Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Premembering: Building the Future with the Past

Why do we write down our thoughts? A while ago I changed the name of this blog from Feminist Farmer’s Wife (a journey about how a wife and mother finds her footing in a farm setting) to Inspiration Station. It was something about getting out of a dark place and surrounding myself with hope and possibility, things that were inspiring, and being more kind.

I wanted to stop complaining and worrying and obsessing in my writing and make my words into something more productive. Something that people could use. Instead of recipes for food, patterns for knitting, plans for chicken coops, I wanted to form quilts of ideas woven together. Connect things that might not naturally be brought together. All in the hopes of building a future that would be more enjoyable to live in. For all of us.

A year later I have noticed something very powerful. Where I once believed that you could make things come true by simply writing them down, I now see something different going on. I recently learned of the term ‘premembering’ from my favourite writer, Martha Beck. Premembering is basically getting a sense of something just before it happens. Like all memory related things, the thoughts can be jumbled, they are not always accurate or clear. What if the ‘memories’ of the future are coming to you, all the time, and you only need to find a way to make sense of them?

Writing things down about the future – that’s a form of premembering. A sort of diary about what is to come. The things you dream about, envision, wish for, want to build in the world. Now hold on a minute, I didn’t say you were psychically imagining what was going to happen next. I just mean you start to lay out the path a bit. Push aside debris to make some openings. Map out a little direction. Tell the world you’re ready to go whichever way it can take you.

Last fall we had an unfortunate event happen to our space. After spending literally years cleaning up the leftover construction materials from the addition we put on our house, we were finally starting to make progress when some neighbours offered us some lumber from a shed they were tearing down. As garbage loads were now costing locals a fortune, people were looking for creative ways to get rid of their junk. For us, this looked like a truck backing up on a day that we were not home and unloading all of this ‘lumber’ (aka the entire shed in a heap) onto our lawn.

I was not pleased with the mess. Many months went by and I complained about what I saw out my window. I cursed the pile of garbage on our lawn. Until I walked over to it one day and had a good look at what was there. Some two by fours. Some strapping. Siding. Plywood. Floorboards.

I pulled out a crow bar, a hammer and an empty bucket for the old, crooked nails and got to work. Hours and hours of disassembling eventually led to neat little piles of lumber of different shapes and sizes. My husband had already been going at the pile for months and putting what we couldn’t use in the furnace. I was tackling what was left. If you know anything about me, you’ll know that nothing makes me happier than reusing something that would otherwise go to waste.

Such were the beginnings of a new raised playhouse. Poles were sunk, a second story floor was hung, a frame was built, ladders hung, nets and slides positioned, old windows dragged out of corners of the farm, tin brought from our parent’s house. Save for the slide and net, all of the materials for this playhouse were from recycled materials.

Next came a portable chicken coop. It is the triangular variety good enough for 3-6 birds. It is light and easy to move, has a nice little swinging door, and a perching branch leading to a nest box where the chickens can lay their eggs. So far the new chicken coop is working swimmingly and allows us to pasture our hens without concerning ourselves about predators (including our resident fox).

As my children grow past the stage of toddler toys and games and into the realm of exploring and climbing for their independence, they now have a perch for themselves. From their new house they can look over the entire farm and enjoy some privacy away from Mom and Dad (though I positioned it where we can see them from many of the working stations on the farm).

Though it is not yet finished, it is getting there. Yes, I have been away from writing for a bit. Just imagine me out there with my hammer and nails and a big smile on my face. Perhaps you’ll forgive me.

You see, I believe that you can use the mess you’ve got to build something good in your future. You may not see your lot as anything but chaos, but something inside of you may already know exactly what comes next. You just have to walk over to the pile of junk, get out the tools you have and start working.

A year ago I honestly did not think it was possible to regain any sense of confidence in my life again. So caught up in the day-to-day demands I was, that I lost myself entirely. And somehow I seemed to have premembered my way back into something more productive for everyone around me. A balance that suits my family and me, at least for now. None of it could have been planned. There was only one foot in front of the other. One nail pulled at a time. Next comes a blog about the present I think. Can there be such a thing? What do you think that would look like? Or is it technically impossible to write down your thoughts and still be in the present moment?

I’ll have to get out there with my pile of lumber and think on that a little more.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Carbon Copy Children?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could understand what was going through your child’s mind every minute of every day? Wouldn’t life be so much easier if you knew, you just knew, what they needed when they needed it? In the real world we must interact with our children using the best available information we can find. In fact, we must interact with everyone this way. And there often isn't much to go on.

There are visual cues like sweating, crying, laughing or squirming. Maybe it is something we can sense like tension, or distance. If we are lucky we are told what is needed – there is hunger, the person is cold, hurt, tired…

Yet without instruction, no matter what state we are trying to read, we are only ever able to perceive it through our own senses and experiences. If we are hungry we might push food. If we have a chill we may hand over a sweater. If we are afraid, we might surround and protect. Only once we master the art of empathy can we take ourselves out of the picture and respond to the true needs of another.

But how often do we misread what is needed from us? This is perfectly illustrated with those who do not actually need anything from us. I have been known to lean over my fellow adult dinner date’s plate and start cutting up his steak. I have assumed that someone in the centre of a crowd needs space. I have turned off lights, closed windows, silenced radios, all in response to what I thought others might need. In the end, I think they were really only things I would have wanted myself.

