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Sometimes being a parent means making the tough decisions, even if you kids utter the words “I hate you” as a result.  This was our experience when our 12 year old son asked to sleep over at a friends house last night.  While we’ve always been wary of the whole ‘sleep-over’ idea, we haven’t been really great about reinforcing our position, especially as our kids started to make new friends after moving from Ontario to PEI 3 years ago.  That all changed recently.

After battling with him for the better part of an hour about why we were not going to allow a sleep-over, not last night, not in the future, I reached out to the Twitterverse and the parents at Kajukenpo last night.  I was overwhelmed by the responses I received.  It seems that our role as miserly parents is echoed by most of the other parents that I spoke with last night.  Some allow sleep-overs in their homes, but not at others.  While we considered that route, and offered it as an olive branch last night, it seems wrong to take the ‘no sleep-over’ stance, but ask other parents to possibly compromise the same position.

One of the repeated queries, usually by those without children, was to present the logic for our position.  There wasn’t any malice in the inquiries, so here is our defence.

Last October we listened to the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  In that 2-day conference we received the following counsel from Larry R. Lawrence, a General Authority from the 2nd Quorum of the 70.  In his address he said:
“There is a great deal of wisdom displayed when parents stay up and wait for their children to return home. Young men and women make far better choices when they know their parents are waiting up to hear about their evening and to kiss them good night.

May I express my personal warning about a practice that is common in many cultures. I am referring to sleepovers, or spending the night at the home of a friend. As a bishop I discovered that too many youth violated the Word of Wisdom or the law of chastity for the first time as part of a sleepover. Too often their first exposure to pornography and even their first encounter with the police occurred when they were spending the night away from home.

Peer pressure becomes more powerful when our children are away from our influence and when their defenses are weakened late at night. If you have ever felt uneasy about an overnight activity, don’t be afraid to respond to that warning voice inside. Always be prayerful when it comes to protecting your precious children.”

Those words brought back the memories of my youth, and the struggles that I had to maintain the values of my parents and had to decide whether to accept those standards as my own, or deviate from the ways and paths of our family and religion.  While I was not a perfect youth, I can say that I resisted most of the temptations, including many that beguiled so many of my classmates.

In the grandiose expanse of life, it isn’t the decisions of great magnitude that have the most profound impact on our lives, but the simple, innocuous choices of the every day life that can sway our life from the path we want to follow.  Children need to be equipped to make the choices that will confront them in life, but all in due time.  Exposing your children to temptations that they are not equipped to manage seems like a recipe for disaster, and one that I am going to do everything I possible can to avoid.

I still remember the day when I discovered that the world was not the safe and inviting place that I imagined it would be. I was 16 and my geography teacher had invited a young woman from East Timor to speak to our class about the invasion of her country by the Indonesian army. A small island nation, the Indonesians exterminated one-third of the population. And nobody in the first world gave a damn.

You see, the problem with East Timor is that there are no lucrative natural resources for a foreign government to exploit, or multinational corporation to capitalize on in the shady markets of ‘free trade’. I remember feeling unimaginable sorrow that day as I contemplated the seeming unending capacity for cruelty that human beings had for one another.

It is almost 20 years since that day of awakening and my eyes continue to open wider and mind continues to be turned to the pain, sorrow and suffering that is so much a part of the human experience. There are definitely some days where I wish that I could climb back into the matrix and bury my head in he sand. I even feel jealous of those who seem completely oblivious to the world around them, able to consume, act and react with impunity — sometimes. (Mostly I just feel sorry for them though)

Here is what I know. There is profound evil in the world, but that evil is a choice. Just because the guy next to you is vile and nasty doesn’t mean that you should jump on his bitter bandwagon. You get to make a choice about the goodness and valor that you exhibit in you life with each decision that you make.

Looking back to that wide-eyed teenager, I am grateful that my eyes were opened. My life has been filled with rich knowledge and a sense of hope that cannot be found without engaging in the complex emotions of the world. While it might appear easier to live a life of ignorance and gluttony, the wealth of experience and knowledge can only be found by surrendering your emotions, to understand joy and sorrow, triumph and tragedy.

To be human is to feel. Choose to be human.

What is the value of money? If you are like most people the value of money is expressed by the things that you can purchase. If $100 can buy you what you value then the worth of that money is great. If, on the other hand, $100 cannot buy you what you want then we tend to believe that the worth of that money is small.

