Saturday 31 December 2011


Today was different to yesterday. Yeterday was a mizzling understimulated mopy day with low level feelings of guilt hovering above me in grey wraith like wisps all day. Guilt that I was not helping to build our new home, guilt that I had not initiated any inspiring activities with the children and we didn't get out of our pyjamas until lunch time, guilt that I could be a better mother... etc. Sometimes I just need to step out of the suffocating web of expectation and disapproval I build for myself, walk away from the intense enclave of my home life and be free to just be,  to think or not think, to nip to the loo without three children immediately needing my assistance with a burning project.

But then, today, the clouds cleared, the ones in my head anyway. Despite interrupted sleep again, (Leo lost his wolf twice in the night, Tansy lost her duvet, the cat brought a mouse in) we had fun. Decorating gingerbread for Granpa's present we sloshed chocolate and icing around in a sticky relaxed mess, without any uptight concern from me about how much sugar had gone into Leo's tummy instead of onto the gingerbread moomins.

Then I was left alone, am alone, in the house, for the first time in many weeks, to do exactly what I please. The last time I had two kid free hours I had all my Christmas shopping to do!) Hugh very lovingly suggested that I didn't need to come to his parents house today and they would quite understand my need for rest and peace.
I do need rest and peace.
When I am not surrounded by the details of my life there is space for other things.
When I don't have to wash up the fourth load of dishes that day and simultaneously solve an animation  software problem, find Leo's wolf and help Tansy cast on twelve stitches please, I can look at my life with softer eyes, see myself with more tenderness and love, and feel immense gratitude for what I have.
I can feel things that are usually brushed away and sealed under a welter of practical tasks.

When I am not enmeshed in domestic minutiae, I can physically walk out and feel the wind colour my cheeks and notice and remember things I wouldn't at home.

  • The excitement and love in my kids eyes when I forget about chores and dance and sing with them.
  • How good it feels to move, to run along the cycle path, to dance on Boxing day evening, to cycle up Castle hill into body doesn't do sedentary well.

  • The slender egret, hunched like a white shadow by the weir as I walked to town this afternoon, balanced on one delicate, black leg. The pair of swans, serene and fierce drifting below the rapids.

  • The feeling that some emotions are so deep, swirling dark blue fear trapped far, far down under thick layers of ice that I only catch a tiny fleeting glimpse as a shaft of sun pierces the gloom, for one moment eughh no... a shudder, and the ice forms again and down goes the memory.

  • The realisation that I am not being selfish or indulgent by wanting to spend time alone, meditatively, or writing or creating in some way, that it is necessary to me for my spiritual and emotional well being, and hence my physical well being and hence my family's.

  • Three children with severe disabilities on my path to town which could have been Lily if she had survived.

  • The memory of the feeling in me and the noise I made when the hospital consultant said losing her eye was the least of his concerns. I don't remember this very often.
Space for Lily that's what's hard when I'm at home. I passed the funeral director on my walk today too. Last night Fred and I realised the card game I had bought for him for Christmas was for three players. Hugh was out. Where was Lily? We looked at each other, Lily would have loved it, we said, and played it anyway, it was fun.

Time for me, time for Lily, time for love, time to be. Time for my living family. There is enough time really when I realise how important we are. And enough love for everyone else too,

I wish you all a New Year filled with love and beauty and the realisation that there is always time for what we need to do in our wonderful lives. Can you remind me sometime?

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Before, during and after

Before Christmas I became quite obsessed and compulsive about creating and making the perfect handmade Christmas, even though it was quite plain that we were in fact trying to finish building our new home which we are due to move into in three weeks.
When I was at home I locked myself into cutting delicate paper mobiles, crafting applique cushions, rustling up sugar free mincemeat and Christmas puds, and while I really really tried to enjoy the moment I was in, the loving creation..the reality was quite frenzied. Spirit of Christmas? Hmm. But I couldn't, (or wouldn't let myself) stop. Night after night I stayed up just a bit past when I should to just knit, sew, cut one more line, really wishing I didn't feel the need to keep making, but making myself all the same.

