Apr 28, 2010

The Quiet Shift

Sometimes i fear i've become small. In the quest for good, i've been reduced to "nice." In growing up, have become subdued. Crossed that small bridge from polite to meek, from sensitive to uptight.

There's a loud gang of 20-something waiters and waitresses from Tommy Africa's on the front deck of the ferry right now. Muscles bulging, breasts flouncing, sunglasses reflecting, they're braying loud and enthusiastically about little else than being young and together. Meanwhile i sit unnoticed with my brown portfolio and dark green environmentally-friendly hemp pants, observing the show.

When did i become too old to piss people off? To whoop and high-five life without wondering, without checking-in first. To just explode into a world badly in need of ecstatic explosion.

Then again, who am i to write such a somber, middle-aged dirge? Me of the clashing cloths; the microphone manic, dancing dervish, country crooner and windy-day whooper? Me who dances delight with my children on these same checkered ferry floors? Me, "indefatigable impresario" and proud "descendant of Swedish Vikings and Scottish outcasts?"

Maybe i'm just small when i'm alone, in a big place. For 2 days in big busy Vancouver i've slipped along unnoticed, unremarkable, bland. Silent seatmate on the bus, unassuming step-aside pedestrian on the sidewalk, nose-in-the-paper patron at the Templeton Diner. Untouching, untouchable, a wisp tramp ghost shuffling through the mud while the world does its sunny business above. In moments like these, i don't even know what i look like, so empty is the world of mirrors and reactions.

The front deck is open now, empty of the bubbly enthusiasm of those oblivious boasting beauties who erupted up the stairs to some new silly deck. We all feel their leaving, still buzz with vibrations of their energy left behind, still wondering Who and Why. But as i now rise to go buy a bus ticket, the nice lady beside me will only notice extra space for her handbag.

Apr 27, 2010

African Eskimos

We had the world for dinner last night. Jean (French Canadian), Maki (of Japanese descent, grew up in Saskatchewan), Zolly (German Woofer), Sarah (American raised in Belgium and England) and me (over-travelled Surrey boy). Eating a multi-course Mexican feast, washed down by juice and cordial from the fruits of our Vancouver Island land.

The stories that Jean and Maki lovingly told of their 12 years together in Inuit communities of Northern Quebec (where she still does regular stints as a rural doctor) sounded so like my experiences and love of rural Africa and Sarah's days in Latin America - albeit with broken skidoos and ice instead of broken pick-ups and mud.

At one point I shared how the introduction of regular transport and electricity had dramatically changed the feel and social dynamics of my Tanzanian fishing village. Their experience of satellite TV and internet in the Arctic was equally vivid - the arrival of internet-procured husbands from Cameroon and Brazil.

This long-overdue gathering came about through a "social inclusion" fundraiser at school - Jean and Maki being the highest bidder for a mystery dinner. They didn't know it was Sarah's offering until after bidding - the "mystery" was agreeing to eat in the house of another school family, taking the chance to get to know another couple and knit the social fabric even tighter and more colourful.

Thank you, new friends, for trusting that wherever you ended for dinner, you'd find something in common - that any gathering of four people would yield something rich. That everybody is worth spending some time getting to know. The commonality of the Canadian north and rural Africa probably wasn't what either of us would have guessed, but as we reluctantly parted 3 hours later we were all glad we'd taken the chance on connection.

Apr 20, 2010

Not busy, just movin' and shakin'

Some weeks have a lot of little things-to-do, and some just happen to get slammed with big ones. But I shouldn't complain, because they're all scheduled by me, and are all exciting. So, not to lament lack of sleep or time to do other stuff, but solely in the interest of sharing some of the directions I'm focussing my energies these days, here are the 6 major tasks in the next 8 days:

Tues: lead the final fundraising workshop with Cowichan Green Community, tying together the lessons of the first four sessions to create a one-year fundraising plan

Wed: present full proposal to the school board, requesting them to give our neighbourhood a 99-year-lease at $1/year so we can transform the abandoned school into a million-dollar community centre (with the million dollars remaining as a deferred big thing-to-do)

Thurs: facilitate the inaugural "Cowichan Fundraisers Exchange" - a new quarterly forum for non-profit fundraisers throughout the region to network, share ideas and funding opportunities, co-ordinate schedules, and explore funding partnerships

