Dec 24, 2008

Christmas Eve and all is well


A snowy midnight hottub, five hours of morning snow play followed by another deep nap is all deeply restorative. Today the neighbours and us built a 7-foot-high archway over the luge course, all from snow (no cheating with wood supports like someone unmentionable suggested). No hurries, no agenda, just play and creativity. The kids did what kids do best - laugh, explore, invent, and try without boundaries. It was them who suggested dragging the 100-lb balls with the sled. It was them who figured out a system of steps to get the upper snowballs in place. What better learning environment could we have created - architecture, physics, gross motor development, Greek and Roman history, weather, melting/freezing, teamwork.

Sarah and the kids are right now whipping up some Christmas Eve dessert surprise, then we'll
- finish sewing new stockings (can't find the old ones after the move),
- open one present each (a tradition that Sarah and i started during our first Christmas together in Zambia 10 years ago - I gave her feather pillows to replace the hard foam beasts I'd used for 5 bachelor years in Africa),
- make Sarah's family traditional "monkey bread" - gooey bread balls soaked in butter, sugar and cinnamon
- open the last advent calendar treasures, and read a few bedtime Christmas stories.
- present creation (toolboxes for the boys) and wrapping (with African cloth, no disposable paper and tape allowed), and maybe a letter from Santa

Growing up, Christmas Eve was my favourite day of the year. A raucous party with the Swedish cousins, huge smorgassboard, presents galore, out-of-tune carols, laughter, family. I will at some point tonight feel a bit sad at missing that ongoing (albeit smaller and more sober) tradition, but these quiet new traditions with my own family are equally rich and beautiful. And the bigger community are fully a part of this season - last weekend's Vancouver visits, the Boxing Day open house, snowplay with the neighbours, 2-day beachside cabin with my mom and brother, New Years visit from close family friends. Balance of extended family and nuclear family, balance of fun and sacred, balance of community and family. From such an off-balance day as yesterday, this is as refreshing as the snowball-size snow showers from the trees shaking their limbs.

Oh oh, i've been beckoned. have a marvelous Christmas friends.

Dec 23, 2008

Did I Sell Out to Christmas Consumerism?

A few hours I ago I posted a lamentation about my 3-hour odyssey into Christmas shopping craziness. I want to explore a bit more my discomfort and self-judgment.

It's not that I wasted a bunch of money, nor spent it against our ethics. The purchases were mostly groceries to welcome and treat our new friends at the Boxing Day party we're hosting for however many of the 31 invited families are able to swing by for that home-made eggnog. I shopped at our wonderful locally-owned Community Farm Store, bought organic and local as much as possible, and feel satisfied that it will all lead to genuine merriment for our children and friends.

What bothers me, in addition to the stress of holiday crowds and lost snowplay time, is the compulsion I felt to go shopping. That feeling that I just had to go out and buy things to make this Christmas special. We're trying to become people who are freed from that cycle of buying happiness, and there I was in the midst of the throng of North Americans all doing and feeling the same thing. The fact that I made ethical purchases does not take away the inner drive that took me away from my family and launched me into aisle one with a hungry shopping cart.

I first truly discovered this inner drive while living in a remoter-than-Mars fishing village in Tanzania. Whenever something happened - birthday, good work report, a particularly good day - I wanted to celebrate by spending money. It was so poignant because I was living in a village where that simply wasn't possible. There were no treats to be had a the market - no bakeries or imported goodies or new clothes.

Now 15 years later I still felt the need to rush out the day before Christmas Eve buy two more presents for my children (bringing the grand total to 3, plus the tool boxes I'll be building for them tomorrow - still not an excess!) and some more treats for us and our friends. How do we truly exorcise this market demon?

Maybe I should just make friends with this demon, or assert a mastery over its energy. Accept that consumption is necessary, and feel good about having made healthy and ethical choices focused on bringing Joy to others, making our first Christmas in our new home a special, memorable time. Maybe I should just go eat one of those stocking-stuffer fair-trade chocolate balls and let Bowie and Bing sing to me, "May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white."

Christmas tunes and drifted banks

In follow-up to that duets article, I published two more seasonal song lists and another Christmas article:
Our holidays have certainly been painted a dazzling white this year. The snows didn't stop us from a beautiful 4-day Vancouver jaunt to celebrate Chanukah and Christmas a bit early with dear friends and family, then returned last night to park at the bottom of our driveway and trudge through knee-deep unbroken snow with two sleeping babes in arms. Tucked them in then joined a warm and yummy celebration with our neighbours then a cold starry hottub, feeling fully blessed by our surroundings and community and serenity of space and mind.

The fir tree branches are stooped right to the ground with the weight of the snow. It's deep enough that this morning we dug a luge course down the driveway and into the wooded side lot, and just played and played all morning.

The drifted bank (from Jingle Bells -"we fell into a drifted bank and then we got upsot) came when i unwisely brushed off the car and headed into town to stock up on supplies and stocking-stuffers. All sense of Christmas joy and anticipation and that above-mentioned serenity were snuffed out halfway down aisle one, when i'd already been bumped and apologized to more than in the whole previous year. $300 later i felt exhausted and broke and like i'd sold out to the consumptive Christmas i've been ranting against. Did we really need those homemade eggnog supplies and fair-trade chocolate stocking stuffers to enjoy the next few days?

I should have been home playing with the kids, listening to some of those top ten Christmas songs (especially the David Bowie and Bing Crosby duet) and letting Santa bring homemade cookies and hand-carved play figures this year.

Dec 17, 2008

Unlikely Duets and Gleanings


I found myself reminiscing and humming "To All The Girls I've Loved Before," and ended up publishing a list of 10 duets by unusual pairings. When you've got a few minutes to click on some fun U-Tube links, check it out.

Meanwhile, the snow continues to fall - 'twill be a beautiful walk back to pick up the boys today. I stopped on the way home this morning to pick pretty much the last of the frozen crabapples, to make juice for dinner with friends tonight, but it's unlikely I'll coax the boys into a repeat of that frozen-finger-fest. To make up for a lost farming season (due to the move), it's been a marvelous gleaning season:
  • roadside blackberries every day with Zekiah during the half-hour wait for Galen to finish school
  • apples from the schoolyard --> jam, syrup, apple butter, pies, frozen, juice...
  • crabapples from the same schoolyard --> jam, syrup, juice, muffins, pancakes...
  • mulberries and figs from a friend's overflowing farm

Dec 15, 2008

Farming 101

Even as I continue to relish this fresh crop of snow, it's apparently only 3 months or so until the real work of farming begins. So i made a list of things we need to learn by then, to be able to plan and operate our farm. Ultimate goal is to never buy a zuchini again. More specifically, to grow and preserve almost all our own fruits and veggies for year-round consumption, plus have one or a few crops or products for income generation.

So, in case any of you worry that I'll become lazy or brain-dead in this new leisurely farm life, here's the list so far. Any suggestions about things to add, resources, or knowledge you may have is very very welcome:

Ag Tax exemption – rules, application procedure and timing
Crop rotation, cover crops
Cowichan Land Trust
Fermentation
Forest management, firewood types
Greenhouse – rebuild, maintain, heat
Hunting (deer, rabbits, quail) – how, licensing, processing
Organic rules, certification - http://www.certifiedorganic.bc.ca/aboutorganic/organicwhat.htm
Pruning
Root cellar – how, when, what…
Seed saving , sources
Seedlings, transplanting
Volunteers – WOOFers, etc

Fruit trees: plant, harvest, prune, preserve, sources
Apples, crabapple, asian pear… , Pear, Plum , Quince, ...

Berries: Blackberries, Blueberries, Grapes, Mulberry , Oregon grape , Raspberries, Rosehips, Salal, Saskatoon berries, Strawberries

Crops: Types, market, prices, soil type and prep, care (weeding, fertilize, pest control), timing, preservation, intercropping, costs:
Asparagus, Beans, Beets , Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Cabbage , Carrots , Cauliflower, Corn , Garlic, Kale, lettuce, greens , Oats, quinoa, barley… to replace hay , Onions , Peas , Peppers , Potatoes, Pumpkins, Sarsaparilla , Spinach, Squash, zucchini, Tomato , Turnips, rutabaga

Other food growing stuff: Hay – care, who to harvest, Hazelnuts , Maple syrup, Mushrooms

Animals: Alpaca , Bees , Chickens – types, shelter, care, where to buy, breeding, meat processing; Cow, Goats, Rabbits , Sheep

Questions to ask people: Marketability of crops, etc; Resources (groups, lectures, books, websites); People to ask, farms to visit…

Dec 14, 2008

Growing Snow

Friday afternoon our boys were dancing around the thrift store parking lot in the first brief snow flurry of the season. Saturday night they peeked out the church door and shouted back to the entire Cowichan Folk Music Guild that it was snowing - so much for their participation in the rest of the annual potluck and carol sing-along. Our walk home in the soft glow of falling snow was so magical that we extended it to a walk around our back fields and forest trails.