When I was at the land with Hugh hauling an enormous window frame into place, slipping down the muddy precipice with yet another piece of 2x4 balanced on my shoulder, or sitting round our little camping fire feeding Hugh's brother pheasant stew when he came to help, well, that felt satisfying and necessary. We are roughly on track with the build and have had some loving support and help from many generous friends and family, but there's still so much to do. And Hugh did struggle with my seeming inability prioritize a bit of breather membrane on the roof over say, a paper dove.

But I still wanted Christmas to live up to my expectations. And that's what it's all about, expectations. I always make cards and presents, and do genuinely enjoy creating gifts for loved ones, but I now expect myself to live up to and possibly exceed last years efforts. What am I trying to prove? Is that what Christmas is about? Hmm.

Of course, I really like my children to participate in and witness lovely calm homespun activities around Christmas, and to experience  togetherness, creativity and laughter over and above mass material consumption. BUT, when mum is so exhausted from being up all night sewing and then attending to bad dreams that emerge from light sockets (not mine I hasten to add) that she cannot organise a baking session without taking several time outs to just breathe...well it's time to simplify.
And simpify I'm afraid I did not. I was still sewing a last angel on the dual carriage way on the way to my Mum's on Christmas day.

What did my kids need? A calm, happy, loving mum.
What did Hugh need? A frequent calm holder and operator of tape measures, drills, angle grinders, ladders and breather membrane. Oh and all the home stuff obviously!
What did I need? A massage, peace, love and laughter with my family. And sleep.
You see none of those involves making salt dough hearts.

This year would have been a good year to say NO to presents ouside the immediate family, and very simple and tiny within. We do keep it minimal within, but oh it's so complicated further afield. There is so much emotion and guilt and expectation around gift giving.

So, Christmas day itself, was about rushing,  to finish opening our presents so we could hurtle up to North Devon and open more. We sang carols in the car and that felt pretty festive, we saw a tiny Christmas lamb which made me cry, we ate a lovely turkey, thanks mum, we walked around the village where my paents lived and came back and ate ham sandwiches. We watched, actually this is lovely..(for our strictly no tv family) a little animation The Small Miracle which we watch every year. Magical.

And during our lovely Boxing day walk to the beach with friends, and an impromptu dance last night, and a wonderful yoga class next door tonight... I re-evaluated.
The baseline is: if it can't be done in truth love and serenity don't do it. Especially making paper doves. How can you make a stressed dove? Next Christmas, we should be a little more settled, but I will be focussing less on compulsion and more on being. It may involve baking a few gingerbread men, it may invove knitting a small item. But if I can't do it calmly and with love, I'll play a board game or snuggle up on the sofa instead. Or maybe go for a swim.

Or I could just go build a house....

Did your Christmas live up to your expectations? Did you have any?

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Really busy

I haven't written anything for a while..I'm really busy.
Really busy.
(Also my internet connection is not working.)
I'm trying to do a hundred Christmassy things..concerts, doll making, teacher presents, mobiles, biscuits, felt this and that, answer so many phone calls and messages...
Oh my God.. very quickly, and in the rain, and the mud.
That's why I haven't written anything, even though I have so many wonderful thoughts about life, seasons, thoughts, kids, the world....these thoughts usually only happen in the car when I have five minutes break, yes driving is now my relaxation, and I can't write anything down. Whoosh!Out of the window they go..the thoughts I mean.
Well I'll take some more pictures tomorrow, the roof is now going on between showers and kindergarten pick ups, but this is our recycled pallet wall. We spent our morning stapling old woollen blankets, and insulation up and hopefully, hopefully on Friday will have everything water tight.

So much thinking, night and day.....he's working so damned hard.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Advent, advent, the candle burns

                                             Advent, advent the  candle burns,
                                             Advent advent the candle burns,
                                             First one then two then three then four,
                                             Then stands the Christ child at the door.

These days of Advent are so busy, and at a time when the earth is drawing it's energy down, deep into a midwinter slumber, it feels as if we should do the same. We're not really. The days are running faster than my mind and my ever ringing phone. That's why, in the midst of hauling timber around our building plot, racing to school (late again) for the pick up, cooking vats of soup for hungry helpers, helping with homework and sewing projects, it feels so good to remember Advent.

