Dec 30, 2010

Hidden Week

Christmas is a lot like relatives coming to visit - much anticipated, a day or two of profound and explosive Joy, then a huge sigh of relief when they leave. The week between Christmas and New Years is the hidden gem of the holidays; truly "the most wonderful time of the year" if we settle into it right.

It's different than other school breaks and times off. Spring break there's camps and skiing and a restless call to escape after a long winter. May long weekend is the start of camping season, or our annual Quaker gathering, or time to plant the garden. Summer begs for camping and adventure. But at this cold dark time of the year, the loudest call is that of the fireplace saying to warm up and hunker down.

With the exception of an ill-advised 7:30am boxing day trip to Future Shop, we didn't shop. Didn't work. Didn't cook any more extravagant treats. There were no overly-tempting community events to lure us off the land. Friends were away, cousins already visited, colleagues also away and Very few emails to lure us into cyber-escape. Nothing but time and space new toys and us.

Each day we picked a different part of the house or yard and cleaned, gleaned, cleared, culled and reorganized. Removing the excess and clutter of another year passed; starting the new year with a feeling of openness and renewal.

Each day we played - riding the new bike, hanging the tire swing, opening the new games. Popped popcorn and watched Charlie Brown Christmas. Lit fires and smooched. Played piano, sang, listened to music, danced.

Each day we worked a bit toward next year - 3 trips to the beach to collect seaweed for the garden, 2 cords of firewood cut and stacked for next winter, multiple floorplans drafted for the basement, rental suite addition almost done, bikes tuned up and ready for school.

And each day we had room to dream. Looked back on a year of purpose and growth, reevaluated where we've come and who we've become and what that means for the coming year.

As our family has breathed this collective sigh of relief and rejuvenation, we've slowed down and circled closer together. More hugs, less conflict. No requests for playdates or outings or treats. The children intuit what we adults have to consciously work to create and accept - that of all the gifts of Christmas, a week off to just be together is the most cherished and sacred.

Dec 28, 2010

Afraid of Christmas

"I want to be in my own house the night that Santa comes," declared our youngest; still young enough to unabashedly believe. Good enough reason for us to do a lovely Vancouver family/friends run early and be home by the 23rd. Good friend's party on the 24th, then, GULP, a whole Christmas Day to ourselves.

"Gulp" because I aint never done that before. Christmas has never been about small nuclear family; after a Peace-filled morning with parents and brother to open presents and eat pancakes it was always about the extended family, the community, making the round of teenage friends. What on earth would we do with an entire day of "just" us? Where would the magic come from?

With all that time, we took our time opening presents. One at a time, checking them out, at one point doing a search through the farm to find Galen's new bike. A slow delicious breakfast of Monkey Bread that we'd started the night before. A family bike ride (OK, including a quick guerrilla carolling at Makaria Farms). An afternoon game of Zekiah's new Settlers of Catan. Elvis and Mahalia and all the great Christmas tunes. Sazzarific Christmas food and goodies. A long long family snuggle at bedtime. Everything we felt like doing and NOTHING from the things-to-do list.

I already knew what the Grinch finally discovered: "Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more!" But here I was unwrapping the gift of accepting that magic doesn't have to come from outside. We have all the love and energy and spark and creativity and warmth we need to fuel an entire Christmas just here in our home.

This doesn't spell the end of Rick the Extrovert, creating and gathering energy from those around him. But it was a powerful call to not undervalue our own little family. To maybe even follow the footsteps of other families I respect and declare the occasional (or even regular) family day. The idea of devoting even one day a month to nothing but Us still intimidates me, but the idea of a family bike ride and Settlers game makes it seem not only do-able but even (gasp!) just as good if not better than a potluck.

So, first New Year's Resolution: paint a big CLOSED FOR BUSINESS sign to hang on the door/computer/phone/ and TTD list once in a while. To be Full with the knowledge that that moment can't be made any better with another friend or community event or touch with the world. To issue a loving Hasta Manana to the big beautiful world outside and turn to the small beautiful family inside.

Dec 10, 2010

What is a Bully?

One reader commented that my post on My Strong Son was “disturbing”, labelling other kids as bullies while exonerating my own boy’s brute behaviour with a litany of excuses. “I wonder whether the other children would describe Galen as having a special strong spirit, or if they would say he is a bully?” she ends.

My first response is to defend my poor innocent baby. Not to excuse his behaviour – Galen himself laments the amount of disciplining and parenting I’m doing with him about it – but to proclaim loudly that he has a GOOD nature, true love at his core. The incidents listed are bad moments, poor judgement, awkward flexing of new muscle that he must learn to control. He’s not a bully; he’s a good kid who’s finding his way.

All true, but that implies that a “Bully” is a different species; a category of kid who is not good, who does not love. And with the exception of a few truly psychopathic people in our society (highly unlikely in any given school), I do believe in the inherent goodness of all children and adults. I deliberately put words like “bully” and “attack” in quotation marks in that first posting because I don’t want to separate anyone with labels or categorical casting-off.

In any group, different children step into and out of the role of the child who is seen by others as the class bully. Some of their parents struggle and work hard and communicate with other parents and teachers to address the behaviour and the underlying needs of their child being expressed through that behaviour; others outwardly seem to shrug it off as “boys will be boys”, resist communication with other parents about it, or I suspect just feel overwhelmed and lost and don’t know what to do.

The reader who commented on my post worries that I am among the latter group, covering up his son’s bullying with “an entire laundry list of justifications.” I’ve taken a few days before responding to really look inside and see if there’s truth to this, and while I can see how that single posting could create that impression, I don’t believe it’s true, for two main reasons:

First, my response has not been denial. In each case, I have immediately (and in some cases, proactively) communicated with the parent, worked with Galen about it immediately then again at quieter & more receptive times, increased the level of expressed love and support for him, and increased monitoring and attention of him to watch for patterns, motivations and possible interventions. This strong but loving zero tolerance response is not one of a parent turning a blind eye.

Second, this series of incidents has not turned into a pattern that leads others to label him as “bully.” While as an adult I can put it in quotation marks and still focus on both on the goodness and the deeper need of a “bully”, the children know when a child has crossed a line. I theorize that the line is crossed when the behaviour is:

* Persistent. The children don’t flinch when they see Galen coming – they haven’t come to expect that bad behaviour is his norm. Three incidents in two weeks is a problem, and one of the reasons I moved so quickly is to make sure it doesn’t become a pattern.

* Intended to hurt. In none of those incidents was Galen trying to physically or emotionally hurt the other child. It’s a mystery what’s going on in the mind and heart of a child who has crossed the line to earn the label “bully”, but it’s clear that other children perceive him or her to be intentionally mean.

* Build up myself upon another’s weakness. In none of the incidents was Galen trying to become more popular, or perceived as the alpha dog, or feel better about himself by dominating someone else. His behaviours were wrong and need to be redirected, but as a parent I would be more concerned if they were a deliberate or unconscious strategy to gain power or acceptance.

When Galen was 3, he was clearly a “bully.” He consistently hurt other children and was the terror of the family place drop-in centre. It was his way of dealing with the turmoil of becoming a big brother, but the other kids and parents didn’t care about that; they just saw a physically abusive big kid and ran for cover. It was every bit as difficult and painful for us as parents as when he’s on the receiving end, and a much bigger social hurdle. Through that experience I am perhaps more vigilant and sensitive, and hopefully proactive, to any sign of returning to that pattern.

No, dear reader, my son is not a bully. Like many of the children in his grade 3 class he is experiencing challenges both socially and internally with the new awakening consciousness of a 9-year-old, and at times it’s spilling out in inappropriate behaviour. We try to deal with that behaviour in a strong, loving, open way that builds our relationship with him, the other kids and the other parents. And for the children who are currently more seen in the role of “bully”, I do my best (and admittedly struggle sometimes) to equally hold them with the same compassion, love, and trust that their inherent good nature will shine through. They’re not victims and bullies, they’re children.

Nov 29, 2010

Good dad, by the numbers

There's nothing like being accused of being a good dad to make you act like one for awhile. I spent most of today being attentive, self-sacrificing, fun and constructive with the boys. I just counted (usually not a smart thing to do), and it was a full 10 hours of full-on parenting today.

Transport (3.5 hours):
Walked back and forth on snow/ice through a steady rain to the school, usually toting the sled the boys made over the weekend, often with one or both of them on it. Took detours, slid down the scary steep Billy Bonker Breaker Hill, meandered through the forest/ravine path behind our house... played, with no agenda or rules or timetable. Kicked an iceball the whole way on one of the trips, marvelling with Zekiah as it melted smaller and smaller and finally into nothing.

School involvement (1 hour): Stayed for the school assembly where Zekiah just happened to be the brave grade one to represent his class and go first in front of the whole school through the magical advent spiral, lighting the first candle to bring light into the dark season, preparing the way for the birth of the child of light and other such symbolism. Watched as older and older children progressed through the same spiral, seeing the path my own boys will take toward their adolescence. Powerful feeling of an upward spiral circle, deeply appreciating where each boy is right now and where they'll be as the years unravel.

