courage

Let’s Do This!

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This is beyond us. This is more than personal. What we are being called to do is to live freedom. Be freedom. Don’t apologize for being radical. Be it. Live it. Push it…because it’s what is needed to survive.

Bring up the heaviness that has sunk to the bottom. Mix it in. Blend the hearty nourishment that has settled beneath the depths, largely forgotten. Bring it up. Make waves and turbulence when you do. Don’t be afraid to drown. Fearlessness will actually be what keeps you afloat. Fear is a cage we create for ourselves. An entrapment that will starve us in the end. We can choose to move beyond the bars of our confinement with our eyes, our minds or our full selves when we grow enough courage to make the flight through the open door.

The surface is oily – it slips and slides reflecting and refracting light. It is elusive and escapes our stirring. It is beautiful, but it is an illusion because it is disgusting at the same time. The surface is only a shape-shifting mirage. It is not real.  What we see is not representative of what’s buried in the depths. It is thin and vain. It can’t be mixed – only skimmed form the surface. So trust and reach deep for the good stuff. Don’t be disillusioned by the surface grime that will only serve to mat your feathers flightless.

Get real. Get honest. Get to the bottom of it.  Savour the fulfilling roots at sustain us all. Connect to earth. Connect to each other. Look past the illusions of freedom that have become delusions of hollow meaning. There is nothing real in what you cannot grab hold of.  Talk to people not screens. Hear heart songs not gossip. Be engaged. Be in real time. Be in control…of what you do with yourself. Of how you choose to meet the world. Be mindful of what pulls you from your roots. From each other. From what’s real and meaningful. Stop straining. Force should not be necessary for this is a natural process.

Don’t engage the dramatic escapades of the media. Or each other. Call it out! Don’t sit idly by watching it all fall apart. Name it as fear mongering. Keep a soft heart. Stay close to your attachments. Make them your focus. Attachment determines our existence –for it is more important to us than food or water. So cling to those you love and those who love. Build form there…together. Visioning , creating and actioning…together. Secure your community. Both the externally and the one within. Stop waiting at the wall. Step out onto the dance floor and give it all you’ve got. Break out your best moves without shame. Take love seriously. Bomb the world with it. Forget the war on terror…this is a war on fear. Let’s get our rage on!

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Cutting the Tethers

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Making the descent into the unknown is a scary ride.  We are currently working our way out of this wonderful home that has been our comfort for over 8 years.  I love this house.  It makes me feel good.  But it has become clear that it no longer serves us.  We were different people than when we moved in.  We wanted to live in a neighbourhood so that our future children would be able to play with their classmates.  We now homeschool our three little ones.  We wanted a large property where we could grow our own vegetables and fruits, but not too big.  It is no longer big enough to hold our vision.  I hold such gratitude for the deep and meaningful ways this home has held us.

We recently returned from a three week ‘vacation’ to Florida, where we were trying our hand at a transient lifestyle.  We thought we might be able to sell the house and hit the road for a while, becoming ‘roadschoolers.’  It was a fantastic trip and brought us a lot of clarity.  Having a napping baby in the mix made it really difficult to do much, especially since our children don’t sleep in the car.  What ended up happening is that she missed her naps for nearly the entire trip!  This resulted in some undesirable behaviour, and really got us questioning this as a longer term solution.

Two days before the end of the trip, as Rob and I sat around the campfire together after putting the kids to bed, we reviewed the pros and cons of life in an Airstream.  We could easily identify the challenges, since we were living them moment to moment.  But the benefits were abundant as well.   Living minimally was such a breath of fresh air!  We have been trying to push into reducing our stuff for a really long time, so experiencing life with few belongings was refreshing and inspiring.  It was so meaningful to take the children places to learn things first hand.  They were able to experience so much more than is possible in one place…it was incredible.  We tried not to do a lot of ‘attractions,’ but went to a Titanic exhibition and saw Winter the dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.  Even the day we hunted for seashells along the ocean shore was amazing for the children!  They have grown in so many unexpected ways as a result of our travels.