Every evening we light our advent wreath before our meal blessing, one candle last week, two this week, three the next....
And every evening we walk Mary and Joseph a step further on their golden star path to Bethlehem, and sing the Mary song.
Last night, I played the tune first on my recorder and as we sang I could see the day's frenzy dropping from the little ones... they snuggled down next to the Advent table on their sheepskins, heads on my lap. Instead of a bedtime story from a book, they begged for a Mary one and I told them about a land far away where olive and lemon trees grew and a tired donkey lived in a stable near a young woman named Mary.
It was a beautiful moment and felt like a balm which soothed the rough and fractious edges of my day. These small, special moments of reverence and magic are so easy to pass by and forget, but they nourish me so deeply when I remember. And peace for the poor hurried children in these rushed weeks before Christmas. I crave peace and serenity and a rest. It's hard to find, and moments like this are like gold.

How is Advent for your family? Do you manage to steal quiet moments of anticipation and reflection amidst the overwhelming onslaught of fulfilling expectations at Christmas?

Thursday 24 November 2011

Walk to school

How ironic that we are able to walk to school, now that we have moved out of the woods for a spell. Bundling everyone in the car every morning, and lunch, and sometimes afternoon too, felt so wrong. Stuffing into car seats, sealed in our box, the rising sun and autumn berries flashed by at 50 mph and we observed it fleetingly through our windows..high speed cinema.
Now we are staying in a house only a mile from school and we walk at least one way, Freddie cycles both.

When people ask me what it's like living in a house, the first thing I always say is 'we can walk to school now' even though it doesn't answer the question. It feels like such a treat.

It takes about half an hour to wander through the fields and pause to talk to the robin on the gate post or admire the strings of blood red bryony draped in the hedgerows. Somehow I forget to rush so much in the fields wreathed in skeins of silver mist, as we squish our boots through the mud and pretend to be dragons and whoosh our fiery breath at each other.

I am so grateful for this brief time when we live close enough to the school for a beautiful walk in. It has certainly made me evaluate the amount of car use in our family.

When we move our wood there will be more questions to answer and challenges to overcome, about our reliance on fossil fuels in general. Is there any point in going off grid and using a washboard and mangle (which we will be doing) and planning bike powered blenders and laptops if we are still guzzling gallons of diesel every week?

Nope. Well a bit I suppose, but.....

We've just gone down to one car, yes we did, gulp, have runs, work needs, I know we all have our excuses, ours are as weedy as everyone else's. But the whole car thing, unless we live in a town, how can we not have one? Home educate? Bulk food delivery? No social visits or classes, or only those on a bus route?

The questions are evolving with the answers, but I know that we all feel so much better one car down. It's sociable, I've been hopping in more friendly cars of late; it stops me dashing around, because I simply can't, it reduces choice..sometimes I just can't go, and that's fine. We're getting more exercise as a family, we're saving money, not only on fuel, but on food because I'm not able to just pop out so much, and impulse buy. And we're using less diesel, yay!

But it is slow. I'm quite a quick person and naturally like everything to happen immediately, and its been a real lesson for me, that our crazy fast paced world is simply unsustainable, both in environmental and human terms. Really, our bodies and brains are not made to travel so fast are they?

 Meanwhile our walk to school is simply beautiful, we travel at human speed and can stop whenever we like to examine the first frost crystals of the year.

There were frost crystals on this post, really!

What does responsible car use mean to you? Would you like to slow down, tell me about it!

Monday 14 November 2011

Keeping memories alive

In a new house there are few memories. A fresh chapter in our family history has begun, and any memories this house holds are not ours. Someone else's stories murmur within these walls, celebrations, sorrows, quarrels,  moments of love, all there, but not ours.
Ours are elsewhere, in the woods, running and whispering through the trees in a scarlet coat; in an orchard on Dartmoor, bouncing on the trampoline and making daisy chains under the apple trees; skipping by the river Dart, under the shade of the big old horse chestnuts. We have so many memories, but because we have moved, they have stepped back a layer into our family history. They are no longer current, no longer fresh, it seems as though they are no longer alive.

