Dec 30, 2009

Climate Denial

Yet again, the major media reported all sorts of extreme weather conditions without even mentioning climate change. Extreme colds, record wet, forest fires, lack of sun - the CBC report laments and wails about the "summer of our discontent" - yet even the CBC doesn't see how this is a manifestation of climate change.

It's here. Climate chaos. Unpredictability. It's not something that's going to happen; it's already happened and will just continue to get worse. My friends in Africa talk about how they used to be able to predict the weather months in advance, now they take huge risks when they plant early or late, betting with longer and longer odds on when/if the rains will come. The effect on us priviledged Canadians is that we have a wetter camping trip - boo hoo. The effect on much of the world, the effect we have caused, is starvation, economic chaos, hardship.

In the wake of "Brokenhagen", the miserably failed talks in Copenhagen in which world "leaders" once again failed to unite on any kind of meaningful commitment to change, an article like this from a generally trustable source like CBC is particularly annoying and irresponsible. Instead of a cute title about the sunless summer, a better title would have been "Canadians drive the sun away in their SUV's."

Dec 26, 2009

Reality check

Frozen cow poo is much more pleasant to pick up than the warm mushed variety.

The day after Christmas, whilst others joyfully join their comrades in electronic store line-ups, Rick remembers that he has animals in his care. An hour later, he has:
- fed 3 cats, 25 chickens and 2 cows
- shoveled 4 buckets of manure out of the cow shed
- broke the ice on the cows' water and added 2 buckets of hot water

Then inside to join Sarah in feeding 2 hungry boys and 1 visiting uncle, then clean the house for a beautiful afternoon open house with friends from different parts of our lives, splendidly mixing like multi-coloured speckles in warm oil.

Christmas is feeding the masses, caring for the animals, and rolling about lavishly in community. Come to think of it, life is pretty much like that.

Christmas magic is alive and well

Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the house
Not a battery was turned on... can't think of a clever rhyme with 'house', but the point is that our children are sitting contentedly by the fire, deeply engaged making origami balloons (Galen) and necklaces (Zekiah), while listening to a home-made CD by their creative uncles and aunts.

They are technically old enough to count, but no questions about who got more, which present was biggest, or why their parents barely got them anything at all. On wrapping night, Sarah and I gathered all the treasures in front of us and wondered if it would work:
Galen - origami paper; hard-cover book of Secret Garden/Little Princess/Little Lord Fauntleroy; yarn to make dishrags
Zekiah - a jar of beads from thrift store necklaces and hemp necklace string; paintbrush
Shared - a $2 wicker treasure chest from the thrift store, filled with thermal socks and a set of 2,000-year-old Chinese terracotta figurines (that Thrift store was amazing!)

At ages 8 and almost 6, they still are wide open to the magic of Christmas. When Santa came to the Young Naturalist Club a few weeks ago, they were a bit perplexed to see him get back in his car to drive away. When we explained that he was just getting back to his sleigh parked out front, they were much relieved, and convinced that they saw the sleigh flying away as we drove home.

They even forsook a final cup of eggnog to be sure there was enough for Santa, and were thrilled to find the next morning the plate of goodies reduced to crumbs, and the eggnog mug emptied with chocolate fingerprints around it. "Santa's a messy eater!"

When the Lewis clan called from Chicago, Uncle Matt pretended to be one of Santa's elves. Putting aside the little knowledge that Uncle Matt does voices, they decided to believe it, and excitedly asked if he knew why Grandma's door was unlocked when they awoke - did Santa come in the door? "That was my cousin Tuk-Tuk who unlocked it" was the satisfying answer.

So as I'm being called for a french toast breakfast, we celebrate the preservation of innocence, of wide-eyed belief, and the thrill of a simple bead-making kit and bamboo puzzle kit. The magic of Christmas has not been buried under a mountain of Taiwanese gadgets. Virginia, Santa is alive and well in the beautiful imaginations of our children.

Dec 19, 2009

Goodnight, Garden

She's gone. My late night lover and early morning snuggler all summer, my slow, drowsy, rich and earthy, fertile and bounteous companion is six feet under.

Under tarps, our garden is, for a well-deserved rest. Free tarps from RONA - one of the best kept secrets in the recycling world is that lumber yards get all their wood in huge bunches wrapped in huge tarps, which then just get thrown away. Just ask, and you've got garden cover, tree-fort roofs, random outside junk cover, firewood protectors...

These tarps will be keeping the weeds down on our hard-won garden, and killing the grass on the next section (more than doubling our garden size and tripling its output next year).

With just a few beets, cabbages and winter greens to continue picking through the winter, here's what we have to live on.

In the freezer:
Fruit: Apple Pulp (6 bags), Black currants (3), Blackberries (24), Blueberries (4 boxes), Cherries (38), Dried blueberries (2), Figs (2), Rhubarb (15), Saskatoon berries (1), Shredded apple (3), Strawberries (19)
Veggies: Corn (79), Green beans (2), Nettles (7), Peas (2), Pickles (8), Pumpkin (2), Red Pepper (1), Summer squash (8), Tomato (2), Zucchini (24), Spot prawns (6)

In our pantry:

Juice: apple (30), plum (19), cherry 10), grape (11)
Jam/jelly: grape (15), cherry (3), plum-cherry (9), "plumple" (plum-apple - 14), apple (8), blackberry (12), strawberry (6), crab-apple (3)
Tomato: stewed (8), pieces (3), puree (5), pasta sauce (12), green tomato chutney (10)
Syrup: Crab-apple (2), maple (2), cherry (4), quince syrup (15)
Misc: Grape butter (4), apple butter (24), apple sauce (28), dried apple (3), dried kale (10), sauerkraut (2), candied apple (2), chutney (8)

In the root cellar:
garlic (108), apples (8 boxes), onions, potatoes

It's gonna be a good winter.

Dec 15, 2009

Bah Humbug - Snow!

Help - I've lost my kids in the snow! 7:10am the neighbour kids came over to announce a snow day and all five kids disappeared into a snowman-snowballfight-sledding-trailmaking arch-sculpting wonderland (after Zekiah's sobbing breakdown over not getting to go to school to work on his finger knitting.)

My reaction - ugh! Not the pure unadulterated (literally) Joy of this time last year when I was out more hours of the day than the boys building the luge course, pulling them on the sled down to the river, playing playing playing. This year, my first reaction was very grown-up and adult-like: I have appointments to get to! I don't have snow tires on the car yet! I don't have childcare! This is not good timing!

Bah humbug, Rick! This snow has gently fallen to remind me that nothing is more important than being fully part of the season with my family. Not my new emerging consulting business, and all the planning and networking that has required. Not the reno projects, not wrapping up the Who Knew, not nothing. Time to stop typing this and listen to my wife's wise blog advice and get out make this a day that our children will look back on as one of their treasured memories.

Dec 13, 2009

God's playthings

Nothing like 8 hours with a jackhammer to bring on new theological revelations. Mine went something like this:
1. God is perfect. Omnipotent. Can do anything he likes.
2. God created a perfect son. One perfect son. His only begotten.
3. He could have created more. He could have created all of us perfect. He didn't.
4. So he must want us to be imperfect. He must like our bumblings and strivings, our misfires and getting-back-ups.

Maybe we amuse him. Maybe we're just divine toys, those favourite dolls with the noses hugged off, divine veleteen rabbits. Too new and shiny and perfect and we'd just be boring.

Or maybe, just maybe, he's inspired by us bumblers. Thrilled as any parent with the first baby babble and toddling steps, scared and excited by our adolescence and growing up and moving on, curious about how we'll turn out, and somehow divinely trusting that we will in fact turn out ok.

Maybe god's just as scared and inspired and accepting and hanging-on-for-dear-afterlife as we all are with our kids. As dusk fell over the land and the jackhammer fell on my gumboot and i cursed his only begotten son with loud religious fervor, that thought was somehow comforting.

Dec 6, 2009

Who Knew?!

