Make move less stressful for kids

castle_from_boxes, md We are moving, and this means that for the past month and for the next couple of weeks we are living among boxes, and in constantly changing surroundings. When you have children, adults with hobbies, a full-fledged beading studio, a large library, a network, and a pantry, it makes for quite a few things to pack. A minimalist friend of mine came to visit during the early stages of packing and exclaimed: “I don’t know how you can stand it, I’d go crazy having to live like this for even a week!” Any change in routine is stressful, full of unknowns, and can be downright scary for children. I have come up with ways to minimize everyone’s stress and make packing more fun.

For children that have been living in the same place their entire life (and in our case, born in that same place as well), moving is like starting a completely new life. They don’t know what is going to change and they fear everything changing, so they cling to the familiar. Verbal children try to understand what it means to move. They do not know why the move is happening and are often apprehensive about the changes they think it will bring.

We want to alleviate as many worries as possible, reassuring them about things that will stay the same and explaining why we are moving and what will be better at the new place. The more you connect with your children at this time, the easier the move will be on the entire family. Talking through the reasons and the expectations will also help you wrap your head around the move, figure out the logistics, spot gaps in your preparations, and calm your own worries about the move.

Keep daily routines whenever possible

Have meal times stay the same — reconnect, talk about the day, set expectations for what the next day will bring.

Reading time — even if your books have been packed, leave a few for the kids. Consider using the library — we go every two weeks, kids pick the books they like, and for the next little while we have new books for them to enjoy.

Bath time — leave the bath toys unpacked until the last days: knowing they can play with their favourites helps the children unwind before bed.

Bed time — with work, chores, errands, and packing, the time can be tight in the evenings. Try packing without moving the children’s bed time too much. Pack with the children while they are awake, by making it into a game; or (if you absolutely have to) pack after they’ve gone to bed, without moving their bed time too much. Missing sleep is a sure way to raise your stress levels and get sick, so don’t be too ambitious on the days you have a lot of work: pack a couple of boxes at a time. A little bit every day does add up.

Playing at home — do not forgo playing with your children for the sake of packing. They need to know you are still there for them.

Play dates — make an effort to get out so that the kids can play with their friends. On a weekend, one parent can take them to a play date, while the other takes care of moving preparations.

Going outside — if the weather is good, playing outside can do wonders to relieve the sense of being cooped up among boxes. Go as a family (you too need a time to breathe and get some sunlight) or, once again, split the responsibilities by having one parent watch the kids and the other pack.

Going to library, skating, soccer, yoga — whatever activities you usually enjoy with your children, try fitting a few outings in. A change of perspective helps us re-focus and come back into the challenging environment in a more resourceful state.

Involve the children in moving preparations

Boxing books and toys — even young children can help with packing books by handing them to you. Toys are a bit trickier, since kids want to play with every long-forgotten toy they see, but, looking on the bright side, you can keep packing other things while they are delightedly occupied. Book packing can be tricky if your children are just learning to read — my son insisted on reading the title of every book which did slow down the packing a little. I kept packing books from another shelf, however, and he loved the reading, so this arrangement ended up being quite effective.

Recycling and picking toys to donate — moving is a good opportunity to teach the kids about donating and to reinforce what can be recycled or reused. They might enjoy sorting recycling to determine whether it goes into the paper or plastic/metal/glass bin.

Going through clothes drawers — this is a great opportunity to play dress-up. My toddler loves pulling clothes out of bags and stuffing them back into bags, trying a few over her shoulders in the form of a cape. Providing strategically placed bags into which to place clothes can turn the clothes packing activity into a game.

Build forts and walls from non-fragile boxes — this is a winner at our place. The boxes with books are serving as walls of a castle, and in place of a baby gate, to prevent our toddler getting to the stairs. Both kids have a lot of fun sitting “in the castle” playing or reading. We keep the fragile boxes on the empty book shelves away from the children’s reach, and use the sturdy book boxes, maximum 3 high, as bricks for the castle wall. Be sure things are not going to topple onto the kids. We’ve had this setup for over a month — our box walls are very sturdy.

Decorate boxes — it gets quite daunting to be surrounded by boxes, especially if, like ours, they are a mismatch of colours and sizes. We pick up the free boxes liquor stores have after their shipments come in, and there are many coats of armour, patterns, logos, and large letters that are fun to colour. My son enjoys drawing on the boxes. And to make the room more pleasant to be in, I’ve used some of the Waldorf play silks to cover them up, giving the arrangement a more festive look. Any colourful fabrics — scarves, sarongs, curtains — could work for this purpose.

waldorf_box_decor, md

Walk-along boxes for toddlers — our toddler is also learning to walk, and since we don’t have sitting furniture (such as a couch) in our living room where we spend most of the time, being able to walk along the row of boxes (one box tall) is a fun activity for her.

Hide behind walls — playing hide-and-seek becomes a lot more fun when there are new elements in the environment to hide behind.

Writing labels — if your children are learning to write, this is a great opportunity to practice. I have purchased a collection of sticky notes, to colour-code boxes going into different rooms. My son loves writing the names of the rooms and box contents on the labels.

Applying labels to boxes — it’s very much like playing with stickers, with a bonus of being helpful. Children like meaningful activities where they play a helper role.

Counting boxes, books, bags, toys — moving preparations offer many opportunities for any child who likes counting. You can teach the kids to count in different languages — we count in Russian, English, and sometimes French. It can be helpful to know how many books can go into a box, how many boxes can stack under a desk, how many bags can fit into a closet, and so on.

Share the excitement

Find points to highlight — talk to the child frequently about why your new place will be better from the child’s perspective. This is a very useful exercise for everyone involved — finding a silver lining in any situation is a stress-relieving technique. This might include a bigger house to play in, a new neighbourhood to explore, a new room that the child can personalize.

Getting your own room — as someone who has grown up in a single room that served as a living room, a study room, a bedroom for the entire family, and a guest room for anyone visiting, I know this is a child’s dream. Our son is excited about getting his own room at the new place.

