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Mother’s Day, 2017

Mother’s Day, 2017

Right now, my husband is making breakfast while I linger in bed. My son is cuddling next to me watching me type out these thoughts. My teenaged daughter is entrenched in her bed. Everyone is enjoying the break from the harried pace of weekday mornings on this gorgeous May Sunday. Facebook greetings and well-wishes are going out. It is a wonderful day to celebrate mothers.

Enjoying the day

Enjoying the day!

Being a mother has as many faces as there are mothers, but here are a few thoughts about mothering:

  • Being a mother sometimes means allowing your body to be transformed—I think I used the term hijacked during my first pregnancy—by the development of another person. Other times, mothering means making a commitment to a person to help them develop and grow.
  • Dinner tables become the stage for sharing stories, playing games, family debates, arguments, and forgiveness. Our family table is, at some microscopic level, probably still covered with clay, paint, paper mache, candle wax, poked with felting needles, and yarn. And of course the energetic layers of so many birthdays, potlucks, tea parties, holiday dinners….
  • The garden becomes a surprise of beans planted in clumps instead of rows and the flowers pulled out with the weeds.
  • Your bed becomes the scene of cuddles and tickles and snuggles, and comforting tears, sick kids, and hugs of appreciation.
  • Being a mother means driving…the endless driving (or bus/train trips) and the support of all the activities you are transporting your child to.
  • Being a mother means creating the space for a person to go through all the steps to becoming an adult—a healthy, contributing member of a healthier society—knowing and supporting the acquisition of the skills needed to thrive.
  • It means surrendering your life to be in service to another person’s best interest—forever.
  • It means failing in that surrender, because you are only human. And you are only human in a society that is not set up to help anyone succeed in being healthy or whole. This means taking responsibility for the wounds you inevitably, unintentionally inflict.
  • It means holding your heart open while pieces of it leave on their own journey through life.
  • It means continuing to grow and develop on your human journey through life—developing your skills and insight, so that you become a better mother, a better elder. That means facilitating community and culture towards wholeness.
  • It means holding irresponsible people accountable for the harm they do to your children, their development, and the world we all share. The Earth is our first mother.

We are all responsible for the well-being of our Earth. We are all able to respond to the needs of the Earth. While we are checking in today with our human mothers, why don’t we take a moment to appreciate and care for our first mother. The birds outside are singing…the catbirds are watching the berries grow toward ripeness…fish are nesting in the lakes…frogs are calling by the pond.


Teaching permaculture to children?

I love to offer permaculture workshops to children. People are usually surprised and supportive–but mostly surprised when I say that I love to work with children. Their response is usually based on their own perceptions or understanding of permaculture.

What is permaculture?

It’s an ethical design science–and it’s more than that. It is a movement. In this country, it’s a gloriously unruly movement of people implementing their versions of permaculture. Yes, permaculture–“permanent agriculture” or “permanent culture” is based in the three ethics: Care of the Land, Care of People, and Equitable Distribution of Surplus. Yes, it’s systems theory driven and based in mimicking the patterns and solutions of natural systems. Yes, it’s about growing food, foraging, and integration with the natural landscape. Yes, permaculture is about buildings, technology, water, energy, seeds, nutrition, economics, villages, and regenerative cultures–story-telling, song, art, really, really good design. And it all derives from a connection to the land.

I love Jon Young’s gentle challenge in the May 2013 edition of the Permaculture Activist (which I guest edited) when he asks, “Is it permaculture if no one connects to the land anymore?” (p. 11) I have the rare opportunity to work in my programs with children who are learning to connect deeply to the land through Nature Connection programs (through The Wild Nature Project) or to introduce children to some of the basic routines that are held in common with nature connection and permaculture.

Harvest & Emily at PDC 2007

Why children?

I love introducing children to permaculture–they GET IT! So I’ll share the top three reasons I offer to adults about why I love sharing with kids so much:

1. Design: The “shoulds” of our modern culture are not imposed. Children are natural designers–and because they are not limited in their imaginations, they are very, very creative with design. Children will spend a long time organizing, imagining, problem-solving and creating together–given the opportunity to do so. Team designs bring out the best in sharing and the joy of co-creating.

2. Patterns: Children can (and, I believe, should) spend hours observing the patterns and rhythms of nature–even a small backyard garden or the changes and interactions between a single potted plant and the light. They don’t do this because they HAVE TO, but because they are drawn to. Young children are learning to orient themselves to time and space. Having a solid natural context with grounded understandings of the movement of birds and animals, the weather, the timing of plantings, the flowering and fruiting of plants, why people build houses and communities the way they do–these are all valuable skills.

I love celebrating their discoveries with them. Patterns hold secrets to a mysterious language–how air and liquids move through plants and over land, pathways of animals, bird song, the growth of trees, where the cats sleep, how a seed sprouts and grows, and on and on and on…

bee balm & Asiatic lily

3. Ethics: This response always gets a few raised eyebrows, but it is completely true. Ethics do not have to be some eye-rolling, tortuous, intellectual exercise.