Who knew throwing a party for 130 parents could be so much fun? What started out as an excuse to dance together turned into a meaningful, cohesive event, with a much deeper message about the true spirit of social inclusion.

It all started last May at the school auction when, drunk from the excitement of having accidentally bought 2 cows and sobered by the realization that i'd have to tell my vegetarian wife about it in a few days, I got onto the dance floor and discovered that school parents like to dance. Together. Beyond all the lovely little and big events we participate in to support our little ones, we crave the chance to drop our proprieties and role-modelness and just have fun with one other, relate as adults.

So why wait until the next annual auction? The idea of reinventing the Vancouver Waldorf school's wild, fun parents' talent night suddenly made sense. Not only could we grown-ups cut loose and enjoy ourselves twice a year, but I could repeat the story that earned my unsuspecting wife the nickname "Peaches."

But when it became a fundraiser for the school's Social Inclusion initiative, the even suddenly became More. Not only did it give parents that extra incentive to spend their $15 on a ticket; it gave a deeper meaning to everything.
In the name of social inclusion, 10 wonderfully diverse parent acts emerged, and it didn't matter how professional they were: they were part of the show. In the name of social inclusion, 3 donated dinners were auctioned off in which the winners would come to the house of the donor to enjoy a meal and getting to know one another better. In the name of social inclusion, 10 "ordinary housewives" transformed into singing divas and dancing delights, unleashing new sensuality and creativity way beyond the bounds of any school parking lot chatter.

And most significantly, in the true spirit of social inclusion, it stopped being the Rick Show. Volunteers came out of the woodwork to run the bar, make food, design posters, sell tickets, arrange sound and lights. Eric gently let me know that a stage manager is essential to running a show and offered his expertise. Help I didn't even know I needed emerged and we worked together to put on a tight, professional show.

Rather than vainly try to recruit a clean-up crew, I trusted the good will of the community, and as usual they rose to the occasion. As the post-show dance rave finally started to slow, a new dance emerged in which people would drift from the dance floor and boogie out to the kitchen with a handful of wine glasses, then slide back onto the dance floor again. In and out we wove, blowing candles and busting moves, seamlessly and unimposed. We were all of us cleaning, all of us dancing, with no distinction. Socially inclusive clean-up.

I thought the best gift I could give to the school would be an event with no committees; an event that I just magically conjured and ran without tapping the energies of the already over-tapped parent body. Turns out, the best gift was creating a space for the creative energies of other parents to come together and create a fabulous new tradition.

Dec 1, 2009

Death be not proud

73 people died in a ferry accident in the Congo on Saturday, and I just felt a bit sad. When CBC radio started detailing the nearby seaplane crash that killed 6 people this week, I changed the channel. But tonight when I found out that a high school dance partner was on that plane with her baby, I cried.

Without question, Kerry was worth crying over. In high school dances she and I would find each other across a crowded gym whenever katrina and the waves would belt out Walking on Sunshine, dancing in a crazed frenzy like only teenagers can. When I told Sarah, she told me how the whole birthing community is grieving the loss of the highly respected Dr. Kerry Telford she grew up to become.

Why does it take a personal connection to make me feel? What's so much more tragic about the death of a girl I danced with 23 years ago? The thing that stopped me in my tracks when I heard the news wasn't the loss of Kerry, but the stark indifference with which I'd heard the news of 6 Canadians or 73 Congolese deaths.

Am I that old and calloused? Have I just seen and lived around so much suffering and despair that I've become indifferent as a defense mechanism? Or perhaps I'm truly that highly evolved that I embrace death as a natural part of the life cycle? It's relatively easy to rationalize the death of someone else, especially an unknown someone else, but several deaths in my family a few years ago erased any illusions of being philosophically or spiritually beyond grieving.

When I was young and open and beautiful, I let myself feel every man's death diminishing me, just to be part of all mankind. But the world's a much bigger and badder place than John Donne's - would he have heard the bell tolling for every one of the 45,000 Congolese who are killed every month in their ongoing civil war?

What disturbs me most is the harsh pragmatism I exercise when changing the radio station. It doesn't serve me to cry over every death, I tell myself, so why should I listen? For that matter, it's not even physically or emotionally possible to cry over every death, or there'd never be any time for smiling. It simply doesn't make sense to invest energy in learning about or grieving about every death or tragedy.

So we pick and choose. We - with our trusty media's expert help - focus in on the tragedies that are most poignant, closest to home, somehow deserve to matter more. I save my tears for people I know, or once knew, or could have known. I feel the ferry accident more vividly only because I have travelled on that ferry many times, have been part of the overcrowding and lack of safety equipment through terrifying night storms. It's something I've lived and kept inside me, so it makes sense to care.

But what have I lost in being sensible? I fear the reality is a loss of connection to humanity, indeed a loss of humanity and perhaps humility. Is it only when a tragedy touches me that I can remember I'm part of this greater sadness as well as the greater good?

Kerry, none of this touches you now, but your death has reached me and the thousands of people who were graced by you. Whatever reflection you may have sparked in me, you are both part of us and released from us. And, I smile to believe, walking on sunshine.

Nov 30, 2009

Reach out and touch someone

It's so easy, isn't it, to touch someone? Despite the dark moments I last wrote about - dark moments that evidently many of us share, based on the beautiful comments - despite all the barriers and insecurities and cultural rules and fears, despite all that people crap that gets in the way people connecting, it really is easy.

A woman that I will now call friend stopped me at the school Christmas fair just to say that she reads my blog.

Zekiah's teacher stopped to say how much she's missed me at school the past two weeks that I've been off child duty. (Zekiah says the kids miss me too.)

One friend leaves her hand on my back an extra few seconds after a morning hug. If I were a woman, I'd do that more. Linger.

Yes, linger. People taking just a little extra time to be part of me. Stepping out of their way, taking a risk, or just plain noticing. Allowing intimacy, however brief, but real and personal. I sure hope I do that for my friends, and friends-to-be - make them feel as noticed and appreciated and warmed as the simple eye-to-eye smile of "I read your blog."

Nov 26, 2009

Measuring Friends

On bad days I count friends. On really bad days I compare and covet.

On a bad night like last night I lay awake and wonder why no-one invites me over. I mentally flip back through the last 6 months of the dayplanner and can find just one single invitation - for a river walk. Family dinner invitations: zero. Let's grab a quick coffee after school drop off: nada. Let's go for a beer, exercise, camping, yoga, movie, reno project, dance class, birthday celebration... not a one.

Then I really rub it in by comparing - a lifelong ego-crushing bad habit. After morning drop-off in the school parking lot I see other parents going off together to the coffee shop or for a power walk. I hear of other families involved in monthly gatherings and circles and traditions and annual camping trips, or even just a simple Friday night dinner. I watch my wife go out on intimate dates and fun gatherings with her girlfriends. The more beautiful the connection I witness, the louder I hear my phone not ringing, and the more alone and unwanted I feel .

It isn't for lack of trying. It's not a case of never reaching out then wondering why no-one reaches toward me. I do regularly invite friends out, set up group hikes, host dinner parties, arrange playdates. These initiatives are well-received and result in lovely, meaningful social interactions; they just aren't reciprocated.

On the worst days I look for the fault in myself that drives people away. Am I just too loud and overbearing? Do my public ponderings and strivings set up a holier-than-thou syndrome - either a misperception that I think I'm on higher ground than others, or a truly out-of-whack misperception that I actually am? Does my general merriment and confidence make me look overpopular and unavailable - the classic case of a beautiful woman who never gets asked out on a date? Do I try too hard and drive people away - the other classic case of a boy so eager for a girlfriend that he comes across as desperate and therefore unattractive. Does my living outside the norms make me a great freak show rather than an interesting friend? Am I friendly with so many people that no-one takes it personally? Am I so happy and loud and exuberant that no-one could trust me to be quiet and sensitive and soul-connected?