Whenever I get too far into worrying about them growing up and leaving, I just need to meet them in the Now, embrace and celebrate whomever they are right now and trust that each new age and stage will have similar Joys and points of connection.

Work and Play Together (3.5 hours)
Involved the whole family in two good work projects - culling potatoes for the root cellar, and culling 4 chickens to take to the abattoir tomorrow morning (which they'll also get to come to). Coached (and cajoled) Galen's piano practice, lost repeatedly at UNO, built a fire together, cut out and put up paper snowflakes. Bedtime teeth and story and snuggle.

Logistics (2 hours) - Oatmeal breakfast, packed lunch, snacks, dinner. Morning clothes, boots and gloves, dry the wet school clothes.

The numbers would be even higher if I included all the background stuff - dishes, laundry, cleaning, setting up playdates and birthday parties, etc. And all the time that Sarah also put in. But for this musing I wanted to focus on Together Time. 10 hours of direct, hands-on parenting, consciously doing nothing but serving and enjoying my children.

I could list many clever or creative parenting tricks I did today to earn the Good Dad label. But whatever woven-in life lessons, gentle discipline, spontaneous song creation, etc are just what each of us do, building on our strengths and giving what we have to our kids. Beyond or underlying all those tricks is the foundation that made this day, this time of our lives, and this relationship I've built with these boys: Time. Focus. Dedication. Attention. I wasn't going anywhere today, wasn't running to my emails, wasn't trying to shunt them off on friends or each other, and we all knew it. "THE PAPA IS IN" read the sign on the door, and the boys came in and stayed.

10 hours is not, thankfully, a normal day (for those of us blessed with school-age children). I do have work and reno and writing and various other projects that are still on the week's to-do list after this Super Monday. I am tired as only a good day can make one feel. But when I signed on for this stay-at-home dad gig, it was with the understanding that my number one job was being there for and WITH my children. Whether that means 2 or 10 hours, the more I can remember that priority, the closer I'll be to truly giving myself to my family the way I pledged to two and a half years ago.

Nov 28, 2010

My Strong Boy

"Papa, you're being more strict these days," my 8-year-old moans from the back seat.

I laugh, but it's true. He's pushing a lot these days, needing strong loving boundaries to meet the growing power he's feeling. On bad days (my bad, that is) I worry he'll become a bully, an outcast, a juvenile delinquent. On good days, I celebrate his confidence and inner strength.

There's been incidents of hitting his brother (usually provoked and understandable), a classmate with a ball of wool (absent-minded teasing/flirting, not maliciously intended), pushing another classmate to the ground and breaking her wrist (over-excitement, not trying to hurt). All of these had to be dealt with, but I have to remember are not indicative of a bad nature, just bad judgment or body awareness.

For many of his almost 9 years, Galen has felt (internally, and to me) like a victim. Taking the brunt of some bullying, feeling on the outside, unsure. Sometimes told he's not allowed to play, more often not knowing how to jump in. Now suddenly he's realizing that he's bigger than the "bullies", that he's strong, that he's special and can assert himself. Two examples:

An after-school snowball fight pitted him against 3 of the more "in" kids. Galen's had problems with two of those kids over the past 2 years, and one of them was throwing snowballs hard and mercilessly. There was nothing different in that boy's "attack" from other times that Galen has ended up crying or feeling picked on, but this time Galen's response was to fight back, thankfully in a fun way. He was laughing and dodging and throwing snowballs back when he could. There was a bit of fear in his laughter, but triumphing that fear was his thrill in being strong enough to stay in the game, turn an aggressor into an opponent in an equal game.

The other morning his little brother warned him that "the kids will laugh at you" for wearing ski goggles to school. The Protective Papa in me wanted to agree, wanted to help him not have anything to make him stick out more and increase likelihood of being picked on. But he just shrugged and said he wanted to wear them, so I had to trust him. Sure enough, the minute he walked into the classroom he was met with three classmates sneering and challenging, "Why are you wearing those?!" Completely unfazed, he simply said, "I felt like it." And that was enough for the others - they could feel his confidence, and it became a non-issue. That afternoon, one of those boys asked to borrow the goggles.

We've been trying hard to have him well dressed, clean, polite, take away any obvious bloopers to make him more of a target. But it's not the goofy goggles or the bell-bottom floods that he belovedly calls his "knickers" that matter, it's how he wears them. And these days he's wearing them with pride. Rather than becoming bland and just hoping to survive by fitting in, he's embracing his unique nature, his goofy humour and his beautiful sensitivity, and he's shining.

So when he takes a classmate's sled and won't give it back all recess, there is a cause for celebration. No, the behavior isn't acceptable and we address that with him, but there's a brave new strength that lets him assert himself rather than complain that he was never given a turn. He's finding himself and the will to stay on his own special path; our task is to celebrate his uniqueness, supporting and drawing out that strength that lets him Gloriously be Galen, while helping to channel it in positive healthy ways.

Nov 25, 2010

Snow wonder

Thank you friend, for a walk as pure and beautiful as the snow on the fields. Thank you for your tears and your laughter, often in the same stretch of country road; the two need never be far apart. It's all real and it's all you. The more we share our ups and downs, the more we are.

There's no rules in friendship or in sadness. Except honesty, maybe, but even that means more about honesty to our feelings than to our expression. Whatever is ready to come out whenever will be met with love and openness, and whatever needs to stay inside will be equally respected and met with love and openness.

Still the gentle snow falls, covering the world in softness, muting and slowing and making it safe for long walks and slow talks. I could lie on my back all day and watch the world fall into my eyes, waving angels into the world and dreaming of hot chocolate.

Nov 19, 2010

Tired enough for winter

Bring on the snow - I'm tired.

Took a gloriously unexpected sunny day to finally finish harvesting potatoes (left), planting the garlic, then mulching it with 5 inches of grass and shredded leaves (below). The new field still needs a bit more seaweed and 2 trailer loads of horse manure. Woodshed needs restacking, but has enough in it for winter. Winter greens transplanted into the greenhouse. The garden is pretty much put to rest for the winter, now it's my turn.

I want shorter days. I want to be unable to farm because it's under a white blanket. I want afterschool sledding and cold nights by the fire. I want books, games, guitar. I want a 4-month snow day.

Fall has been wonderfully productive with final gardening, building an addition onto the rental cottage, running the Who Knew talent show, and doing a final pre-Christmas marketing blitz for my business. I've kicked into high-efficiency mode and felt that familiar high-energy buzz. But it's only OK because it's temporary, putting aside more personal stuff knowing that my time will soon come.

Winter is a time to cultivate me. Time to dream and read and plan next year's garden, farming with a pen instead of a shovel. Time to get back to yoga three times a week, brisk morning walks with friends. Time for frozen world hot-tubs and early bedtimes. Time to relax, recuperate, and rejuvenate before spring comes to wake us up again.

Thank you dear Autumn for lasting long enough for me to store up for the winter. Now bring on the snow.

Nov 11, 2010

What are we remembering?

Today, Remembrance Day, I will hold in my heart not just Canadian soldiers, but all soldiers who senselessly lose their lives. Russian, Taliban, Congolese, German soldiers are equally worthy of my tears, my poppies, my heartfelt sadness at their loss.

They all fought for their countries. They all were told the same lie that young Canadians were told - that war would bring freedom and Peace.

This is my annual day of discomfort at our society's glorification of war. On this Remembrance Day we always get it wrong. Just a glance through the local paper makes that clear:
"Let's remember and pay tribute to the sacrifices made by veterans and their fallen comrades in their efforts to build a more peaceful world." - Doug Routley, MLA
"We have freedom because of what veterans have done." - Wes Everitt, sergeant at Arms

War doesn't bring Peace. It can't. These soldiers were indeed brave to sacrifice their lives in service to their country, but it was a misguided service. I salute their bravery, and lament the societal influences that deceived them into thinking that war is the answer.

Today let's remember the terrible loss to society that war always causes. Let's feel saddened by the death of so many young women and men in the service, and the many many more innocent victims of war, mostly women and children.

But let's not fall into the trap of using that collective global sadness to garner more support for the troops, to add further fuel to the fire and continue the circle of killing. This is not a national recruitment day. Let's take that sadness deep inside our collective soul and let it feed a strong light of Peace, a collective determination to remove all causes of war.

Nov 8, 2010

A peopleful, purposeful weekend

Friday - two parent-teacher interviews, full workday with Chad on the cabin extension (new office for Crystal), then a glorious friend's glorious birthday party in her intimately packed kitchen/living room, stumbled home exhausted at midnight.

Saturday - all day building with Chad again (finished building a box by the end, into which we'll pour the foundation, not too impressive looking for 2 days with 2 men but it is, really!), then an overnight visit from former roommate Meribeth and her partner and 2 kids. Much too exhausted to also slip out to another glorious friend's glorious party.

