Posts Tagged ‘learning’

“What I Didn’t Know” by Cindy

Well, we are 8 months into this adoption journey, and I have to admit that I feel overwhelmed a lot more than I would like to admit.

It would be easy to say that I didn’t know how hard it would be, but the truth is I did know it would be hard. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t feel that it would be hard. The immense distinction between those two is surprising. I think that is a kind of defense mechanism – if we could actually feel it, would we still choose it?

Oh, the discussions we had. We read the scary book, we talked about the resources and support we have, we told each other that we are good partners and we could figure out anything we need to figure out. The PRIDE training we received through CAS was great. I wish everyone could take that training and gain a better understanding of the experience of kids from hard places. So, I knew that our kids would be impacted by the trauma they experienced and that they will have to process that repeatedly throughout their lives. I knew that we would have to get to know these kids as we get to know ourselves as parents. I knew that we would probably not always love being parents. I knew we would have to adapt to lifestyle changes and new priorities.

I didn’t know:

  • Just how pervasively the trauma would impact on our parenting and decision-making. As much as we would like our kids to have all the experiences and relationships they deserve, their trauma means that we need to be very selective and cautious about where we take them. We don’t tell them about day trips ahead of time because we need to be able to make the decision on the day whether or not we think they can emotionally handle that stimulation. This is hard for us because we spent so many years avoiding certain events because we didn’t have children to take, and now that we have children, we are avoiding events because our family just isn’t ready, yet. Cue visceral grief over the unfairness of it all – it’s not fair that these kids have to miss out because adults in their past screwed them over, and it’s not fair that we have to miss out because biology screwed us over.
  • That my default parenting style would be totally different from my ideal parenting style. This has definitely been my greatest area of frustration and growth. I thought that I would be calm, easy-going, flexible, and affectionate. It turns out that I have a subconscious belief that children should obey their parents, and I feel triggered when they question my authority or act with defiance. I want to parent with connection, but when I am triggered, I accidentally parent with anger, and anger is counter-productive to building attachment. So, yes, while parents with securely attached kids can get away with responding in anger to their kids sometimes, parents of kids with attachment disruptions or issues cannot.  We still do, of course, and if we handle it well – apologizing and taking responsibility for our feelings – we can minimize the damage done, but then we still have to deal with our guilt for flipping our lids. Cue parent-guilt to the extreme.
  • How hard it would be to juggle getting things done and giving our kids the attention they need. Yes, we knew this would be difficult – all parents struggle with this on some level. I think what we didn’t know is how awful it would feel to rather wash dishes than play Barbie with our daughter. I slip into getting task-focused much more often than I thought I would. More guilt for that pile.
  • How frustrating it would feel to have no control over parenting decisions made before we entered the picture. There are the big things, of course, the things that I can’t talk about, and on some level, I was prepared to be a therapeutic parent for the tough stuff. On another level, I wasn’t quite so prepared to deal with the frustration of not having had the chance to build family traditions from birth (see an upcoming post on the Easter fiasco).
  • How heart-breaking it would feel to know that my kids love other moms more than they love me right now. I absolutely understand why this is the case. It is completely logical that they would have more love and trust for the caregivers they knew longer. They also feel a betrayal from losing that relationship, and so I logically know that this impacts on their ability to develop trust with me. But it still sucks. I can only hope that one day they are able to trust me as their mother. I can only hope, but I cannot expect.
  • That it would be hard to love these kids sometimes. There, I said it.  Sometimes, I resent their intrusion into my space, and that is so unfair to them. They didn’t choose this – I did.  In the first few weeks, we delighted in every move they made to come closer to us.  We want them to want to be close to us and to depend on us. That is what they need for their optimal brain development. They need to have adult caregivers that they trust and depend on and that love them unconditionally, no matter what.  At first, I was able to see every opportunity to help them as an opportunity to build attachment.  Here’s the thing that I get on a logical level – kids ask us to help on things that don’t matter so they can build up enough trust in us to ask us for help with the things that do matter.  Yet, even knowing this, I feel irritated when they ask for help with things they can do on their own.  And let me just say that Irritated Cindy is no fun to be around, and I dislike myself for inflicting her on anyone. There’s another good chunk of guilt to throw on that pile.
  • How much harder it would seem to have 2 instead of 1.  We thought, “Great! Insta-family! We’ll get it all done at once – it will be great!” In reality, it is literally impossible for me to give both kids all the attention they need and deserve, and there are times when they each need my full attention, but I am unable to give either of them what they need because I need to care for both of them. It is frustrating to think that if I could give this one 100% of my attention, I could deal with this situation and build connection, but I can’t do that. I love them both, and I am glad they have each other, but sometimes, I think one would be so much easier.  I cannot believe there are families out there that adopt sibling groups of 5. That is just crazy talk.
  • How hard it would be to maintain healthy self-care while learning to be a parent. I do not want to admit how often John and I end the day by bingeing on junk food and Netflix. We know it is not healthy. We know we can take better care of ourselves, but it is so hard to feel motivated at the end of the day to not turn to the comfort of the couch and some carbs. We are so lucky that our kids are pretty good sleepers, and we know we should be able to take advantage of that at the end of the day, but our brains just want to shut off. We are managing to lessen our guilt by reminding ourselves that even though it feels like much longer, we have only really been parents for 8 months. John likes to say that we have twin 8-month-olds who are 7 and 3. This is a succinct way of saying we are new parents, and we really don’t know what we are doing. We hope and expect it will get easier, but in the meantime, let’s throw a little guilt over the unhealthy habits onto that guilt pile. It isn’t quite big enough, yet.
  • How powerful routines would be. What a lifesaver to have a schedule to guide the day when I am feeling overwhelmed and unable to make decisions. On many days, I am only able to look at one chunk of the day at a time. I just have to make it to snack time. Then lunch time. Then snack time. Then dinner time, and then bed time.  Made it. Now, time to feel guilty for just making it through the day instead of cherishing the moments. Wow, look at the size of that guilt pile!