Here is the thing. As parents we are being asked to care for people that we can’t completely understand. Why? Because we are not inside their bodies or their minds. Though they seem a part of us, they are still so very separate. Frustratingly separate. Their needs are different, their lives are unique, their experiences are their own. And most of the time, our own little interpretations just aren’t going to cut it.

Greater than what goes on in our own little households is the need to educate these little minds. To show them how the world works. To teach them skills and ways of learning and avenues to explore. We hope they will meet their potential. That they will be true to themselves. And for that, we will need them to know that it is okay to be different.

Yet all we have to go on is our own little perspectives. The little window that we view the world through. We have to send them out into the world knowing that they are going to see something different than what we see. They are always expanding into territory uncharted by us. And yet somehow, we are still asked to guide them.

It makes me realize how very important it is for us to let our children know that we trust them. To teach them respect and appreciation for differences. Including their differences. Because all too soon our ways will part and they will be heading in a direction so unfamiliar to us we may no longer be able to get our bearings in their lives.

I’ve spent a lifetime trying to justify why I didn’t seem to view the world the way others did. I spent many decades learning how to behave so that I wouldn’t appear so darned odd to the folks around me. I have spent countless hours teaching myself the things I was supposedly taught in school. I didn’t learn the way others did. I didn’t think the way others did. I didn’t say or write things that people could understand.

It is only now, four decades in, that I recognize that it is time to celebrate that difference. As quirky as it may be, our difference is the very thing we have to offer the world that cannot be duplicated.

Can I work harder to see my children through their own eyes? Could I take my own desires out of the equation to see more clearly what they need? Learn ways to listen better, open our minds, accept that appreciating who our children become may mean taking a walk right into the middle of the unknown. Just because we cannot recognize parts of ourselves in our children does not mean they have gone astray.

What a naïve parent I am! To have believed that my genetic code would create something predictable. Something that I could explain.

It is easy to fear something that is unknown. But perhaps if we expect it to be new and different, we will be much better equipped to support what comes down the pipe. Who knows whether our children will be artists or lawyers, whether they will rule countries or study ant colonies.

I figure the sooner we wrap our head around how great it is that we are all so very different, the better poised we will be to cheer on the wonderful human beings our children are well on their way to becoming.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Local Cinnamon Bark?

My four year old recently asked my husband how to make cinnamon. Hubby said it comes from the bark of a tree. My son wanted to know why we don’t make cinnamon from our trees, then.

I’ve resigned myself to the pull of the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins lately. For years people have been approaching me and telling me they are reading these books. As someone who usually reads non-fiction and rarely fiction, especially popular fiction, I couldn’t understand what I would enjoy about this book.

I was a girl growing food from my land. I was raising kids in a world that scares me just a little in terms of what we might be leaving them in the future. I did not need a haunting scenario dramatized for me. (That said, Margaret Atwood and Oryx and Crake was a book I got a lot out of – smartly written, not gratuitously provocative). Being afraid of scarcity in our future was not entertainment for me.

But the curiousity got the better of me and now I see something of what I might have in common with this fictional time and place. If you know nothing about the Hunger Games, suffice to say that the folks in this book need to learn how to be resourceful and survive in the wild. It is true that I want to learn basic skills. But this is not out of a fear that they would be needed if technology or political boundaries busted down and we were all stuck to fend for ourselves. I am pretty certain that in the event of a catastrophe or war we would not be left in our bucolic corner to enjoy our cornucopia while others starved. All I have ever been drawn to about our countryside place of abundance is to know where things grow, how they are made, what the original materials are. I don’t do this because I think the world is going to end. I interested in the ultimate things that help us survive. What are we here for if not to learn what sustains us?

As an aside a wee calf entered our lives recently. She is a lovely little dairy specimen (our first after a string of getting female beef or male dairy offspring) that we hope to milk one day. She is lovely and her mother is producing a healthy amount of milk that we will soon be able to enjoy when the colostrum production finishes.

After two years of my son asking when we were going to drink ‘Bonnie milk’ again, I am pleased to tell him that it will be any day now. I only hope he does not start banning milk at day care again stating that he won’t drink anything but milk from Bonnie, our Jersey.

Back to the cinnamon. I can’t tell you how proud I was when my son explored the origin of cinnamon. There are so few things that we don’t bring to our table that he is actually now noticing the exceptions. This is remarkable insight on his part. And tells me this kid knows where things come from. Not because we explained it all to him. But because he has watched it all cycle around.

I have seen a place where cinnamon grows in a far away land on an island off of west Africa. The climate is a little different there than it is up here in Canada and my guess is that we won’t be growing any cinnamon here anytime soon. Then yet again there is a winery up the road from us producing their own wine from their grapes. It was once thought we did not have a long enough growing season to grow grapes for wine.

May and early June is the season of greens here, especially the baby salad mix kind including hot mustards, young lettuces, and arugula. Later in the month we will see our first strawberries and the arc of colour will begin. Until then, I am helping myself to a milk bag sized bag of greens everyday on my drive home from work. There is nothing quite like the splash of flavour that comes from eating real salad mix fresh from the garden. No dressing required.

Though we won’t be seeing any cinnamon bark trees around here anytime soon, I do know one thing. My little boy is connected to something that took me half a lifetime to learn.

How does your garden grow?