Friday, 9 April 2010

Embrace Your Failures

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

I think a lot of us who are part of the new simplicity movement are hard on ourselves sometimes.  We have high standards, we want to do it all, and we want it done yesterday, looking perfect.  I don't know anyone who's actually managed that though.  Certainly not me.  But I know that sometimes even the blogging I do contributes to other people feeling like they have to do it all, and do it perfectly.  It happens to me too when I read other bloggers.  I think it's because we're generally an upbeat crowd, and we focus on the positive, so that's what we end up blogging about.  It's not that we want to boast or pretend that failures don't happen.  There's just a tendency to want to share what we've managed to do well.

So today I want to talk about failures, imperfections, mistakes, bad decisions, falling short of goals and generally sucking at some things.

The few times I've attempted it, my jellies and jams have failed to gel properly.  My garden, while productive, has always looked like hell by June.  I chose bad garden lay-outs not one or two years in a row, but three years in a row.  I still buy toxic deodorant that will probably give me cancer, packaged up in plastic.  I never complete the list of goals I set for myself each year.  We indulge in take-out pizza, disappointing as it invariably is, once in a while.  I'm neither methodical nor patient enough to ever be any good at sewing.  My cleanliness standards for most rooms of the house are lower than you would imagine.  I've pushed myself and my husband too hard at times to make changes faster than I should have.  I order vegetable seeds each winter and when they fail to germinate, or when I fail to even try to get them started, I go to a nursery and buy seedlings.  I procrastinate and avoid a lot.  I'm a bad correspondent.  I hate doing dishes and rely on the dishwasher far too much.  I start knitting projects and rarely finish them.  I'm not very good at conserving water, and I rationalize this with the fact that I live in an area with plentiful rainfall.  I don't really want my cats catching birds, but I don't put bells on them because I do want them to catch mice and voles. Most of the time, I want to quit when I'm three-quarters of the way through any given project.

There!  That was liberating.  More than that, it feels important to acknowledge my own shortcomings.  In doing so, I'm not beating on myself or setting myself up for even higher expectations going forward.  It just feels right to admit that as much as I want to do things well, and succeed, and live my life according to my own highest standards, life isn't perfect.  My list of failures is almost certainly very average.  It reminds me that just as I would try to encourage someone else who struggled and but fell short, I should also be tolerant of my own failures.  I think we're often harder on ourselves than we would ever dream of being on another person.  I know my intentions are good.  I know that I'm genuinely trying to make a positive change in the world.  If I knew someone else were doing the same, I'd certainly sympathize and encourage when they bemoaned their own imperfections.  Recognizing that makes it easier to extend the same compassion to myself.

So please, share your failures.  And recognize your generosity, your compassion, your charity with others around you who share theirs.  Then give yourself a little dose of that understanding too.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Ceremony of Making Bread

by: Chiot's Run

.. no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation ... will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.
--M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

I love making bread. It's one of the first things I started making from scratch and it's so worth it. I was pretty young when I started my baking career. I remember making bagels and other delicious bread with my mom when I was in jr high. I've been baking ever since. I mostly focus on breads since I don't have much of a sweet tooth. There's just something about homemade bread, it tastes so much better than store bought, it saves money, and it provides a connection with the past.

When I first started making bread I make traditional recipes made with fresh yeast. After mastering those recipes I decided to tackle artisan breads using the delayed fermentation method from The Bread Baker's Apprentice. When I'd learned to make delicious artisan bread, I started learning more about grains and starting grinding my own grain for baking. I then turned my attention to learning to make sourdough breads. The thought of using wild yeast was fascinating to me. Not only are sourdough breads tasty and delicious, but they're much healthier as well.

I find making bread enjoyable and deeply satisfying on a basic level. Perhaps it's being able to make something delicious for my family. Or the wonder of mixing flour with yeast and water and kneading it into a delicious loaf. Maybe our emotions are nourished as well as our bodies when we form a hands on connection with what we eat. I'm not quite sure what it is, but I know that it's something I'll be doing for the rest of my life.

Do you have an activity you do that is deeply satisfying to your soul?

Monday, 5 April 2010

The lazy preserver

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Maybe claustrophobic preserver would be a more apt description. I feel hemmed in by having too much preserved. Preserved doesn't mean food lasts forever, and it loses quality fast in the freezer compared to other methods that I have come to depend on. I can some, I freeze some, I dry some, I lacto-ferment some, I root cellar some, and some I just harvest all winter long.

Growing up, canning and freezing was it. You grew summer crops, and you preserved them in the fall, and then you ate canned or frozen summer vegetables all winter long... . Now I have nothing against eating summer fruits all winter long, in any shape or form. But vegetables - I want summer squash in the summer - and I want my winter squash in the winter, even though I grew it during the summer. I have definitely acquired a seasonal palate, and to sooth my seasonal palate I have changed my gardening habits too.

I no longer chase the 10 different varieties of any vegetable unless I am trialing it. And to trial in my garden, means you better produce lots, survive with minimal care, taste good, have a snappy name, and probably be purple ;) Ok, so the purple isn't that important - but it does catch my eye.

By changing what we eat, and when we eat it, things have fallen into place in the garden and in the preserving kitchen. I am always on the lookout for vegetables that store easily without any preserving or energy use, vegetables that can be left in situ and harvested as needed, or that overwinter in the garden without much protection before they begin to grow again. And like anything, not just one method fits: we have winter squash in an unheated bedroom, potatoes in the barn, root crops left in the row and hilled with soil, and greens growing in the garden. By eating winter type vegetables in the winter, and summer type vegetables in the summer, we are eating in season, and getting away from the store mentality of, everything is available every single day of the year. We find we enjoy different foods much more this way. After a winter of beets, I will not miss them in the summer. And the same goes for most of summer vegetables too - when the first brussels sprout is ready in October, I am glad to kiss lettuce good bye for awhile. Until we meet again in the spring, my deer tongue!

