Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Celebrity lookalikes


Do you ever have that experience of walking along the street and almost doing a double-take because you think you've just passed a celebrity, only to take another look and realise that it isn't actually Adam Sandler?

The human mind has this amazing capacity to pick the resonances.

Occasionally, however, it's just a momentary look that does it.

Can you tell which actor Elisha is channelling in this photo? Post your guess in comments. Caelan also offers his homage to a celebrity now deceased. Any guesses?)

(If no one has guessed it within a few days, I'll post the answers. But I think Elisha's is an easy one. Clue: it's mostly in the wild eyes and eyebrows.)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Honouring a history of deception


I'm generally a big fan of books as gifts. Especially good books.

My brother-in-law - a farmer by trade - has the knack of picking really good, deeply interesting books.

The gift he and my sister gave to me this year is typical of his ability to choose well. It is a book that honours a long history of deceit: The Fly-Fisher's Craft: the Art and History.

There is nothing simple about deceiving a trout with a fly. And yes, it is an art - I've tried my hand at it a few times, most memorably with my father on the Snake River in Idaho in 1985, and I can verify that whatever it was I did with the flyrod, it was not art.

Wetting a line is a bit of fun, but I have a heap of respect for those who've mastered the art of deceiving a trout; it was my uncle who first aroused my interest in the field, and he knows the art.

My respect for those old guys with straw hats, whippy rods and handmade floats who chase luderick is somewhere in the same league.

There is a long and honourable history attached to both - especially the pursuit of a trout with hand-tied flies - and this is a history that I am certain will fascinate me.

Here is a history of deception that rewards only the most attentive, the most observant, the most patient. It's a history worth honouring.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

An idea fed and watered


Occasionally a humble seed germinates. And you don't even know it till after the event.

Many moons ago, I purchased a pair of hiking / outdoor joggers from my fave house of [cool yet strangely daggy] Melburnian fashion, Rivers.

I love Rivers - did I mention they're a favourite of mine?

Anyway, I bought the joggers. Loved them. Roamed all over the countryside in them. (They're still going strong after five years.)

There was a weak point in the design, however. Water passes very easily through suede leather.

My love for this clothing chain (which has provided short-sleeved button-up semi-casual shirts to almost every thirty-something man in Australia) led me to think and to act - both extremely rare courses for me to pursue, I know.

I was visiting a Rivers store in Bowral one day about four years ago, and began discussing my joggers with the staff, saying how comfortable they were, and how they could be improved. They assured me that Rivers HQ was interested in my feedback.

They gave me a sheet of paper and asked me to diagramme out my proposal for the improved shoe, and to make some notes on it. This I promptly did. They then it was faxed off to Victorian HQ. End of story.

Until about three weeks ago. I was cruising around Rivers in Launceston (those of you who shop at Rivers will understand this phenomenon of turning every holiday into an excuse to cover off as many Rivers stores as you can), and noticed the shoes you see in the photo above.

I almost did a double-take: these were my shoes. This was my design - the significant improvements I'd suggested had been incorporated into a new, revamped model.

It was really cool to see one of my ideas actually birthed into something tangible by someone else. The seed had germinated without my knowing, and was already a tree by the time I found out. Simultaneously weird and cool.

Now if they would only offer me a free pair ...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

There's a fine line ...


... between discipline and addiction.

Things have gotten a little flaky around here lately - perhaps you've noticed.

Since returning from Van Dieman's Land, I seem to be going to seed. It's hard not to when everyone around you appears to be selling out to the inevitable mañana attitude that accompanies the orgy of Christmas parties and long lunches at this time of year.

When I was in the pattern of blogging daily, it was ocasionally hinted at that my obsessiveness dedication bordered on compulsion. My retort was always that it was a discipline for me to blog daily, and not an expression of some high-dependence dysfunctionality whose crack cocaine was a nightly entry.

I trust the laxity of the last week has established the facts of the matter. So I now return to the discipline of blogging - for tonight at least. We'll see how withdrawn I'm feeling tomorrow night.

Is there some sort of behaviour that has a place in your life which some would consider addiction or obsession, but which you regard as a discipline?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas among the nails, glue and sweat

We wish you a hand-made Christmas
We wish you a hand-made Christmas
We wish you a hand-made Christmas
And a AA-battery-free New Year

A few years ago we finally drew a line in the sand with Christmas spending. We felt it was getting out of control, and that it was also loaded with the potential to become a festive competition.

It was at this time that we began to explore the realm of home-made Christmas presents. It's now become a bit of a ritual in our house: panic sets in around the start of December when we discover that there's a pile of presents to make, and no elves to execute the work (just two dumb bunnies).

It's normally a combination of arsty-crafty (painted and glittered this-and-that for the kids) through to recipes in a jar (if you're a friend, you've been warned) through to wooden productions (stools, bowls, chopping boards etc.) through to gifts of time (our gift to you is that we come around to your place with two screaming children and eat your food - for a whole day).

So how do you keep it fresh? Does anyone else out there do the home-made present thing? We try to make sure our presents aren't entirely useless (unfortunately no one in the family will give us an honest opinion on that one!), but we want our Christmas gifts to be creative and fun too.

So if you're digging through old boxes, visiting the craft store, warming up the pottery wheel, chopping down trees, eyeing off unused birthday presents - throw us some suggestions. How do you make it creative?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pushing through the pain


This evening a small gathering of friends was treated to a classical guitar recital from two accomplished musicians.

It was delightful. From Paul Simon to Django Reinhardt to Bach, these guys sparked musical energy off each other and whetted our appetite for more.

A couple of years ago - on a whim - I purchased John Williams' CD El Diablo suelto (loosely translated - 'the devil is free'). It's an album jam-packed with twenty-eight tasty Venezuelan morsels. The more I've listened to it, the more I've loved it, appreciating its complexity and attention to detail.

Many moons ago I took up lessons in classical guitar, but it has sadly amounted (eighteen years later) to about 12 chords and one expensive guitar.

It was tiresome, and frankly, quite boring. As a fifteen-year-old I could see no translation between Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana and having to sit in a pooncy, uncomfortable way with a nylon-stringed guitar covering my teenaged groin.

As I sat there this evening, wowed by the talent of these men and blessed by their music, I couldn't help thinking that maybe it would have all been worth it.

Maybe it would have been worth pushing through the uncomfortableness, and the poonciness, and the endless scales, and daggy tunes. I mean, there must have been a time when Django could only play Smoke on the Water (or its equivalent - whatever that was in 1930).

I guess the reality is: no one gets much good at anything without practice and without pain. And you can't build a monument on a pile of flimsy nothing. There is no guitarist that thrills and delights others without a lot of personal discipline, boring scales, and pain.

And how grateful I am that these guys were willing to weather what I was not. Grateful - and blessed.

Love this guy too, by the way. Sure, he looks like the local imam, but his playing is a kind of funky fusion of Tommy Emmanuel and Michael Hedges (and there was a stunning talent taken away too soon).

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Putting a sock in it


If you’re talking to me, there’s every chance I’m not listening.

My boss and I sat down for an annual review yesterday. Lots of positive stuff came out, but one fairly big 'black mark' also got flushed out: I don’t listen well.

People who’ve known me for a long time know this already. I think I knew it already – deep down – but perhaps hoped that no one noticed. Or something silly like that. But apparently my boss notices. So does my wife.

