Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I have spent the last month in limbo. After some digging around, a lot of discussion, calculating, reaching out, phoning around, brainstorming, option hunting and reconsidering, I am looking to go back to my office job in the city. What????, you say. I heard that. I can hear your surprise from here. Why would someone give up all that is going on around here for a commute to an office, for a job in the government?

Almost two years ago I made the massive shift from my professional work as a science policy/analyst/government/biologist/advisor person to a stay-at-farm mother, farmer and homemaker. It was an awesome couple of years. The transition was a complete change from my normal routine – and in all good ways a much needed change to our family’s system. A lot of problems were solved, new challenges arose (as they always do), I became the envy of many and a terrible example for many more.

If you should happen to see inside a cocoon as a caterpillar makes its shift into a butterfly, you do not find a specimen that looks part caterpillar and part butterfly. Instead you find a mass of gooey cells waiting for and following instructions into the next transition. Transition is like that. The space between landmarks is formless. And for this excitement-junkie, control-freak that is both exhilarating and as scary as all get out!

Two years ago I turned from being a chair-bound, neatly dressed, thinking, analysing human to outdoor farm girl with dirty fingernails and a slight eau-du-manure about me. I gained much more involvement in the day-to-day operations of our farm as well as a vast ability to be more hands-on in my children’s daily lives and the meals that we ate. The change was as extreme as turning a fuzzy land crawler into a free-flying creature.

The past month I have been floating in the shell of transition. Formless. I did not know where my aspirations were going to land or what they would look like. I knew that the universe had opened a door for me and change was rushing in. I did not yet know what it was going to look like. I leaned heavily to all sides, waiting for my instructions. Should I write a book? Should I play more music? Should I do something less artistic, more cerebral and more suited to my obsession with research, organizing and playing with data and equations?

My answer came a week or so ago. I couldn’t share until things firmed up a bit more. It seems that day has come.

So this is the part where I climb back into the cocoon, remove my wings and remember what it is like to crawl again. Most people have an idea of what working for the government is about. I have worked for multiple departments, at different levels of government, in various parts of the country, doing a huge variety of jobs and I can tell you that every experience has been vastly different from the last. There are some consistencies but the differences far outweigh the stereotypes. Kudos to those who can sum up the government so easily. After being there first hand for almost 15 years I can’t sum it up quite that quickly.

I think we all need to experience life on the ground. We need to remind ourselves of where we fit into the biological functions on earth. To know what it is to grow and raise and interact with living things. I have spent the past two years (for the most part of nine years really), doing that in spades. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I came, I dug in, I burned out, I rose again, celebrated, and then did it all over again. I didn’t just buy the t-shirt. I made it from scratch, practically growing the cotton and weaving the fabric.

Early this year I was re-introduced to the part of me that desperately needs to embrace order, structure and predictability. It is the same girl who lined up her figurines in alphabetical order as a child. The one who tracks her life in spreadsheets. The one who builds systems and explanations for abstract concepts. She has been dormant for some time now. And she came to me recently with a vengeance.

I am grateful to say that I am not returning to my old work for money or for reasons related to status or societal expectation of women today. Everything I have written in this blog for the past year has been an attempt to learn the worth of my own salt as a woman. I struggled with the alternative way that I was providing monetary value to my household. I looked for justification in a new kind of feminism – a women’s right to choose what she does with her days, and a women’s right to choose NOT to work out of the home. Along the way I considered going back to my ‘job’ for all of the wrong reasons (to escape, for money, to not lose my position). Today I go back because its the right thing to do, and have the good fortune of casting those past reasons aside. On the farm, I batted for both teams simultaneously – the ‘working’ woman and the stay-at-home mother. I was both and I was neither.

When I began writing here I assumed it would help me make peace with my decision to give up my professional life to be a mother and a farmer. Instead, I find I am once again ready to be someone who works outside of the house. Entirely by choice. For reasons other than money (although of course this won’t hurt). Because I want to. Because I can.

I now know what it is like to indulge my efforts and creativity entirely in a farm. I have wanted to know what that felt like for eons. I now know. It is everything you can imagine it is. It is nothing you would ever expect it to be.