Children, maybe especially the young ones, love the simplicity of the ethics: Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share. It’s natural for them. Often when we come to a point of potential conflict, a child will pipe up with “Okay, Fair Share.” Or, in answer to a question about why we might do something (like donate extra produce to a food bank), we’ll get “People Care, Fair Share.” When my daughter asked me what a group meant by “social justice” (comparing it with her own understanding) we clarified it with anything that has to do with the permaculture ethics. “Clear as a bell, mom.”

I would love to see every child have an opportunity to practice Deep Nature Connection and explore permaculture for themselves. To that effect (and in the interest of a bit of self-promotion), I am offering:

workshops this fall for children;

drafting a set of curricula for children ages 3-15; and

offering workshops on parenting for permanent culture next spring. This fall, my daughter and I are offering a workshop at the Bluegrass Bioneers about our journey together.

Lest you think children get to have all the fun, we are currently enrolling adults in our fall weekend course, which will begin mid-September.


First day of homeschool…

Today was our first day of school. It’s a new stage for us–not only are the grades different, but this is the first year I’m really consciously “doing pre-school” with Caden. So balancing the needs of pre-K and a burgeoning sixth grader are here in front of me.

What does that look like from a Waldorf/Nature Connection/Permaculture/big emphasis on family view?

Well, today for us was:

Walk the dog on the B-line trail through town (stopping to smell the roses); breakfast at Bloomingfoods and running into a former permaculture student to talk about the great projects he’s working on.

Then back at home:

Geology/Geography: A look at Pangaea and continental drift theory. This video really put the concept in perspective for us. We puzzled out the relationship between continents and talked about the biogeographical implications and the relationship between mountains, ocean trenches, faults, volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. More on this for Maya in the weeks to come.

Meanwhile the preschooler, enjoyed working with the numbers 2 and 3, various coloring projects and drawing crab monsters. While Maya reviewed parts of speech, explored new vocabulary, and practiced math work from the previous year, Caden helped to prepare lunch.

After a lunch break (with a breather for mom), we did some individual reading. Maya worked on sewing up a project while I read a beginning story to Caden from our Keepers of the Animals curriculum.

We wrapped up the day with some cordage (one of my favorite primitive skills). Maya harvested a few yucca leaves from our garden and guided us through processing (pounding with a stone). It turns out that one particular stone I’d collected is indeed the PERFECT stone for this kind of work. Under Maya’s tutelage we all made great progress with it–enjoying the shade and comfort outside, playing and laughing together. Even the pounding became a rhythmic play. Here’s a look at our handiwork:

Yucca leaves in various states, stones for pounding out the material, and finished yucca cordage.

Not every day will be this idyllic, but I think it’s been a lovely start to the year and I am grateful for this opportunity.

Utopian Dreams and Radical Realities

That was the name of one of the best undergrad classes I had the fortune of taking. Dr. Ed Spann taught the course in the Honors program. It was a challenge. Through reading utopian and dystopian novels we were introduced to so many social failures and triumphs. We read the obvious ones–Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, 1984, A Brave New World, Walden Two. And some others that I enjoyed–Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward and one of my favorites: Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia. Those are the most memorable. I learned about Henry George’s ideas about land reform. I researched the Transcendentalists and their attempt (and failure) to create a utopian society at Brook Farm. Religious communities seemed to have some success–but also a lot of failures. Leadership or the failure to transition from one leader to the next created tension. The Shakers had recruitment problems., There are so many other groups. I sometimes run into small groups that are reminiscent. The Grail is one–begun as a Catholic women’s organization, but now focused on women from many areas. Their international headquarters, Grailville,  is in Loveland, Ohio.

Many of the examples we covered were led by people that bought into Enlightenment ideals and believed their group could make a fresh start in America. Places like Oneida and New Harmony were relatively successful. The remind me a bit of ecovillages–and also some of the permaculture work many are engaged in. Each community, each group

During the class, I became more sensitized to how the stories of a people shape its culture and its direction. This 30 minute video (warning: it is extremely disturbing) put out on the Disinformation site, drew my attention. Not only does it contrast the fears of Orwell and Huxley, it reminds me that although I spend my days doing the work that builds life and resilience: growing food, tending children, and teaching about permaculture, there are views and behaviors that strongly contrast with mine. It is a very good attempt by some to wake our culture up to its life-denying, desensitizing practices. In the fashion of Huxley, I have great fears for the future–the future that is very much true today.

Connecting through our Relationships

For all my relations…realizing that any help I can get for relationships is beneficial to all relationships, I signed up for an online course with Gay and Katie Hendricks through the Shift Network. Every Thursday, Gay and Katie led the participants through wonderful exercises and provided lots of support and energy for seeing relationships in new and exciting ways.

