Tuesday, July 28, 2009

When did you realise ...

... you were onto something?

How long did it take for you to see that you were seeing something?

... to name a pattern, to speak into the darkness, to say, "Come forth!"?

How did you feel when others didn't see the same - and laughed? When others joined with you, and wondered about what could be ... how did you feel?

When you were way out of your depth, when you wound up in conversations that you felt like you had no right to be in?

When did you realise ... how much of it was grace?

Monday, July 27, 2009

A simple buzz

Simple things. Kids. Ice cream. Messy ice cream. Smiles all 'round. Sticky fingers and chocolate beards. Sugar hit.

Doesn't get much better.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Behind closed [roller] doors

Closed doors leave our imaginations free to wonder / wander.

We know that doors have a way of hiding what really is, preserving all along the veneer of normality, or wealth, or tidyness that is conveyed from the outside.

When we open doors and look inside, the veneer doesn't always (or often) correspond with the internal reality.

These guys in Germany offer a nice critique of that with a pretty special piece of silliness. They take the biggest door in the house, and offer their take on "I wonder what's inside?"

Of course, we are all still left wondering what really is inside behind their veneer-upon-a-veneer!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

For the want of a really good question

Many occasions in life will see us engaging in the hunt for 'the right answer'. From the time we were in kindergarten we've been trained to expect that a question posed anticipates an answer supplied, and a learning goal achieved.

Finding answers can be tough; but not as tough as trying to find the right question.

Social change strategist Fran Peavey speaks of questions as being like levers set to work on the lids of paint tins: some questions are a 'short lever' and may just manage to pry the lid off; other questions have the capacity to not only open the tin but to get in there and really stir things up.

Questions are not made good by volume, but by their ability to stir us into deeper realisation and unsettledness. The best questions for agitation are not questions where the questioner already knows the answer, but those where the answers are yet to be discovered in an act of co-creation engaging various parties around the table.

As Peavey says, "People need to come up with their own answers. Questioning can catalyze this process. Don't be disappointed if a great question does not have an answer right away. A powerful question will sit rattling in the mind for days or weeks as the person works on an answer. If the seed is planted, the answer will grow. Questions are alive!"

Oh that we lived into this reality more often! Many times we find ourselves beset by a barrage of questions, yet strangely comforted that the inquistor knows the answer, and will lead us to it if we cannot find it ourselves. It starts at school, and is a method most educators never tire of.

"What colour is the car, Suzie?"
"What is 6 x 2, Todd?"
"Who were the signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi, and on what date was it signed? Why is there a perception that the bilingual nature of the Treaty favoured Pākehā?"
"Why should you use a registered fitting station to secure your child's car seat restraint?"
"What behaviours does the Apostle Paul say believers must exhibit in v.9? Why must they act this way?"
"How can you tell if a person has been physically or psychologically abused? What are the signs?"
"So I've presented you with these two options, and it's now for you to make the choice: which one fits your personality type?"

These are questions with short leverage. And that's okay if you're only after data, zeros and ones.

But occasionally a really good question will come your way. And it will stir at you and niggle you until something in your life changes. We are starved for want of good questions (especially the unaskable questions: "What would it take for someone here to ask us a question that may completely unhinge us -- and even the questioner?").

What are the questions that have changed your life?

Friday, July 24, 2009

A guide to not killing the enjoyment for others

We get through our fair share of fermented grape juice at our place.

Wine is one of those areas where there's a lot of snobbery and pretence. Our knowledge of wine is limited, but we're always willing to learn.

This article impressed me as one seeking to escape from the snobbery without dumbing down the enjoyment of good wine. It's kind of a 'walk around it and appreciate its many facets' approach.

A good wine is enjoyed all the more when we take just a few minutes to see it, breathe it, smell it, let it linger, savour it. In other words: camp on it, and engage your brain and senses.

The upshot of this article is: tasting and enjoying wine doesn't have to be hard or snobbish. As we enjoyed a nice Kiwi Sauv Blanc this evening it repayed just that little bit of extra time to stop and appreciate it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Finding a teacher who can teach

Music lessons can really suck.