This morning they miraculously kept to their promise of staying in bed until 7, but then we were outside to build the first snowman and walk the property to find deer and other animal tracks. Quick waffle breakfast then walked back down to try to attend our first service at this reportedly progressive Anglican church, but found ourselves alone so we walked along the enchanted river then back for 2 hours of non-stop sledding down our steep driveway (and over the banks of the sides) with the 3 neighbour kids.

Lunch, nap, more sledding, and Christmas tree decorations (listening to Mahalia Jackson, of course) completed the idyllic weekend that also included a long lounging Texas breakfast with dear friends, overlooking the snowcapped Tzouhalem Mountain from our kitchen table. My favourite day of the year in Vancouver was the first morning of snow on the North Shore mountains, which always was somehow a beautiful sunny day, and that tradition continues strong here in our new home.

Is there anything our boys could want more than snow, a complete weekend with us and friends, a night of music and extensive dessert potluck, and Christmas decorating? They glowed, danced, giggled, shone in all their 5 and 7-year-old glory, as kids should. Ah that every weekend could be so pure as this new snow.

Dec 11, 2008

Zekiah's First Day of Kindergarten


Whoops, I posted about Galen's first day in grade one, but forgot this piece about Zekiah's first day in Kindergarten. I did adapt this for a published article called "Love is in Fashion", but this original is still worth sharing, methinks...

zekiah's kindergarten teacher had a parents night to explain their routines and ways, all equally magical, starting from the first half hour of each day that will be outdoor playtime, followed by a walk to the garden and the same patch of forest each and every day so they can experience the subtle changes and growth and birth and death of nature, rain or shine. i felt like a stronger and more supported parent just by being in the group and in teacher Ruth's presence - i can't wait to see how our already-beautiful child zekiah will further blossom in the next 2 years with her.

we each brought something from nature that represents our child. i brought the wind, describing how zekiah is this energized and energizing burst of energy and enthusiasm at every thing and every one in his life, inspiring and lifting and refreshing all around him, filling up a room or a yard or a car with his exhuberence, then sometimes unexpectedly dying down to an angelic tickling whisper licking around our ears and snuggling in close. sarah described him as the sun, radiant and warm and life-giving. each parent described their cricket, their birds nest, their grass, their dead-bug collection... with equal adoration and admiration and respect. we all walked out feeling so blessed to have this amazing group of kids to meet this week and be part of us for our life here, and to have been drawn into such an open and deep opportunity to display our love and wonder for our children. the first of so many gifts we will experience at Sunrise Waldorf.

even if this was the one and only reason for moving here, it would be enough. we are full, we are confident in the present and the future, and believing and trusting and letting go in ways we never fully could before. the time is now

Dec 10, 2008

Love those reno's

I love working on this house and this land. In our last Vancouver house - a 1911 beauty that we truly did love - the Fix-Up list was daunting and heavy and felt never-ending. Here, somehow, it's light and attractive. I want to be doing more, fixing, creating. I want to be out there, not even here on the computer.

So what is different? One obvious factor is time - as a stay-at-home dad, I have more time to devote to these things, and can involve the kids. Yesterday while Sarah worked, Galen and I finished building the futon sofa we found in the barn, and put it up in the hayloft that we recently renovated to be their playspace. Then Zekiah woke up from his nap and helped re-organize the garage to better fit bikes and playstuff, and put a light on my bike. At 4:30 the train whistle blew, which at this time of year means it's time to put the chickens in and come inside to light a fire and make pizza.

That example also shows another factor - integration. I wasn't putting aside one responsibility or desire to take care of the Reno list. I was with the kids, teaching the kids through example and meaningful involvement, doing something achievable that brought satisfaction, and taking care of things that made our morning much easier as we took our bikes to school. Vancouver's "either-or" has become Duncan's "yes-and."

A third factor is that it's all gravy. This 1936 house has been lovingly cared for - we're just the 3rd owners ever - and was happily livable from day one. In a little over two months we've done alot, but all things to increase our enjoyment:
  • installed a highly-energy-efficient heat-pump to replace the ghastly baseboard electric heaters - it should pay for itself in savings in 5 years
  • installed a wood-burning fireplace insert for more romantic heat
  • bought a chainsaw and cut alot of firewood from our property for that fireplace
  • put in a new plywood floor and railings to the hayloft above the barn for kids' playspace
  • created a new trail for more bike-riding options for the kids
Finally, I just feel so darn connected to this land. I want to be in my boots, tramping around out there. I wander the forest each morning and pick up dead branches for the bonfire we'll have when it snows. I can't wait to overplant in the spring and be swamped with weeding and picking and preserving in the summer and fall. I want our multiple outbuildings to come alive in this vision as guest house, workshop, tool storage, play areas, etc. I want to save seeds. And on and on.

Our old house was beautiful and allowed us to manifest many forms of community. Our new home goes beyond that - it weaves in our whole lives, connection to the community, becoming part of the food production cycle, healthy family dynamics and child-raising, and whole alot of fun work and play.

Dec 5, 2008

7th Birthday Lessons


I'm the father of a seven year old. I should be surprised, shocked, amazed that he's so old, but I've been with him so daily recently and for most of his 2,555 days that it feels natural. That's just who he is - a talking, joking, knitting, climbing, tricking, eating eating eating, happy (and, in the photos, feeding and releasing a Goldcrest bird) Galen.

And he is a happy boy. So happy, contented, secure, confidant since our move. Since our move to a rural location with land, our move to have more time as a family together, our move to have me be a full-time dad, our move to put our family as a top priority and live with natural rhythms. Seeing how quickly he's blossomed has been the strongest affirmation we could have asked for.

He even grew a full inch in the first 2 months here. His whole body saying "Yes, I can grow here, I can be free here." He did the same with walking, waiting and waiting until the exact day that we finished our travels and moved into our basement suite in Vancouver to finally (at 18 months) take his first walk. Our bodies know Home.

As always, the birth celebration lasts several days, with several moments of beauty:

- When buying birthday fruit to share with his class the following day, I was shocked at the price of organic grapes (yes, one of the special treats is buying non-local). We discussed it in front of the cashier and agreed to put them back, so the man behind us in line bought them for us. What a simple act of beauty from a total stranger, who in his own basket had nothing fancy, organic or even remotely healthy. He just saw a chance to bring more Joy to a child and was not choked with our usual fear of reaching out, and Galen and I were open enough to accept the generosity with true thankfulness and appreciation (as was his class the next day)

- We celebrated his last night of being 6 by looking at the full year of photos, starting with the imfamous "Gross Party" last year (including a barf-snot cake so disgusting that even kids had trouble eating it). We walked through the year together, remembering good times and people, growth, wonder.

- Breakfast crepes, and a perfectly modest and thoughtful array of gifts throughout the day from family and us - necklace, knitting needles, crystals, "Diablo" circus sticks, slippers, winter socks, crayons, an all-wooden math game, RESP contributions. Gifts that honoured his spirit and development, honoured our family's commitment to respectful living on this earth, and augmented rather than dominated the day.

- Birthday dinner with our neighbours - 2 Waldorf teachers and their 3 kids who are glued to ours as often as possible. Another perfect gift and 2 birthday desserts completed the feast.

- This Sunday will be the official birthday party with 7 school friends - selecting was a big big task, a nice reflection of the real friendships he's quickly forging here. We've been busy with final childproofing (especially railings) of the hayloft above the barn for its official christening as the kids massive open-air playspace. Party will end up there after a scavenger hunt throughout our farm, forest and creek - always so much to do outdoors, rain or shine, connection to the seasons and elements.

So i sit on this rainy Friday night feeling so grateful for the space we've managed to create for our children to grow and flourish. Neighbours, trees, family, time, rituals, air - it's all coming together and shines through the eyes of our dancing prancing 7-year-old.

