Monday, March 29, 2010

regurgitated thoughts

I don't seem to have any thoughts of my own today, so I'm going to share some interesting things I've read recently.

I'm currently reading an older book by Micheal Pollan. Right now I'm reading about weeds. Did you know that most of the weeds that we battle with in our gardens were actually imported with early settlers from Europe? That is right, everything from the dandelion to the tumbleweed has European roots and would not be here had we not brought it with us.

Another interesting note that Pollan made was that weeds don't grow unless we mess with the soil and try to grow something besides what is already there. Forest is forest and never seems to be in danger of being over taken by any once species. But take out the forest and plant a lawn and you will spend the rest of your life battling to keep dandelions and winter creeper from taking over every inch of land that you own.

Another story... this one I found a lot of humor in, and it's a story we all know. It's the story of Johnny apple-seed. As the story goes, Johnny Apple-seed traveled around the US, planting seeds to grow apple trees and every time you find a random apple tree you can thank Johnny for planting it a long time ago so that you can enjoy that apple.

Here's the problem: Apple trees grown from seeds don't produce good apples. If you have an apple tree that produces apples that you like and you want another tree, you have to graft the branches and 'make' another tree. If you take the seeds from the good apple and plant it, the chromosomes have mixed and the fruit from that seed will almost always be bad tasting and drastically inferior to the previous apple.

So our hero, Johnny, moved around the country planting apple seeds that would produce bad tasting apples. A bad tasting apple isn't as bad as no apple at all, so I suppose Johnny was doing good by planting the seeds. Actually, many people took good advantage of those apples. While the apples weren't especially good for eating, you can use the apples to make into alcoholic beverages. So Johnny's apples were put to especially good use during times of prohibition. I recently heard that story and it completely changed the way I looked at Johnny Apple-seed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

swimming lessons

After my kids' swimming lessons today I got to go swimming with my boys. The four year old liked throwing a little floating toy into the pool and then chasing it (he's getting better at swimming, but he was still supported by a noodle). I learned a lot watching him chase the floating toy.

So my son would stand on the edge of the pool with his noodle. He would throw the floating toy into the pool and jump in after it. He would then swim toward the floating toy with his flailing sort of stroke. He never actually caught the floating toy without my help.

He would be leaning on the noodle, paddling as hard as he could with his arms and kicking as hard as he could with his legs (neither of which have become the most efficient stroke yet) and he was able to move very slowly around the pool while expending tons of calories.

The reason he never caught the floating toy was not because he was unable to move in the water, but because every stroke he made with his arms made a wave that pushed the toy away from him. He would get very close, but the paddling that he was using to propel himself made the toy float away from him. The faster he paddled and the harder he tried, the faster the toy would float away.

I sometimes feel the same way in my pursuit of goals. I'm trying hard, I'm doing what I know how to do, but somehow in my technique of doing things I'm continually pushing my goals out of reach. I need to learn efficiency. I need a new technique. Try as I will, I will never reach my goals if my approach and effort push my goals away from me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Don't sacrifice what you want most for what you want at the moment

That was the main topic at church today. I enjoyed it. I know the 'right' answer. I want eternal life 'most' and I need to follow the commandments and believe now in order to be able to get what I really want. I'm fine with what they wanted me to learn.

I learned a lot more. I applied this more to my secular life. What am I doing with my life now? That question is easy to answer, I do that every day... What do I want most? What is it that I am working toward? What are my ultimate goals in life? Where do I want to be in 20 years?

I have some vague ideas of what I want most. Family comes to mind first. I envision a time where I can spend a lot of time with my boys working along side them, helping them learn and grow. -That won't pay the bills. I think of helping people be healthy. -I'm glad that comes to mind since I spent a lot of time in college studying that. I think of working outside and coming home sore every night. -I like that. I think of sustainable living and living off the land and within the means that the land can provide. -I love nature and how it all works together, I want to be able to better understand, apply and teach the connections of life.