Is what I have to say really so compelling that it must block out the ability to hear others? Is it really so important that it must be heard?

Perhaps you remember the brief exchange that takes place between Marla and the Narrator in Fight Club when they connect with each other at a therapy group for cancer sufferers ...

Narrator: When people think you're dying, they really, really listen to you, instead of just... Marla Singer: - instead of just waiting for their turn to speak?

Ouch.

I was chatting this afternoon with a wise friend who has done a lot of consultancy work in some pretty challenging places. I asked him what opens a conversation up after it has become locked down. His reply was immediate: “What liberates a locked-down situation is people being listened to.”

When I read the parables of a certain Nazarene carpenter, I am reminded of the culpability of those who have ears but don't listen.

It is fine to think of oneself as an observer of patterns or designs. But it is folly to think anything of wisdom can be truly grasped without the willingness to really listen (and I think it is a question of the will; poor listening does not make me a 'victim' of bad genetics or entrenched habits).

I guess I'd better shut up now.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Designed too well ...

A problem you run across occasionally ... a superjumbo that's too quiet.

I seem to remember Lexus having a similar criticism leveled at them a while back.

Is there a piece of equipment etc. in your possession that is executed so lavishly that it actually becomes a drawback?

(An example: as a woodworker I am aware of a chisel company that polishes its premium chisels so highly (and in doing so rounds off the sharp corners) that a lot of woodworkers opt for their basic model instead - they find it an easier chisel to 'tune up' for use.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wine-ish wisdom


Last week, as our holiday drew to a close, we travelled with a friend up the Tamar River (near Launceston) to check out a few wineries. The area has wonderful cool-climate wines, and is especially well-known for its pinot noirs.

The first little winery we dropped in on was Goaty Hill.

I never expect to find stunning value-for-money at a cellar door - that's not why you go.

Occasionally, you'll stumble into some cheap bin-ends, but really, if you want cheap alcohol, go to Dan Murphy's. Or crash someone else's party. Or marry someone Italian.

It was our first tasting of the morning, and Tony offered to take us through the wine list. Our friend recommended we accompany the tasting with the cheese platter - which we did.

Talk about great value! Twelve bucks for a platter loaded down with premium crackers (Tony offered to give us more if we wanted them), quince paste, lovely sweet dried pears and peaches, and locally-produced cheeses (blue, double brie, and smoked cheddar). The photo above was taken when we got about halfway through the platter.

It was divine. 10am on a Wednesday morning, watching the kids play on the grass near the vines, sipping a fruity riesling, and chipping away at the local munchies - three adults soaking in the pleasure of the experience for the measly sum of twelve bucks. It felt like robbery - and not only because of the price of the platter (which is apparently about to go up ... still worth twice the price anyway).

Tony was the perfect host (we were the only ones there). Friendly (not all vintners are), non-pretentious, courteous, chatty, and non-intrusive. Nothing was too much trouble for him. It was a pleasure to relieve him of a couple of bottles before we left.

You see, the great value went well beyond the platter. It went into the enjoyment of the whole experience.

You come up here to northern Tassie and you get to sit in this wonderful, wonderful vineyard, hanging with people you like, being served by people who love what they do (and who make you feel important), and enjoying great wine, great local food, a delightful view, and pleasant background music. You savour this kind of moment. You fall in love.

In a recent interview with Andrew Denton, Jerry Seinfeld was talking about his 'three rules of life' (bust your ass, pay attention, and fall in love). He expanded a bit on 'fall in love' ...

SEINFELD: 'Fall in love' wasn’t, isn’t really a romantic love; it kind of gets back to a George Burns thing ... one thing I did get from him is if I get a really good cup of coffee I like to just go, you know, what, just hang on a second. (LAUGHTER) This is a fantastic cup of coffee. (LAUGHTER) Isn’t this a great, and I’ll ask everyone, isn’t this great coffee? Cos you know, it’s not always great. This one is great, you know. (LAUGHTER)

And that is one of the things that I really did learn from him. And why I had such respect for him is that I will stop and make that moment, you know, you will enjoy life more if you do that. You know, you get a great parking spot, just go… (LAUGHTER) Hold it a second, I mean look at that spot. (LAUGHTER) I mean it’s, we could have been blocks away and we’re right here. (LAUGHTER)

ANDREW DENTON: See, that to me is wisdom.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A peaceful exterior


Hard to believe that these calm waters have claimed numerous lives over the last 150 years.

A walk around the village of Stanley, surveying its monuments and graves, tells a story of savage waters and human tragedy. The stories of children, wives, fathers, mothers drowned off this part of Tasmania's coast is truly heart-breaking.

Everything here can change so quickly from tranquility to tempest. This is a tenuous, a volatile, peace.

It's a pattern we see duplicated across so many areas of life.

Today's stability is tomorrow's uncertainty. We've seen it on the share market recently. We see it in relationships. We experience it in the car that has run like a dream for 15 years, but wouldn't start this morning.

We walk into this pattern so many times across our decades, yet it almost always seems to throw us. The severity of the contrast can make it the harder to deal with.

What are the 'millponds' of your world - those things which look so dependable, stable, safe? And what would you do if tomorrow morning your millponds turned tempest?

Monday, December 1, 2008

On being a keeper


Transmission resumes.

After a lengthy (and I will say it, enjoyable) hiatus, my daily blogging addiction discipline kicks back in.

Today was my first day back at work. The out-of-office autoreply came off the email, and my voicemail no longer lists seventy-five survival options that allows clients to cope with life in my absence.

If any doubt remained, I guess this blog entry tells the world that my parousia is no longer imminent but realised.

Re-entry.

I was half-tempted, I admit, to allow my blog to lapse.

Two weeks in obscurity turns into two months and into two years before anyone even bats an eyelid. Finally, at your fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration, a concerned friend asks, "Have you been posting any blog entries lately?" Life is like this.

After a dramatic evening of screaming children and a bolognaise explosion in the kitchen (which successfully splattered the kitchen and dining room floors, the dining chairs, the fridge, almost every cupboard and drawer in the kitchen, the rubbish bin, the spud bin and even the ceiling), blogging was about the last thing I felt like doing.

Yet the fingers itch and pull of the little plastic keys is irresistable. This is because I do more than blog at convenience or when something interesting turns up (though there's not a thing wrong with either of these modes of blogging); I am the keeper of a blog.

I like to tend, poke, prod, agitate, stir, feed, play with, lounge with - even sup with - my blog.

George the horse - or as I ought to call him (and I know it's a 'him' because Caelan pointed that out for all of us) 'George, watchman / watch-horse and keeper of the home paddock, Stanley' - reminds me of this home truth. Every time we go to Stanley, he is there, watching.

I have a little field to guard, a turnip-patch to keep and to till. Celebrating Design tugs at me to exercise an instinct that sits deep inside the heart of humans great and small: that urge to shepherd, to renovate, to cultivate. To camp on something and build there a mansion (or at least a measly, cobbled-together cairn).

Tonight, I dawdle up the stairs of my own private lighthouse, flickering flame on lighted wick, and once again place the fire to the lamp. The art of 'keeping' begins again.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Off the air

Last night the internet died. Again. As it is wont to do.

