Getting my hands dirty

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Last summer we transformed our front yard into a garden. We had tried our hands at gardening numerous times before but never had a garden space that included adequate room, sun, and good soil. In one location we had good soil and no sun, in another, hail took down our garden and then lawn took over….. so, inspired by our the folks in our potluck community, we broke ground, turning our ugly front lawn into 10 3×6 garden boxes. We brought in soil that was loose and lovely (as opposed to the gumbo of Regina’s natural earth). We built the beds ourselves, used a couple of shovels to dig up the highly compacted lawn (because it was so hard I thought no veggies would grow.) We borrowed a wheelbarrow and filled beds with earth, surrounding them with mulch from a tree company. I was sure we would be kicked out of the community the day five cubic yards of mulch was released on our driveway. We planted, and watered. We watched our garden, for the first time, flourish. We ate kale, carrots, snap peas, beets, onions, tomatoes, basil…..until we could eat no more and then we processed the rest for the long winter. (and oh, what a long winter it has been).

We made connections in our community because we were outside, in the front yard, playing in the dirt. We gave away piles of kale, and beet greens. I even stopped a guy riding by on his bike to offer him cucumbers. (he returned the next day to ask if he could still have them as his girlfriend was sad he had turned them down, but by then they were deep in dill brine, awaiting their rebirth as pickles). A fellow neighbourhood gardener brought us some egyptian walking onions to plant in our garden. People stopped along their walks to chat with us, and we learned their names. People stopped their vehicles to ask us how our tomatoes got so lovely, where we got our boxes. The kids made friends in the neighbourhood as other kids came to eat carrots and peas out of the gardens, to help plant and weed, to learn about first leaves and true leaves…. we dug in the dirt and a community of sorts was born. Each day, Peter walks by and we say hello. An older neighbour gave our girls doll strollers from when his girls were small.

And now, in the darkest, coldest, LONGEST parts of winter, when everything in me is longing for the sun, for the heat of its rays on my back as I bend to the earth in gratitude for the abundance, it is the hope of that garden greening again that sustains. The promise that those packets of seeds (way too many) will come soon to our door. The hope that the beds we will build in the back yard will also nourish our growing littles. The knowledge that we have only scratched the surface of the knowing that is needed for this endeavour. The anticipation of watching those first wee sprouts come up, trying to discern whether they are weed or food, and in many cases, finding that they are both. Will the beans do better in the full sun of the front yard? Will the neighbour with the perfect yard finally accept some produce? Will bringing better soil to the back yard be enough to help the dappled shade plants along? Will the voles still dominate, eating everything in sight? The wondering, waiting, knowing that the green will come and that this season of never-ending cold will be a memory….this is what sustains.

And in the meantime, I bide my time, preparing to start seeds indoors, watching documentaries of the power of urban farming to build communities and change lives, reading and learning more…..hibernating in the cold of winter so that when spring comes, I too can grow out of the darkness and into the light, seeking warmth on my face and nourishing those around me with beauty and hope, and somehow inspiring another to stick their hands deep into the earth and breathe life.

Remembering

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We’re studying Mexico with our homeschool coop right now, and learning about butterflies and their migration patterns as well as Mexican culture. We found a book from the library called “Ghost Wings” that tells a story of a little girl who loves to visit the circle of magic (where the monarchs winter) with her abuela (Grandmother). Her grandmother dies as the monarchs migrate north, and then return as the girl is celebrating the Day of the Dead (Dia de los muertes) with her family. A butterfly lands on her arm and reminds her of the things she was forgetting about her grandmother, the smell of cornmeal and roses, the way her grandmother would chase away the monsters under her bed. The butterflies, said abuela, carry the souls of the old ones. 

Reflecting on grandparents this morning, on the special roles they play in a kid’s life. Thinking about how sad it is that our parents live so far away from our family, so that our kids only see them a couple times a year. Wishing we were close enough to have supper together on a regular basis. But also, reflecting on how amazing it is that I am turning forty and still have two living grandparents, and one who died just last fall. Remembering some things about being a kid visiting those grandparents, or having them visit us, and how special those times where. Waiting on the couch after school watching every car coming around our corner hoping Nana and Papa would come soon. Arguing with my sister about who got to sit with which grandparent at meals. Seeing my Papa grab my Nana’s butt (even at 75, they still had it going on).