As I get ready to leave my cocoon once again, I can honestly say that I’m ready to fly again. But this time I will fly in a different sort of skin. I’m sure there are few on the planet that could see taking a government job as flying. But I can promise you that I wholeheartedly do. Everything that has been lacking in my life over the past two years is available to me in this position. Clean clothes, adult conversation, quiet time in the car, delving into research again, writing my thoughts down and exchanging ideas with others. Clean fingernails. The smell of soap.

I know the novelty will wear off soon as a new set of problems emerges. I also know I will terribly miss the heartbeat of my home as I leave it every day for greener pastures. But I have to say that new challenges seem like a complete and total breath of fresh air right now. I think our family could use some diversity in our tasks. I think my children need to be part of farm life but not so much so that they learn that the closest thing to a family vacation is about washing 400 pounds of squash.

I shall hold forever in my memory the gift that the past two years has given our family. I learned so much and had a great many opportunities to be closer to my kids, my land, our community and our food.

But I think it is important to remember that we are neither butterfly nor caterpillar. We are both. And neither. We share the ability to move between these states at will, within each day, each season or from year to year.

Because that’s what choices are for.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Power of a Positive Attitude?

We are told that if we have a positive attitude everything will work out in our favour. Because I’m a cynical sort of visionary, I find myself wondering whether positive people can see more clearly into the future. Or if they actually have the power to build what happens next. What do you think? I reckon it is probably a bit of both.

I tend to be the sort of person that things happen to. In other words, I don't feel like I'm the one driving them. One day I wake up and a huge inertia overtakes me and I go forward, mind set until I see it through. I don’t plan, I don’t set goals, I don’t make to-do lists and I respond terribly to being told what to do (other people’s goals, I suppose).

Instead I make must-get-done lists and wait for the inspiration to make them happen. I write down things I hope for, wish for, ideas that have found me in the night or while I am driving quietly in my car. I listen for cues all around me. I watch for the signs.

And when the sign comes, I feel a wave. An undercurrent of energy lifts me up and transports me with seemingly little effort to the place I imagined I would be next. It doesn’t look like ambition or drive. I don't trample along the way. It feels more like floating. It looks like attaching myself to the necessary flow.

The other component that seems to be in place when things start going my way is that I don’t seem to mind if I don’t get what I’m after. In other words, I’m okay either way. I remember the wave that overtook me a couple of weeks after meeting my husband-to-be. I felt so completely out of control of the force that was pushing me towards him that I was scared like you get on a roller coaster just before it leaves its perch into a fall. I also remember, very clearly, in those days, not minding how it was going to end. All I knew is that everything was right in the world when he was around.

You see I think the element here that chronic positive, happy people may miss is that the trick is to get to a place where any outcome is okay. Or perhaps the understanding that you may not completely control the outcome. You may only be in tune with the ride. It isn’t like you’re leaving the door open for failure, you’re just kind of trusting that you know what you’re doing and letting it happen. The work is to find the right decision, to ask the right questions, to learn the right language, to feel the right internal cues. Far greater than half the battle seems to be figuring out what we want. Once the desire is felt on the level of bone and blood, getting there seems almost an easy ride. Because everything can just fall into place. It is like conspiring with the universe. Or having a main line through to God. Don't we all have access to such a line if only we would pick up the phone?

So while I don’t think that imagining a positive outcome for yourself or others is necessarily about fortune telling. I do believe that the minute you see it all clearly, is the minute you are connected to making it happen. And everything that crosses your path will help with that goal.

No, I don’t make lists. And I don’t pray nearly as often as I should. But I do believe. Some days. In my own power to tap into the frequency of all things good in the world. For some reason, either by luck or by coincidence, I have never been wrong. Nothing I was sure of ever went a different way for me. Everything left unclear became a burden of confusion and disconnectedness.

How about you? Do you believe that your attitude makes a difference for how things happen in your life? Do you think you have the power to change your destiny?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Out of Tune

All of my life summer has been associated with leisure. It means down time, and fewer tasks and taking space and permission to do fun things with your friends and family. It has been difficult for me over the last decade to learn that summer is now the busiest time of the year. Keeping busy is not hard for me. What is worse is remembering to take an equal and opposite, long breath in the winter.