List some familiar objects that the child can take with them: toys, pictures, books. My son loves two puzzles that he helped me put together (Shell Game and Tropical Flowers) — they currently hang on the wall beside his bed. I’ve suggested that he puts those up above the bed in his new room, and he is delighted at the prospect. We’ve also talked about having his bed, his desk, and his chair in his room, and getting his own bookshelf. Now he is looking forward to all the control he will have over his environment.

Create anchors now — make the children picture the new place and where familiar things will be. Take them there before the move, if possible. If not, draw the plan and show them where their room will be, where they will play, eat, sleep, bathe. Have their imagination help calm their fears and make this move exciting.

Share what things will stay the same

Parents will still be present — reassure the child that moving to a new place does not mean moving away from a parent (unless, of course, it does, in which case a lot more positive anchoring needs to be done).

Parents’ love for the children will remain unchanged — this is the time to express your love for the children even more than usual. They need reassurance that you will still love them, even in an unknown place, and that you are the steady presence in their life. There will still be lots of hugs, attention, and playing together as a family, in the new home.

Same breakfast rituals — my partner often makes oat-banana pancakes for a weekend breakfast, and my weekend special is eggs and bacon. The kids love both, and we have reassured them that we will still have those weekend breakfasts after we move.

Going to the park nearby to play — our children love playing at a park. So we were sure to let them know there shall be a park near the new place (in fact, there are several) — so we can still go to a park.

Going to a library — we are not moving far from our current place, so the library location we visit will stay the same. This is another anchor for the children.

Reading books, listening to music, playing with a balloon — we made sure the children know that there is no need to give up these favourite activities after the move.

Keep the pictures on the walls — I know some people choose to remove the easiest items first, which includes pictures and photographs from the walls. For us, our place would not be the same without the walls being covered in puzzles, photos, and paintings. If we removed them two months before moving out, the place would feel cold, empty, and unfamiliar, so I have chosen to keep them up until the last week. As a bonus, they take up less space this way, and it’s unlikely a frame or glass will get broken if someone accidentally stumbles into a stack of paintings in our already-tight place.

Keep positive and calm about the move yourself. Children pick up on your anxiety and feel strained atmosphere at home when you are not happy. Manage your own stress by getting plenty of sleep, eating well, getting enough downtime, and settling your own discomforts about the move.

Take it slow – if you have to give two months’ notice at your old place, it’s a good period of time to get the children accustomed to the idea of a new home (as well as get used to the idea yourself). Make packing exciting — make it a game.

Help your children pace the change — take it one day at a time, let them be a part of it, and they will welcome it more readily. Give them a calendar to cross off a day at a time before the move — even a month is too long for a child to comprehend.

Do you have any tips for making a move with children less stressful? Please share!

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Zen Transition to Motherhood for Kindle

Stress is bombarding us every day in the form of external demands and internal pressures, and unless we learn to control the way we respond to stress, it can seriously affect our mental, emotional, and physical health. There are many aspects of family life that compete for our attention, and introduction of a new dependent human being into the mix tends to throw us off balance. Productive Zen Mama approach is to help women enjoy their time with the new baby, while efficiently running a household, having time to rest, exploring personal projects, and feeling fulfilled.

Zen Transition to MotherhoodMy book Zen Transition to Motherhood is now available on Amazon. It looks in detail into the early weeks after the baby’s birth, with resources to let the new mama rest and recover after the birth, and tips on how to set up a meal train, address mama’s and baby’s health challenges, good supplies to have on hand, and ways to relax and enjoy this time. The second part of the book goes into practical matters of harnessing the new routine, getting chores under control, mastering errands with the baby, and handling commitments. The book also includes many ideas for entertainment and rest.

You might pick up this book while you are pregnant or shortly after you give birth. At its core there are gentle parenting principles and a common sense approach to reality.

Read it on Kindle:

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Loss of power or gain of time?

It had been a very productive and busy morning this past Friday: I’ve taken care of many errands and was setting things up to have a no-distraction writing session in the afternoon. The baby drifted off to sleep, I tucked her in, and came downstairs to get into the zone. Unexpectedly, the room appeared quite dark, and, as I looked out the window, I realized that it was due to a large storm cloud hanging ominously overhead. The thunderstorm hit in about two minutes – just enough time for me to pull the stroller inside from the back yard.

I had foresight enough to save all of my work on the computer, just before the power started fluctuating. In a couple more minutes, I heard a gust of wind outside and a loud bang upstairs as the bedroom door slammed shut. I rushed upstairs and found the baby wide-eyed and awake, the plexiglass cover from above the air conditioner gone, air conditioner itself threatening to plunge down, and sheets of rain coming through the now-open window, soaking the curtains, the walls, and the two puzzles mounted on one of the walls.

In a few minutes, I have managed to put some towels on the floor, and half-lowered half-dropped the air conditioner (my, are those things heavy!) onto the towels, with the rain lashing through the window and water coming out of the AC. A few more moments, and I was able to remove the protective foam padding we had for the AC from the window sill and slide the window shut.

Results: soaked walls, floor, puzzles, curtains, AC, and myself, baby awake and unhappy to be so. A change of clothes later, the baby in my arms, we’ve descended downstairs to discover that the power had gone out in the entire building. So much for an uninterrupted writing session.

I have fed the baby, and, once the rain was over, we went out to examine the damage. Our gazebo miraculously stayed put (thanks to all the grapevines, tomato vines, and bean stalks firmly wrapped around its supports. A neighbour’s gazebo was not as sturdy, it appears. I have searched the nearby yards for the plexiglass that got ripped out of our window, and have found two pieces in another neighbour’s yard. My partner has later located the third piece on the other side of the building, presumably deposited there by the wind.

At this point, it was around 4pm, and we had no connection with the outside world, except for a cell phone, which is not, should I say, smart. That is, it’s a phone without a collection of apps or a data plan. I’ve been mostly wondering whether (a) my son’s daycare had the luck of not losing power, and (b) how large of an area has been affected and how long it would take to restore the power. I finally got through to my partner, after trying for over half an hour, and he said he would take care of finding that out. There I was, with a tired baby fighting sleep, at least two hours to wait to find out the details once my partner and son got home, and no way to do work. This could have been an annoying setback. I could have focused on the fact that I would not get any work done that day, and stressed over it. But I strive to shape my own reality, so instead, I have chosen to look at it as an opportunity for electronic detox.