I’ve been considering the worth of money a lot over the past few months, perhaps because it is tax season, a time to reflect on all of the money earned and spent during the year. How much is money really worth to me? Granted, money allows me to purchase the necessities of life including food, shelter and clothing. On top of that it affords my a plethora of luxuries which also happen to include food, shelter and clothing, among other indulgences. The fact that I spend a disproportionate amount of my day earning, or preparing to earn, money would suggest that I place a very high value on money. That would be wrong.

I strongly believe that there will come a day, in the not too distant future, that we will be forced to reconsider the value we place on money. Decisions like the US quantitative easing devalue the worth of a currency while flooding billions into the coffers of the ultra-rich. There will come a time when money will have collected so disproportionately in the pockets of the minority that the majority will simply decide that money no longer has any real value and we will recalibrate the measurement of value in our lives.

Might I suggest some measurements of real value:

1. Access to clean drinking water
2. Access to, and the ability to grow, clean and nutritious food.
3. A diversified and resilient local economy. (Economy does not equal money!)
4. Friends and family that you can depend on to assist in times of need.
5. The freedom to learn and apply the skills learned.

This is a short list, one that could definitely be supplemented by the comments of others. My point is that we invest, sacrifice, even lie, cheat and steal in some cases, to gain more money, when the precarious relationship we have with money is built on the pretext that money holds a constant value in our lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Money is no more constant than the shifting sands of a desert or the drifting winter snow.

What I would suggest is that we revalue our lives and the actions we take based on those things that hold true value for us. As we gain permanence of perspective, as we build resilient and powerful communities and families, when we can find peace in doing what we need to do and want to do we will finally rediscover the true value of life and the experiences that make it an adventure. Then, and only then, will we realize that money is nothing more than a polite social contract between friends and that our perception of worth has been hijacked to make the minority wealthy in this new paradigm of value.

It is time that we take back the definition of wealth and revalue humanity and nature as invaluable resources that are worth saving through collective sacrifice.

What do you value? What are you willing to sacrifice?

Partisan politics are poison.  Politics, like sports, seem to be some obscene justification for the vilification of your neighbour, postman, and complete strangers.  Even more tragic are the inherited party allegiances that seem to pass from parents to children in this age of identity confusion.

I grew up in a small town in Ontario.  My parents were, and still are, Liberals.  In the intervening years since leaving the protection of their voting history I have voted Green (at least twice, maybe three times), Liberal (at least twice) and Conservative (a couple of times, maybe more).  I’ve never voted NDP, though I think that Jack Layton is an upstanding guy, as I can’t agree with their pro-union stance.  Workers rights, absolutely — pro-union, not so much.

Why am I baring my political soul online?  I do it to make a point.  I am not Liberal, Conservative, or Green.  I have liberal views, conservative views, and views from all over the political map.  I vote for fiscal conservatism, small government, and environmental sustainability.  I also vote for preservation of the family, for the supports of our aging population and our children.  Moreover, I refuse to be classified by my political views, no matter the business, personal or political advantages it may bring to me or my family.

To be classified by a political policy, especially one that I have no part in developing, minimizes my contribution to the world and underestimates my ability to assess and react to the changing tides of the world.  To identify myself as ‘Conservative’ (or any other party) makes me an indentured servant, forever defending their positions, even when I may completely disagree with the absurdity that they foist on the Canadian people.  I am an individual, with unique thoughts, ideas, hopes and aspirations.

If you want to win my vote, don’t promise to spend my tax dollars giving back a pittance of what I pay, *DO* these three things:

1)  Be open, honest and transparent.  I may not like the decisions you make, but if I can understand the logic you followed at least I can begin to understand why the decision was made.

2) Don’t vilify your opponents.  They are men and women, husbands and wives, sons and daughters … just like you and I.  Sure we may disagree on the nuances of governance, but we are all civil human beings, and should act as such.  We are not our political stripes, but part of the human family.

3) Be democratic.  If our children behaved the way that our politicians behave, we would have grounded them for eternity.  There is nothing civil about politics.  Instead of being ambassadors for our cities, provinces and countries, politicians come across as spoiled brats bent on making life miserable for their co-workers while blatantly ignoring the concepts of equality and justice that everyone else in society seem to hold in high esteem.

Next time you are in a conversation with someone and discover that they are not of the same political stripe, take a deep breath and set it aside.  Their political profile doesn’t really matter after all.  You can still enjoy a BBQ together, work together, or volunteer together.  You can break bread, hatch ideas and, most important of all, you can depend on one another in times of need.