A harbinger of doom, reminding me of the reality of the next few weeks - no daily blogging. That's right, dear RSS feed reader: no more daily blogs for November.

We're going away to a remote island where once only Britain's finest we sent: the wee isle of Tassie.

I wish I had the discipline of Tim Challies to trek high-and-low looking for mobile internet reception, but I don't. I'm going on holidays and I'm going to enjoy it.

And attempt to live without my daily fix.

Arrrrrgggghhhhh!!!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A nerdish act of adulation

If you think of politicians as being more than two-dimensional, you'll appreciate this.

Not sure what practical use this image will have (perhaps the US Army will microdot every weapon with it?).

But it's cool and it's clever anyway. Don't hold your breath waiting for their version of Dubya!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hook, line and sinker


A friend and I were out fishing this evening, and talking about what makes a good fisherman.

It's definitely not those who just read books and fishing magazines. And it's more than someone who occasionally seems to luck into fish.

It seem to be a combination of right time, right place, right place, right tide, ability to think like a fish ... and intuition.

Good fishermen seem to possess a 'X' factor that you can't invent or buy. Can it be learned? I don't know. Maybe.

Evidently, based on this evening's catch (for me, a big fat nothing), it's not a gift I possess.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pieces of paradise


Where's your little piece of paradise?
Where's your shelter from the storm?
Where's your sunshine on a cloudy day?
Where's your acre of calm?

What is it that calls you there?
What is it that drives you there?
What is it that keeps you there?
What is it that drags you from there?

How did you find this oasis in the desert?
Why did your eyes and your heart rejoice?
When did you tell another of this secret?
Who do you love to take there with you?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Will Stelvin put a cork in it?


For quite a while now debate has raged around the controversy that is Stelvin caps.

I believe that once and for all this test (and its outcome) settles the question.

Wine that is sealed with a Stelvin cap (now commonly called the 'screwcap') is now deemed worthy of consumption by the masses.

It will be fascinating to see where this whole debate sits in ten to twenty years' time. I was stunned even the other day walking through Dan Murphy's looking at the bottle tops, and could almost hear the sighs of relief from the ancient cork trees of Portugal.

I gotta admit it though: I still miss the 'thwuck' of pulling of the cork on a Coonawarra Cab Shiraz, and doubt that it will ever be surpassed by the sound of unscrewing a Stelvin cap (which is audibly more like a pixie cracking all his knuckles).

Friday, November 7, 2008

Grabbing a bargain

Garage sales.

Yes, we're in the process of pulling together the wider resources of the wider family for a garage sale.

Why do we get pulled in by garage sales? Is it in the hope of finding that hidden gem for next to nothing?

Everyone loves the idea of bagging a bargain. And I guess garage sales are the home of the bargain. They can also be the haunt of those vendors who can't pick the difference between priceless and worthless.

Many moons ago we used to love getting up early on a Saturday morning and going for a drive around the local suburbs to check out the garage sales - always in the hope of jagging a bargain. It never seemed to hurt too much to part with a few dollars here, a few dollars there, all in the name of a bargain.

Let's hope the bargain-hunting spirit is alive-and-well tomorrow morning as people rummage through and banter and barter. Somehow, I don't think the garage sale will ever go out of fashion.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

It's all relative

I was out with a client today looking at what he and his company have sought to achieve to remediate their site.

They have made consistent efforts to revegetate the area over the last few years. But as I toured the site with him, my sense of disappointment was very real: the revegetation work appeared to have moved so slowly with patchy growth and most of it fairly slow.

But it's all relative. As the client described to me what the site was like before their work, and even what the surrounding bushland was like (even though it was undisturbed like their site), it was obvious that this was a solid advance.

Advancements are all relative. If they'd been working in a lush paradise the results would have been very disappointing. But given they're working in a veritable wasteland with no topsoil, rough-as-guts subsoils, high exposure and little rainfall, it's actually a pretty good step ahead.

Sometimes we forget this, don't we, as we quest for advancements that meet our own expectations? Sometimes we forget that achievement has to be measured in relation to what was there to start with.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The stories in the scars


I wonder what stories this fig has to tell - the scars indicate that it's had its fair share of scrapes with storms, competitor plants, pests and arborists.

It all adds character.

It's no different with people: so often, the stories are found in the scars.

And yet in the healing of the scars comes strength, character and beauty.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Arrr, me hearties!


Boats seem to hold a certain fascination for human beings.

Maybe it's the thrill of riding something as untamed as the ocean. Perhaps it's the feel of wind and saltspray on your face.

Maybe it's marvelling at the way technology has been employed in boat design (who could forget innovations like that infamous Lexcen winged keel?). Or alternatively, how the basics of boating have remained constant for thousands of years.

We're off to Tassie late next week, and it's always one of the nice things about going to the Apple Isle: the boats. Especially the traditional wooden boats - they really grab your attention with their simple beauty and skilled craftsmanship.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Wine spider

A nice, visual way to represent what you think about the wine you're drinking. Clever. (And certain to be underutilised by independent Baptists.)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Rolling out the ideas

Thought this was just an awesome project by a really switched-on teenager.

What an incredible feat!

Note as well that the origin of the idea was birthed in the hardship of war.

Dunno how keen I'd be to go offroad with it ...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Will a fake saw fit the bill?


No boy can resist the pull of having tools just like daddy's.

Today I was out in the yard working on a new garden bed and doing a little sawing.

This was enough to trigger the longing for a saw, and for me to promise Caelan that he would have a new saw tomorrow.

In so many ways they look to us and seek to imitate us - it's scary sometimes. And yet, it is a life truth: that we learn as we watch, and our interest is piqued and we want to get in on the action - even if it's a little before our time.

That means we need to adapt our response to honour the longing without putting a super sharp handsaw into a 2 1/2 year old's hands.

It seems to be a pattern that we embrace over and over again in life as we champ at the bit to do what someone else is doing. And sometimes they have the wisdom to celebrate our enthusiasm and help us express it as is appropriate for our maturity and skills, and sometimes they have the wisdom to just let us 'have at it'.

Will a fake saw fit the bill? Maybe for a year or two, but the longing for metal-to-wood contact with become insatiable soon enough.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Walking among shadows

So often it seems as if we know other people only as shadows.

Some people, like the most casual of acquaintances, we may know as sketches, outlines.

But then there are a whole lot of people who we encounter through life who are more than just sketches but less than three-dimensional, almost a little less than flesh-and-blood to us. People who are like shadows, having shape and definition, but so leaving so much unknown between the edges of the outline. We sense there is more - we know there is - but how do we move beyond this?

Does it take a crisis for a shadow to take on dimension? Or is colour and depth added over cups of coffee, short conversations around the water cooler, bumping into each other at a party where you only have each other for security and company?

I suppose it begs the question: who are you a shadow to?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fear - and what keeps you there


How do you face your fears? Come to think of it, how do you even know when to be afraid of something? And what keeps you afraid?

How do you break yourself out of those fears? It's amazing what we fear, and sometimes so seemingly irrational. (However I think I could understand why you'd be hesitant about someone attacking you with clippers when you're only two.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Breathing again

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being ‘caught up’, of sensing that your nostrils are above water, that catastrophe has been averted.

It’s been so good to finish today’s business with a whole lot of lagging phone calls caught up on, emails sent, discussions covered off. A great feeling!

