Use and Value Gifts from Nature

Sunshine through the Rain

I sat down at my machine intending to finish off a blog post I started last week.  I was about two thirds of the way through it, when I heard raindrops begin to hit my window and a rumble of thunder rolled though the room.  My mood dropped.  After putting the children to bed, I raced outside to hang the diapers in the (what was then) sunshine.  Wanting so badly to get in and write, I hurried through the job, which still delayed me ten minutes from my post at the computer.  Every minute counts when I’m racing to finish things during the hour and a half of rest time after lunch.  I was worried that I might not finish the post before the children were finished their rest.

Upon the arrival of rain, I again hurried outside, feeling grumpy and annoyed at having to spend another ten minutes taking the now even more wet diapers from the line.  This was made worse by thinking of having to hang them out again on racks in the basement for a net loss of 20 minutes over what it would have taken if I had just hung them out in the basement to begin with.  Grumbling to myself while I stuffed the diapers and clothespins in their respective baskets, I started to notice the feel of the raindrops on my skin.

Then I noticed that the air had grown more fresh.  The negative ions were working their magic.  My thoughts were on the feel of gentle raindrops kissing my arms and face.  The rain brought me back to the present.  It was then that my thoughts shifted to thinking about places where they would give anything for a taste of this rain.  In California, four years of drought have climaxed into wild fires which are destroying their food bearing landscape and along with it, the crops, the soil, countless livelihoods and food security for much of North America.

I suddenly felt much better about bringing in my diapers from the rain.  I shall finish my other post tomorrow…

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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!

Creating a Homestead

I have started back into looking at real estate sites.  Wondering what life could be like if we were to move to a farm and homestead on a larger scale.  I have dreams of living somewhere off grid with a woodlot and a stream.  Enough room for pastured chickens and perhaps even a jersey cow.  But the dream doesn’t consider the hefty bill that comes along with it.  How is it that one is to transition to a larger property when it seems like such a better idea to pay off our mortgage and stay put?  The trouble is I still have this niggling feeling like we aren’t yet living the life we’re capable of.  I feel like a change is on the horizon.  The difficulty is waiting for its arrival.  We are sending out some pretty strong intentions to move toward a homesteading life, but as I have discovered, a homestead is just as much in the mind as in the land.  We are working toward making more of our own food, and preserving what we can while it is in season.  There are many things we are doing to be homesteaders on half an acre.  I have big plans to have chickens again in the spring and to try my hand at bee keeping next summer.  All of that is available to me right here, right where we are.

I reflected on this process back in December, and came to the conclusion that we should focus on living in line with our holistic goal and everything else would fall into place.  This spring and summer have been wild with activity.  We have been stretched in many ways, trying to keep up with our ideas and commitments.  We had given ourselves a year to decide what to do next, but here we are half way through that year feeling no less confused.  The hours we’ve spent initiating and actualizing projects off of our property have been wonderful and have taught us so much about what we value.  But we have not yet made time to refine our holistic goal!  This has left us feeling unfocussed.  The past six months have helped us to come to some clarity about what is and is not making our hearts sing.  It is easy to think something is satisfying when it really isn’t, when the idea of it is, but the action is not.  Rather than trying to pursue permaculture in a way that makes money, we are learning to follow our joy, hoping the money will sort itself out.  People bring the most creativity and skill in the areas they have a passion for.  It is lovely to read books and watch videos about other people who have found their niches and how they are making enough to live abundantly using permaculture principles.  What is not yet clear is how our family will wind our way toward the self-sustaining lifestyle I crave.  Many of the things we are interested in have the potential to pay the bills.  But this leads to the argument for seeking financial freedom from our mortgage so that we have fewer bills to pay!  The mental cycle is endless.  There is always another angle to consider, another reason to return to a previous idea, keeping us circling around a decision.

When I have made big decisions in the past, it’s because I knew they were the right ones.  I am not someone who leaps in quickly.  I think on things for quite some time until I can’t deny that a big change is imminent.  At the edge of change, somewhere deep in my gut I felt a compulsion to make it happen.  I have that feeling about moving to a farm, but there is no clear way to make that happen yet.  Like my approach to so many things, I don’t want to force it.  When I try to make it work, I usually only end up killing the creativity.  This happens all the time with my artwork.  Once I get too into my head, the creative spark fizzles out and I am left second guessing and feeling anxious.

