Friday, December 30, 2011

The Whole Life

My husband and I may be taking a course in January called Holistic Management. It is intended for farmer’s but the principles can be applied to many aspects of our lives. Hence, my interest in it.

What the course teaches is to look at farming as a process that should help us meet our life’s purpose – a means to an end - and not the end in itself. In other words, we should tend to a piece of land because the act of doing it makes us feel at home in ourselves. For me, I have always enjoyed the satisfaction gained from creating food for people and the ability to do something real with my hands that always provides new opportunities to learn. (Indeedy that it is). But in the business and busy-ness of it all, the wholeness started to break into little tiny parts. And the sum of these parts were less than that of the whole.

Focusing on a complete entity, instead of the fragmented parts, I believe, is a spiritual practise. Wholeness is found when your little heart fills with curiosity and wonder about the day ahead as soon as you get up in the morning. Where you are connected to your pure self. There is so much about where we live that brings out that innocent, curious child in me. This is why I feel both confusion and hope when I become so tired from it despite having everything I ever wanted right under my nose.

My husband and I journeyed into a life beside each other because we worked well together. We bought a farm because we both appreciated the elements that it had to offer, not because it was entirely central to our plans. Within a few years there was a business, two children and major renovations and farm makeovers. We fared it well, I believe, but there was a landslide of responsibilities from very early on in the relationship. Though we were building our dream life together, my focus slowly shifted to all that we had to get done and away from the reasons why we were doing it.

What I had forgotten was that it was the two of us that had breathed life into our farm. And in return we were given a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. When, if ever, did our farm sign an ownership agreement to take possession of the two of us? How important to incorporate the needs of our family, our bodies, our house, our personal practices into our lives, despite the deands of our work. Yet it became so easy to take care of the pieces forgetting that there was a whole system to attend to. Focusing on the housekeeping and not the house.

Apparently, the clues to finding the underlying purpose of your life are all around you. I have read that in order to create change we should build tomorrow out of the stuff of today. In other words, it may not be necessary to quit your job, move out of the country, sell the farm and send your kids away to change your life! That is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Instead you ought to seek out the reason why you ventured where you did in the first place. What was the original passion that brought you to this undertaking? Then you tweak your decisions until the original purpose becomes clear again. That way you get to keep the good stuff, chuck the rest.

Sometimes our reasons get left in the attic with the rest of the unpacked boxes. The most valuable things can be stored away for safe-keeping. Yet having our dreams out of reach is not useful in the event that they are needed. It seems if you lose sight of the reasons why you’re doing what you do, you’re left with nothing but a to-do list. And that, in my opinion, is not enough.

I do look around and see that I still possess the stuff that my dreams are made of. I have a partner that is compatible with me beyond my wildest expectations. There are children that are healthy and seemingly happy despite the bumpy parts. My body is starting to relish in the changes from regular activity and healthier intake (Christmas cookies aside). I still humour artistic urges on a regular basis. There is love aplenty and strength to persevere and a palette to tell it all to in writing. What more could a girl ask for?

As the New Year approaches, I look forward to awakening to the purpose behind my life again.

One of my favourite sayings is the one about taking a journey only to find what you were looking for was waiting back where you started.

This year, may you tease apart the busy and unpack the purpose that brought you here. And know that you have the intuition needed to find your path back to the beginning. Back to where the circle is once again made whole.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Broken Muscles, Broken Heart

When I am working on gaining fitness, my focus shifts from the numbers on a scale and the size of my pants to how I feel. This is a very good thing. Though the number on the scale has recently been climbing (I’ve decided it is all that muscle I’m gaining and not the twelve boxes of chocolates I’m indulging in), I don’t beat myself up over it. Instead, I throw on my running shoes and remind myself of the power and potential strength my body houses.

This morning I propped the kids on the couch with a bowl of oatmeal and headed out for a cold, winter morning run with the dogs. It seemed a necessary undertaking (as did this post) before the wind of Christmas sweeps us away for the next number of days.

The sun was shining on newly fallen snow causing the entire untrampled ground surface to glisten like lights on a mirror. The temperature hovered around -15C which is the kind of cold that makes the condensation from your breath build icicles on your eyelashes. But I had dressed for it. Looking through these sparkling frames around my lashes gave an effect that no Photoshopped Christmas card could ever accomplish. A moving picture of magic all around me.

A few days ago I played my first game of squash in a very long time with a seasoned player and had to take a couple of days off of any form of exercise. If you’ve ever played the game, you know what I mean. I had squash butt. Which means you can’t lower yourself onto a toilet or down a single stair or bend to pick anything up, or get yourself out of bed or into a car for a couple of days. I felt 80 years old. Yet, exceptionally pleased to be back in the game so to speak.

The game of squash to me, with the right partner, is an exercise in all manner of expression. I spend the 45 minutes listening to my heart pounding in my chest, wiping sweat from my brow, breathing heavily, giggling at my follies, cursing at my mistakes and enjoying the power of a really good shot every once in a very little while. All of this is shared with another person. That is trust and intimacy in its deepest form. In order to turn purple and slog through such a thing in front of someone, you really need to trust them.

My daughter asked me why I was limping about yesterday and I explained the way you do to a 6 year old in simple terms. When we exercise, we are making ourselves stronger. In order for your muscles to build, they have to first break themselves apart. And that feeling hurts but it is just your body telling you that you are getting stronger.

What a beautiful metaphor for the heart. We have heard about how we can be stronger in the broken places. How a broken bone is stronger when it heals. But when you have experienced a broken heart (and I’m certain we all have in one way or another) it is very difficult to see that this ‘injury’ is one that will lead to greater strength in the future.

These holidays are a time that we get to learn how to open our hearts to the world. We are exposed to all manner of challenges to get ourselves ready for the festivities and offer as much as we can to those in need. People get frayed and fragile during these emotional times. And we forget to take care of ourselves and wonder why we end up sick or crying or mad or feeling guilty when we're supposed to be filled with only joy and cheer.

Christmas (or any other celebration that you observe) becomes an opportunity to break apart. And find yourself at the end of the calendar year healed in some strange way from the process. Because we are given the opportunity to put ourselves back together in a way that is more stable than ever before.

May your heart be broken this season. Wide open. Taking in all of the wonder and beauty of the world around you. Letting go of the pain or the worry or the guilt or the fear. May you find strength in the broken places.

Almost like somebody put on shiny, ice-sparkled glasses when you took the opportunity to run through a winter wonderland.

Happy holidays to all.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Securing Your Words

Do you ever wonder what leads people to reveal themselves in writing? Worse yet, all over the internet in blogs, or social media outlets? Why share intimate details of one's personal life in public fora? I often get a look of puzzlement when I speak of wanting to write my story. I think if you’re a private person, the idea of splattering your worst moments, or even your best, all over the place would be as comfortable as peeling your eyelids inside out.

I don’t consider myself a gregarious person. I actually think I fall more accurately into the private category. But I have these words that find me and feel like I’d be letting myself down if I didn’t let them out of their box. They are pushy, these words, and are looking for a way to be heard.

I am reading Carrie Fisher’s latest memoir called Shockaholic where she talks about her experience on shock therapy for depression (among other things). The woman is hilarious, incredibly intelligent and seemingly constantly at the whim of her feelings. She’s a bona fide navel gazer and a darn good one in my opinion!

I have never needed to come across as a ‘together’ person, only an honest one. Though I find myself wondering why she feels the need to reveal so much about herself. Why can’t she write the book and tuck it away in a drawer somewhere until someone finds it after she dies?
But the truth is that I already know why. In fact, Carrie Fisher says it best when she says she puts her feelings into words and prays they won’t get out again. Like drugs or alcohol (which Fisher admits she has used plenty of in her day), words can take the edge off of a problem, bring light (at least temporarily) to dark corners, make the unbearable easier to face – or at least hide from.

Yet the beauty of words is that they don’t give you a hangover. The solutions that appear in writing cannot only prevent self-destruction, but have the ability to help others when they are used well. Although they might be addictive, I would argue that they are more likely elusive and you couldn’t get a dealer to bring them to you no matter how much money you had.
Words can be a perfect friend telling you all the right things at just the right moment. They can make you feel connected or guided. When you find the right ones, I believe it is a gift to offer them to the world. To keep them to yourself for reasons of pride or ego would be selfish, in my opinion.

The world needs our words. Carefully chosen, artfully arranged, respectfully shared. Without words, we have no voice and cannot be heard. There is a place for silence, and a time for words.

I don’t think we should ever feel badly for sharing our thoughts. The words that make the world make sense to us, they may be the same words that another needs to hear.

I’m not signing up to be anyone’s therapist here. I wouldn’t be so bold to assume that I could make a difference in anyone’s life. But I can not judge another for using words as a way of quelling fears or confusion or loneliness. I could not assume that sharing words about matters close to home is an unstable practise. Sometimes words are what a person needs to get through the day.

What Fisher neglected to mention is that her feelings may well find their way into words, and though she prays they won't, they may in fact get out again. Out into the world where they can make a difference, change a life, help an idea along or alter a mood. And that may not in any way be a bad thing.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Embracing the Inner Animal

Our family went to see the new Muppet movie recently. As a child I was a serious Muppet fan. Since I still haven’t decided whether I wish to grow up or not, it is safe to assume I am still very much a Muppet fan. I loved the movie. It tickled me with its music, humour, nostalgia and great wit.