When the world around me goes screaming back to work in the fall regaling tales of a summer well spent, we are wiping our brows and praying for the light at the end of the tunnel. Even for those that carry on for most of the summer, there is solace in a weekend that comes consistently once a week (something about the name I suppose). As Friday evening approaches and everyone around us is gearing up for time with their friends and family, time to celebrate, time to visit and play, we are ramping up for Saturday’s Farmer’s market. Friday night and Saturday morning is the most intense peak of our weak.

So now that the snow has fallen and the car doors are frozen shut and the skis and snowshoes have been taken down and dusted off, there is finally time to take a holiday. As vacations go, we won’t be getting very far this year. There will be no airplanes or trains or taxis to take us anywhere. There will be no suitcases packed. Getting those chunks of money aren’t easy for us at this time in our lives. Getting those chunks of time away with the risk of water troughs freezing and wood furnaces being abandoned is even more impossible.

But out our door is a haven of snowy trails waiting to be made, and sunshine waiting to warm the skin even in the worst of winter winds. I like to move my body in the winter because it is something I can do – there is more time for it and I give myself permission to do so. In the summer, I do not feel I have this luxury. Instead I allow myself to go into a steady-forward robot mode and forget that I am a human being.

All summer long I envy families packing their tents and canoes onto their vehicles and heading off for small or large stints of escape. Now I appear to be the envy of those privvy to my schedule. I take my children on adventures where possible (swimming or skating). We go to matinees and sit alone in the theatre with our treats. I go for long walks or runs with my dogs or my neighbours. I do creative things and bake because I feel like it (and not because I have to save a bushel of something). I explore new ski trails. I snow shoe over the mountain behind my house. I have even been keeping a regular squash date (the game, not the vegetable) in the town nearby once a week. Life feels glorious.

The only problem I have is that this schedule is lonely. This is not the way most of the people I know operate. Winter is not a time of rest. I am forgiven for my repose by the darkness that hits ever so early in the day. Yet I am still alone in my leisure. Even my husband is chained to rat-a-tat-tatting on his keyboard all day doing consulting work for an organic farmer’s co-operative.

There is a benefit to taking your holiday during other people’s busy workdays. There are shorter lines and thinner crowds in public spaces. Sometimes admittance is even free or cheaper on the odd weekdays. My daughter still climbs onto the school bus most days in the week. My son is visiting his friends in day care a few days each week


There is not enough guilt to cover how it feels to be the only one in the family (and seemingly the world) with no pressure on the day. Even though I spent my summer reminding myself to rest in the winter so that I could be renewed for the next season ahead, it still feels wrong to do so while the rhythm of the people around me is so very loud.

This brings me to something I know to be true about myself. I have always done better with a schedule. I do better with a general order in my day than I do with unending choices. Though I tried to establish some kind of writing routine, I found myself repeatedly without anything to say. Looking back on the times that ideas and words have oozed out of me, there had always been a number of other commitments going on around me when they came.

It seems I need the momentum of the world to drive myself forward in my own endeavours. It matters to me whether I am part of a pack. The ability to choose what I do with my time is indeed a luxury that I value ever so much. But too much time can lead a person to wander far off the path. I know this is hard to believe. If you are drowning in a schedule of meals, work, laundry, extracurricular activities and family commitments you are likely wondering what the hek I’m doing complaining about my situation.

Firstly, I’m not complaining. My life is so ridiculously fantastic right now I can’t quite put words to it. Some days I feel I am at the center of a perfect happiness storm, where multiple factors keep colliding to create euphoria and pleasure every single day. But I have recognized that I am nowhere near meeting my potential. Not as a woman, a mother, a wife, a farmer and most of all, my ability to contribute in the world. What it seems I need most in a week is some kind of routine to act as a flag-pole for the wild rope swinging that serves my creative whims.

If the past is any indication, having a commitment outside of my home is the very thing that has driven me to contribute to the world in other ways. Otherwise, it seems I’m willing to take shelter from the snow squalls of life and lose my momentum altogether (and confidence along with it).

