Archive for category Musings
There is beauty in embracing the reality that things kind of suck. There is beauty in the abandonment of self, the crashing aside of the props of ego and the delicious decline into unmitigated annoyance, grumpiness and self pity. The cascade of freedom that unfurls within as we allow ourselves to cry “But this is rubbish!”
I try to look for the positive, don’t we all? But I have to say I loathe January. Now I don’t know anyone who says “Oh I love it, frostbite is my favourite!” but I really, really loathe it. I hated it when I lived in England and all I had to contend with was sleet and freezing fog, here in Canadaland, January really means business. As in I’ll freeze your face right off before you even get in the car and then I’ll get to work on your toes. It’s icy out there people.
And it’s been icy for a while. We’ve been cooped up for a while. And while I recognise that there is the possibility of doing some healthy outdoor activity on things strapped to my feet, I’d like to remind anyone reading that I’m British. I am uncoordinated, afraid of falling and like the skin on my face to remain attached to my face.
Yes I am not keen on January all told, it’s cold, everyone is skint and there really isn’t much to look forward to until, oh, March. And while I can marvel at the beautiful blue sky on a searingly cold day, or admire the patterns of ice that decorate the barren outdoor landscape, I would be less than honest if I didn’t say I’m really waiting for Spring.
Perhaps in years to come we’ll all be strapping on skis (or whatever other designed for death instrument is popular at the time) or zooming off to skate on frozen lakes and rinks, but not this year. This year I have two still young children, lots to do and no energy to do it with. Frankly I’d rather just go to bed and wake up in about 6 weeks time. But I suspect the laundry may, by then, have evolved into an ecological disaster which would destroy not only the human race but all life on an atomic level. Not good.
I wish I could say that I’m facing this adversity with grace, but I would be lying. Yet I find myself unrepentant. I feel that this level of annoyance is almost glorious in it’s own perverse way. While I don’t enjoy yelling such sentiments as “clean it up yourself I’ve had enough!” at my children, I’m enjoying a certain feeling of cleansing from the admission of having enough.
Because that is the truth of it. No matter how much we love our life, or children, or haircut, life can be a big fat pain in the bottom. Sometimes our kids just drive us completely. up. the. wall. No matter how we love them and want to hold them close there are times when we consider that ebay really should have a ‘child’ section. Sometimes, we don’t want to be treated like indentured slaves and do you know what? We are right.
I love my children but I sometimes forget that my life is not just about serving them, that I am entitled to some moments of pleasure or creativity or not cleaning up the same damn thing that I cleaned up 5 minutes ago and yes actually I did tell you to do it but you just didn’t listen. We all know that everyone has those days and moments but somehow it’s easier to gloss over them and focus on the shiny bits, the easy bits, the bits that will make other people think we have a clue. Well I’m not sure that is healthy.
The truth is that sometimes being well and truly fed up can be a cleansing and healthy process, it makes us examine what is working and what isn’t, it can help us move through a depressing low and emerge into something new. Being angry can help us get motivated and moving, can help us shift into a new and healthier pattern, can be the herald of useful change.
I know we are all supposed to wheel around in some kind of zen like state with cherry blossoms tied to our ears but that isn’t life so let’s just forget it shall we? Today at our science co-op I was able to share my frustrations with my friends and, guess what? They had the same ones! Instead of glossing over it we are honest and share the downs as well as the ups. We obviously love our children (our actions show our dedication) but that doesn’t make it sunlight and roses all the time.
So I feel ok about being a bit grumpy and fed up, you really can’t enjoy every aspect of life and stay sane. There are things I love and things I just plain hate and I feel dishonest if I don’t articulate at least a little of my frustration. So there it is, no great manifesto or wise words, just a bit of a rant and a bit of a glimpse of life right now. And tomorrow it will be different, I’ll have moved on and the day will pan out, for good or bad, in a different way from how I imagined.
Not every moment is joyful or fun or something to be grateful for, not every moment can be a ‘learning opportunity’, but we can live fully and with honesty about the world as we see it. I don’t know about you, but when I ‘give myself permission’ to feel negative emotions, to embrace the truth of it and be ok with being a bit of a misery sometimes, I leave room for something new to come in. Catharsis if you will.
So let’s raise a hot and steaming cup of tea to getting through January and out the other side and to those unexpected moments that are so warm, you really do forget that it’s bloody cold outside.