Cheating at Go, Fish. Breaking toothpicks out of Papa’s mouth. Singing old hymns as Nana played the organ, loving my Papa’s voice. The way they would always buy orange and grape pop for the grandkids. Visiting on the farm and loving every minute of it. Making crank calls to the adults from the basement with all of my cousins (thinking we were so, so sneaky). Stealing candy from the candy jar and trying to not let the lid make any sound (it was always harder to put it back on than it was to take it off). Looking for four leaf clovers in the grass with Mormor. Singing you are my sunshine. Sharing coffee from a beautiful teacup in her bed. Being spoiled rotten. Waffles and sausages. The candy bowl that was filled numerous times each visit without a word to the girls about the disappearing contents. Little gifts slipped into a hand while a hug was given (bittersweet these, very much appreciated but also felt like she was wanting to buy our love a bit, when we always loved her so much). Eating sun warmed tomatoes and peppers from the garden. Watching the Nature of Things with Lorne Greene while Grandpappy sat in Archie’s chair. Long fingernails on backs warmed by the fire. The line of hummels, and crystal birds overlooking the lake. Rides in the tractor. Midnight supper. Toast with honey and sharp cheddar cheese, cut into fingers by old man hands. Gentleness, kindness. “Hate is a strong word”. 

I wonder at the legacy of it all really. Those memories of these people that I feel so lucky to know. I wonder what memories my kids will have of their grandparents, what bits and pieces will shine through the years and make them teary as they read storybooks about butterflies to their own kids. 

 

Learning about the world beyond them

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This year our homeschool coop that meets on Wednesdays has been studying a variety of countries around our amazing world. Because I come from a place where my own international experiences led me to a place of greater awareness of social justice issues and the world beyond my own easy life, it has always been important to me to let my kids know that there is indeed a different reality than their own, that people do struggle for water, food, and even survival. I don’t want to instill fear in them, but rather a compassion that recognizes that when we have so much, we can share with others. I also want them to be aware of the wonders in the world around them, the differences in culture, religion, lifestyle, you name it.

Sometimes it is easy to wonder whether all of the picture books we read, the homeschool coop experiences of other cultures, the discussions about other lives in other lands have any impact when we are surrounded by so much ease, so much excess, and so much media.

This morning my girls have been creating a world in the living room. This world has a shelter made of couch cushions (that they and the baby must fit under in the case of a rainstorm. They eat outside at their small (stool) table, and haul water in a pot from the sink to the living room where they heat it on their bamboo (basket and green sticks) stove to kill any germs that might otherwise make them sick. They are harvesting their food from a local berry bush (the table) and gathering in the yard to eat their food.

It is a beautiful thing to see them integrate what I hope they are learning with their play, asking questions, now they are heading to the bathtub to try and bathe with only one pot of water. It’s exciting to see that maybe, just maybe, the things we have tried to present are taking root and growing into a world view that includes other realities.

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Day 6

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Sugar cravings are mostly gone. I have lots of energy, but find myself at odds with what to do with it. Feeling a bit twitchy from time to time, without the easy fix of making a big cup of tea or coffee with way too much sweetener. AMAZED at how sweet foods without sugar taste as my tastebuds readjust.

Also gave up caffeine so the baby would sleep better. Gone from 10 or more night wakings to 2-3 just by making that small shift. He is really affected by caffeine, which I forget when the inlaws visit and start making real coffee.

day two.

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I’m going to approach this blog more as a journal for a few weeks, so posts may be unpolished and partial. I’m okay with that, part of learning to accept that I am enough as I am now, and letting go of the stress of striving for perfection.

So here are today’s thoughts.
No sugar for two days. Feel a bit headachy and groggy, but I know from experience that this should pass in another couple of days. I know I don’t like how sugar is in my body, and my insatiable desire for it once I begin eating it, so I really want to let my body rest from it’s effects for awhile. Plus, i really believe that sugar affects immunity and myself and my people have been super sick for way too long. (could also be the mold on the bedroom roof, we’ll find out tomorrow)

No wheat for two days. Don’t really tend to get withdrawal symptoms from my little wheat binges, but just look forward to going back to a place of less back pain and less frequent migraines. But this binge was my choice, indulging in appetizers on the family tradition app night was well worth it.

Took the kids swimming today, and then to the indoor playground. Feels good to be intentional about moving more with my people. We need to move our bodies to be happy, and especially in these soul crushing winters. It’s too easy with homeschooling to just stay home, never go outside, and bicker with each other. We are ALL happier when we move and celebrate these bodies that sustain us.