One of my favourite characters is Animal. A friend of mine put together a video at our wedding without our knowledge where he went around asking the guests which Muppet they felt Rob or I was most like. Rob got Fozzy Bear and Kermit. Half the folks suggested I was closest to Miss Piggy. The other half thought more the groovy hippy chick in the band. I noted it depended whether the people met me in my early years or later in life. Early years got Miss Piggy.
Later years got hippie chick.

There was only one person who said I was closest to Animal. This person knows me best, I figure. I think it was my brother – or maybe my husband-to-be.

If you don’t know who Animal is he is the crazed monster-like creature who speaks in short syllables with a gutteral voice. His puppet usually has his mouth wide open, his neon hair is standing straight up in the air and his head is throwing itself about uncontrollably. He is a drummer.

In the latest Muppet movie he is trying to be a more controlled individual and has given up drumming altogether. He doesn’t seem too thrilled with being a reserved character but gets support by his meditation sponsor played by Jack Black. Watching him continually repeat his mantra ‘In Controoooollllllll’ had me regularly in tears of laughter.

Have you heard the Muppet version of Wild Thing? It includes a nice little acoustic version of Kermit singing quietly with his ukulele. Then along comes Animal and adds drums to the whole thing much to Kermit’s surprise, making the song rock out. I still listen to this song frequently. It is hilarious. A great kids song. Do go and find it and have a listen.
I won’t spoil the movie for you in case you plan to see it. But suffice to say Animal is not a fellow who would easily be contained. This puppet has passion and he is particularly expressive about his feelings and urges. He is not subtle. He oozes emotions and physical energy. And to date, aside from the time the others got upset that he ate his drum set, the folks around him seem to have accepted him the way he is.

If that person at my wedding is right, I gather that I’m not very good at bottling things up. Although I do my best to hide anything that might make the scene around me uncomfortable, I seem to manage to fail almost 100% of the time. This is true for ups or downs.

Though I don’t think anyone would take well to being asked to control their expressive side (especially with handcuffs), I expect there are many circumstances where toning it down is appreciated. But as far as women go, at least the ones that I’ve gotten to know, I see a greater need to express more often, than a need to see more containment. It seems at birth we are given a long list of rules of what makes a ‘lady’ and we are asked repeatedly to abide by the rules (sometimes indirectly and often explicitly).

A woman must be poised and in control. She must be polite and at the ready to serve if needed. As the decades went by, she had to be more and more capable of running a household both financially and otherwise. A woman should never cry in the workplace (or in public for that matter) as it is unprofessional and deems her a weakling. Should she get angry to the point of shouting, she is a crazy person. If she laughs too loudly, she is disruptive. Should she speak her opinions too strongly she is a tyrant or a bitch. If she reveals a soft side or vulnerability, she is not fit to play with the big boys.

Over time, slowly but surely, the world has learned that rules are handy things to have but sometimes, and sometimes often, those rules are made to be broken. No person, man, woman or child, should ever be made to feel that the full expression of herself is a fault. Why it became important to tame a wild woman into a lady, I will never understand. Now I am not suggesting destructive wildness. Not even that it is necessary to be offensive or gregarious in ones wildness. Just to honour that un-stifled version once in a while. Let her out for a romp.

What I hope to see more of in the future are women who are unfettered by chains that were made so that others could have a more convenient time of things. I wouldn’t suggest a full-on Animal imitation every moment of every day. But somewhere inside of you I’m guessing there is a little bit of Animal hoping to get out. I don’t point this out to encourage you to return to an emotionally immature three year old who can’t control their outbursts. I hope to appeal to the part of you that you have gently kept at bay because you worried what others would think. I want to remind you that there may be a dormant part of you waiting for a chance to see light. And that the world is good and ready to meet her!

May she find her way to the surface as this new year of great promise approaches. May she be everything you hoped. May she not eat her drum kit.

Now which Muppet are you?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thursday December 15th Resolutions

I am not really a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I firmly believe that a resolution you intend to keep could start on any day of the year. I believe that new beginnings can happen at any point in the road. At any age. Any day of the week. Before any family turmoil or parties filled with mountains of tasty food and beverages. The ones that we are resolved to see through don't need the calendar to make them happen.

I believe we have the power to become exactly the person we wish to be and the decision to do this is available at any moment – at the end of our fingertips. I also believe that we all know this but have a lot of reasons why we think its hogwash most of the time, or at least out of our own reach.

So what better day than Thursday to begin a new path? How about the week before Christmas as a great place to make positive changes? If I can’t hold my resolutions through the wreckage of routine, in the face of great stress and pressure and family dances, with my children chocked up on Santa magic and sugar cookies, then the resolution surely won’t make it through the year will it?

In honour of the year ahead, I have made a list of 12 things for 2012 that I would like to pursue. Beginning now. Today. This morning before 6am I already began in fact.

And they go something like this:

1. Schedule play time (with and without kids)
2. Schedule a work day starting at 5:30am, 3 days a week
3. Write for 3 hours, at least 3 times a week
4. Continue with 3-4 45 minute workouts per week
5. Meet up with a friend (could be husband) without children once a week for adult conversation
6. Spend one hour a week reading or listening to someone inspiring who's sole purpose in that hour is to teach you how to make and meet your goals.
7. Write a progress report of time spent towards goals every day. Put it up on a board so that you can always see it.
8. Start using cash for art materials, toys, music, tools, clothes etc. Budget for this stuff.
9. Submit progress in writing to someone, somewhere (person to be determined)
10. Seek help or advice about something you would like to learn or get better at once a week.
11. Make your mission a priority.
12. Protect Yourself.

There it is. 12 for ’12. How exciting. I’ve expanded all of this a little bit in my written notebooks so I apologize if some of it sounds a little vague. Sharing this here is my attempt to be accountable. The main purpose of the exercise is to get out from under the mountain of excuses I’ve made for myself (most of them with excellent intentions) that have kept me from that thing that is burning inside of me telling me there is something else I’m supposed to be doing.

Numerous life coach type people (Anthony Robbins, Martha Beck, Marianne Williamson) have all asked us to outline what we wanted to do with our lives when we were 5, 6, 7…10. What did we envision doing with ourselves when we were children, before the jaded character set in, and before the worries of the world swept us away? What did that little person know in her heart she was really, really good at and wanted to sing out to the rest of the world?

For me, this one is simple. Writing. I wanted to write songs, screenplays, musicals, books, poems. I wrote things constantly, anywhere, with anything, anytime, in any place. Words have danced around me like fairies my whole life.

I learn exceptionally better when things are visual, when I see them in colour, spread out across mind-maps and organized charts. That is how I take in information best. I find it difficult to learn from reading, or even from listening to someone talk. I tend to need to have physical involvement with the material to get it to stick in my head.

But my best expression is without a doubt with words. What comes out of me comes out most accurately using words. I was never the kid who got her painting taped on the wall in school. I was fairly athletic but never the first one around the track. I wasn’t terribly social although I had fit in just fine across most of the cliques, including the geek squad. I preferred pajamas and long johns to any particular fashion statement. And I was never much of a decorator (unless you count the neat little project piles around my house as decorative).

But with a pen and paper I could make my heart and spirit soar. Words made me feel like I was being guided through the universe on a tour of truths. Everything makes sense to me with words. Often I can seek answers to questions by writing. I can find solutions to problems. I can let go of frustrations and obsessions. Connections reveal themselves.

So without further ado, I would like to announce that I will be writing for a while. Six months to be exact (until the day my children step off the school bus and join me for a summer of work and play). I have not yet determined what I will be writing. A book of some kind. A book that may never see the light of day. But I feel it is my duty to give this thing a life.

Fiction? Perhaps. Memoir? At last partly. How-to book? Probably.

The most important thing for me right now is that I set aside the time to make this happen. I will be blocking off a minimum of 3 hours a day for 3 days out of the week. I am starting today. This will exclude any blogging I manage to get done in between.

Here are some of my excuses of why I’ve not done this to date. As I have said before, I don’t think lies appreciate having light shed on them. So excuses be gone. Excuses, I see you.

1. I can’t concentrate and won’t stop when there are too many things needing to get done around the house and farm.
2. I would rather spend my ‘extra’ time getting healthy, making good food and exercising.
3. I have two small children that will never let me focus in their presence.
4. I am too old. (I’ve been too old for some time now – here I must remind myself how very old I felt at 21 when I bought my first guitar imagining how very too late the whole effort was).
5. I’m not as good as she/he is.
6. I should be spending my energy and time on more important things that are of value to my family and my community
7. I can’t find the time
8. I didn’t get enough sleep
9. What I write isn’t going to be any good
10. I’ll be too afraid to submit the writing to anyone and wouldn’t know where to start anyway.

Now go on. Get out of here. Go write your own lists.

What are the excuses holding you back? What did you love to do when you were 6? What have you always imagined you would do, but haven’t yet? What will the rest of 2011 bring (and then 2012 of course)?

Away you go.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sustainable Farming

I’ve got something important to tell you. I’ve known it for some time and feel bad that we’ve been spending all this time together and I haven’t told you yet. I’m taking a break from farming. Although selling the farm was put on the table, it was hardly considered, and we are going to stay in this place that we’ve called home for 8 years now.