Sometimes I joke that I want to be an organic farmer. While there is some truth in that desire, I don't know nearly enough about farming to make a living of it. I also don't especially like the prospect of having to find a market for my goods to sell them. I just like playing in the dirt.

I think the place that I would most like to be is on an organic farm, but not for food production. I would want a farm for people to visit. I would like to make money showing people and families how to live off the land. I'm not thinking of trying to convert people to Mennonite type society, but I'm thinking of demonstrating to people that the land offers health. Working in the yard can provide exercise, eating what your land produces can provide health and there is an intellectual, and almost meditative aspect to working and understanding the land that is an important part of health. My farm could be a weight loss clinic, a summer camp and a roadside stand. I want to model and teach a lifestyle that is sustainable and health promoting, and that offers pieces that anyone could apply.

So those are my dreams, the real question that I took from the Sunday School lesson was "is what you are doing now preventing you from getting to where you want to go?" I'm blessed to work for an organization that is focused on making holistic health accessible to all. In part my current situation is a great preparation for where I want to be. I'm learning about people and helping them. I'm gaining skills that I need to develop. On the other hand, I spend most of my time in a weight room. I'm helping people, but I fear that the vast minority of people truly enjoy going to the gym to exercise and will therefore be unable to stick with a workout routine. I think people need to be accomplishing something as they 'work-out'. People need to find hobbies that make them work (and I'm referring to physically challenging work here) to achieve a goal that they are excited to reach.

I'm in a position where I certainly haven't sacrificed what what I want most, but at a certain point in time I may miss the opportunity to pursue what I want most and I will end up settling for less than my dreams. On the other hand, if I leave my current situation before I have enough experience, I will again miss my dreams being unprepared to get where I want to.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The garden

Today I made the major preparations for my garden. I spent the week building raised beds. Today I put covered the bottom of the raised beds with newspapers and then leaves that I've been saving since last fall. Then I filled the boxes with topsoil so that we can plant something soon.

While we have a fenced yard that keeps the chickens in, I had to put up an additional fence within the yard to keep the chickens out of the garden. While putting the fence up, I watched one of the chickens fly over the fence, into the garden to be with the other chickens. I am hoping that now that I have them all outside of the fence, they will be content there and not fly over into the garden. Seriously, that was the highest and farthest I've seen my chickens fly (4 feet high for about 10 feet).

We planted bulbs and some flower seeds in the front and have big plans for our giant garden area.

This is the first time I have purchased topsoil for a garden. I am having good feelings about that. I think it will help me prevent weeds and I know there are not nearly as many rocks in the soils as normal. I am, however, concerned that the soil didn't seem alive. I have noticed that good soil as little critters in it and I think that is a good thing. The soil that I bought is dead. I hope to reincarnate it, but we'll see.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Where are we going?

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” –Confucius

I only wonder if Confucius knew where we were going. I've been thinking a lot about distance. Not necessarily a distance measured in kilometers (or miles for the less smug among us), but rather distance in a generic form. While I have dozens of examples of this and really wish I could start writing more about them, I am going to talk about trees.

I think that electronics, especially video games, have distanced us from reality. Children don't understand what death is. Granted, it's a complex thought that takes time to really understand, but I don't think that our media intake is helping anything. The last time I played video games I was playing Super Mario Brothers. While I was never good at the game and I knew very little about it. This much I did know, I had three chances to get past world 1-1 or my game would be over. So I had the opportunity to die three times before my humiliating destruction was complete. While I assume that video games have changed since I played, I still think that you get more than one life.

If you watch the news in the evenings there is a lot of information on violence and war. While we hear the term 'death' frequently in the news, we never really see the consequences of it. The general public doesn't get that pain associated with losing a loved one or the pain associated with death. We only get statistics and if we watch again tomorrow we'll get more statistics.

The media we expose our children to is distancing them from reality. They are consuming more and more of non-reality and it is replacing reality in their lives. They are becoming distanced from consequences.