  • That it would be the little moments that would make it all worthwhile. Like when the 7-year-old makes a joke that shows she gets our sense of humour, or when the 3-year-old sits patiently at the dinner table with his food in front of him and turns to me and says, “What grateful today, Mommy?” I thought that being called Mommy for the first time would be the most powerful moment, but it wasn’t.  It was just a word to them, so it wasn’t loaded with meaning for me when they began to use it. For me, it is these small moments when something gels just a little bit that show we are becoming a family unit.

And we are becoming a family unit. We have come a long way in 8 months.  When I think of how much has happened and how different we all are already, I am amazed that it hasn’t even been a year, yet. Still, if I had really known how difficult it would be, would I have still chosen this? On most days, I would say, “for sure”.  But there are some days when I think I was a bad choice to parent these kids, and I made a mistake in saying I could do it. Thank goodness I am not alone.

And thank goodness there are amazing resources out there to help me learn.  I have, unfortunately, wasted some time on resources that turned out to be outdated, so if I can save you some time, or you only want to read a couple of books, here are my current favourites: The Connected Child by David R. Cross, Karyn B. Purvis, and Wendy Lyons Sunshine (I actually think that this book should be included in the PRIDE training or assigned as pre-reading – although I struggle with the Christian bias, it is an amazing resource), Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Laura Markham (and Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by the same author). Karen Purvis also has a number of good Youtube videos about TBRI (Trust-Based Relational Intervention), which are worthwhile checking out.  I am also finding Diane Poole Heller’s Healing Your Attachment Wounds (which is an audio book) to be quite enlightening in helping me understand how my attachment style is impacting on my parenting style.

mountain mist (1 of 1)

One step at a time.


“Adventures in Baking” by Cindy

I am so lucky – I live in a house full of people who love to cook. Until last night, I hadn’t cooked dinner in months. I usually get home the latest, so by the time I get here, there is already a team busily chopping, mixing, spicing, and sometimes dancing. I get to come home to a warm cooking smell most nights, and I like it.