What do you do when someone you love dies? What do you do? Do you try to forget they ever existed to blunt the sharp edge of raw unfettered grief? Do you plunge into an abyss of nostalgia and weeping for the past, and barely acknowledge the present; or do you struggle on with your life, punctuated by the agonising balm of triggered memories?
The agonising balm...ferreting in an old coat pocket of Lily's and turning out ten pussy willows, a Fry's orange chocolate wrapper, a rainbow string, a crumpled bit of tissue. 'Her fingers last touched these things! Where did she get that chocolate from? Weren't those the pussy willows she collected on our last mother's day walk along the tidal road, when she picked the pampas grass and wanted to make it into angel wings?'

Yes really, angel wings.. like she knew.

It's not only tangible Lily objects which act as triggers. Some little girls of about seven have fine straight hair the colour of a mouse's back, in semi profile their heads have a familiar shape, sometimes they have a similar cardigan to one of Lily's, or even an identical skirt, they might move with her easy, unobstrusive grace. Just for a second, if I screw my eyes up I could just pretend...

Sometimes we all look through her wooden box. She didn't have lots of stuff but it's all in there and we handle each scribbled note and china horse as if it were a precious jewel. It brings up emotion, unexpected anger from some, quiet withdrawal from another. We don't do this much. Since we've moved it's like she's taken a step away, or we've moved further on and left her behind. Her photo is still in the kitchen, with a candle and some flowers next to it, but she seems less present. Maybe she wants to go back to the woods, maybe she's still there, running up and down in her little red coat with no one there to play with.

Maybe that's rubbish.

We've been busy. I'm busy unpacking and simultaneously packing to move on again. There's the Advent Fair coming up at school and I'm making dolls and curry for it. I'm trying to write. Hugh is building our new home. Maybe it's us that hasn't connected with her, maybe she's knocking at the window and our heads are too busy to hear her.

Is that the way it is with someone who dies? No matter how you try, life on earth just moves on and away and we forget, not fully but in a soft focus, fuzzy kind of way?

Sometimes a flash of clarity, the exact tone of her voice, the set of her jaw when she was sulking...what would it be like without photos, without memorabilia?

My lovely friend Ruby has written about her experience of losing someone close where no keepsakes or belongings were kept and nothing was discussed, she talks about this at In our family we are lucky to have photos, a couple of video clips, school books, hair clips. But really, am I being too attached to material props? Are we all? They are comforting, but are they a distraction from the Lily that is real now? Do they put a barrier between us and a very real connection with her in spirit form? Doesn't our preoccupation with material things prevent us from connecting to the spirit that is in everything, even ourselves? 

Old coat pockets and sweet wrappers will eventually rot and fade away, Lily's love will always be there.

If we believe that nothing ever really dies, then why is our grief at losing the physical form so excruciating?

Do you have any experience of this? How do you remember your loved ones who have moved on?

Thursday 10 November 2011

Too much........everything

Do you know how I feel that my days are spent? Yes, I do cook, clean, care for children, write, knit, grow things, exercise, socialise and so much else, but do you know what really seems to dominate each and every day? Do you know what fills in all those moments when I'd really love to be doing something creative, something loving, something meditative?

Sorting, shifting, rationalising STUFF.

And I'm sick to death of it, absolutely had enough. It has been like this for as long as I can remember (apart from those careless light, and airy days on a Corsican goat farm, or travelling round the west coast of Canada with just a back pack, or any of those deliciously unencumbered adventures of my pre children days.)
My days are simply clogged up, like festering stagnant pools, with bits of God knows what, boxes of 'I really don't care what happens to this,' bags of things that I can't just take to the charity shop because they need to be sorted first. Aargh! They sit in the hallway, these boxes and bits, these bags, squat and sullen like a family of messy trolls, tripping me up as I walk by with their warty old toes. And I resent every minute I have to spend over them; I fume and cuss over the endless trails of ephemera, toys, paperwork, THINGS, which float like a miasma all over the house. Which I must sort, tidy and bring to order, again and again and again.
I'm sure you know what I mean.

