community

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.

Clothing Swap!

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

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

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

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

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

How to host your own clothing swap:

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

 

 

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…

Building Community with Skill Share

This past weekend we invited friends over to learn how to graft fruit trees!  Rob and a couple of other attendees have attended workshops with Ken Taylor to learn how to graft onto root stock.  There were a few reasons for us to host a work party.  Realistically, we have been meaning to do this grafting for a while, but it never seems to make it to the top of the ‘to do’ list, so scheduling a time on the calendar with people coming over made it possible to get the work done.  We also enjoy having many like minded people around, and any excuse for a gathering is a good one.  We were also excited to share the skills we’re developing with others.  The most beautiful and unexpected part for me though was sharing the process of learning – that messy bit where no one really is sure they’re doing the right thing.  Muddling through the learning process with others to support and guide each other made the whole process so much more enjoyable.

We took it slow.  We started by watching a short video demonstration of what we were about to do before heading out to the garden.   During the grafting process we took time to pause and talk, look at each others work, ask questions, and generally meander through the afternoon together.  It was nice to have a relaxed but purposeful atmosphere.  There were many children in attendance as well, which added to the joy of the afternoon.  Because there were so many adults around, no one really had to watch them, they were playing close by.  It all seemed so natural.  There was flow to the afternoon, as the grafting finished up, we drifted into a pot luck dinner.  People came and went as they needed to.  It was easy.  It was what I envision life should be like.  It was a taste of life lived in community.

Roosting

A friend of mine recently put out a call for someone to take a few of her beloved chickens.  She ordered some Swedish Flower eggs in the Spring, and didn’t expect almost all of them to hatch!  For this reason, we will be getting three hens and a rooster!  We are so excited for their arrival, although it has meant a great deal of work around here.  The last time we had chickens was nearly five years ago.  It was a good experience at first…until the rats came.  There were a lot of them.  Seems our first attempt at creating a chicken coop wasn’t entirely small rodent proof.  At first we were in denial about just how many rats there were, until one dramatic evening when Rob went into the barn to put something away.  Before he could turn on the light, he noticed the straw beneath the chickens feet heaving.  When he flicked on the light, he saw over fifty rats scurry up the walls and out of the barn.  After that we removed all the chicken feed at night, in hopes they would look elsewhere for food and shelter.  Turns out that rats aren’t overly particular about their dinner, and turned to eating chicken poop when their feed was in short supply.  But the day one ran up my arm and hurled itself across the barn as I attempted to take out the garbage was the day we decided to get rid of our first lot of chickens.  They were delicious. The rats vacated not long after that, since it was late fall and they needed somewhere with more food to survive.

Since that time we’ve always dreamed of having chickens again.  What I want to say deterred us was finding the right breed.  The first lot were Chanteclers, which are supposed to be wonderful laying hens for northern climates.  They turned out to be so skittish that they would run in terror from the feed we threw in their general direction.   This created a huge problem, since this is generally how you call your birds home.  They were so fearful in fact that we thought there was something wrong with one of the birds because it sat still most of the time and would come close to us.  It also had some feathers that stuck out at the sides of its beak.  We affectionately named this one ‘mutton chops.’  Turns out once this hen started laying eggs that they were blue!  What we thought was a ‘sick’ and docile bird turned out to be an Easter Egger!  The only one of the lot we liked much.

But when my friend offered me her birds, which had a most wonderful description, I couldn’t resist. This meant I had to face the real reason we haven’t had chickens again..the great deal of work it was going to be to overhaul our coop.  Accepting the birds meant the work on the coop had to be done, despite a good likelihood that we will be moving from this home.

Our ‘new’ rat-proof chicken feed storage unit

My in-laws came over on Saturday and helped us with the project.  Rob’s dad has built hundreds of cages for shrikes and came equipped with a roll of industrial strength wire and an air powered staple gun.  His expertise was invaluable, and he had a plan to create a room within the barn to keep all rodent life out.  We were able to piece together the coop using materials that we already had between the two families.  He showed me how to use the staple gun (which was an intense experience!)  Rob did a lot of the cutting of wood and his Dad and I worked in the coop putting the pieces together.  Rob’s mom took the kids all day while we worked.  She even braved a trip to the library with a newly walking baby girl, who likes to get into everything!  It was so nice to feel so supported in our work.  It felt so right to spend a day working and playing together, breaking midday to share lunch.  It was so generous of them to spend the day with us, and we appreciate their help with such deep gratitude.   We didn’t finish the coop on Saturday, but decided to stop working late in the afternoon with only the front and door left to finish.  It had been a long hot day, and we appreciated cooling off in the pool in the late afternoon sunshine.

Sunday, Rob took the kids and I worked to finish the coop.  It was definitely an empowering experience to finish the project myself…well, mostly, Rob helped out during the children’s rest time!  I’ve done my share of construction while completing my visual art degree, but chose to use hand tools for most of the process, since that’s what appealed to my creative (and tentative) side.  Using power tools is a whole other experience.  I had my hand at a staple gun and used the chop saw too.  Not sure I’m a huge fan of these implements, but it was a power-trip to be sure!

Putting in all that work in our barn has me feeling more nostalgic than ever about this place.  I love it here.  I think the new chicken coop is amazing.  If any rodents find their way in, they deserve whatever food they can find!  We even upgraded our feed storage…if you can call using our old freezer an upgrade!  But what I have learned is that it doesn’t matter where we end up, the support of our community is what matters, and we will make sure it comes with us to our new home!  We will pick up our birds next week sometime.  Before then, we need to find some bales of straw and fill the freezer!