It's not always the question of students being lazy - sometimes it's the issue of teachers who don't know how to work with the student they have in front of them.

I had four music teachers in my life; three of them never got it. They spent all their time trying to force me and my sisters into music theory, scales, and Grade 2 piano books.

It worked for sister number 2, but not so well for sister number 1, and not at all for sister number 3.

But now it's the family baby (no. 3) who can improvise so readily. She can hear a tune, and have it to keys in no time. As for me, it wasn't till I got to my second guitar teacher that I found someone who quickly worked out that I wasn't going to play hours of chord progressions or scales: he celebrated my improvisation, and sought to work backwards from it, recording and writing it down as I experimented and settled on things.

He was the smart teacher. Twelve years with the piano expert has left me with little more than some recollection of where I might find middle C. But my guitar teacher knew how to work with kids who didn't follow the pattern of the curriculum.

Wherever you are, Lars, I love you, man.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Going by the board[room] ...

Too many things in life go unquestioned.

I'm convinced one of them is the boardroom meeting.

This institution / ritual has been with us for ... a long time. It's part of our DNA; it's what we do. Birds fly south in winter. Ants get busy before rain. Businesses have meetings.

Just out of curiosity, have most of the substantial changes in your business / organisation been driven by what came out of formal meetings?

How often have meetings captured the best of what your people are capable of? How often have meetings opened a window into the brilliance and giftedness of the company's people?

How often have meetings aired with honesty (and grace) the real problems you face? (As opposed to tip-toeing around sensitive issues, afraid to name them for fear of repercussions?)

How often have meetings allowed for the honesty of complexity while driven by the need to generate consensus (and expeditiously at that)?

How often do meetings deliver for your organisation what we believe (and hope) meetings are supposed to accomplish?

I think meetings have a usefulness, but I'm still trying to decide just what that usefulness is. We've just had two days' of meetings, and it felt good and impassioned, and we talked through some pretty weighty stuff (and got some bonus beer and tucker thrown in for the trouble).

And I'm still left wondering what meetings are all about. Educate me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Skilled for the onwards and upwards

Life is constant upskilling.

It seems we're always being prepared for one task or another through a process of training and trial.

We simulate reality in all sorts of ways. Nothing's quite as good as the real thing, and eventually training ends and we launch into 'the thing' itself.

I wonder how long it will be till plastic bars bolted onto a wooden platform become tree branches or rocky outcrops?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Footprints in the sand

Recently, while waiting for a client to get to our meeting, I was left in a tea room with a copy of a book on tracking Australian animals and birds. Through lots of photos of footprints and scats the book taught you how to identify what had trafficked through your local area.

Life is full of footprints. Wherever we go, the marks of our presence are left behind. The tracks of others are left for us to follow, to read, and to learn from.

Whose footprints are you following? What are you learning from looking at the footprints around you?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Finding a sweet spot

Different places bring out different things in people.

We took the boys down to Wollongong today. Caelan, who is usually cautious, seemed to relax quite a bit and got his feet (and most of his clothes) very wet.

Elisha, who looks for any excuse to run wild, did just that.

You only have to put young boys in the presence of water and sand and they undergo a sort of primal transformation. It is a great place to watch their inhibitions melt as they run along the water's edge, play with sticks and shells, throw sand (usually at the faces of other unfamiliar kids), chase seagulls, and plonk down on the beach in the sopping wet pants.

We shared some of those lovely uninhibited moments with our boys today. Free time spent at the beach brings out such different sides of their personalities to time spent in the loungeroom.

Sun, sand and surf are a licence to frolic and innovate and explore. Elisha had his first experience of sand running through his toes as his little feet sank into beachsand (you don't see much of this out near Mt Druitt). His little face was full of all kinds of interesting expressions today as new possibilities for play emerged.