I'm sure you know what I mean because I think it's the same for many of us over privileged members of western civilisation, to have replaced lives of basic necessities with lives which are cluttered and overflowing with a thousand little pieces of uselessness.
Ah! That's where it gets difficult, because actually, when you start examining the 'stuff' it can get pretty interesting...hmm remember Aunty Jean gave you that little pink box with the necklace that broke, maybe we'll mend it, Aunty Jean would be upset if we...oh! remember when you used to love this toy elephant, and I'd forgotten I had this....and so the pile of Stuff to Sort Later starts to grow.

So what's going on? We live busy hurtling 100 mile an hour lives, with twenty new things on our to do lists every day, our minds buzzing with the intrusion of phones, ipods, laptops, radios, tv's, new messages, new articles, books.....and our homes are groaning with the presence of things that we think we need, but can't cope with.
Because we really can't.

It's driving us all crazy.

It's driving some of us crazy because we can't have it and we think we need it, and its driving the other half of us crazy because we have it and we have to spend so much of our lives tending it, polishing it tidying it, worrying about it getting stolen, fretting about what happens to it when we die.
Do you know what?
It doesn't matter what happens to it, because when we die all we take with us are our beautiful spirits, and we leave all the tat and rubbish behind. So why don't  we spend more time adding lustre and beauty to those instead? Here's some ideas:
  • We could stop buying things we don't need.  You know what I mean, I don't mean sit in a bare room eating just potatoes, (although right now that sounds pretty appealing) I mean stop before you get your wallet out, and pause...will I be using this in 6 months time? Does it serve a I NEED it? You've probably already got three at home, check first.
  • Stop doing, and just be, at least once a day, plant your feet on the ground and feel part of this earth, remember your body, wriggle your toes and remember they're there. We're all beautiful and shining inside, we don't need all the material crap to hold us up. Feel the beauty, of yourself and the world.
  • Yes, I'm coming to get rid of the rubbish, but here's the bit I find hard. Decluttering is very fashionable and feels good, but don't start buying again to fill in the lovely serene spaces. Things have a very sly habit of creeping in insidiously, and all those charity shops make it so easy to pick up a bargain, and quickly offload another brimming sackful. They actually encourage us to see objects as readily and easily disposable, with a tick in the box for helping charity a free ticket to buy more. DON'T!
  • Spend the time you have saved by minimizing your belongings on reconnecting with yourself,  Find out what you're really like, journal, draw or meditate and just feel what it is to be you.Be still and breathe past where you usually would. I find it so hard to do this, surely it's wasting time, couldn't I be doing something more productive? Oh! productive, begone! Does the oak tree outside my window worry about being productive, or the squirrel scurrying past?
  • Reconnect with your family and friends. Sometimes I realise that a whole morning has been spent tidying and I have been pushing my kids aside to do it, or I turn down a lunch invitation because it just seems too much. Connection with others nourishes us deep within, unlike the quick shallow fix of a shopping trip.
  • Reconnect with nature. Now I realise that not everyone lives in a wood, so it's so much harder for some to do this. But try! Find a tree, a patch of wasteland, watch a sparrow hop on the roof, smile at a dandelion pushing it's way through the cracks in the pavement. We're all together, we're all unique important parts of our planet, but material possessions and concerns send us into a sleepwalk through life. We are dulled and sedated by the things we see in the shops and want, and buy. They literally make a barrier between us and our natural environment. If you can, walk, (don't take any stuff, well maybe a spare nappy for your baby if you must!)  in the mountains, walk by the sea, walk in the woods, walk in the park, feel the bark of a tree, the raindrops on your cheek, the sea foam around your toes. That's what being alive is about!

We are not separate we are all connected.

I have just moved out of a very small space and will soon be moving back into another equally compact dwelling. It asonishes me how much stuff I have accumulated since my last move, and we now I have stacks of boxes sitting mutely in storage, all waiting to draw me in when I go and see them. I am SO DETERMINED to make new start and never accumulate again. Does that sound rash? Impossible? Unrealistic?
It's my challenge for the next year when we move to our new woodland dwelling, I am so heartily fed up of frittering away beautiful clear hours, days and weeks with sifting and shifting.

