus and see all that I have from a place of gratitude, when I can really see that I am living in fear, I open up to the possibility that I can choose joy.  If I want to actually have control in my life, making the choice to pursue joy is the best way to achieve it.  I hereby release all that is bringing fear into my vision…at least for this moment.

 

Inner Buoyancy

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I have found myself indulging many of my deepest fears lately.  As we make the conscious choice to step out of our conventional life and into the murkiness of something completely uncertain.  Selling our home without a new one to inhabit has been pushing my edges with intensity.  Most days I feel convicted.  But lately, I’ve been swirling around in puddles of ‘what if’ and regret.

I have chosen to jump into a deep pool without being prepared and have been here for quite some time.  There are times where I’m able to stay calm enough to tread water and wait for the way out to appear.  My recent feeling has been more like I’m drowning; thrashing around looking for something, anything to grab hold of.  I remember from my lifeguard training that when someone is drowning, they are fully under the influence of their amygdala gland, scrambling toward survival.  Writhing around is not only an abundant waste of energy, it creates a situation where the people around the victim need to worry about keeping their head above water too, since saving oneself might be achieved by pushing another beneath the surface.

We choose joy.  It is clear now that what I choose to focus on contributes greatly to my perception of the world.  My emotional landscape is correlated to my ability to meet the world with myself.  It is often that I am drawn into feeling like an external object can solve a problem.  I have been seduced by our culture into thinking that it is the ‘thing’ – in this case my home – that will bring me happiness.  Feeling between things means that I am forced to find inner security.  We have created a situation where we are forcing ourselves to grow beyond materialism.  I know from my experience over the past weeks that there is no room to indulge fear in my new landscape.  I am happy to acknowledge it, thank it for it’s messages of warning, then to put it into perspective and ultimately set it free…at least temporarily, in favor of joy.  Deep joy that is only possible from within.  I just keep bringing myself back to the surface…again.  and.  again.

12 Ideas for Rebuilding Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-giving more hugs, kisses and snuggles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What ideas do you use for re-connection?