My husband is a farmer at heart. I also learned when I lived in the city that I required regular access to green space. It was imperative yet not always possible. In my experience you can live in the country and create genuine urban experiences but you can’t live in the city and find this kind of steady quiet and natural space that we have living here full time.

I suppose I had this idea in my head of what a farmer’s wife ought to be. I based it on nineteenth century stereotypes. And the standards I had set for myself to be everything to everyone always. Mighty sustainable goal, wasn’t it? (Insert chuckle here).

What taking my leave from farming means is that in the coming growing season (the seed catalogues have arrived!) I will scale back on what I feel responsible for. Likely my jobs won’t look that different. I want to have the gift of focusing my primary attention on raising my children, keeping the house in order and staying healthy and happy. The amount of disorder that we have endured in our living and working spaces in the past 8 years seems far beyond what two people should have to wade through. Someone needs to call things to order!

I want to ease back the pressure valve and try to practise some form of coasting for a while. Smell the roses so to speak. At least when it comes to the growth and development of our spaces. Instead I want to keep the operations humming as they were, fix what needs fixing and stop building new arenas. I want to pay more attention to the growth and development of the human beings rather than spaces.

What I have committed to is closing loops, tying up loose ends, cleaning up project piles, continuing to take care of the health of our family, and giving my children my undivided attention at least some of the time. Up until now I have too often been the ‘I’ll be with you in a minute Mom’. I will be spending the next year (and perhaps a lifetime?) creating an environment cultivating sanity and not chaos. You’d think everyone would naturally pursue this but this goal has eluded us to date. I don’t blame us. The excitement of learning new things, building new avenues, setting new goals has overtaken us for many years now.

Now it is time to breathe it all in.

Perhaps we completely underestimated what building our home without a steady stream of contractors would entail. We definitely had no idea how two little bundles of human could flip our worlds over. We dabbled in all manner of farming, many things new to us, without much support from beyond our two pairs of hands. This was in itself I think our biggest mistake.

Organic vegetable farms of our size (small to mid-sized) often have a crew of people helping with labour, packing, markets, childcare, barn chores, building repair, field jobs and so on. We always leaned on trying to make it happen ourselves. We had inconsistent help and never a full time crew to rely on. Everything fell to us. And in my opinion this is more than a family can hold. More than it should have to hold.

In the olden days of farming, there were communities and families close by surrounding the workload. Jobs were shared and shifted to make lighter work for the group. And even when the work was relentless, there was someone to lean on, and company to keep. More often than not, my husband and I have only had each other for back up when things got out of hand. This was scary to say the least.

We are looking into taking on interns or full time employees next season. We have come to a point in the business where it is too large to be run by one young family alone. And we must decide that if the business is going to grow, we need to seek appropriate support. Despite our stubborn natures, we cannot do it all alone.

What we have found in our business is the market demand is far greater than what we have been able to grow. We are not competing with WalMart, not yet anyway. We have always sold everything that came from our fields. And we asked a fair price for it, never dumping produce cheaply, always maintaining a volume-dependant price comparable to that of our fellow farmers. To date we have been increasingly successful every year as far as sales of vegetables goes. What I don’t see as sustainable is keeping up this pace of work as a family without external support.

As you know, I have been looking around for a new purpose to my life, after realizing that returning to a job in the city may not be possible in the coming years while my children are still young. For the past two years, all of my ‘extra’ time was spent pursuing projects on the farm. I needed to answer one simple question. Was I a farmer? I wrote and wrote and wrote about it. I talked to anyone who would listen. How do they do what they do? And more importantly, what drives them every morning when they wake up?

To me, there was no way I could continue living on this farm and not know where I fit in. The only way to see this through was to immerse myself wholeheartedly into it. I had something to prove, if only to myself. I even made sure that there were portions of the operation that I was entirely in charge of. This kept any feelings at bay of being solely motivated as my husband’s little helper. In addition to these projects, I continued with the upkeep and repair of the home, processing a winter’s worth of food and the majority of the childcare functions. I also gave 2 or 3 days every week to the packing, delivering and farmers’ marketing of our vegetables.

It wasn’t any different than working in the city as far as the amount expected of me went. The only difference was that I had more control about some of the wheres and whens of it all. And I had earned the title of stay-at-home Mom. Which was awesome, albeit slightly inaccurate. I mostly appreciated not being an hour away from my children when I worked.

Once the words ‘I quit’ left my lips, however, I felt like a failure with respect to farming. Like I had not lived up to my own expectations. That there was something more I was supposed to be trying. That someone else could have done better. It was only recently that a friend of mine took me off my own hook. She observed that I had explored certain aspects of farming because it was something I needed to find out more about and get out of my system. And then came the day that I had learned all that I wanted from it. Not that I would stop the farm operations altogether. But I would integrate what I now knew into a life of my choosing. Then the farming would become sustainable - not just for the environment, but for the family that operated it.

After this conversation, my report card stopped reading ‘failure’. Instead it read: ‘kicked butt, moved on’. Not moved on from farming, but moved on from worrying that I wasn't cut out for it. I had permission to stop asking questions. I was also free from the assumptions I had attached to my involvement with farming. In my mind I had thought that if I didn’t farm, I was a bad wife to my farmer husband. Quitting meant we needed to move to the suburbs. My farming relatives and neighbours would shake their heads and say ‘I knew she couldn’t do it’. I would deprive my children of the work ethic that a farming family can teach.

I want to remember what drew me here in the first place. Farming a land includes peace and rhythm, excellent food security and endless opportunities for growth and challenges. One who bores easily will do well on a farm. And it works on natural principals. All of these things are still what force me out of bed in the morning. Nothing has changed.

Now I have new assumptions. Its really just a different perspective because lets be honest. In reality, not a whole lot is going to change with my day. I will still be going to the farmers' market, helping pack up the orders and getting them to their destinations, processing our food, milking the cow and collecting the eggs, organizing the butcher and most of the jobs I did before. What is new is that I will no longer feel that I am doing far less than I should. I’m chucking out the assumptions. I am answering the question once and for all about whether I’m capable of farming.

Kicked butt. Moved on.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Dance in Abundance

I drove past one of those plastic individually lettered signs the other day that read LA BON DANCE. My French is not entirely perfect but this didn’t seem exactly right to me. La Bonne Danse? The Good Dance? It wasn’t until later that I realized the letters had been shifted, an apostrophe missing. L’abondance. Abundance.

The world I live in is one of abundance. There is an abundance of food, space, light, laughter, love, warm clothing, invitations, connection, four-legged furry ones, toys and tools, entertainment and distraction… We long for nothing. In fact we have to beg people not to give us physical things. When we need (or even want) something, we buy it. Gift giving has become a stress or a circus amongst my people to try to find that thing that the person didn’t realize they needed, but could use oh so badly. Guess what? It doesn’t exist.

It seems trendy this year to give to charity instead of buying physical presents for one another. Or to push for homemade, local or handmade products. Good on y’all. This is right up my alley.

But the other day I went browsing the toy aisle of a Big Box Store and I literally almost had a seizure from the amount of stimulation. The packaging, the floor to ceiling shelving filled with boxes, even paint on the floor of the aisles with words like Barbie or Transformers marking entire aisles of themed toys. I had to buy a birthday gift for a party my daughter was attending. Unfortunately, I still feel really badly every time I make someone’s kid open a gift that clearly has been used by someone before – and often not even someone I know. I also am not a craftswomen – my strengths lie with food. When I give a second hand thing I feel like I’ve gypped that kid out of a shiny new, big, plastic doo-dad. Every time. But I keep doing it. Because its what I believe is the right thing to do.

In the end I brought 80% used stuff in our little recycled baby shower gift bag (I’m a girl on a mission to re-use…). The receiver of the gift was so pleased with the second-hand toy that she proceeded to play with it right away in the midst of the gift opening. Probably because there was no packaging to meddle with. Anyway – she wasn’t upset. Only I was the one concerned about the gift.

I heard on the radio the other day that we are living in a world where people expect to be able to spend more than they earn. On first glance, it isn’t anything we haven’t heard before. But look again. We EXPECT to SPEND more than we earn. In other words, the expectation is on spending – not on earning. In my head, I wonder if we have come to believe we shouldn’t have to work hard for our money. We might even settle for earning less. Yet there are also those that work very hard, and still earn less. Often regardless, the spending and acquiring doesn’t change. What we feel we deserve does not shift in us consumer-type people.

I’m not talking about children with empty bellies and people without proper winter clothing. I’m talking about the you and I who buy, buy, buy mountains o’ things whether we’ve got the cash to pay for it or not. This happens whether the thing is actually needed - we just feel we have a right to anything we want. Well I do anyway.

Don’t think I I believe that buying second-hand stuff lets me off the hook entirely. I still buy too much stuff. I just managed to find a way to cheat the ultimate price tag on it. But instead of a $50 snowsuit for my kids, I buy five $10 ones (though trust me, on a farm this is a very good idea). All the same, there is too much stuff, too much being amassed.

I can’t get that sign out of my head. The Good Dance. Having an abundance of anything is a privilege, nobody would argue this. What we call abundance is a matter of perspective, though I suspect we’d all know it when we saw it. But that doesn’t mean we know how to manage it. With this dance idea, I have come to realize that having abundance is not enough in and of itself. With abundance, we must feel gratitude. We must understand where we are relative to others. We must appreciate what we have.

