Mar 28, 2012

I am Valiant and Bold

At the end of my son's grade 2 school day, every day, the entire class stands with their arms crossed over their chests, facing the teacher, reciting in earnest unison:
I am strong, I am brave,
I am valiant and bold,
for the sun fills my heart with its life-giving gold.
I am helpful, and truthful and loving and free
for my heart's inner sunshine glows brightly in me.

I will open my heart to the sun beams so bright,
I will warm all the world with my heart's inner light.

I get shivers listening to these 8 year olds telling themselves over and over what good people they are and will be. Would that we all believed and lived the same, taking the time each day to remind ourselves of our core goodness and good intentions.

Waldorf is sometimes accused of being a cult. If this is the indoctrination, sign me up!

Mar 26, 2012

In Praise of Deadlines

Today, in just 14 hours, I have started and submitted 2 grant proposals, conducted a 5-hour Grants Research package then presented it to the fundraising committee, go the kids fed and bathed and to school by 8:30, finished off the basement bedroom for our Woofer volunteer arriving at 6:10, and had my first Getting Old Enough to Need A Physical drivers' license exam.

Deadlines were so tight I didn't even have time to think about whether or not I could make them. Just did them, one at a time until they were done. Work that would have taken me a full day each, with a few other procrastination and worrying days thrown in, just all got done because of deadlines.

Tomorrow I really need to finish an application for non-profit status that I promised a client 2 weeks ago. Problem has been that there's no deadline for submission. Instead I've spent 2 weeks worrying about their perception, about letting them down, about when I would possibly carve out the paltry 3 hours I need to do that first draft. I've wasted more energy in procrastination than it would have taken me to do it.

I need to impose some false deadline that is just believable enough that it'll motivate me like today without stressing me. Maybe a reward deadline - no peanut butter until it's done tomorrow morning. Or maybe just a hard rule of "no more than 3 weeks from the signing of the contract." But wouldn't it be nice if I didn't have to play these self-deception mind games, or rely on some external force to set deadlines, and just worked hard at one thing when it was first presented and got it done?

My first day in grad school we were told 2 things. First, that worker satisfaction does not correlate with productivity (my first clue that I was in the wrong program.) The second was that the only real reason we were in grad school was for creative tension. We could read all the same stuff on our own without paying thousands of dollars, but we wouldn't unless the professor told us to, and set a test date to do it by. We were paying thousands of dollars to have someone give us a deadline.

Mar 21, 2012

Ten-Year-Old Wonders

Things my 10-year was interested/ecstatic about during his sick day today:
- waking up with me instead of his brother in bed this morning
- breakfast bowl of snow with blackberry syrup
- the first tulips coming up in our garden (pure ecstasy)
- undeniable evidence that the eggs he was frying for our lunch were fertilized (didn't stop us from eating them one bit - "Our new rooster is really doing his job well, isn't he Papa?!")
- learning the opening riff to ACDC's Back in Black (over and over and over and over), and Hard Day's Night with Sarah
- winning at Settlers of Cataan
- using his giant bird book to identify what species of sea gulls live in our part of the island
- Grandma coming to visit in 2 weeks
- Raw honey in his peppermint tea
- A long afternoon on the couch by the fire listening to an audio book of Prince Caspian
- impressive burps and farts at the dinner table
- Signing up for fiddle, percussion and guitar classes for this summer's FiddleWorks Camp on Saltspring Island
- Vancouver Canucks tied 1-1 at bedtime

What an open, beauty-appreciating, beauty-creating, beauty-full boy I'm blessed with.

Mar 16, 2012

Zero Mile Shopping

The wife's gone for 4 days, the boys are hungry, and there's no frozen pizza in the freezer. Nothing to do but go shopping.

First stop - the root cellar. Potatoes, onions, apples and carrots.
Next stop - the freezer. Blueberries, corn, green beans, stewing beef for tomorrow.
Then the garden - dig up some beets (and leeks if I were more creative).
A jar of blackberries from the basement.
Some garlic from the workshop, milk and butter from the fridge.

Boil potatoes, mash with butter and milk. Stirfry butter, garlic, onion, corn, carrot, beet, kale, green beans and apple. Splash a bit of very non-local soy-sauce to counter the ferocious fruit & veggie sweetness. Put on top of mashed potatoes. Eat. Serve blueberries and blackberries over yogurt for dessert.

All ingredients (except soy sauce) from our garden, or purchased locally in-season and preserved. Just an extreme but not exaggerated example of our first successful year of laying in a full winter's supply of food.

From zero supplies to a full dinner in zero miles.

Mar 10, 2012

Righteous Rage

Never get between a mama bear and her cub. Or between a Papa Ricky and his 8-year-old's first bumper car ride.

They wouldn't let me ride with him. Then I watched in impotent agony as he could barely reach the pedals, lurching and stopping and starting and managing just one round of the rink in the entire time. By the time it ended he was crying & jumping into my arms and I was in a screaming rage.

I scooped him up and swarmed the young woman who had refused to let me ride with him. "THE NEXT TIME YOU SEE A LITTLE BOY HAVING TROUBLE AND CRYING, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!!!"

She started to answer and I just cut her off. Each time she tried to say something, I just yelled back more, then stormed off with my sad, scared children. I don't even know what she was trying to say - explain, apologize, offer another ride, I have no idea.

By the time we reached the customer service office I'd calmed down just enough to remember that being civil gets one alot further. More calmly explaining what happened, they bent over backwards to make it better - refund, free parking, free ride on anything we wanted and walking us to the front of the line for the front seat of the 1936 Giant Dipper roller coaster. Our beautiful day at Santa Cruz boardwalk ended in happiness.