I don't want to die having only the shackles of my possessions around my neck like a noose. I want to fly free like a bird, to see clearly the shafts of  golden sunlight, to hear the murmuring of my ancestors, to feel the rushing wind on my cheek, to love and be loved. What more is there?

Afterword: A few moments after I took the photo of Leo at the top of this post this morning, he crouched down in the grass, as I was rushing along, and said, with a dreamy look in his eye.
'Mummy stop, I just want to look at the dew drops sparkling in the sun.'
And I did. And it was lovely.

    Tuesday 8 November 2011

    Food Choices, food treats

    Welcome to the November Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids in the Kitchen
    This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how kids get involved in cooking and feeding. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

    With material prosperity comes the ability to choose and refuse. When the threat of hunger or starvation has never cast its shadow at our tables, we have the luxury of developing discerning tastes. Our kids may love sushi, but hate curry; their mouths may water at the thought of a warm apple crumble but pucker at the thought of kale.

    With a global food market at our doorstep, our tastes and 'needs' have become exotic and complex. I remember overhearing one of my children opening his lunchbox to check the contents before school.
    'oh not mango again,' he sighed wearily.
    Hugh and I exchanged horrified glances, what had we done wrong, that our child should have become so dismissive and bored about what to us was the ultimate luxury fruit treat. But then I didn't taste a mango until I was in my late teens. To me it seemed a luxury item to be savoured..well of course it's not, 2 for a pound in Tesco's doesn't encourage special treatment. You might even buy two and one will end up rotten in the compost bin.

    Our children have the luxury of choice rather than the luxury of treats. Treats are every day now, the magic sparkle of their rarity dulled to everyday mundanity. I remember the excitement in my dad's voice when he described to me his first taste of banana after the second world war rationing ended when he was seven. The absolute thrill of the moment was as vivid as it had been all those years ago.
    I love treats and I make sure that my children experience treats, but that does mean limiting their appearance to rare occasions, just to distil that exquisite pleasure of having something really special. I buy seasonally too, so the first taste of a summer raspberry just makes you sigh with pleasure and the memories of summers gone by, the first roast parsnip of autumn fills you with its mellow sweetness and promise of winter chills.

    As for the luxury of choice, is it really a luxury or a burden? In our home, choice is pretty limited when it comes to food, as in, would you like nuts or apple on your porridge? Usually I just serve up. I believe that too much choice is confusing and burdensome for young children and puts them in an uncomfortable and uneasy position which they are not ready to take on.  We are the adults, and hopefully have adequate nutritional knowledge to provide well for our children's dietary needs, and the creativity to make the food appealing. We also need the confidence to just decide ourselves what's best.

    I make one meal and expect everyone to eat it. If they don't want to that's fine, but there will not be an alternative and no snacking until the next meal. Because there is no choice everyone does tend to eat, altough I do admit to having some sneaky delicious kale and swede ideas up my sleeve for those mainstays of our winter veg box! See end of post!

    My method can be tough to carry out but it's simple and it works, it really does! Our choices with food in the west today may be tantalising and exciting but they have also contribuited to the pickiest kids in the world's history! And yes I have had a fussy one. Lily went through a long vegetable shy stage, and I had to take many of deep breaths to get through it, oh! and implement the two bite rule....two bites even if you don't like it, and do you know, before long, she did like it...whatever it was!
    I love things to be simple, and I find too much choice overwhelming too!

    But really my kids love food because we spend so much time in the kitchen. From the time they could peel a garlic clove or tip flour around they have all been cooking. Stirring, chopping, kneading, beating, creating.  Leo stole some flour the other day when my back was turned and made a half decent, if rather solid raisin bread. Fred has spent vast amounts of the recent holiday cooking, (freeing me up to pack for our move!) rustling up a chicken and leek gluten free pie, and ratatouille stuffed pancakes, bread, and soup.Tansy is my steady reliable chopper and helper, always at my elbow with her little knife. It's so important for kids to see and be part of the process, what child is going to turn their noses up at something they have made themselves? Even if it does contains swede or kale!