I’ve been re-reading the excellent book Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes recently, I’ve read it before but that was prior to us moving here and doing some more of the activities she talks about in her book. Reading it with fresh eyes (and with the perspective of new experiences) gave the book a much sharper resonance for me and has brought up questions that I have no real answers to but still can’t shake off thinking about.
One of the things I come back to over and over is, are we really so radical? Ok, yes, I know not everyone raises their own animals for meat or has the space for a largish flock of chickens, but not all of the people that Shannon Hayes interviews and discusses in her book do either. Each person or family that she looks at has a unique approach to their lives but with one common thread that connects them all, produce rather than consume.
This core idea is one that I grew up with, so it doesn’t seem alien to me. My Mum knit and sewed for us, made stuffed animals and clothing, she learned to make jewellery, made teddy bears, iced cakes and a million other little decorative touches around the home, that just seemed a part of her. My Dad was always busy, he participated in lots of sports, gardened, took us on mammoth bike rides, grew flowers, tomatoes, whatever took his fancy. If jobs needed doing Dad generally did it, painting, hanging wallpaper, redecorating old bikes to make them new. People (or at least all the people we knew) didn’t have much money for extras so they did things themselves.
When I met Stephen he was at the end of an Mechanical Engineering degree, so it’s safe to say he’s a pretty handy chap. As well as being able to turn his hand to computer shenanigans, he could also garden, redecorate, put up shelves, cook, assemble ikea furniture and generally make himself useful around the place. When I met his parents I found that his Dad was a genius carpenter who could make furniture, do plumbing, electrics and actually built his own house; his Mum is an accomplished knitter, used to sew clothing to sell and makes a cupcake to fight over.
When I look around at the people I know they can all ‘do’ something, they all create and produce something for themselves. My sister cooks, sews, quilts and still manages to hold down a sensible job, my friends are all creative people making a vast array of wonderful things; I wonder to myself, isn’t everyone like this? How can it be called ‘radical’ when everyone is doing it already?
But then I realised that I needed to stick my head a little outside of my bubble. I know that I do live in a bit of a world of my own making. My family are all great, my friends are lovely, caring individuals, I live in a place I love and spend my time online reading the blogs of other people with similar interests; it is easy for me to think this is the whole world. But when I accidentally slip out of my bubble and onto the hard pavement of reality I see a very different world.
Recently we had the misfortune of needing to be at the children’s hospital for a good few hours, the tv’s there run ‘children’s’ tv the whole time and I became morbidly fascinated. Was this really what young people were watching? These glossy people who seem to do nothing but gossip, get into silly conundrums and unkind badinage? I restrict my kids to certain selections from netflix and prechosen documentaries and movies so we’re not used to the barrage of advertising that comes with mainstream media, after 5 minutes my brain hurt. After several hours my heart did too.
It seems there is always something to buy, something else you need, another smell, another car another…something. It’s ok to say ‘stupid’ a lot, being mean to other people is funny and casual cruelty and bullying are to be expected. No one makes anything, loves anything, which is in direct contradiction with the people, young and old, that I know. The world depicted by the media is shiny, glossy, terrifying and…empty.
I know this is nothing new, this is common knowledge, but it makes me realise why the title of Shannon Haye’s book is so appropriate. It is, in our culture at this time, a radical statement to say ‘no I won’t buy it, I’ll make it’. To take control of one’s consumption, to decide what items are not ok, to eliminate the cultural elements that we don’t like. Instead of being dictated to by the mystical forces of advertising and the media, we can instead turn inwards and find our own journey, our own voice.
I don’t think that making bread, or yoghurt, or jam is an earth shattering thing; I don’t think that staying at home to raise my children is a radical decision. From being a teenager I have considered myself to be a feminist and always believed that position simply meant, valuing the female mind as unique and worth listening to. I didn’t think it meant only one type of path, one view of what I could be, quite the opposite in fact. So when I decided to step away from a career outside the home and instead pursue a life within it, it just seemed like another decision. It was the same decision my Mum made when I was born, it seemed a pretty natural way to live to me.
Yet when I look around outside of my bubble, I don’t see stay at home Mums being represented in a positive or realistic way. Mum’s are either 1) filmy, beautiful creatures who’ve been no nearer a real child than I have to Jupiter or 2) terminally pissed off. Now I have my moments of frustration for sure but I do want to be at home with my children, a decision that seems at odds with how I’m ‘supposed’ to see myself. I’m getting pretty tired of seeing female characters in films and on tv shows making the same predictable ‘I don’t cook’ remarks when they are being depicted as strong and clever. Apparently to be strong and clever you must reject anything associated with a kitchen and in fact reject a certain amount of independence.