If you’ve ever known extended time away from the world, you’ll know what I mean when I say that it grows stale very quickly. Two weeks or one month is lovely for disengaging from the chaos of our lives. I would deem it absolutely necessary. But there is something about being able to do it as a tribe. Ebbing and flowing as a group can help define our place in the world. It can also render our worth, whether we like it or not.

Not every farmer gets to experience this lull in the workload in the winter and not every working-from-home parent manages to find time to breath. But for me, the combination of the monotonous requirements of running a household and the feast or famine nature of our vegetable business and food processing activities has left me missing out on one important thing in my life. I am without connection to the rhythm of the people around me. There is still entirely a closeness to people. We just don’t move in the same patterns.

If I were a member of a band right now I’d be that girl in the corner dancing to the beat of her own drum. I get it. It sounds wonderful right? Only sometimes, just sometimes, it sounds terribly out of tune.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Your Predictable Life

Did you ever find out that your credit card has been put on hold due to erratic activity? First you head for your wallet (and hopefully find it) and see if the card is where you last put it away. Either way, your heart sinks into your stomach. It is terrible to imagine being violated in this way. That someone has tricked you, stolen from you, deceived you, and taken advantage of you. There is nothing comfortable about this process, including the part where you have to cancel the card and get a new one issued.

For me, once the logistics are over, a thought finally takes hold that I believe to be the most uncomfortable of all. I am being tracked and monitored. And I am predictable. Apparently, it is ever so obvious to someone when I stray from my normal routine. Just when I thought I lived a pretty fun-filled existence, chasing myself around in ways that keep my family and me stimulated, challenged and entertained, I am forced to face one simple fact. I am easy to read.

This week we finished the first part of our Holistic Management course. The material was nothing I hadn’t seen before. But seeing it all together, in the context of building farms and families as a unified whole was extremely powerful. The course had a lot of tools to offer and left no stone unturned with respect to ways of finding solutions to life’s little and big problems. Examples of decision-making tools included: asking five why's in a row when stating a problem (much like a child would) until you can get to the real source of it, budgeting and planning around family vacations and profits instead of waiting for the show and hoping for the best, brainstorming for ideas of solving problems or expanding enterprises that may not be evident, ways of determining what the weak links are in family systems or farm operations (or both!) and building solutions towards these rather than throwing money, time and energy in random directions in hopes that everything will work out okay.

Some of us watch our lives every day. We monitor our progress. We write things down. Blog posts, exercise charts, work schedules, diet rules, children’s lessons, family commitments, dreams, goals, ideas. We brainstorm. We calculate. We ask questions and seek advice. We take courses. We also enjoy denial, or stubborn acts of holding to our original thinking. When it comes to farming and parenting, it is ever so important to stay on the ball, always being open to real ways to move forward and through problems that arise. Otherwise the whole thing can topple down pretty quickly.

Today I attempted to put my entire life into a spreadsheet. I trusted that I would have the endurance to complete such a thing. That it would be pages and pages long and take days and days to get right. I have a big choice to make in the coming weeks (more on that later) so I needed to weigh out the factors that would be affected by my decision. Down the left hand side of the sheet I brainstormed all of the considerations at play. I imagined an elaborate scheme where I would score them and plug them into a complicated equation that would spit out an answer.

The list contained all of the things that are important to me. Everything I value. Everything that I couldn’t do without. And much to my surprise, the list was short. And then I noticed that once I had made that list, and added a few small details about timelines and income, the story was complete. There was nothing more to say.

Now I see why I would be able to track me so very easily. Did she exercise today? Did she sit on the floor and do a puzzle with her children? Did she head to the barn? Pet the dogs? Make a healthy meal full of farm fare?

Across the top of the sheet I wrote three scenarios. In each of the boxes below the scenarios I wrote down how the thing I valued would be affected in this situation. Seeing my life spread down the side of an Excel worksheet was extremely satisfying. Despite my concerns, the process was not that complicated. It was easy to see what was important to me, and therefore, easier to make a decision that would keep the things I valued intact. Just when I thought that my life was really intricate, that nobody would ever be able to figure out where I was coming from and where I was headed, I realized I was actually an open book.