For an hour or so, I read a wonderful book on Waldorf philosophy – Beyond the Rainbow Bridge – and the baby, surprisingly, was happily playing nearby, occasionally getting my attention for a feed, a change, or an engagement with a toy. When my people got home, they brought dinner, so we didn’t have to figure out the cooking arrangements without electricity. My chief concern was that if the outage lasted longer than 24 hours, we would have to find a way to relocate the contents of our freezer to someone with power and freezer space, or all the food would spoil. Aside from that, things were not bad.

We spent some time outside with what felt like the entire neighbourhood. Kids were out of doors as no electronic means of distraction were available. Adults came out, smiled, made meals together, borrowed necessities, and talked long through the night. The place felt alive. We came inside, pulled out the bongos and maracas, and sang and played in candlelight. Later the rain started again, although not as strong. The kids had a bath with candles lighting the room, and we told stories and sang songs. We ended up going to sleep early, in a true darkness, for a change, as opposed to the bright outside lights that usually penetrate our windows at night.

In the morning, we were the first ones up and out, it seems. My partner dug out an old propane camping stove, and we made delicious farm-raised eggs with organic tomatoes, sprinkled with cayenne pepper, and boiled some water for tea.

lossOfPowerBreakfastsm

He had a massage appointment that morning (the massage place got the power back at 8:30am) and took both of our phones with him, to charge them there. In the meantime, I stayed home with kids, played floor games, read books, made a necklace with my son, had some snacks, and sang more songs. My partner got home, and around 12:30, as we were putting the children down for a nap, the power came back up.

A friend of mine was going camping that weekend. I gather, it didn’t happen since the rain was so strong. Without planning it, we managed to have a “camping” adventure at home with flashlights and candles, without noise and electronic distractions, with a breakfast cooked in the fresh morning air, a dark night, and an early rising. It has been a wonderful energetic reset where we took things slowly and enjoyed each others’ company, letting work and interruptions wait.

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Permaculture towers after 50 days

Afternoon garden, light, permaculture towers, day 51, mdIt has been 50 days now, since I have planted seedlings into my permaculture towers, following the garden preparations and the building of the towers, and 27 days since my last update on the towers.

On July 4, after a few days of 35+C weather, it has been a relief to wake up to an overcast sky, with occasional sunshine and a cool breeze. Seizing the chance, off I went to the garden. The night before, my partner guiding the kids in a distraction dance, I have been able to pick out most of the weeds in the garden. It felt so good to just loose myself in a pure physical activity, creeping through the towers in a quest of cleansing.

I have harvested the rest of the radishes, and set off to plant seeds. The following were added to the towers: Reine de Glace crispleaf lettuce, Buttercrunch lettuce,  Komatsuna mustard greens, Cardinale crispleaf lettuce, Rouge d’hiver lettuce, beets, red spinach, snow peas, cauliflower, broccoli, dill, and scarlet runner beans.

The tops of the towers have gained some edible flowers: Cosmos and Marigold. I have also planted verbena, broccoli, dill, and basil throughout the garden.

I have planted lots of seeds all over the garden on July 4. Here are the plants with photo thumbnails for May 27th (day 1), June 10th (day 14), June 20th (day 24), July 4th (day 38), and larger photos from today, July 17 (day 51). You can click on the thumbnails to see more detailed, larger photos.

Due to the fence and the tomatoes overwhelming the sunny side of Towers 3 and 4, the photos from those towers are basically all tomato. Not much I can do to capture the growth of anything else. Yet dill and eggplants are doing well, under all that tomato goodness.

As the Towers and the garden have gained new plants, I include the updated drawings.

Garden

July 4, 2014 - Garden plan, md

Tower 1

July 4, 2014 - Tower 1, md

Tower1, Stevia, md Tower1, Stevia, day 14, md Tower 1, top, stevia, day 24, md Tower 1, top, stevia, day 38, md

Tower 1, top, stevia, day 51, md
Stevia on top of Tower 1. The plant has been trying to recover from the squirrel attack – it has not grown taller, but additional small leaves have sprouted closer to the base. The leaves you see infringing on the tower top are tomatoes growing from the side. This is a recurring motif in the current state of my garden.

Tower 1, sunny, md Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 14, md Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 24, md Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 38, md

Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 51, md
This lovely tomato forest includes Yellow cherry Gold Nugget tomato and buried underneath it butternut squash in one section, and in another –Alba Regie sweet pepper mostly eaten by the same animal as the stevia, another Yellow cherry Gold Nugget tomato and another butternut squash.

Tower 1, sunny-shady, md Tower 1, sunny, day 14, md Tower 1, sunny, day 24, md Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 38, md

Tower 1, sunny, day 51, md
Beefsteak tomatoes, an Alba Regie pepper somewhere in there and the giant leaves of spaghetti squash in one section, Lipstick sweet pepper in the next. Tomatoes and the squash pretty much rule the first tower. I had to install a movable fence to contain this wild greenery. Peppers are flowering but someone keeps eating the leaves. Perhaps the same vicious squirrel with big pointy teeth. I shall attempt to spray the peppers with a jalapeño solution once more.

Tower 2

July 4, 2014 - Tower 2, md

Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, md Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, day 14, md Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, day 24, md Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, day 38, md

Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, day 51, md
Thai hot pepper and German chamomile plants on top of Tower 2. Both are getting munched on by an unknown organism or two. The holes in the leaves are likely from snails and have gotten a bit less of a problem after I have placed egg shells under the pepper plant. The chamomile appears to be too delicious for fluffy sharp-teethed creatures.

Tower 2, sunny-shady, md Tower 2, sunny-shady, day 14, md Tower 2, sunny-shady, day 24, md Tower 2, sunny-shady, day 38, md

Tower 2, sunny-shady, day 51, md
Columnar basil in one section, two Fox cherry tomatoes and a Romanian sweet pepper in the next. The basil is very strong and happy. I have used it today in a delicious thai spicy eggplant dish, and the flavour is great. I can no longer locate the sweet pepper under all the tomato branches without risking breaking them.  I shall just trust it’s there and we’ll see if it grew any better without being chewed on and with sunlight filtered through the tomato foliage.