Sunday - 8-person sourdough pancake breakfast feast, very centred 15-person Quaker meeting, big final lunch visit with our visitors, potato-harvest and garlic planting all afternoon with the kids, long-awaited 8-person dinner party at our friends' new house, then straight to another friend's basement for our annual 10-person candle dipping extravaganza (prep for the school's Christmas Fair). Stumbled home exhausted at 10:30

Too many good people, just enough time. I am looking forward to a rebound day of no friends, just intensive construction and gardening. But a weekend packed with friends and good work was, to use Zekiah's word, suuweeeeeeeet.

Nov 4, 2010

Would the Real MC please stand up?

What's the point of hosting a talent show fundraiser if you can't dress up? Multiple times...

At the second annual "Who Knew," featuring 12 parent and teacher acts ranging from country duet to stand-up comedy to seven desperate housewives doing things with irons that Mrs. Brady and Alice could never have imagined, I got to play several parts (not all planned).

First I opened the show as Billy Squire, singing the timeless 1981 classic The Stroke - "Stroke me, stroke me, give me the business all night long." Those tight shiny pants and curled-feathered hair soon gave way to a formal suit as I had the high honour of accompanying Patrick and Marissa's beautiful contact dance performance. For some friends, the biggest "Who knew?!" surprise was that I even own a suit (thanks mom, it didn't get me a job but did get a laugh.)

During break I was told to ramp up the energy a bit, so I started doing a striptease, removing one item between each act. When I caught myself seductively licking my own belt buckle in front of 130 community friends I wondered just how wild the night would get. But fortunately (for the audience), when down to just trousers and undies it was time to do a quick backstage change and come out as Cari's wife for her funny song. I explained to the disappointed audience that the grand finale of my striptease had been canceled now that I was a married lady.

For the second year in a row, we parents and faculty had the glorious chance to let our hair down and just enjoy ourselves as adults. If I as MC go a bit further than most others, it's just blazing a path so that others feel more free to express themselves however that comes out - fighting cats, boot-stompin' sex kittens, banjo-strummin' Kermit covers, clothes-pegged unmentionables, we had it all on stage and on the dancefloor till 1:30am, and all was gloriously received in the spirit of fun and cutting loose. Who Knew setting the tone could require so many costume changes?

Oct 30, 2010

Pure chocolate

How good is good enough? At what point do we activists risk settling for what's attainable instead of what really should happen, and at what point do we go the opposite way and not get anything accomplished because of high ideals?

The spark for this musing is a lovely YES Magazine article on activist trick-or-treating, in which children go door-to-door GIVING fair-trade chocolate to people along with educational materials about the evils of the normal chocolate trade.

A friend for whom I have immense respect responded, "I would entertain this idea if and only if the chocolates were made with unrefined whole sugar. Many (if not most) fairly traded chocolate products that I see around are made with refined sugar, under one of its fancy marketing names - organic sugar, cane juice, raw sugar, sucanat, and others. Refined sugar, in my view unsustainable in the human body, is hardly an activist symbol I'd want my child to be promoting. (And then we'd have to talk about the milk powder in so many organic/fair trade chocolates.)"

I agree with her, and yet also hear myself saying that tired refrain, "We can never be perfect, so let's take this not-so-small step first." To push the idealism even further, I would add to the list that the chocolate should only be locally produced to minimize carbon footprint. Then add that we shouldn't be eating it anyways. But that would be a whole different and ultimately doomed campaign.

But we can win small battles. Look at the awareness and behavior change around fair-trade coffee. I don't support the industry at all, don't think people should be encouraged in this massive carbon-footprint emitting, money-wasting, time-wasting, body-weakening, dependency-forming global drug addiction. But at least the women and men and children producing the drug are finally being paid a living wage, a closer-to-fair cut in the whole racket. That's significant, as watered down as it is.

So given that North America is addicted to chocolate, the most important and most achievable first step is the fair trade and organic issue. We've done it with coffee, why not chocolate? We can afford it, the world's farmers can supply it. Let's create a will to make it happen. And what better ambassadors for chocolate and child labour than children?

Oct 23, 2010

Last Chance Texaco

Standing bow pose will be the end of me. Standing on one leg, chest leaning down toward the floor, one hand pointed straight forward to the mirror, other hand on my ankle pushing back and up - my long lanky body was just not made for this kind of balancing.

Atleast not for one minute. But after 50 seconds of struggle, falling out and jumping back in, I suddenly make the right lunge and I am a standing bow, beautiful and strong and arched, foot rising majestically above my head, hand pointed determinedly at my determined forehead in the mirror, and anyone else who's fallen out is looking at me thinking "Damn he's good!"

What I'm thinking is, "Damn, why couldn't I do this 50 seconds ago?" Why does it take until the last chance to let go and just do it? Why do I have to let the seconds hand on the clock take away my fear instead of just releasing it? That's all I have to do really, let go of any fear that I'll fall out. My body does know how to do this, my muscles are strong enough to hold it for a full minute; it's my mind that's limited.

My buddy Jonathan and his son decided one day to learn a 1.5 flip off the diving board. For a full hour they tried, bellyflopped, backflopped, headflopped, and tried again. And for a full hour they persisted and they failed. More than a bit dejected after the initial enthusiastic high of "My boy and I are going to conquer this together!", they decided to just go for it one last time. Nothing to lose. And guess what - they did it. That magical last try, go for broke, bust past all the mental barriers and just make it happen.

I realize I wrote this same blog posting two years ago, when after a full hour of surfing lessons I managed to stand up on my very last try. Right after the instructor had yelled for us to come in. As I triumphantly surfed in (for at least 4 seconds!) I wondered why I couldn't have done this 30 minutes ago, when my body wasn't so tired, when I could have then kept working to get better. All that time I thought my body couldn't do it, when the real problem was my mind thinking my body couldn't do it.

How many times do we need to learn this lesson, to realize that we're suddenly dancing free and wild and beautiful because we forgot to wonder if we know how to dance? We are capable of so much more than we let ourselves believe.

Oct 20, 2010

My Furry-Bottomed Friend

I promised you a word. Just one word. And it’s taken me months to find it. Why couldn’t you just ask for a cinnamon bun like a normal person?

Some words were just too obvious, some too trite, and most too generic and zodiac-ish that don’t capture the unique You. Yes, you’re alive, vibrant, honest, true, beautiful, fun, creative. Outrageous. Yes, you’re a listener, a laugher, and even at those times when we let the world get on us a bit too much, a shrugger.

Nurturer, lover, dancer of all media and rhythms and emotions and tribes. Extoler of Virtue, how’s that one? OK, it’s 3 words, but come on, really, one word for the myriad interwoven patchwork of You?!

Back to the adjectives – brave, tender, strong, gentle, hard-working (hyphens still make one word?), hard-playing, giving and even - once in a while - self-giving. Whole, broken, shattered and glued.

Still no closer to a single word, but there’s the link, the glue. The magical hyphen to bring it all together; for the real essence of a person lies not in the chunky words but in the gooey links between. The impossible way that you hold onto and grow these multiple roles and feelings and involvements, histories and hopes, vistas and valleys into a cohesive Self who has meaning and beauty and consistency.

Velveteen. That’s my word for you. Beautiful broken and rebuilt you. Tattered and shabby from love and life, hugged to shreds then left in a box, warmer of warm beds and cold shelves, faithful through fever and fire, longing and longed for, lover and loved and lost and found. And through it all remembering to laugh and to cry, to share more than hide, to equally embrace faith and despair.

May each new Joy and each new trial fray your edges and wear out your furry bottom a little more. May your tail hang crooked and your ears be sewn back on just strong enough to listen a while longer. You love and are loved by the world. Your softening puzzle pieces fit back together a bit easier, and a bit different, and a bit surprising, every time you play. Every time you find the courage to ask, you build and re-create. You, my Velveteen friend, are real.

Oct 5, 2010

Simple Touch

In the morning there are lovers in the streets, they look so high
You brush against a stranger and you both apologize
- Joni Mitchell, Down to You

Oh how coarse and rude and unrefined a beast I can be. Setting down my mat and towel for yoga the other day created a wind that blew up the carefully-placed towel of the woman beside me. Believe me, in the intense and sacred space of a hot yoga room, where people come up to half an hour early to protect their favourite spot, that is a punishable offense.

To my relief, she instantly shot me a dramatic raised eyebrow, sharp exhale, head-flipped back gesture of over-acted anger that made us both smile. Made me think of my dear friend Kim in Kentucky. Made me feel connected to my neighbour for the next 90 minutes.

A few people would have chosen to be annoyed. Most would have chosen to quietly ignore it. She chose connection.

How many opportunities for simple human connection do we miss every day by choosing to be annoyed, or in a bubble, or polite?