This week on our table, from the garden and our stores.

Succulent Kale raab or rapini from our overwintered kales. Much easier than trying to grow early broccoli and what we don't eat before the flowers open can be allowed to bloom to provide food for pollinators, when not much is blooming yet. Started in June and harvested throughout fall, winter and spring - this is one prolific plant to have in your garden. And I did not have to preserve any of it - just harvest, prepare, and eat.

To find out what will survive in your garden, you do need to do some trials. If a vegetable passes the eating test, then it progresses to the second year in the garden. This year I planted 6 kinds of kale. As you can see from this photo and the next, some are thriving and some are dead, knocked out by our frigid December weather. If we had been blessed with our normal snow cover, the varieties that succumbed may have made it. This year it was obvious who wins. I can't always count on snow to insulate our winter garden.

When I trial a variety, I subject all to the same conditions. I plant at the same time, in the same row or next to each other and treat all as equals. The plants will show you how to make your decision. As you can see they are not created equal.
Thrivers: Lacinato Rainbow, Wild Garden Kale, Redbor, and Winterbor.
Duds: Lacinato, White Russian.

Another winner is chicory. But fair warning, it is bitter even when cooked. An acquired taste for sure, but very good and very hardy.

Another winter staple in our house is winter squash. It keeps until May or June with proper curing, and storage. No need to freeze or can it - it keeps well. Winter squash is one of my favorite summer sunlight filled vegetables. We relish it for a vegetable side dish or in pie or custard.

And last but not least, plain ol' peasant food - the much maligned root vegetables. They grow well with in a medium fertility soil, and lend themselves to many methods of cooking or eating raw. Roots are also a winter staple for our family cow. By storing them in the row protected with soil, they are fresh and tender still, and I planted all of these last May or early June, almost a year ago now.

Winter gardening begins now with planning - I hope I gave you some ideas.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Managing Consumerism: encouraging my children's ability to self-regulate

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

Hello everyone,

I hope you are having a wonderful Easter long weekend. I've been enjoying catching up with family and friends.

Last month a reader of my personal blog asked me how I handled my children's exposure the blatant highly sexual messages being shown in the media and advertising. I answered her question then, but I realised that my answer can also apply to how I try to teach my children how to manage consumerism.

Firstly, I should explain that I believe everyone innately knows what's good for them - that is, we all have the capacity to self-regulate. And the better we are at this, then the better we are at critically examining messages given to us (by the media or advertising) and also fortifying ourselves against the hype of buying more than we need.

I believe that we are all born knowing how to listen to our bodies and emotions. As babies, we knew when we needed something and we demanded it. I do not believe that babies ever demand something they do not need - and by that I mean need physically or emotionally.

My biggest challenge as a parent has been (and still is) to decipher my children's (sometimes incomprehensible) messages and respond in a way that does not diminish that expression of need.

When my children were babies, I tried my utmost to trust and respect my children's inate capacity to demand for things that are good for them. Eg. Trust them when they signal to me that they are hungry and allow them to feed as their little bodies required. (Despite me nervously thinking at times that they're eating too much/too little/too often/too far apart). I trusted my babies when they went through difficult times of sleep (or non-sleep) and trusted their signals on how to help them through it - in most cases, I chose to respond by simply being there to hold them (in different ways) as they tried to sort out their body changes and their sleep.

As they got older and grew into toddlerhood, another layer of complexity was added - how to respond in a way that sets boundaries but still respects their emotion. I guess in a way, my approach can be summed up as: "The emotion is always okay but there are appropriate ways on how to handle it." Eg. I tried to show my children that they always have the right to be angry and they also have the right to express that emotion...but they should express it in healthy, non-harmful ways - such as, through words or drawings or letters.

My then 4 year old daughter tasting Fairy Floss for the first time...and no she didn't finish it.

So where am I going with this? I believe that it is important to not lose or diminish the capacity to listen to our bodies and emotions. I believe that we can steadily lose that capacity when we are constantly told to ignore our needs so that we can behave in a way that is "easier". And when we lose that capacity, we also have a diminished capacity to self-regulate and block harmful messages or habits.

Looking back through my personal blog, I can see that I've documented a couple of my children's experiences with self-regulation:
- When my daughter refused to take on a boyfriend (yes, she was 6 years old when she first experienced being pressured to have a boyfriend at school.)
- When my daughter chose to delay instant gratification for a bigger goal.

Now I have to say that while I am going on about self-regulation, I do limit their exposure as much as possible to harmful material in the first place. We do not watch commercial TV at home. My children are not allowed on the internet except when I am surfing the web with them. (I posted about the other things I do in this post.)

I try not to freak out about the things they are exposed to outside of our home - what's at the shops, at friends' houses, at after-school care etc. The way I see it, their exposure to those things give us plenty of chances to discuss and deconstruct the messages. I am not a believer in total censorship, nor do I want to discount my children's inate need to understand and belong to their community.

I only hope that I am able to continue walking that (sometimes very fine) line between teaching my children how to listen to themselves, how to behave in a socially appropriate manner and how to critically examine their norms.

Anyway, this post has rambled on enough so I'll stop here.

Wishing you all a wonderful week ahead.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Learning from the Past

I've been thinking a lot about why I feel compelled to grow my own food. Somehow, I think this video has a lot to do with it. I love watching this footage of our gardening forefathers working the land. While our growing techniques have changed through the ages, it seems the core principles still remain the same. Will our country ever take part in such a powerful movement again? Victory was their motivation....what should ours be?