And most importantly, I feel it might be very important that we have WORKED for it.

Today, we live in a world where we can expect to get something for nothing. The windfalls. The infomercials on how to get rich quick. The lotteries. The families broken over matters of estate. We want lots of stuff and we want to do as little as possible to get it.

During this season of giving, I wish that we could all learn the good dance required around abundance. Where there is health, we take a moment to be grateful (because that is really the only moment you can be certain of). Where tummies are filled, we understand the energy that has gone into the food on our plates. Where our skin or house is kept warm, we can track the materials back to their original source.

That we have a look into the bigger picture. The delicate balance. The Very Good Dance that is required as we hold so very much in our hands.

I have nothing against stuff. Especially stuff that can be used. But I do care when someone else has to pay for the stuff we have acquired, either environmentally or financially or with the basic human rights to a fair wage.

The best things in my life were not easy to attain. I had to work for them. I had to spend a lot of energy on figuring out what I wanted and then more energy on finding them. I earned them. Above all, abundance like every dance requires someone to lead. Preferably this someone will be you. Not a marketing firm, The Jones’ or a whim of emptiness that feigns satisfaction with a purchase.

Last but not least, remember that the best things to feel abundant for don’t necessarily fit on the shelf of a store. And then dance your little heart out.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

This You Can Control

A handful of minutes before my son was born there was a moment of panic. Mostly mine, but judging by the nurse spinning around and running to the phone after ‘checking’ me, I gathered there was some haste on the part of the health professionals as well. I was screaming all kinds of things to anyone who would listen, feeling completely out of control as people poured in like rain in response to what must have been an 'all-hands-on-deck' call. After 17 hours of contractions, I was somehow surprised about what was about to happen. Like it had caught me off guard. And this was my second child so I really can’t say the experience was completely new.

A kind and gentle, soft-spoken nurse came over to me, held my hand while we waited for the doctor to arrive and said: ‘You are panicking’. ‘No shit’, I said.

‘This you can control’, she whispered.

I had a baby falling out of me and I was terrified. The pain was unbearable. And here was this woman telling me I still had some blooming control in my repertoire. Someone has got to be kidding me!

At the time I thought she meant that I could control whether I had the baby or not. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable choice to have. But then I looked into her serene face and felt her tiny hand holding mine. She meant that I didn’t need to panic. And somehow, I calmed down. I looked into her eyes, breathed as she asked me to, and calmed down.

I recently heard about people who get themselves in a frantic pickle and their neurons keep firing rapidly long after the stimuli have been removed. These are likely the ones that make mountains out of molehills. The ones who make your heart race and your blood pressure go up when you only imagine them entering the room.

Would it help me to know that I am one of those people? That for the longest time I had my panic button permanently switched to the ‘on’ position? I look around me and see what others view as a serene and gentle life of bucolic lovelihood. Yup, I see it too. But all of it had perhaps been viewed through the panic lens. Was I hanging on to the ‘holy shit’ handle even when there was no longer a risk of an accident?

Being with my first child was a peaceful experience for me. Even after we tore off our bathroom in late November the year she was born and decided to build a thousand square foot addition ‘before winter’. I bathed with my little one in a room that barely snuck above freezing that winter and somehow I managed to keep my sanity. Returned to work I did after a year and I recall expressing gratitude for the great balance I had in my life. A job in the city where I could use my brain and visit with adults. A life in the country where I could sow my wild seeds. A family to make noise around me in the evenings. A long, quiet drive to collect my thoughts each day.

Then I got pregnant again. There was more snow that year than ever before on the last month before my maternity leave. And I commuted 75km each way with a 2 year old through snowstorms night after night after night after night. I had morning sickness the entire pregnancy, all day long, and would have to pull over repeatedly to humour the nausea. I was in hell. And terrified that I would not survive and that I wasn’t properly able to care for the one child I already had. But survive I did. I ramped up my resources and gave it all I had.

I never blamed that little guy who came into the world two years after my first. I loved him with every bit of the heart that I had. How could I not? But I was never the same again. I stayed that woman driving in the snowstorm, white-knuckled, in blackness, hormonal and exhausted with a two-year old asking questions from the backseat. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it.

It has taken over a year to undo the perma-panic that settled in that year and stayed alive and well for the first three years of my son’s life. I was that person that people would often say ‘calm down’ to. (Why, oh why, do people say that? Don’t they know it is a sure way to freak a person out?)

But there were those assuring eyes of the nurse, Lee, on the night my son was born. She was my grandmother. My aunt. My mother. My Goddess. She was every woman grabbing me by the reigns and effortlessly leading the wild one inside of me back to the barn. I let her take me there because she put the power in my own tiny little hands in that moment.

This you can control.

I went for a run yesterday against every bit of my will. I didn’t feel like going. I felt heavy and lazy and I didn’t care in the least about any dumb goals I had set. The sun was shining, the dogs were antsy but I didn’t care. I wanted to forget the whole thing. But a kinder, gentler side led me to my running shoes and sent me out the door anyway.

There is so much racket going on in the brain. The entire run I watched the sewage of my mind loll about like a ship through stormy waters as it attempted to make my feet stop moving. The ship still sails. The weather still turns. And despite the racket, I can still choose to be the calm observer – all the while still getting my exercise.

I can’t change the weather. But deciding to override the drama - this I can control. The more I practice this, the more I believe it. And that’s a switch I’d like to make stuck for a while.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Squash Fries

Now that the snow looks to be taking up residence around here, we are officially wrapping up our season of growing vegetables. The greenhouse has gone to sleep for the winter (we don’t heat it until the seedlings start to grow in the early spring). The potatoes, carrots, brussel sprouts and squash are all tucked away aiming to give our family a winter’s worth of nutrition. There may be a handful of squash deliveries yet to make to restaurants and stores but that would be about all.

As Christmas approaches, I wanted to share one of my favourite dishes. It happens to go over well with the liluns too, which is always a bonus for me. Squash fries. As potato beetles are a-plenty around here it is always uncertain whether we will see a potato crop. We have been creative over the years with our bounty of squash and come up with this easy delight.

First, cut open the squash (I use Acorn, Butternut, Celebration or one of the other velvety, not mealy ones). Scoop out the seeds with an ice cream scoop and place face down on a baking sheet. Turn the oven on at 350F and leave them in there for approximately 15-20 minutes. They should still be firm put slightly softened by this effort, thereby easier to work with. Turn the oven off and let the squash cool before handling. You may want to remove them from the oven if your oven heats up quickly.

Cut the squash into slivers about 2 inches wide at the widest part. Peel off the skin being careful to keep the form of the flesh. Now cube the orange fleshy part into 1-2 inch cubes. Similar sized cubes would be desirable for consistent baking times.

Alternatively, you can peel the squash when it is raw (this can be tricky depending on whether the skin is tough or not – sometimes a potato peeler is an option). Then cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and cut into cubes. You can throw these cubes in the freezer for another day which is what I have done.

Raw Butternut Squash Cubes Ready for the Freezer

Our family Christmas gatherings are often potluck and this makes an excellent dish to bring and blast with heat once at your destination.

When you’re ready to make the fries, distribute olive oil or pats of butter around a baking sheet. I have no fear of butter and use a good ½ cup over a large cookie pan. Place in a preheated oven on the middle rack at around 400F. Once you can lift the cube from the pan with a spatula, turn the lot of them over to brown the other side after around 20 minutes. They are ready when the edges start to brown slightly and the fat layer in the pan is sizzling like a deep fryer.

Try not to overcook these or they will turn to mush. The key is to get a crispy outside, and a softened inside all the while holding a shape.

If you are blessed with loved ones around you and food to eat, here’s wishing you a wonderful season of baking, eating and visiting.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Making Friends with Guilt and Envy

I have a confession to make. Things that other people do or say can send me reeling. With guilt, envy, feelings of being inadequate, or a certain brand of lonely emptiness (which I take to be the opposite of connection). It is fair to say that I am a sensitive type. But I think that’s the easy way out. Here’s another route.

I so often let the projections of other people get inside of me. Those negative voices spilling over with fear and echoing the voices in my own head. The ones that say I can’t. And they are very loud at what they do.

Lately I’ve been focusing on the ones that say I can. This is where envy comes in. All of those I envy are those that are reaching for something bigger in their lives. Not relative to me. Just bigger on their own scales. I’ve been turning up the volume on possibilities and avoiding the faces and places that like to share their grief with me. I’ve put down the sword of destruction and picked up the art of building and being creative.

I think as ‘keepers’ it is really important to have your own wagon. What the hell is she talking about now, you ask? I mean you have two choices. To stroll along behind someone else’s wagon arranging all the excess debris that flies off of it. The stuff they can’t handle or don’t know how to do. Or you can make your own wagon and ride alongside them.

Having your very own wagon means you have to put yourself into it. Probably drive it. Decide on the shape, paint the edges. Is it a fast or slow one? Large or small? Covered or open? Where is it going? So much more simple to follow along behind someone else’s, right?

I have learned the hard way that trying to help other people with their wagons all day long without having one of my own is a sure way to die inside. Without a destination of my own, my little spirit shrunk like a dried flower.

If I were God, I would simply say: how dare you not nourish and tend to your flower. What right have you to let yourself disappear?

