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.

Aug 23, 2009

Slow and full

Just finished reading an exhausting blog entry - "Notes on a Full Life" - by an enthusiastic, earlier version of Me who has pledged to live life fully by going to every country in the world in 5 years. Older, wiser Farmer Rick wrote back,

Hmm, I agree with all the energy around doing what you believe in, not getting bored, etc. But not so sure about the inference that we need to be constantly moving to achieve that. I’ve led your lifestyle and loved it, and now have shifted to a deliberately slow, thorough life of a farmer/stay-at-home-dad/writer and equally love and grow through it.

Life doesn’t have to be an extreme sport to be fully lived; just lived fully.

Not judging his chosen passion (though questioning the environmental impact and the quality of visits to the roughly 195 countries in the world in 5 years - about 1 week per country). Just relishing the contrast of my formerly nomadic life to my current drive to be constant. Consistently present and mindful with my children, present and responsible to my land and community, present and introspective to my own growth, present and open to the beauty and lessons all around.
We've been living on this land for one year now, and just today discovered that the mystery tree by the root cellar bears a fruit almost like grandma's plum tree. Found a dead vole/mouse with our cat's teeth marks in its throat while sitting with the boys for 20 minutes removing rocks in preparation for grass re-seeding. Walked the property line musing about why so many of the blackberry bushes are barren. Created a new pasta sauce out of the garden's yield-du-jour (see photo). Lessons I would have missed out the window of the airplane or youth hostel.

I celebrate the life I led that took me to about 30 of the countries Chris will blog from. And these days I celebrate that the path led me to this patch of dirt, where my new lesson is to sit still for a while and learn to learn in a new way.

Aug 21, 2009

Leisure, country style

First day back from a week of garlic-peddling and surfing, we relaxed into our Home life as only we can. While Sarah packed for her work trip (leading a weekend mama's retreat), the boys and I stayed out of her hair by hanging out three loads of laundry on the deer fence then heading out to the garden. One hour later we returned with zucchini and squash, a bucket of windfall apples, three eggs, and a camera full of documentation of our ever-growing pumpkins, corn, and mile-high beans.

We all three were thrilled to reconnect with our garden in such a hands-on way before breakfast, and the boys were bouncing off the walls from eating their first cherry tomatoes of the season, from the bushes they started from seed months ago.

As Sarah continued her usual mad quest to finish hand-dying and sewing the makings of prayer flags for her retreat (no generic Wall-Mart prayer flags for Mama Renew, thank you!) we cored, sliced and dehydrated the apples for winter school snacks, then helped Sarah pack her bike gear (cycling up the Sunshine Coast - go Sazz!). Then a leisurely walk/cycle to the Waldorf school to pick up the neighbours' CSA produce bag, an hour visit/play with 2 other families there helping in the garden, visit to the miniature horses on the way home, then finally a stop at the next-door schoolyard for our first major harvest of windfall apples from the sadly neglected tree there. We got our entire winter supply of apple butter, sauce and pie filling from that one tree - why no-one else actively gleans there is a mystery.

Late lunch, beautiful nap, then a walk down to the river for a swim and fishing - caught a frog and a crayfish (yes, threw both back). Picked 6 quarts of blackberries and some delicious plums along the roadway home. Quick late dinner of veggie dogs, cucumber, bell pepper and potato pizza (sliced leftover baked potatoes with spinach and cheese melted on top), then quickly picked up the bucket-full of plums I'd picked off our tree during the second half of their nap. All this, and still in bed by 8:15, plenty tired and happy and engaged in the world.

Now only 9:30, a delicious free evening to myself - a time I've boldly advertised that I get more done than when the wife's around. So what will it be: apple-plum-blackberry jam for the winter, apple-blackberry crumble for this boys' weekend, watch shooting stars from the garden hot tub, or start working on the fathering book I've committed to co-authoring? Hopefully all of the above. It's good to be home.

Aug 19, 2009

We stand on God for these, surfer dude

Learning to surf is a lot like kindergarten. There's nothing like trying to balance on a small piece of wood atop a pounding 10-foot wall of foaming water to crash you straight back into childhood.

The Joyful abandon and unabashed resiliency with which children throw themselves into any new realm is what truly defines childhood, and a quality we adults sadly lose. It took Galen months to master the Canadian national anthem, but only hours before he was already singing it confidently to anyone within earshot. At first it was just "Oh Canada", repeated a few times for emphasis, with some beautiful nonsense syllables and melody lines to complete the masterpiece. Over time more correct lyrics filled in spaces, until that sad day when no longer happily announced that we canucks "stand on God for these." But throughout the process he was never embarrassed, never apologetic for mistakes, never aware that he ought to be doing better or ought to wait until he can do better. He just did it, to the best of his ability, and had utmost confidence that it was already a masterpiece and would continue to improve.