Dec 3, 2008

2 Articles about Sex

As a follow-up to my musings about who's reading my writing and what they think of it, I've recently published 2 articles about sex that my mother may not want to read:
In response to the loss of virginity article, one reader commented: You are a nice considerate person. Isn't Sex so lovely and relaxing and if Gor (sic) created all creatures why did he have creatures getting the most relaxation from our genetal area where all our waste food and drink are excreated?

I have no idea how to respond to that, but atleast he/she was reading and moved enough to respond...

Nov 28, 2008

What/Why am i writing???

Maybe it's a bit early to ask this question. My plan has been to just write whatever needs to come out, then figure it out later. Wait half a year then see if a bunch of bits and blurbs can become a bigger work of merit. This blog, a paid gig (now "Editor at Large") with CarrieandDanielle.com, and one magazine article (Urban Baby) have all been great ways to test and build my skills, find my voice, generate a body of work that might later be compiled or built upon, gauge reactions, and simply be pushed to produce.

But already the two big writers' questions begin to loom. First, is anybody really reading? I have some website stats and some beautiful emails from y'all to know that the answer is Yes, but when I saw a dour guy on a bus one day with a black t-shirt that said, "Nobody reads my blog" I did wonder if that might be me.

But the real question is, is it making any difference? Is this what I want to write, and is it touching people in a good way? I sometimes get depressed by advice about how to be a successful blogger - catchy titles, tips, 5 steps to... My most recent post is something I've struggled with for a long time and want to share - the idea that we need could reduce our life stress so much just by leaving early rather than late. It was published word-for-word, but the title makes it sound trite and news-standy: The Secret to Finding Happiness in Five Minutes.

Now if that's the title and format that brings thousands of more people to my ideas, then great. Maybe it's just the purist in me that wants people to be searching directly for beautiful probing prose rather than five-minute fixes. But part of me wonders just how much I compromised my family's amazing soul journey to this new life - quite possibly the subject of an entire book - by translating it into a 4-step, 600-word recipe: It Can be This Good: 4 Steps to Living Your Dream.

Ultimately, when I look at the body of work I've shared with the world in these early days as an official Writer, I feel good. I feel like disparate parts of me are being expressed, and in a format and venue that shares my journey with others in a way that might inspire of provoke insight in them. It's a good start, has my creative wheels turning, and is fun. I have to be patient, and remember that blogging is not book-writing, nor even magazine-article-writing (my next goal is to get into Mothering Magazine, or The Walrus, or anything else you might suggest.)

So thanks for reading, thanks for indulging me in a bit of introspection, and thanks to those of you who have shared your reactions to my writing, offered suggestions, even constructive criticism. I don't pretend to be a great writer - don't even know if such a being actually exists, or if there are just a bunch of people like me with a story to tell and the spark and support to get it out there.

Nov 18, 2008

Queer, divine dissatisfaction

There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique...You have to keep open and aware directly to the urgency that motivate you. keep the channel open.... There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the other.
-Martha Graham

Nov 17, 2008

Pumpkincabbagemilletcarrot...

nothing like having a wife out of town for another long weekend to bring out the creative chef in the stranded man. striving to clear the fridge before she returns, i conjured up a wondrous 3-layered dish that had her wretching just hearing about it on the phone. but check out the health value, the political/eco-correctness of the local organic products, the low cost, the quick preparation time...

1. Boiled potatos - organic, biodynamic from Alderlea Farms CSA 7km away
2. Slopped on top of the potato: Reheated bean/millet/onion/garlic/corn soup, augmented with the rest of a bag of frozen pumpkin from our jack-o-lantern
3. Adorning it all on top, a steamed cornucopia of brussel sprouts, carrots and a type of cabbage looking more like bok choy

you can also tell a house that doesn't have the lady about. cycling home with one of galen's grade one buddies and his mom, i spontaneously invited them in for a quick tour of our property, which ended with an apocolyptic house viewing. I hadn't got around to cleaning up after an overnight visit from michael and his two boys, so in addition to a counter full of dirty dishes, the living room looked exactly like what you'd expect after being lived in by 2 men and 4 boys. Layers upon layers of spilled paint, playdough, puzzle pieces, cars, magic cards, books, paper airplanes, Leggo, Kinex, castle pieces, knights, dress-up clothes, cut-up paper, pistachio shells, African string instruments, a solitaire peg game, a shield, bedsheets from a fort, rocks, a half-naked doll, various bits of clothing, elastic bands, drums - those are the ones i remember. It was a fun 24-hour playdate...

my new friend commented about our beautiful property and politely turned down a lunch offer. maybe if she'd read the first part of this posting she'd reconsider?

Nov 11, 2008

Remember Peace?

Remembrance Day, my annual day of inner conflict. I am a Quaker, a pacifist, don't believe in war or violence. I believe that there are Peaceful alternatives to resolving or preventing conflict, and therefore that war casualty was a preventable tragedy. I truly honour and respect those who altruistically fought and died for a cause they deeply believed in, but at the same time i don't agree that they or the country they serve made the right choice of methods. So how do i express this sincere respect for their courage and grief for their death without endorsing their actions?

I've just published an article trying to tow this fine line: Honouring Peace, Not War - The Pacifist's Dilemma on Remembrance Day. Lemme know what you think.

We have a fire going on this quiet rainy holiday, awaiting two dear friends from Vancouver for an overnight visit. They're not the first, but are the first of 3 different visitors this week. Yeehaw, our rural escape B&B is up and open for business (with friends -i'm not advertising a new hotel here...), we are loving sharing this new way with y'all not only online but in person.

Visits here have such a different quality. So much time and space to be together. When we had visitors in Vancouver we had to make an effort to create time to be together, shuffle agendas, juggle. Here we have time, and we also have a lifestyle that visitors can be part of. Our last guests helped us harvest and process crabapples, care for the chickens, rake leaves. It's quality time together, sitting by the fire de-stemming crabapples while talking about life. Mavis doesn't know it yet, but she's here in time to help with the barn's hayloft floor project so it can be a kids' playspace, then a kindergarten lantern walk in the nearby Bright Angel park tonight.

Why read and hear about a life when you can be part of it for a while? Don't worry, we have 5.2 acres of fun things to do together, we won't run out of ideas. Who's next?

Nov 5, 2008

adjustment day

Got up with the kids at 6:30 and got back to work processing the Chariot-full of crabapples we harvested this weekend from the neighbouring schoolyard. Tart/bitter things, but juicy and seem to be making good jelly. The day went on to include a few jogs/bike rides to the school, hosting a playdate with galen's buddy phaelen, then his mom and younger brother, then the 3 neighbour kids and cleaning out the chicken coop poop.

Escaped briefly for a horrible grocery store trip to buy fruits and veggies - i'm in charge of snacks for zekiah's kindergarten class this week. I do admit to a big indulgence for the day - a day-old apple fritter.

Am anticipating/dreading (both a bit strong words) a weekend alone with the boys while sarah goes to vancouver to teach - our first real weekend alone, except one while still at the Ecovillage. This stay-at-home dad thing feels very real today. I actually don't feel like writing, am not tired enough to sleep, don't own a tv. Just an adjustment to reality day.

On the bright side, three more publications to share with you:

Oct 31, 2008

Healthy, ethical halloween

i just published an impromptu rant about scary costumes and corporate candy called Blood, Sugar and Explosives - enjoy.

Our pubescent chicken is growing up fast - her egg this morning (one of 6, i might proudly add) is still a bit mushy, but much stronger than yesterday's mush, which galen carefully carried to show & tell today.

ok, time to go clean out noxious amounts of rat poop from the crawl space. hope your day is as fun...

Oct 30, 2008

Half-baked Eggs

In our egg offering from our chickens this morning was a wispy-white malformed egg with a shell as soft as paper. It doesn't break when being handled, but miraculously molds to the shape of the fingers pressing into it. This soft shell can be from insufficient protein, in which case we need to give crushed oyster shells. But since the other 3 eggs are just fine, it's more likely that this is just one of the new hens finally starting to produce. She is literally learning to lay eggs. My little girl is growing up!

Check out my three recently-published articles (and again, if you can leave a comment, that'd be great):

Oct 28, 2008

Leaving the Farm

Leaving home for a weekend is a bit different than it used to be. New priorities, new passions, and new responsibilities.