Like a flowering plant, we humans need to keep growing and challenging ourselves to keep reaching for light. We need to thrive on energy and give beauty and fragrance to the world around us. Well, maybe not all kinds of fragrance but you get the metaphor.

Here is the thing about having your own wagon. (Now in case you’ve gotten confused about whether you’re a wagon or a flower, stay with me, it’ll all come together). When you have your own wheels, you can take others for a ride in it. You can carry the load for another. You can fill it with flowers even, can’t you?

Anger. Jealousy. Guilt. These nasty clouds can spread grey over an otherwise lovely day. But I’ve finally learned their power. In order to survive they need an empty shell, or wagonless wagon, a flowerless flower.

For the first time since the beginning of this blog I am comfortable with the definition of what feminism truly means. It is the ability of a woman to be the central figure in her own life. It has nothing to do with how much she has to care for, or how she sets her priorities. It is the choice to be able to put one’s own basic needs first. Including the important need to grow, seek light, take in water. Create a life. Fill it with needy things. But still breathe from only one center.

And jealousy preys on those who forget they need their own standards and goals. Those that know in their heart of hearts they are not living up to their full potential. Guilt is not far behind envy, whispering in your ear that you should be headed somewhere different.

We are told as women to not be so hard on ourselves. Not take on too much. It isn’t about taking on too much. The ambitions of women today are not at fault for the overloaded families marching around.
Lately I think my greatest fault was not taking on enough. Not focusing on the things that were central to my happiness and worrying far too much about what was expected of me. Who needed what from me. What was the most urgent priority of the day. I needed more of the real stuff. Less of the business that belongs to others in the first place.

The one thing we are told to instill in our children is a sense of self. Confidence in what they have to offer the world. So where in there should a mother give up her own offering for the sake of that of another? When did I hop off my own wagon to leave it rot somewhere to make sure that others fully functioned at their greatest capacity?

Somewhere before I had kids. Slightly before marriage. Somewhere around the time I moved into my first home, which happened to be on 100 acres of farmland.

There is nobody to blame but myself. Everybody expected me to stay on course. Chase my potential with all the vim and vigour of the person I was when this journey began.

But somewhere back there I left it behind. For a good cause, of course. It seemed necessary. Nobody would argue that giving it all up for your kids, your husband, the family business, the animals and plants in need of care isn’t a noble undertaking.

But I forgot my wagon.

I let guilt drag me down. I thought if I served myself I would be a terrible wife and mother. I let envy fester. I considered myself less worthy of all the great things others had. I wasn’t smart enough. Not good enough. Did not have enough money, support, energy, vision…

Envy and guilt were only ever the canary in the mine. They showed me loud and clear that I was capable of more. That I didn’t have to solely revolve around the needs of others. That I could be my own master. That I could build more, create more, extend more. On my own terms. Not in a stand-off kind of way. But as a woman who knows what she needs to survive and doesn’t try to ignore those needs to build up another.

I am starting to see that restoring my own wagon actually gives me energy. There is much more joy and laughter around me these days. And room to move and grow. I don’t suffocate quite as easily. I don’t anger as quickly. I sleep better. I attract positive people more readily. I no longer limit myself with rules about how I couldn’t, shouldn’t, won’t, haven’t, can’t.

I don’t envy others quite as much because I feel ultimately capable of anything I set my mind to. Or better yet, I know what to do when envy sneaks up. Spend more time on my own potential, that is. I don’t feel the same guilt because I see the reward and how others gain so much more from me in the wake of these new beliefs.

What can I say? I was given the ability to flower. Why wait until spring to make it so? Why not make like a Christmas cactus and give myself and others the gift of colour right now?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Permission of the Rain

Today’s weather forecast was calling for rain, at times heavy, freezing rain and snow. Have you ever decided not to do something because it was raining outside? The rainfall gives us permission to stay inside. All of those beautiful rainy days we have known, tucked away in our dry, warm houses. Things getting done, or doing nothing at all. Because of the rain.

Picture if you will the beauty of the rain. On some rainy days (and not all of them), the rain can beckon us into its embrace. After working many years outside in all manner of the elements, I have learned that the rainy days are actually the most peaceful. I actually looked forward to them. They ensured that my body could warm up from the inside out without discomfort. With the proper raingear, promenading along the ocean, or in a forest or along a trail in the rain can be magnificent.

Admit it. The sun is demanding. It shines brightly and hot and requires that you seek cover when necessary, hydrate often, wear hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, make hay and till the fields. The sun has an agenda. Lineups are always longer on sunny days.

Rainy days are much more quiet. All sound gets socked under the pitter patter of the falling drops. The world becomes a bubble around you.

Today I finally managed to do my favourite loop in my hood. This one is a little over 13km. I started out in full lightweight rain gear, wooly mitts and fleece with two hoods. Within minutes my running shoes were soaked through. It wasn’t long before my underlayers were also drenched. The rain was pelting down, then turned into sleet and finally a curtain of very wet snow.

I loved every minute of it. Once I got over the wet gear thing and my body began to generate warmth beneath my coats, I was able to be drawn towards the gift that is the rain.

Like a seed needs rain to take it from its dormant state, I believe humans do too. The rain gives us permission not only to hide inside, but also to go outside, find refuge where most find aversion. We can feel it on our faces. It gives us permission to grow. To overcome. Come out of our shells despite the odds.

Like the silent darkness of the early morning before even the birds are awake, we own the rainy days. They bring incredible peace, if only we can enter into them and surrender entirely.

Years of being forced to dawn my outdoor gear and head into a day under the great open rainy skies showed me that the rainy days were the best. I recall rowing on Elk Lake in Victoria in the dark, rainy mornings filled with simple, luscious beauty. The water was always more still on those mornings. And so was I.

By the end of my hour and a half walk/run today, I burst through the front door with my two soaking wet furry dogs and peeled off the layers that were stuck to my skin and hung them up to dry. My house was deliciously warm and dry. In a way that I could never have known if I had not set foot outside.

Don’t be afraid of the rain. It gives you permission to see the world in a way that you could never imagine if you were hiding inside. Have you ever watched children play in the rain? None of it is any matter to them. In fact the more puddles the better! Embrace the rain. Go visit it the next time it comes. I promise, you won't be sorry.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Science of Intuition

I’ve always been one to go with my gut and do what feels good when it feels right. I follow my nose, so to speak. This makes me a very creative, artistic type. But in the real world this looks a whole lot like I’m selfish doing what I want, when I want. Having a strong intuitive side (you know that inner, crazy voice I was telling you about?) has its positive and negative points. It is excellent to have a built in GPS system about where to go next. Not so great when someone needs you to turn in a direction that feels like going into a deep, black abyss.

Best to find a way to navigate the two simultaneously (the needs of others and the intuitive voice).

I have spent my life learning how to do things the way they are expected of me. I can do what I am told and I can give myself away to others easily, especially if I think it is the right thing to do. Yet, it is only recently that I’ve begun to explore following my nose wholeheartedly. Or following my heart whole-nosedly, which ever comes first.

The trouble with the voice of the gut is that, for me anyway, it is terrible at making plans. It couldn’t write a schedule if its life depended on it. It needs space, time, maybe money (all privileges, I agree) and a long, long leash. You have to kind of let it wander and sniff around until it finds a trail it wants to follow.

But along with this crazy, talking stomach, I am sort of a control freak. No, lets rephrase that. I am addicted to and depend entirely on control in every aspect of my life. I like to know what is going to happen next. I like predictability. I like figuring out how things work and find out what the rules are. This made me an excellent scientist and a diligent government worker.

In all of this wandering lately I am starting to desperately crave a schedule in my days. I have been able to commit to a regular exercise routine that has given me enormous amounts of energy, confidence and endurance in everything I do, in a very short amount of time (less than a month?). I believe the reason why I have stuck with my routine is that I built in a lot of flexibility and was willing to adapt as potential set backs showed their faces. I knew how many times in a week, I carved out a couple of sure-thing blocks in the day that I could make it happen with a little inner pushing and then…followed my nose.

Now I need this kind of structure in my work projects. I have been making lists of things I want to accomplish. Songs I wish to record in my home studio. Submissions to magazines. People I need to ask advice from. More research I want to do.

I need to put one foot in front of the other and make sure I see it all through, regularly, every week. I need a plan. I need to know there is a beginning, middle and end so that I have something to measure when all this sniffing is over. Without it, it is impossible to have a sense of accomplishment. And us control freaks need to know they’ve gotten something done in a day.

It was my husband who suggested I approach it just like my (recently successful) exercise regime. Map out a few potential blocks of time in a day that will work, establish the number of blocks I want to fill in week and then be flexible and adapt as needed. I have written every bit of physical activity I have accomplished in a notebook this past month. I believe it will work really well to do this for my ‘work’ related projects as well.

My brother once suggested that I write down all of the home renovations, farming activities and child-care related jobs I did in a week. Then he said to attach a dollar figure as a way of knowing that I was in fact still earning an ‘income’. There was the dry walling I did last fall in the living room that we had been quoted over a thousand dollar to get done. These things added up. And my little A-type needed to see them on paper. Otherwise I felt like a floating bubble with no purpose and direction. But the trouble is that I can attach no dollar figure to these new endeavours. Not yet anyway.