Deep inside me, I feel a little bit of that urge as the waves lap and the seagulls screech.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Good designs can be timeless ...

... but this is a little bit wrong.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hitting the sack vol. 2

Yes, back to my favourite 4 sqm in our whole house.

It's a real smorgasboard in 'bed land' these days: pocket springs, Bonnell springs, foam boxes, memory foam, latex, down etc.

Beds just ain't a hessian mat on the floor anymore.

The choice is somewhat overwhelming. All you can hope is that the design that does it for you now will still be delivering for you in 5 years' time.

Our last bed was a massive disappointment and its innards basically collapsed within a few years. When we got rid of it two weeks ago, it had more in common with the topography of the the south island of New Zealand than with the mattress we bought back in 2002.

Do you have any golden tips on choosing the right bed? One slightly greasy salesman kept saying to us, "Just leeesen to your buddy."

That's all well-and-good in the first instance, but what if your 'buddy' is telling you that the mattress you bought 3 years ago is not what it was when it left the shop floor?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Beckoning springs

Two weeks ago we bought a new mattress. This is good.

Comfy, supportive ... everything a good mattress should be (Sleepmaker 701).

Without further ado, I am going to find that mattress right now and melt into it. Bliss.

See you in the new day.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tales in the tailings

What do the 'leftovers' in your neighbourhood tell you about the place?

Driving into Singleton this morning I was greeted by this massive pile of tailings.

The client I met with told me how much the mining companies have impacted the life of the town. Some of the mining companies donate significant funds back into the community as well as employing local people.

The tailings, the railway tracks, the payloaders ... they all tell you about the town and its character.

Our neighbourhood has very few 'leftovers' - but just down the road there is an old paddock and a rusty barbed wire fence.

What is now medium-density housing was once a thriving farming area. Just the other day a client was telling me that he remembers learning to drive on a farm out here.

In a previous suburb we lived in the style of houses said it all: a place largely settled by returned soldiers who bought their blocks, build a simple garage, and lived in it while they built their own fibro homes.

There are tales in the tailings. Having your eyes open enriches your understanding of where you are, and what has made it what it is.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What sorts of memories will you leave?

How do you imagine yourself being remembered?

When someone says your name in 80 years' time, what would you like them to recall?

What is it that contributes to how a person is remembered?

What is it that you think you'll be remembered for? Is it a lifetime of patterns, some singular achievements, or some crazy one-off event (like eating 15 cheeseburgers in 5 minutes)?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fox in socks

A Dr Seuss tonight I read
I read it to my son in bed.
My son in bed was wearing red
In bed and red while daddy read.

(It's true actually - he was wearing his bright red jammies.)

Dr Seuss it drains me so
My brain gets tired; my tongue won't go
My tired eyes boggle; my brain gets goggled -
But have you ever snoggled a Zoggle?

(Okay, my head's hurting now.)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Spare the grease, spoil the BBQ

Too much TLC can spoil just about anything.

If you're too soft on your kids, you ruin them. If you always keep your plants in nursery conditions, you never harden them off. And you can be too kind to your BBQ as well.

Yes, for years I went through an almost religious cleaning ritual with my BBQ. After each cooking session, I'd be out there scrubbing it down, and getting just about every speck of grease off it. No yucky sticky pieces of six-month-old charred pineapple on my grill.

But you know something about grease? It's a rust inhibitor. Amazing. Grease on = no rust. Grease off = equals rusty sausages next time you fire it up.

Today was ridiculous. We had house church at our place and burgers for all. But it's hard to cook up a feed for a crowd when you've only got enough non-rusted space to do 3 hamburger patties at a time while the rest of the BBQ radiates its magnificent heat across acres of rust.

So I've been forced to abandon my much-loved rituals. My attempts to preserve this meeting place of metal, meat and fire ended up assisting the decline of my BBQ - there are now literally sheets of rust to be chipped off each time.