I recommend this exercise even if you don’t have a decision to make – and especially if you do. I suppose it need not be a spreadsheet. It could be a vision board, a mind map, a 3-dimensional mobile if you like! You would record your greatest assets, thereby protecting them. Holding everything that matters to you, all in one place.

Is it reading a little bit of a book every day? Taking your dogs for a long walk? Making time to bake cookies with the little people in your life? Getting time away with your partner? Whatever you care about the most matters because it makes you who you are. It is as important as your income, your child’s dance lessons, your weight, upcoming birthday celebrations or any thing else you might track in writing.

Go away right now and make me a list. Use crayons on the back of a cereal box. Use markers on your bathroom mirror. If you want to, make a column in an Excel spreadsheet. You’ll see what I mean. They become more real when you put them down. Hopefully, no matter what happens next, yours to keep.

It turns out the things that matter most to me can’t be tracked by a credit card company. But if I was to be predictable and my life was that simple to read, let the story be something that reflects what I value most. And let us learn to put more importance and track these things with the same vigour that a credit card company would track our spending. Because it should be a darned big deal if something comes along and steals them away from you.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Weight of Food

Happy New Year to everyone! This is my first 2012 post. My husband and daughter both celebrate their birthdays this week so we are always delayed in launching some kind of post-holiday routine.

Have you set some hefty resolutions for yourselves this year? Have you decided for the four hundredth time that THIS year you are going to get the body that you love? You’re going to quit with your cookie hiding habit and stop kicking the weigh scales across the room every time you step on them? Me too.

Body issues. For me, this is the mother ship of all subjects. It is the Big Cheese of blog post topics. Every thing I have ever written centers around this - food, faith, farming, form. I don’t talk about it much because its deeply personal. But then again, I don’t think I’m alone with these issues. And as always, I think sharing my thoughts slightly outweighs the desire to keep them to myself. Maybe there is a noodle in here somewhere for you. A carrot, so to speak. Maybe not.

I learned not very long ago that getting the body you love is far more about loving your body than changing it. Ironically, I have been ‘trying’ to lose weight for over 25 years now and have managed to put on many tens of unwanted pounds in the process. I’d like to say that I can blame my pregnancies or age but I can’t. Unless of course you include the fact that I am pregnant with an eternal desire to feed every kind of hunger with food. Emotional, spiritual, and most of all the desire to love and be loved.

What does that Elton John song say? The greatest thing, you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return. For me this means that when you learn to give and receive love is precisely the moment that you let God in. Or whatever you want to call it. And one day you look up and realize you stopped scarfing down half the tray of brownies. I’ve seen glimpses of this phenomenon. Glimpses of not craving brownies. And what the face of love really looks like.

I am the kind of person that heads straight to the food table at any gathering. I find comfort there, if only temporarily until I feel so stuffed I can’t breath. If I’m tired, I eat. If stressed, I nibble. If excited, I grab for something too. No occasion is unworthy of sharing it with my beloved food.

Don’t think I don’t happen to see the irony in the fact that I have invested enormous amounts of energy securing what I consider to be a perfect source of food for my family. From dairy to meats to vegetables, fruits and grains, we have attempted to make the best of the best available to ourselves with our own hands from our land. As a result we have partaken in a vast array of healthy, nutritious food options. I have obsessed about this perfection. If I’m honest, I think it helped distract me from the real issues. If I could surround myself with healthy foods, would I stop ‘using’ food in all the wrong ways?

Nope, I didn’t. Our emotional psyches can’t be fooled so very easily.

I even tried focusing heavily on the world’s food system. Blaming manufacturers of processed foods for my problem. Why did they have to go and make so much crappy food available to me? Why weren’t they honest with how about how it wasn’t good for me? Why is it all so addictive, so cheap and easy to access? Surely I was not informed properly. And surely if I could fix the food system I could fix my obsession with food.

Nope. That didn’t work either.