Finished the day with an hour and a half long online yoga class at Eckhart Yoga, which I love. Yoga has been a revelation for me in this past year for many reasons, which I will post on some other time. I find it centers me, rejuvenates me, calms the restlessness in my brain and is a way of taking time to nurture this tired body and mind of mine. In short, it gives me an opportunity to be gracious with myself and put myself first, which doesn’t happen without effort.

That is all.

A new year

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Another year come, gone.
Kids are older, wiser, more capable of taking pause and seeing themselves from another’s view.
Avi is jumping, laughing, running, leaping, climbing, and grabbing life with gusto, determination and a new found independence.
Mattea is learning letters, sarcasm, and continues to play for hours in deep imagination.
India is reading, spending as much time as possible with friends, and sewing independently.
Elijah loves minecraft, magic the gathering, and reads voraciously at between 5-7 novels a month.

I am looking forward, looking to learn these things.

MORE yoga. Discovered it last January after attending a group class for the first time with a friend. LOVE it. Each weeks class brings an hour of refuge from my life’s chaos, laughter, freedom, and a sense of caring for myself that often disappears in the first year’s of a baby Bell’s life. I would like to commit more time at home to the practice of yoga, both for myself and the littles, as I find it such a balancing, calming activity. Learning to focus on here, and now. As life with these littles is fleeting, each day, month, year flying by in and eye’s blink…I want to breathe, treasure, and learn to be.

LESS sugar. Once again realizing that sugar affects my body like a poison, causing anger and exhaustion. Part of seeking balance in my life, as well as learning to take time to care for myself in the middle of each moment.

LESS fear. I often find myself caught in a vortex of fear and despair, for the future, for my children’s future, for the inevitable losses that one faces in a lifetime. The thing is that by fearing it, I don’t stave it off or change any of it, but lose the moments of grace and mercy that are here, right now, being blinded by the fear glasses.

MORE simplicity, LESS stuff. As always, my efforts to declutter our physical and mental space continue. In trying to strike a balance between having good quality supplies and resources for my wee ones, and trying to minimize the chaos of our counters and closets. The less stuff we have, the less time I spend organizing it, picking it up, cleaning it, etc.

MORE letting go. I want to let go of worrying about fingerprinty walls and dirty floors, not so we live in a mess, but so that I can let go and read a story, do a puzzle, embrace the lack of perfection while also embracing these fast growing wee ones. I have only two left who REALLY love stories, the bigger ones are too cool for picture books now, and I want to enjoy these years of couch cuddling and reading an entire bag of library books in one sitting.

MORE joy. I have CHOSEN this. This chaos is beautiful in it’s way. The noise teems with life, the mess shows that creative things have become reality. The cluttered kitchen counters speak of real food that takes time and effort to grow and cook. The half full plates speak of kids who are still learning to eat that real food, and don’t always like it. I want to remember that I have what many long for. A home full of life, passion, music, dancing, and learning. Friends who surround us with community and passion, learning and growth. Family who loves us enough to enter our craziness for days at a time and come back anyway. A solid marriage with my best friend. Soul sisters in different cities who replenish and listen. It is good here. Life is good.

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Nourished by weeds

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We’ve started reading a series of chapter books called Herb Fairies. Written by a herbalist, the books are filled with stories of kids and the fairies who teach them about the many healing properties of different plants. Each book comes with activities, recipes, and journal pages for the kids to record their learning. 

The books come to us one month at a time, and although we look forward to doing the related activities, our late spring has put us a bit behind. BUT, luckily, we have dandelions. Lots of them. More accurately, our neighbour has dandelions, which will soon go to seed and overrun our front yard garden boxes. 

So I sent the girls on a stealth recovery mission with the baby while I weeded our beds. The three of them picked a pile of lovely dandelion heads (did you know you can eat the blossoms?)

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Next we rinsed the blossoms and mixed up a type of tempura batter. I wanted gluten free, so we ground up some coconut, added a bit of cornstarch and a couple of eggs, and some cold water. If we do this again, I’ll leave out the water, as it ended up being too thin and needing more starch. 

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We put a bit of coconut oil (are you sensing a theme?) in a pan, dipped the dandelion blossoms in the tempura, and then fried them in the oil, flipping once they were browned and puffy. 

ImageAfter allowing them to cool a bit, we munched them up, me with a spicy mayo dip and the kids with maple syrup. All in all, they were a hit, and an affordable lunch. The littles were thrilled to tell dad we ate weeds for lunch.

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