After lighting a fire to warm the house, preparing an oatmeal and home-grown-egg breakfast, cycling with Galen to school, and shaking down the schoolyard apple tree to get the last fresh, unbruised and unbitten offerings for our Vancouver friends, Zekiah and I got right to work. We buried the chicken that died from old age (we think), and put in an extra feeder and water can for the surviving flock who'll have to stay in the coop for the whole weekend. Set out the rat traps too - they outnumber our egg-layers by atleast 3:1.

Next we broke open another 20 bulbs of garlic, re-hoed the last row we'd fertilized last week with seaweed, and planted all 140 or so cloves. We raked heaps of maple leaves onto a big blue tarp and hauled them down to cover all 3 garlic beds for the winter. We also did a quick harvest of our own apple and pear trees to take to Vancouver.

Set out fresh food, water and litter for our cat Syd, then had to find him to lock him in the basement - a weekend of rat-hunting in our crawl space should earn his keep. Checked on the new storm windows to make sure they'll actually stay up in a storm.

All this time Sarah was juggling preparation for teaching a weekend birth class and processing the last four batches of carmelized apple butter - a continuation of last night's midnight apple sauce marathon, finally finishing the 2-child-bike-trailer-full load of apples from the schoolyard and Brock & Heather. Also finished baking some bread to go with our apple butter and fresh CSA farm produce for our Avoid WhiteSpot ferry picnic.

The house may have been left in a mess, but the new thing for me was my strong drive to get things done outside. I really wanted to get our garlic crop in and mulched, and to finish processing the apples for our winter sustenance. I felt a compassionate responsibility to treat the old dead chicken well, and a deep concern to take care of our chickens as well as our cat. And we deeply wanted to share (OK, and show off) our natural island bounty with our Vancouver friends.

If this is what being "tied to the land" is like, I think I'd rather call it "connected", and I think I like it. At some point out in our garlic field, a bumber sticker came to me - Old hippies don't die, they just go back to the land.

Oct 19, 2008

Time to be good neighbours

In the four city houses we lived in, we never once had dinner with our immediate neighbours (except for the occasional big potluck.) Here, it took two weeks.

On our way to pick apples at the old schoolyard, our boys insisted we invite the 3 neighbour kids along. Their dad Adam happily agreed, then invited us for homemade soup whenever we got back. We threw in our homemade bread, and voila, we have neighbours.

It's not just that people are friendly and welcoming in this rural valley, and not just that we're incredibly lucky to have good people next door with kids who are 1, 3 and 4 years older than Zekiah and go to the same school (both the parents are also teachers there). It's also that we and those around us just have and take time for people. Adam and I didn't pull out our Blackberries to schedule a get-together 3 weeks hence. It just sprung up and we were there and it worked.

Thanksgiving Day's another good example. We arranged to visit nearby Beehaven Farm sometime in the morning to pick up garlic bulbs for planting. When we arrived and started chatting with Gail (the beautiful healthy urban refugee woman we'll be in 15 years), she offered to show us around the farm. In our past life we probably would have been already late for the next appointment and had to refuse, but here we naturally strolled with her in the light rain to the garden and bee hives, along the way learning all about her history, how high a deer can jump, and who finally bought the big dairy farm around the bend.

Then down the road to Makaria farms to buy chickens from Brock and Heather, a young Victoria couple in their second year of homesteading. They both dropped their tools and took us first to see the rabbits, then helped us choose chase and finally catch our new egg-layers, adding in lots of free advice about how to care for them. Heather then took the boys to help collect eggs while Sarah and I picked apples from the tree that's too prolific for their limited time. On the way out they threw two old truck tires onto the trailer for the boys to play on, while we invited them over for an evening apple kuchen dessert made from some of their apples.

So, a simple shopping trip took us not to any paved parking lots and witty flirtations with check-out girls, but rather to neighbours and connections. Instead of a chocolate bar or People magazine, our impulse buys were homemade honey, free windfall apples, truck tires, and a date with new friends. And rather than feeling perennially rushed and late for the next item on the list, we feel right on time for life.

Oct 16, 2008

Published and Poultry-full

Two bits of good news on a rainy Thursday as I prepare to start making 30 storm windows with my father-in-law (these ancient single-pane windows are gorgeous but not so efficient):
1. The other two missing chickens showed up the next day, and they all somehow got into the coop last night, so we're not quite the miserable failures as chicken farmers as I feared.
2. I just had a new article published about not wearing black (Mom, you click on that blue highlighted link to go read it on the CarrieandDanielle.com website...)

Enjoy!

Oct 14, 2008

A lousy farmer, that is

In the farm paradise piece below, I started to write about the thrill of harvesting our first 3 eggs from the 6 new chickens we bought yesterday, when I realized I'd forgotten to get them safely locked into the chicken coop for the night. After 1 hour with a flashlight scouring our land (and cursing how big 5 acres really is), I managed to find and carry 3 of the 6 back to their new home. When Sarah gets back from yoga we'll go look again, but I deeply fear I've made easy prey for the raccoons, ravens and minks tonight.

Not that I love chickens in any deep way - picking them up still scares me, to be honest - but I'm feeling more than just a loss of eggs and investment ($10 each). We're slowly embracing the real responsibility we've taken on to steward this land - growing food sustainably, managing the forested area, protecting the creek - and even more so to steward the animals. In my first night as a chicken farmer, I've failed to protect half of my flock. And the 3 I did find did nothing to assuage my guilty conscience - these same birds who feistily pecked then ran away as we tried to put them in transport cages yesterday were scared little baby birds tonight, sitting docile and relieved to have Papa Ricky carry them to safety, giving me that same "all the other mommies were here on time" look our kids give us when we're late at school pick-up.

Some couples get a puppy to see if they could handle a baby. Good thing they don't start with chickens, or we'd have a serious population decrease to deal with.

PS - an hour later now, Sarah and I did find one of the missing 3, but not before the raccoons had found her. We just hope the other 2 found better hiding spots, and that they forgive me more easily than i'll forgive myself.

I'm a real farmer now

well she might'a took my car keys
but she forgot about my old John Deere

Yup, that's me this afternoon, straight out of a Vince Gill country music video, driving my tractor for the first time, out to the new compost pile with a trailer load of chicken-coop hay and poop and dead rat remains (judging from the puncture wounds, i'd say our cat is finally earning his keep.) Then pulling weeds and turning soil to prepare for tomorrow's full-moon naked midnight planting of the 40 garlic bulbs we bought from Gail 5 farms up the road. Each bulb can produce up to 6 new bulbs, so we may end up with 240 garlic bulbs next year as testimony to our overzealous first planting.

Yesterday we took the 3 neighbour kids plus ours up the road to the old schoolhouse, where i climbed and vigorously shook an apple tree, producing a hailstorm of organic apples upon the heads of 5 screaming delighted children. In one hour we filled up the 2-kid Chariot buggy. We've already washed them and cut out the previously-enjoyed bits (Sarah discovered 5 different types of bugs still enjoying them) and made a winter supply caramelized apple butter and apple sauce, and haven't even begun harvesting our own 5 trees.

At the farm up the other street, all of Armande's basil died in the heavy frost last week (these natural events now mean more to us than just an icy car to defrost), but we managed to buy the entire remaining basil supply from the produce store on the highway for the winter supply of pesto. The kindergarten teacher Katie brought us 4 bags of the heaviest, meatiest tomatoes in the valley, from which we've put away sauce, salsa and ketchup for the year.

It's not just the local seasonal foods - that's last year's excitement. It's the intimate connection to the growers, and our growing identity of being amongst them. And it's our connection to our own land. We've loved past houses and neighbourhoods, but never felt tied to or responsible to the land. Now we are regularly called outside, rain or shine, to be part of it and steward it, walking around in Joyful reverence, in wider and wider circles of knowing, quietly pledging to make the most of this time and place. To misquote Corduroy, "I think I've always wanted a home."

Oct 8, 2008

Writing

To explain yesterday's hasty posting a bit further, both Sarah and I have been hired as regular contributers to the newly expanded website of Carrie and Danielle, the Vancouver-based authors of a popular book called Style Statement. The book helps people analyse their wants and patterns and characteristics then come up with two words that describe their core - contemporary exotic, enduring bold, sacred dramatic, etc. Readers then try to make all parts of their lives reflect that truth - clothes, friends, vocation, hobbies, etc. Gimicky, yes, but the idea of aligning all of one's life to a basic understanding of self and values is a good one.

