Inputs and Outputs – Girl Meets Permaculture

I can’t believe I haven’t written before about my “girl meets permaculture” experience last year.  It was one of those JPEG Image (29177)serendipitous second-hand book-stall moments, where I picked up an old copy of Rosemary Morrow’s Earth Users Guide to Permaculture and was instantly hooked.  Whilst it wasn’t the most practical introduction to #permaculture that I could have found, it was transformative and inspirational – and started me off on my permaculture mission.

What was it that really got to me about permaculture?  Well, it’s a practical, economic and political science.  It’s based in the physical reality of living on Earth, with each other as equals.  I’ve wondered for years how to integrate ideas about social equality, economic sustainability and ecology.  And I think permaculture has many of the answers.  It’s a shame it sounds too revolutionary for the political mainstream because it represent our best hope of living with catastrophic climate change and over-consumption.

It’s been over a year since I started learning about permaculture, and I’ve ploughed through several weighty tomes, dug up my front garden and planted several polycultures.  And got some hens.  But I’ve noticed that some of the ideas from it are seeping into the rest of my life, particularly the concepts of inputs and outputs.  This was something I read about in Juno just before I found my first permaculture book.

So what do I mean by inputs and outputs?  Inputs are all the things that you need to add in to a situation, metaphorical or literal to make it work.  In your garden, that might be water, fertiliser, new plants, fencing, labour.  In your family life that might be time, money, electricity, toys, cleaning.  The outputs are all the things – good and bad- that you get as a result:  food crops, shelter, water run-off, green waster, well-fed children, contented parents, the need to do outside work to earn more money.

I find increasingly that, no matter what the situation, I’m choosing to do things that balance the inputs and outputs.  So when I got fed up of lugging some extra weight around, I chose to start #intermittentfasting because the only input it requires from me is a hefty dose of self-control, and it has a whole bunch of positive outputs (and a significant negative one – I get grumpy).  And it helped me decide what to do about schooling for my littler daughter – our current school requires significant inputs in terms of emotional support, engagement with school to try and make it a bit better, sorting out problems with teachers, understanding their poor communications with us; whilst there have been positive outputs too these are not balanced by the inputs we’ve had to keep shoving in – and there have been some pretty negative outputs to deal with too.

Not all of life can have 100% positive outputs, but just being aware of what we’re putting in and getting out, and keeping these in a positive and easy balance is a happy thing.

Got tickets, will camp…


we’ve been checking the weather, we’ve checked the line-up, we remembered to buy a new tent… And I went to pick up our family pass for Beverley Folk Festival.  So it looks like we’re camping two miles from home this weekend- wish us luck!

Low Mood Served in Different Ways

Yarn of wool in heart shape symbolI get grumpy.  And defensive.  And tired, and foggy-headed.

I get weepy, and insecure, and self-destructive.

I get isolated, resentful and snappy.

I get really, really bad PMS.

All of this has been true for ever.  Sometimes it’s worse than others.  Today it feels pretty bad and I just want to feel better.  I know I’ve got a range of options; I figured that turning them into words on the page here would help me sort out which one fits best.

First Option – medico-pharmacological.  Tried this, tried several versions of this.  Don’t like it.  It made me FAT.  Well, actually I made me fat cos I couldn’t stop stuffing my face with sweet starchy gunk.  But still, that extra stone that I’m still lugging around doesn’t make me feel good.  So I’d rather not, thanks.

Second Option – phyto-pharmacological.  Tried this (St John’s Wort), worked well for several years with only one side-effect – photo-sensitivity.  This combined with post-pregnancy melanasma gave me a naice zorro-style moustachio blotch.  Not a good look.  But it did work, and I can wear sunblock.  So that’s a possibilty.

Third Option – mainstream talking therapy.  Done lots of this, and it does work but it takes tiiiiiime and money – I have little of either.  I’m probably going to need some help with the big bad anyway and it feels too muddy, and too long winded to do generic low mood + big bad at the same time.  So not for now.