How do you deal with a backlog of “nag-bits” (can I coin that word?)? Are you a plodder (which is what I’m slowly heading towards)? Or do you just like to bite off big chunks at once (yes, I still do that too)?

Perhaps you don’t get behind (sorry, can’t identify with that). If that’s you – what’s your method? And how do you cope when it all comes flooding in at once and there just aren’t enough hours in a day?

What words would you use to describe yourself when you’re feeling ‘under the pump’? And what words would you use to describe that feeling of crossing off the last item on a very long ‘to-do’ list?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Celebration - don't do it alone!

Our Fijian-Indian neighbours invited us this evening to celebrate Dipawali with them (Festival of Lights).

Lovely food, lots of lights, enjoyable company.

There is almost nothing in life that we celebrate alone; celebration is something we do with company.

And they are great company - lots of fun to be with. It was a pleasure to share the evening with them.

Who do you enjoy celebrating with?

Monday, October 27, 2008

From a tree to a chair


This has been my latest project in the shed - the process of transforming a chunk of tree into a stool.

I've done a few of these stools, and there's something really cool about taking a piece of timber you've harvested yourself and turning it into piece of useful furniture - it's a bit like eating fish you've caught yourself.

Every time I use our wooden stool at home, I remember the fun I had making it and feel some sense of pride. Sure, it's a very utilitarian piece of furniture but the simple fact remains: when I first met it, it was still sticking in the ground looking every bit like a tree stump.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Haste and the unappreciation of what is


This is not artsy; it's called haste.

This is what happens when you zoom through life, snapping randomly as you go.

This is where a moment of beauty deserves to be lingered on, but is barely sipped - all in the name of expediency.

This is where any beauty captured is serendipity.

So much beauty a blur - for the sake of a few minutes' gain.

How much beauty is lost (and much sensitivity to beauty lost?) through the urgency of haste?

Is vulgarity, exploitation, monstrosity the greatest enemy of beauty? Or does beauty's perennial enemy reside in our restlessness?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

When the best-laid concrete of mice and men ...


Planning ahead is a good thing to do.

Understanding the materials you're working with helps that.

Planning with some understanding of how those materials will behave in a certain context is also a pretty smart way to operate.

Friday afternoon is never a good time to brainstorm for contingencies.

Western Sydney gets hot - darned hot.

Expansion gaps are not just a good way to save some concrete.

Pay attention, my son, and learn.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bed

It's the end of a long and productive and tiring week.

I've enjoyed a lovely meal and a couple of glasses of red.

Bed is sounding very appealing, and I'll bet the pillow will feel soft tonight.

Fascinating how the state of the human body / mind affects our perception of sleep.

'Night all.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Play imitating life


Every morning Caelan and I go through the same ritual.

We get out into the kitchen, where he proceeds to give me breakfast bowls for himself and Elisha, then bowls for mummy and daddy, and lastly mugs for 'daddy coffee' and 'mummy coffee'.

We then raid the fridge, and I get his breakfast ready. Following this, I prime the espresso machine and make the 'daddy and mummy coffee'. Morning after morning, as sunrise follows sunrise, he sits at his place at the table eating his three Weetbix, and watching the thick, creamy dark lines of coffee running through the machine, and dribbling into the beaker below.

The last few nights at bathtime he has taken to making his own 'coffee'. He has discovered that the turtle he plays with has a small hole in the middle of its back, and that if you turn it upside down and pour water into the shell it will run through into the cup below just like daddy's coffee machine.

And so we have our two-year-old making espressos at bathtime. As parents we continue to marvel at the way a young mind watches and assimilates patterns, and then finds creative expression for them in play. Playful but oh so imaginative!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Back in the halls of learning ... selling


Sometimes the place is the same, but your being there isn't.

It was strange today to be back on the campus of the uni where I spent so much time with my then girlfriend and fiancée (now wife), and finished the last part of my degree.

Last time I was here, it was as a student. Now, a number of years later, I was lugging around company literature and suddenly a lot more attendant to the landscape than ever before.

Memories were stirred walking past the lecture theatres and the library and the lawn outside the library, shaded by London plane trees (Cara's favourite place on campus).

There was still learning to be done - about the landscapes - but this time I was here on business. There were still the students dawdling, running, chatting, sipping coffee. There was still the carpark full of 'P' plates.

Very little about the place has changed. But I have. And yet it was an appropriate place to be - it was in part the education I was given that has prompted me to change and grow.

How could I ever return to the halls of learning - whether to attend lectures or to sell - and not have been changed through what was given me here and in other places?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

If you can't cut it online ...

Some of you will have had the pleasure of using White Pages Online.

I don't know what you think of the attempts of Sensis to digitise their data and put it online, but my experiences with it haven't produced much joy.

Have you noticed that the latest ads for White Pages feature the old White Pages in paperback? Why not the online version?

No matter how well they streamline their web service, will they ever really replace the experience of thumbing through big chunks of cheap newsprint quality paper with microscopic print?

Amazon have tried to address this phenomenon of people loving paper with their Kindle.

But it's just not the same as the feel of paper, is it? No machine will ever replace curling up in bed with a hot Milo and two volumes of the White Pages.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Start 'em young?

Kids are like little sponges - quick learners with the ability to recognise patterns. They also love bells and flashing lights.

At 8 months' of age, Elisha is already taken with technology. Sure, he loves a wrestle with his brother, and chewing on things, but as you can see, when the little screen glows, he tunes in.

Who knows what the future will open to them in terms of technology? One thing we do know is that their world will be significantly impacted by it.

How do we introduce them to the technologies that will mould their world without leading them into an excessive dependence or reclusivity that sees them retract from the normal stuff kids have always done?

What criteria do you / would you use for working through how and when you share new technologies with your kids? And how do you help them to integrate their grip on technology with their tree-climbing and wrestling and scribbling - or do they seem to sort out that 'balance' for themselves?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Home sweet home


Yes, it's an old tree stump (Corymbia gummifera, the Red Bloodwood, if I remember correctly).

But if you've got the eyes to see, it's so much more. Here is a microcosm, a world within a world, with its own interlinking networks of bacteria and algae and insects and arachnids and even mammals and reptiles.

When we actually dare to watch closely, it's amazing what we find. The wisdom writer urged the sluggard to 'Go to the ants - observe their ways, and be wise.'

Part of learning to smell the roses (and part of learning to be wise), is to remember the ways of your childhood: to stop sometimes and get down on your knees, scratch around and look more closely.

What appears simple (or defunct) on the surface has a life all its own on closer inspection - and often far more complex and interlinked than we were willing to admit.

And that doesn't just apply to tree stumps.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Boyness


Caelan has for a long time loved the sight of big machines - excavators, bulldozers, quarry trucks. Planes or helicopters are always welcome too.

Today we went out to Holworthy to visit some friends. On the way over we saw a few planes (which generated fever-pitch excitement in the car), and then when we got there we were greeted by a couple of excavators. "Diggers, diggers!" cried Caelan. Sheer delight.

He is so much the stereotype of a boy. Dolls and ponies have little interest for him; it's the big machines he loves. What is it about the way blokes (even little blokes) are wired?

Tire-kicking seems to be in the blood even without any of our programming. It's pretty amazing to watch it unfold in a young boy.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Downsizing

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, we've been trying to live more responsibly.