After this spiral of negative theories my left brain tries to come to the rescue, generating excuses and rationalizations. People are genuinely busy. Friendship networks existed years before we arrived. The gender barrier is real and impersonal. Guys don't reach out to other guys. And the biggest one - it's dangerously easy to overestimate the number of friends and social engagements that other people have.

My left brain does believe each and every one of these concepts. And most of me doesn't really believe the personal-fault theories. But beliefs don't always help feelings.

I could make this easier to read by ending with all the good connections I feel, the web of love that envelops me. Sarah will read this then somewhat berate me for dwelling on the negative when there are so many positives to hold onto. That positivity is real, and what I genuinely live in almost all the time. I'll write about that another day, probably soon.

But that's not what I want to share today. Today's writing is about last night's darkness. It's about a real shadow that most people may not guess is inside. It's sharing a base sadness and emptiness I feel on the bad nights when I count and compare.

Nov 24, 2009

And the real Canadian Food winner is...

It turns out we do have signature Canadian dishes. For those of you who didn't see all the responses on my Facebook page, it appears that we Canadians are blessed with:
- Poutine and tourtiere from Quebec, fiddleheads from the maritimes, prarie oysters, saskatoonberry pie from the prairies, and from out here, Nanaimo bars, salmonberries and of course the PNE mini donuts!
- I vote for salmon
- Butter tarts & Nanaimo bars
- Perogies . . . .and you have to ask Frank for his hot-dog pemmican recipe.
ohhhhh nanaimo bars........i change my vote

We seemed to be reaching some consensus, then controversy erupted. Nothing like trying to figure out what Canada means to get Canadians excited
- salmon can be claimed by the tazmanians, kiwis, scots norwegians and the americans and as much as i've enjoyed perogies in canada, the poles and ukranians have us beat. i'm sticking with poutine but i'm interested in this "hot dog pemmican" you speak of.
-hmmmm so u got me to snooping on the web - tourtiere and poutine seem to be most common response.

So we'll crown two winners. Coming in at #2 is Poutine, a dish consisting of French fries topped with fresh cheese curd, covered with brown gravy. But not just any fries, or any curd, or any gravy! One online afficionado describes it thus:

Poutine is Acadian slang for mushy mess and is best described as a heart attack in a bowl.

The French Fries - The potatos must be hand-cut and very fresh. Fast-food-type fries will not taste quite as good. Also, you must fry the potatoes in pure lard. Vegetable oil and other politically-correct oils spoil the unique taste.

The Gravy - French-Canadian gravy is very different than American gravy. First of all, it is very dark and thick, like molasses. Secondly, it has a very flavourful taste which cannot be described...very much like pepper and vinegar and other 'magical' ingredients. If you can stand a spoon straight up in it, it's good! Make sure it's very, very hot!

The Cheese - The cheese is the most important part of good poutine. You must use FRESH white, cheddar cheese CURDS. These curds have a taste and texture very different than actual cheddar cheese. The cheese curds will actually squeak in your teeth as you bite them. While curds are available in most Canadian supermarkets, they are not found in many American markets (the closest thing in taste is Mozzarella String Cheese - but don't use this stuff!).

When the curds are placed on the fries and the hot gravy is poured on top, the three flavors combine to produce what can only be described as the BEST junk food taste sensation on earth.

What better dessert to follow that feast than the #1 Canadian dish of all time - my Aunt Sall's Nanaimo Bars. Invented just up island from us in Nanaimo, this was the highlight of Christmas - and only Christmas, baked only by Aunt Sall - that has now been co-opted by Costco and is a must-eat on the BC Ferries, though of course it aint nowhwere as good as Aunt Sall's, and somehow still feels Wrong to have at any time but Christmas. Here's the online description and recipe:

According to local legend about 35 years ago, a Nanaimo housewife entered her recipe for chocolate squares in a magazine contest. In a burst of civic pride, she chose to dub the entry not "Daphne's Delights" or "Mary's Munchies", but "Nanaimo Bars". The entry won a prize, thereby promoting the town as much as her cooking. Some American tourists claim sovereignty over the dessert, referred to as "New York Slice" which is sold in many other places in the world. Nanaimo residents refuse to accept this theory, however, believing that once you set foot on Vancouver Island, there are no other places in the world. The official Nanaimo Bar recipe was available as a handout as well as on quality tea towel and apron souvenirs.

In 1986, Nanaimo Mayor Graeme Roberts, in conjunction with Harbour Park Mall, initiated a contest to find the ultimate Nanaimo Bar Recipe. During the four-week long contest, almost 100 different variations of the famous confection were submitted. The winner: Joyce Hardcastle.
Nanaimo Bar Recipe

Bottom Layer
½ cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten
1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
½ c. finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan.

Second Layer
½ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

Third Layer
4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter overlow heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.

Nov 21, 2009

Canadian food, eh?

What is "Canadian" food? Might as well ask what's Canadian identity, for that matter. We're generally described as "nice", so I suppose our national food should be rather bland and unoffensive.
"My son's class is doing a world food day and has to prepare a Canadian dish to share with the class. Any favorite, popular dishes that showcase Canada? Perhaps something you eat after a rowdy game of curling."

Jeepers, this is always a hard question. We're a mutt nation (unless you want to do First Nations food, which also tends to get watered down to salmon burgers and beaver tales at most events), so we've just adopted all the foods that our families and other immigrant populations brought across the oceans. I guess buffalo burgers are what they do at the World's Fair, but i've eaten about 4 in my life (mostly at World's Fairs). Beer. Beer and back bacon (whatever that is), if you're a Bob and Doug fan. Maple syrup. Wheat. Hotdogs and pizza with Molson Canadian would be the apres-curling feast.

On a bad day, I'd lament that we're a sadly identity-weak nation, defined mostly by being NOT american and being good at hockey (and curling). Or on a good day, we're just so gosh darn blessedly culturally-diverse that we can't be pinned down to one dish.

So to answer the question, why doesn't your son's class just go around and politely steal a small dish from every other nation's table and put onto their Canadian "cultural mosaic" menu.

All this Great North pondering has made hungry, and Sarah's indulging the boys' afternoon request for popcorn at the fireside - hey, isn't that a local (First Nations) invention?

Nov 17, 2009

Beyond growth

At the recent G20 meeting, there was a "very broad consensus that growth remains the dominant policy imperative across our economies," according to US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Damn!

When will we, and our leaders, learn that an economy that depends on never-ending growth is doomed to failure (as is the environment and the people depending on it.) There is enough to go around, but not enough to keep extracting more and more and more. Check out this audio blog by Chris Martenson that makes the fallacy so clear.

We don't need a trillion-dollar band-aid to sustain the old failing methods. We need a new system based on sustainability, on living in right relationship with the earth and each other. An economic system where we address the needs of everyone, not the wants of the privileged few. A system that leaves a future for our children.

I don't know what that system really looks like, in spite of having read the most amazing edition of "YES!" magazine dedicated to the new economy. I just do know that our political leaders, including Obama, are not leading us in the brave new direction that so many of us crave and all of us depend upon. We need to show them through our activism and our personal example and our voting that sustainable change is the only reality we'll accept.

Nov 11, 2009

Zero-mile Bread


We weeded the plot, planted the grain, weeded some more, harvested the grain, threshed it (beat it in a pillow case), winnowed it, milled it, and baked it. Bread just don't get no more local or delicious or rewarding as this loaf.

To ask about the price compared to a Saskatchewan bag of flour entirely misses the point. We can grow grain here, right here on our land. We can be part of the production of our most basic food stuffs - wheat, quinoa, oats, amaranth, emmer... It doesn't have to come loaded with carbon karma from far away, doesn't have to be the child of a world-damaging small-farm-destroying mono-crop Big Ag, doesn't have to be processed in a protein-destroying high-heat factory, doesn't have to be a watered-down version of the once-nutrient-packed grains our grandparents grew and grew up on.