    Kale and swede solutions!
    • Pasties, a great way to involve the more challenging root vegeatables, chop small and vary the contents.
    • swede chips, yum, serve with homemade tomato sauce.
    • swede cakes, mash with butter and some potato and form into little cakes to fry.
    • Kale in sausage casserole, delicious and soft.
    • Kale and cream pasta sauce, boil tub of cream with 6 (less if nervous) cloves of garlic for five mins, then puree with bag of steamed kale. Lily's favourite pasta sauce.
    • Kale in anything really, chopped and added to lentil soups, vegeatable and grain mixes,
    • Kale chips, tear kale into pices and mix with scant olive oil, bake on a tray until crisp, they are delicious.

    Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
    Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
    (This list will be live and updated by afternoon November 8 with all the carnival links.)

    Friday 4 November 2011

    Moving day

    With exam butterflies in my belly I woke.
    I wanted to stay in bed and knit.
    I was too busy to feel anything I just had to keep packing, and shifting stuff.
    At tea break I sunk into my knitting like a feather bed,
    And then kept on packing and shifting stuff.
    So much stuff.
    Late afternoon, we staggered through the tiny winding lanes pulling a horse box (obviously the car was pulling, just realised how that sounded)
    And a HOUSE was waiting for us, a two month stay in a real house before plunging into a muddy January wood.
    And a bottle of wine, and firewood piled round the fire.
    We baked potatoes in the Aga and wheedled tired children to their beds, a Milly molly mandy story later.
    Not for Fred, he went to parcours, and wanted to demonstrate a back flip off the counter on his return at 10pm. I said NO.
    Hugh and I were grateful for a beautiful somewhere to stay, we were grateful for our time in the woods and the countless lessons that we have learnt there.
    The house feels so HUGE.
    In the evening I turned my back on the boxes and carried on knitting.
    Knitting, in five minute snatches has kept my sanity this past week, comforting, repetitive, creative soothing. Even when a hundred tasks want to snatch my mind and body, the sofa and the knitting needles are there, just waiting patiently.
    And Tansy has some mittens!

    Monday 31 October 2011

    Lily's shelf

    I have spent large parts of this holiday has been packing, sorting, reducing, rationalizing stuff. Boxes of things have been put aside for when we move onto the land in January, boxes have been put on another side to be taken for immediate use in the new house later this week. Slowly, slowly our shelves are emptying. But one shelf is still the same. In fact it hasn't really changed in essence since June 2009. It's Lily's shelf.
    When Lily was alive she shared a bedroom with Tansy, and as the older sister appropriated most of the available storage space. As we live in a mobile home right now, this amounted to three of the four shelves in their room and a 'dressing table' area where she had a season table.  Big sections of the shared wardrobe space were filled with her clothes, while Tansy happily squeezed into the remaining areas.

    After the accident, everything stayed the same, clothes in the wardrobe, season table, books, dolls, jewellry boxes, all in the same place. Except the top bunk was empty. Tansy continued to use one shelf for her belongings and squeeze her clothes into limited areas of wardrobe space. After a few months, I condensed Lily's clothes onto one shelf,  painfully removing a few which weren't her favourites, passing some over to her dad in North Devon.
    Then we made a little dolls house for Tansy's birthday, where could it go? Slowly.. item by item I moved the season table, her little purple lizard, the vase of flowers, the coloured cloths, and Tansy's dolls settled in.
    And so it has gone, over the last two years and four months, bit by bit, all physical evidence of Lily's presence in that room has been erased.
    The clothes had to go when Leo moved in, a year after her accident. I hated not to see them in the wardrobe so I could pretend just for a briefest moment that she was still here. Even though Icouldn't even bury my nose in them to capture some tangible wisp of a Lily scent as they had started to turn musty.
    I hated that her precious top shelf near her bunk was cleared of her horses and notebooks and crochet work, to make way for Tansy to move up. I couldn't stand next to her bed any more and pretend that she was still there needing a knee massage for her growing pains, or wanting me to look through the pictures of her drawing book with her.