Because that is what happens when you learn these skills. When you cook instead of heating up something inside a plastic package, when you make some jam instead of relying upon the frankly unreliable labeling of superstore foods, when you even grow something yourself on a plot of land or in a small pot on a window ledge. Each act of do-it-yourself leads to a feeling of independence and confidence, it leads to a sense of self reliance and, perhaps, a greater willingness to perceive the flaws in the status quo. When you are less reliant on a system it becomes easier and less frightening to see it’s limitations and dangers.
Perhaps that is what makes it radical to turn one’s attention inwards, to develop skills and spend time on projects not purchases. To be sure we buy things, more than we would like at times, but most of those things are tools so that we can make something else. Fencing for animals, canning supplies, a big silver tarp. We are still ‘plugged in’ to the economy but we are taking control of our home at the most basic level. We control much of our food, we control our exposure to the culture outside our door, we set our values and try to pursue them in our everyday life.
Shannon Hayes talks in her book about the increasing feeling of distance that can occur when people step off the ‘mainstream’ and start beating a path of their own.
“Those who choose to align their lives with their values typically experience a sense of isolation from anyone else whose outlook is defined by conventional cultural codes. David Korten explains that people who transition may even occasionally feel like creatures from outer space.” p 243, Radical Homemakers
For me that isn’t about distance from my nearest and dearest (unless you count the physical distance which is profound) but just about a sense of distance from the culture around me. I see messages spinning past me, things I know I’m supposed to care about or be engaged with that I’m just not. In fact I am beginning to view the more ‘mainstream’ culture as alien, while I feel more and more rooted in my own sense of truth.
If it is radical to close my door to the eternal noise and chatter of the world then I suppose I am, if it is radical to want to cook, make and spend time with my family then I definitely am. This is not the only path I could have taken, nor is it the only ‘moral’ or ‘good’ road, I think we get into seriously tricky territory when we start making those kinds of definitions. But what I notice, and respect, in lives that I admire, is a commitment to a goal, a choice that is being made. If instead we allow ourselves to be buffeted and defined by the shifting winds of ‘society’, if we never make choices for ourselves, always assuming that because something is ubiquitous is must therefore be benign, then can we be surprised when eventually and inevitably, we end up ship wrecked?
I’m sharing another guest post over at Rhythm of the Home today, pop over if you have a moment!
Have a beautiful day.
Sometimes I feel confused about my role in life. I am a mother, teacher, partner, farmer, cleaner, organiser, friend, disciplinarian and lover of pigs. In any one day it is easy to feel pulled in many directions. Particularly when it comes to deciding what is right for the boys. Which curriculum choice is the best? Should we focus on reading skills or just snuggle with a story? Am I failing them when I don’t live up to what is in my mind’s eye? Is it possible to ever get it right?
I was thinking about some of these things in the car the other night as I returned home after my yoga class, when I hear a song on the radio. Trust Alanis Morissette to come up with such a stirring yet moving song. Her words seemed to capture exactly the fierce protectiveness I feel towards my boys, the strength I feel when it comes to putting myself between them and harms way, the sacred task handed to every mother as she tries to guide her child through the world of material, spiritual, intellectual and emotional choices and experiences.
I may not get it right all the time but I do know that when it comes to love, I am unfailing. If they are threatened I will protect them, my role is simply to keep them safe shelter them as they get on with the important business of growing up and finding out who they are.
So enjoy a bit of kick botty songstress, mother and all round poet Alanis, as you go about your day. She speaks for all us parents I think, she certainly speaks for me.
I’ll be your keeper for life as your guardian
I’ll be your warrior of care your first warden
I’ll be your angel on call, I’ll be on demand
The greatest honor of all, as your guardian.
Alanis Morissette Guardian
Earlier in the year I posted about some of the health issues I was facing and how I was trying to deal with it, I realise I haven’t posted on this topic since but it is never far from my mind.
After that post I went on and did more tests, one of which was a very sensitive adrenal test, it measured my cortisol levels throughout the day and into the night. This revealed that my cortisol is the same at 8am as it is at midnight, this is not good. Cortisol is the stuff that gets us out of bed in the morning, gets us moving, going, motivated. Through the day it depletes and by night time we are tired and ready for sleep, while we sleep the cortisol replenishes ready for a new day. Except mine doesn’t, my adrenals and my cortisol levels are flatlined.