Anyone who's ever eaten something they've grown and processed and cooked themselves knows that nothing compares. The only revelation here is that bread and oats and grains don't have to be any different. We've been brainwashed to believe that only the prairies can produce grains. Thanks to Brock and Heather's brave experiment at Makaria Farms, we are among 50 families on Vancouver Island who now know differently.

Nov 9, 2009

House Reno's: Priorities and Passions

A little over a year ago we found the ideal property - 5 acres with multiple out-buildings, a 1936 house that once served as a library, forest, pasture... Room to grow all our foods, our children, our dreams.

Then we moved into the reality of a large rural property with old buildings. Scantily clad with a fix-up budget from our mortgage that already looked too small, we made a bit of a priority list then just started to address whatever came up as highest priority. Looking back at the list now, there is a logical order that perhaps tells a lot about our process and state of mind.

In the first fall months, we did HEAT. Our cold old house with inefficient electric baseboard heaters was quickly graced with a heat pump, energy-efficient furnace to move that heat around, and a high-efficcy fireplace insert. We built storm windows for all the kitchen and north-facing single-pane windows. And just for fun, we kid-proofed the hayloft above the barn to be a playspace.

Now with a comfortably warm house, I made the rational choice to spend the winter outside. The priority now was COMMUNITY and REVENUE, turning the garage into a rental suite that brought two and a half wonderful people into our lives to share the land. Along the way we also ran electricity out to my workshop, and to one of the chicken coops for future chick-raising.

Spring sprung and called our attention to the GARDEN. We built a huge deer fence and spent all our energies cultivating the first-quarter of that ambitious plot. Over the summer we added irrigation, a cow fence and shed, a chicken fence, fixed up the greenhouse, and cut down trees to let more sunlight kiss the fruit trees.

Other OUTDOOR needs we addressed were a new septic field, gray-water laundry field, and the county's highest laundry line.
Just for fun we built an outdoor shower and hot-tub pad in the garden, and a playground area with old truck tires, tightrope and hammock.

Whew! To celebrate a year of hard hard work and $50,000 wisely invested, we smiled with this list for a minute, then of course made the next lists. The list of things we still GOTTA do perhaps is the most telling - the unglamourous tasks that didn't bubble up to the top of the list but are still pressing: sealing and insulating the crawlspace, replacing old roof screws, rebuilding the chimney, weatherstripping, the rest of the storm windows, new tiles for the shower (we haven't been able to have full showers since April), woodrot under the kitchen window, the front door's glass pane that an angry Zekiah broke in June.

The WANNA list is more fun, but thanks to the discipline we hope to have and the money we don't have, will have to wait until after then "gotta" list. It includes: basement office for Sarah, new plastic for the old greenhouse, a new greenhouse, more playground equipment, new grass over the septic field and front lawn, solar hot water to the outdoor shower, paint the living room, a basement bedroom and bathroom for lodgers, finally setting up my workshop, cubbies for the mudroom mayhem, new water tank for the pumphouse, fix up the barn for better usage.

I still cheerfully operate under the illusion that the above list is complete; that once we get through it there'll just be little maintenance tasks for the next 20 years. The reality, as any homeowner knows, is that there's always a new project peeking around the corner, tempting us away from the tranquil Joy of just living on the land. I need to remember that Mr. Home Improvements is just one of the hats I try to wear around here, and ultimately less important than Farmer Rick, Writer, and of course Mr. Mom. The challenge is to enjoy the projects that truly lead to increased quality of life, and to let go (or procrastinate) those that are just cluttering up the view and keeping us from the other priorities in our lives.

Nov 6, 2009

Manly hugs

"Stop it!", she cried. "Don't hug me like that. I don't want to cry. I need a strong, manly hug."

This was a (loving) complaint of a dear friend at getting a beautiful compassionate embrace from my beautiful compassionate wife. We do give different types of hugs, and can be known and appreciated for them.

This morning, our first of 4 childless mornings (thank you Grandma!!!), Sarah and I lallygagged in bed till 9am as she shared this quote, and we ended up cataloging the types of hugs our fellow Waldorf parents give. We are in a school community where we know people by their hugs - what a great measure of connection and depth.

I first embraced hugging during a summer volunteer stint at a farm in Arkansas, when 60-year-old Harley introduced himself as giving "the best hugs on the farm." It was true; he made us feel warm and safe and loved. Later, after I'd closely bonded with my fellow volunteers then had to leave for 3 weeks, I returned to find myself on the outside of the group, and wrote in a poem that "hugs have arched backs."

And years later in a new poem I summoned this image of the second hug, the emotion so deep that one hug just isn't enough.

I remember Kirsten
She brightened up one of my mornings
flopping down in baggy overalls
and eyes of dewdrop freshness
She taught me the word Purple
with a mouth big as bubbles
deep and rich as a second hug
I stood behind and near
and breathed deep through closed eyes
trembling

I remember Kirsten in shivers
when the phone rings
and I fall to pieces
just hoping it's for me

Nov 3, 2009

Hot, spicy intimacy

Spent a whole day Doing Stuff, checking off the Things-to-Do list, cleaning the office, answering emails, etc etc. To be honest, I can't really remember what filled my day. Looking back on it, the only thing that felt real was planting garlic with my boys.

I've taken to leaving the splitter at the top of the driveway, so that every day I can leave the computer and the kitchen to go outside and work up a sweat, do something tangible. Each piece of wood crashing to the ground affirms me, the reality of this existence. I don't go to the office to have money deposited in my account that then gets transferred to the electric or gas company to heat my house. I chop wood to heat my house.

By the time it makes it to the fire, that piece of wood has been in my hands over 8 times. I chopped down the tree, then "bucked it up" (removed branches, chainsawed into lengths), then used my fancy new splitting wedge to split the huge round in 2, then the splitting ax into pieces, then thrown it in the wheelbarrow, then unloaded into the woodshed to dry for a few months, then carried in an armful up to the fireside box, then finally selected it to place in the fire.

I'm not in any way putting down the work I did with ACCES - the results of that work for our partners in Africa was real and important, and the salary did mean security for my family. It's just that these days I've learned to appreciate a personal connection, an intimacy, with the things I used to only touch with my credit card. Things that matter at the most basic level to my family and, at a grander level, to the world we're a part of. Real things like garlic and heat.

Nov 2, 2009

Simple Magic

My children are naive, sheltered simpletons who spook easily and believe lavishly. Video games perplex them, videos overwhelm them. Isn't that awesome?

So many children these days become numbed early on by the overwhelming onslaught of media. TV shows with rapid-fire images. Pictures and movies with over-the-top special effects. Superheroes who do much more than leap over tall buildings in a single bound. It's exciting, it turns them on and cranks them up and makes them want more more more.

What I also observe is that it dulls them to the everyday wonders of our natural world. It's not enough to wear a Mom-made bat costume - it's gotta be a store-bought replica of a comic strip hero. A pure folky song is boring compared to a cranked-up Hannah Montana driving-drum-beat pop hit. That bow&arrow that the kids made from an old rusty plow under the barn doesn't shoot as far as the SuperStore plastic model.

There was a Youtube video making the rounds recently of a 5-year-old redheaded boy dancing to some modern song, slapping his behind and doing all the dance moves just like the real video. People thought it hilarious and cute; I thought it sad. I just wanted to see what his own moves might be, not what he'd learned from too much MTV-watching.

Our boys dance like geeks. Not like any professional performer on TV. But it's their dance.

So here in our simple country life, and sacred Waldorf community, we are sheltering our kids from as much of the mainstream world as possible. True, they are missing the childhood experience of most of the peers they will room with in college, and already have learned to pretend to know what other kids are talking about when venturing out into the greater community. They are not "normal" and may sometime lament or resent us for it.

But look at what they're not missing! The surprise of a purple flower beside the road in November made Galen skid to a stop on the way to school this morning. The gifts of a piece of wood, a rock, a homemade bun and some "spider web" yarn from various fairy-tale actors at the school's Pumpkin Path enchanted both boys and erased any desire for a pillow-case full of trick-or-treat mini Snickers bars (their desire, at least...)