The website (www.carrieanddanielle.com) features articles about intentional living, spirituality, environment, fashion, etc. No doubt there's a high-tech widget way to do this, but for now I'll just post links here anytime we're published. Here's what we've got up there so far:
  • Love is in Fashion - a call to express love as openly and fully as we do for our children
  • Beyond the Checklist - we have to go beyond the standard 10 simple steps (low-flow showers, recycle, cfc lightbulbs, etc) and make some deeper shifts if we truly intend to save the world
  • Down the Drain - the one i mentioned yesterday about water conservation and teenage fantasies
  • Locavore Thanksgiving - Sarah's article about eating local
One of the goals of this new phase of our lives is for me to finally have the chance to write. For over a decade i've been believing there's a book or two inside me ready to come out, but as with most important things in life, just never had time. Now here's the time - kids in school, no job - and it is rather intimidating. No excuses, just gotta do it. This website, and this blog for that matter, are giving me a chance to start doing it, to start writing and sharing in small chunks that will I believe come together into a larger body of work when the time is right. For now i get to learn about the fine art of blogging, writing, being edited, receiving feedback (I absolutely cherish any comments you care to make on my writing - it's a huge help), getting published, etc.

So, thank you so much for reading, for being part of this new journey. They say writing is a lonely world, but so far I feel well supported and part of something. If you'd like to actively help, here's how:
  1. keep reading!
  2. post comments on the carrie and danielle website - it gives me feedback, and also shows that people are interested which makes others want to read
  3. pass along my writings, blogsite, etc to others who might enjoy
  4. send ideas of things i should be writing about

Oct 7, 2008

Published article

I've had my first article published - something about saving water and showering with Rhonda Warwick... Check it out (and please leave a comment there when you've done) at: www.Carrieanddannielle/com

We've also finally moved into our new house -more about that soon, gotta go unpack before Sarah catches me on my blog...

Sep 26, 2008

Journey of People - Hollywood, Amtrak

Whew, in the past week I’ve been a busy dizzy puppy. Packed up my life in the ecovillage tent, dropped the kids at school then met sarah at the Nanaimo ferry terminal on her way back from teaching a Vancouver prenatal weekend class. We spent a romantic few hours on the beach before handing her the keys – tag, you’re in – and jumping on the ferry myself.

Spent a beautiful night catching up with friends in Vancouver. One of the benefits of moving but not too far away is that, while we won’t see all our mainland friends much, when we do it will be great visits. Whether it’s them coming to Duncan or us popping over, there’ll be more time, sleep-overs, the full attention of visitors rather than a playdate squeezed in between other appointments.

Then a 31-hour greyhound ride to Hollywood for a 3-day Birthing From Within training. This is the same program that Sarah teaches, and the first time they’ve had a group of men join in. It was powerful to more fully understand the workings of Sarah’s magic, and even moreso to engage in dialogue about how men can better be supported in their own personal journey through labour, fatherhood and personal growth. Becoming a father is a huge time of transformation, and we as a group committed to further exploring ways to better support men’s journeys.

Now a beautiful 41-hour train ride back to Vancouver, mommy picking my up at 3am. Lotsa time for connection with people on the train – here’s a sample of the folks I’ve met and topics discussed:
  • First seatmate – daughter’s art career, a page-by-page recounting of her daughter’s horror book plot, secret of marriage getting better after 33 years
  • Marcos and Maggie & Earl – a friendly san diego roofer and his tijauana mama, and a cincinatti businessman with little to add
  • Jen – soon-to-be brady bunch mixed mom, church involvement, car accident, foster kids, fresh organic tomatoes, boys’ shelter, gym fitness instructor
  • Marius – philosophy, music, art, god, Evergreen College, moontribe festival
  • 3 old people – played dominos & cards the whole trip wearing matching shirts
  • British journalist – Zimbabwe reporting almost got him arrested, dog cloning
  • Irish journalist – following the footsteps of her lost irish immigrant grandpa
  • Klamath falls cafĂ© – town doesn’t actually have a waterfall (tourist gimmic), best thing in town is the happy hour Mexican karaeoki
  • Korean guitarist – living with band, vegan
  • Kristi – showed me all her doodles, leaving 2-year California boyfriend
  • Louis & Todd (Kansas City) – dad’s garage, girly action on other trains, seattle gangs, drug rip offs, assessment of every woman on this train
  • Lounge attendant – sex on train (usually prohibited), ringworm in the shower, house of blues, Disneyland
  • Lynn & Heather – H got pregnant with L at 17-years-old, and now Lynn’s 18-year-old daughter is pregnant. Interesting talk about how teenage pregnancy is perceived differently now, how they looked at abortion and adoption options.
So many other peoples’ stories, feeling very honoured and open today. Not sure if I’m just more in touch with my feminine after the birthing workshop, or if this new Writer identity calls to people.

Sep 14, 2008

Folding Underwear

Here at O.U.R. Ecovillage in Shawnigan Lake, our tent home for another couple weeks, lives are weaved together both formally and informally. On the formal side, we sign up for a chore each week - this week I'm cleaning the composting toilet and the shower in the greenhouse; last week I was in charge of putting out granola and fruit for breakfast then blowing the horn across the valley to roust everyone. We also put in 10 hours a week of work on the buildings, garden, office, etc as needed, though that's hard to balance with being with the kids and all the work of prepping for the move.

It's the informal connections that touched me yesterday. We took our visiting Texan friends on a hike up nearby Mt. Baldy (with stunning views of the lake to the West and the ocean and Mt. Baker to the East, though the boys were engrossed in crystal hunting), and took along one of the other boys living here for the hike, allowing his parents to get their work done. Arriving back just in time for lunch, I found that someone had taken our sleeping bags out of the washing machine and hung them up to dry. After lunch I took our other clean clothes and someone else's off the line, folding them into their laundry bag, then put up our second load to dry. While Zekiah and I napped, Galen played with another family. At dinnertime, a volunteer took Zekiah into the garden to help with picking the salad greens, while I went back to the laundry line to discover that someone had folded my clothes into a neat pile. Someone produced icecream to adorn the homemade apple pie for dessert, and someone else procured wine for the campfire sing-along that ended around 1:30 in the morning, with people from 20 to 70 years old joining in.

Living in community requires alot of meetings, conflict resolution, consensus training, and hard work. But it's the easy flow that makes it magic. The ever-present opportunity and impetus to gently touch someone that we all crave and have so much trouble creating in the day-to-day modern world. We don't have to be isolated, don't have to be alone. I'm thankful each day for this brief opportunity to once again live in this natural, connected way that we hope to eventually create in our new home.

Welcome all - you are welcome into our lives, welcome to play with our children while we fold your underwear. It's as easy as Yes, as comfortable as Thanks, and as natural as Friend.

Sep 8, 2008

The not-so-simple country life

Ah, the move to the country, back to the land, to a simple life… send the kids for fresh eggs from the chickens every morning, raise tomatoes in the greenhouse, and pick guitar on the porch as the sun sets. What could be easier?

That was our dream vision until we walked the land that is soon to be ours (our responsibility, that is) with the people who have lived it for the past 30 years. It turns out that while we will do the work, many others will be the ones who try to live offa da fat of da land:

- raccoons eat chickens during the night, and ducks during the day

- voles eat much of the fruit. I don’t actually know what they are, but their cat catches one per day

- rats have pooped so much in the crawlspace that the fumes are noxious and borderline dangerous, so it needs to be cleaned and sealed with plastic

- bears stroll up that beloved creek to eat our beloved berries, and occasionally dip their snouts into the chicken feed, leaving long cylindrical lick-holes as far as their tongues can reach

- ravens and eagles just love to snack on chickens

- human neighbours don’t tend to steal anything, but will shoot any dog that goes near their sheep

- frost will sneak in early onto our property as the cold rolls down towards the river but gets stopped at our treeline, regularly killing their market flowers and our winter supply of vegetables

- hundreds of mould varieties will feast on our lovingly-prepared root cellar supply of veggies and fruits

- deer will of course be thankful for lettuce and pretty much anything in the garden

- those delicious, invasive blackberry bushes will soon take over the whole garden if we don’t regularly cut them down and burn their roots with a blow-torch

A huge huge learning curve, that’s what we’ve bought. Now when folks ask what we’re planning, we just shrug and say we’re planning to read a lot, try to learn the land through the winter, and start slowly. A tomato plant here, a rabbit hutch there, over the years it will add up to a productive piece of farm to sustain our family and community; but not in the first year. It’s very seldom that I’m intimidated, but a simple walk with people who Know this life drove home the point that it’s a lot of work to properly care for this land that has become our home, our responsibility. To properly nurture and honour it will be a hard, rewarding, and enriching way of life.