Tower 2, sunny, md Tower 2, sunny, day 14, md Tower 2, sunny, day 24, md Tower 2, sunny, day 38, md

Tower 2, sunny, day 51, md
Matt’s Wild tomato, lemon thyme somewhere underneath, with a butternut squash at the bottom in one section, and another Matt’s Wild tomato in the next section. Tomatoes and squashes are very happy. Lemon thyme is no longer visible. I think next time I will plant smaller herbs and peppers above the tomatoes, since the latter are so prolific.

Tower 2, sunny 2, md Tower 2, sunny 2, day 14, md Tower 2, sunny 2, day 24, md Tower 2, sunny, pepper, 38, md

Tower 2, sunny, pepper, 51, md
Closeup of the Romanian sweet pepper in the next section. It appears to have been too hard to access for a mysterious sharp-teethed animal, and has reached the fruiting stage.

Tower 2, shady, md Tower 2, shady, day 14, md Tower 2, shady, day 24, md Tower 2, shady, day 38, md

Tower 2, shady, day 51, md
Two oakleaf kale seedlings in one section, and two more in the next one. I have put crushed egg shells around some of the plants to deter snails, but considering the almost-completely eaten leaves I would venture a guess that whatever is eating the kale on this tower is from a larger species. Since I have lots of kale in Towers 3 and 4 that is not being so completely consumed, I figured this was my “planted to share with nature” kale.

Tower 3

July 4, 2014 - Tower 3, md

Tower 3, top, nasturtium, md Tower 3, top, nasturtium and carrots, day 14, md Tower 3, top, day 24, md Tower 3, top, day 38, md

Tower 3, top, day 51, md
Nasturtirum – Empress of India – on top of Tower 3, surrounded by a few growing carrots (you can see the tiny leaves picking out from under the nasturtium leaves). The nasturtium is big and happy.

Tower 3, sunny, md Tower 3, sunny, day 14, md Tower 3, sunny, day 24, md Tower 3, sunny, day 38, md

Tower 3, sunny, tomatoes, day 51, md
Japanese eggplant at the bottom of one section (impossible to show anymore), and in the next one – Bellstar red tomato, parsley (also covered up), and at the bottom Spacemaster cucumber (still growing). The tomato forest is overshadowing everything else.

Tower 3, shady 2, md Tower 3, shady 2, day 14, md Tower 3, shady 2, day 24, md Tower 3, shady 2, day 38, md

Tower 3, shady 2, day 51, md
Two green kale and two oakleaf kale plants in one section, two green kale, one Swiss chard, and one oakleaf kale plant in the next one. They taste great in salads and I now harvest some every few days.

Tower 3, shady, md Tower 3, shady, day 14, md Tower 3, shady, day 24, md Tower 3, shady, day 38, md

Tower 3, shady, day 51, md
Another shot of two green kale, one Swiss chard and one oakleaf kale plant from the previous photo, and two more green kale, two Swiss chard, and one oakleaf kale plant in the next section. A small scarlet runner bean plant is showing at the bottom of the tower. Another one got consumed by local fauna.

Tower 4

July 4, 2014 - Tower 4, md

Tower 4 top, nasturtium, md Tower 4 top, nasturtium and radishes, day 14, md Tower 4, top, nasturtium and radishes, day 24, md Tower 4, top, nasturtium and radishes, day 38, md

Tower 4, top, nasturtium, day 51, md
Nasturtium – Empress of India, with encroaching tomato leaves almost covering it. The tomatoes take over everything.

Tower 4, sunny, md Tower 4, sunny, day 14, md Tower 4, sunny-shady, day 24, md  Tower4, shady 2, day 38, md

Tower 4, sunny 2, day 51, md

Red cherry tomato, Brandywine tomato, and rosemary below in one section, and in the next section – another red cherry tomato, followed by dill, a Brandywine tomato, and Lebanese cucumbers. It is impossible now to capture the tower from the same angle as the first two photos, since the West fence is now in place, so I had to instead provide a side view, capturing the first section with rosemary. The next section is shown as part of the next series of photos. The tomatoes, the dill, and rosemary all seem to be doing well. I’ve picked out most of the dill by this point, so I planted some seeds along the fence next to the scarlet runner beans.

Tower 4, sunny 2, md Tower 4, sunny 2, day 14, md Tower 4, sunny, day 24, md Tower 4, sunny, day 38, md

Tower 4, sunny, day 51, md
Red cherry tomato, followed by dill, a Brandywine tomato, and Lebanese cucumbers from the photo above, and in the next section – early Roma tomato, dill, Brandywine tomato, and eggplant at the bottom. Can’t tell where anyone is, except maybe the dill poking through? Me neither. At this point I don’t want to disturb the tomatoes so as not to break them, and the fence is in the way to reach underneath. I shall just have a mystery harvest once the time comes.

Tower 4, shady, md Tower 4, shady, day 14, md Tower 4, shady, day 24, md Tower 4, shady, day 38, md

Tower 4, shady, day 51, md
Three green kale and two oakleaf kale in one section, and in the next – three green kale and one oakleaf kale. The kale plants are doing well. Tomatoes are infringing on their territory. Along the bottom, between Tower 4 and the lemongrass, I have planted sweet peas, on June 1st. A few of them came up now and nothing seems to be eating them.

Tower 4, shady 3, md Tower 4, shady 2, day 14, md Tower 4, shady 2, day 24, md Tower 4, shady 2, day 38, md

Tower 4, shady 2, day 51, md
Cilantro between two green kale seedlings, and Swiss chard lower in one section, and in the next – tarragon, followed by two kale plants and a Swiss chard plant. Cilantro has gone to flower. The rest of the greens are growing happily and I harvest kale and Swiss chard every few days.

Aside, borage, lovage, md Aside, borage and lovage, day 14, md Aside, borage and lovage, day 24, md Aside, borage and lovage, day 38, md

Aside, borage and lovage, day 51, md
Borage at the top of photo, lovage lower, behind Towers 1 and 2. On the last tow photos, borage is on the left and blooming in beautiful blue flowers.