Our boys delight in simple, natural, home-spun pleasures. Their time for i-pods and facebook and Hollywood will come. But not yet. Not yet to let others program their imaginations for them. Not yet to have their playtime sound like a TV rerun. Not yet to let clever advertising executives into their trusting heads. I'm going to preserve their innocence for as long as we can - it's the only childhood they'll have.

Oct 28, 2009

Parenting: A Study of Frustration

The parenting study group, like parenting itself, was frustrating. We listened to an excellent Kim John Payne CD about how the parenting technique many of us use - behavior modification - is wrong. Every time we say "Good job", with the best affirming and confidence-building intentions, we are actually moving our child away from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation.

So now we've heard about the problem, but what about the solution. The CD was turned off just as Payne was about to outline a different model. Ugh! I want to know the "Right Way", and I want it now!

But frustration - or more generally, identifying the problem - is the first step, and that's all we were trying to do. We now have 3 weeks to watch our parenting patterns, see what works and what doesn't, recognize our own triggers, revisit ourselves and our children through a new lens. By the time we come together to hear Kim John Payne's ideas, we'll be listening with a keener ear and open heart, and with thousands of little insights arising out of the frustration. We'll probably have stumbled across some new ideas to share even before the "expert" CD clicks on.

Frustration aside, it was a lovely gathering, with two powerful moments for me. The first was reflecting on how Ruth so effectively manages the KG classroom with expectation rather than questioning language ("We'll be cleaning the table now"), but when some parents use the same phrasing it still comes out as a question and is shrugged off the same way by the children. The difference is in the confidence and genuine expectation of the adult, regardless of the words used. When we are strong in ourselves, not bluffing or hoping or pleading, the children listen and respond (more often, at least).

"If you ask for their compliance now, you'll be pleading for it later." - Kim John Payne


A minute after this lightbulb went off for me, one mother shared her beautiful story that affirmed the whole lesson.

"Yesterday we had a wonderful morning, got out to the car on time with no complaints. Then the dog was too tired from the weekend hiking to get in the car, and my daughter had a meltdown. She wasn't going to school, wasn't getting in the car, she hated me. I told her we were going now and started the car. She got in, but still hated me and wasn't going to get out at the parking lot.

When we arrived I got out and calmly said that I was going to the classroom. She stayed until I was about to turn the corner of the building, then ran to catch up. But she wasn't going to go into the classroom. I said goodbye at the line-up, then turned and walked back toward the car. I had a friend walk with me and look back for me, to see that she was greeting the teacher and heading inside.

At the end of the day she told me she'd had an awful day. But not because of being forced to go to school. Because she didn't get her hug and kiss goodbye. I'd set a strong boundary and she was thankful for it."

Oct 25, 2009

Farmer's math doesn't add up

Celebrated a sweet Sunday with bushels of garlic. The hundreds of heads hanging from the rafters of the workshop came into the kitchen demanding liberation, so we triaged in the most socially inequitable of ways.

First, the biggest, most beautiful bulbs were savagely dismembered and put into a bowl for planting tomorrow. 800 cloves will return to the soil, enough for household use for us and Joe & Nathalie, enough to replant the following year, and hopefully 500 more for sale. A beautiful seed-saving tradition begins.

Then the almost-as-big-and-beautiful bulbs were de-bearded (the roots that hang down and collect moisture, leading to rot), cleaned up a bit, and tied together in bundles for sale. Anyone wanting one of the last 8 bunches ($20/dozen) you better let us know soon.

Then all the misfits, the lost, the starting-to-rot, the teensy-weensy, those are what we get. 108 unsightly yet tasty bulbs to last us and our land partners till next summer. Of course they'll taste great, and be a great source of satisfaction all the long winter to pull another of our own garlics off the rafters, but where's the justice? Now I understand a bit how Costa Rican coffee farmers feel.

Still, amidst the unjust distribution it was a lovely family activity, a bit of economic yield, and yet another step deeper into this farmer identity.

Oct 22, 2009

A Parent's Dream Vacation

It wasn't a full-out lie, just a half-truth. In my blog posting about how much I missed my children during a trip, I neglected the other truth that it felt really good to be away, free, alone.

For a whole week I only had to dress one person. Chose food I felt like eating, when I was hungry. Walked as fast or slow as I felt, stopped at whatever store I felt like, swam uninterrupted laps in the hotel pool. Spent long long days in board meetings talking about societal change and adult stuff without checking the clock for school pick-up time. The first morning I finally threw some whatever clothes on at 1:00 and wandered through Byward Market for half an hour to select the bistro that perfectly suited just my culinary whims of the moment.

Contrast that to a seven-minute space the first morning back home, in which I helped the boys and myself clear the table, wash hands, brush teeth and hair, then find/select-among-options/explain/pack/put-on socks ("They're not matching!"), gloves ("Are they waterproof"), muddy-buddies ("I don't like this kind anymore, i want the ones with no shoulder straps"), jackets ("Will it be warm today?"), hats, helmets, boots, backpacks, snacks, spare socks, bikes (BMX or mountain bike?), pump up bike tires ("Why are skinny tires faster than wide tires?"), and get to the top of the driveway. Each step required an explanation, a negotiation, a frustration, and a focus of energy on what each child was needing.

Life is in the details, and loving our children is no exception. I come home refreshed and ready to embrace my family in all their taxing beauty. But for a whole week away I found the true meaning of the word "vacation." It wasn't a tropical beach or historic tour; it was just a time vacant of taking care of others. A time to stroll along the Rideau Canal singing along with Joni Mitchell, "I was a free man in Paris, I felt unfettered and alive. Nobody calling me up for favours, nobody's future to decide."

Oct 19, 2009

Long Distance Love

Every time I call, a little voice reminds me how many days are left. “Have a good 6 days” said the voice message in my hotel on the first night. And a joyful “Only one more sleep” greeted me this morning.

I miss them so much. The squeaky change in a voice about to ask or complain. The resolute blinking back of an emotion too strong for the moment. The quick smile of recognition at a clever tease or subtle compliment. The equally bold confidence in “Can I help” or “Can you help me?”

I miss the touch. The feel of hair ruffled through fingers, the casual lean of a long lanky body against a long lanky papa’s thigh. Fingers interwoven and pulled across the chest at snuggle time. Hot breath on my cheek, wet kisses on the nose, excited squeeze of the hand when a bird is spotted.

Mostly I miss the now. There’s still a purity in how they relate their day on the phone, but not the immediate universe explosion that is every new discovery of a 5 or 7 year-old. I want live-streaming, not the highlight reel. I want the highs and lows, but also the in-betweens, the nothings, the quiet dead spaces where so much happens under the surface.

The realness of their being and growth, and the depth our relationship (with my wife as well as my children), is in these still times. The times that are most unreachable over the long distance of a phone call. I do appreciate the miracle of cheap calls and free emails that let us stay connected while apart, but can’t wait until we can say it with a hug and twinkle at the airport tomorrow.

I need something to believe in
Breathe in sanctuary in the easy silence that you bring to me
It’s OK when there’s nothing more to say to me
And the peaceful quiet you create for me
And the way you keep the world at bay for me
- Dixie Chicks, Easy Silence

Oct 15, 2009

Step aside, John Candy

Planes trains and automobiles? Bah! Yesterday I did bicycle-car-bus-ferry-bus-walk-car-train-run-plane-walk-plane-shuttle (with the train going below, on and above ground). It got me:
  • to school with the boys
  • home to host Zekiah's kindergarten class as they helped harvest the pumpkins they planted last year (and ate roasted potatoes from a bonfire, and a lovely potluck lunch with most of the parents afterwards, which I had to leave early to go...
  • over to Vancouver for an Oxfam Canada regional steering committee (where the locally involved volunteers give input for me to carry to the national board meeting), then
  • overnight to Ottawa for that board meeting
I should be ranting about carbon footprint. I was complicit in our unspoken jetsetting agenda to destroy our children's world, and ironically doing so en route to an Oxfam meeting to discuss how consumption- and pollution-induced climate change is multiplying the food insecurity and hardships experienced by women and children around the world. But I just did what we all do - probably the crux of the whole problem - shrugged and said that it was necessary, then hit the touch screen for some Californication before shutting my eyes to the light and the world.