I used to make up for my cooking slackerness by washing lots of dishes, but Joan is a mad dishwasher, so my kitchen duties have been greatly reduced. I’m not complaining, that’s for sure, but sometimes I do feel a little guilty about enjoying all this delicious food that I did not participate in making. Thus, when I can muster up some extra energy, I bake.

Normally, baking is something I enjoy – especially as the laws of quality control mean I get to eat as many of the treats as I want (I am confident that the waistband laws are negated when you do the baking yourself). Lately, however, my forays into the oven have been complicated by some dietary needs. Specifically, I have had to start baking both vegan and gluten-free. At the same time. Now, either of these diets can be dealt with quite easily in regular baking, but putting them together complicates the process a great deal. I can make some pretty decent gluten-free brownies and cookies because the eggs hold them together and are delicious. On the vegan side – wacky cake is always a crowd pleaser, but the wheat makes it good.

Why this sudden need for super expensive flours? John is on a three-month, egg-free, dairy-free and wheat-free diet because he tested highly-reactive to these foods, and the naturopath believes that this may be affecting his breathing. We are hoping the diet will either “reset” his system or eliminate diet as the reason for his breathing difficulties.

Anyway, a hungry John is an unhappy John, so I set about trying to find ways to make some treats to appease his grumbly belly and hopefully make this whole diet thing less of a hardship. Thank goodness sugar is still allowed! It’s also nice to be able to make some treats that Joan can eat, as she’s allergic to gluten. Aside from the interesting “Soil Block Brownies” experiment of last year, I hadn’t done much work with gluten-free flours. In that recipe, I used coconut flour, which created an interesting moist texture, and worked well with the brownies, but I was allowed to use eggs for that one.

As a side note – John attempted to do a one-for-one substitution of coconut flour for wheat flour in his cornmeal muffin recipe, and the result was… interesting. Coconut flour should not be substituted one-for-one. Some websites even suggest going as low as 1/4 cup of coconut flour for 1 cup of wheat flour. Everyone else liked the coconutty cornmeal muffins, but I thought they tasted undercooked. We’ll call that Experiment 2.

Experiment 3 involved oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I had researched some flour mixes online (great information at these sites: gluten free girl, gluten free mommy , gluten free goddess. From one of these sites (I think the Mommy one), I made a list of the flours I would need to make palatable treats. John picked them up when he was in Victoria, and a hundred dollars later, I was ready to go (brown rice flour, sorghum flour, tapioca flour, sweet rice flour, xanthum gum, and egg replacer). I had learned from my research that the most commonly available gluten-free flour mix (Bob’s) is very beany, which does not give a great flavour or texture to most baking (poor Yan did not learn this before he attempted his gluten-free pizza crust – so we’ll call that Experiment 4), so I opted to try having all the recommended flours on hand and mixing them as required for various recipes.

So, oatmeal choco chip cookies were on their way. I found a simple recipe that only called for two eggs (I decided that it would be terrible folly to try and use egg replacer for more than two eggs – also based on some highly technical internet research), and decided to use gluten-free goddess’ Blend 1 (because who can argue with a goddess – even a self-identified one?). Her blend is:
1 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup millet, almond or buckwheat flour
1 cup tapioca, potato starch or corn starch (not potato flour!)
1 teaspoon xanthan gum

Of course, I didn’t have millet, almond or buckwheat flour, so I just went ahead and used brown rice flour instead. The resulting cookies were quite good. I thought they had a bit of an aftertaste, and John thought that they somehow tasted a bit too healthy for cookies (next time, more margarine!), but they were edible. We also learned that while oats themselves are gluten-free, they are usually processed on the same equipment as wheat, so you have to buy oats that are labeled gluten-free. Otherwise, your poor unsuspecting roommate might have a reaction to the gluten from the oatmeal, and you will feel so bad you’ll feel compelled to make her a whole batch of truly gluten-free chocolate chip cookies to make it up to her.

