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.