I have been checking the real estate sites, but not as frequently.  I feel the action is keeping me open to the possibility of the right property coming along and sending the intention out clearly over and over again.  I also view the properties with an intuitive eye now.  If it doesn’t seem right, it’s not.  No point in forcing the issue.  There is nothing pushing us from our current home, other than a feeling of unfounded urgency.  My rush is because I don’t feel like I have time to waste – the planet is withering and I feel I need to act now in order to secure my future and a future for my children.  When considering the planting of fruit and nut trees that take years to produce a yield, it is discouraging to think of delaying that another five years.  But what I am allowing myself to consider more and more is that the trees we plant are not just for us or our family, but they are for future generations.  In this subversive act, we are planting hope for the future.  I’d like to believe that any love and care we offer to our current property is an investment in the future of mankind.

Wishing our time on this property away, as we watch the weeds take over our garden beds and some food bearing crops wither, is not creating joy for us.  We are not engaging our own land, but are looking elsewhere in search of something better.  What we have right here is pretty awesome!  If we put as much effort in here as we have been extending beyond our property, we could be enjoying the yields of this farm rather than wasting its potential while suspending it in the midst of indecision.  And so we are again trying to hash out our holistic goal.  We have also decided to identify the things in our life that are not bringing us joy, from the items in our home, to the way we use our time and space.  Once these snags are identified we can find creative solutions to abate them or just decide to simply let them go.  There may come a time when a new and big opportunity to move comes along, or necessity pushes us from this nest, but for now, we wait.  And wait.  And wait.  Thanks to some lessons learned from a toad, it will become clear when we are to jump.   For now, we can hunker down and put in some serious time here.

Lessons from a Toad

I spent a few hours with a toad this week.  I sat with it in the garden, watching its movements and observing they way it lives.  I have had a fear of toads (and frogs and snakes too) since childhood, when I spiked a high fever involving hallucinations of amphibians and reptiles crawling out through a hole in the ceiling plummeting onto myself.  I felt trapped, unable to move likely due to being sweaty and tangled in the sheets.  I am over the worst of this fear now, as I no longer have anxiety when I see them, now I just experience surprise at their presence.  I am able to allow my logical mind to process their proximity as harmless.  So being able to sit with a toad for some time was cathartic in many ways.  While sitting with him, I learned some lessons that I thought I would share.

Toads spend a lot of time contemplating.  The toad I watched would hop a distance, then wait.  Then move slightly in a sort of walk, then wait.  He did much more waiting than moving.  There was no hurry.  There was no reason for him to rush.  He was not particularly threatened, so he could take his time in order to not become threatened. I have a tendency to want to rush into things, rather than waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.  I become impatient with the process.  The toad was all about the process.

Sometimes the toad took a great leap, and sometimes he just shuffled.  This is true for life.  There are times where a great leap is required to make ground.  Where I have to assert great energy toward inciting big changes, and other times where a small adjustment is required for a better view, or just to get more comfortable.  Both are necessary ways to move through change.

Toads have the capacity to turn their heads slightly.  I had always thought that they moved their eyes or had to move their entire bodies in order to increase their range of vision, but as it turns out, they have a neck of sorts.  They must have a pretty good range of vision, between their eyes being atop their heads and being able to turn their head slightly.  Movement might mean a toad would get noticed, so anything he can do to look around and take in the world from a place of stillness is an advantage.  Our culture promotes the opposite of this.  We are all hurried to keep up to the pace of life we’ve created for ourselves, and rarely slow down enough to make observations.  Our culture values productivity.  Looking is not productive…unless of course it could save your life!  Being at the top of the food chain has its disadvantages.  We have lost touch with our ability to be present because we don’t rely on this skill for survival.  When I consider it in these terms, I realize that getting back in touch with my alert and intuitive sense of self is the only thing that can save me from a crumbling society.

I spent nearly two hours with the toad, over which time he moved about a meter (3 feet or so) hopping a few times, adjusting himself several times, and turning his head a couple of times.  Meanwhile the rest of the garden was a flurry of activity.  Birds, butterflies, bees and insects hurried about while the toad by contrast waited.  It seemed as though his waiting was put forth in an effort to attain a goal, for after his movement toward the shade of the back of the garden, he found a hollow in the ground to hunker down into.  Perhaps it was a spot he’d visited before.  Once he reached his destination, he settled in by digging his hind legs beneath the soil slightly.  Then he waited again.  And waited.  And waited.  After some time, he fell asleep.  But even in slumber, he opened his eyes every ten minutes or so to make sure everything was still as he’d left it.