Oct 4, 2010

Tooth Fairy Poetry

Dear Zekiah

Sometimes I’m an impatient fairy – I must tell the truth
It feels like a thousand years that I’ve been waiting for this tooth

Months ago it wiggled and we both were quite excited
You started telling everyone that soon I’d be invited

It wiggled and it waggled and it wobbled even more
I even hear you talk about removing it with the door!

Every day I waited just to hear that it was out
But every day that stubborn tooth stayed in – it made me POUT

I started to feel cross and angry, so eager was I
I thought it would never come – I even almost cried

Looser and looser and looser still that silly tooth became
So loose that here in Fairyland, “THE WOBBLER” became its name

Then finally the happy news rang out across the land
The Wobbler was no longer in your mouth, but in your hand

An airport is a funny place for a tooth to leave your face
Perhaps The Wobbler wanted to fly to a new place

Indeed, The Wobbler will tonight fly high away with me
Back to Fairyland for all my friends to hold and see

Perhaps last night you heard me come, or felt my fair wings whir
I leave for you this special book, your heart and mind to stir
And take with me the most famous tooth of all - the prized “Wobbler”

Sep 29, 2010

It's All Fun

"What are we going to do that's fun today?" asks the eager/bored teenager we're hosting this week. He's here to learn about our lives, to open his eyes, get some positive role modeling on his journey to manhood.

I think hard about what I'm trying to model, what I have to teach him. We could spend a week having adventures, manly adventures. We could drum, hunt, hike, swim in cold water. We could shoot pool, watch Matt Damon movies, eat mountain oysters. Go ice fishing with his first six-pack of Old Milwaukee.

But even if I liked all those things, it wouldn't really be teaching/showing him about how I live my life as a man. So I find myself creating a list of chores to do together. We're cleaning out the chicken sheds, cutting wood, harvesting potatoes, building a subfloor in the basement, fixing bikes, and planting garlic. Washing dishes, hanging laundry, kissing scrapes and packing lunches. Real work that's long been on my list of things I both have to and want to do -- things my family is depending on me to do.

After overcoming his teenage static friction, he got into the groove of chopping wood yesterday. We both worked up a sweat, occasionally took turns at being beaten by a stubborn log, and piled up an impressive amount of wood. Several times he turned to me with a surprised, satisfied grin and said, "This is hard work!" I smiled back and said, "Ya, doesn't it feel good?"

We will also hit the BMX track, let the Texan boy try to swim in the ocean, and go out for fish and chips. But if there's one lesson he can learn this week - and remind me - it's that the work IS the fun. There's real meaning and deep satisfaction in getting a job done and taking care of the family. Somewhere in that growing woodpile and clean laundry is the definition of manhood.

Sep 26, 2010

Corpsial Musings

In between each agonizing stretch of Bikram "hot" yoga, we lie on our backs and pretend to be corpses for 20 seconds. 20 seconds to calm our breathing, focus on our bodies, and supposedly to keep the mind clear of distractions. Not surprisingly, it's the hardest pose of the whole 90-minutes. Here's what rattled through my head on one 20-second corpse pose today:

- Oh no, that was the hardest pose of the series (camel) and we have to do it again! I don't know if I can...
- Focus on your breath.
- Don't think about Camel, think about my favourite pose afterward (rabbit) then two more and we're done and I can go home and...
- Ugh, focus Rick.
- Just get through the final 4 poses.
- No, just get through Camel.
- Actually, just stay in this corpse pose for another 5 seconds.
- Just stay in this one breath.
- Breath.

From Woody Allen to Tich Nat Hahn in 20 seconds - I guess there is power in lying still.

Sep 24, 2010

Your Time is your Life

I need your help. A little over two years into this self-re-creation gambit, it's time to see if it's working. And being the man I am, I'm creating an Excel spreadsheet.

This new life is one of intentionality and integrity. It's simplicity in its truest and most complex form - striving to have all our energies invested in things that matter and reflect our faith. So what I'm proposing to do is to measure how I use my time, then see how it maps onto or creates the image of the new Me.

We've done this before with money - followed Your Money or Your Life and charted every penny spent into a myriad of columns. When it came time to review the data, we not only found places to cut back, but places to add on. Gardening, for example, was something that meant a lot to Sarah (not to me at the time), so why was so little of our life energy (as measured by money) being allotted to that passion?

Time should be even more central to this intentional living. If I find that I'm spending more hours cleaning the house than caring for my kids, that would indicate a failure to live up to my vision of how to balance responsibilities; my vision of what's most important (note the singular pronoun :)

So, where I need help is deciding on the columns. There should be enough to provide a useful analysis, but not so many that I spend more time tracking than living. For example, I originally divided "Housework" into meals, laundry, dishes, and cleaning, but now have it all as one column - it might be useful fodder during a marital spat, but not important for figuring out if I use my time according to my values.

Here's the first draft, divided up into my different roles (feel free to add to or alter those also):

1. Dad - a. logistics (school drop-off, playdates) b. quality time (play, homework, snuggles, work together...), c. School involvement

2. Homemaker - a. house repair/projects, b. farm, c. housework, d. logistics

3. Professional - a. FreeRange Consulting

4. Friend - a. Social (time with friends, facebook, wife time...)

5. Individual (need a more consistent label for this) - a. Writing, b. Rick (self-care, exercise, naps, music, hammock, art...)

6. Misc

I'll also have to figure out how to record cross-over activities, which in this life have blissfully increased. Gardening with the boys, yoga with a friend, volunteering on a school committee with wonderful other adults. Should packing lunches go under Kids logistics or housework? Is building a basement bedroom a house repair, an income-generator, social (to have more people in our lives), or mostly a "Rick" indulgence?

Much to play with, and any clarity you can help provide about whether or not I've drafted a useful breakdown of life would be most appreciated.

Sep 15, 2010

Justice for the Farmer

If you don't like the smell of manure, don't move to the country.

BC farmers just won a precedent-setting case, in which an "I love to live in the romantic country" family brought a farmer to court because his animals were too noisy and stinky for them. It was a potentially dangerous case for all of us - if they had won, it would pave the way for people to restrict reasonable farm practices. My neighbours could possibly take me to court because they doesn't like to see my cows out their window or hear my rooster crowing at dawn.

The court not only backed up farmers' rights to farm, but it seemingly went out of its way to make clear the importance of farming and freedom to farm. Big sigh of relief for all of us wanting to live up to our Agricultural Land Reserve farm status and provide food for our community.

Excerpt from Feehan v Ferguson (August 17, 2010), (British Columbia Farm Industry Review Board). Victoria, BC

“ 70. In conclusion, the panel heard no evidence of any kind to suggest that any of Mr. Ferguson’s practices on his farm were anything but good farm management and that he is using best practices for a small, integrated farm to maximize the output on his marginal land. We believe this type of farm should be encouraged.

71.In our opinion, to prevent future disputes such as this one from arising and causing major distress to all parties concerned, people buying property in the Agriculture Land Reserve need to understand that agriculture is the primary activity of the area and that agriculture involves animals and animal sounds. It may also involve smells and dust from the operation. Living within the ALR also means that what is a sheep or llama farm today may become a chicken or hog farm tomorrow. This commonly happens in farming areas when circumstances change. Unfortunately, the seeming tranquility of rural areas is attractive to families until they experience the realities of farming, at which time they often feel betrayed.

The Farm Practices Protection (Right to Farm) Act was put into place to provide a balanced approach to give neighbours a venue to complain when aggrieved by farming practices. At the same time, it protects farmers from these complaints when they are carrying on “normal farm practices” and taking reasonable actions to mitigate neighbour complaints.

72. Section 6 of the Act provides that a panel must dismiss a complaint if it is of the opinion that the odour, noise, dust or other disturbance results from a normal
farm practice, and must order a farmer to cease the practice that causes the odour, noise, dust or other disturbance if it is not a normal farm practice, or to modify the practice in the manner set out in the order, to be consistent with normal farm practice.

73. Given that we have found that Dan Ferguson of Dragonfly Farm is conducting his business according to normal farm practices, the complaint is dismissed.

Sep 13, 2010

Monday Monday, so good to me

Here's to hoping that this first full-on Monday of the fall sets a precedent:
- Soft rainy morning walk hand in hand with the boys to school, then an invigorating jog home.
- Helped our German woofers reorganize the freezer and canning shelves
- Wrote a blog and a wee bit of computer work while said German woofers picked beans, weeded peas and shoveled manure
- Another soft rainy bike ride to pick up Zekiah
- Fried up some fresh zucchini and summer squash (harvested by German woofers) with leftover rice and peanut sauce for lunch
- Delicious one-hour nap with snugly exhausted first-grader
- Unrainy bike ride to pick up Galen, home for a snack (zucchini cake, cucumber, carrot, fried egg and milk)
- Took bikes into town for back-to-school repairs at the u-fix-it BikeWorks shop
- Pumpkin-potato dinner cooked by German woofers
- Bikram yoga with beautiful wife
- Writing this while baking a zucchini loaf for 8 beautiful women in the living room practicing their moves and grooves in a steamy song&dance routine for the upcoming Who Knew talent show

I tell ya, this stay-at-home-dad-with-school-age-kids gig is the best-kept secret around. Please do not forward this posting to anyone :)

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

I screwed up, almost big time. Forgot to arrange for the school to be open so we could set up for the barn dance, resulting in several friends/volunteers waiting outside for an hour, my friend/neighbour/teacher leaving a party early to open up, and a very rushed set-up for what luckily turned out to be a good event.