The only effective trick that I’ve ever had up my sleeve was exercise. As a young adult, I drove myself farther and faster, relishing in the strength and power of my muscles, capacity of my lungs and the quickened beating of my heart. Exercise made me hungry. And gave me permission to eat mounds of food fit for a giant. And I got away with it. I sometimes still do. A manufactured speedy metabolism has been the number one secret I stored in the box under my bed. If I focus on calories burned, will I stop caring about the calories I take in?

Nope. Not that either. For me, obsession with exercise could only survive in waves. A real commitment to one’s fitness is not an obsession but a lifelong relationship of healthy give and take. A desire to build our body to the best of its potential. It is not a race against naughty secret habits. And so between splurging on exercise and the contents of my fridge, I would become sedentary for weeks at a time, exhausted from my own drive. And add another ten pounds for good luck until the next round of obsession kicked in.

A couple of times in my life I have managed to drop pounds from my body as fast as a sudden heat wave can melt ice and snow. The only thing I remember about those times is my state of mind. They both lasted about a year in duration. There was nothing particularly wonderful going on in my life at those times. But for some reason I did not judge myself for the way that I looked. I accepted myself wholeheartedly, as is, and stopped caring what the weigh scales read. I would weigh myself, note the increase or decrease, and smile a Mona Lisa smile before stepping off. None of it mattered. The mirror and the scales became only a reflection of what I was feeling on the inside. Total self-love.

Oh boy, does that sound flaky. I see that. I get that pointing to love in these matters sounds a little too light and fluffy to believe. But those who know the feeling I’m referring to, know exactly what I mean here. It kind of just happens. One day you awaken and you’re just fine. And then the change you’ve been waiting for finds you rather than the other way around.

As Alanis Morissette once wrote in her song Thank You: the moment I jumped off of it was the moment that I touched down.

It is almost as though we need to let go entirely of the struggle to lose weight, and focus on the love and beauty that our bodies have to express. Only then is the fight no longer an issue.

I am making a second attempt to read Marianne Williamson’s ‘A Course in Weight Loss’ now. I tried last year only to find the messages in it were far too intense for me to bear, so I set it aside. The idea in this book that stands out the most for me is that eating more food than is required, or more often, or unhealthy choices is a direct sign of spiritual deprivation. Abusing food, or using it in ways that are not linked to nutrition and our bodies’ health, is not about a love for food. It is about a lack of connection to the source. Both the source of pain that drives us to want to eat for the wrong reasons, or the source of love that can heal us from all of our wounds. Some call this source of love God.

Now I do not believe spiritual deprivation to have anything to do with the number of times you’ve missed church. Or how many prayers you forgot to say. Or whether you’ve ignored the Ten Commandments. All these may or may not be your spiritual shortcoming, but the real focus here for me anyway is the inability to see your self, your body, your being as connected to something divine. The inability to know that it was not you who created your body. And, therefore, quite simply, it is impossible to hate this vessel that holds you. It isn’t yours to hate. It belongs to God. And God to me is synonymous with Love. Not Hate.

We are all so very aware, and could probably write books on what a healthy diet would look like. What we can’t figure out is how such a resourceful, strong, intelligent human could not solve such a simple equation. Eat less, move more, choose better, feel just right and as a result, embody health.

So we are brought once again to the idea that everything in our lives functions as a system. Our problems cannot be isolated. We are given opportunities time and time again to learn the lessons we need to learn. Like in the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray, we have to repeat our quandaries until we get them right.

In this lifetime I think the greatest mistake that I have continuously made is to not ask for help. To not seek support. To assume that I had to do everything alone. To assume that there was no higher power available to me. Not me. To others, but not me.

This time I surrender. I can’t do this alone. I have awoken for the 25th New Years day in a row wondering whether this year will be the year that I would learn to love the treasures I’ve been given. To love this body that I have on loan for such a relatively short time.

And Elton, I’ll take your word for it. This isn’t about a menu plan. This is about the process of cleaning your closets from the inside out (and not just shoving one more box in the small available spaces amongst the chaos).

The greatest thing.
You’ll ever learn.
Is just to love
and be loved in return.

Are you there God? Its me Julie.