And in a lesson. I rehashed my reactions with the boys and asked which was more effective. I let them know that I was sorry, and wrong, for treating a person the way I treated that young woman who was just doing her job. That much anger for something as insignificant as a bad ride is unacceptable.

I hope my boys saw how fiercely I will defend them, but at the same time saw that I will usually, and eventually, use a humane, relational and effective approach to do so. Rage is blind, deaf, and un-compassionate, and it escalates rather than solves or heals. The next time my child is wronged, I will just as fiercely defend him, and at the same time be a much better role model for how to resolve conflict.

Mar 3, 2012

8 Ways to Keep Children Happy in the Car

Road trip to California. 4000km with an 8 and 10 year old who like to play pinching games in the back seat, with no personal DVD players. How to entertain them? In reverse order:

8. iPod - the new Opium of the People. We downloaded (legally and for free from the library) the complete Chronicles of Narnia, plus Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe and some monster stories.
Good: Great classic stories are now a part of our family folklore. Passed many hours. Playing it through the speakers instead of individual headphones kept it as family time and a shared experience.
Bad: We largely tuned out to the experience of where we were driving through, would have to quickly turn it off to point out something interesting, to which the children would grunt a quick response then ask for the story again. It was a sometimes-needed escape from the long hours of driving, but likewise an escape/division from the very trip we were there to experience.

7. Music. The iPod also gave us much more freedom than my childhood memories of Dad domineering the radio with the country station of whatever county we passed through. Sometimes we went with one artist (Joni, Tom Paxton), other times we took turns choosing a song. A fun twist (and empathy lesson) was choosing songs for each other - an empowering and growing experience for a child to take the time to think about what his parents would like to listen to.
Good: Variety of music, passed time, interactive music selection, fun sing-along
Bad: More auditory sensation than our gentle media-free boys usually ingest, and still a divorce from the actual travel.

6. Food. Do we really get that much hungrier sitting in a car, or do growing boys really need food every 15 minutes? The little cooler was filled each morning with bread, cheese, nuts, fruit... and somehow almost empty each evening.
Good:Serious time-killer to delicately prepare and pass around sandwiches and snacks from the passenger seat. Healthy selections instead of fast-food.
Bad: Messy. Sometimes felt like we ate so much but never had a meal. The occasional Mexican breakfast taco helped with that...

5. Rest Stops. We had a snowball fight at the California border, played tag on muddy rest-stop fields, read historical markers, felt-up palm trees, knocked on doors to ask permission to pick their oranges, oohed at scenic outlooks and aahed at elk viewing fields. Waterfalls, big trees, yard art, historical houses, visitor information booths, any excuse to stretch the legs and release some pent-up energy. Some of our biggest laughs and hardest falls were roadside.
Good: Stretch, shift energy, release energy, PLAY, break the monotony, and often read or see something of local interest.
Bad: Sometimes it's almost better to stay semi-catatonic than to wake up just enough to remember how tired/bored we are. And several 10-minute stops do add up into hours.

4. Games. How many different license plates can we find? I-spy. A my name is Alfred, my partner's name is Andres (modern version). Car bingo, lists of car makes, a drawing journal of sites seen. We didn't do nearly as many of all this as I'd like to crow, but sometimes pulling out a quick riddle works much better than a stern "Stop it NOW!"
Good: Fun, creative, can be tied into observation of the journey.
Bad: Requires energy and creativity at just the same moments that parents are just as tired as the children who need it.

3. Singing. We are the Von-Juliusson Family Singers, so of course there was plenty of a-Capella, multi-harmony singing, humming, and whistling. At one point Zekiah asked "Why is everyone so still and only me making noise?" It gave us a chance to teach new songs, find out their special versions, and create new ones. Turns out Z thought that farmers should not use DVD's (instead of DDT), then galen added a second line, so we ended up singing Joni Mitchel as:
Hey farmer farmer, put away that DVD now
Don't give me TV's and DVD's, and leave my mind to be free

Good: Creative, home-made, shared, and surprisingly in-tune fun.
Bad: Yes, I'm sad to say that sometimes it was too much, too loud, or too incessant - there were some times that we actually told our kids to STOP SINGING.

2. Talking. How often do we get a chance to just sit and talk without distraction or time limits? To share or explore something, let it rest when space is needed to process, then come back to later on? And what better way is there to know what's in our children's minds than to listen to back-seat chatter when they forget that adults are in the front seat? It's all good.

1. Scenery. Wow! Or as the boys said over and over and over again, WHOA!!! Redwood trees, surf, eagles, rivers, sand dunes, desert hills, winding back roads, tractors, farms, old cars, snow, hail, changing ecosystems, signs, bumper stickers, city names (Drain Oregon, Weed California). In the alert spaces with no ipod or other distractions, we just drank in and marvelled at the bounty of the world. The boys wrote "WHOA" on the windows to spare their voices. Pure rolling glory at 70 mph.

As Anne Landers preaches, life is the journey, not the destination. My favourite aspect of this whole trip was just being together as a family and experiencing new worlds together as a family. Anything we did to enhance that experience went into my "good" ratings, and anything we did for survival went into "bad" but was entirely necessary and functional. Not every moment is a teaching moment, and not every tree is a WHOA tree. I celebrate the incredible quality time we achieved in the car, and honour our family's resilience and creativity to get through the in between miles.