Politics should serve humanity, not dissolve it.  If you have to wonder which political party someone belongs to before offering them a hand of help or friendship, then you are a slave to the ideals of a failed system.  Yes, the poison of partisan politics are slowly killing humanity.

It Will Be a Green Day

It seems like only yesterday that Canadian voters were faced with a Federal election debate that did not include the Green Party. So, imagine my surprise when the consortium of television stations decided once again to exclude Elizabeth May and the Green Party. Here’s my talking points on a travesty of democracy.

1) We spend millions of dollars to defend ‘democracy’ in foreign countries (that is a discussion for another day) but are content to circumvent the process at home.

2). The consortium seems unable to publicly justify the position they took to exclude May. Where’s Wikileaks when you need them? If this was a legit position then it wouldn’t be a problem to defend the position.

3) If elections Canada is willing to finance the party, based on their results in the last election, then that qualifies them as a legitimate party.

4) Since when did a group of corporations (remember, that is what this media consortium really is after all) get to weigh in on the process of democracy in Canada?

5) I’m not a feminist, but I think it is important for May to be acknowledge as the only female party leader. That isn’t the “only” reason to let her in, but it supports every other reason.

The reaction of the other party leaders, or more specifically their inaction and subsequent reaction, is disappointing. I don’t agree with everything the Greens stand for on their platform, but there isn’t a single party that I agree with 100%. I had considered spoiling my ballet in protest, but I think I may just vote Green instead. (Some may say that is one in the same! Touché!)

You Trademarked What!?!

While scanning through Twitter today I found a link that made me want to re-think one of my slides. According to Grist the Dervaes family of Path to Freedom farm in Pasadena, CA trademarked the term ‘urban homestead‘, with a filed, but unapproved, claim on ‘urban homesteading’ and ‘urban homesteader’.

I featured them in a slide in my presentation on urban agriculture last week and extolled the virtues of their excellent work in promoting the intensive and important work of urban agriculture. With the discovery that they have attempt to not just capitalize (hey, I’m all for making a living!), but to prevent others from even talking about urban homesteading without paying the a royalty is just crazy.

As this is a US trademark, it falls under some of the most draconian patent laws in the world, the same that sent students and grandmothers to federal court to defend music copyright infringements a few years ago. Since I’ve never been privileged enough to receive a cease and desist letter, I thought I’d use this blog to egg on some US trademark lawyer, and rack up the legal bills for some serious schmucks.

Urban homestead. Urban homestead. Urban homestead. Urban homestead.

(Put that in your pipe and smoke it, trademark be damned!)

Last night I gave a Pecha Kucha-style presentation on urban farming put on organized by Shannon Courtney, Shannon Mader, and a whole host of super talented and motivated folks from PEI.  It was amazing to so many people who had come out to defend local food, and I was completely stunned at the local food producers.  If you have the misconceived notion that farmers are not intelligent, articulate, and passionate, then you don’t know a farmer.

Here is what I took away from last night.  First, farmers are scared, not about making a living (though that was something that scared them all, I am sure), they are scared for the food future of Islanders and Canadians.  Government and corporate agriculture are building a massive regulatory weight that can only be born by mega farms that employ the latest technologies in both equipment and seed while paying little regard for the sustainability of the land.  Volume is profit, and corporations are in place only to make profit.  While some of the speakers where vocal about their fears of losing the skill and ability to grow locally, every single food producer had the same message — we are at risk of losing our food independence permanently.

The second thing I realized is that I was a puzzling anomaly in that I am only a food consumer, not a producer.  Perhaps I should have outed myself as the chicken-guy in the presentation, but I focused more on the ‘why’ of urban agriculture, rather than ‘why I did it’.  I hope people realize that I am just like they are — passionate and invested in the interest of a sustainable PEI.  I’m not perfect — I still buy bananas imported from Guatamala, and shrimp imported from Africa — but I recognize that I can make a difference by making a change in the way that I chose to source my food.  (Hint: Direct from the source is best)

If anything I learned that farmers are desperate for us, as eaters (or as Shannon Mader said ‘citizens’ and ‘community’ — anything but ‘consumers’), to engage them, to learn about the food they produce, and the enjoy the bounty of their labours.  They aren’t trying to get rich, they are just trying to produce good food and make a decent living for them and their neighbours.

I’ll write more about some of the points from my slides once the presentation is posted to the Local M.E.A.L. website in the coming days.  Until then start scouting your farmers market and farm-gate for the first greens of the season.  They should start coming in shortly, even in the icebox that is PEI!