I am truly thankful that such an efficient web of transport modes is in place for us to get around these days. It let us be with Sarah's family for Uncle Ben's wedding, let me do truly impactful work in Africa, let us explore the wild west coast of Tofino with Texas friends, and expands our world in beautiful connective ways. But we can't just keep closing our eyes to the reality that every single trip we make - to Mexico or to the grocery - negatively impacts our health, our environment, and our children's future.

I feel it every time I jump in the car. I feel it when we plan vacations or even a summer swimming outing - will we really enjoy the water 10 miles away that much more than the river we walk to down the hill? Would our wedding anniversary get-away be that much more romantic in Belize than on nearby Mayne Island?

Hopefully we can move about with this awareness in a way that is constructive, not guilt-ridden and paralyzing: carefully weighing our choices then accepting the consequence. This board meeting, I believe, is important enough for the dozen of us to all fly here for it - the good sustainable work that Oxfam does will far outweigh our carbon blast. The swimming sometimes is a better learning or family bonding or relaxing experience at a newly-discovered hike-in swimming hole.

OK, so this posting did end up being about carbon footprint and travel, but I hope it's not a rant, but a call to consciousness (and true conscientiousness). We live in a mobile world, and should be able to enjoy that without visions of drought-parched Fulani women every minute. But Sarah, my darling wife of 10 years who deserves to be celebrated and schmoozed and smooched, that mud-walled B&B with a wood-burning stove will just have to keep our fires burning - the Belize Beach is just too far away, too high a price for our children to pay for our pleasure.

Oct 10, 2009

It's All About Not Me

A few weeks back i posted a blatant brag about how much work I got done on a Sunday. I don't apologize for the brag - we should all do it more, quite frankly, more often than just job interviews and speed dating. But there is more to the story.

Re-reading the entry, what's striking is how all the work was in care of others. I spent the day working hard to care for the chickens, the cows, the renters, and my cold-footed wife and children. This is quite typical of this new life, a never-ending medley of caring for others.

Or maybe it's the medley of a man's life. Before this, I would spend up to 70 hours a week at the ACCES office to provide education for children in Africa, and to earn the paycheque for our family. Then come home to put the kids to bed, and hopefully do something nice for my wife. Twice-a-month yoga and once-a-week hockey were the only regular ME time.

Or maybe it's the medley of an adult's life. Fulfilling responsibilities, shedding some just to take on more. My wife runs Mama Renew, an entire business devoted to supporting women's journeys back to themselves, to finding balance and a bit of room for the woman inside them who isn't mother and worker and cleaner and something for everyone else. Probably the only surprise to the women in her groups is that many (most?) men feel the same way.

But this wasn't meant to be a lament. The truth is that I love it, and that I'm just as nurtured and nourished as those I'm serving. The Sept.27 brag was really a celebration. What I meant to say was that I spent the whole day working on tasks that meaningfully helped the many other beings and land to whom I have a responsibility, but also brought me deep Joy. I loved cutting that wood, building that roof, caring for those animals. It made me genuinely happy, spoke to my soul in a way that a men's retreat or night at the pool hall doesn't.
The place God calls us to be is where the world's deep hunger and our deep happiness meet.
I am at my best, in my right place, when I am using my powers and energy and passion to the benefit of others. It's not ego, and it's not duty, it's just the way my soul is aligned. My happiest times have been at a Guatemalan orphanage, an African village, helping ACCES to grow, and now helping our chickens and chick peas to grow. The manifestation of the world's deep hunger changes over time, but the deep happiness is always there.

Oct 7, 2009

Social Inclusion? Let the Kids Teach Us

There's lots of buzz at our school about social inclusion. Making sure all kids feel safe and included, free from bullying and part of the magic.

Yesterday after school I was reminded that we often forget or underestimate the goodness and wisdom of children. The kids know social inclusion. They know how to be good to each other, probably better than we grown-ups do. Maybe we just have to help them remember sometimes.

What happened was that Galen, fuelled by a courage that just exceeded his anxiety, pedaled his BMX up to where some kids were doing bike jumps. The group ranged from grade 1-7, with a few grade 7's who were running the show. That my grade 2 boy could approach this pack of older kids is already a testimony to the basic level of safety he feels at the school, as well as to his own immense courage. How many times do we parents shy away from joining into a conversation in the parking lot?

The way Galen was received was magical. No-one made a big deal, a special welcome as we adults would have done. They just incorporated him into the play, let him have his turn, and genuinely praised his good jumps and gently laughed at the bad ones. "Niiiiiiice, dude!" was ringing in his ears and beaming out of his suppressed smile after the first jump. He was in.

Charlie, the grade 7 ringleader, organized a competition. There were beginner, intermediate and expert jumps so that everyone could be part of it, and the adjudication of who made the best jump was done much better by the panel of kids than by any Olympic judges. As the sideline parent I was probably the only one who really cared if Galen won - the "comp" was all in fun and everyone enjoyed it.

I called Charlie over afterwards to tell him how cool he is, how I really respected the way he made sure everyone was part of the fun. If that's the way our school is shaping our kids, then I feel safe and confident with our boys in this system.

Do we need to address social inclusion in our school? Absolutely. Let's just remember that the children may be our best teachers for how to make it work. And let's remember the lesson that Charlie and those kids taught me: to start from a base of appreciation and respect. We're not trying to curb the base natures of our beastly children; we're trying to nurture and celebrate the innate goodness that our children - all children - are born with.

When the goodness of children becomes the pervading culture of our school and our society, we'll have finally learned our lesson.

Oct 3, 2009

The Bitter Taste of Julia's French Cooking

It's actually a good book, this Julie&Julia. Original concept, alternately mouthwatering or bilious, outrageous characters, and sharply written. I've laughed out loud more often than any book since Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" chapter about turkey breeding. But it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

It's because negativity is just such the easy cop-out humour. "The world sucks - isn't that funny?" "Gee I'm so fat, my boss is a leech, we haven't had sex since the last lamb kidney souffle...". Why do we thrive on Woody Allen self-denigration and Jerry Seinfeld put-downs? Why do we still allow the genre of "If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits" to permeate our cultural mindset?

I've written elsewhere about not watching horror and violence movies because they make us start seeing the world in that scary way, and I feel the same way about negative humour. After half an hour of the TV stand-up comedy during my hospital stay, I started to believe that mothers-in-law really do install webcams in our bathrooms to see if we clean the toilet bowl, and that all of us men are insufferably underserved and pinned down by our fat wives. It did make me laugh, but I just don't need that cheap high when I could find some equally funny situational or relational humour in my Mary Tyler Moore Collection (yes, I own the first 3 seasons). In grad school, no matter how bad the day had been I would watch Mary reruns at 1:30 and 2am and go to bed truly believing that love is all around.

The last straw with Julie came at recipe 465. She had just spent pages weaving a beautiful rich tapestry about the building of community in a disaster, and about how her own project had brought people together. She ended with,

"Maybe just believing in goodness generates a tiny bit of the stuff, so that by being so foolish as to believe in our better natures, if just for a day, we actually contribute to the sum total of generosity in the universe."

Beautiful. But she undoes it all in the very next cop-out line: "That's naive, isn't it? Dammit, I hate it when I do that."

Julie, why did you back away from beauty; a beauty you created for us? I don't even believe your little cover-up, so why did you feel it was necessary to step away from a strong statement of faith?

I suppose my writing will never reach the bestseller list because it's too happy, but that's OK. I hope I don't hide from difficult issues and challenges. But in the end, I hope that my writing and parenting and life and person do exactly what Julie suggests and Mary models - contributes to the sum total of generosity in the universe.