Aside, calendula and watercress, md Aside, calendula and watercress, day 14, md Aside, calendula and watercress, day 24, md Aside, calendula and watercress, day 38, md Aside, watercress, day 38, md

Aside, calendula, day 51, md

Aside, watercress, day 51, md
Calendula at the top of the first photo, watercress lower, following few photos – reversed: calendula being at the bottom, and watercress at the top. Now I have to take pictures of them separately, as the tomato forest blocks the calendula. Both plants seem to be very happy, and I have used watercress in salads.

Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, md Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, day 14, md Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, day 24, md Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, day 38, md

Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, day 51, md
From left to right: grape vine 1, lily of the valley, chives, onions, Tower 1 butternut squash. You are going to have to trust me on this. The giant squash leaves and the tomato branches are hiding the rest of the plants. I use chives and green onions in salads quite a bit.

Aside, grape vine 1, md Aside, grape vine 1, day 14, md Grape vine 1, day 24, md Grape vine 1, day 38, md

Grape vine 1, day 51, md
Grape vine 1 is climbing the gazebo quite happily. There are black bugs eating through the leaves. I remove them and drop them in a bowl with soapy water on a somewhat regular basis over the last two weeks or so.

Grape vine 4, md Grape vine 4, day 14, md Grape vine 4, day 24, md Grape vine 4, day 38, md

Grape vine 4, day 51, md
Grape vine 4, Concord Purple Grape, planted last year, next to Tower 3. The black bugs are present on this vine to a much lesser extent, and I’m removing them as well.

Aside, Comfrey and Day lilys, md Aside, Comfrey and Day lilys, day 14, md Aside, Comfrey, grape vine 2, and Day lilies, day 14, md Aside, Comfrey, grape vine 2, and Day lilies, day 38, md

Aside, Comfrey, grape vine 2, and Day lilies, day 51, md
Day lilies, comfrey, and remains of grape vine 2, butchered during last year’s roof replacement. Comfrey is growing giant leaves. The lilies stopped growing. I suspect it is due to me replanting the same bulbs every year. Perhaps they have grown as much as they can. The grape vine was heavily affected with what I guess was downy mildew. I have removed quite a few affected leaves, and it seems to be recovering well.

Aside, grape vine 3, tulips, hyacinths, md Grape vine and bird feeder closeup, day 14, md Grape vine and bird feeder closeup, day 24, md Grape vine and bird feeder closeup, day 38, md

Grape vine and bird feeder closeup, day 51, md
Grape vine 3 is happily growing up the shepherd’s hook with a bird feeder and a bird bath. Lots of black bugs had to be removed from this one as well.

Aside, lemon verbena, lemon grass, md Aside, lemon verbena, lemon grass, day 14, md Aside, lemon verbena and lemongrass, day 24, md Aside, lemon verbena and lemongrass, day 38, md

Aside, lemon verbena and lemongrass, day 51, md
Lemon verbena on the left and lemongrass on the right. Lemon verbena is growing happily and turning into a small bush. Lemongrass has recovered from being trampled during the fence reconstruction and seems to be full of life as well.

Aside, Grapefruit mint, md Aside, Grapefruit mint, day 14, md Aside, grapefruit mint, day 24, md Aside, grapefruit mint, day 38, md

Aside, grapefruit mint, day 51, md
Grapefruit mint. The mint is doing well, and I have used the leaves in salads and cocktails.

Aside, garden mint, md Aside, garden mint, day 14, md Aside, garden mint, day 24, md Aside, garden mint, day 38, md

Aside, garden mint, day 51, md
Garden mint. Happily growing in its pot, and I have used the leaves in tea a few times.

Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, md Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, day 14, md Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, day 24, md Aside, russian sage, day 38, md Aside, winter savory, day 38, md

Aside, russian sage, day 51, md

Aside, winter savory, day 51, md
On the first two photos: left – winter savory, top right – Russian sage, bottom – lily of the valley. Because of the sun, the recently-installed West fence, and the tomato overshadowing the savory, I have taken the third photo from the other side, with lily of the valley being at the top, the winter savory on the right, covered by a tomato branch, and the Russian sage on the bottom left. At this point, there are so many tomato branches and leaves, that I have to take pictures of Russian sage (first large photo) and winter savory (last photo) separately. Both seem to be quite happy.

Aside, currants, md Aside, currants, day 14, md Aside, currants, day 24, md Aside, currants, day 38, md

Aside, currants, day 51, md

Aside, currants, closeup, day 51, md
Two currant bushes between Tower 2 and the South fence. Both are growing well, and the one in the corner of the garden has a few delicious black currants. I put cones around them to contain the sprawl.

Aside, currants, blackberries, day 14, md Aside, currants, blackberries, day 24, md Aside, currants, blackberries, day 38, md

Aside, currants, blackberries, day 51, md
Two currant bushes between Tower 2 and the South fence, unknown perennial plant along the window, and what I suspect is our blackberry bush planted last year – Black Satin Blackberry. I have put a cone around the blackberry bush to contain it. So far no berries.

Aside, raspberry, md Aside, Raspberry bush, day 14, md Aside, raspberry bush, day 24, md Aside, raspberry bush, day 38, md

Aside, raspberry bush, day 51, md
Raspberry bush along the building. No berries here either.

Aside, scarlet runner beans, day 10, md Aside, scarlet runner beans, day 38, md

Aside, scarlet runner beans, day 37, md
Scarlet runner beans along the West fence. I have planted these on June 11. Quite a few of them are now happily growing up the support.

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How to organize a Blessingway

blue_by_the_waterIf you have a pregnant mama in your life that needs love and support of other women, Blessingway (or Mother’s Blessing) is a wonderful ceremony to honour her and celebrate her pregnancy. The key to a good Blessingway is that everyone who comes can only bring positive energy. People who are unable to be warm, loving, supportive and understanding of a pregnant mama are better to stay away.

The Blessingway is usually hosted in the last few weeks of pregnancy, when the belly is big and round, the mama is getting into a mindset for labour and is ripe to receive some nurture and support. You would need a place that can fit all the women who wish to participate – Blessingways usually take place at someone’s home. The number of people attending is flexible, yet, if you can, have ten or more women gather, that way you can string together a necklace, have a variety of dishes for the potluck, and much wisdom to share. If you can only find a few people, don’t worry:  everyone can always bring more than one bead and cook more than one dish, to make up for the lack in numbers.