Sat: run a fun-raising Barn Dance at the school, with live fiddle music and a caller

Mon: facilitate the second of five Strategic Planning workshops at OUR Ecovillage

Tues: design a one-hour birthing class exclusively for men, then train a group of men in Vancouver to be prepared to facilitate the class

Add to that mix some extra stuff - 2 marketing training courses, school and community earth day celebrations, a doctor's appointment for what i fear to be a hernia - and the usual: kids playdates, friends for dinner, and oh ya spring planting. Adds up to a week that can just as easily look exhausting or stimulating. In the spirit of my earlier outlawing of the word "busy," I choose to celebrate this productive, giving, involved, overflowing week.

Re-reading that blog posting, I believe I am fulfilling all 3 rules.
(1) I'm sharing this neither to moan nor to show off (though I begrudgingly admit to an ego-glow when a friend called me a "mover and shaker in the valley; i responded that i meant to be a groover and a quaker), but honestly to share the exciting and surprising directions this alleged stay-at-home dad is taking.
(2) I'm focussing on the exciting, taking power away from the busy-ness.
(3) These 6 items all fit the definition of "making us happy, and feeding us and the world." What more could we ask of a week?

Apr 18, 2010

I Can't Read!

Perhaps the pinnacle of my cheeky teenage years occurred in the high school library. In a moment of exasperation over the amount of disruptive noise we were trying to impress the girls with, the librarian yelled out, "I can't read!" Overcome with the preposterous idea of a librarian who can't read, I instinctively called back "I'll teach you."

As a young parent, the barrier to reading was noisy babies and messy diapers. But now in a quieter, TV-less life, there are long lovely evenings by the fire with a burgeoning bookshelf beckoning. But two new barriers to reading have emerged: habit and ignorance.

We're having to re-learn the habit of reading. As old evening habits of walks, tv/video, internet and work have cycled out (whether by choice or growing children), we've taken up games, long talks, creative projects, and twilight gardening. But reading has, for me, been harder. I still have the memory of a college girlfriend's family being so happy to see her "going out and doing things again, instead of staying home reading like old people" like she'd done every night with her last partner. As attracted as I am to all the books on the shelf, there's a part of me that feels like it's a retreat from real engagement.

But the bigger barrier is ignorance. The books I really want to read aren't romance novels; they're about manure, raising rabbits, root cellars, woodlot management - the back-to-the-land skills I so dearly want to Know. When I tried to read them last year, it was rather like reading the neighbour's Joy of Sex while babysitting at age 14. Titillating in a "what's to come" sense, but no personal context to really understand it. You can only read so many chapters about crop rotation if you've no crops to rotate.

Last night I opened the same "Pruning Simplified" book that left me cross-eyed by page 8 last year. This time, I got it. I had just finished pruning 3 fruit trees that afternoon, and was able to see in the book things I'd done right and wrong. Recognizing in their illustrations the difference between fruit and branch buds, I now look forward to finding it all on the next tree I take on today.

So, cheers to yet another unanticipated marker of progress - that I have experienced enough of this life to be able to understand the books about it. Now if I could just figure out that "Joy of Sex" stuff...

Apr 12, 2010

Space (physical and mental) Needed

It's time to take the next step with this writing thing, and I need your help. to wit: I'm looking for a quiet, inspired place to sit and write from April 28-30.

After almost 2 years of blogging and publishing a few articles, it's time to take a look at what I've created. Time to reflect on themes, style, responses and motivations, and divine what message is buried beneath this blog-rabble that's worth developing into something more. And what that something more might be.

It might be a book. A series of magazine articles. Expanded audience on the blog. Expanded or refocussed topics. I really don't know. All I know is that I boldly and somewhat ignorantly put "Writer" as one of the goals of this new phase, and feel there's more to be developed. And that I need space to discover it.

So, in a general way I'm open to any suggestions of where you think I should go with my writing energies. And in a specific way, I'm looking for a spot within a few hours of Duncan or Vancouver where I could escape the distractions of my other worlds and just be a writer for a few precious days.

I have felt strongly supported by y'all along this journey, and appreciate whatever specific support can come of this appeal. Thank you.