As animal-keepers, parents, daughters, friends, sisters, women, humans, we all have to set up our lives so that we can respond to the needs of those around us, often quickly. The world never stops needing us. But we can build in little islands of refuge along the way where we can catch our breath, map out a plan, give ourselves some structure to a life of offering to the world. It seems, for me anyway, this structure needs a plan.

So it is time to put a framework around my intuitive wanderings. Not necessarily boundaries, but a bit of a leash, some control, some structure, a schedule and a reporting system.

Government scientist geek? Meet creative, artist person. We’ve got plans to make together.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Come Here, Go Away

Early this morning I found myself doing my yoga routine in a quiet space without dogs or children or even the light of day to distract me. After a month of reintroducing running and yoga into my life, I have endured all manner of obstacles.

One day last week, when my shin splints were not manageable, I decided to take out my bike, run the dogs and strengthen my leg muscles without much impact. It was a Saturday morning, and I had lined the counter with flour, milk, eggs, baking powder and a waffle iron as a hint to my husband. There was a cold November wind ripping the hood from my face, which was growing sticky with rain but I pursued anyway.

When I was at the farthest point from home I met up with a woman walking her dog. As is the proper etiquette, I rounded up my dogs to tie them up. I sat on my bike, holding the leash against the handlebars, brakes squeezed on. Just as the dog passed by, both of mine struck into a full lunge. In slow motion, I felt my entire body lift up into the air as the bike flipped end over end and shot me over the front. Lying on the ground with my legs tangled around the bike, my dogs continued to pull towards their newfound friend. The woman tried to offer help.

I could not get up. My knee had knocked into a stone and I was unable to straighten or put any weight on it. The woman moved her own dog along so mine would settle and after she left they sat next to me on the ground while I tried to get myself to standing for several minutes.

After the pain subsided, I finally made it home by pedaling in a way that required no weight on my one knee. Our family enjoyed a wonderful waffle breakfast together. I had to walk with a stiff leg for a couple of days and could not kneel directly on it but I felt lucky. It could have been much worse.

I might have chocked this up to a free pass from any physical activities, but I decided to try to keep up the momentum I had gained. So I kept on moving and stayed away from anything that hurt. I even found myself back in a Bikram (hot) Yoga studio after a 10-year absence (same teacher no less!) and managed to get through the poses much to my great surprise. I did attempt to run only to find out that the pain in my knee didn't appear until I stopped running. Despite the fact that I was hungry and still far from home, to be safe, I made my way back walking.

The truth is that no matter what goals we set, there will always be excellent reasons to stop, quit or take a break. I have exercised my right with excuses for decades. And in my opinion, this has left me in a position far short from what I feel my potential to be in every aspect of my life. I have given in to the voice in my head that said I couldn’t. I’m not saying we should all run 10km with a broken leg – but if we could stay tuned to ourselves and go forward where there is still the light of possibility, we might surprise ourselves and learn ways to work around the obstacles. There might be creative solutions where quitting (or never starting) seemed like the only option.

This morning I was lying in that awkward, deliciously painful pose called the pigeon (or runner’s stretch). You basically lie on your stomach, except for the small detail where one of your legs is bent on the floor in front of you and you’re putting all of your weight on it. The hip is opening. Or trying to as is the case for one side of mine. Apparently our hips are great storage depots for emotional baggage. My one hip seems to be storing an elaborate history as I can barely get past upright in this position (when there was a time not long ago when this was not the case).

While grimacing in this pose, I heard a whisper (not my children finding me in the dark, but the crazy kind from inside of my head). Come here, it said. I bent down closer to my leg. Slowly. Gently. Come here, it said again. I came closer to the floor. My hip hurt. A lot. Yet the pain beckoned me into it. I followed.

Soon, I was lying on the ground bent over my tome-filled hip, breathing deeply into what felt like the most fantastic release a girl could dream for. It didn’t hurt anymore. Stay here, it said.

I stayed.

Now go away, it said.

It was then that I realized that most of the things we don’t naturally gravitate to in life (fear, pain, unpredictability) are actually our friends if we let them be. There are things that have held me back my entire life: lack of confidence, low self-esteem, listening to what others wanted from me. All along I ran from them, tried to shut them out, make them quiet, tell them they had no power. But they come attached with a message.

All along, what I needed was to invite them in for tea.

One safe morning in the dark, when the house was quiet, pain invited me to come closer. I went. Pain ran its course, then took its last sip and without any drama at all, got up to leave.

I can’t say I know the difference between looking for trouble, self-sabotage, self-deprecation and this kind of surrender. Nor would I know when I was about to crack myself in half and when I was healing.

But I can definitely say that this experience has me wondering what else I should move closer to, rather than try to push away. What other troubles could I resolve if only I was willing to let them in?

Who knew? The swan song of hardship comes when you bring it closer and have a good look at it, so you can send it on its merry way.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Jar of Stones

Have you read the story of the Professor who came to speak about efficient time management and began his lecture by filling a jar with large stones? He then asked the students if the jar was full to which they replied that it was. Then he shook in a pile of small stones into the spaces and it was noted that there was more room in that jar than was thought. Is it full yet? Seems so. But when you pour in a container of sand that still fits too. And finally, not full yet. Water fit too. The point of the story was thought to be that you can keep adding things to your jar even when you don’t think you can (we’ve all seen that before!) Instead, the message was that you have to put the important ones in first and fit the other little ones in after, not the other way around.

My life used to be filled with all kinds of stones, big and small. Ones that took up 37.5 hours a week. Others that woke me up in the night for a feeding. Some gave me worry and fret although there was nothing I could actually do about them. Others that had me running for reasons I could never figure out. Some urgent. Some relentless. Some joyful. All of them added up to my jar of stones.

Some would argue that the important stones are their children. Or their full-time employment. Perhaps a major house renovation. Running a business. I have had all four stones in my jar at once.

I have also found that it is easier to add small stones to a jar of large ones than it is to try to shove a big stone back into the pile of little ones. When people ask me what I’m up to these days I could just as easily answer ‘nothing’ as ‘too much’. But they all seem like little stones to me. Nothing major going down. Just a lot of housekeeping (in the literal and the figurative sense) and logistical tasks and chores. Alongside the care of those little people that live with us in our home.

Children to me are the ones that matter the most. Their impact on the household is greater than anything else in our space. They require the most attention. They are the biggest of stones in this way.

And yet it is so tempting in this day and age of parenting to fill the jar around them like they are appendages to our lives. Like they couldn’t possibly be the main act. Being a mother is not considered enough for a woman anymore. She is expected to ‘make something of herself’ outside of the home.

Then there is the guilt I feel every time I make a move away from my kids. When I make an attempt to do something that makes me feel whole again just for me, I experience a knot that is quiet and steady beneath all that I do. I have discovered that I need to change the focus on the mundane chores that raising children involves (cooking, cleaning, scheduling etc.), but not lose the opportunities to spend time intentionally enjoying my children’s company. What will shift my focus from the little chores? I want to find a new stone for my jar to call my own.

I intend to push this big stone way down deep into my jar of sand and other stones. I’m looking for some kind of employment, project or business. I suspect it is going to be quite a struggle to get it in there. I don’t quite know if I need to be removing everything first and putting it all back in place differently. Or if I just have to put it on top and let the pull of gravity and the earth’s shift draw it under into the substrate.

What I don’t want is to change the size of stones that my children represent in my life. If there is room in there for lots of big stones, then great. But I refuse to give up quality time with my kids. But the focus cannot be entirely on my children. I cannot expect them to make me whole.

The trouble with parenting is that if you are doing your job right, you are constantly pushing your children away from you. This happens until they are fully functioning, self-sufficient beings in the world. At best, you will be able to witness their lives through every major step but once they are grown, you become less and less needed (or a bank or babysitter).

With every push that is made, a mother has the choice to backfill the space where the child once depended on her. Does this mean that the big stones that are children become smaller, making room for other big stones? I think not. The space in a mother’s heart and the concern in her head still occupy the same real estate. And yet she must get out there and make good use of the time that is made free again – after 2 weeks, 2 years, 2 decades. When is it the right time to backfill this space, anyway? I suspect never. And yet gradually, continually, always.

Little by little, I add things back into my jar. I never let go of the fact that everything I do for my own fulfillment, independent of what my children and family need from me, feels selfish and uncomfortable. I may never go back to a place of worrying only about the individual that I once was. I am a unit now. I come with connections. God willing, these connections will never leave me until the day I die.

I think humans are far more capable than they often think they are. I think we can do immense and wonderful things if we set our minds to it. I believe that women are far too good at underestimating themselves, selling themselves short. And yet not asking for help when it is needed. On this principle alone, I’m hoping I can handle a new stone.

I filled my jar for a decade now with stones that I learned to care deeply for. I topped it up to the brim with so much that mattered, so much to lose, so much that depended on me. But it became easier to meet the needs of others than to concern myself with my own.

I gave up pieces of myself to build this colourful mosaic I now call my life. I chipped away at the things that made me who I am, my interests, my dreams, the things I love and used these bricks to fill the needs of everything and everyone around me.

I know I’m not alone. This is what every person in the world does when they have something important to care for. It is natural and good to be this way.

But we have a choice as women to give or be taken from. I do believe that giving to others is a sure way to happiness. I also think that if you let yourself be repeatedly stripped of the stuff that makes you who you are, you will surely be headed towards anger and despair.