If you are a mama who is alone in a new city without friends or family, reach out to birth or breastfeeding groups to find a community of supportive women: look on social networks, in a birthing centre, through prenatal classes, midwives, doulas, or prenatal yoga instructors. Often women will gather to honour a mama they have only just met, to make her feel welcome in a new city. Some of us met their best mama friends through the Blessingway.

Once you have the women and the place, think of the children. Nursing mamas usually come with their babies. Ideally you would ask people to try finding childcare for older children (often partners can look after them as Blessingway is a women-only event), so that the women can relax and share instead of addressing children’s needs. However, we have all been in a situation where no childcare is available, or there are children living in the house where the Blessingway is held, or there is an activity for children to do in a different room that would not interfere, so be flexible.

As for any potluck, ask if anyone has any food allergies and see that the offending ingredients are either not involved or clearly marked in all the dishes. Also I would suggest coordinating dishes that everyone brings (or at least designating only one or two dessert people), otherwise you might end up with seven sets of cupcakes and no real food to eat. Make sure there are at least two or three healthy options, as there are pregnant and lactating women often present at a Blessingway, including the mama being celebrated. Plenty of water (and perhaps tea) are good to have as well, to keep everyone hydrated. In my experience, cheese, grapes, vegetables with hummus dip, and a fruit platter are some things that go over really well. Beyond that, get as creative as you would in any potluck.

It is good to plan the event for early afternoon (around 3-4pm), as pregnant mamas grow tired towards the evening. The best week day would be Saturday or Sunday, so that people who work regular hours can attend. If a Blessingway spans the dinner hour, women would not have to rush to a dinner at home after the gathering. An evening Blessingway is possible, but then you might have to start around 7pm, which means the pregnant mama might want to get a nap beforehand.

Set the expectation of positive energy and relaxation. Turn off the cell phones and put away the clock. Encourage everyone to be fully present and to enjoy the meal, the ceremony, the words and the ideas. Suggest that the women set the expectation with their families to be absent for 4-6 hours: that way no one has to rush home, and if the Blessingway ends earlier, they can make their way back without haste, still basking in the quiet energy of the ceremony.

Depending on what you would like to do, you might need the following:

For the Blessingway necklace, you would need:

A string with enough length to add a closure if required. Thread is ok, but string is stronger and holds larger beads and stones more reliably. If you have a thread, double-thread it.

Blessingway bead - Emerald silver tree of lifeEach woman would need to bring a Blessingway bead, which could be anything with a hole through it that resonates with her, whether it is the colour, or the texture, or the meaning of the stone, or the design. Make sure there is a hole to string the bead through (some stones are not drilled-through). The beads are generally on a bigger side, about 1.5cm in diameter or more, so that all together they can make a necklace that is long enough.

It is good if each woman also brings a saying, a wish, or a few lines of wisdom to share as she adds the bead to the necklace. It is good to note the meaning of the bead, if any. For instance, Birth Goddess is a self-explanatory symbol, and so is the Tree of Life (which mimics a placenta), yet certain stones have specific meanings that might not be widely known.

Have some tissues handy, as emotions often surface during this sharing of love, support, and wisdom.

If you wish to wash mama’s feet, I suggest a basin (which the house hosting the Blessingway might already have), access to water, and if you wish a couple of drops of essential oil or some flower petals, to make the ceremony more festive. A towel to dry off and gentle cream or shea butter to put on mama’s feet are also good.

If you wish to give mama a massage, some massage oil would be good. A sarong might be good, if the shoulders of her top need to be lowered, to protect the rest of the clothing from the oil. Really, any sheet would do, but sarong designs are beautiful and often bring more peaceful feel to the occasion.

If you wish to brush mama’s hair, you might want to ask her to bring her brush, or you can get a new one and give it to her as a gift. Another idea is a gift of a dry body brush, and gently brushing the pregnant mama’s feet, legs, arms, and back. Body brushing feels wonderful, really wakes up one’s senses and feels one with energy.

If the mama wishes to give other women candles to light when she is in labour, she can bring a box of candles with her, or you could provide one as part of the Blessingway organization – whatever feels right.

If you wish to draw a henna belly design, you would need to prepare henna beforehand. Some kits require you to soak henna overnight. Others come in frozen cones that need to be defrosted a couple of hours before use. I suggest talking to someone who works with henna – perhaps with someone in a nearby health store, an aromatherapy supply store, or with an artist.

Some ceremonies involve gentle circle dancing or singing. If you are planning to do that, make sure you have the music ready and, if needed, enough copies of the lyrics printed out for everyone to participate.

These suggestions might seem daunting, but remember – you can incorporate as few or as many ideas as you like, and have the ceremony be as elaborate or as simple as feels right for the mama and the women involved. At its core, the Blessingway ceremony is about sharing love, food, and wisdom.

All of these ideas are just suggestions based on what I have seen work best. If you cannot find a time during the weekend and can only find, say, five women, and the place to gather is small, and the kids are present, it is still better to hold a Blessingway than not to. The energy, the love, the support are what counts, and the rough edges in the logistics tend to fade out of memory while the thought and love are remembered.

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What is a Blessingway?

purpleBlessingway stems from a Navajo tradition that marks rites of passage in a woman’s life: her first moon time, her wedding, birth of her children. In the Western society, Mother’s Blessing (or Blessingway, or Blessing Way) refers to honouring a pregnant mama. Whereas a baby shower focuses on the baby and on giving gifts to the baby, the Blessingway is held to shower the mother with love and understanding from other women.

Blessingway celebrations can incorporate many different elements and traditions. Usually only women are present (exceptions are made for babies and sometimes small children of both sexes). It is often a potluck, where everyone brings a dish to share with others. Blessingway is a time when women take care of other women – something that is often lacking in our age of nuclear families, as we live too far from our relatives.

One of the most well-known Blessingway traditions is making a necklace for the mama. As part of the ceremony, each woman brings with her a bead and strings it on a cord, while sharing words of wisdom and love with the mama-to-be. Together the Blessingway beads make a necklace from which the pregnant mama can draw strength throughout the last weeks of her pregnancy and in labour.