As for his grown-up papa, I still don't know the words to the French version of our national anthem. In grade 3 I could sing it as confidently as Galen, though I didn't know what any of the words meant. I can still sing those same phonetic lines I learned so uncritically then, but never do (except once to amuse our Quebecois friend). Nowadays I need to get all the words right before uttering a phrase in another language. I've become afraid to make mistakes while learning, even while knowing that mistakes are the cornerstone of the learning process.

Back to the humbling experience of learning to surf this week in Tofino. With each missed wave, each tumble before my feet even found the board, and each mouthful of salty Pacific Ocean bubbly, I thought of Galen. Instead of succumbing to frustration, despair ("I'll never get this!"), embarrassment ("Is my mom still watching?") or even blame (the board, last year's instructor, that vengeful wave), I instead look over at Galen going through the same process. He just smiles, happy that he made it 4 feet on that last wave, and bounds back to do it again. He is gradually improving without any conscious evaluation of his technique or self-worth, so surely I can do the same.

So as I let go of trying, of thinking, of over-analyzing, and most of all of self-judging. I just enjoyed being in this salty swirling world, let myself feel awe and respect for the power of the Long Beach surf, and experienced thrill that me and my little board could somehow tap a bit of that power. And sure enough, by letting go of all that cluttered thought, my body slowly figured it out for itself.

Jesus said something about us needing to come to God as a child. Maybe Jesus was just a really wise surfer dude? Anyways, time for me to head back down and try walking on water again. No, not try - just do.

PS - Also check out Sarah's posting about her surfing experience - she's awesome, dude!

Aug 16, 2009

True Value Garlic

Cheap bastards. Unappreciative of the hard work and sacrifice we noble organic farmers make. They all want local, organic, earth-saving, healthy, nutritious, delicious produce, but expect it at mega-mart underprices. No-one values an organic farmer.

That's what I was bracing myself to say about our maiden produce-peddling expedition into Vancouver. With a big gulp and a bit of research, we had set a price of $2.50/head of garlic. I was fully expecting gripes about the price, and building up a screaming response in my head about how underpaid and undervalued we would still be at double the price: HOW DARE YOU bargain with me, HOW DARE YOU pretend to support local organic farming then try to pay less for all that went into this beautifully imperfect bundle:
  • purchase of seed, organic fertilizer, property, rototiller fuel and repair
  • ground clearing (can you say "thistle-prickle" five times fast?), rototilling
  • collecting maple leaves (dragged repeatedly by the boys on a tarp up the driveway) and seaweed for fertilizer and mulch
  • weeding, spraying organic fertilizer near the end
  • harvesting (and eating) double-curled scapes
  • harvesting the garlic, laying it out to dry, hanging it in bunches from the barn rafters to dry some more, cutting the "beards" (hairy roots) and sculpting the shoots, bundling into attractive bunches for sale
  • marketing, arranging orders, transport from the island to your door
With this rant polluting my mind, we put out the call on Facebook. But rather than wrath or silence, we were greeting with enthusiastic orders. Each delivery today brought a bath of gratitude, appreciation and camaraderie. Two friends refused to pay less than full price when I tried to give a bargain. One woman I'd never met before had picked some of her cherry tomatoes as a thank-you, another sent me home with a box of goodies from the discount/free pile at her organic warehouse (urban gleaning!), and the boys and I were welcomed into a playgroup potluck somewhere in there.

We've come home with enough money and support to allow and encourage us to continue. But there's still the question, was this a price that truly values this work and time? If I tried to charge $20/hour for my time they'd be $10/head. So we basically follow along what the market is saying, based on how much it costs the mega-farms to produce it then adding a bit of a premium for the small-scale local value-added, and hope it adds up to something worthwhile.

It's easy for me because I'm not doing this to pay the mortgage. I'm farming to teach my boys and me about our place in the natural world. To contribute to food security and decrease environmental degradation. As an act of solidarity with the rural farmer folk I've been working with all my career. And because it feels darn good. I love working my land each morning, and loved bringing big wild handfuls of garlic to my city friends, knowing it would bring spice to their lives through the winter. These life lessons and contributions are worth more than any price tag.

And I loved the exchange of the fruits of my labour for some of the fruits of their labour (in the form of money, tomatoes and crackers). In the purest sense of fair exchange, we all gave and received something we value, so we all came out feeling good from the deal. As long as I resist the urge to translate that into an hourly rate (and as long as we can rely on Sarah's business and my consulting for our main money source), this will be a healthy process for all.

So thank you to all of you who walk the walk - who are willing to pay a premium for the organic local food system we all believe in. We organic farmers need to trust in you even more: enough to collectively set prices that truly make this an honoured profession with enough financial reward to attract new young farmers and support veterans. For now, I leave your city feeling that we are in this together, and I bring your smiling sunshine and currency compost back to WildSide farms to enervate another bounty to share.