So it seems the trick is to be proactive with your resources. Get up in the morning and make choices about who you want to be and what you have to offer. If you do not, there will surely be a murder of crows waiting to take a piece of you. Offering your services and skills and creativity to the world outside of you is essential to being part of something bigger than you. We all need to feel as though we are useful and contributing. Trouble with parenting is that it so easily becomes a ‘taking’ scenario instead of a giving. The action is often a pull from the outside rather than an offering from the inside.

How do you make the same old chore a true offering from you heart (when you’ve had far too little sleep, you haven’t eaten a proper breakfast and the cow trough needs a filling)? You anticipate happy ways of spending time together rather than being dragged by the momentum of the train you are attached to. You make sure everyone gets enough sleep and enough to eat and has opportunities to grow, and relate and play and learn and discover and then rest. Including you.

The vessel is you. So please keep it shiny and clear. Don’t let the dust from that passing truck cloud your vision. Don’t let the sky falling mean you have to run around collecting the bits in your jar. See something beautiful, put it in your jar. Your jar is too full? Take one of the more unnecessary or draining things out.

Be careful, you are likely already filled up. But make sure you carve out a space for what is important. Make sure that you are part of what is important. More of that means more of you left to offer the world. Not pieces stolen, but given with a full and clear heart.

Because you took the time to make it so.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fixed on Adapting

The day after my fiasco with the dinosaur and my yoga mat, I headed out for a run after the daily chores were done and before my children were expected to be home. November has afforded us numerous warm, sunny days this year and this day was no exception. I tied my two black, furry hounds around my waist and donned my running shoes with some sporty clothes and prepared myself for a long, slow haul around one of my country ‘blocks’. This one is a 13 km (8 miles or so) loop that heads up the road towards the highway, veers onto an exceptional old railway bed that has been pulled up and made into a fine gravel bike path over 100km long, turns into a very small community (a dozen houses?), heads back into the bush, up a road over a hillside too steep for cars to pass easily (although they often try and end up at our farm asking to use the phone), and spits back out at the beginning of our land.

I was planning to alternate between running and walking as I saw fit. This was my favourite tour of the neighbourhood and I was excited that I felt ready to tackle this distance again. I was going to take it slow, give it the time it needed.

As soon as I left, I could feel the dull ache of the shin splints I had earned a few days before on a jog I had taken around a different loop. My sciatica from my pregnancy days was also acting up. I was too stubborn to turn around but I knew right away I would have to modify my tour.

Not only this, but I managed to lose one of my dogs at the second farm we hit. He is a hound and took to a smell and within minutes, he went off somewhere completely ignoring my calls. I do let the dogs take turns running leash-free and can almost guarantee they will stay in sight or come back when called to take their turn on the leash again but this time I had no luck.

My route was changed so that I could come back the way I came to try to collect my dog. My method of getting there down-shifted to a walk due to pain in my leg. Despite this, my outlook remained on the positive side. I would not be swayed. This was my time to enjoy the fresh air and my favourite trail before it opened up to snowmobiles and all foot traffic was banned until April.

I did a reasonably long walk (at times in the state of a slight limp) and made it back home to find my hound at the doorstep. Not a surprise. He is a bit of a homebody this way, once he gets whatever he needs to smell all sorted out.

The following day I awoke again to do a yoga routine. I slipped in my tape and within seconds my daughter came down to perch on the couch and watch. She made a very good effort to point out what I was doing wrong or differently from the people on the screen. I asked from underneath my armpit whether she could find something else to do. Again, we were not yet 6am and I figured she needed some more sleep if nothing else.

My dear husband awoke and came downstairs to try to distract her away from the scene. My son was also up by this point. With a bit more privacy, I did finish my yoga carrying the great concern that I was completely responsible for robbing my family of an hour of sleep. It didn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem fair to expect this kind of time.

It is tempting to forget the whole early morning waking thing. But I need to see this through. This hour of the day is an hour that I usually lie awake anyway, hoping not to stir too much and wake anyone up. So now I want to reclaim it for time to call my own.

This morning I came into the attic space that I recently cleared out for myself just after 5am. I brought a book. I gathered a notebook and a pen. I made a coffee. My laptop came with me and I read some blogs and wrote this post.

This is a kinder, gentler sort of undertaking I realize. But I think I needed it to know that the point of taking an hour to oneself is to do the thing that works for the one taking it! I refuse to give up the idea that I can get some controlled, peaceful moments to myself in the morning. I believe wholeheartedly that it will make all the difference in how I take on the day.

I will not be giving up my physical endeavours anytime soon. As always, however, when living systems are involved, I will need to adapt. Perhaps ever day. My children will likely get bored of the sound of the stairs creaking in the wee hours of the morning. My husband will perhaps regain this hour of sleep. I may be outside again as the light of day changes come March. My leg will heal. My yoga tape will resume play. It will be what it will be.

For now: reading, meditation, yoga, perhaps some writing, walking. This is my hour. And I’m going to find how to breath life into it no matter what.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Don't Know How She Did It

Have you heard about those ladies who manage to raise two sets of twins while holding down a full time job involving international travel and still managing to host fabulous Martha-esque parties at their homes while running marathons twice in a year in their spare time? You know the ones. It is hard to praise them because you can hardly get your jaw off your belly button when you hear what they do in a day.

We don’t know how they do it.

When your pile of laundry looks like Mount Everest and the dust bunnies behind your toilet are starting to reproduce as if Easter is around the corner. You’ve got dentist appointments to get to and car repairs to coordinate and friends to drop casseroles with and somewhere in there find time to get a birthday present for the party on the weekend. You’re list seems longer than the constitution and yet someone somewhere does all that and still manages to tack on major projects and full time employment.

Have you heard tale about so-and-so’s grandmother? Maybe she is yours. She was most certainly mine. She carried water from her well by hand to wash the clothes. She got up early to milk a cow and then got her kids off in the direction of the schoolhouse - which she probably taught at. She tended a garden, volunteered at the church, knit warm socks and mittens and sewed up holes in clothes. She cleaned the floors, kept the home fires burning and likely took a shift or two on the tractor in the fields.

And we don’t know how she did it.

But upon further examination, I wonder whether life was easier back then. If I could give up internet commitments (finding used winter tires, checking for vegetable orders, RSVPing to the fair trade party) wouldn’t life be more straight forward? What about if I got rid of our vehicles and went back to a horse and buggy for transport? Then I wouldn’t need to get tires fixed and oil changed except for maybe on the tractor. What about if I didn’t have to worry if my cell phone was charged, if my electricity bill was paid, if my home phone line was on the right long distance plan?

What if my relatives lived within walking distance (a horse walk perhaps)? What if we shared tasks with the neighbours and leaned on each other as needed? It took a village to raise children and a community to work a farm back then. I think it still does. Except many of us are left to try to make it happen on our own.

What if I didn’t need to buy gifts for that birthday party – I could make them out of wool without feeling sheepish (tee hee) around the other Barbie Spectacular and Build a Bunny extravagant gifts? What if I had to make my own ketchup and relish instead of seeking it out in the store? What if I could live without coffee and sugar?

Somehow in all of this ‘making life easier for ourselves’ (and healthier, and more fair, and more environmentally and politically correct) we have complicated things beyond recognition. So much so that people are rushing to the grocery store and buying bushels of cucumbers from far away places to make preserves for the winter. They do this so that they feel closer to their food. We get memberships at gyms and spend hours there every day but drive instead of walking from box store to box store in the interest of saving time.

I have made an attempt to seek simplicity in my life. Instead I seem to have added the task of making relish to the long list of modern day complications. I also made an attempt to rid myself of luxuries that I hoped we no longer needed. I traded the new cars in for old. I got rid of television programming in our house. I vowed to buy almost everything second hand. Clocks, lamps, clothes, shoes, speakers, gifts, dishes, bikes, skis, art, toys, and whatever else I could find that was still useful. The only thing new coming into my home were toothbrushes and underwear and I couldn’t have been happier.

But life did not get more simple. To my surprise it just got more complicated. You see, I never gave up my modern luxuries. I’m not sure I ever intended to. I thought they would naturally be replaced with a full and satisfying lifestyle entirely contained in our house and on our farm.

Wrong again.

We have not one family member within 100km of our farm. We have neighbours who are like family but a build-a-family is not always the same as the real thing. Our market for selling organic vegetables is entirely in the city despite attempts to sell and deliver closer to home. I have friends from past lives who now live on other continents or across this one on other oceans. We have siblings in England and in British Columbia.

Unlike my grandmother, my life is spread across the world and I’m not sure what I can do about it. I’ve come into this new millennium fully embracing all that it had to offer. I signed up for satellites and internet. Visiting family and even work has me taking airplane rides through multiple time zones.

I think my grandmother’s life was hard. Very hard. I think her knuckles were more swollen and her fingertips more raw than mine. However, the maternal border collie in her was able to keep her sheep within a small geographical area in a way that I will never be able to. There must have been some peace of mind in that. My wee tired brain is expected to get a handle on everything between the sun and the moon. A diligent feminist will make every attempt to carry the entire world, past and present, here and over there, on her shoulders. At least our grandmother’s roles were slightly more contained.