Blessingway bead - Love Petals Tree of Life, smI was moved so much by the idea of this necklace that connects all of the positive energy and wisdom of the women who string it together, that I have designed a few Blessingway beads myself, by dressing up a Birth Goddess or a Tree of Life charm with a flower lampwork bead, and adding accents with crystals, beads, and intricate bead caps. Women around me loved them, and so I have put them up on Etsy and have since created many more different designs.

There are many other elements that can be incorporated into the Blessingway:

  • drawing a henna design on mama’s belly
  • washing mama’s tired feet (that feels absolutely divine in third trimester!)
  • brushing her hair
  • giving her a shoulder massage
  • or anything else to make the mama feel loved and supported through the last weeks of pregnancy.

Blessingway Bead - Golden Rose Petals GoddessAnother beautiful tradition is where the mama-to-be gives each woman at the Blessingway a candle. Once they get the news that the mama is in labour, they each light a candle and let the flame burn until the baby is born, sending their positive energy and thoughts to the labouring woman.

Several lovely women have put on a Blessingway for me as I was pregnant with my second baby. It was wonderful to be surrounded by so much support, love, and understanding. I have since participated in Blessingway ceremonies for other mamas, and they make me feel a part of the great sisterhood of birthing, nursing, nurturing, laughing, loving women. If you have a woman in your life who is pregnant, I would highly recommend hosting a Blessingway for her: it is a wonderfully warm and supportive tradition. I have put together a few tips on organizing a Blessingway, based on the ones I have attended.

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On the importance of ceremony

This past Friday, the CHOICE! Film Festival hosted the screening of Birth Rites – a film about the issues aboriginal women in Canada and Australia face with the government removing them from their communities to give birth elsewhere. The film itself is worth watching: it illustrates the social fallout of such birth management practices and the need for aboriginal midwives working within the communities. After all, women in Canada are not flown to Denmark to give birth just because birth outcomes there are better. Yet aboriginal women within Canada and Australia are removed from their home for several weeks before birth, and are deposited alone, into an unknown city, a completely foreign culture, without any support systems, and often without anyone around who speaks their language. This is not good for birth, not good for the family and the community at large, and does not make sense financially as the costs for the government are high.

I found the pre-show even more enlightening. It was guided by Francine Payer, Aki Songideye Ikwe, Métis Algonquin of the Turtle Clan, grandmother of 13 and great-grandmother of 2, drum carrier, traditional dancer, seed keeper, spokesperson for the water and the forest, and carrier of the People’s Sacred Pipe. Respected grandmother at the Sundance and the Sundance community, she is the keeper of traditional wisdom. She spoke to the circle of us – women, men, and children – on the importance of ceremony and how the rights of passage are celebrated among her people.

She spoke of different roles of men and women: as women, we carry the water, while men tend the fire. Women have Rites of Passage, while men go on Vision Quests. She talked about separate circles for girls and women, and as girls have their first menstruation, they are welcomed, with ceremony, into the women’s circle. For a year after their first Moon Time, young women do not stay alone with a man, are not allowed to be around a baby, and would pick berries for the tribe without being able to eat a single one – to teach them control and how to say “no”. Women are present when their female descendants give birth. Grandmother Francine’s mother is alive, and so at the birth of her great-granddaughter, five generations of women were there, from the great-great-grandmother, to the baby being born. Even writing this gives me shivers: giving birth at home with supportive women myself, I can imagine how profound it would be to have all the living generations of your family be by your side in birth.

There are many more traditions, and it would have not been possible to cover them all within the short time we had. Yet Grandmother Francine brought up something very important. We have many, many rights of passage: birth is the first one, and then follow the milestones: first word, first crawl, first step, first fall, first period, first love, and on, and on. We can choose to celebrate any of these rights of passage, or pick specific ones. Each day is full of ceremony: opening a tap to get water is a water ceremony, stepping outside into nature is a ceremony, sitting down to a meal is a ceremony. Being mindful and fully present throughout our day, we can honour the water, the air, the meal. The ceremony is a mindset. Any ceremony can be as simple or as complicated as one wishes: whatever feels right and comes from the heart will make a fulfilling ceremony.

In the Western culture of constant focus on action and goal achievement, we create stress and hurt, yet have very few ways to deal with it, most of which are unhealthy. Focusing on the ceremony, on the other hand, can help us breathe deeply, process the stress and heal from trauma. Quiet meditation, self-knowledge, and social support are well-known for being the necessary facets of emotional health. Fulfilling ceremonies combine these three facets, by focusing on the importance of the rite of passage, letting one process it through a quiet contemplation, a trance, a dance, a song, a chant, or  through simply listening to the guide, often within a circle of supportive people with a similar mindset. We could learn a lot about the healing effects of ceremony from the traditional cultures.

Grandmother Francine has lead us in a water sharing ceremony, a strawberry sharing ceremony, and in honouring all four directions with a song. It was a wonderfully inspiring circle, and even my three-year old enjoyed following along.

After that evening, I have been more mindful of things I do throughout the day, and how many of them are a ceremony of their own. For instance, before breastfeeding, I kiss my baby, and tell her words of love as she gazes into my eyes. That is most definitely a meaningful ceremony: each time I feed her, I feed with love. When watering plants, I tell her their names. That is a ceremony, too. When sorting laundry, I sing to her. Beyond that, it becomes almost a game to spot every ceremonial instance we do not usually notice. If there is special clothing (or lack thereof), the action can be a ceremony if you are mindful: taking a shower is a cleansing ceremony that starts with undressing, entering a dwelling is a ceremony that involves saying words of greeting and removing your footwear, brushing your hair is a ceremony that involves a brush or a comb, as long as you are present during it. Putting down a yoga mat and stepping onto it is a ceremony, and the more mindful you are during your yoga or exercise session, the more attentive you are to your body’s signals, and the better results you are likely to achieve.