So tonight I raise my tongs to all those greasy, sticky, dirty old BBQ hotplates out there. I've learned my lesson: keep it mean.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A heart torn by three tiny leaves

Got stuck into the front lawn today. One of the nice things about kikuyu is that it really does shut down in these cooler months and gives me a few weeks' break between mows.

Today as I trimmed and slashed I was forced to admire the tenaciousness of the white clover (Trifolium repens to most readers here, I'm sure). Even though I hit it last year with MCPA and bromoxinil, it's back with a vengeance this year.

It's one of those plants whose appearance I both love and dislike (the bees are madly in love with it), but whose nitrogen-fixing qualities I (and the rest of the lawn) appreciate. So maybe I'll be a little kinder to it this year. We'll see.

It's one of those things that is aesthetically a little off-putting, but is in every other way beneficial (a bit like brown bread or orange juice with the chunks in it).

What do you think? Mercy on the clover? Or doom, death, and destruction?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Stepping across unconventional stones

Kids with an adventurous spirit have a way of getting to where they want to be.

Unconventional forms of assistance are by no means unacceptable. You don't need a step-ladder for climbing - heck, if trampling over toys, crawling along the back of the lounge, clambering up on the coffee table, gets you where you want to be then why not?

What do you clamber over, jump from, scramble through to get to where you need to be?

The best stepping stones aren't always purposely designed that way.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Do you dig it?

If you don't know anything about these, then perhaps you should learn.

You never know when your three-year-old might ask for one.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Going, going, gone

Cordless gear is great.

Over the years I've appreciated the flexibility and excellent battery life out of some good cordless drills (if you know tools, blue Bosch and Panasonic).

I've also had a decent run out of laptop batteries. Over the years most of the laptops I've owned have had Ni-Cd or Ni-mH batteries in them. I have always been careful to cycle batteries, and to not leave them plugged in too long. And so I would often still be getting up to two hours' use out of a five-year-old battery.

Not so this time. On my present laptop the battery is Lithium-Ion. The big plus: it recharges so quickly, and is cool with being 'topped up'. The downside? It doesn't have the longevity of the other guys.

These lithium batteries are apparently good for about three hundred cycles, and then the chemistry ain't so crash-hot anymore. And that's what's happened here. The nice long runs of 2 or 2 1/2 hours have come to an end. Quite abruptly. We're good for about 15 minutes now.

I knew there had to be a trade-off for the convenience and power! Has anyone else made this discovery? I think I'd almost rather go back to the Ni-mH days.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What's over the hedge?

What's over the hedge?

Is this a barrier? Or an invitation?

Does it command silence, or feed speculation and wonder?

Is it a feature in itself, or does it add definition to some other feature?

What I like about a natural hedge like this versus a Colourbond fence: it offers partial glimpses and flashes of light and colour. Colourbond says absolutely "This is where your space ends." This isn't quite so cut-and-dried.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Green overheads ahead

A roof is a roof is a roof. Except when it's a goat paddock.

A look at some of these roofs is a bit of a blast from the past. But it's the way of the future.

The City of Toronto is leading the way here. If you live anywhere near the heatsink that is western Sydney, you'll be saying 'Bring it on'!

And more trees - as opposed to this highly selective piffle.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The tradesmen's entrance

We hang out with some pretty crazy friends.

I guess this kind of works when you're not exactly on an even keel yourself.

Crazy friends are good - lots of raucous laughs, some tears, great food and wine, some pretty full-on conversations, and the reminder that it really is good to be alive.

We were with a mob of them this afternoon / evening, for our six-weekly catch-up of FOCG (I will only tell you that the first two words are 'Friends of' and the last word is 'Grace'. You'll have to die wondering what the 'C' part is).

Anyway, somewhere in the conversation someone introduced the concept of the tradesmen's entrance. We were talking about the pretentiousness that surrounds properties, and indeed whole cities: we put our best foot forward, and hide all the rumblings - the dirty laundry, the sewer, the hot water system, old broken furniture, the fire escape, the long grass - out the back.

Sydney's no different. We live less than five minutes from suburbs like Bidwill and Shalvey - and Sydney's no different.