What does this mean? Well it means I’m getting out of bed feeling like I did when I went to bed, no vim, no vigour, no zip. There are periods during the day where I’m less fatigued, the morning for example is when I can be quite productive, but then there are other times when I drop like a stone. Between 2-5 I really struggle, as in please can I lie in a darkened room and sleep with no interruptions struggle. I get headaches, naseau, joint pain and generally feel like death. Around 5.30 I start picking up and do ok again until bedtime.
You know that foggy feeling you get when you haven’t slept for a good long while? That feeling new parents know so well! Well it feels like that, all the time. It doesn’t matter if I sleep well, I’m tired. There are some days I feel pretty good but they are balanced by the other days. Or sometimes weeks. In the spring I had to withdraw Neirin from preschool for a month because the back and forth to preschool twice a week was too much. It has not been a fun time.
I’ve chosen to use natural supplements and diet to try and resolve this issue, as well as changing certain lifestyle factors. Really this is the only solution open to me as the tests I took through my GP were unhelpfully vague and conventional medicine really can’t do that much for me. This isn’t something I can stick a plaster over and hope for the best, to recover from this is going to take work. Work and time.
Around 2 years of time.
That’s the kicker for me. I can eat well, meditate, and wash my hair in wheatgrass but today it won’t make a difference. Today I’ll still feel tired and probably tomorrow too. I’ve cut out gluten, yeast and dairy all just to stop me feeling worse but that doesn’t lead to better, it doesn’t lead to well. Even eating well, exercising and taking my supplements I still feel tired and will most likely gain weight as I’ve continued to do over the last year, despite my best efforts.
Depressing neh? I know it’s not a fun story to hear, or to tell, or to live for that matter. Living at sub par, always having to be careful not to overdo it, to feel exhausted for no good reason, is not my idea of a good time. Knowing how long it will be before I’m fighting fit is even harder, some days that makes it tough to do all the things I need to.
I don’t know why I’ve been thrown this particular curve ball, but I know that this is a problem I’ve had for many years. It’s not uncommon these days, living as we do in an overly stimulated and overly stressed society. So many of us are burned out, frazzled on the inside; it doesn’t matter how we got there, what matters is that for that to change, we have to change.
I can never go back to eating things that aren’t good for me without knowing the consequences. I can’t casually scoff down a take out pizza or eat anything off the menu at a restaurant. But is that such a bad thing? Frustrating, yes, but not bad. In a world where we rely on convenience I’m suddenly faced with different choices. No short cuts. Eat whole foods, eat veggies and meat and fruit and leave the rest. I’m not there but I’m working on it.
I can also never set aside my need for rest. I can’t over schedule myself, or my children, rushing from one errand to another. I can’t push and push and push myself without feeling the consequences. Is that a bad thing? Is it bad to spend the afternoon reading or just watching my kids play? I want to say no but it is hard, hard to really feel that is true. Isn’t productivity the goal of life? Don’t we need something tangible to show for our efforts? Is just being there, being alive and peaceful, enough?
This path of seeking restful nourishment has brought be back to something that used to be a big part of my life, yoga. Before I moved to Canada I did quite a lot of yoga and was even thinking about taking the teaching qualification, but life and having children put paid to all that! Now I’m a novice again, seeking the strength to open joints, use muscles and breathe. It is bliss and I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to do this near to where I live. We have a fabulous yoga studio just 15 minutes from here, a place where I find physical and spiritual solace every time I cross the threshold. A silver lining indeed.
And yoga is showing me the way to my recovery. That combination of conscious strength and letting go, the bringing together of body and soul, the recognition of limits while always reaching just a little further. The emphasis on clean eating, thinking, feeling, that makes it so unique and so perfect. I may not be able to run a 5k or kickbox my way to fitness but I can find peace in a posture, giving myself over to it completely, giving in to the truth of that moment.
Surrendering to what is, not fighting what has to be.
Because that is what this journey is really about for me. I’m stepping off a path and trying to find a new one. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that I’m stepping off the path, finding a shady spot and having a restful sit down. All of the ways I’m used to taking, all of the action I feel compelled to engage in, is actually counter productive. What I really need to do is stop.
And it is so hard.