We’ll call that Experiment 3.5 because I used butter and eggs for that one and the same flour mix. It turns out that gluten-free flour mixes really behave differently from your regular wheat mixes. This means that the cookies pretty much melted into one big cookie blanket. I cut them apart, and they were floppy and delicious, but I would consider reducing the amount of butter in that one and adding in a heartier flour to the mix. I just followed a regular choco chip cookie recipe from the Joy of Cooking.

Experiment 5 involved making biscuits to go along with the soup I was making for dinner last night. Both the soup recipe and the biscuit recipe came from “ExtraVEGANza”, a cookbook that Yan and Jess got us for Wedding Part 1, and that has become a favourite around here. The soup was potato parsnip, and quite good. The biscuit recipe was not gluten-free, but feeling emboldened by my previous successes, such as they were, I just went ahead and threw together a mix out of the leftover Bob’s blend, the leftover mix from the cookie baking, and some added brown rice flour.

I had read somewhere that gluten-free batters tend to behave like doughs and doughs like flours, so I shouldn’t have been surprised at my inability to stir the mix into a rollable dough. Even Yan’s power-stirring wouldn’t bind the mix together. I finally remembered that I probably needed to add some xanthum gum to compensate for the added brown rice flour, and that helped a little, but in the end I gave up and dropped the batter-like dough onto the cookie sheet like cookies. The resulting biscuits looked a little funny, like budding sea anenomes, and were a bit heavy for biscuits, but they tasted pretty good. Joan still found them a bit beany from the Bob’s mix, but I didn’t mind it so much in this context.

You may be wondering why I have been choosing to try and adapt regular recipes instead of finding ones that have already been adapted from any of the above-mentioned sites. In my searching, I found their recipes didn’t really match my palate (I’m not making any disgusting pumpkin treats, no matter how much John might like them – I can’t quality control what I won’t eat!), or they called for too many eggs. There was also the problem of John’s aversion to bananas. It’s a bit sad because bananas are great in baking, but if a banana has so much as been waved in the general direction of a baked good, John won’t eat it. Then, when I searched for gluten-free vegan, most of the recipes also strove to be sugar-free, and I’m not really interested in that at the moment. I still want dessert to taste like dessert.

Anyway, the cookies are almost gone, and we are going to a potluck tomorrow, so it looks like the next experiment will be back to brownies. They are usually pretty safe because you can mask weird tastes with extra chocolate. Yay for chocolate!

“A boring post” by John

I mowed today. I don’t write this because it’s interesting, but because I’m feeling the need to keep notes. I feel like I just mowed a few days ago, but the grass was at least as long, if not longer, than when I did it last time. I guess time flies?
I am learning how to use the riding mower which is nice. It’s almost smooth going now. I’m still learning how to manage being a farmer, a husband, a not-for-profit worker, a wedding planner and everythingelse. Not quite as smooth.
But I get by with a little help from my friends (and Cindy)

“Chicken Love” by John

For those keeping score at home, I picked up my first flock of broilers-to-be today. They are about 4 weeks old and in another 5 weeks will be happy, healthy, pasture raised chickens ready for … processing? harvest? slaughter? … the freezer.
All in all it’s taken me about four hours to get the chickens up and running. This weekend I picked up nine bales of straw for bedding and 10 bags of feed. The straw was like a blast from the past – remembering time spent in the barn at my grandparents’ farm, and the itchy eyes and runny nose that went along with it. But the smells and the feeling both brought back happy memories. Today I went with E to pick up the birds and bring them to their new home. Now it should just be a matter of checking on feed and water, letting them out of and into the barn each day, and taking them to their final reckoning at the end of their time with me.
So far I am much happier with my little birds this time than last time. I remember them as quite dirty, but they seem relatively clean, and squawky, but this time they were almost cooing. It may be the fact that by the time we got them home it was mostly dark and they were mostly asleep but I don’t care – they were cuter by far.
So here we go with some hands-on learning and, hopefully some good food and decent profit. We’ll see how it goes!

“Preserve me” by John

Wow, busy weekend. It was a long one (3 days!) so I actually feel like it was a bit of a break, but I probably did more work this weekend than I sometimes do in a week of “real” work.