Typical of the good people in my world (the world?), my apologies were quickly accepted and put aside as we got right to work setting up for yet another fabulous school party. No one held a grudge, and we all went home feeling great (albeit exhausted). No big deal in the end.

But for me it is a big deal. I let down the group, inconveniencing friends who were already putting out more than should be expected. So I sent a follow-up apology email to let them know that it meant something to me. That when I flop I don't just shrug it off and rely on the kindness of strangers to pick up the pieces for me. That I truly appreciate their goodness of spirit, not just take it for granted.

Sometimes that second apology, later when things have cooled, is the most important one. After it's over and we've all recovered, when it would be easy to just move on and forgive & forget, it means that much more to let them know that I'm still carrying it - in a healthy, learning and appreciative way. Not heavy and self-flagellating, just an acknowledgment that in the morning after it still means something.

I see it in my children that when the (genuine) apology comes too soon, before the tears and the hurt have been kissed away, that it doesn't register, doesn't make it better. A few minutes later, there's space to come back and say it again. The hurt one is ready to listen, and the hurter shows that he's still feeling it, hasn't just blurted out a rote "sorry" and moved on.

Way back in grad school I inadvertently put a friend in a very difficult situation that would take weeks to unravel. I apologized immediately and profusely, and she could see that it was an honest and unintentional mistake. But the next day in a quiet moment I said to her, "I just want you to know I'm not taking this lightly." The healing we both felt at this connection far surpassed any S-word protocol.

So thank you, dear friends, for holding the space for human error and for having the positive spirit to keep the focus on how to make a big ol' Right out of my wrong.

Sep 10, 2010

It's just a hair cut

The first time i ever got a hair style, it led to sunburned ears and a crying mother. After 14 years of the same bowl cut half-way over my ears, Jacob exposed those lobes, created a part, feathered it oh so 80'sishly down to the right, and launched a 10-year love affair with gel. My mother sobbed at the loss of her little boy, and 8 hours on the tennis court found virgin skin on the forehead, ears and neck to scorch.

When my own first-born was 4 1/2 we cut his beautiful long locks for the first time. While he sat happily in the chair watching a video, Sarah and I choked back tears and scooped up long locks for the memory book. We watched our little angel become his own little boy, and it took weeks to get used to his new look and freedom.

We had resisted that haircut for months. Any time he had requested a cut, we assumed it was a short-term whim, and sure enough it would go away. Then one day in the car he picked up a butterfly puppet and told us, on behalf of the butterfly in a strange butterfly voice:
- "everyone thinks I'm a girl but I'm not, I'm a boy."
- Stunned, we asked how butterfly felt about it
- "Sad, butterfly feels really sad."
- Already knowing the answer, we asked, "What would butterfly want to do about it?"
- "Butterfly wants to get his hair cut so people know he's a boy butterfly."

At age 4 1/2 our boy had invented the classic children's psychotherapy tool to finally get us to hear him. We could now see for how long we'd been not listening, imposing our will on him long after he'd stopped being a malleable little playtoy.

Now almost 9 years into parenthood, we've learned our lesson. Galen's hair was once more quite long, but this time of his own choosing and much to our surprise. As good as he looked, if we had to choose we probably would have counseled shorter hair just for the social acceptance value. But he had made a decision to grow it long just because that's how he felt; not to emulate nor please his shaggy papa. It was purely a Galen thing, and we loved him for it.

He wore it long and proud much longer than we expected. Wore it long after the other boys in class had cut theirs. Wore it through a family member's disparaging remarks about him looking like a girl. Wore it without us praising or condemning it, knowing he had the choice to be who he wants to be and look how he wants to look. He experienced the power to create his own look and still be his own person.

So when he announced it was coming off before school, we equally loved him for that. And felt rather proud that we had not influenced him either way.

The first day of school he donned a knee-length Indian "tunic" shirt to match his short hair and entered grade 3 once again his own unique beautiful shining self. His eyes sparkle just as bright, his goofy laugh and squirmy body are as expressive and pure and unedited as ever. I once wrote of my beautiful wife "Big or small, i love her All", and the same goes for my beautiful boy. He's so much more than his hair.

Sep 4, 2010

Is Summer Really Over?

Took a cold outdoor shower yesterday just because I could. This weekend predicts highs of 60, rain on Monday, school on Tuesday - is it really over?!

Is it really time for the litany of morning-after questions - did I swim enough? Did I play with the kids enough? Did I worship the sun, sleep in, garden, do those reno projects, camp, visit, expose my skin, eat fruit, go to fairs and festivals...? Did I live that life of ease that I promised myself and my family back in an optimistic June blog posting?

Well, there's no tree fort, swing or bike jump, but it still was a balanced, fun, relaxed, natural summer. We played, we stayed away from school friends and politics and dynamics, just took a break. Alternately slept in or got up early to do projects, jumped in the car to go fishing and hiking, had 2 glorious camping trips with friends, a medley of beautiful guests that is still going on, etc etc.

Through all this, the hernia operation and recovery was a blessing in disguise. I was forced to slow down, nap, and tone down on physical work. It left more time for card games and beach time, for just Being with the kids. It also encouraged Sarah to take more time away from her work to pick up the slack and to join us in a lot of family fun. We four found a rhythm that satisfied mostly all of our needs to garden, work and play.

And now, as predicted, we're ready for fall. Ready for parking lot hugs and play dates and ceremonies. Already busy planning 2 school events, 1 school committee, 5 fundraising/enrollment training workshops for school staff, and 2 welcome-back parties on our land. After a summer off, we're all ready to jump back into Involvement and Routine. Not so sure about the 8am out-the-door routine, but the 9-12 or 9-3 concentrated work/project time while kids are in school will be a welcome respite.

I do wish that I'd taken the boys for more adventures or even more soccer kick-arounds at the park. But I also wish I'd finished a few more projects. And I don't regret the naps and sleep-ins. So I reckon that's the feel of balance - letting go of some ambitions in each realm and being satisfied with what WAS done instead of what WASN'T.

In the same spirit, I look forward to all that WILL BE this fall, not what we'll miss. I promise not to lament the end of the hot swimming weather, the end of slow mornings, the passing of summer's graceful smile. I will embrace the brisk efficiency and vibrant colours of fall, and fondly look back on the beautiful summer that WAS.

Aug 31, 2010

The summer i turned Old

It’s easier than you think, getting old. You just slow down, become more careful, say No more often. It’s a habit that fits loose but binds tight, made of the lightest and softest fabrics that somehow still pull heavy on the shoulders. And once you’ve put it on, you’re not sure if it’s safe to take it off again.

July 10, the day after my hernia operation, I wasn’t so resigned. Spurning the pain meds, I took the family to our community fair, hobnobbing with the politicians, laughing with the farmers and eating the worst pancake breakfast in the history of church fundraisers. But half an hour into it I was already beyond hurting and seeing white, needing to sit down before being driven home. Slept the afternoon away, and popped some Advil to get through the night.

For the first two weeks of mandatory docility, I followed the rule of not lifting anything more than 5 pounds – a small bag of sugar. It was hard, but in a way fun, learning to ask others to cart the chicken feed or pour me water from our big jug. The Happy Invalid, taking daily naps and enjoying a respite from being the man who always pushes the limits.

The next two weeks I followed doctor’s orders and very gradually increased activity and the weight of lifting. VERY gradually, almost shockingly gradually. Still no running, still no picking up my children, and still long daily naps. Was I erring on the side of caution to not reinjure it, or respecting that my 43-year-old body really does need longer to recover than when I had the same operation at 24, or just getting lazy?

By August I was officially out of the danger zone, but didn’t suddenly become the invincible Rick Who Believes He’s Still 25. When the boys asked when I could pick them up again, I told them maybe when school started. I still walked slowly through the property, carried half-loads, and took my beloved naps. Told myself I was just being extra-careful, but somewhere inside I started to worry that this was it. This was the new me, finally admitting and acting my age.

So this is what it’s like to be old. Before jumping into an activity having to think if I’ll have the energy to complete it. Saying “no” to fun and adventure if it might be “too much.” Letting younger friends and Woofers carry the heavy stuff. Watching the children run and smiling at their youthful energy. Sitting on the couch for a snuggle instead of scooping the boys up for a big spin-around hug. Hearing my own tired voice say, “No, you kids go for a swim, I’m comfortable here on the blanket.”