Sep 27, 2009

Day of Rest in the Country

Sunday is God's day off, but evidently not for those of us tending God's pastures. OK, the boys and I didn't finish breakfast until 9:30 (fresh juice from our apples&pears&chard, fresh eggs from our chickens), and there was a delicious 2-hour nap in the afternoon, and a more delicious orzo dinner with tomato, spinach, beets, onions and garlic from our garden. But in between, Joe and I:
  • finished building a covered front porch for the garage suite
  • clipped the wing feathers of the 17 frisky young chickens who keep flying over the fence
  • moved the electric cow fence - those growing steaks had eaten the grass in the first field right down, and every time they saw me were mooing plaintively (is there any other way to moo?)
  • chainsawed, moved and stacked 2 tractor-trailer loads of firewood - winter is coming
Writing this to give another picture of life here, but mostly just to brag.

Sep 25, 2009

Love, Grandma Style

I think you must put your juvenile games away; get ready to face a boss. You can't compete with that hair of the 70's. If only to please grandma, have hair styled. Life is real. Your suit-yourself days are over.
Love Grandma xxoo
She truly does love me; or at least the part of me that is her grandson. But what an odd love. A love that focuses on what's gone wrong in her perspective. A love that has her literally rip me out of family photos - still proudly hanging in frames, with tattered ripped edges where the long-hair grandson should have been. A love that still wishes I'd become a rich businessman or pianist or something braggable at the seniors center. A love that seems to miss the point completely of who I am and want to be, of what I believe and care about and live for.

I've posted before about our profound difference in social conformity vs expression. What saddens (and amuses) me into writing today is how her rigid view of propriety blocks her view of Me. And in blocking that view, blocks the potential for a much more Real, deep and flowing love between two people who respect each other through - and even for - their differences.

I have always known and trusted her love for her grandchild - a blood love that is real and strong and important to me. I just feel sad for her that she can't let go enough to accept and love people as they are, and to trust in different paths. Sad that she can't look at this photo of me and see the sparkle in my eyes, the Joy i felt in that moment having just moved 48 wedding chairs in the pouring rain. Instead, she'll see a boy who refuses to grow up and look the part (like that well-dressed girl behind me).

So Grandma-Love it is, expressed in letters and cheques and advice. As she wrote in a similar (and similarly fruitless) plea to cut my hair and come home from Africa in 1995, "Only grandma loves you enough to tell you the truth."

Sep 22, 2009

the space within us filled with love

God is that which is good within us all God is not some grey-haired old man up in the sky watching over us. God is the spirit that prompts right decision, the space within us filled with love for all the things around us.
- Nori Sinclair, young Friend in Calgary

Sep 18, 2009

Stripped and Seduced

Day one of a week in the inlaws' burbs, so what do we do? Go shopping at the strip malls, of course. I'm not as strong as I used to be.

Upon entering the first mega-discount shoe mart, Sarah took my limp hand and gently guided me to the men's section, where I slowly regained consciousness and started to find an amazing number of fun, funky shoes. All on sale! 30%, 50%, 70% off. Even those not on sale urged me to notice that the $69.98 price tag isn't so bad if I "COMPARE WITH $110.99." It's all cheap, really!

The first hint of irrational behavior I noticed was that I looked at the price tag and savings first, then the shoe. Wow, this one is only $29, regular $89, what a great deal! My assessment of the shoe itself was already wildly biased by the time I noticed it's puke-green toe or 1985-ish leather fringe.

Next I moved into brand-name land. I could buy Merrill, or Timberland, or even Clark's. Surely those are the best, will last the longest, make me happiest. When I got down to the two top contenders, I ended up choosing Keen because Sarah had just told me that they're the new Chaco's (which used to be the new Teva's). I don't even own a TV or read enough magazines to know the jingles, but somehow the branding is still in my brain.

Then I forgot all about what I already owned or truly needed. These shoes would look great, though I couldn't think of what occasion I'd actually wear them on. In reality, they'd look great collecting dust on the shelf right beside the fun funky pair I bought at this same store 2 years ago and have worn about 3 times.

Finally, I succumbed to the most dangerous temptation of all - the Browse. In addition to the one pair of Crocs-replacements I came for, I bought new jeans and underwear, and seriously fondled dress shoes, a pair of amazing pink-purple-powder blue runners, purple slim-fit Deisl jeans, fancy kitchen gadgets, a bright yellow suitcase, and a purple hat with white polka-dots. All, of course, by great companies at incredible discounts.

Overwhelmed, I flopped on a chair in the sunny entrance-way - no doubt provided for overwhelmed husbands - but closing my eyes was no escape. The rhythmic, seductive muzak kept a subtle but persistent buzz going, calling me to buy more, drums rising up occasionally to excite me to sit up, sometimes a dim chanting to remind me that the rest of humanity was in on this hunt, counting on me to do my part. I have no doubt that the muzak has been designed and tested by psychologists like me to optimize consumer buying. I could feel it, feel pulled by it.

So my simplicity and low consumption isn't about my strong will and superior moral temperament after all - it's just lack of exposure. I could feel today how easy it is to be convinced that buying things will bring happiness, and that sale prices make it all OK.

So I'll get back to Vancouver Island thankful for the our life choices that remove us from this daily assault of advertising and temptation. I suppose with more personal work I could get to the point of not even being tempted by fancy shoes and shiny gadgets - in a normal grocery store I quite easily walk down most isles without the slightest temptation to grab anything (except the stale icing donuts, which I know I'll regret even before I pick them up) - but for now I'll cut my losses and stick with abstinence.

Sep 14, 2009

No more logs in our toilet

We've given up toilet paper. Keep that in mind as you request a third helping of beans at our potluck parties...

All the extreme efforts we go to trying to reduce our impact on nature, yet we still flush down needless amounts of tree product that had been clear-cut, transported, processed in a smog factory, packaged in plastic, and transported again. I've used water, leaves, paper, even (gasp!) bible pages in various countries and stages of my past, so why has this paper carnage been necessary?

We started out first class, with soft cushy organic cotton washable wipes from LunaPads (also makers of the eco-obvious Diva Cup for you ladies). Next came an old purple flannel blanket cut into little squares. They all end up in the same place - a little wooden bucket with 3 squirts of vinegar for odour control, then a short-cycle hot water wash, 2-hour drying time on the deer fence, and ready for action again.

We re-wash our babies' diapers, our snot-ridden hankies and the occasional underwear mishap, so why not our toilet wipes? I'm sure the nice marketing folk at Charmin and even Seventh Generation will say that it's not eco-friendly to use so much hot water and detergent to wash them, but it pales in comparison to the processing, packaging and multiple-transport emissions of toilet paper (even recycled).

So come on over to our house and, uh, take a wipe on the wild side.The emergency stash (purchased in the spring) for grandmas and visitors
not
quite ready even to hug trees let alone go to third base,
and for
those particularly messy times...

Sep 12, 2009

we be jammin, we be jammin

Bachelor night last night (sarah at hollyhock), celebrated by making 4 double-batches (21 jars) of jelly: plumple (plum-apple), cherry, and apple. Then stayed up till past midnight watching the first half of Porky's while eating fresh warm zuchini-carob chip-peanut butter-apple pulp cookies

'Twas the first day in over 2 weeks that i didn't have a nap, and first night i was able to stay up past 10pm. This not having energy thing is so foreign - when thinking about a task, i actually do a quick inventory to see if i'll have enough energy to finish the job. In normal life energy just isn't a factor, it's just a matter of having enough time, and where the task falls on the priorities list. Is this getting tired and not having eternal stores of energy phenomenon what many people consider to be normal?

The energy i do have is going into winter preparation. I feel my body and soul naturally turning to stocking up for the cold season. Chopped wood today, preserved more fruit tonight, will build a front-porch rain shelter for the garage suite tomorrow. Just naturally feels like time to hunker down, do what's needed to keep my family warm and fed in the deep snows. Can't remember feeling this calling in the city; can't remember being so aware of the seasons in a survival way - it was more about what clothes we'd need and what tires on the car. Now I think about light (have lost a lot of morning and evening work hours), moisture (gotta get those fallen trees cut up and dried before they soak over the fall-winter), mud (time to re-seed the grass soon), animals (cows gonna need warmer shelter), garden (time to plant winter food crops and over-winter cover crops to regenerate the soil) and of course food (freezing, canning, pickling, dehydrating everything in sight).

