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.