The motor runs fine; it’s the starter engine that’s wonky. This premature old age was no longer by doctor’s orders, no longer because I could only drive slow or had run out of gas; it was a choice not to drive. It was easier to not turn the key, not get the engine fired up.

This deliberate decrepitness cost our family a much-anticipated backcountry hiking trip to Cathedral Lakes, settling for a forestry-road drive-in trip that fortunately was also beautiful. It cost me a summer of active gardening, relying on Sarah and woofers to produce our year’s bounty. It cost my boys two months of exuberant interaction with their papa as they learned too well to be careful and gentle with their fragile Old Man. It cost me a full season of being fully Me.

The road back to Me had two milestones. It started on our last morning of camping, in the last 2 minutes when Zekiah fell just before our final goodbye with our friends. He was hurt, sad, and not about to go do our traditional rousing rendition of Brown Squirrel (this year augmented by a spastic Wild Things wild rumpus). “My boy needs me, all of me, right now,” I thought, and I picked him up and carried him over, hugging him close. His teary eyes grew wide with wonder and delight as he whispered, almost in awe, “Papa, you’re carrying me!” I didn’t tell him that the doctor would have let me pick him up two weeks ago. We both needed this moment right then. His Papa was there, all there.

The other marker was the next day when Sarah took me to Bikram (hot) yoga for the first time in 4 years. My first yoga at all since spring – somehow I’d convinced myself that my sore body couldn’t even handle gentle stretches, that atrophy and stiffness were also part of the new Old me.

Just entering the 104 degree room triggered an old pattern of striving and pushing boundaries; set an intention of health and strength. As of the first breathing exercise I was out of the rocking chair, back to being back. I pushed too hard of course and hurt my lower back, but the rest of the week still went every day and did the poses I could to bring energy and power back to my body.

I’ve lost significant core strength for the first time in my life, but it’s already coming back, and for the first time ever I’m aware of it. I’ve always just had strength and energy, but now as I work to bring it back I’m appreciative in a new way. It doesn’t just exist, it has to be summoned and nurtured and honoured.

I’m not 25 anymore, and that’s OK. I don’t have to pretend that I could still make Wimbledon if I set my mind to it – I am older than Jimmy Connors when he made his 39-year-old amazing Aging Athlete run at the US Open in 1991. But I don’t have to focus on limitations, don’t have to dwell on what I can’t do or lose momentum worrying about losing momentum. I can decide to be healthy, to be strong, to have the energy to create energy. I spent two months respecting my limitations; now I’m back to respecting my power.

Aug 23, 2010


This blogging thing is dangerous. It's teaching me to use my own voice, express my own opinion, find my own style. The result was the potentially harrowing experience of being Edited!

I was recently requested to write an article for, Canada's top website and newsletter for nonprofits. What I wrote was a deliberately unbalanced, personal and strong condemnation of corporate give-away contests using online voting. Good writing, but not exactly in the neutral forgiving style of a national publication.

So they wrote back and said they'd be editing it, with my approval before publication. With a huge gulp! i agreed, and waited anxiously to see how much it would be watered down. But instead of becoming generic and neutral, it came back better. By removing Opinionated Rick from the narrative, it became a more authoritative treatise. In removing the few direct digs at corporate greed, it became less reactionary and more investigative.

I'm not about to change my blog style. In a world where we (quite rightly) need to be sensitive and two-way and careful, this site is a place to explore and share just what goes on in my own brain and soul and world, without worrying (much) about how it's received at the readers' end. In that way it's much like the unconditional love of a psychologist.

But I did learn a powerful lesson about employing other writing styles in other venues. Sometimes an op-ed isn't the best way to teach or share an idea. Sometimes, it would seem, the thoughts I have to share are more important than the fact that it's Me sharing them.

Anyways, for those of you interested in the professional side that I've been reawakening through FreeRange Consulting (which works with non-profit fundraising and organizational development, by the way, not farming advice!), here's the article.

Aug 20, 2010

When the cows (and campers) come home

An intriguing moment of our camping trip was the decision to come home a day early. Usually in BC that means that you're sick of being wet and cold, or tired of the crowded sites, or want to escape the other family you're with, or really crave a bath and a home-cooked meal. None of the above for us.

The trip had been perfect, and still was. We'd woken up that morning to chipmunks raining pine cones down onto our Peaceful oceanside campsite, then taken the kids fishing, exploring tide pools and jumping rocks. I'd had my cleansing morning skinny-dip, diving in off of Dinner Rock. Hot oatmeal filled our bellies and cinnamon buns were ready for the morning hike to a 200-year-old tree. We were deep into the groove of being together, being away from work and farm and hurry, just deep into Being.

Then, quiet and sure as a sunrise, the Knowing came that another day wouldn't add anything. We didn't need another day of Bliss; the trip was perfect right where it was. And just as miraculous as that Knowing, all 7 of us - big and small - had the wisdom to honour it and go home.

The result was a final day of calm, carrying with us the inner beauty and connection we'd built up over 5 days. An extra day of rest and togetherness before setting off on the next adventure (kids at "Camp Grandma Dia", us at home without kids for 5 days). And home just in time to once again wrangle an escaped cow back into the pasture and re-build the fence (but that's another story).

These days I'm trying to listen to my body before taking a second helping of dinner or dessert; to be completely satisfied and full with a first kiss; to be able to pick just one juicy strawberry. Applying this lesson to a camping trip was an utter and delightful surprise, and the perfect ending to a perfect trip.

Aug 17, 2010

Free Camping

Yes, the best things in life are free - beautiful friends, inspiring environments, creative food, and thanks to BC Forestry: camping. At long last we dared to trust our backcountry road map, heading up very dusty but driveable forestry roads along the Sunshine Coast to free, quiet campgrounds.

The first night was actually $12, but had a private dock for swimming/fishing and was close to the spectacular Skukumchuck Narrows. The next 3 nights were outside Powell River at Kartoum Lake - just one of many lakes where we could camp lakeside, explore the river, paddle out on our friends' inflatable dingy to fish, skinny-dip day and night, and just relax into the summer's perfectly-timed heat wave.

Then we changed gears and stayed on the coast at Dinner Rock, watching the sun set over the ocean and Savoury Island. The ever-optimistic boys switched from trout to salmon lures (equally unsuccessful), and started collecting seastars and crabs instead of the millions of baby frogs up the mountain.

True we had to boil our water and use pit latrines, and suffer without any electric hook-ups. But that kept the crowds and RVs away, giving the perfect illusion of a backcountry hike-in paradise without losing the convenience of drive-in.

The drawbacks?
- We have to begrudgingly give thanks to the forestry companies who maintain the roads and the campsites, even if they are only doing it out of legal mandate or perhaps PR
- Trying to explain to our innocent boys the devastated barren landscape of irresponsible unsustainable clearcuts
- It's hard to pay $20 for a provincial campsite ever again
- Remembering that it's still worth it to hike or canoe in, if only to feel the heightened sense of "earning it"

Regardless of the last bullet point, I am totally inspired to get a canoe or kayak, to be able to access even more remote and pristine spots; spots that the weekend partiers and 4x4-ers can't get to. To be able to paddle out before sunrise or moonrise to fish or swim or explore. Anyone with recommendations of what type/size/style is good for a family (or with one to sell) please do let me know.

Aug 8, 2010

A loud, cold beginning to a marriage

This day 11 years ago I was waking up a married man, a beautiful wife beside me, and (gulp) a blaring ALARM clock at 7am. None of the blissful slow awakenings of these days to the sound of birds outside the window and kids singing Annie down the hall. No sleepy-eyed memories of the night of dancing & singing, no philosophical musings on the new path together.

While the sound of our first morning together was atypical of the ensuing 11 years, the theme sure set the tone. We had to get up and GO. Interact and lead our community on an adventure. Make some more memories. Laugh. Create. All the things that still bind us 11 years later.

On this first morning the "task" was simply to convince as many wedding guests as possible to plunge into the glacier-fed river. The reward - a turn at cutting my shaggy shaggy locks. One by one, screaming loved ones from around the continent took the plunge, then celebrated the Big Plunge sarah and i had taken by hacking off 4 years of blond African growth. Malcolm finished the job with a razor, and I started my new life with a new, clean look.

A typically busy morning-after followed with a community breakfast, clean-up, present-opening, and bidding goodbye to guests. Later that afternoon we finally put on our brand new backpacks and headed into the woods of Mt. Ranier for a honeymoon camping adventure. The leftover wedding cake (chocolate-raspberry truffle) sustained us for a week of no alarms, no Doing, no nothing except being together and looking ahead to a future we could never have guessed at.

This fine summer morning 11 years later I woke up with the same even-more-beautiful woman, the same longer blond hair that aint goin' nowhere, and a deeper (and quieter) Peace than we could ever have imagined on that first clear, fresh-start morning. And rippling over that same deep body of Peaceful water is a day full of purpose and adventure, and even a packing of those same backpacks for another backcountry camping trip.