I have much to learn from the toad.  Pace.  Contemplation.  Careful calculation of when to exert my effort and when to reserve it.  The art of camouflage.  Knowing when to jump with confidence.  The beauty of stillness in a bustling world.  The slow pace with which I can pursue my dreams.  Look (a lot) before leaping.  Blending in doesn’t mean I’m lost.  The importance of  repeatedly checking yourself against your goals.  It doesn’t matter what the outside world sees, or think they see, what matters is the depth to which I understand my goals and how to reach them.  How to be fully present with what is on the journey.

What a gift it was to be able to sit with a toad.  For a few hours, I was able to avert my fears and learn from him.  Perhaps my fear of the toad extends beyond his exterior to what he represents…that which stretches me.  I have found an ally whose lessons I am grateful for.

For the Love of Garlic Scapes – 10 Ways to Use Them!

Our garlic scapes are now coming fast and furious!  They are a wonderful byproduct of growing garlic, since by harvesting, the garlic bulbs grow much larger.  In the interest of making no waste, we use every single one!  I get asked a lot what we do with them all, so I thought others may have the same question!  Here is a list of 10 ways we use garlic scapes:

  1. In stirfry!  Slice them into pieces a few centimeters long (about an inch) and throw them in!
  2. Grill them whole on the barbeque or by using a grill over an open fire.
  3. Make garlic scape pesto.  I have used this recipe in the past, and it turned out well.  For me it was nice to cut the raw garlic bite with a bit of spinach and parsley.
  4. Pickle them!  Use a favourite pickle recipe or lacto-fermentation method.  We used a favourite pickled bean recipe and they turned out great.
  5. Throw sliced scapes in with roasted vegetables.  Chop a variety of root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc.) and scapes into 1 inch pieces/cubes.  Cover root vegetables and scapes with olive oil or cut chunks of butter on top of the mix, sprinkle on some salt, and other spices (cayenne and thyme are two of our favourites) if you like,  and roast at 350˚ for about an hour.
  6. Chop finely and use in place of garlic.
  7. Blend into a paste by adding some oil and use as a garnish on soups or to flavour dips (like hummus) and dressings.
  8. Chop coarsely and add to soups or stews.
  9. If you don’t have time to deal with them all, they freeze very well and can be thawed and used later in all of your culinary delights.
  10. I saved my favourite until last…most of our scapes end up as garlic scape powder.  It takes up far less space to store than the scapes themselves, and I haven’t bought garlic powder in years!  To make it, se blend the scapes in our food processor, dry them in the dehydrator, then when they come out dried, we blend them again to make a powder.  To vouch for it’s awesomeness, it sells for over $25 per 100g!

Top 10 Permaculture Parenting Tips

When I think about what it means to me to be a ‘Permaculture Parent’ I feel that it really is defined by my approach to life.  Looking for ways to live more in line with the Permaculture principles is a way of approaching life.  When I change, those around me change.  When I learn, those around me learn.  Permaculture is a design process by which you observe nature and try to learn as much as possible about natural systems.  I see my family as a natural system.  I, as part of the system influence all other parts of the system.  When I change, the system changes because part of it is new, and it must adapt.

Permaculture is more than a design system for me.  It is a way of thinking about and approaching the world.  We consider as much as possible in our lives how to live by nature’s patterns.  I am constantly self-reflective in order to observe and interact with my own behaviour patterns.  The beauty (and most difficult part) of having children is that they allow your dark side to surface so easily.  Despite the deep love and reverence I have for my children, the day to day living with three little beings that all need help from me pushes me into my edges of human capacity.  Of course it is in these edges that the most growth will occur.  In these moments of being stretched, the tiny cracks in my psyche expand and allow for patterns from my past to emerge.  There is often no time to ‘catch myself’ before reacting.  But these unsavoury moments become fodder for where to turn my attention next.  I try to view each challenge as a guild project, one that needs careful attention in order to discover a way to make the many different levels of the situation work together to support each other rather than out-compete.

