Feb 26, 2010

Free Man in Paris

Ottawa actually, but free indeed. No kids, wife, job, animals to feed, fences to build... for 5 glorious snowy days in the nation's capital. Just me, a hotel with a pool & tv, a laptop with alot of writing projects I've wanted to do, and my last Oxfam Canada board meeting.

When Joni struts down the Champs d'Elysees, she feels "unfettered and alive." Me, while I do enjoy eating and walking and sleeping and swimming and watching what and when i like, I feel no need to feel unfettered. As I ate yogurt in bed watching Olympics highlights, I thought of my family still sleeping, maybe the kids jumping into bed with Sarah for the morning snuggle. "They'll be eating oatmeal and fighting over who gets to light the candle," thought I while reviewing more board documents and designing a FreeRange Consulting letterhead. And I've delayed my much anticipated sock-shopping trip through Byward Market in case they call before cycling to school.

The rich easy rhythm of our family life - established supposedly to provide secure ground for our children to root and grow - has also become my roots and nourishment. Three time zones away, I still am deeply part of my real life in the sleepy Cowichan Valley, dreaming about spreading my cows' manure on the garden and finishing Sarah's new downstairs office. You can take the boy out of the country, but apparently you can't take the country out of this boy.

It's 8:26 in BC and the kids are right now putting their bikes in the rack and Galen's scuttling off to line up outside the grade two classroom, Sarah's chatting with the other parents, Zekiah's in his navy blue muddy buddy pants with the big red patch on the bum and knees asking for a push on the swing. I'm with you family, 3,551 kilometres across the country I feel and carry you.

Now back to the free part: think I'll just wander outside, buy a doughnut (and socks), walk down whatever street I choose and come back when I feel like it, maybe for a swim and hot tub. That is a rare freedom for a stay-at-home dad to fully enjoy, but I won't enjoy it alone. I'll be carrying the special bead that Zekiah picked out for me to bring, and Galen's carefully-folded origami love knot in which he wrote, "Dear Papa, I miss you a lot, and I hope you see you again soon. Love, Galen."

Feb 19, 2010

Radical Homemaker

The hands-down best progressive magazine around is "Yes!", and I thought this even before they ran an article about us. Well, the authour didn't exactly use our name, but she named and defined and analyzed and celebrated our "Radical Homemaker" movement in ways that I hadn't thought of even after about 3 years of living it. For example, she writes that radical homemakers:

make family, community, social justice, and the health of the planet the governing principles of their lives. They reject any form of labor or the expenditure of any resource that do not honor these tenets. For about 5,000 years, our culture has been hostage to a form of organization by domination that fails to honor our living systems, under which “he who holds the gold makes the rules.” By contrast, the Radical Homemakers are using life skills and relationships as replacements for gold, on the premise that he or she who doesn’t need the gold can change the rules. The greater one’s domestic skills, be they to plant a garden, grow tomatoes on an apartment balcony, mend a shirt, repair an appliance, provide one’s own entertainment, cook and preserve a local harvest, or care for children and loved ones, the less dependent one is on the gold.

Those two lines I put in bold sum up so much of what we've been trying to live, I'm just not sure what else to blog about today. So maybe quit reading this blog and instead subscribe to the free Yes! email updates. Or maybe do both...

Feb 15, 2010

Oh dear! (decomposing)

Thanks to a Hummer whose front bumper was stronger than a bounding deer, we've been treated to a real-life demonstration lab of decomposition, ecosystems and the circle of life for the past 3 months. Every day on our ride/walk to and from school we pay honour to the remains of Jane Doe on the side of the road, sharing awe and a bit of nausea at how nature reabsorbs and redistributes living matter (even ours, presumably).

In the early days we saw her whole body splayed halfway down the ditch, back end already ripped open (by raccoons?) to expose the unshat poo inside her. A while later the bugs had softened her up enough that it was the birds' time - intense negotiation and time-share dining by eagles, ravens and crows who would flap away just slightly away as we or cars passed, then descend back down en masse.

Week by week her body has slowly become less, bones occasionally removed (we found one foot behind the neighbouring hill), skin disappearing, inner poo gone, meat eaten away. The smell has varied from cover-your-nose-a-hundred-feet-down-the-hill to a soft tone that only the boys can detect.

What a beautiful life-lesson treat to live in a place where we could witness this entire cycle. The next step in this natural learning will be to take a direct part in the death moment - killing and plucking and eating our attack-prone rooster Goldfeather. The deer experience hasn't always been easy - we had to suppress some vomit response, talk about why she died, whose responsibility it should have been to take care of her, how we could have processed her meat for our own freezer had we found her in time, etc. The next step of actually taking a life will be another huge step toward taking our right place in the circle of life.