The excess we still live with is amazing. As we look around the house and ask, "What can we get rid of?" there is no shortage of things to choose from.

It's all a matter of perspective. If we compared it with the average Australian home, what we own is probably very modest. Mind you, you don't need to have much stuff to make a place take on a cluttered feel, and we do struggle with that.

If you really put your mind to it, there's a lot of stuff you can do without.

Where do you draw the line? Is it to do with aesthetics and clutter? Do you draw the line at lack of use? Sentimentality? Stuff that's too old? A relative state of brokenness?

What makes you decide to downsize?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Recycling ideas, materials and junk


Sometimes priorities take a while to settle in. And sometimes they shift around and find their own seasons.

At present, we're seeking to live more responsibly on the planet. We're seeking to steward well our financial resources through careful budgeting, we're trying to cut down on our utilities and car usage, we're eating pretty healthy, and we're doing more subsistence-style gardening.

A few things collided together last weekend to form the basis of another way of reducing our footprint. One was a whole lot of excess recycled timber sitting in the shed that I was recently given (most of it Aussie hardwood, with some nice screws in it), and then there was the excess of lawn clippings and vege scraps, and the huge amount of paper waste that comes through our mailbox.

The trend towards gardening has been pushing me to consider buying a compost bin. But a decent rotating bin isn't cheap.

Finally, the cogs turned over in my head, and I gave myself an afternoon project. The idea of a rotating bin wasn't original; it just needed a little tweaking so it could use up some odds-and-ends.

The bin was easy to construct, and I lined it with some excess flywire we had lying around - I'm all too mindful that most compost ends up becoming loaded down with moisture and not enough air, and this leads to anaerobic decomposition, which is not what you really want. So I've made this one with plenty of aeration.

So now we have a rotating compost bin, I have less junk in the shed, we have a place (besides landfill) to get rid of all our paper and clipping and fruit scraps - and we have compost for the garden.

Everyone wins.

(Many thanks to Scott from Shellharbour for some inspiration - a top bloke with some great ideas!)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A little boost for the business

Our meetings with the internationals continued today.

We worked for the day up in a lovely old place in Leura. It was a nice setting, the place was clean and fresh, the food (from morning tea to dinner) was excellent, and the service just right.

It was an environment very conducive to good work - and we covered off a lot of stuff.

There's no question a new, spacious environment can lead to better economy for a business than simply trying to keep things as cheap as possible by having major meetings in a cramped office.

I think our management understands this well, and everything about the 'externals' were geared to help us be productive today - we only get about 3 days a year with these guys, and so it has to work.

Can you think of a time when you shifted everyone out of the everyday workplace, and got a good result out of the move?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What good company brings to a good company

I had the pleasure today of meeting two of the international heads of our business who've come out for this week from Belgium. We will spend the next few days in meetings with them.

As we drove around Sydney today and got know each other a little, it was obvious that these are quality people: there is a measure of integrity, a lot of honesty and plain-talking, very little pretence.

Certainly, the quality of the people who guide our work at a global level makes a great deal of difference to the pleasure of the work, and the integrity with which we are able to operate in Australia.

It seems a solid combination that surely has to translate over into so many other enterprises: a great technology to work with, a strong background in research, and people with backbone and principles.

It adds a lot to the pleasure of working. It would be a much harder job to do willingly if we were dealing with shysters and con-artists.

Integrity doesn't just exist in a great product; it has to sit in what and who surrounds it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Keeping the door open


How do you form new relationships with people, especially in business?

It can be really awkward.

I heard today about one man's unique way to 'get in' with new clients - he would send the potential client a single shoe in the mail, and then follow it up with a call saying he 'just trying to get a foot in the door'.

Clever. And weird. I kinda like it - was half tempted to stop in at Vinnie's today and stock up on shoes.

When you're trying to break the ice with new clients etc. what do you find effective to arrest their attention?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The feeling of colour

"It's amazing what colour makes us feel."

The new ad from Nippon Paint opens with this line.

Think about your favourite room in the house. What does the colour of that room add to the experience of being in it?

What made you decide to paint the room that colour? Was it to keep it themed with the rest of the house? Or did you decide this room needed something special to lift it?

What does the colour make you feel?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Edges

Yes, they bring definition to things.

They are also painful when they are the edge of your lawn, the grass is kikuyu, and the time is spring.

Why should't the grass be allowed to snake its way over the concrete, slowly smothering the entire footpath?

Okay, yes, you're right - of course it can.

But not in my front yard - at least, not any more.

So maybe I'm the one who has the problem with edges! They're nice in principle.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sometimes you have to draw a line

So thought British MP, Samuel Plimsoll.

It was the mid-1800's, and the overloading of British ships was leading to many lives being lost (and to overloaded vessels being known as 'coffin ships').

While the concept of a safe loading weight for seafaring vessels had been realised as early as 2500BC by the Cretans, it was Plimsoll who successfully pushed for the painting of a line around the side of a vessel, demarcating the lowest level that it should sit in the water.

It took six years of encouragement from his wife, and much determination in the British parliament before his bill was finally passed in 1876. He had seen what he regarded as a callous disregard for human life merely for the sake of profit, and so he became the 'friend of sailors' as he campaigned for the adoption of the mark first proposed by shipowner James Hall.

We find this description of him in Vanity Fair in 1873:

"He is not a clever man, he is a poor speaker and a feeble writer, but he has a big good heart, and with the untutored utterings of that he has stirred even the most indifferent. He has taken up a cause, not a popular cause nor a powerful one -- only the cause of the British sailor who is sent to sea in rotten vessels in order that ship-owners may thrive. He has written a book about it -- a book jumbled together in the fashion of an insane farrago, written without method and without art, but powerful and eloquent beyond any work that has appeared for years because it is the simple honest cry of a simple honest man. Also a man who is bold enough to tell what he believes to be the truth, and it is still pleasing to many people in these Islands to find that in any accessible form."

I have a great deal of interest in designers and thinkers. But someone like Samuel Plimsoll, who was essentially plugging someone else's idea, is worthy of more than just interest.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Black ball trundles; time stands still

What's unusual about this photo?

That's right - absolutely nothing.

Here we have the game of bowls being undertaken by the anticipated demographic in the stereotypical garb.

What is it about bowls? While other sports evolve, get with the titanium and the Gore-Tex and the kevlar, bowls never seems to change. It always seems to be about brimmed white hats, button-up cardies, players over seventy, and pairs of old Bonds Y-fronts (for polishing).

This photo could have been taken thirty years ago, and it would all look the same. But if it was cycling or archery or tennis or even golf, we'd pick it straight off. Mind you, I don't know what ground-breaking developments have laid hold of croquet or jousting or bocce recently, but my suspicion is that bowls is not on its own.

Yet bowls is our focus for this special 'sports blog' focus - so enough about horses and mallets.

Will bowls always be like this? Will those little ubiquitous lawns and annexes always exist as havens of those heated, time-frozen battles (fought for honour and glory and a glass of Tooheys Old after the game)?

It's hard to imagine it being otherwise. What will become of bowls? Will it eventually die out, or will it continue to be a drawcard for the over-sixties? Why is it that bowls has so successfully maintained a presence in an advancing society with virtually nil [observable] adjustments to the median age of its members or to its technology? What's the attraction, the 'holding power' here?