Coming back to the “greater” ceremonies in our lives, it seems we only acknowledge a few in Western society. Most of them center around birthdays (not so much around birth itself), anniversaries, weddings, religious and civic holidays. Yet we rarely celebrate coming into adulthood (I do not count getting drunk out of your mind when you reach legal age), starting and stopping menstruation, being pregnant (not counting baby showers, as they are more about the baby, not the mother’s rite of passage, and are usually driven by consumerist ideals), giving birth, becoming a parent, losing a parent… And as these personal milestones are lacking societal acknowledgement, so we, as individuals, are unable to effectively process the changes and stop treating them as meaningful.

The effects are far-reaching. So many women treat menstruation as nuisance or as torture and do not learn how to listen to their body, that they end up fighting their cycle and suffering through it, instead of learning to live in harmony with it. Many families lack support in pregnancy, and this most miraculous time often ends up being full of doubts, regrets, and stress. The majority of Western women grow up fearing birth, and often end up having traumatic experiences from lack of knowledge and trust in their body. Breastfeeding has been hidden by Western society for so long that many women end up having difficulties nourishing their babies, and people around them know little on how to support them. Grief and tears are endured in loneliness, as socially awkward and unacceptable, and we shove our strong emotions into far corners of our mind, so they stay with us and we do not heal. All of these trends take us further and further from knowing our body and our mind, and from being able to master our emotions when we are faced with milestones and new stages in life.

There are people who understand this and are bringing back ceremony. Women host Red Tents and Womb Blessings to share their experiences with the milestones of womanhood, to gain understanding of their cycle, to learn to harness the different stages of it, and to take charge of their fertility. There are Maiden’s Blessing ceremonies to celebrate a girl becoming a woman, with her first menstruation. There are Mother’s Blessing ceremonies to honour a pregnant mama and surround her with support. There are Crone’s Blessing ceremonies to honour a woman’s transition into menopausal stage of her life. There are Healing Circles to help heal emotional trauma experienced in birth, or when dealing with a sickness, or with a death of a loved one. All of these circles and ceremonies help us overcome what seems like insurmountable obstacles and show us that we are not going through the times of change alone.

Let us be mindful and present in the now. Let us pause and listen to our body and the world around us. Let us create meaningful ceremonies to mark the milestones we treasure, not just those the society acknowledges as important.

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Beading: Seven Chakras, Rainbow pendant – Golden tree of life – Czech fire-polished glass

Available for purchase on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/listing/180328254/seven-chakras-rainbow-pendant-golden

7 chakras necklace - Golden tree of life, md

This handmade pendant features seven bright Czech fire-polished glass beads with one for each colour of the rainbow, representing the seven chakras, crowned by the gold-plated pewter tree of life charm. Beautiful pendant to keep you connected with the energy flow within your body.

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Beading: Seven Chakras, Rainbow pendant – Elephant – Czech fire-polished glass

Available for purchase on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/listing/180398734/seven-chakras-rainbow-pendant-elephant

7 chakras necklace - Brass elephant, md

This handmade pendant features seven bright Czech fire-polished glass beads with one for each colour of the rainbow, representing the seven chakras, crowned by the brass elephant charm. Beautiful pendant to keep you connected with the energy flow within your body.

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Beading: Seven Chakras, Rainbow pendant – Spiral Goddess – Czech fire-polished glass

Available for purchase on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/listing/180519415/seven-chakras-rainbow-pendant-spiral

7 chakras necklace - Golden goddess, md

This handmade pendant features seven bright Czech fire-polished glass beads with one for each colour of the rainbow, representing the seven chakras, crowned by the gold-plated pewter spiral goddess charm. Beautiful pendant to keep you connected with the energy flow within your body.

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Beading: Seven Chakras, Rainbow pendant – Tree of Life – Swarovski crystals

Available for purchase on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/listing/180608863/seven-chakras-rainbow-pendant-tree-of

7 chakras necklace - Silver coin tree of life, md

This handmade pendant features seven bright Swarovski crystals with one for each colour of the rainbow, representing the seven chakras, crowned by the pewter tree of life charm. Beautiful pendant to keep you connected with the energy flow within your body.

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Beading: Seven Chakras, Rainbow pendant – Dragonfly – Swarovski crystals

Available for purchase on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/listing/180596888/seven-chakras-rainbow-pendant-dragonfly
7 chakras necklace - Silver Dragonfly, md
This handmade pendant features seven bright Swarovski crystals with one for each colour of the rainbow, representing the seven chakras, crowned by the dragonfly charm. Beautiful pendant to keep you connected with the energy flow within your body.

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Beading: Seven Chakras, Rainbow pendant – Frog – Swarovski crystals

Available for purchase on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/listing/180596704/seven-chakras-rainbow-pendant-frog

7 chakras necklace - Frog, md

This handmade pendant features seven bright Swarovski crystals with one for each colour of the rainbow, representing the seven chakras, crowned by the bejeweled frog charm. Beautiful pendant to keep you connected with the energy flow within your body.

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Beading: Seven Chakras, Rainbow necklace, brass – Swarovski crystals

Available for purchase on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/listing/180595654/seven-chakras-rainbow-necklace-brass

7 chakras necklace - Brass horizontal rainbow, take 2, full, md

7 chakras necklace - Brass horizontal rainbow, take 2, closeup, md

This handmade necklace features seven bright Swarovski crystals with one for each colour of the rainbow, representing the seven chakras, framed by a brass chain. Beautiful necklace to keep you connected with the energy flow within your body.

 

 

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Beading: Seven Chakras, Rainbow pendant – Golden Tree of Life – Swarovski crystals

Available for purchase on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/listing/180596346/seven-chakras-rainbow-pendant-golden

7 chakras necklace - Golden coin tree of life, md

This handmade pendant features seven bright Swarovski crystals with one for each colour of the rainbow, representing the seven chakras, crowned by the gold-plated pewter tree of life charm. Beautiful pendant to keep you connected with the energy flow within your body.

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Beading: Seven Chakras, Rainbow pendant – Spiral Goddess – Swarovski crystals

Available for purchase on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/listing/180608587/seven-chakras-rainbow-pendant-spiral

7 chakras necklace - Pewter goddess, md

This handmade pendant features seven bright Swarovski crystals with one for each colour of the rainbow, representing the seven chakras, crowned by the pewter spiral goddess charm. Beautiful pendant to keep you connected with the energy flow within your body.

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