I was thrilled to take part–not because my marriage has needed a great deal of help or because I feel that I am lacking as a partner–but because I want to learn how to be a BETTER partner in ALL my relationships–marriage, mothering, business, teaching, creative projects, non-profit work… With the thought of Zone Zero Zero from permaculture in mind, I jumped in with both feet and what a wondrous journey.

Here’s a tiny bit of that wisdom:

Botany in the Key of Fifth

Plants are amazing–almost as amazing as fifth graders. Maya and I are delving into botany through our Waldorf curriculum–exploring our garden, our neighborhood, and our community forests in new eyes. We will revisit botany throughout the year.

Our Waldorf curriculum prompts us to understand the kinds of plants as a metaphor for my daughter’s own development. It is deeply moving. She understands her own growth and capabilities reflected in the plant world around her. And, as we work with the fungi and lichens, the algae and ferns, we appreciate the pattern-knowledge we have from permaculture. We talk about the fungal connections through the forest mirroring our social connections.

Sunflowers in the garden in August

Our work is to come to understand the plants–their unique properties, their relationships with their environment and each other, and the ways in which humans relate to them especially. Drawing the plants, harvesting them for use, making medicines and art with them, planting and observing them. Tending the garden. Feeding our bodies, minds, and souls.  This is what education is all about.

When I hear what is happening with public schools from the preschools to the university–it is the loss of our humanity. I am very concerned that not only is the press of our society leaving people uneducated and pressured to conform to a mold of unconsidered stereotypes, but that it deprives them of the ability to understand their own capacity for growth and understanding.

For a very long time, public education has been about giving the masses enough skills to be good workers–good parts in the machine. More and more, the changes I see seem designed to undermine the ability of the adults “produced” by the system to consider, challenge, and resist the very system that “creates” them. Fear, anxiety, and anger are manipulated to enslave our children. Peer groups become more important than parents. Teachers are pitted against parents and parents against teachers. Administrators, politicians, and teachers are all vying for solid ground. And the system I see doesn’t have solid ground to give.  This is not always the case, but that dynamic is one that crops up in almost every article I read, every story related to me.

Wake up!

There are different ways. I salute the teachers, administrators, parents, and elected officials that seek to make connections and work for the best interests of children and families. But don’t let those words be twisted. We’ve set the bar too low. Families need time and support. Teachers need support to help the beauty and genius of each child unfold–just as the flowers in our garden unfold. Children need to know their own capacities and feel confident about their own growth–just as my daughter is beginning to know this.


I pray that we all wake up. That we all make those connections–and that our confidence in our humanity is restored.

Seven Generations

For seven generations…

I am the seventh generation to live in this state. In this part of the state of Indiana. Parts of my family have been in my or surrounding counties since before Indiana was a state. If seven generations mark a cycle, then my daughter and son-the eight generation-mark a new beginning.

I’ve thought a lot about what this means. Some of my ancestors were here before Europeans staked a claim on the land. I learned recently that my mother’s people, Grandma Mountain in particular, was of the Cherokee that were forcibly removed to the West. My father’s mother’s people were from the Cherokees of North Carolina. I couldn’t get more specific than that. The story is lost. Some of my ancestors fought in the American Revolution. Some of them hired Daniel Boone to bring them to this territory before it was a state. Before they came here, parts of my family were French Huguenots that re-settled in England. Parts of my family were Virginians fleeing a devastated South. That’s a lot of family karma. And, does it mean anything?

Does it mean something to come from a place with roots this deep? My husband and I have chosen to stay in this area, to raise our children here despite the temptation to be like many of our generation and take better paying jobs on the coasts. We have valued being near our families and friends, making a life of that values real things–real connections.

I feel deeply connected to this hilly, forested, rolling landscape–even naming my business Sheltering Hills Design. I belong here. My children belong here. We are of this land. I was raised close to the land by gardeners and skilled craftsmen. I expect that my children will be at least gardeners and skilled, even if they choose other careers.

I’m in awe of the beauty of my landscape, and upset by its abuse. The here I have inherited is as polluted and damaged (Indiana consistently ranks last in environmental quality) as it is beautiful.  It is my home. The powers that be, the mechanistic minds and memes that have invaded the culture of this area extract the natural bounty of this landscape. Seven generations of use without the deep thought to plan for the future generations. What will this land look like in seven generations? Hoosiers have choices to make.

I am on the path to defend and begin restoring this landscape. I’m not going anywhere. I’m raising my children with the understanding of the challenges they face in life–and where those challenges came from. I am raising the next generation to be committed to this place, to work with others to create a permanent culture of place amidst these forests, roads, fields,quarries, coal mines, naval bases, universities, factories, rivers….to have the tools to make this place a whole and wholesome one. Better than we found it.