Our final involvement with the deer will be, at Galen's teacher's request, drying some of her bones to use in their upcoming class play. On the off chance you'd like to help out or try it yourself, here's how easy it is:

1. Use a fine-toothed saw to cut the ends off all the deer bones to expose the marrow. Clean out as much marrow as possible with pipe cleaners. Place bones in your pot, cover with water, and boil for 45 minutes or until all marrow have come out of the bones. Leave toe bones and small foot bones intact when boiled, with the exception of a 1/16-inch diameter hole drilled in the top and bottom to allow marrow to escape. Allow bones to cool.

2. Clean bones again using pipe cleaners. Place bones in a plastic tub and cover with hydrogen peroxide. Check bones every hour until they are slightly whiter than you desire. Rinse well with plain water to remove all traces of hydrogen peroxide. Allow your deer bones to dry.

I wonder which cooking pot Sarah will let us use...

Feb 10, 2010

My other wasteful half

One of us creates, one of us compiles. I'm talking about the kitchen, not the crafts room. It could drive me crazy; instead I let it drive my culinary creativity (which occasionally drives Sarah away from the dinner table...)

Sarah is a culinary force of nature. She can close her eyes and imagine a bounteous feast, then find the ingredients to bring it to reality. Watching her cook is a sensual delight, and after 10 years of marriage I can happily say that one of my most common complaints is that we eat too well.

When I'm cooking, on the other hand, I rarely start with a vision; I start with a long blank look into the fridge to see what we have to use up. Thanks to Sarah's opulence, there's always a variety of left-overs and half-used ingredients for me to play with. I pull them out into a big pile on the counter, and then figure out what kind of stir-fry or cookies or burger patty they could be combined into.

This morning's pancakes featured the remains of the boys' Sunday rice/oatmeal porridge (which itself already had the remains of the rice/apple-pulp porridge from 3 days earlier), the rest of the rather unsuccessful home-made rice milk, and some sad blueberries from Galen's lunch box. Their lunches had a combo of 2 types of soup together with tofu, the rest of the tofu cut into strips to eat cold, carrots and dried apple from yesterday's lunch leftovers, and cold pizza from Sunday dinner.

Breakfast and lunch prep liberated 9 (nine) food containers from the fridge (now sitting in the sink waiting for me to finish typing and start cleaning). If I didn't have this seagull cook persona, that all would have ended up as compost. And even though that compost all would have helped feed our chickens and garden and therefore eventually wind its way back into our stomachs in a fresh way, I just hate hate HATE throwing away food. Maybe in my last life I grew up in the depression.

All this is really just a creative way of blaming Sarah for my eccentric cooking, and to ask if we the only couple with this dynamic? Is it a gender difference, or a relationship thing where one person goes one direction and the partner in the opposite direction? Or is it just cheap/ethical/quirky/creative me?

Feb 9, 2010

Defining treats

While Galen starts his 45-minute piano lessons, Zekiah expects and deserves something special with whichever parent is driving. It's precious alone time with our youngest - something he doesn't get near enough of. What to do, what to do?

I see alot of parents having beautiful "dates" with one child at local coffee shops. I watch with some envy as they sip their drinks (including the famous "child latte") and share some grown-up time together. Now finally it's my chance.

But then I wonder if the same intimacy and connection and sense of special-somethingness can be created without putting out $10, without reinforcing that message that "treat" means spending. When I lived in a small rural village in Tanzania for 3 years, I discovered how well society had trained me that a special day or feeling or celebration had to involve buying something. In a town that had nothing to buy, I had to learn to find different ways to celebrate, to express happiness. Could I share that awareness right now with my children, instead of propagating our consumer culture?

So instead of offering a cookie at the Community Farm Store, I give the choice of samosas (which he does like) or the playground, both within walking distance of the piano lesson. Secretly, I'm hoping he'll choose the Indian fast food (they also sell pizza and banana bread, but I don't tell him that).

You already know the answer, of course. Whenever I think I'm teaching them something, I'm reminded that the kids already know, they're just waiting for us to catch up to their innate wisdom. We discover the uninspired playground encircled by suburban cul-de-sacs, and his first words are an enthusiastic, "There's so much to do, I don't know what to do first!" We spend 30 minutes laughing, hiding, pushing, swinging, whooping, just out and out playing and enjoying the air and the sunset and being together.