Aug 13, 2009

Love her like your employee

I treat my workers better than my wife. I treat my neighbour better than my wife. I treat my car mechanic better than my wife.

If I have something serious to bring up with a colleague - a complaint, a suggestion, a ThatPissedMeOff - I do it strategically. After many leadership trainings, I know better than to assault someone unprepared at the water cooler. I count to a high number and get control of my emotions, find a quiet place, butter them up with genuine compliments, present the issue in as non-threatening a way as possible, and give them a way out. I do it compassionately and deliberately to lead to resolution, better relations, and a win for all.

So why would I not treat my wife - the woman I love most of all - with the same regard and respect and delicacy? Why does the criticism lash out when she is most vulnerable and least receptive, instead of quietly supporting her during her tough time then quietly helping her work through it later?

Next time I'm about to lash out or retreat into silence or any unhealthy communication, I'll use this as my litmus - would I treat my emploee this way? If it's not good enough for the woman who sells me honey, it aint good enough for the woman who is my sweet honey.

Aug 12, 2009

Human antenna

When you call me these days, you may notice that I'm more present. You won't hear the sound of washing dishes or putting away laundry, won't catch me checking emails while you pour your heart out, and I sure won't be up the ladder picking plums with the cordless squeezed between my shoulder and ear. I'll be sitting on a chair in the main hallway of our house, with nothing better to do than talk to you.

You see, there's a $120 box of Future Shop wireless phones sitting unopened on our counter. It'll be returned the next time I screw up my courage to go into that scary Big Box. We've gone back to an old-fashioned $3 corded phone from Salvation Army.

While this radical experiment has turned out to be yet another marker in our quest for simplicity, and has yielded the usual unexpected benefits of slowing down and remaining in the moment, the real reason for turning away from wireless was health concerns.

In just my grandma's lifetime, our species has gone from one with virtually zero electrical exposure to a massive overdose. The average home has wireless internet, phones, remote controls, alarm systems, invisible pet fences, i-tune systems, even Sarah's computer mouse and keyboard and speakers, that deliberately and constantly send electro-magnetic waves through through our brains and bodies. How many wireless signals can one body transmit?

Every google-able article online says there is no evidence directly linking this massive new electro-magnetic (ie, radiation) invasion of our bodies with the massive increase in cancer, autism, heart attacks, stress, ADD, SAD, etc etc etc that mark our increasingly sick society. But there was no evidence either for asbestos, for lead-based paint, for mercury-based vaccinations, for second-hand tobacco smoke, for... One university has refused to go wireless simply because

there are many environmental impacts that are not manifest for 30 to 40 years after exposure. "Second-hand tobacco exposure is a case in point," he said. "We're just finding out now what some of those impacts are. Asbestos is another example."

"These are particularly relevant in younger people (who have) fast-growing tissues, and most of our student body are late teenagers and still growing, so it's just a matter of taking precautions and providing an environment that doesn't have a potential risk associated risk," he said.

Another online article about a UK movement to ban wi-fi in schools writes of the similar lack of knowledge:
Virtually no studies have been carried out into Wi-Fi's effects on pupils, but it gives off radiation similar to emissions from mobile phones and phone masts.

Recent research has linked radiation from mobiles to cancer and to brain damage. And many studies have found disturbing symptoms in people near masts.

Professor Olle Johansson, of Sweden's prestigious Karolinska Institute, who is deeply concerned about the spread of Wi-Fi, says there are "thousands" of articles in scientific literature demonstrating "adverse health effects." He adds: "Do we not know enough already to say, 'Stop!'?"

In the absence of reliable scientific evidence (and sometimes in the face of it), we have to go with what makes sense. My gut tells me it can't be good to expose ourselves so much. When I see my kids holding an electromagnetic gun to their precious brains as they talk to grandma, it doesn't feel right. Why take the risk?

It also doesn't feel necessary. We had one phone jack in the kitchen growing up, and somehow made due with winding up the extra-long cord that stretched down the hall to my bedroom for those calls to my high school girlfriend. Do we really need to be able to sit anywhere in the house or yard to gab on the phone or check emails, rather than a few designated outlets?

The last straw leading to this decision was a comment by an enthusiastic man in the parking lot: "If you hold your car alarm clicker up to your chin, the signal carries farther. Your body acts as a transmitter." He said it like a cool scientific fact - the kind they put in modern kids' magazines - but I think it's downright scary.

So bye bye cordless phones, and hopefully wi-fi internet. You can go back to the Big Box from whence you came, and stop using my child's temple of a body as your transmitter tower.

Aug 9, 2009

Home, not Hectic

"Sitting on a moonlit shore our final night I reveled in the beauty and the silence.
A final moment of quiet before diving back into my ever hectic schedule in the city.
I was acutely aware that I need to make more effort to create a space for that kind of quiet and reflection."