For all the interest that Crackerjack stirred up, I suspect it'll be a long time before demographic realignment forces your local bowls club to install a 'swear jar'. It may well be that nuclear holocaust will rid of all but cockroaches, Tupperware, and the game of bowls.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Little gems

Don't you love the astute little gems that other people share with you occasionally?

I was with a client today who we have not (as a business) had contact with in a little while. As a result, this particular client and his company haven't done much work with us in recent times.

It wasn't for lack of conviction. He told me how convinced he was of the value of our technology - he had tested it and seen the outcomes with his own eyes.

But he expressed a sense of the business relationship drying up, of us needing to be 'reacquainted'.

He said to me, "It's like when a good friend moves interstate. With the best of intentions, you say you'll keep in touch. When they first move, you make an effort, and probably call them every month. But eventually it gets less and less until you finally only see each other at Christmas."

That nailed it. Such a perfect way of making the point. And it absolutely reinforced to me that no business can afford to lose contact with its clientele.

As my boss says, "The best source of new business is old business." Often for us, it's about renewing acquaintances - and then putting in the hard work to keep them from falling into a state of disrepair again!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Thinking outside the cylinders

Rotary engine: mean anything to you?

A very smart, powerful design - and hopefully one we'll see more of in the future.

The ol' RX-7 was probably the car that put the rotary on the map for most people.

How does it work? A nice clear explanation with animations and exploded drawings here.

Making the most of a break


It's been a great day on the farm, doing all the things we can't do at home: climbing big stacks of compost with the kids, finding some wildlife walking across the front lawn (which was promptly moved away from pets and into a dam), chainsawing some timber for home, walking / driving in the bush, and catching up with people who matter to us (which is why I clean forgot to blog last night).

It seems to me that these are the breaks we always enjoy the most: not those where we just 'blob', but those where we are rejuvenated by appreciating the uniqueness of what's around us - all the things we can't do at home.

What are the things you enjoy doing most on holidays that you just don't have access to in your home environment (besides sleeping in - which doesn't happen if you have young children on holidays anyway)?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The best toys for your kids?


This was the perfect ending to an afternoon of fun in the park.

After eating ice cream, running along the waterfront, going wild on the play equipment, throwing rocks in the water and scaring the seagulls, this was the icing on the cake: sitting and playing in the mud.

The dirty little fingers tell it all: any toy would be given a run for its money by some humble mud, stones and sticks.

This is such a recurrent pattern with children. Retailers and merchandisers should be glad that most of us parents are too daft or too lazy to notice it. We will spend a fortune on toys while the kid would rather be jumping in puddles or making castles from mud.

We will give him toys that only have one dimension of use, and miss the myriad of possibilities he finds in a pile of sticks. We replace the tree in the yard with a plastic swingset, and forget that he has just lost a living classroom.

We miss so much; we need to learn to pay attention.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Long weekend traffic snarl: why we did it

Stuck in traffic.

This is not an ideal way to begin the long weekend.

Here we were, two small boys asleep in the car (for who knows how long?) and the traffic is crawling - not even registering on the speedo. We're on the F3 heading for the Coast.

The sign says 'Possible traffic delays'. As if. We probably knew it deep in our hearts before we even left home: 'Inevitable traffic delays. Pack a survival kit and a space blanket.'

I don't know why we're doing this. Everyone is doing this. And we knew they would. Yet we're back here again, getting ready to employ those skills I learned years ago about identifying bush foods and sleeping rough under a plastic sheet.

Eventually, the traffic begins to move. Relief - and the boys are still asleep.

Finally, we get close to our destination, and the boys are just stirring into life. Caelan is all sweetness and light (a little unusual following an afternoon nap).

We roll in the driveway on the other end. The familiar cows are in the familiar paddock. The familiar dog barks, and Caelan (with much excitement) spots Opa's truck in the shed.

Now I know why we, like everyone else, did it.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A hive of activity for an evening of worship



The day is almost upon us; the hour is almost here.

In scarcely forty-four hours, Tony Archer's starting whistle will blow, and Manly and Melbourne will go head-to-head for glory in the 2008 NRL Grand Final at ANZ Stadium.

We might be still two days out, but this morning it was buzzing like a stirred-up hive at the stadium. Groundspeople, caterers, sound technicians, advertisers - everyone seemed to be swept up in the flurry of activity.

What happens here on Sunday evening will be about as near to worship as it gets for most Australians (possibly only to be topped by a visit to the Cascade Brewery).



Standing the middle of this bustle this morning, it was hard to believe: all this is for a crowd that will yell for eighty minutes at a bunch of blokes in studded boots chasing each other (and a ball) around a patch of turf. And most Sydneysiders call that 'transcendence'.

I think I'm slowly getting a sense of why they call it the 'hallowed turf' - because on Sunday evening, for 83,000 Australians, it will be holy ground. I doubt I'll be watching the game, but being here, even with the stadium empty, I can glimpse something of the magnitude.

And it makes me glad my acts of homage aren't spent on football; I think that will be vindicated by Monday morning. Centuries of humans revelling in 'sporting glory' still have not convinced me that this 'corporate worship' makes sense of life's big questions.

But I do imagine it will be roaring good fun.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

When Christmas comes ... late


Yes, it's October and Christmas has come late for our office.

This morning I walked in to find a decent stack of various Belgian beers (over fifty bottles) adorning our main meeting table. It was a [nice] surprise.

This is last year's Christmas present from our international supplier who is based in - wait for it - Belgium.

Each year they send us a gift (normally beer) at Christmastime, but strangely, last year's gift never showed up.

The boss was over at the warehouse yesterday doing a stocktake, when he noticed several containers of Belgian beer - our 2007 present. He was then told by the warehouse manager that these have been sitting here for 'quite a while'.

So they're a little dusty and cobwebbed, but welcome. Most of them are still within their drinkable life, though I'm sure sitting in a warehouse in western Sydney isn't the best thing for them.

Moments like these are unexpected and sweet. It was nice to be able to come home on a stinking hot day with a swag of Belgian beers for the fridge. I think the apparent randomness of it makes it the more delightful. Cheers!

When were you last surprised by an unexpected (but welcome) gift?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sobering moments


"It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart." Ecclesiastes

It's not every day that your work takes you to a cemetery. This morning I had to visit a client right near Rookwood Necropolis (for you students of Greek, 'city of the dead'), and getting there early, I decide to take a walk around the cemetery.

I find two things particularly sobering. The first is the Jewish graves. Most of them simple yet grand and dignified; many of them bearing the Star of David. As I consider all that has come to humanity through the Jews, I grieve for the suffering so many of them have seen (mindful also that many Palestinians have suffered at Jewish hands). They strike me as a people who know how to laugh, and how to mourn - and largely because they are so conscious of death.

After contemplating the rows of dark granite Jewish headstones, I take a wander over to the old 'Independent' section, where many graves from the 19th and early 20th centuries remain. Here, the brokenness of families grips me: little 'Rosebud' leaves her parents when she is only four months' old; another young couple loses three children under five in about as many years. It is heartbreaking.