By the end of the campfire conversation, we had decided that as difficult as it was to live this way, things would be different if we stayed in one place for much longer periods of time.  Changing how often we moved ourselves would allow us to set better boundaries for the children, fall into a nap routine for the baby, find better food to eat in each location, and generally make it plausible to find enough creative solutions to make our dream into a reality.

That night after we went to bed, there was a huge rainstorm.  We had been blessed with precipitation-free travels up until then, so sleeping through a rainstorm in the Airstream was a new experience for us all.  The dream we had created the night before were swirling around like the puddles in the children’s bedroom!  The trailer was leaking (badly) in several places and a mildew smell came to join the party.  As much as we were ready to make the jump, the rain had made it clear that this was not the right time.  Now that we’ve returned the trailer to the dealership and our lives to our version of routine, we have decided that traveling with thee children five and under is not ideal.  It seems that our family isn’t quite old enough for this type of lifestyle…yet.  We’ve filed this idea away for a few years down the road.

We did come home with clarity on a few other things as well.  It became clear while away from our routines that things in our life were no longer serving us as we had assumed they were.   We decided that in order to move forward, we needed to let go of the things that are no longer serving us.  We need to cut the ropes which tether us to the shore.  We identified that our mortgage/house and the number of hours that Rob is working outside the home needed attention.  We have a beautiful vision of where we want to end up…living debt free on a rural property somewhere with gardens, fruit trees, livestock, and joy.  The trouble has always been what steps we should take to get us there.  So, we are cutting the tethers in order to take a first few uncomfortable steps toward something new.  Toward the unknown.  The house will be listed shortly.  The hours of work are being negotiated.  We would rather choose to make an uncomfortable change from a place of security than to wait for it to be imposed upon us.  I also believe our finest human creativity is born of necessity.  So it is with courage and determination that we begin to drift from this beautiful life we know and continue watching for shadows dancing upon the horizon to guide our journey.

 

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

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.

Pushed and Pulled by Change

Pushed or pulled, either way I move.  Does it matter what force caused the change when the end result is movement?  How comfortable it seems to remain still.  But like water, if I’m not circulating, flowing, moving, I will stagnate.  Change is inevitable.  It is what sustains life.  Without embracing adaptation, I might as well consider myself next in line to be consumed.

Nature models change with such ease and beauty.  She shows effortlessly how to tumble through periods of turmoil.  Like trees that exude grace as they bounteously bloom into leaf, offering gifts of shade and oxygen by their mere existence.  When this season of giving is done they shed their leaves in another offering, regenerating the soil with their castoffs.  It is then that they fall into rest.  As spring returns, the tree will fearlessly bloom again embracing a cycle of change that is innate.

Are the trees conscious of their cycle?  Pondering when to send forth a first bud, or drop their first leaf?  How deep does their knowing run?  Are there unheard languages spoken in the forest?  Does their version of consciousness elude humans because it is created too pure, generous, and unassuming for us to understand?  If trees feared which of them had the tinniest trunk or prettiest leaves, natural cycles would surely go awry.  Existential trees could be even more problematic.  Instead, they grow.  They don’t resist or question their own growth.  By some internal guide, they find the strength to push through oppressions like concrete in order to expand.  Or perhaps it is a set of external forces that pulls them into change?  Nature’s bidding that calls them to action.  They listen and respond.  I’d like to believe they exist through change being both pushed and pulled.

I have a lot to learn from the trees who wind wildly through all the seasons of change.  Growth.  Joy,  Decay.  Stillness.  Each beautiful in its own right, offering up different aspects of what it means to be alive.  A full spectrum of experience.  The constraints of my humanness remain, but by trying to embrace my cycles of change I hope to make progress nonetheless.  Change is what keeps me in line with nature’s cycles.  Pushing and pulling me through the often ugly beginnings of spring, the beauty and wonderment of summer’s bounty, the decay of old ideas and into dormant rest to recuperate for the inevitable return of spring.

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.