When I read other people’s articles about parenting, I love succinct lists of practical changes I can make, things I can do right away!  The difficulty with Permaculture, and parenting, is that neither one offers clear cut answers.  The approach is just that…a set of guidelines by which to structure your actions.  They both take thought, engagement, careful observation and response.  But in the interest of providing something useful that helps to bring focus to a sea of grey areas, I have put together this list of 10 ways I try to be a better Permaculture Parent:

  1. Slow down the pace of life, remove the excess, simplify: physically, emotionally and mentally.  We constantly ask ourselves if things are ‘necessary,’ because if they’re not, the outcome also isn’t worth it.  In the spaces we create, creativity blossoms.  We try to disengage with the ‘overculture’ of consumerism, technology, fear, control, apathy, etc., as much as possible, carefully considering where to place our engagement.  We try to be present and mindful to the situation at hand, knowing that everything else will wait.
  2. Respond rather than react – I try to take a deep breath to reconnect with the Earth before responding to any given situation, there are very few situations that cannot withstand a 10 second delay in response.  This is also modelling a great skill for my children to learn that will serve them.  Taking pause allows me to observe before interacting, by this I mean mainly observing my own inner landscape!
  3. Get outside.  Spend loads of unstructured time in nature.  It’s hard to recognize ourselves as part of nature if we are separating ourselves from it.
  4. Accept feedback in all its forms.  As difficult as it is to take a critical look at my role in my children’s behaviour (especially those rough times), usually the root cause of the turbulence is that I’ve inadvertently created a climate of ‘control.’  If I can find a way to release my ‘old paradigm’ approach to controlling my children and look for creative and less obvious solutions to work cooperatively, I can usually turn things around in a hurry.  The trust required for this took  several months to build.  I had to learn to trust that there was another way that would work, and my children needed to trust that I could change my way of engaging with them indefinitely.  It takes radical trust to allow our children to receive their own feedback and respond to it, but when I am able to step back and observe (with the help of sportscasting or non-judgmentally verbalizing the events of a conflict), it is amazing what solutions the children reach for their own problems – ones that wouldn’t have been obvious or fair in the eyes of an adult.  In treating problems between my children this way, we are also allowing them to learn fundamental Permaculture skills.   Aside from behavioural conflicts, we try to communicate clearly, about everything.  If my children ask a question, I try to give as complete an answer as possible while still being age appropriate.  Our children want feedback about their world and experiences too!
  5. Enjoy time together as a family as much as possible – I have learned to find joy and gratitude in tiny spaces to combat the illusion of drudgery…most of the time.
  6. Practice and teach extreme empathy.  “The Golden Rule” is prevalent in our home.  Not just applied to others in our home, but to all beings, plants, and Mother Nature herself.  My hope is to help my children know and feel the impact they are having on everything around them, since everything in this living system called Earth, is connected.  I hope to help them understand that they are only in control of their own actions, but that their participation in the system will ripple out in positive and/or negative ways.  When my children are upset, the first thing I do is empathize with them, despite my gut reaction to apply logic or quell their emotional response.
  7. We find small solutions to big problems.  I have started to focus on one small thing at a time to try and make change happen and sustain.  For example, I wanted to have a moment of gratitude before sharing our meals, so we started saying a family blessing.  It has taken a while for it to become routine, but now the children remind us if we forget.  We were also having difficulty with tidy up time (a time rife with the temptation to control!).  I started having a tidy up time every day before dinner.  Once dinner was ready to serve, we’d tidy until the house was clean, then eat.  It has also become a pattern we’ve been able to stick to.  I’ve taken to tackling one thing at a time, until it’s established.  Related to this, I have made many mistakes along the way.  When something doesn’t work, or fails to flourish, I try another approach to the same problem.  Being willing to take chances and make (many) mistakes in the process of trial and error is part of the learning process.
  8. We carefully consider the foundation of our children’s days.  Their basic needs are an essential way for my children to catch and store energy.  In our house, sleep is treated as sacred.  We try to work our activities around sleep routines so that my children have enough rest to participate fully in life and with their best selves.  We also make food a priority by consuming nourishing sustenance.  My children help with planting, tending, harvesting, preserving, and preparing food where possible.  We engage with food on as many levels as possible. If you consider other mammals, they spend most of their time eating, drinking and sleeping.  We should also afford these things as much value as possible.
  9. Set clear limits, and allow things to run a bit wild within the defined boundaries.  Our top concern when setting boundaries is safety.  Apart from that, we have certain things which are not tolerated in our home: violence, disrespect of people or destruction of property.  These are hard and fast.  We debate about the best ways to ensure these expectations are met, and have tried many things!  Luckily, since there are few of them, and we always follow through with some method of dealing with the problem, we don’t have to address this issue too often.  Where possible we try to use relevant meaningful consequences.  For example, if you colour on the desk, you clean it up with guidance.  If you upset someone, find some way to make it right (apologise, give the toy back, do something to make the person feel better).  If you throw your food, you clean it up and you can can choose to eat what was thrown or be finished eating (make no waste!).  Our philosophy is similar to that of good design principles.  If we put the time in up front, at the messy design stage of planning, the long term yields will be much higher.  All that being said, we do give time outs for physical violence, as we feel strongly that this is not acceptable in our home and sometimes a timeout is warranted for the safety of all involved.  Most of the behavioural guidance we offer our children comes in the form of asking questions to provoke extreme empathy or by having them predict what might happen if they carry through with an action (for example what might happen if we ran across the street without looking?).  As far as what is and is not acceptable in our home, it is family choice based on our own comfort levels.  We set many smaller limits, but these are situational.  A great tip I follow from Janet Lansbury is that if something is making you feel uncomfortable, set a clear limit and if you have lost your temper, you waited too long to set that limit.  After I set limits, I refer back to the question ‘is it necessary,’ since sometimes these limits are not genuinely serving a need, but come from the overculture, and require a more scrutinous look at a later time.  I am often trying to push my edge as to what ways I can continue to offer my children more freedom.  In the moment where I am dealing with the child, I will set the limit, because it can always be changed, with a new clearly defined boundary in the future.
  10. Awaken curiosity.  There is so much humans don’t understand.  Invite surprise.  Discover together.  Learn together.  Grow together.  Accept growth as a messy process that doesn’t always look pretty.