Sep 4, 2008

First Day of School

First day of galen's grade one experience at Sunrise Waldorf School was pure magic. We brought him to the kindergarten playground, where the kindergarten teachers gathered all of us, led the kids to the door of the grade one classroom to cross the threshold, one-by-one each student was greeted by Miss Jewel, shook hands and said good morning as they will do everyday, then shown in to find their cubbyhole, shown around the classroom, then left with the others as she returned to bring the next new student across the threshold.

We were about the only parents without a camera, but the image of galen looking solemn and twitching with excitement at the same time, literally taking then letting go of our hands as we walked from the playground to the classroom, unsure of whether to cling to the old or dash into the new, that image will never leave.

We then joined the entire school in the auditorium, waiting for the grade one class to be paraded in while fellow parent Massimo played gentle guitar. The class was welcomed, galen and minna and isaiah were specially mentioned as the only new kids this year, some routines were explained, the song and prayer was introduced that they will repeat every monday at assembly for the next 8 years.

A grade 8 buddy was assigned to each grade one and they gave a rose to their buddy to welcome them. At the end of the year, galen will give a rose back to her to help and support her in her transition to secondary school.

The teacher recalled how a current 8th grader once sat in this same grade one row, and immediately after the ceremony the mom went and had a baby, who is now sitting in that row. We are walking into a beautiful world of tradition and patterns that will bless us our whole lives.

Sep 2, 2008

living in a tent

it's late and i'm the only one up on this farm we call home, the stars are above, a scurrying little animal is gnawing at the wall of the office i'm sitting near to get the wireless connection, crickets chirp, life is so peaceful and beautiful and clear and open and easy, unfolding just as it's meant to be, i'm letting go of my usual need to dictate the pace, direct the action, just letting it flow over and unfold as and when it should, trusting. over the past four days have met all the other parents in both boys' classes, a big gang of potential life-friends, and while of course my eyes were open to who might be a good match, i felt no rush, no need-based push to make it happen too soon. we'll have years together, don't need to find my best friend the first day, don't need to impose a quick first impression on anyone, just see what happens. not that we won't make dates, engage people, etc, but from such a position of strength and faith and trust, just being open to who is meant to be part of our lives in so many different ways. i'm even feeling the same about that for the boys, rather than desperately trying to help galen find that best friend, just help him engage with his peers and find his place. part of it is this place, this open community that continues to embrace and welcome and share, don't have to fight to get in, just breathe and be breathed in.

in case this is making no sense, we are living for 8 weeks at an ecovillage in Shawnigan Lake, living in our tent, sharing communal meals and chores, learning and helping build eco-friendly buildings, working in the organic garden and with the chickens/pigs/turkeys/ducks, pouring 2 scoops of sawdust on our poop in the composting toilet, hanging out with 20-somethings here for 3-6 month internships in the sustainable building school and other families interested in making this their life home when the 10 houses are built around the upper pond. While it admittedly is frustrating occasionally to have purchased our dream property but not be able to take possession until the end of September, this is an experience I wouldn't trade for anything, and the knowledge and insight and ideas and partnerships gained here will help us so much as we begin to create our own community on our land, in whatever form that ends up taking.

living in a tent is even more glorious than it may sound. it's big enough for two double blow-up mattresses, the kids sharing theirs right beside us (a good warm-up for the house, where we might end up sharing one family bedroom), one suitcase each for clothes, a single small shelf for some books and games. Warm, intimate, lets us fall asleep and awaken together and be part of each others rhythms. Small enough that we must and want to be outside or with the rest of the community for all waking hours, not craving nor slipping into escape, but fully engaged with the world. after dinner tonight we walked up to Vision hill and just at in the setting sun, looking over the farm and wetlands and mountains. Galen found a small altar and added a black feather in honour of his first day of school, then caught several types of bugs to look at then gently release. Zekiah just let me hold him, closing his eyes to drink in the warmth of the sun. There was no tv or computer or games shelf to distract us, just being a family together, and readying to sleep and dream and wake together.

speaking of which, they've all been asleep for 3 hours and i'm starting to shiver out here. gonna turn off this beast and walk back slowly under the stars (we don't have a working flashlight) to snuggle in with my beautifuls. May we all know and live such Peace

Aug 29, 2008

New place, but new beginning?

In Hollywood, bad things are always preceded by sinister music, stormy weather, and dark lighting. What skill it would take to capture a real low moment that can just as easily happen in the midst of beauty. A shot of a man sitting in a canoe with the snow-capped mountains reflecting on the still waters rocking gently around him, crying and shivering and alone.

Today was a day of doubts, of fears, of being Tired in the midst of a through and through good day. From hanging out the morning wash on a windy clothes line, to a canoe ride and meadow walk with four boys who chose to sit in a circle and meditate, to the subsequent game of Meditate & Hide and a visit to the pigs and turkeys. The usual bounty of homegrown organic foods, crafted into individual pizzas by the woman who takes loving care of our bellies each day.

It was an afternoon jaunt to the Waldorf School that set my thoughts a-wondering and my faith a-wandering. On the way over I felt shy (yes, me!) of joining in with the set of parents already established from two years of kindergarten together – the exact reaction of our boys on the playground two days ago when a bunch of other big kids were there, eying the new kids curiously.

I was the only parent who showed up for the afternoon get-the-school-ready work session, so Galen’s teacher – Miss Jewel – accurately assessed my construction “expertise” and asked me to cut tackpaper for the supply shelves. As she left for a home visit (Waldorf teachers meet with each student and family before the year begins to establish a relationship) I sat alone on the floor with my scisssors and crayon and tacky paper and began to feel the same old adolescent fears of belonging.

Will we really be embraced by the community in a deep, dependable and consistent way? Will Galen fit in, will his old friends be loyal, will the new kids see beauty? Will Miss Jewel be the magical mentor and support that Suzanne was in Kindergarten? Is Waldorf really any better than other schools, or did we just get lucky with one teacher?

We are so temporary and adrift, living in a tent for the next month, waiting for house and school and real patterns to start. We are new farmers-at-heart who won’t get to plant this season. As idyllic as the day was, being in the school brought the reality of Tuesdays, of rainy afterschool walks home to a dusky garden needing weeding. To the ever-present work of building and nurturing friendships and community. Why on earth would anything be different in this new strange place?

But the winds brought out the afternoon sun, flapping and warming our happy new orange tent as I napped the woes away. I woke to find our children picking nasturtium flowers for the evening salad, while crickets are chirping and I’m in an open air curvaceous mud-walled shelter writing to people I do believe care and are with me on this journey. A symphony of stars will watch over us tonight as we slide out of a wood-burning sauna with a slew of international volunteers, here at the ecovillage to learn what they need for their own journeys.

Will my own insecurities and doubts magically go away in this new place? Of course not; but we are in an environment that is healthy, connected to nature, in tune with the rhythm of community. After low moments, it is so much easier to recharge and reconnect with what is healthy and true. When doubts come, I will work my land, lean on the community, walk a dirt road, pick blackberries, borrow a cucumber from a neighbour, breathe in the moon’s cycle, pull beets from the root cellar, dance with the wind, chop wood to keep my family warm, go barefoot, howl to the mountains, bake bread, drink deep from the source and feel grounded and connected and Home.

Aug 26, 2008

A Day in the Country

Our new country life opened up to us on Friday; a day that just couldn’t have breathed in “The Big Smoke” (as we islanders affectionately call Vancouver). The morning started with a berry-picking walk along the quiet road our friends live on. The 3 boys rode their bikes – zekiah increasingly confident on two wheels – racing ahead to the next blackberry, huckleberry, wild raspberry, salmonberry or mulberry bush. The one time a car came by we could hear it for months before it arrived – lotsa time to get off our bikes and wave to our neighbour.