One ancient tombstone rises tall from the soil, but all the details of the interred occupant have been erased by time and rain and sun and hail. Only the inscription on top of the stone remains clear: "God is Love" - and I guess that if the person who placed the stone here all these years ago could choose any words to remain, it would be these.

I am sobered by the experience. Time seems to slow down as I move among the headstones. Many have fallen into disrepair; many are forgotten - those who once tended them now themselves in need of tending. Life is short, our days like a breath. I lay it to my heart.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Out of nappies and driving


When did you know what you wanted to do vocationally?

Were your childhood dreams to become a firefighter realised?

When did someone else first notice the patterns, and dare to identify where it seemed you were headed?

Can you see any correspondences between your loves and interests as a child, and where you've ended up now?

Monday, September 29, 2008

A lifetime in fifteen minutes

The compression of a human life into a eulogy is an odd phenomenon.

75 or 80 years of life are packaged into an hour-long service with a fifteen-minute eulogy. It's hard to imagine it being done any differently, and yet it just seems like an impossible task to do well - how do you do justice to decades of life, of breathing in and out, of raising children, making dinners, wiping grandkids' noses, building houses, running marathons, knitting jumpers, growing roses, playing the organ?

The memories are always in the stories; never in mere 'attributes'. So in a sense the real 'eulogy' happens in the days, weeks, months, years that follow when friends come together and stories are shared. Or even when you're alone, and replay an episode from the person's life just in your own mind.

What does it teach me? That no eulogy will ever do justice to the person who has just died, and that the best thing I can do while I relate to any other living person is learn to be as fully present as possible.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Stop and smell the roses

What do you like about the geography / weather of the area you live in?

Yesterday, we were back down in the St George region catching up with some friends for a birthday brunch (Happy Birthday, M.H.!).

It's been nine months since we lived in these parts, and one of the loveliest things about the area is the seabreeze. Just when you think you're about to boil away on a summer day, the breeze rolls through in the afternoon.

We used to open up both doors of the house (front and back), and let the breeze roll down through the hallway. Amazing.

We miss that in the west. It gets that bit hotter out here, and the air seems to sit pretty still. Besides that, we don't have many mature trees out here - and nothing cools an area like trees.

Nevertheless, we're super-close to the edge of Sydney here. Literally five minutes in the car, and you would think you were in country NSW (if you don't believe me, take a drive along Richmond / Blacktown Rd past Rooty Hill Rd North). I think that's pretty cool.

What do you like about the geography / weather of the area you live in?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Design / execution meets Friday afternoon


People who design and build houses should be forced to live in the houses they create (adding (of course) the caveat of the client who insists on things being designed within a certain brief).

I'd be fascinated to learn who was responsible for the placement of the outside tap on our house in relation to the meterbox, but it was clearly someone with a very hard head. I'm not sure whether it was a Friday afternoon for the plumber / sparkie or for the architect, but it clearly was for someone.

Can you spot the problem?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Parallel lines and a road to somewhere


Avenues of trees, Corinthian columns, monoliths. We love 'em.

But why? What is it about the engineering of the human mind that loves not only the concept of straight lines, but parallel lines, and preferably with a path down the middle?

This one leads to the Governor General's residence, and is especially impressive. But why? Why does it feel so impressive?

And - come to think of it - why am I so obsessed with photographing trees?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What's your favourite time of day?


Morning - at least for the scenery, and the sense of capturing the wholeness of a day.

Back when I was studying, I used to get up around 4.30am on a college day, cycle about 30-40kms, and then head off to Sydney.

There was nothing exhilarating about getting out of bed at that hour, but it was a great time to be on the bike, knowing that you were going to squeeze every drop out of that day - and crash at bed time.

Some of my trips, especially to the ACT, have taken me through some stunning morning scenery. You drive back through later in the day, and think 'Ho-hum' - it's not half as captivating as it is in the early morning light and fog.

Early morning is also the time for coffee - first one of the day (I guess I know how the smokers feel). Downside: it's also the time for screaming children who don't want to eat breakfast.

What's your favourite time of the day? Why?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Piping in the wisdom

Life leads us into some fascinating conversations.

This afternoon, a client and I ended up in an interesting discussion about life experience and wisdom.

He said to me that he often imagines taking the wisdom from a whole person’s life, and seeking to download it all in about 2 minutes into the brain of some hapless young person.

I agreed with him that there is so much wisdom to be gained from spending time with older people. Most of our wisest friends are on the older end of the spectrum.

But as good as it might be to download the megabytes of wisdom from an old brain into a young one, perhaps what is more necessary is the need to read our situation well. There is no point having a brain full of ‘wisdom’ if there is no capacity to learn to read our own story with an eye to the patterns and the pitfalls.

There is much blessing to come from ‘hanging out’ with those who have a few more greys than ourselves – even better when they patiently spend time with us, helping us to make sense of what we see and experience.

A brainful of wisdom sounds good, but the ability to read life wisely holds more appeal to me – complete with many blunders and ‘learning experiences’. I don’t know that you get wisdom outside of making some of those painful mistakes yourself!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What makes your office a great place to work?

Probably a few of you out there have worked / do work in a really great office environment that seems to stir you towards productivity.

What is it about your office that does this? Is it the highly motivated people you work with? It is the coffee shop just over the road? Is it the fabulous layout of the space? Is there something airy and fresh about your office - perhaps that window which you open that lets in the afternoon breeze? Is it the sensational lunch that gets laid before you on Friday afternoons?

I would love to know what it is for you. Put my tick in the box 'Good coffee shop over the road'.

By all means - if you don't work in an office, we would still appreciate your thoughts. One of the highlights of working on a farm (which I did in another previous life) was jumping in the dam at lunchtime on a hot day.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Giddy up


If you've ever made use of the 'public facilities' located just outside the council chambers at Bellingen, then you've probably noticed this oversized coffee grinder out the front.

It really wasn't all that long ago that horses were doing basically what they'd done for thousands of years. And now electricity and petrol engines have changed everything - forever.

It all happened so quickly. Although there are still many places in the world where this would be considered 'grinding edge technology', it's not so in Australia anymore. Goodness, even Bellingen has running water and phone lines!

I've gotta say, though, basic machinery like this, for all its inefficiencies, would have been very unlikely to go on strike. I don't even imagine a total township blackout would have slowed it down, nor the increase in the price of petrol.

Good old horse power! Maybe if the price of petrol continues to rise this ancient beauty might one day be brought back to life ...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Leading well - dealing with complexity


As we gathered with our friends today, a few of us began discussing Dan Allender's book which I spoke about in yesterday's blog. Little did we know a parable of leading was about to play out before our eyes.

Caelan walked into the house asking for something that sounded like 'boker weer'. He kept repeating it, and obviously wanted one of us to get up and go with him to find 'boker weer'.

The occasionally dutiful parent that I am, I got up. I couldn't work out what he was saying, but figured the first word sounded close enough to 'book'. I knew we had some of his books in the car, so I took his hand and we walked outside.

I got to the car and let go of his hand, opened the car door, grabbed his books, and gave them to him. There: a quick, easy fix. He looked less than impressed. I walked back inside the house and sat down, duty fulfilled.

But no. Caelan came back in and started up with the 'boker weer' business again.

This time Jim went with him, and they were gone for quite a while. When they came back inside, I got my lesson in leadership for the day, and no one even had to draw the conclusion for me: it was plain enough.

