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Category: life learning (page 2 of 46)

backyard robins

Once again, our backyard has become a haven for spring robins. One attentive mother made a nest in the corner of our pergola by the
[singlepic=1191,350,350]rose bush. We’ve been watching her for weeks now, dutifully building the nest, sitting patiently, and now busy as heck flying to and fro to bring bits of worm and insect to her babies who sit there eagerly clamoring for more. They are very cute, and we are honored to have them as guests until they’re ready to spread their wings.

Each morning, Aidan runs to the window to sneak a peek and to see what new developments there might be. They are growing fast, and they’re getting louder. As we sat this evening beneath the pergola, the silence was broken repeatedly by a chorus of three hungry chicks as the mom swooped in to make a cautious delivery before swooping off again. I think we were making her nervous sitting so close to the nest, but I also like to think she’s beginning to trust us as mere curious but harmless humans.

a trip to angelic organics

Recently, we joined a group of homeschooling friends for an overnight camping trip to Angelic Organcis Farm in Caledonia, Illinois. It rained, but certainly not on our parade. Angelic Organics is a “a Biodynamic Community Supported Agriculture farm, growing vegetables and herbs for households since 1991.” Some of our friends had done this years past and had great things to say, so this year, we thought we’d join in the fun.

The farm is about 2 hours northwest of home–in the far northwest corner of the state. When we first arrived, we were invited to begin setting up a camp with the others—just down the grassy path past the barn, the goats, and the chickens. It was a nice setting with picnic shelter, fire ring, composting toilet not far beyond the garden, a cob oven, and good friends.

With camp set, we met our host for the next day and a half—Randy—a really nice guy with a lot to share about organic farming, community, and living close to the Earth. He explained to us where everything was, the basic guidelines to enjoy a safe visit, and laid out the plan for our time on the farm.

Going green doesn’t start with doing green acts — it starts with a shift in consciousness. This shift allows you to recognize that with every choice you make, you are voting either for or against the kind of world you wish to see. When you assume this as a way of being, your choices become easier.
          – Ian Somerhalderour

Over the course of our visit, we toured the farm, learned about its history and its eccentric owner, Farmer John. We helped with chores (the kids loved it), milked a goat, fed pigs, chickens, and ducks, collected eggs, learned about beekeeping, ate organic vegetables right out of the field, and learned about the methods used to run a community supported organic farm.

One thing I found interesting was the focus everyone at the farm had on feeding the soil. If you feed the soil, they said, the soil feeds the plants, which makes for healthy plants and healthful food, which makes for healthier happier people. The traditional farm across the road doesn’t feed the soil. It only focuses on the plant, we learned. This seemingly small detail makes all the difference in the world. I never felt soil like that at Angelic Organics. I held it in my hand. It was black, and rich, and smelled like the Earth. We learned that a handful of healthy organic soil can contain over 5 billion organisms—nearly the population of humans on this planet. This was all at once staggering and humbling. It stuck with me.

Between the epiphanies and the chickens, we also had some good-ole-fashioned camp fun, cooking [veggie] wieners over the fire, eating shmores, talking and laughing, and playing. It rained that night, but the tent stayed dry enough, and the next morning we all enjoyed a breakfast of farm-fresh, organic, free-range eggs. After some more fun, the kids made ice cream with the goats milk they collected earlier.

Finally, Randy brought us all together for closing circle, to share what we had all learned during our time there and to remind us of the importance of community. There was something special about Angelic Organics. I know we’ll be returning again soon.

splitting oranges with masters

I believe in humility and understand that it comes with age–if we’re lucky–and that it can change people. In contrast to my youthful arrogance, this is something that has come to me in my middle-ish years through my experiences, travels, and honest contemplation of my place on this planet—through the slices of my life. For me humility is a principle to live by. I always try my best to be a principled person—even, if at times, it is misguided.

When push came to shove, I took my detention. Some battles wrapped in teenage angst aren’t worth fighting.

I can recall in fourth grade exerting my unalienable rights against the institutional powers that be in the name of freedom. Leaning back haughtily in my chair munching my tuna sandwich and sipping my juice box, I recall mouthing off to the lunch lady who told me to quiet down. “It’s my right to speak, and neither you nor this school shall take this right from me.” My classmates thought this was cool. I felt the power of protest. Mrs. Connolly, however, 32 weeks pregnant in the late August heat, just wanted to fulfill her “volunteer” obligation to the grade school and did not admire my gumption. So I took it to the next level—high school.

Again, I flexed my principles for their own sake in the required religion class. Head hanging in apparent to-cool-for-school indifference, doodling obstinately in my notebook, I listened to Mr. Malarkey drone on about Catholic virtues. Recognizing the inconsistency between his words and actions, I belched it out: “Hypocrite!”

“Who said that?”

“I said it.”

“See me after class.”

Sitting in the Dean of Discipline’s office later that day, I argued my case.
“Sit down and shut up. Who do you think you are? Perry Mason? ”

When push came to shove, I took my detention. Some battles wrapped in teenage angst aren’t worth fighting.

Later, after college, I found myself in Japan studying Aikido—a martial art for which there is no room for ego. Agatsu means mastery of oneself. It comes before all else. I remember the unheated dojo and the creek of its tin roof flexing under the press of January wind. After a couple hours of breakfalls—enough to humble anyone—we would work together to clean the mats with warm water and rags. Crouched on my knees wiping the mat clean, I recall on his knees beside me the elder master—a man all revered for his knowledge, skill, and hard earned rank. Together we swept away flecks of dried skin, human hairs, and the occasional spot of blood before gathering together around a pot of tea to split oranges. I felt my arrogance fall away. Strangely I felt shame, my mind skipping years back to my high school grocery store job where I was too good to clean the bathroom, and so quit. Funny how the mind works.

Together we swept away flecks of dried skin, human hairs, and the occasional spot of blood before gathering together around a pot of tea to split oranges.

This change in me, this evolution, this loss of my-shit-don’t-stink pride has been one of slow growth over time, but if I had to pin down the moment of surrender—the turning point where I found there to be greater strength in service than demand—it would have to be the birth of my son. At 32 weeks, he was cut from my wife’s belly in an emergency c-section. The nurse extended him to me, his little body bloody and curled, as I cut his umbilical cord. Later that night, while watching him wrap 5 of his little fingers around my pinky—I knew once and for all that my days of demands were behind me. I would be of service to this little human being as a father for the rest of my life. And in this moment, in this surrender and wild gush of life that carried me forward, I was overwhelmed with love and compassion. I was humbled.

Most recently, I was given one more lesson in humility watching both my parents die within in four months of one another. Cancer. All very sudden. My mother in particular imparted this lesson. She taught me how to die with dignity—filled with eternal hope, courage, peace, and kindness. In her final moments, she spoke with authentic concern for others. Compassion. Humility. My mother died well because she lived well.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve.” In letting go of my ego—in plumbing the depths of humility—I hope to be better, to apply the lessons I’ve learned, and to positively affect the lives of others—even if I never know it.

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