This time last year i was blogging under the stars on chilly fall nights before returning to our tent at the ecovillage. The season meant cold, keeping our kids dry and warm in the tent, borrowing friends' freezer space to have something through the winter. This time around, the season is teaching us lessons about living on our own land through a full year's cycle. I just hope i can get back the energy i need to power through this important and immensely rewarding fall harvest and winter preparation time.

Sep 8, 2009

More about less wireless

A month back I wrote about our decision to stop using cordless phones. It was mostly what deep down makes sense to me about how to create a safe environment for our children and family to grow up in. Now I've found a great online resource to share with you with more scientific backing and links - www.wiredchild.org.

It confirms (with plenty of links to the scientific data) my fears that the constant presence of radiation from our cordless phone, wireless router, and other wireless devices in our supposedly simple house are ubiquitously and constantly attacking us, with our children being more vulnerable:
Research shows that radiation penetrates more deeply into a child's head and also that children’s thinner skulls absorb much more radiation than an adult’s.

Another study found that children who had used a mobile phone before they were 20 had five times more chance of getting a brain tumour later in life. That five times greater risk might be the tip of the iceberg because there is every chance the risks increase the longer the phone is used. The increase in risk could turn out to be much greater when the full long-term effects have been studied in the future.

Additionally we do not yet know how significant the impact of exposure to other new radiation sources, like cordless phones, wi-fi, Bluetooth, baby listening monitors and games consoles, will be or how the different sources interact in their effect on children's bodies. These now ubiquitous products add to the radiation “load” experienced by children growing up today but the effects of long-term exposure to them are untested Many scientists fear for the impact this will have when today’s children grow up.
Most studies to date have been about mobile phones, but cordless phones operate on much the same technology:
Modern cordless (DECT) phones work much like mobile phones. When in use, their power level, and microwave radiation emissions, are within the range at which mobile phones commonly operate, although they don't power up to the maximum level of a mobile phone. Cordless phones tend to be used for much longer calls than those on mobiles because they are often the main phone on a household's land-line. This means that the health effects might be even more significant than from mobile phones. A recent study found a link between malignant brain tumours and using cordless phones.

There is an additional exposure from a cordless phone system because it includes a base station which emits radiation as it "communicates" with the phone and this works rather like a mobile phone mast. There is now substantial evidence of health effects associated with exposures from mobile phone masts.

The phone and base unit emit radiation continuously, so there is an extra exposure "whammy" of radiation 24/7 even when the phone is not in use. The radiation emitted from the base unit and phone on standby are much lower than from the phone on a call but some scientists think this chronic (long-term) exposure may be even more damaging than short bursts of higher level radiation, like that from mobile and cordless phones in use on a call
Telus and Rogers both come next week to put in new phone and internet jacks in 3 different rooms in our house so that we can completely do away with the cordless phone and wifi. The cost - about $150; the inconvenience - minimal; long-term benefits - priceless.

Sep 4, 2009

Too hot for an orgy

Summer was supposed to be a Bacchian parade of play dates with all those school friends who had been, like us, too busy during the year. Trips to the beach, hikes, canoe paddles galore. Instead, here we are in September and I'm just remembering that community that was so central the last day of school.

Turns out we didn't need an orgy. Didn't feel called to a serial-monogamous set of sweaty rolls in the sand. Turns out we just needed some time with us.

School friendships don't have to be worked over the summer. Quite the opposite, in fact. They'd been cooking all year, and by June they'd been hard-boiling for a while, rattling the pot lids and bubbling over into the first splashes of bullying, break-ups and friend-fatigue. Kids and parents just needed a break from it all. Galen especially needed a break from the social pressures he was increasingly facing, a break from having to defend himself or question himself or wonder on the morning bike ride to school where his standing would be this day.

We watched him slowly unwind, rediscover himself, regain confidence and Joy in his beautiful core person. He still has a few worries about person X or situation Y walking into school next week, but mostly he's bringing a strong self and sense of discovery that resurfaced over a summer of farming, camping, playing in the woods, long long creative hours with his brother, long long together hours with his parents. Time to just be a 7-year-old, playing and dreaming and drifting.

For me too, it's been a frustrating and freeing visitor-full playtime of a summer that's been glorious, and has me ready for fall. Ready for regular "good-morning's" with other parents, a 9-11:45 childless routine, lists and rhythms and shorter days and slow movement. Time to look at that list of what i'm here to do and figure out which parts of that vision it's time to focus in on.

Father and sons feeling rejuvenated, re-centred and ready to re-engage with the world from a renewed place of strength. What more could we ask of a summer?

Sep 1, 2009

Thumbs up to the Canadian Medical System

I don't care what any self-serving Big Pharma lobbies have to say about us, we have an amazing medical system here. I can prove it as fast as a Canadian appendectomy.

When the pains started on Tuesday night, I could have gone for a check-up as soon as I felt like it. The fact that I waited until Friday is a testimony to my testosterone, not due to any financial fears. In Texas I might have waited another few days until it actually ruptured, resulting in a life-threatening and much more costly operation and recovery.

When they diagnosed a need for an immediate removal of my appendix, there wasn't any thought to how I'd have to mortgage my house or call on the relatives, if I were to even have those resources. No delays while they ran a credit check. The first form I signed that night was authorizing BC Medical Plan to pay for everything. My only job was to get better.

The level of care, attentiveness and professionalism was top-notch for 4 straight days - you just can't argue that a private medical team would have cared more or done better. On Sunday afternoon the doctor told me I could go home if I really really needed to, but his advice was one more night of IV antibiotics and rest to give better odds of no infection. He wasn't trying to squeeze another night's payment out of me, and I was able to make the choice best for my body. In Texas I would have been checked-out and limping home before he finished his sentence.

What more can you want out of a medical system than patients and medical teams working unhindered in the best interest of health? My appendix didn't know if I'm rich or poor, black or white, Tier One or Tier Two, it just needed to come out. Canada's all-(sick)-people-are-created-equal system made that happen.

Still there, Obama?

Aug 29, 2009

You Give Me Fever

There's nothing like a good fever to bring on good tears. I should know - I've cried 3 times since the pains started Tuesday night.

When the fever and stomach cramps got too much to keep me in bed, I sat up on the old wicker chair and watched Pure Country. Pure 80's hollywood country, with dames in tight orange leather and jaw-clenching smiles. That final scene where the immutably handsome George Strait has walked away from stardom and re-found his roots and flies said 80's dame to Vegas to serenade her in front of all his fans had me sobbing and falling in love with my wife all over again.

Next sleepless night I spent with chills, abdominal pain and The Sound of Music - not usually a gusher flick. The Von Trap kids have learned how to play and be kids, but when they splash laughing and yelping out of the lake to greet their returning father, he crushes them yet again with the whistle and sends them away. Captain and Maria have a glorious fight, he fires her, but just then the faint wisp of children singing drifts in on the breeze and an old part of Captain's soul starts to stir. He wanders up to listen, then slowly joins them, then - as if just remembering how - reaches out to hug and hold them. I fell in love with my children and my beautiful role in their lives all over again.

After a 3rd long hunched-over night, Sarah forced me to the doctor, who forced me to the hospital. I shooed her away for the hours of blood work - which she spent not doing the work she's been unable to do during my illness, but rather just being present with our boys who are a little scared - but she magically showed up just as I was tearily being told that I'd be one appendix lighter in a few hours. In her wicker basket were books, pictures from the boys, and a weather book that the always-thoughtful Galen sent for me. I appreciated all over again how our family cares for each other and finds ways to provide support we didn't even know we'd needed until they showed up.