And our lives are no different. People who encounter us in a state of readiness find a neat and orderly front yard, newly cut green grass, and a big ... driveway.

But the tradies go down the side, and come around the back. They know where things are really at. They know what work needs to be done. They see - horror of horrors - what we don't want the whole jolly neighbourhood to see.

Our lives are no different to the games we play with our houses and our cities. Best foot forward, people.

And heaven help you if you encounter a 'tradesman' - someone who decides not to enter your life through the well-advertised front door, but down through a side gate and into the messy rumblings of the dingy, seedy back of your personal apartment (where dirty laundry is the nicest of what's there).

Most people - most, most people - will never see down into that part of your life. But there are eyes that see - you know that, don't you?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

To lead - what does it take?

'Leadership' is a word with a lot of baggage loaded into it.

Mark Strom has made the argument before in his 'Leading Wisely' lecture series that we perhaps do well to boil the subject matter back down to a simple verb: 'to lead'.

So much discussion about 'leadership' ends up in lists of 'The 12 qualities of', 'Studies of famous leaders', 'The irrefutable laws of' etc. So little of it ends up being about the simple human activities of leading and following.

I've begun reading Ron Carucci's Leadership Divided. It's a very interesting read. Without saying any more, I wonder which attributes resonate with you when you think about the times you have been led well - or have led another person yourself in a way you think was effective.

Is it always the same attributes that come into play?

Can a perceived strength in one circumstance become a perceived failing in another - and vice versa?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Toot toot chuggah chuggah!

The Wiggles play on high rotation in our household, especially between the hours of six and eight in the morning.

But the world of The Wiggles doesn't end when the videos stop. The imaginary world of coloured skivvies, ditsy pirates and purple octopuses continues.

This is not a cardboard box; it's actually the big red car. Sadly, the big red car is now part of local landfill. But not before the two little adventurers went for some Wiggly car trips in it.

You've got to love the way that kids find something which bears (to the adult mind) only a vague resemblance to something else that they know and love, and then live out a whole world of adventures in it. And most of the time it's with the simplest things.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Cara is a fan of The West Wing and is gradually watching her way through the various episodes.

Presently, she's in Season 3. During the episode she was watching last night, I heard the following exchange between Toby Ziegler and newly-named U.S. poet laureate, Tabatha Fortis.

Tabatha: I like crossing off lists - it's very satisfying. You like lists?

Toby: Yes.

Tabatha: You like crossing things off?

Toby: I'll let you know if it happens.

Later in the evening I finished a short-ish book by Tim Keller, The Prodigal God.

It's nice to finish things.

It's gratifying to cross things off. Sometimes when I have a lot of tasks to do in a day, I write a list. I cross them off as I go. Occasionally, I remember things I've already done, and add them to the list, then cross them off immediately. (Okay, that's just a little too obsessive, I know.)

Finishing things is gratifying. But what about starting things?

A friend said to me recently that his gift isn't in finishing things; it's in starting them. For him, starting things is gratifying. Seeing others build on them is also gratifying. When I look at how he's wired, and what he's contributed to over the years, it makes sense.

I guess there is a gratification that comes with completing something, and a gratification that comes with starting something as well. But what about the middle bit?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Thomas in flames

I don't quite remember how I happened across the work of Leo Kim.

Leo took that series beloved of every young boy, and came up with his own episode titled 'Thomas Tank Mad Bomber'.

Leo must have known he was on to a big hit: boys (big and little) love trains. And explosions.

Personally, I think the Thomas series was always begging for a good explosion. You only ever had to watch an episode or two of the original to recognise that here was one seriously vindictive shedful of steam engines. A sudden malicious flame-burst was only ever a toot-toot away.

While the episode itself is worth the watch (gotta love the droll humour that follows after 1:30), even more fascinating are all the 'making of' videos that Leo has done to showcase the challenges of film-making with model trains on a shoestring.

It's clever stuff. Even if Leo is Victorian.