Today was berry picking – raspberries, the beginnings of the second flush of strawberries and, for the first time, blueberries! Not many of those, and some are still a bit sour, but at least we beat the robins to them!! Raspberries are all sold to folks in Victoria, strawberries should hopefully have been picked up by now, and blueberries are sitting happily in our freezer – yum.

Speaking of robins (actually, I’m not sure that robins are actually at fault, but people seem to blame them) they’re also getting into the layer’s coop and eating all (and I mean ALL) of the feed. I’ve had to put two full bags in since G left and that’s a bit ridiculous for a few old ladies. Going to have to put up netting to block the eaves and also netting in the windows of the broiler-barn as otherwise all their feed will be gone too! I actually feel kinda good about this one because I spotted the issue, figured out the problem, and came up with the solution (and then had it confirmed by G, but that’s what a teacher is for!)

Which reminds me, a week from today my very first solo broilers arrive – yikes!

After farm work we did some preserving. Dill pickles (with dill from the grow-op, garlic from Maple Groove and cucumbers from our plot) and, randomly, pickled beans since we have a surplus of beans right now and ended up with extra pickling liquid. All but two of the lids have popped so we’re in good shape. Also started fermenting some kimchi today which should be ready in a week or so, and I’ll start some saurkraut tomorrow. Not sure how to keep that stuff, other than in the fridge, so advice is more than welcome.

Now I’m waiting for some stuff to dry so I can play with the beer I started a while ago. I think it’s a lost cause but I’ll try one more thing and see what happens.

All in all – hope is high, energy is in flux, excitement is up there and nerves are a little raw … but more of that later.

“Processing Chicken Processing” by John

This is the third time I’ve started this post.  I was going to riff on “Sunday Bloody Sunday” but decided that was too much.  Then I was going to write in a more artistic style, but I decided that was a bit silly.  So I’ll do it straight.

Last week it was time to “harvest” the chickens.  I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it.

We did it in two trips.  I got to the farm at 5:30 on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and met in the barn.  We herded chickens in to a corral made of the cages and started packing them in – 9 to a cage if memory serves.  After the job was done, we loaded the crates into the back of the truck and drove to Farmhouse Poultry to unload, label the cages, and leave.  That was it really.  Later the same day the chickens were graded, slaughtered, cleaned and packaged 6 to a box with weights and labels attached.  Aside from a bit of manure on my gloves and shoes (and not much of that because they get no feed for a while beforehand) it was a fairly clean job.  Easy peasy really.

So what’s the problem?  I’m not sure.  I think I was expecting to develop a relationship and a respect for the birds while they were in my care so that when the time came to catch them I would feel like I was connected to them, that I was honouring their sacrifice, and that I was communicating my respect for them as living beings.  I have always dismissed the “animals are people too so we shouldn’t kill them” argument and I was expecting this experience to back that up.

What I found on the first day is that I was … scared of the chickens.  Their obvious desire not to be caught translated in my mind into a desire not to be killed and I was nervous to just catch and move them, to the result that at times I think I freaked them out more and maybe even hurt them a bit.  In reflecting on it later Tuesday morning I realized that by the time I had finished I had dehumanized them to the point where I was annoyed at their stupidity, noise, dirt etc and almost wanted to just shove them around and damn the consequences.  A very far cry from the connection and bond I was hoping to build with what would someday be my food.

Thursday was much much better.  I was much more smooth in the process of catching and caging (even finished first!) and found that I was, in fact, feeling connected.  I felt that the birds were upset not because they knew what was coming but because this was something new in their lives and they weren’t sure what was going on.  They were just as disturbed when they were brought from the dark, dank hatching barn into the light of day and the pastured life.  And they were just as disturbed each time they were fed.  So, really, my job was to try to make things as calm and quick as possible so they could adapt to their new situation – that of being in cages.