The berries were added to homemade yoghurt and granola, which together with a fruit smoothie and scrambled farm-fresh free-range eggs made a happy breakfast crew of our merged families (camping in their basement for a few weeks). The kids ran out to big yard where we feel safe to let them roam, while we four escaped to the whirring 4-computer office downstairs for a quick hectic check-in with the world.

Opting for some nuclear family time, sarah & took our boys out for the day. First stop was to visit Hank, our water inspector who gave us the happy news that the well water at our new house is in great shape. He went into great detail about the condition of each well in the area – all of which he tests and maintains – and we now know more about pressure systems and bladders than we’d ever dreamt.

Then next door to “Granny’s Stoves” to explore the wood-burning options to heat our new space. We hope to quickly transition from $450/month electric baseboard heaters to a wood-burning furnace or stove that will use about 3 cords of wood per year, much of which will be sustainably harvested from our own land or salvaged from nearby roof framing shops.

Back out the winding Wolf Creek Road to Kristina and Hector’s farm to collect the week’s rations of whole milk. While visiting there, the kids of course went straight for the mile-high swing that gives a view of the horses, cows, chickens etc and the clear-cut mountain up the other wide. Katarina was just finishing hooking up her two horses to her antique carriage, then we waved as she trotted off down a grassy lane and into the wooded path that winds through their property. She’s preparing for a national traditional-carriage competition next week.

Next stop was Marty & Heather’s, who together with our hosts are part-owners of this “cow-share” milk scheme. They weren’t home, so we let ourselves in to their unlocked house to put their milk in the fridge and left a note inviting them to dinner tomorrow, while the kids played with the dog they are dog-sitting. We had been here on our first week-end in town for Marty’s 70-person birthday bash complete with the local marimba band, warmly welcomed by many of the neighbours, Waldorf parents and fellow urban refugees we will call friends in the coming years.

Popped by Makaria Farm, where Brock and Heather had ready for us a scanadously fresh basked of organic goodies for our party – strawberries, kale, carrots, eggs, zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes, etc. Just a mile up the road from our new home, they are into the second year of their country transition, and plan to be fully self-supporting with agriculture within 3 years.

In case you haven’t noticed the theme here, it’s first names. It’s connection. It’s people, neighbours, fellow sojourners. Even doing business feels like a neighbour extending a hand. Three weeks into our new life and we’re enveloped in the sweet, sticky web of rural community.

Aug 19, 2008

Canoe trip

aint nothin better in this world you know
than lying in the sun with a radio

or with my family and a dearly beloved other family, canoes pulled up on Rainbow Island, kids out on the canoes while we lay naked on the sand or plunge in for one of the fifteen daily swims in the crystal clear waters of Buttle Lake in Strathcona Provincial Park. Five days of gentle paddling or setting up tarp sails, swimming, shared meals, our Lord of the Flies kids growing to own the island, sunshine, sleep, cliffs, fish jumping everywhere but near our lines

and the most beautiful expression of love and support, our friends making a financial and spiritual and time investment into the community we're building, even if they may never make it their full time home. "We just love you and love what you're doing and want to show our support, to know that you're not alone. This is our toe-hold; we're in, whatever that means and grows to mean." Sarah cried, I breathed a huge sigh of Joyful relief and release of that feeling of vast openness, of a putt with too much green, of having jumped into a huge pre-announced Paradise that we now have to build and honour. We're not alone, and we're not crazy. We're just continuing on a journey, growing from the people and community and learnings we've gathered along the way and deepening commitments. This isn't a new path, just a few more huge steps along one we've been on for a long time, and never alone.

as always, all 3 children shone and gloried in the freedom and time and openness of a camping trip, but Galen in particular was a Joy to watch as he unfolded and blossomed. He swam for the first time, spent as much time as he could paddling - alone or with others - until he could handle a 6-person canoe on his own and take the two younger boys out on his own. Upon returning the rental canoes to the lodge, he convinced the worker to let him try a river kayak, which he quickly gained control over with no instruction. Our sometimes timid little boy gave hints of the older boy and man he can become when given space. All 3 boys showed a growing confidence in themselves and their surroundings, their Rainbow Island, and created their own adventures and worlds independent of us old folks, or drawing us in in creative ways. Is this how life will (sometimes) be on our own land, our boys owning and creating and marking their space and patterns on it?

it felt great to drive past the ferry turnoff on the way home and just keep driving down the island. Perhaps i haven't earned it yet, but i feel more and more like an Islander, like this truly is home and where we belong. Not a bit of me longs to return to "the Big Smog" (vancouver), i just want to be here and in this life. Of course i miss friends and will enjoy seeing them there and here, but the pace and energy and big skies of our new home open up to us like the lake at the mouth of the river, calling us deeper into the journey. Thanks for gunnelling up with us, friends.

Aug 10, 2008

The universe provides

Mary says we have a halo, Steve says we have a horseshoe up our bums. I say the universe provides.

I can't deny that good things seem to happen to us, especially lately. Maybe we do have a horseshoe somewhere up there. But in addition to the good luck that brought the perfect land to us at the right time, I also know other factors underlying or contributing to it:

1. We have faith that things will unfold in a healthy way if we just stay open to it.
2. We take Monty Python's advice to always look on the bright side of life (though not the next line about life - in sticking with the attitude theme, life is better described as a rich life-providing compost pile)
3. We work hard to create, manifest, bring vision to reality. The dream land didn't just pop up on day one of arriving here, but rather at the end of a year-long discernment process to be clear on what we were looking for, intensive research into the market, daily scouring of the internet, networking with friends on the island, and several trips over to check out properties.

Again, I'm not denying nor under-appreciating luck as one factor. We had two communal land deals fall apart in Texas, and have friends who have put just as much effort and faith into land searches or other endeavors that haven't worked out. Sarah and I lost a baby in whom we fully believed. Bad things happen to good people. But good things happen more often - and often looking like luck - when we invest positive energy, faith and focussed hard work in a clear direction.

Case in point (and by way of a life update), we are today into a new phase of homelessness. Homeless homeowners, a fun and frustrating state of mind. Closing date on our house is end of September, and we never did manage to line up a long-term rental before arriving. It was a huge stress - particularly for Sarah - to be packing up in Vancouver without knowing where we'd be unpacking. I was more on the faith side, and luckily (for me) the universe and our network has indeed provided. We've spent the first 10 days housesitting for some Quaker friends in a beautiful mountain-side house, tickling the grand piano overlooking Shawnigan Lake, the ocean, and the whole Cowichan Valley to the North. And now homeless but far from hopeless, we're juggling options of an old friend's basement, a new friend's yurt, another house-sitting gig for a fellow Waldorf family, or tenting for a month in an ecovillage.

The big yurt we were dreaming of living in is, as feared, progressing slowly, so it's just a 10-foot yurt we've been offered in the interim. It is actually a disappointment in a way to have found land so quickly, losing the chance to live for a year in a yurt, on land with a wonderful family, free from renos and responsibility and fully focussed on just living simply as a family in a new way. A gentle entry would have been lovely, but that doesn't seem to be our way - the universe provides, but not always on the schedule we try to impose, nor in the exact way we think it will.

My mother once asked where I had found such faith to live in this optimistic and trusting way. Part of it is a conscious effort, part a confidence from having such a priviledged upbringing - Canadian, educated, etc - but part has to be from traveling. Through a year and a half of back-packing through North America, Latin America and Africa, I always found somewhere to sleep. Some mornings I wouldn't know what country I'd end up in, or if I`d end up on a park bench, or with a few items less in the backpack or with one eye open, but the day would always end and i'd be sleeping somewhere, and tomorrow the sun would always rise (Hemingway, not me).

One rainy dusk in North Dakota on a cross-country solo bike trip in 1991, I was standing exhausted in a grocery line-up buying my pasta, dreading a cold wet tent night in the town centre park, when the man in front of me paid for my groceries. He invited me back to his place for a warm shower, hot meal, and couch to sleep on. OK, he did tell me the lock on the bathroom door was broken and cranked ACDC so loud that I wouldn't have heard the door open during my shower, and did ask for a hug as I set up for sleep, but I had a glorious uninterrupted sleep with just half an eye open, and a big breakfast ready at sunrise to send me back on the road strong and believing in the people of the world, and thankful that I'd taken the chance to believe in him and let him give to me in that way. If he has a blog, he's probably written about the random broken Canadian he helped back onto his bike, and it makes him smile.