But when I do I notice things, I notice the flowers my boys picked for me floating in water. I notice the joy in my son’s eyes when I read him nursery rhymes again and again. And again. I notice the sound of the neeker breekers and the play of the light on the grass. All of the things I wouldn’t see if I were rushing, pushing, reaching for more all the time. That is my nature, it’s how I’m made, I don’t know how to be any other way. But I’m trying to learn, a little step at a time. I’m trying to see how I might be remade, how I can find peace in my own heart and then my body will follow.
So very straight forward really. No, it isn’t a simple prescription but it is all I have and all I will have to hold onto. Things won’t ever ‘go back’ to the way they were, and the more I try the worse I feel. Instead I have to turn my face into a new breeze, close my eyes and notice the grass between my toes, the air on my skin. I need to seek nourishment and stillness, they need to be my path and my goal. It will take a lifetime, luckily that is what I have available.
It may seem odd that one day of vacation could give rise to so many thoughts, but it isn’t often I really have the chance to sit back and watch my family without being at the centre of things. We were sharing it all but separate, all experiencing the same thing but excited by it in different ways. Stephen loved the ingenuity of the engines and farming devices, I loved the simplicity, beauty and order of the environment and the boys…well they just loved being boys.
The boys are both at fantastically creative ages, Huwyl is the storyteller, the lover of words, he immerses himself in each experience whether good or bad. Neirin is just beginning to express his wild imagination, a physical being with such confidence and determination it takes my breath away. Yet their hands still reach for mine, their arms open and ready for cuddles at any time.
Watching the boys run, explore and play for 6 solid hours yesterday with barely a complaint brought a few simple truths home to me:
1 – Shade is important. I’ve been nagging the boys all summer to be out more, even though it has been scorching and I certainly don’t want to be outside. We lack shade on our property so we’ve really baked this year. Next year we will begin planting trees to create little pools of comfort in the summer months.
2 – My children like me. A lot. They like having me near by and are quite content to do all the wonderful things I hope they’ll do such as draw, run, play, laugh, explore, discover…as long as I am not far away. I am still their touchstone, their solid base and, much as I want to get on they won’t stray too far away from me just yet. If I’m nearby, even if I’m occupied or simply walking along they feel secure and will range and have fun. I need to remember that helping them discover the world is my real job, sometimes other things will just have to wait.
3 – Being together matters. It is to easy to end up splitting in so many directions just to get things done. Do you notice a theme here? But it is the sharing of the experience that makes it worthwhile, each of us seeing it through a different lens and learning from the insights or enjoyment of the other.
4 – Productivity is the key to happiness. Everywhere we looked in this place there was work, not just the straight up work of mill or lumberyard but cooking, quilting, growing, making. All of the gardens were full of vegetables, the trees that shaded us were laden with fruit rather than decorative berries, each object had beauty and function. Essentially everything I think is wonderful and good in the world. It saddens me to know that this perception is one our society has largely lost but pleases me to know that those with good sense and a true awareness of the nature of life, thought along the same lines.
It is all too easy (for me anyway) to get drawn into the wonderful world of other people’s creativity. Whether it is cruising blogs, watching movies or even reading books I too often put appreciation ahead of my own productivity. I stay up late to read but them I’m too tired to make the most of my day. A movie can be fun or a documentary informative but if it takes time away from ones own endeavours is it truly valuable?
There is so much I’d like to do, so much more I feel I could get from my time. When I think of the women of the 1860’s I know their hands were never idle. Sewing scraps into quilts or embroidering the edge of a dress, turned sitting time into productive time. Though I wouldn’t want to trade my life for the extremely hard and physical one those people lived, I want to see my home and my life as a truly productive one. I’d like each item in my home to earn it’s place, to have purpose or beauty on its side, I’d like no day to pass without something being made or created.
So I turn my mind from appreciating (which I love to do) and onto doing. Stepping away from the wonderful virtual world and into the real one, it’s where all the good stuff is.
Each day (two or three times a day in fact) we walk a now familiar trail across our fields. ‘We’ is me and the dogs, them bounding, me striding, through the increasingly tall hay in bottom field. Along the way we check on animals, bees, vegetables; we patrol this place of ours, checking each piece is as it should be.
I wonder, as we walk, about other trails that may have criss crossed this land, faded long since just as ours could so easily fade. The dent in the grass that shows us where to walk each day would easily grow over, but in my mind is it clear and firm. I know the only way to keep it fresh is to keep walking, rain or shine, summer and winter. We walk our trail, making it a little deeper each time; one day it will be gone but not today, not tomorrow either.