Whenever I feel guilty about Galen's complaint that "You never take us anywhere" - ie, the pool, skiing, IMAX - I try to remember that I do give them plenty of special outings, together times and experiences. Walking or cycling to school every day. Feeding the cows together. Raking leaves, fixing bikes, planting pumpkins. These are the memories I hope they'll look back on as the "what my childhood was like" defining moments. These are what I hope they'll come to think of as treats.

Feb 6, 2010

Farming with Percy Schmeiser

When Percy Schmeiser talks, people listen. Courts listen. Even Monsanto learned to listen.

Listening to his keynote address last night was at once terrifying and inspiring. Terrifying in the depth to which corporations like Monsanto are out to control the world's food supply, and the utter absurdity of the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling that Percy was responsible for any and all rogue GMO seeds that the wind blew into his formerly organic field. Inspiring that this one prairie farmer has been able to stand up to Monsanto and the billion-dollar industry, on behalf of all us little farmers.

Which brings me to the scariest moment of the night, which occurred while he was being introduced. The MC asked all farmers in the audience to stand up. And I did. And the hundred people in their seats clapped and cheered loudly for us. Us - we farmers, we straw-chewin' gumboot-wearin' tillers of the earth.

Standing up with me were giants of the valley, like Brock and Heather of Makaria Farm, and John and Katy of Alderlea. People who make this their lives, who have dedicated all their energy to restoring farming to a valued profession and food security to the valley; people who are literally pioneers in their fields. And of course the legendary Percy Schmeiser. And me.

Me who is terrified to even plan this year's planting without Joe and Nathalie to mentor and sweat alongside. Me who still can't tell the difference between a pole bean and a sweet pea. Me who clings tenaciously to identities of stay-at-home dad, writer, and consultant as well as "farmer." Who on this fertile earth am i to stand in solidarity with these true farmers?

But as the applause sank in, I did feel a mite worthy. I am trying to care for my land, learn it and love it and steward it responsibly. I do have it deeply programmed inside me to plan each day around the feeding and caring for the animals, and to question the timing of summer vacations. I produce excess eggs and garlic to sell to a community hungry for organic local foods, and bring the kindergarten class twice a year to have the rich experience of planting then harvesting pumpkins.

This "Farmer" thing has quickly (one year) become more than an adventure or quirky fancy, more than an intellectual exploration or farm-status tax shelter. It doesn't matter that I choose not to make it my 100% or even main contribution to society (and lord knows the above mentioned giants all have many other amazing gifts they share with the world); the only important point is that I am among those who have made a genuine commitment be part of the healthy food-growing economy. It's a contribution that's become part of me, and that is worthy of a bit of applause. I'm no Percy Schmeiser, but gall darn it, I sure am farmer.

Feb 1, 2010

Growing magic children

We speak alot of Yorkshire these days, and there's a strange epidemic of green pointy things being uncovered. It can only mean two things: Spring is in the air, and The Secret Garden is in our bedtime routine (again).

Zekiah came home from his first school day as a 6 year old and was roaring in excitement about the "green pointy things sticking out of the earth" (spoken in Dickon's Yorkshire accent). Adding to last week's discovery of the first white snowdrop blossoms, and the weekend's yellow flowers behind the pumphouse, he enrapturedly announced the arrival of purple crocus shoots, other flowers in the front bed, and green buds on the trees. He ran inside only long enough to drag mama out to show her all of nature's splendour.

Last year it was Galen who fell deeply in love with the natural world, now Zekiah is following in his (and Dickon's) footsteps. And me, for that matter, even more aware this year than last of the minute, incremental progression of the season, the little bursts of growth that add up to an explosion of Spring. Would the insertion of new, already-grown flowers in the downtown flower boxes have spoken to our souls this way in our old city life? It's not the flower, it's the discovery of the beginnings of the cycle, and the twice-daily monitoring of the growth and cycle. My children are learning and teaching me about the magical secrets of the real world - this is why we moved here.

Very excited talk at the dinner table today about what would happen at Groundhog's Day tomorrow. All agreed that spring is here - the plants can't be that wrong. The boys decided to walk to school so we could watch for the groundhog - "he might even be in our forest", or in the ditch, or out the back window when we first wake up, or in the field where the cows are past the mailbox, or... Galen presented a dramatic re-enactment about how he'd greet the groundhog and invite him to walk to school to ensure that spring would come, imitating the teacher's deep surprised voice at seeing a groundhog come into the classroom.

There was pure play and imagination, and just the bit of Santa-like believing that makes it all come to life. Whether it's white-bearded flying men or prophetic rodents or green pointy things pokin outta the earth, children know when not to question too much, just enjoy and be part of creating and living the magic.