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
Forest management, firewood types
Greenhouse – rebuild, maintain, heat
Hunting (deer, rabbits, quail) – how, licensing, processing
Organic rules, certification -
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...