Why do we accept Hectic as normal, necessary, even indicative of Alive? Why is this friend returning from a beautiful vacation assuming the same old life in the too-fast lane?

Not everyone can return from a vacation to the rural paradise life we've found/created, but let's not accept this pace as OK. Let's not allow our lives to be run on fast-forward.

Busy doesn't have to equal stressful. Productive is different than overworked, and organized is not over-scheduled. Let's do what brings us alive, embrace the beauty and growth of our lives, and make that "space for quiet and reflection" part of how we live minute to minute, not vacation to vacation.

Aug 5, 2009

Boredom Parenting

The key to parenting is boredom. Well, simplicity really, but that title's already been taken. Simplicity Parenting by Dr. Kim John Payne doesn't even hit the bookstores until Aug.25, but I'd already call it a must-read based on talks I've seen him do, and the miraculous influence he's had on our family.

Clutter, he proposes, is a root evil in our lives and parenting. When called into a family to help with an A.D.D. child, he offers two choices - years of intensive therapy, or 2 garbage bags a week. He'll walk into your playroom and haul away 2 garbage bags of excess toys, books and gadgets. Then come back the next week and do the same thing, and in other rooms too. Eventually you'll have 5 books on the shelf (and others in book rotation), a few select toys in designated places on the shelves (again with more in rotation), and a noticeable absence of electronic gizmos and screens.

Our experience has been the re-emergence of our children. Rather than being overwhelmed by too much stimulation, bouncing from one distraction to another and leaving a trail of barely-used and little-respected toys in their destructive wake, the boys are able to select one item and take their time to enjoy it. They find new ways of playing with it (and each other), new ways of integrating it into play with other items from the shelf, and stay immersed in their play for much much longer. That is, the opposite of A.D.D.

Surprisingly, we parents are another form of clutter. When we over-organize our children's lives with creative activities, play dates, and entertaining them, we're another form of distraction they come to rely on. Not that we shouldn't be with our children, but there need to be times when they are just left alone to be kids. On a morning like right now, the kids have come to me several times already and I've just sent them back into the living room. Pretty soon they'll give up on me being their entertainment and they'll come up with something on their own that will engage them for at least 30 minutes to one hour.

A third form of clutter is busy schedules. Children thrive on routine and regularity - the security of knowing when dinner will be and what it will be frees them up to play. The times in our lives when we've maintained regular mealtimes and menus (Monday is soup night, Tuesday is fish...), regular bedtimes and rituals, regular chores, regular regular regular... have been the times when we function best as a family. Everyone knows the boundaries, no-one wastes energy wondering when anything is going to happen or who's going to wipe the table, so that same energy can go into our creative play.

I could write a whole book about this, but Kim John Payne beat me to it. And has a lot more experience with thousands of families. So this is just a too-brief testimonial of how well his ideas have worked in our family, and how we're looking forward to his book.

Darn, the kids only lasted 15 minutes on their own, now are demanding breakfast. Guess it's not quite the silver bullet, or hunger is more powerful than boredom.

Aug 3, 2009

The secret to our success - good people

Time to fess up about the secret behind our amazing garden. It isn't silver bells and cockel shells; it's Joe and Nathalie. The lucky renters of our garage suite have turned out to be our saviors.

As experts on permaculture and and afficianados on all things natural (and expert catchers of rogue chickens in the garden), they are the mentors we so desperately needed to get us past our overwhelming ignorance. This first farming season would have somehow happened, I suppose, but their intimate knowledge and passion for all things growing and living has given us confidence and even a bit of know-how, as well as all the snowpeas and mixed greens we can handle.

They are also blessed with enough time and passion to be constant workers in our shared fields. As I juggle parenting, writing, household chores and the usual busy-ness that still creeps around the edges, I look out the kitchen window and see Nathalie quietly pulling weeds in her Chinese rice-farmer's hat. The amount of playing over the past month has increased the burden on them to keep up with the demands of our abundant garden and animals - we've still got alot to learn about fully embracing our role and responsibility.

And they're just gosh-darn, down-to-the-core good people. They 'get' community, pitch in and join in and share and take in a natural, respectful, harmonious way. When we were picking cherries with our mob of visitors, they helped with advice and equipment to prune the trees, then showed up with their buckets to harvest their winter's supply. Never a question for any of us about what's ours or theirs - we are truly sharing this land, and there truly is enough for everyone.

Exactly one year ago we saw this land for the first time and knew we'd found our Home. After another day today of cutting trees with Joe, swimming with Nathalie, and the boys playing with their dog Munch, it's impossible to imagine our garden, home or lives without their part in it.

So lest you hear legends of our abundant harvest in just the first year of creating this garden and think we are superhuman, know that our only true magical power is to conjure up the right people to come into our lives at the right time.