I’m not communicating my feelings here well.  Partially because it’s been a week since I felt them, and partially because I still haven’t fully come to grips.  There’s an opportunity to get more birds in early August.  I’ll be mostly on my own with this batch so I think I’m going to try it again when it’s my deal and see how that feels.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

“Strawberry Picking” by John

Mark it in your calendars.  On Wednesday, June 23rd at approximately 9:07 am I officially became a farmer.

Well, maybe a farm worker is a better term, though I didn’t get paid (still not sure how we’re going to settle things at the end of our “apprenticeship” maybe money, maybe food, maybe just knowledge, but whatever will be good) so maybe a farm volunteer is a better term, in which case maybe Growing Opportunities was when I went official.  Though come to think of it I once WWOOFed at Plan B Farm, so maybe that was official.  Then again my grandparents had a farm just outside of Teeswater, ON when I was quite young and I remember riding the tractor and feeding the animals there so …

Anyway, suffice it to say that last Wednesday was my first experience picking strawberries at our soon-to-be-home and it made me feel like things were a bit more official and real than they had felt before.

It was a beautiful sunny day and I had my new hat on (thanks Cindy!) so I didn’t get burnt and I picked 3 or 4 boxes of berries in the 2.5 hours we were there, which probably equals just over two flats.  So, definitely not the fastest picker out there, but not too shabby for my first time out I think, especially considering that I stopped to go visit the chickens, tour the farm with the Canada World Youth leader who might come to stay with us for a bit, and put together and pack flats as I went.  I also got to deliver two flats to the Community Farm Store with an invoice and one to a private customer so making the sales made it feel more official too.

How was it?  Honestly, I don’t know how to answer that.  I was told it would be painful on my back and legs but I didn’t feel like it was too hard.  Odd muscle use for sure, but I think all of the cycling, plus the chiro and massage for my back helped to make it not too terrible.  I can still feel it in my legs a bit now if I try to hold myself in a strange position, but it hasn’t slowed me down at all.  I loved being out in the sun and the fresh air so that was great, and going back to work for the afternoon was definitely hard.  So, physically, all was and is well.  Mentally though I found I was a bit stressed out by it all.  I know, how stressful can it be to sit in a field and pick berries right?  I think my issue was the same that I have with so many other things – I just wasn’t sure I was doing it “right”.  Searching through the foliage with my hands trying to pierce the darkness under the leaves with tired eyes to identify the bright deep red that indicated a perfectly ripe berry.  Trying to leave behind all those with just a tinge or white, or that are perhaps a slightly less deep shade and need a few more days to fully ripen.  Worrying what the customers in the store or at the box distribution will think when they see my berries in the harsh light of florescent tubes.  Will there be too many small ones?  Too many that aren’t perfectly ripe?  Will they want my berries?  Did I pick the right ones?

And through it all I felt this need for speed.  The necessity to pick the berries right now before … what?  Before they went rotten, before the birds got them, before the frosts came?  Or, harkening back to my childhood, before it was time to leave the U-pick, not to return for another year.

Cindy and I were talking about it afterwards and I realized that the same patch of berries was picked two days before I got there and will be picked two days after and again and again and again till the plants are done producing.  So really, there was no need to pick berries like there was no tomorrow because, well, there is (or at least a day after tomorrow).  With that in mind it really makes sense to pick only the best of the best and leave anything that needs another day because then it will be the best of the best next time you pick.

So, there you go, John overanalyzing things again (like that comes as a surprise to those of you who know me).  I think it’s the type of thing that, with practice, will become less stressful.  It was pleasantly meditative working my way down the road, feeling growing things under my hands, moving from plant to box and back to plant.  If I can become confidant in my ability to make a good end product then I think I’ll really enjoy it.  And the other pickers and eventually Graham saw the overall haul and no one told me it was terrible so I guess even if I was bad, at least it was hidden by the hard work of others.

In purely happy news, a young couple and child came to look at our apartment today and appear to be just as in love with it as we are so we shouldn’t have to worry about getting out of our lease.  Yay!

And now (after Cindy reads my post … please, be gentle) we go to pick-up beer bottling supplies.  Sweet!  Soon I’ll actually have to brew some beer … soon.