 

A Message of Activism

“If we don’t change our direction, we’re going to wind up where we’re headed”

-Native American Saying

I had the extreme pleasure of attending a lecture given by Starhawk last week.  I decided that her message was too important to keep to myself, so here are the salient points that I came away with…

The decisions we make in the next ten years will determine the future of the human species and the earth.  Culture forgets that our resources are sacred.  We need to start caring about Earth’s resources more than our own comfort.  We need to care enough to refuse watching it be defiled.  We need to care enough that we will make sacrifices in order to maintain clean water.

It is a problem when power is in the hands of few people.  Centralized power likes centralized power.  Why does centralized power require enforcement?  Because in its very nature, it’s calling for rebellion.  We can’t ‘solve’ climate change because of the vested interest in oil.  The Tar Sands raise a deep moral question.  How do we take care of the earth?  A million Litres of water a polluted EVERY DAY in the extraction of oil from Tar Sands, 95% of which cannot be treated.  The first are showing signs of tumors and cancer.  What we need is a shift in consciousness, spirit and values in order to make change.  We need interdependence and cooperation.

“What would it be like if we replaced scarcity thinking with the goal of creating as much real abundance as possible?”

-Courney White, Grass, Soil, Hope

Abundance means sharing and everyone having enough.  Abundance is found through generosity.  We need to create safe, renewable power within ourselves to regenerate the land.  We need to rehydrate the earth – water brings life.  Slow it, spread it, sink it.  Drought represents many levels of difficult relationships.  Put humus (carbon) back in the soil to regain humility.  Heal the soil by using compost, compost tea, sheet mulching, worms, bio-char, fungi/mycellium, growing intentionally selected plants and working for survival.  Look to holistic management practices for grazing animals according to patterns of wild herds to regenerate soil quickly by restoring carbon.

We don’t need outer solutions, what we need to do is work in harmony.  Here she cited the example of a company looking to invent a device to take carbon dioxide out of the air, balking at this unnecessary business venture, since nature and plants have the best possible systems to serve this need, ones we couldn’t dream of replicating, let alone improve on.  What we need to do is stop taking resources out of our planet in order to preserve the pristine while doing all we can to put carbon back into the soil.  We are responsible for giving back, not just taking.

We need to be considering the destruction of our environment as a moral issue.  Then value moral issues above economic issues.  We need to take care of each other.  Our money should be going to support the elderly, educating the young and taking care of the sick.  Wealth distribution is not stable or sustainable.  Localize and regenerate the cities by growing food near them.  How many times the dollar changes hands before it leaves the community is the determining factor for how much buying local is actually supporting the local economy.  Shopping at your local chain store serves no inherit benefit.  We need to shift our view away from large systems.  The message isn’t less, it’s conservation. Save energy.

Let’s look at how to improve the quality of our lives so we require less quantity.  Transition towns.  Community gardens.  Community on every level is the antidote to climate change.  We need to organize in order to create change.  Lobby.  Campaign.  Use media.  Build coalitions.  Resist and protest.  Say no to policy, not to the people behind it.  It is for a noble cause that we separate the people from the choices they make.  Build leverage, but out of love rather than hatred.  Build our future for the land, nature, and our children.  We need to do all of this yesterday – but since we can’t, we need to do it today!

Stages of an activist campaign: research, educate (children and officials), negotiate (policies and legislation), mobilize, direct action, and transformation!  She left us to ponder the question,”What are you producing that feeds the land?”

The Push and Pull of Community

“The healthy social life is found, when in the mirror of each human soul, the whole community finds its reflection, and when in the community, the virtue of each one is living.”

~Rudolf Steiner

As I was writing my post yesterday about parenting from the heart, I recalled the piece I wrote at my first writer’s circle last week.  I have been pondering the idea of love and have come to the conclusion that is not a simple one.  I have been exploring its polarizing aspects.  Full love, true love, deep love, includes boundless beauty, but also many unsavory bits.  Love is what binds life together into a journey worth taking.  I have edited the original version slightly, but here it is:

When people join together, something new is formed.  The mixing of experiences, beings and energies creatively combine into something different.  This couldn’t be more true than it is with my family.  I am new because of the living I’m doing in community with my children and husband.  We’ve become so intertwined.  There are depths to our knowing of each other that cannot be understood by our minds.  Patterns of falling into each other and repelling again.  But after each cycle of push and pull, we are all changed for it.  Like re-calibrating the poles of a magnet – we are drawn in and push apart in an act of nature beyond our control.

My deep rooted connection to them cannot allow me to be totally lost despite sometimes feeling the need for distance between us.  I sometimes crave autonomy.  But I can never really be alone.  My need for space exists because of our relationship with each other.  Definition of myself is always anchored by knowing who I am in relation to the loves of my life.  Every time I push away, the poles of my magnet flip and I’m saved from myself – brought back to the wholeness of our family nest.  They are part of who I am.  Their pull is greater than my own strength.  I cannot wander too far.

Pulling myself back into alignment with togetherness, to something greater than myself, is actually what is allowing me to know myself.  Moments of repulsion have the ability to teach me who I am.  With each flip of the poles, my influences are broadening.  Likewise so are the ripples of change I create.  I send out myself while receiving others, then send out a new self, receiving again.  For a cycle of growth that is never solely my own.

Connection is such a simple idea but so difficult in practice.  I miss so many opportunities because I’m just not present enough to fully hear.  I miss making eye contact, or don’t really listen with my full self.  In my absence from our togetherness, I am lost.  I am missing to my loved one, but also absent to myself.  I am missing the chance to catch my own reverberations.

My inner strength is heavy and of the earth.  Iron courses my veins, holding its invisible magnetic power to draw in and push out.  Opening to the polarities in life, in both its attractive and repulsive states, is what allows me to grow.  What allows all of us to grow.