I wake up today thankful that the universe, and the Cowichan Valley`s corner thereof, is once again responding to the clear call we've sent forth. New home and temporary homes, wonderful new friends, children loving the adventure and time with us - it's unfolding so miraculously and beautifully. It's different than we'd planned and everything we'd hoped for. I'm thankful to every experience and every person along our path who's taught us to believe and is now helping (tangibly or supportively) to turn that faith into a brave new reality.

Aug 7, 2008

New Home

We are land owners! Dream land owners! OK, in typical real estate talk we're supposed to say we have land under contract and have to do all our due diligence and inspections, and closing's not until end of September (until which we are homeless homeowners, looking for a friend's backyard to pitch our brand new family tent in), but we were up late last night plotting where to put the guest house (barn renovation), sarah's office (downstairs storage shed), hot tub, what fruit trees to plant, where there might be maple trees to make our own syrup, when to plant saspirila (and how to spell it) to make our own rootbeer, arranging a cowshare with a beautiful young new farming couple up the road, opening up another storage shed to be a covered party shed with couches, table, pingpong, firepit... Faerie groves along the paths through the forested slope down to the creek, frisbee in the big grassy open spaces

It's a property that just lends itself to so many visions and playspaces for quirky folks like us. We hope to quickly take in a roommate to add to our community and help pay for improvements, and are ready to find the right family to invest and be full partners. Our dear dear friends Seanna and Laurie and their son Emmet have already pledged money to be
part of the community, likely as a second home (at least until we can convince them to fully leave the evil big city - affectionately known here as The Big Smog). The other family we'd planned to invest with had to back out for now due to financial constraints, but the door is still open for them, and for others, and for the world, for the fantastic neighbours (one of them being a family of two waldorf teachers and 3 waldorf students, one of whom is in Zekiah's kindergarten class)


As usual, we went through an amazing (and quick) discernment process. Viewed the land on Thursday in the midst of the move and knew it was right. Talked it over late at night with our land partners and agreed to move forward. Second viewing Friday, then sat with our agent and submitted an offer of $720,000 for both the main property and an adjoining .2 acre lot. They countered with $750,000 - asking price. In the meantime, we got the sad news from our land partners that we'd have to go it alone for now, so did a huge reassessment of our finances, placed many phone calls and miraculously drummed up $80,000 more downpayment and help with monthly payments from family/friends, meaning we could stretch and make it at full price. We tried to split the difference at 735, which they just rejected, sending a clear message that they believe in the price they set and were not going to negotiate. So, we ummed and awed and ummed some more, should we stretch so much and tap out our family, then suddenly hit a clear patch knowing that we could let go of the adjoining property and easily afford the main land. It means we're giving up control over who's in the other property - ie, the chance to add 2 more families to our community - but the main land can and will accomodate many people - possibly up to four legal full-time families plus various squatters partners woofers and vagabounds. We let go of needing to set the stage for the maximum number of other families we haven't even met, and instead made a healthy decision for our family, securing land that will make us very very happy and be able to manifest our dream of community in myriad ways. We were suddenly so clear that we decided that even if they suddenly accepted our lower offer for both parcels we'd refuse. So we bid full price (595) Sat night, spent all day yesterday waiting in agony until we heard that they'd accepted, then all night giddy and dreaming.

Now two weeks of Due Diligence just to satisfy our agent before lifting the subjects, then an agonizing month of waiting to move in. There's a big (and a small) greenhouse for us to have winter crops, a stone-built cold storage built into a hill for our potatos and onions, the barn, 3 storage sheds, a woodshed, and unfinished half-basement for laundry and play and whatever, the barn has a long low narrow hayloft for kids' play or silent meditation. Two-acre hayfield to generate a bit of income and make us eligible for agricultural tax exemption (plus all the income from selling eggs, milk, veggies, whatever - i dream of an occasional table at the farmers market, though sarah scoffs. Maybe my homegrown zucchini in a chocolate loaf would sell well...)

Oh, the house, forgot to mention the house that sarah fell instantly in love with. 1936, well maintained, simple, 1300 square feet (which was always our exact idea of what would work, though we've lowered that in more recent times), 3 bedroom, gorgeous south-facing living room, and my favourite is the a-bit-too-small dining room overlooking the gardens, hayfield and neighbour's farm. It really won't require us to do anything except put in an efficient wood-burning stove to replace the electric baseboard heaters.


The location needs also to be raved about. 1.6 km (1 mile) walk to the school, also can walk/ride to Bright Angel Park with a suspension bridge over the river, rope swings into said river, walking paths and picnic areas along the river. Just on the edge of a small farming community of maybe 50 small houses clustered along the river by the old flag-stop train station, beautiful old church turned into a B&B, no stores or anything but a strong community in the midst of big rolling farms. We can cycle to Duncan without getting on the highway, can definitely keep our driving to a minimum, rather than being constantly in our car as many people have warned us that rural life would entail.

And the land, that beautiful land. The driveway goes alongside the little parcel of land that we won't be buying, so that might become a house, but then ends at the top of a hill with the garage to the left and house straight ahead, and you have no idea that you've just come off of a road, you're just there, no car noise, no sight of the houses you just passed, just our home, a gentle grassy slope dotted with all the outbuildings and blackberry bushes and flowers, down at the bottom begins the 2 acre hayfield, behind which is the neighbour's bigger hayfield going back up the other side, with his big new house at the top way back. To the right of the house is a huge sloped wooded area with paths curling down around the base of the hill and back up to the driveway, a seasonal creek at the bottom. This path we will use to start the walk/bike ride to school each day. So much space to roam, create, explore. The kids will be free to roam and ramble. They're already entrhalled with the "haunted houses" (old sheds and chicken coops). Galen has already announced his egg-selling business, and is eager to help me kill and skin a rabbit. We found several methods for killing online, including one graphic video, none of which looked all that appealing

A fun part of putting such visioning in writing is knowing that even by the end of September it will have changed again, and even moreso once we're living in Eden and getting to know it all better. But we own land, have a piece of land on which to plant dreams and grow visions. We've longed for this since Texas, since seeing our friends' similar land in Seattle, since deeply knowing that we want to live in community.

On our last, restless night of sleep in our Vancouver house, Sarah woke up with a start, thinking we'd forgotten to pack the welcome sign on the back gate. She then remembered that we'd never got around to making it - a telling sign of how that beautiful, community-filled home was perfect for that step, but still just a step towards this new space and way. It'll be the first thing we do in our new home, carving or creating a happy sign that quotes Balou from Jungle Book - "Come fall apart in our backyard."

We celebrated by watching Bridges of Madison County, and feel like Clint was talking about us when he said "All our lives have been focused on reaching these four days." Or to quote John Lennon, "All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arrive." Or to simply answer our friend's question, "Yes, we are happy."

Jul 21, 2008

Virgin blogger

Why am I afraid to start typing? OK, not afraid, but tentative. Like something monumental has to come out in the first paragraph or this whole "Writer" identity will be a fake or a failure. It's not like I haven't written before, or shared before, or walked naked through throngs of strangers well-suited or muddy-buddied or just plain confused or lost. But this is a start of something new. Something I've promised myself and the members of the world who care to listen for years and journeys through many lands and hearts. A grand (big and sweeping and majestic) sharing of me and what I've learned. What I hope can and will inspire others on their own journeys.

It will, I believe, lead to a book, to talks, to story-tellings, to so many ways to connect with others. But a book is just a collection of words, ideas, snippets, little revolutions all tied together with some form of narrative that will reveal itself over time, so I'll do this in pieces. In entries, in stories, in quotes and links and clever rejoinders, hoping and believing that these disparate splashes of paint will all come together into a portrait with meaning, with hope, and above all, with questions.

It's 9:00 and the boys are asleep, Sarah teaching, and all I want to do is keep writing, so much bursting to come out, and part of me fears to use it all up in the first hour and run dry. Another part of me wants to create a long list of topics and writing ideas so that my promise of posting twice a week won't generate a semi-weekly crisis of "What do I have to say?!" And still I'm stuck with not knowing what the first thing to share is - something current like how it felt making ferry reservations today for our big move - some overall sweeping generalizations about where I'm at in my life and where I came from - more promises and explanations of what this is - or just something poetic and beautiful.

Instead I'll let this just sit, let me go and play some piano and pack a box to make Sarah happy and look forward to seeing what this evolves into, and whom it brings into my life.