Apr 11, 2010

My Toy Farm

#5 in a series of responses to Globe&Mail comments
Why don't these people buy a real farm?" - Hugafarmer
This may be my favourite comment from the Globe & Mail article. As I prepare today to add more roost space for our overcrowded hens, fix the cows' water supply, stare dumbly some more at my broken tractor, turn a few wheelbarrows of our chicken manure into a raised bed, and buck up the tree that came down in last week's wind storm, I wonder just what she means by "real?"

In our first year of pretend farming, we produced and preserved about 75% of our vegetable and fruit needs (and our renters/co-pretend-farmers) for the whole year. Our hardworking chickens now satisfy all the egg needs of 6 families, and have a growing list of families eager for some of the organic grass-fed beef we're growing in our pretend pasture. We sold garlic, lettuce, flowers and cherries at our roadside stand and the farmers market, and envision a u-pick salad greens operation this winter. Pretty productive imagination.

If "real" means growing 100% of our food needs, I wonder if there are any real farms in Canada? Local trade and barter is a healthy and necessary part of a thriving local economy. There are crops and animals I have no desire or capacity to raise, and would much rather trade extra eggs or honey to our friends who like to milk their cows at sunrise every winter morning.

More likely, hugafarmer thinks a "real" farm generates 100% of the family's income. While I deeply respect Brock and Heather at Makaria Farm up the street for already nearing that goal after just 2 years, that was never our goal, nor the best use of our gifts. Sarah and I deeply believe in the value of the work we are doing - giving up Dancing Star Birth and FreeRange Consulting to grow more market onions would, we believe, be a net loss to the communities we serve. Just like Jess' jewelry and Zane's environmental consulting from the Globe and Mail article, our non-farming activities are not just income-supplementing distractors from farming; they are central to the way we want to sustainably enjoy and contribute to the world.

As we plan how much to expand the farm this year, I try to balance this surprising passion for farming with other equal pulls to writing, community involvement, consulting, and parenting. That's more hats than I managed to integrate into the dress-up costume in this picture, but always an important part of creating balance. Each of those elements are enriching the whole of me, but I'm leery of letting any one of them becomes too dominant. Too many consulting clients means kids in childcare; too many beans means too many afterschools in the garden and not enough fort building.

So, hats off to hugafarmers' parents who chose to fully support their family through full-time farming. Our farm is just as real to us, just as integral to who we are and how we live. It's how we raise our food, our children, our connection to the world, and more than a few eyebrows of friends and family who are just as surprised as we are at how well those ol' britches fit.

The night that I stood up with Percy Schmeiser and received applause for declaring "I am a farmer" was real. The fact that I also wear dress clothes and a professional hat does not diminish that commitment; if anything, it makes it more real. Makes me more real.

Apr 9, 2010

A Friend in Need has a Car Indeed

I wrote a vulnerable entry last year about counting friends. Tonight I'm forced into another hazardous realm - measuring friends. Normally neither is a healthy practice, but when put to the test it's good to know that the friendships are there.

I need to borrow a car tomorrow. AND, to have it brought to my house by 8:30am. On a Sunday. It's important enough that I'm going through the phone book figuring out who to call. Important enough that I'm about to test some friendships with a request of this magnitude.

It's not like asking someone for a cup of sugar or a weedeater or to watch the kids, which can be reciprocated. This is someone's beloved wheels - expensive, damageable, disproportionately personal, frequently needed, and not normally shared. It's a big ask, and an awkward answer. Not something you ask of tier one or even tier two friends (don't those measurements sound horrible, but true?)

As I go through the phone list I smile at knowing that there are several friends in there who will say 'yes' - or an honest 'no' - if I call them tonight. More than one or two people with whom there is enough mutual trust to make the ask and trust in a truthful answer, and know that neither the question nor a "no" will hurt the bond.

I try not to measure friends, but at times like these, it's comforting to know just how well they measure up.

Apr 6, 2010

Why men are more newsworthy

#4 in a series of responses to Globe&Mail comments
Interesting. Wow! - I didn't know you owned a tie!