Fourth Option – alternative talking therapy i) 3 Principles.  It’s a bit woo for me (“universal wisdom” makes me edgy) but it does work.  And fast, and cleanly and cheaply.  But it’s hard to keep it in mind when it goes so much against the cultural flow.  Perhaps I need a little sign that reminds me: “Whatever it is that is bothering you, be it stress at work, bad relationships, discontent whearts on stringsith yourself or anything else, it always comes down to thought. It’s always created through your thoughts. When you see that, there are no more problems, no matter which life aspect they were related to.” I can make one of those.  I can do that right now.

Fifth Option – alternative talking therapy ii) Clean Language.  I <LOVE> Clean.  I’m midway through a Core Skills course, on my way to becoming a Clean Language Facilitator, and I’m loving it.  It works, it’s quick and it’s gentle.  Doing this list of my potential resources to deal with my low mood is something I’ve learnt from Clean.  Not sure how effectively I can do it to myself, but it’s also something that I can do right now.

Sixth Option (wow – didn’t think there’d actually be this many!) – mindfulness.  Again, done this and really felt the benefit.  But it takes time that I don’t often have now that my pesky kids don’t get to sleep before 20:30.  I’ve tried doing it first thing in the morning, but tend to go straight back to sleep.  But four days a week (until the holidays start…) I do have time to do half an hour a day.  So I can do that right now too.

Seventh Option – run.  A good one, as it would solve the lard-bucket issue and sort my head out too.  All broken bones and wonky backs are fixed right now, so there is no excuse.  And I’d rather run 15km every week than have to keep doing  #intermittentfasting which is doing my head in.

There are probably more resources out there in the world, and I guess we’ll all have a different #bricolage of what works well.  The other option that I didn’t right down, but that is clearly a contender is actually doing this.  Just going through the resources I have and the choice I can make has made me feel better.  It’s not inevitable that I will spend the rest of my days feeling knackered and grumpy, and I can start to feel better right now (especially if I can grapple with the idea that all my current bad feelings are not innate, not part of bad/melancholic old me, they’re just coming from my thoughts…) and I can start to feel better without needing loads of additional inputs.

What does your “feel better now” bricolage look like?

Breathing spaces

It hit me a couple of weeks ago that I only had 7 more weeks with my littler daughter before she starts school. We currently have one day a week with no pre-school or other activities, and that mid-week “day for nothing” gives us both a rich and rewarding breathing space. Sure, by evening I’m flagging from 14 hours one-on-one with a mega-brained thrill-seeker, but I just about have enough parenting skillz to remember not to wish these last few days of freedom away.
beach toes
It feels like taking a big plunge, starting school with her. I mean, she is still only 3… But she’s also teaching herself to read and write, and do numbers and somersaults and cartwheels – and I can’t keep up without giving up those little shreds of me-time that I’ve managed to spin out as my mothering has grown. So we’ve thought and worried and argued, and chosen a school with lots of other younger children starting, with a #forestschool and a #schoolgardening club, and a head-teacher with a Philosophy degree, and we’re hoping for the best….

Hoping that we don’t lose another child to “the system”, hoping that this time next year she is still skipping along on her path through the world, just with a bit more learning behind her.

But for now, we’re breathing in all the spaces we have – including our wonderful North Sea beaches. Bracing but beautiful, with more light than you can shake a bag of chips at.

Backing off/Leaning in: mid-life crisis?

2011-11-01 15.10.36Small child hurtles towards a fence;  I slow my steps, almost stopping dead as she – oh, no, she will!  Will she? Phew, she didn’t! – just misses the latest obstacle in her race through the world.  It turns out that I’m not the only one who does this:  DH also puts himself into counter-intuitive slo-mo when the children are careering towards a collision.

And recently, face with some big, tricky mid-life reality check issues, I’ve found myself backing off from my family relationships – already hearing the crunch of some big impacts up ahead.  I pulled up and I pulled back.  It’s understandable – big ipacts on a 10 year old-marriage with two children are going to hurt, so of course I’d want to protect myself.