We cannot turn back time. I will never have access to the kind of life that was lived 100 years ago. I’m not sure I would want to. Even Amish people who forgo most of today’s modern luxuries have to wait at red lights when they bring their wares to the local shopping centres.

Life got complicated. And I think it plans to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

But here is what we have going for us. We don’t have to beat ourselves up for what we didn’t accomplish today. There is no need to run ourselves ragged as we attempt to be the best of every woman that ever was. Our world is ever changing. And we’ve all had to change along with it. Some stick their heels in better than others and insist on cutting their hair in the shape of a mullet and driving cars with hoods the size of cargo ships. But life is still ever changing.

So I suggest we choose who we want to be today and tomorrow. And never mind that woman who kicked butt with her incredible nineteenth century work ethics. And while you’re at it never mind Marathon Martha too.

Run the miles you can. Knit the socks that beckon you. Make relish if a pile of cucumbers lands on your stoop.

And let’s try to imagine that we’ve earned ourselves a little bit of repose from all of this hard work. Yup, girl, you are capable of getting up Mount Everest, even if it is just your laundry pile. But is that the biggest dream you’ve got? If not, save the pile for another day and put up your feet. Or do the whole pile before the household even wakes up. Whatever works for you.

It is quite simple, really. Be you, here, now, doing what you do. Leave the rest for another time.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Quitting by 6am

I rolled quietly out of bed this morning at 5:41am ready to head downstairs for a bout of some kind of moving and sweating. I’ve learned that getting my 45 minutes of exercise in early sets a great tone for the rest of the day and ensures I don’t find an excuse later on to nix the whole idea. I also know Jennifer Lopez gets up at 5:30am as well and that's got to be worth something. It also allows me to start the breakfast grill at 7am and get the house rocking and rolling with energy behind me.

Secretly, what I love most about this time is that it is all mine. It is quiet and dark and all my little peeps are sleeping in their respective beds. I feel like I own the world. And my only job is to move and flow and listen to my breath in whatever way suits my fancy.

This morning’s adventure started with a tiptoe over the scattered tractors and trains on the living room floor where my yoga mat goes. In a slight bit of a grump, but not too much, I picked up a few toys and eventually decided to head to the other room for my practise, farther away from the bedrooms. But this means waking up the dogs. This room has ‘their’ window from their yard and they surely want in to be with everyone once they see activity in the household. I let the dogs in.

Down went my yoga mat, in the video machine went my yoga instructor and steady on was I. Within seconds I was getting tongue bathed by two very smelly, furry beasts with terrible breath but I repeatedly asked them to take to their beds and pushed the discomfort out of my mind and continued with a viciously focused warrior pose.

Within 20 minutes I heard the pitter patter of little feet coming down the stairs. Apparently their father had given them a flashlight to make it down in the dark. They had told him that I was not home and they wanted to come downstairs to play. Much earlier than their usual waking time, but I was willing to go with it.

Now they were asking for their own yoga mats. I find them yoga mats. Breath. Breath. Breath. My resolve is unwavering. I will not allow these distractions to take over this quiet time I have to myself.

“I don’t like this movie, I want a different movie”, says my son. Mommy is doing her yoga now, if you want to go somewhere else to play you are welcome to. Breath. Sun Salutation.

“This pose is too hard, I can’t do it”, says my participating daughter. Put your feet closer together, like this, there, how does that feel? Better, she smiles.

The whole point of this practise is to prove that I will not be phased by distractions. That the world can go to poop all around and I am still as steady as a mountain. Tree pose, my favourite, the one that combines balance, strength, flexibility, focus, and standing firm and tall. I am starting to grit my teeth more than I would like.

At this time I am wondering how my husband is enjoying his extra sleep. Probably very much considering our bed is usually a veritable circus act or climbing gym every morning before the sun comes up.

The sun is not yet up by the way. The dogs are still smelly and licking me in the face every time I do a Down-Dog pose - which is often. My son now has his chomping, battery=operated dinosaur in my ear and he is testing to see if I can hold my balance while he does this. Peace. Inner tranquility. Undistracted.

Now I’m doing the floor poses. The hour long video is almost up. I can barely hear the teacher over the sound of my son’s drill pretending to make holes in my mat. My daughter is now upset about something and has taken to pouting and glaring at me out from under her freshly cut bangs that are too long (she cut them herself).

Finally, I break. I say a word I can’t repeat here. Nice and loud. The thing is, yoga opens you up to everything. Turns out anger is made more readily accessible just like peace and tranquility too.

My husband comes running downstairs to be met by a toy dinosaur flying across the room.

Now I wonder, is it possible to get some time to myself in the morning? Should I have awoken even earlier? Been even quieter?

Once the dust settled and the dinosaur now missing a leg was pitched in the trash with promises of finding a new one at the store, I was able to explain to my dear, sweet angels what mommy’s intentions are when she does yoga. Mommy needs some quiet time to herself. Mommy hopes not to be disturbed.

My daughter tells me they will come downstairs in the future and play quietly in the other room if they see that I am doing yoga. I think that is a great idea.

Take the dogs with you, I say.

I have to admit that I quit the whole thing this morning. Resigned myself to gaining 100 pounds because I would no longer find the time or freedom to exercise. I would only ever sign up for robot tasks like laundry and dishes and chauffeuring because how dare I try to do something to call my own? I quit the whole thing - for a few hours this morning.

Then something seeped back. The knowledge that the only thing I had to be upset about was that something had been taken away from me. How can something be taken away if you never had it in the first place? I had seen it. The elusive resolve to continue with an exercise practise. It had returned. And been taken away, for only a few relatively short moments.

I’ll be back at it tomorrow. You can't get away that easily.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Possibilities, Come Get Me

I believe we all have a story written on our hearts. I believe we are all connected, all living things, by a thread. I believe that where our stories connect might be called a soul. Where our individual expression meets the rhythm of the world. I don’t think there is a name for my belief systems. But I do think that every religion makes sense of these very principles in its own way, often in the same way with different language. We all need to make sense of our world, each other and ourselves. And thank goodness for religions that help us do that.

Lately I have embarked on a soul-searching endeavour. My intention is to map out the bigger picture and where I fit into it. I suppose I’m writing my own religion. First, figure out your heart’s story. Second, mark the connections. Thirdly, make the rubber (individual story) hit the road (the world out there). I don’t expect to ever name it.

As I have been honouring my commitment to take better care of my body and exercise more, I have found the light of the world opening up again. I see things more clearly. My ideas are more a-plenty. I have more energy. I see how things can work, rather than obstacles all the time. I see potential. My own. That in others. It isn’t quiet at all. It is loud.

Like a song trying to escape from a box.

Until now, I have never worked at a job that I chose. The jobs I have been paid for have chosen me. Jobs have presented themselves and I have pursued them often with success and a certain degree of satisfaction and fulfillment. I have always felt capable and delivered on these jobs but never once did I feel like I was doing what I was meant to do.

It has only recently dawned on me that it is possible to create my own life’s work. An incredible, complete and total luxury I realize. But if I may, I think we all have the opportunity to create this for ourselves. The obstacles for each of us would vary (and the excuses would too), but for the most part, we could all get there if we believed we could, we were willing to move aside the debris in our way and didn’t stop until it happened. I know this kind of ‘American Dream’ thinking is not my usual banter. Usually I like to outline the real ways in which things are hard or impossible.

But today I want to talk about possibility.

The possibility of allowing your unique heart to tell its story.

The possibility that there is a list of things that you could do with your day that would not only make the world a better place, but make you feel like you were finally at home in your own skin.

The possibility that there are powers out there willing to guide you and connect you as you make your way to this home. That where you belong is already written on your heart and you will squirm if you are not heading there.

In the past few weeks since I have decided to no longer settle for a disgruntled existence, I have learned that opening to possibility is one small shift away.

I used to argue with people about how belief worked. Others would say that a change in attitude would make my life better. I would tell them that I couldn’t change my attitude because my bad attitude prevented me from doing it.

I took a chance on believing. Believing that I was capable of more than I ever dreamed of. Imagining that anything I truly wanted (because nobody truly wants heartache and pain and destruction) would be met with open arms, support and a path to get there.
I took a chance on my life, my family and me. Even though I couldn’t see two inches in front of my face.

A friend recently wrote me in the height of the fall season to remark on how beautiful everything was. The leaves were at their peak of colour, the sun ever shining, the days still warm, the air so fresh. He told me to pinch myself because it was all real. We were in the middle of the busiest time of harvest season, the farmer’s market, the animal processing. I noted to myself that I couldn’t see what he was talking about. And to my long list of things I thought were wrong with me I added: ‘cannot see that her life is already a dream’.

Perspective. Beliefs. They seem all that we have no matter what circles around us.

I have built a shape, a form, and an actual room where I can house the making of a new life (although I don’t believe that actual room is necessary – space is). I have written outlines, lists, cut out pictures, words, stories to try to find the one that best matches what I already know is there inside of me. I have carefully considered external advice – all the things that everyone else says I need – and rejected anything that didn’t sit right. They are just like those job postings. Great possibilities but not necessarily the right fit. I’ve been down that road already. There is a better road ahead.

It is as though I am playing charades with my heart and soul. I get euphoric, loud and clear if I get it right. I get fidgety and uncomfortable and go on a rant if it is wrong.

Two words. Keep Going.