Caelan had taken Jim's hand and they had gone outside. When they got to the car, Caelan didn't let Jim's hand go, but kept on leading him up into the backyard. There, after looking around at a pile of rocks and a campervan, Caelan located 'boker weer' - a 'broken wheel' lying on the ground - he had seen it a number of weeks ago on a backyard expedition, and was obviously keen to renew the acquaintance.

His curiousity sated, both came back inside and relaxed.

Though I'm not too far into Allender's book, he talks about the reality of complexity and how many of those who lead try to overcome complexity with 'rigid' fix-alls - because it's easy and it confirms the leader's authority and wisdom.

Complexity is seen as a threat to many who lead. Rather than listen attentively, and risk reiterating what you think you've heard (and probably mishear it the first two or three times), it's easier to just come out up-front with an easy fix that implies you've identified the issue and the shotgun solution.

With a copy of The Wiggles colouring book thrust into the hands of those who are asking for 'boker weer', you can then safely (?) assume that they will learn to shut up and recognise that though they thought they were asking about a broken wheel, what they were instead asking for was what you gave them (at least, that's what they really needed, right?).

Or they will keep calling 'boker weer', 'boker weer' for a while until they discover you're not listening and are still only offering them the colouring book. And, if they have the persistence and someone else has the patience, they will eventually find that someone who's willing to be led by them in search of 'boker weer', whichever way that particular white rabbit happens to track (it's part of learning to lead wisely and maturely - being willing to follow the hunches of others, even when they lead down a different road to our own).

We ignore complexity to our own peril, and to the demise of the wonder, creativity and curiousity we find around us in other people.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Leading with a bung leg and a dicky heart


Writing a book on leadership must be scary - yet so many attempt it. How you speak well into that space when scores of others have gone before you (some plunging headlong into wrack-and-ruin) would make it an intimidating task.

It must be almost as intimidating as having to read books on leadership, realising that (yet again) as one who leads you fall inevitably short. So many of the titles appear to doom the reader from the outset: 'The Extraordinary Leader', 'Leading at a Higher Level', 'Leadership 101', 'Mastering Leadership'.

The intentions of these books are noble: the authors long to see people leading more effectively. But so often the high ideals the reader aspires to fails to find any lasting translation in the home, the church, the marketplace, the university, the synagogue or the factory floor.

Perhaps this has something to do with the way we have come to define leaders (or at least what we expect to find in them): their unflappable nature, their ease and composure, their ability to communicate with rocket scientists and small children, their financial savvy, their absolute certainty, their unshakable morality, their model lives.

What we find instead is often much more disturbing: we find anger where we expected calm, uncertainty where we expected resoluteness, questionable motives where we expected others-centredness, doubt where we expected faith, failure where we expected triumph.

In other words, what we find in our leaders is people like ourselves. For all the anecdotes and stories of 'great leaders past', what we actually find when we meet these people who have accepted (willingly or unwillingly) the mantle of 'leader' is something / someone far more fragile, damaged, uncertain, and compromised than we were looking for.

Dan Allender knows this. This is a bold title for a book, and it dares to push into places that few in the 'leadership world' want to go. Allender's subversive subtitle sums up his direction: "Take Full Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness." I'm not sure too many leadership gurus would have put the word 'weakness' on the end of that sentence.

Allender's contention is that the best thing any leader can do is admit and work with her many weaknesses and shortcomings. The capacity to lead well won't come through 'saving face' and protecting an image of what leadership 'should' look like. We lead best not through inviolability, but through recognition that whatever our gifts and abilities might be, we are wholly inadequate for the task.

I'm only about 40 pages into this book so far, but loving it. It reads well, and best of all, it actually makes a heck of a lot of sense. It gets real about leadership, and moves away from the hype and the rah-rah to the real, the awkward, the true. We begin to see that leaders are not Rocks-of-Gibraltar.

It surprises me that some of our deficient ways of defining leadership (and defining leaders) have held fast for so long. I can't think how many times in my life I've heard sentences beginning with 'A leader should be [insert list of adjectives and qualifications].' After all the 'shoulding' has finished, the truth is I haven't met a single leader I respect who was not deeply flawed.

And those who weren't deeply flawed were simply experts in maintaining the veneer of the unflappable, all-certain leader; hang around with anyone like that long enough, and you'll see through the cracks (which normally reveal a deeply insecure, very damaged person).

As Mark Strom has carefully documented in his work, Reframing Paul, we owe more to Plato and Aristotle than to anyone else when we elect to place our leaders on pedestals as models of the ideal human life; unaffected, unshaken, secure.

Both Allender and Strom serve to remind us what we've known (but feared) all along: that leaders are flawed people (because, after all, they're actually not a separate classification of human life to the rest of us). Or in Allender's words, "Prepare now to admit to your staff that you are the organization's chief sinner."

If you're interested, there's also an interview here with Dan Allender about 'leading with a limp'.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Out with caution!

Some things in life are to be attacked with absolute abandon.

Caelan knows that peas, potatoes and beans are to be respected and treated with caution. Not so ice cream. It invites not only ingestion but absorption.

Sometimes we hold back from rich experiences in life because of over-caution (see my jumping in puddles post from a few months back). Kids are a good reminder to us that occasionally it pays to throw caution and reserve to the wind.

There’s nothing like the pleasant indignity of having to deal with a running ice cream on a super hot day. There’s something fun about sharing dripping ice creams with a bunch of friends, something that reminds us that caution isn’t always everything it’s cracked up to be.

So if you’ve become the ‘over-cautious’ type with the passage of time, this might be just the time to grab yourself a chocolate ice cream and sit in the sun.

After the fire


As I was cruising back along the Putty Rd today out the back of Woop-Woop, I was struck by the large number of trees affected by a recent bushfire.

Whenever you see a parcel of bush that has been hit by a bushfire perhaps some 6 months to 2 years previous, it’s the contrast to the blackness that you notice: the bright green epicormic shoots exploding from the eucalypts, and the vibrant new under-storey growth.

It’s a parable of human existence too. That sometimes we have to go through the fire for new things to be birthed. That sometimes all those ideas we held at no cost are subjected to a blast of scrutiny, and we come out the other side of that ‘humbling’ more vitalised though chastened, more certain of that which has weathered the heat, and perhaps more hopeful.

Sometimes we have no choice but to stay in the kitchen and wear the heat – and yet live to see what newness emerges out the other side of it.

In other news, yes, you will probably have noticed that my blogging has now officially missed a day. Ahhhhh!!!!

Although I wrote the above post (and this frustrated comment that follows it) on the 18 September, there’s not much you can do about a Virgin Broadband wireless connection that absolutely refuses to work no matter how many resets it goes through (this network has been trouble for us from day one). I generally like Richard Branson’s planes, but his internet pretty much sucks.

I guess this has forced me to realise the inevitable anyway: that sooner or later I was going to be forced to miss a day – was expecting it would probably happen during our trip to Tassie in November. Oh well, happened a little sooner than expected; that’s life.

If our internet’s not up-and-running by the morning (which I doubt it will be), then I guess I’ll be blogging at work over lunch. Hope you can all hold out until then. If you need support, I’d recommend you call LifeLine (I’d give you their number if I had access to the internet). So probably ‘000’ will do the trick for now.