Just remember that many of us moms (including yours) did much the same as you are doing, that is, foregoing extra income to stay home and raise and enjoy a family, while providing the necessary support for the husband/breadwinner of the family. And we didn't consider ourselves "radical", nor did we consider our lives were filled only with "mindless drudgery" and "relentless servitude". We also were frugal with the family budget, baked, cooked, made jam, froze food, etc. And volunteered in the community, enjoyed activities in the community, took night courses and maintained an interest in the world. It seems that a stay-at-home dad gets honored for this role while a stay-at-home mom gets no credibility from some sources.

Just my rant for the day - Mavis

If the Globe and Mail article seemed to discount the traditional role of stay-at-home moms, then it is indeed rant-worthy. The more jam I put away for winter, the more I come to appreciate how you and my mom raised our families. I agree, and in fact already did so in an earlier blog entry, that this lifestyle is not new or "radical" in content.

I also agree, in yet another blog entry, that this is about as far from "mindless drudgery" as a life can be. It's real and earthy and richly rewarding.

What I don't agree with is that men get honoured while women get no credit for this role. The Globe and Mail obviously led with that angle to attract readers, but it wasn't the point of the article nor of this "movement." The important thing is that men and women are making "radical" (ie, not normal in today's society) lifestyle decisions to align with environmental and social values. Whether it's the man or woman staying home, or neither, or both, is irrelevant.

A man as a bread-baker instead of bread-winner is no more worthy than a woman, but he is more newsworthy. This "radical homemaking" movement - this growing awareness that something needs to shift - has opened up the same opportunity but in different ways for men and women. For women, it's provided a great way for women to return with a new respect to an invaluable domestic role they've played throughout time. For men, it's providing us with the chance to do it for the first time.

As a stay-at-home dad for the past 2 years, I can point to the types of values listed in this article and the book as the guiding philosophy/mission of my decision, and thereby achieve a certain degree of respect (or at least bemused wonder) from society. I'm not dropping out or losing my masculinity; I'm making a strong commitment to an alternative (for now) set of values that is getting more and more street cred.

PS - Mavis, I borrowed that tie from my father-in-law for Sarah's brother's wedding. I do still own ties, but not quite sure where they are :)

Apr 1, 2010

Women get all the fun

Why do many of the women around me get to do so many personal retreats, while their husbands work and work? So much for gender justice!

I'm surrounded by beautifully evolved women who create ways to give to and nurture themselves. And the forms they often choose involve time away, personal indulgences. Dance and painting workshops, romance novels, river walks, a cup of hot chocolate by the fire, a bubble bath, a Renewal Retreat at Hollyhock.

Just to save my marriage and women-friendships, let me be clear that I deeply appreciate the hard hard work of motherhood, and fully support the idea of women giving to themselves in this way. I just started questioning why I don't see most of my male friends running off to a dance-yoga weekend or treating themselves to one of Patrick's magical Shiatsu massages (note that the Mankind Project seems to be a notable exception).

Now that I've grossly oversimplified the female experience, let me grossly overgeneralize about my own gender. The answer is simple - we don't want it. Yes, we want a break from the pressures we experience, but a day wandering alone in the mountains would just give more time to fret over the things we ought to be doing. A true break, a manly indulgence, is time to Do Stuff.

Yesterday was my birthday, and I gifted myself with a day off the computer, doing stuff I've been wanting muchly to have easy time to do. Outdoors. Stuff like:
- chopping wood
- rototilling the new garden patch
- sanding and staining a massive slab of fir (found in the workshop) for Sarah's new desktop
- hanging out with our new baby chicks (the boys and I got excited at the chicken swap last weekend and bought ten 5-day-old Buff Brahmas)

It was pure bliss to be out in the fresh air with no-one but me and Father Time and Brother Ax, just plugging away at tasks I've been wanting to get to. Getting a few of those too-many Things-To-Do off my list, off that list in my head that gets in the way of other creativity and relaxation.

I have yet to take Sarah up on her generous offer of a personal retreat. Truth is, I don't want to go away; I want her and the kids to go away and leave me with nothing but time to finish my workshop, fix the cow fence, chop wood and build storm windows. Getting those things Done would bring this man more satisfaction and Peace of mind than any bodywork indulgence.

We men are doers. A treat isn't time away from our projects; it's space and tools and easy time to Do them.