But actually all it did was give me two problems:  the original Big Bad Mid-Life shiz and the behaving-like-an-emotional-zombie shiz.  I was brave, and I didn’t slow my steps.  I spoke up, I strode on and I faced up to some of the Big Bad stuff.  It wasn’t the easiest conversation to have, and we both may have cried a bit/a lot, and there was a day of painful uncertainty while we waited for another chance to talk.  But the impact seems to have passed us by this time, and we both know (again) how much of a  good thing we still have going on after 15 years together..

Whether I’ll be brave enough to catch up my little scootering terror as she whooshes past the next obstacle in her path, we’ll have to wait and see.  How about you – are you a leaner-in or a backer-off?  What helps you embrace your obstacles?

Snow brings me home

It started snowing last night – just enough to give us a fair covering this morning.  Both my girls were beyond excited at the prospect of school runs on the sledge.  We duly saddled up with sheepskin and my trusty wooden sledge and I pulled my little one up the hill.

When we made our triumphant entry to the preschool yard, I was struck as I often am by how much the snow disrupts people’s li2009-02-08 21.09.10ves: I sometimes feel like I’m the only mama who doesn’t dread our snowy February days!  I was deep in thought on the way home, thinking about why it must feel so disruptive to the many, many mamas and papas who have to drive their families to school before they themselves drive to work.

I guess gridlocked, slushy streets would be a hindrance to daily life.  And I guess the reason why we always seem to take the regular winter snows in our stride is because we’ve chosen to work and school our children withing walking distance of home.  It wasn’t always going to be so:  we had a place at a Steiner school an hour’s drive away, but decided that actually we all really valued being able to walk to and from school.  We didn’t want to depend on a car, we didn’t want to add that pressure to daily life.

There’s something about the psycho-geography of walking a school run regularly, of walking the route to market every other week, of knowing the three different shortcuts for three different moods.  It has embedded our family into the community giving us senses of place, season and community.  Yes, it would have been great to educate our girls at the school of our choice, but not at the price of that two hours of daily driving.  We’ve also had to make life good in a house that didn’t really work for us.  So sacrifices have been made, but they have been so worth it – there is strength in our daily walk to school, in being part of that local landscape even if only because when the snows come (as they do every year) we can enjoy the magical transformation of the world.  Go get some fun in the snow!


Mother’s Help

I love the serendipity of a good second-hand book stalls; for a few pounds I can pick up titles I have never heard of, and that I never even knew I wanted.  Last year’s stall at York Steiner school’s Spring Fair I picked up a beginner’s guide to Permaculture (girl buys book, girl reads book, girl falls in love) and a lovely little paperback called Mother’s Help:  For busy mothers and playgroup leaders.  It’s been my default bedtime reading for several months, and it’s been a joyful discovery.  Although it was published before I was born, each chapter has given me much to enrich my mothering.  Not surprising, given that: index

Mother’s Help started because, as a mother, I found that there were plenty of books around which gave ideas for things for children to make and do, but either they were too advanced for the age group I was interested in – the under-fives – or they gave such detailed instructions … that it was essential for an older person to be present all the time to help the child to follow them, step by step.  At the time I couldn’t find anything which gave ideas as to how small children could be kept happy and interested on their own”.

I found the chapters on crafty activities  – which I invariably make too complicated – and cooperative cooking invaluable, especially as my younger daughter is a keen kitchen helper.  She is now our family’s expert scrambled egg maker, with only a little help from me.

There’s a great chapter on story time, with an extensive list of story books for the very young child – I’m going to add these to my evernote list in case I should ever get time to browse in a second-hand bookshop!

It’s been very refreshing to find such a variety of simple, economical and common-sense ideas for everything from entertaining the sick child to party giving, and proves to me that there is great strength and resource in mothering’s unchanging nature.  Our young children are much the same as young children have ever been – they don’t need automatic rocking chairs, ipads or minute-by-minute entertainment. Mothers too are much the same as they gave ever been – sometimes stretched, sometimes stuck, sometimes over-thinking – we don’t need to overwork our children’s play, we don’t need to do everything for them. Perhaps the most we can do for our own sanity and their is find ways of playing that, like Mother’s Help, encourage children to discover the world for themselves.