And the same open wonder and appreciation of each other and the universe, the same passion and purpose and daring that threw us into a glacier-fed river that first morning and into each other's lives the day before, propels us to a busy day of planting over-winter crops, finishing 3 work proposals, 4 loads of laundry to hang dry, a pancake brunch with our tenants, and the all the busy-ness that goes with leaving for a trip tomorrow.

Who needs an alarm when you've got Life to wake you up and a beautiful Wife to meet it with?

Jul 30, 2010

Parenting our friends' children

It may take a village to raise a kid, but it takes a brave person to discipline a friend's child. Especially if they're there.

At the end of a glorious, tiring 4-day camping trip, the boys inevitably starting fighting in the back seat. My friend and I both tried gentle interventions, which had seemed to work, then suddenly her brute of a boy started to hit my precious darling again. Without thinking, I grabbed his hand and yelled at him. Something straight out of a parenting book, something clever and well-crafted like, "STOP IT! NO HITTING!"

The startled boy stopped hitting, and thankfully looked rather relieved rather than scared to have received clearly authoritative direction. I like to think he understood the authenticity of my reaction; at some level appreciating that I have enough of a relationship with him that I could be that natural.

I soon-after apologized, not for the discipline but for the choice of yelling as a means of expression. My older boy Galen then said some wise words that made it all even better: "You would have done the same with Zekiah too, right Papa?" This wasn't favouritism, it was justice - exactly what our kindergarten teacher says that 6-7 year olds crave from us.

The best part occurred in the lake 10 minutes later when my friend said she was as amazed and thankful as I was that the intervention had worked. She could have chosen to take it as a criticism of her parenting style, or as an unwelcomed disciplining of her child by someone else. Instead, she respected that I too have a relationship with this boy, and that part of that relationship and my responsibility to him is to provide the same loving, clear and at times forceful guidance as I do to my own children. And she accepted that my style is different than hers - not better, just different.

I would expect nothing less from her in dealing with my own children. I love to see her and other people in our lives step fully into the role of adult friend in our children's lives. But I do admit to the occasional feeling of rebuke when they do it differently and - at times - more effectively. Or to feelings of annoyance when they step into situations that I had deemed OK to let slide (usually around issues of safety or spirited jumping on me, for which I have a much higher tolerance level than many parents). "I can handle this!" my proud/insecure parenting shadow wants to shout back.

So thanks to my dear friend for being strong enough to let me step in as a fellow responsible adult in this shared situation. And thanks to my dear young friend for feeling safe enough with me to accept my intervention. I feel closer to both of them - and more respectful than ever - for being shown this respect; for being a natural part of their village.

Jul 16, 2010

How much is homemade jam really worth?

It's alot of work to make strawberry jam. Is it worth it? Guess that depends on how you evaluate "worth."

Usually "worth" means money. We spent $35 at the u-pick field, and another $50 on honey, pectin and jar lids, to make 52 small (250ml) jars - about $1.60 per jar that would sell for $4 or $5 at the farmer's market. Savings, about $100.

Of course, we spent 6 adult-hours picking and another 8 hours processing to save that $100. I'm happy to say that I actually earn more than $7.14/hour with my consulting work, so couldn't I have just taken on a few more hours of work and spent the other 6 hours at the beach?

The key to this new path, this labour-intensive low-paying life, is not valuing time in monetary terms. Those 3 hours with our children in the field were not money-saving, they were fun. They connected us with our food sources, filled our bellies as well as our baskets, and filled the air with song and laughter. The long night of processing allowed for slow conversation, balanced quiet and satisfaction of joint accomplishment that is the definition of quality couple time. You can't put a price tag on that, unless it's the cost savings of marital counseling.

When we crack open a few jars of jam each month throughout the winter, it's going to taste Good in so many ways. Our tongues will taste the perfect sweetness of berries sun-ripened on the bush and processed the same day they were picked. Our bodies will be thankful for the 100% organic ingredients and low honey/sugar content due to the special organic pectin we've discovered. Our social conscience will savour the low carbon footprint and earth-friendly organic farming methods of the local berries and honey, and how our money supported our berry- and honey-producing neighbours instead of the California corporations.

But we could have had all those real and righteous tastes by buying at the farmers' market. What will make our Wildside Farm jam truly delicious is tasting the memory of a day in the sun with my boys and a steamy night in the kitchen with my wife. Remembering plucking each stem, stirring the boiling frothy mass, even scrubbing the stove at midnight. That personal connection and investment in our food isn't just "priceless"; it's a true, tasty definition of worth.

Jul 15, 2010

Blessed naivete

In response to the local newspaper's article about my G8 involvement, one person wrote the following letter to the editor:
G20 protestor displays naive beliefs

Rick Juliusson’s claims of his peaceful presence at the recent international meeting in Toronto should be taken at face value. But he displays an incredible amount of naïveté when he faults the government for avoiding the protestors, and for the police’s occassional inclusion of “peaceful” protestors along with those intent on destruction. Mr. Juliusson even goes so far to excuse the destructive ones. This position results in a loss of credibility. There is absolutely no justification for violent means, and he should have realized his presence alongside the criminal element would simply confuse his message and desire to be treated in a civil manner. Perhaps he learned an important lesson.
- Bob Hawkins

My response, sent in today:
While I don’t expect a president to risk showing up at a public rally, I do persist in the belief that our democratically elected leaders must listen to their constituencies. If Bob Hawkins wants to call this “an incredible amount of naiveté”, so be it – I’d rather speak out against Harper and the G8’s systematic attack on our democratic and human rights than quietly let it happen.

My peaceful presence did not imply consent for the violent tactics employed by a minority of protesters. To suggest that it would have been better for us 25,000 Peaceful protesters to stay off the streets is naïve. For 9 days we successfully staged many non-violent marches, workshops and speakers forums, speaking directly and eloquently to the issues. The mainstream media had already decided to ignore the issues and focus on security and the violence that would sell their papers - abandoning the streets solely to the violent minority on the final day would not have changed that.

Yes, Mr. Hawkins, I “learned an important lesson”: that we must stand in strong solidarity, peacefully and strongly speaking Truth to power. I learned that our voices must be shared, even if the G8 leaders are behind closed doors not listening. The only thing worse than the violence would be quietly staying away.

Jul 14, 2010

Just kidding

Disclaimers are a lot like luggage locks and elections - we know they don't make much of a difference, but we use them anyways. We suspend reason and put our trust in them, pretending they somehow make us safer as we do something ill advised like check-in a precious guitar at the Nairobi airport, vote Green, or (gasp) diss ice cream on a blog.

Granted, I buried the disclaimer in the 2nd to last paragraph: "I'm all for the occasional treat - even, I admit, an imported non-organic big-corporation one - but not as a habit." But regardless of placement, it would not have mitigated the perception of me as a self-flagellating, judgmental, or neurotic fool. Commenting friends applauded Sarah for supposedly corrupting me with Breyers Caramilk ice cream the next day, even though I'd just openly acknowledged a weakness for it. Either no-one read the disclaimer, or (more likely) no-one believed it.

Back in April I knowingly walked into it even deeper, noting what I still believe to be a fact that women take more personal retreats and bubble baths than men. I put in a huge, genuine disclaimer about valuing women, and another bald disclaimer about overgeneralizing about both genders. I then wrote the meat of the article, about my perception that men are doers (saying nothing at all about women being or not being just as do-oriented - I considered adding that as another disclaimer, but knew it would do no good.) Sure enough, when the facebook comments flooded back, it was all about how women really want to work, not soak. Once again clear that either no-one read the disclaimer, or (more likely) no-one believed it.

"You're really ugly - just kidding!" A grade eight teacher taught us that "just kidding" more likely means that you do mean it. That is, he suggested, a disclaimer is not only ineffective, but that it accentuates the impact of the rest of what you said.

So I'm just going to stop writing advance apologies for people I may offend or omit, stop pointing out that what I say about myself probably doesn't apply to many or most others, stop trying to point out that in sharing my own personal struggle to walk my particular path of faith I'm not implying judgment of other peoples' paths. I'm just going to write my view of Truth and let it be taken as it may. That's the only real thing I have to say anyways - what I believe and experience, not how others may experience it. In fact, viewed in that way, a disclaimer could be seen as a form of vanity or disrespect - trying to anticipate the reader's reaction or experience and in a way discredit it.

So, no more disclaimers. Just pure unobliging obnoxious annoying me (just kidding :)

Jul 10, 2010


If you can't resist temptation, avoid it.

The single biggest key to our successful family budget downsizing has not been superhuman willpower, it's been an absence of stores. We hunker down here on the farm and are not exposed to the hundreds of ads, store-front window displays, neon signs, and thousand other clever ways that clever little marketing psychologists like me learned in grad school how to manipulate to squirm into to your pocket book.

