gratitude

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?

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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.

 

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?

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.

 

2015 in Review

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A lot has happened in the past year.  In retrospect, many things have shifted for us where at the time it felt like change was slow.  It was wonderful to sit and reminisce about where we have been this year, and get excited for where it is we’re headed!

According to my WordPress annual report, the top five posts I published this year are:

First Steps – A post that brought me to tears upon re-reading, since the sentiments are so very true for where we’re at in our journey right now…we have been preparing to move for a very long time.  I have worked at adjusting my mental and physical spaces, making room for change.  Now…all of a sudden, it’s time!

Truth and Grace – This post was written about my struggle to meet the world with integrity.  When I re-read it nearly a year later, there were many things that still felt current.  I think the search for balance between truth and grace is one I shall pursue for the rest of my days.

Top 10 Permaculture Parenting Tips – This was my first ‘top 10’ style post, and I was really proud of it!  Since writing it, we have been able to phase out of ‘time outs’ even, which is lovely.  Sometimes the children are requested to ‘take a break’ from the situation in a location of their choice, but it was nice to see progress in my own parenting methods since posting!  I would like to delve further into this topic, and plan to over the next year…perhaps in ebook form?  We’ll see!

Should Children Do Chores? – We tried having a set tidy up time before dinner and had a great groove going for a while!  Then something interfered with our schedule for a few days (illness?  trip?  I can’t remember) and we lost our rhythm.  Once it was thrown off kilter, it has been hard to regain balance, but we keep trying.  There have been a lot of external factors inhibiting our success in this realm.  Rather than stress about it, we tidy before dinner on days when it’s possible.  Other days, we live with the mess!  In the meantime we are also drastically reducing and simplifying the inside of our home so that tidying up is far less overwhelming no matter when it happens.

Offensively Defensive – I still catch myself on rare occasions making apologies for something that hasn’t been identified as a problem.  As I have been able to release my defensiveness  and assume that people are not passing judgments, I have begun to notice just how much passive aggressive communication happens in our culture.  Upon reflection, it is likely the passive aggressive culture that led to my offensive defensiveness, since people are passing judgments all the time!  I feel blessed to now be able to witness these judgmental statements as a reflection of the speaker, not myself.  I have realized I don’t have to participate in this part of culture, I can just watch it all happen, and the anxiety and fear that goes along with it…from a distance!

Apart from what WordPress had to say, I reviewed many of my posts from the past year, and thought I would share a few more…

My most meaningful post was Facing the Ugliness of Parenting.  It was difficult to write and even harder to release to the world.  Admitting a lack of perfection is frowned upon in our society,  which is exactly why it needs to be normalized!  Parenting should not be done in solitude…

A post that was great for me to reread was The Sound of Crying.  I am happy to have reminded myself of how important crying is to the landscape of a child.  I still struggle with this at time, wanting to stop the sobs for my own purposes.  But reading this post again has reminded me of my purpose and dedication to releasing this within myself.

My favourite post from this year was The Rocky Road to Simple Living.  I feel like it captures many sentiments and learning that I continually press into.  I think ‘simple living’ is actually about continually redefining what it means for myself.  To some it might be tending chickens, to others it might mean living with minimal possessions.  Ultimately, it means something completely different to each one of us.  So it is by very definition a grey area.  In the process of defining a ‘simple life’ I am also able to determine that which does not serve me.  Simple living is about creating space for what matters, and letting the rest fall away.  It is the pursuit of simple living that is difficult because journeys of self-reflection are not easy.

Thank you for reading!  Your presence with my words is very much appreciated.  Blessings for a wonderful 2016!

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!

 

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…