Missing Out

The downside of a digitized culture is that it makes it so easy to feel like we’re ‘missing out’ on things.  Here I find another place where I’m unlearning what has been bestowed upon me.  I will on occasion experience feelings of loss because of the choices we’re making as a family to diverge from mainstream culture.  I often have the feeling that I don’t ‘fit in’ anywhere and that ‘everyone else’ enjoying themselves doing carefree things that are, by choice, no longer part of my landscape.  Those ‘fun’ things no longer seem fun to me.  What I really crave is the ‘easiness’ of it all, the ability to be impulsive and joyful.  But the contentment I seek does not come from the outside world, making it more difficult to seek and find it in a culture obsessed with consuming.

Social media allows us to see what everyone else is up to through our online lens, creating the illusion that things are so much better for someone else than in our own day to day routines.  Consumption of the lives of others has become a new outlet for gluttony.  Wanting more, wanting the best, having what everyone else has.  The reality is that what we see flash across our screens is but a small portion of life, one that has been constructed, edited, and shared with intent.  Carefully selected highlights.

Parents feel pressured to expose their children to a multitude of extra curricular activities in an effort to provide them with a ‘perfect’ childhood.  In my eyes, the shuffle of activities leaves the childhood part out of the equation.  I don’t want my children to miss out on the opportunities to muck about and learn by engaging in what they’re interested in at their own pace.  This is one of the reasons I have come to form new opinons about schooling and education.  Are my children missing out on a traditional education because I’m choosing to home school them?  Of course they are.  They will not be in a class of 30+ children all of the same age.  They will not spend their days sitting indoors at desks.   They will miss out on being told in no uncertain terms how ‘smart,’ ‘athletic,’ or ‘popular’ they are, since they’ll not have a group of people constantly measuring them against others.  They will not be denied their passion for a topic because it’s not the curriculum being taught.  Their engagement of a topic will not be cut short because it’s time for science/lunch/recess/the next unit of study.  They will miss out on being the centre of attention during snack and lunchtime for our lack of consumption of sugar, wheat, corn, and processed food.  They will not have the opportunity to be able to defend our family’s choice to buy used where possible.  They will not spend their leisure time at school talking to other children about the violent video games they’re playing all night long or media they’ve watched. Yes, indeed they will miss out.

Sarcasm aside, it is hard to avoid the inevitable fear of the unknown.  Pushing edges means leaving comfort behind.  And there are of course things that I greatly enjoyed growing up in a school setting that create a reason for me to pause.  I would love for them to be involved in choir or band.  I wish for them to learn another language.  I want for them to find a group of friends where they feel belonging and trust.  I want them to discover knowledge and skills that I don’t have.  But these things seemingly offered by an institutional setting are not best suited to a classroom either.  They are available to my children without the social structure that fails to mimic natural systems.  Creativity, passion, and determination cannot be underestimated.

We can’t do it all.  We can’t have it all.  We don’t need it all.  We just want to be happy.