Don't worry, I have the solution. I think that kids should be allowed to play in trees. Kids need to fall out of trees to know about real consequences. Can kids get hurt, yes. Could it even kill them, yes. I don't take that lightly, but is a life without climbing trees a life worth living? We want to protect our children, but our we protecting them to the point where they don't really get to experience childhood or life?

Real life experiences and experiencing real pain is going to lessen our distance from reality. Each step that we take in life is leading us toward a destination. Do we want that destination to be reality or a place that media wants us to think of as reality? Not only do you need to take steps in life, but they have to lead where you want to go.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


I need to preface this by saying that I am terrible at chess. I know the basic rules, but I have very little strategy. My boys have started playing chess (and therefore so have I), so I have had the opportunity recently to test some different strategies.

Had you challenged me to a game of chess a couple of weeks ago, after trying to get out of the game, I would have reverted to my only strategy. I would have moved the pieces around my king as little as possible in hopes of protecting him. In reality my only real goal with that strategy is to postpone my defeat (humiliation) as long as possible.

In playing more frequently in the past couple of weeks, I have noticed that it can be helpful to get your pieces spread out so they have the chance to move the ways they were designed to move. Playing defensively and simply trying to protect your king is a weak strategy compared to an aggressive strategy where you get the pieces in positions where you can use their mobility as an advantage.

Thus it is with life. If you spend all of your time and energy protecting what you have, all you are doing is postponing the time when you will recognize that you never gave yourself a chance to truly succeed. Situating yourself where you can use your skills, on the other hand, will allow you to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Whether you find yourself successful or not in the end, you can know that you situated yourself to use your skills and took advantage of opportunities life dealt you. In the end, that may be the definition of a 'successful life'.

The game of chess is growing on me. I'm not especially good at it, but I am learning to play to win rather than trying to postpone humiliation. It turns out that losing isn't the worst thing that could happen. It's a fun game. And at this point I win fairly regularly since I only ever play a 4 and 6 year old.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Two income economy

I went for a bike ride with a friend today and in the course of conversation, he mentioned that it was getting harder to support a family on a single income. More and more the economy is becoming a two income economy.

I don't know for sure what that means. I suppose it means that it takes two incomes to support a family these days. But does it? Is the economy so tight that it requires two jobs to survive or is it that our culture entices us to buy so much stuff that we need two incomes to afford it?

On a certain level I find it hard to believe that we need to have two incomes so survive. What do people do that requires that much money? I make ~$30,000/year and my wife doesn't work outside of the home. While we aren't putting as much in savings as I would like, we have enough to support our family of 6.

On a similar note, we have someone at work who is coming in to do financial management seminars for interested individuals. I find it interesting that we find people who make tons of money (I'm talking about you Suze) to tell us how to set a budget. People who make six figure incomes generally have a different understanding of budgeting than those who have to decide between fresh vegetables and putting gas in the car.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with making money or even making a lot of money, I think that we can all work to better understand the true needs in life versus the wants.

Friday, March 5, 2010


I'm coming out of the closet, I'm a hypocrite and it needs to change.

We sold our TV about 7 years ago, not long after my oldest son was born. It was an easy decision as I noticed that my time with my son was being pulled toward the TV. It was an easy choice, so the TV went. We haven't had one since.

In the last couple of years I have started watching occasional shows on Hulu or other such websites. An occasional show isn't the end of the world and I sometimes enjoy watching a movie there with my wife. Recently, I have been watching too much and it has to stop. I love the idea of being a person without a TV, but at this point I'm an impostor and a hypocrite. So the shows have to go. Frankly, there are times when I wish the computer would go all together, but there are a lot of good things that I do on my home computer. Blogging, for example I consider a valuable use of my time because it gives me the opportunity to express my ideas and write.

My problem is that when I'm at the computer working on something of value, I often like to try and 'multi-task'. What that really means is that I pull something worthwhile up on the screen along side a video or show and make it look like I'm doing two things at the same time, but in reality only one thing is ever accomplished.

There, I've announced it to the world (or the 2 people who know that I've started blogging again). The video websites are out, I'm not watching them anymore.