But as I get out in the world now with my consulting and community work, I'm losing that precious isolation, and earning some pocket money to boot. Dangerous combo, much like how I get glued to a TV when it's on in someone else's house.

Last week I had everything going for me to say "I deserve a treat." I had cycled into town (carbon karma points), done a hospital pre-operation visit (sympathy points), cashed a paycheque (credit points), was melting in our first hot summer day (physical need points), and had no kids to buy for (economy points) nor model for (a get-out-of-role-model-free card). The whole world, and probably most of you readers, would be screaming out at me to just drop the $4 and buy an icecream.

It almost happened at Liquidation World, but my soul's just not strong enough for that big box. A frozen Reeces peanut butter cup on a stick was in my trembling hands, but that's not a corporation I can enjoy slurping. On the ride home I almost bought Island Fresh (local, almost-organic) icecream, but it was across a busy highway and at the "Old Farm Market" that pretends to support local agriculture but then lists anything in BC as "local" and sells California strawberries instead of the delicious Makaria Farm berries 1km away. Hypocrisy leaves a bad aftertaste.

Beyond all these high morals is the fear that I will start to just buy sweets every time I'm out, just because it's available and I can afford it. I'm all for the occasional treat - even, I admit, an imported non-organic big-corporation one - but not as a habit. I had started craving ice-cream as soon as I knew I was going to be alone in town, and that Pavolvian slobber response is a signal of an addiction, not a treat.

So in the end, my biggest treat was to get home off my hot bike, take a long drink of fresh cold well water from the hose, jump under the ice-cold outdoor shower in the garden, and be cooled down in time for a game of basketball with the kids before dinner. Yes, we deserve treats, but we have control over how we define and time them.

Jul 9, 2010

Chop wood like you were dying

I should be scared. I'm going to the single most dangerous place in Canada this morning - the hospital.
Hospital acquired infections are the fourth largest killer in Canada. Each year, 220,000-250,000 hospital acquired infections result in 8,000-12,000 deaths. Thirty to fifty percent of these hospital-acquired infections are preventable.
- American Journal of Infection Control, quoted in a CUPE Fact Sheet
Probably not the best reading before a rather standard hernia operation this morning. But it has reminded me of my mortality, made me hold my children a bit more tenderly, appreciate the garden grass on my feet, and drink my beautiful wife's hugs deep through my thirsty soul.

Yesterday, then, was a "live like it's the last day of your life" day. What did I do with it? Man stuff, taking care of the family and house. Chopped wood and finally rearranged the woodshed. Laid in the final irrigation line for the new garden patch. Took down the last winter storm windows (as I said, true Man stuff: procrastination.) Even if I escape the hospital danger zone I'll be unable to lift anything heavy for a month, and these are the things that would have driven me crazy looking at for a long hot impotent month.

If I were truly scared I probably would have spent even more time playing soccer with the boys and making love with my wife. But mostly it was reassuring to feel so good about my life, community, family, land, my place in the world. If I were to die unexpectedly today or any day, it would be knowing that I am living a good, blessed, meaningful, love-filled and love-giving life. I wouldn't be running around on my last day making amends or wishing "if only". I'd probably be playing cards with the family and chopping wood.

Jul 5, 2010

Long Ride Home to Local Activism

Ten days of total devotion to global activism, political solidarity. Ten nights of childless sleep, waking up astonished each morning that it was already light and I've slept the entire night. How does one return from such an orgy of grown-up, activist Me time?

It starts with a 13-hour overnight Greyhound bus ride, filled with restless sleep and truck-stop junk food. My seat mate's on his way to trucking school in Iowa, and shares in great detail how he lost his teeth in Iraq, how his $2,000 income last year forced him to move back home with his mom after his surprising divorce, and how excited he is by finally being on the verge of realizing his dream of driving 28-days straight then 3-nights home at his mom's. When I share my own travel stories and 7 years with Habitat for Humanity, he's happy to find that we have that in common - he worked with Habitat while serving a jail sentence. As different as our worlds are, I truly enjoy this kind of genuine connection that only seems to happen at 2am in Northern Michigan. And the shift in societal consciousness we were striving for in Toronto has to be built upon an understanding and true connection like this.

My inlaws deliver Galen and Zekiah to me at the Chicago Amtrak station. As the children melt into my arms and explode with stories of their beautiful time connecting with grandparents and uncles, I feel Home already. Nothing remaining but 55 hours of reconnecting with these beautiful children, enjoying the vast changing landscape of America, sharing food and card games with people of all ages and walks of life.

This total of 94 hours of bus-train-plane-ferry to attend the G8 has saved money, created quality connections, and provided beautiful bonding time with the boys. It has also minimized (though by no means eliminated) the carbon footprint of being part of an historic event that I judged worthy of that investment of emissions, time, money and life energy. This conscious choice lends integrity to my participation in climate change rallies. Of all the wise and witty contributions I tried to make in those 10 days, the most impactful were "I travelled 94 hours to get here" and "I am a farmer."

When Sarah scoops us into her loving hungry arms in Victoria and brings us home to Wildside Farm, we feel complete. Together as a family we rush out back to check on the peonies, blueberries and cows - the three things the boys have been most eager about the whole trip. Emails and picture books and fridge treats can wait - we all instinctively need to walk barefoot on our land, to reconnect with our place in the natural world and our part in the food production chain.

That busy explosive week of G8 activism has put back into perspective the local activism that makes my every day meaningful. Raising healthy conscious children. Growing and sharing organic food. Continually learning and modeling ways to reduce our family's material consumption and energy use. Applying my community development skills at a local level through FreeRange Consulting and volunteering. These are ways that I commit myself each day to counteracting the G8 agenda at a local level, to walking in solidarity with the people who carry on the policy-level political activism full time.

My truest moment of feeling happily back on duty happened in the middle of the first night on the train. Finally settling into a comfortable sitting-up sleep position, I was awakened by an insistent pressing on my shoulder and a softly whispered, "Papa, I have to go pee." Holding a small trusting hand as we go downstairs on a rattling train, with a full moon rising over the fields of rural Iowa, I am Home.

Jun 30, 2010

Real Men are Feminists

Men, it would seem, are welcome in the feminist movement, but not together with the women. Atleast, according to the organizers of last Friday's big G8 rally in Toronto.

Arriving early for the "feminist picnic" with fellow Oxfam volunteers, we made posters, made up riffs on Tina Turner songs ("What's genitalia got to do, got to do with it?), and looked forward to another great afternoon of campaigning together for gender justice.

Even more exciting was when it was announced that the feminist contingent was to lead the multi-issue parade. But when we shuffled up there, a woman scurried over to me and asked what I'm pretty sure is not a standard bar pick-up line:
"Do you identify as a biological male?"
"Um, yes" I cautiously answered, wondering if it was a trick question, or at least what on earth it had to do with marching in solidarity for women's rights. She clarified that fast enough: "Then you'll have to move back in the parade, behind that banner there (a banner for disabled rights about 30 metres back). This front area is only for women and trans people."

"But I'm here for gender justice, with my Oxfam friends" I protested. Seeing no room for bargaining, I shrugged and said, "I disagree with your politics, but this isn't the time to have this discussion" and started to move back. A much more angry woman shouted at me, "You're always at the front of the line - take your turn back there!"

So for the rest of the parade I held up my carefully painted sign "REAL MEN ARE FEMINISTS" sign and marched with the Sandanistas, with the immigrant rights folk, with the tar sands opposers and Free Tibet-ers and Boshevicks, wondering how on earth me and my sign and my apparently offensive body parts would have weakened the message of solidarity and womens rights being expressed by my female and transgender companions up front. And for the rest of the rally, a few self-appointed penis-police continually shooed all men away from anywhere near the front of the march.

Thankfully, many other women I respect do not share this exclusionary opinion. Maude Marlowe, head of the Council of Canadians and one of Canada's most influential and progressive thinkers, had told us last week at the opening of the Peoples Summit that the feminist movement must be open to men, that progress depends on all of us coming together. Oxfam Canada is an open, inclusive organization dedicated to gender justice. The many dedicated feminists and progressive thinkers - female and male - with whom I have shared this experience all expressed surprise and did not agree with it.

I would dearly have loved to have the discussion with the dedicated rally organizers, wanting to know their reasons which are presumably based on significant experience and forethought, but that never happened. If any of you readers can help me understand what their thinking was, I honestly would like to hear. I spent the rest of the rally trying to stay open to any understanding of their rationale, but none came. Instead I kept having my photo taken and receiving big smiling thumbs-up from hundreds of kindred women and men, while up at the front a group of women and transgender folk were demanding justice and equality from the patriarchy but not allowing men to be part of that message.

Happy ending - the even bigger rally Saturday had a strong Oxfam contingent of all genders marching together with the strong message of gender justice. The perfect ending to an imperfect but immensely satisfying and challenging time in Toronto.