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.