    But there's still one shelf left, Lily's shelf. The contents has ebbed and flowed slightly as other children borrow items and then put others back. but in essence it is hers.
    Her music box, her marbling kit, some books, her puppets which I made for her last Christmas present, her magnets, a painted plate..... Most of her personal things are now in a carved wooden chest in the sitting room but I could never bear to empty her bedroom shelf. Proof that she was once there, lived and laughed and cried and played there. Was grumpy and wouldn't go to sleep, was loving and cuddled with Tansy and Leo in bed, was upset when I was cross with her.

    The problem is, that I now have to empty the shelf, as in two or three days we will no longer live here, and her bedroom will no longer exist. In any new house, or dwelling that we live in from now on there will never be a place that Lily has inhabited, there will be no memories of her making beads at the table or looking at her flower fairy books in bed or eating her dinner with Leo perched on her lap.

    For the rest of my life I will live in a place that Lily has not been in.

    And even as I write these words I know they are not true, not really. Lily will always be here with us, wherever we are. Not the physical little seven year old girl who hated cooked raisins and mushrooms,  but loved hawthorn leaves in spring, not her, but the intangible, undefinable, sparkling presence of Lily  who makes herself known to us in so many ways, so often. Who still wants to be with us and still loves us, wherever we are.
    A bedroom is just a bedroom, a shelf is just a shelf, her spirit is stronger and more enduring than that, and so are we.

    Saturday 29 October 2011

    Doing without and making do

    Doing without something that we usually take for granted, like electricity or running hot water, or bedrooms or bathrooms is a challenge I (rather oddly) enjoy. Although I might moan if the washing machine freezes in winter or the door falls off secretly I quite relish getting the buckets out and scrubbing away! I know it's wierd! But as if by magic,the washing pile is always smaller when I hand wash, and I am far more aware of what I'm washing, hmm, funny that one....
    At the moment we have run out of the giant bottles of calor gas which heat our water. We have them delivered to the edge of the wood, then have to maneouvre them in along the little path into our clearing.  As we are about to move, it was generally deemed not worth dragging a new bottle in, and as I am generally keen to reduce our reliance on non renewable fuels anyway, I was quite happy to do without. Now, I keep a huge cauldron of water on the woodburner and dole it out like a miser in giant tin cups. We have all experienced the joys of  'the splash bath' (standing in the shower and pouring tin mugs of water around) and I feel as if I have a new child to tend to, as I nurse the woodburner to just the right temperature and plan water use, monitoring how much has been used for hand washing so I can still do the washing up later on.

    Strangely, rather than cursing the lack of easy quick hot water,  I have felt more grateful for the water we do have. It feels more like the precious resource it is rather than an expendable commodity. The time I spend fussing over it builds my relationship with it; connects me with it, and I don't take it for granted. The sentiment is of my children just asked me what he could do with last night's hot water bottle water, as it seemed wasteful to just chuck it away. Scarcity of resources engenders reverence and care, well it should, though we could learn a thing or two about oil.
    It was the same in our yurt, where we lived for six months in 2008. For the first few weeks we had only an outside cold tap a short distance from where we cooked, and bucketed everything in. Finally Hugh found time to make an outdoor sink and we had running (albeit still outside) water. The moment Hugh turned the tap on for the first time felt like a festival, everyone was so excited and we all felt so grateful (well mainly me) that we weren't carrying heavy buckets every day. Weeks earlier we had been living in a comfortable house with hot baths on tap, but the period of abstinence completely changed our relationship to water, and lots of other things.

    We all loved our tin baths! (the adults had theirs indoors by candlelight)

     In tandem with our appreciation for a precious resource, and a greater connection with water, I did also realise what tough, time consuming labour it is, not having running water. In my time at the yurt, I found it hard to find time to write much, or have any personal creative time, and large parts of my day were spent kneeling by nappy buckets, sluicing and scrubbing! I felt connected by invisible threads to women all around the world who do expend huge amounts of energy fetching and carrying water and scrubbing things, babies, dishes, clothes....In fact I  felt connected to everything, the water, the clothes, my sore hands, my knees on the hard ground. I was aware. It wasn't a bad feeling.
    The problem is my life is too fast. I felt as if I was living in the 19th century at the yurt whilst still trying to maintain 21st century speed in all other areas of my life. Trying to maintain the two in parallel was exhausting.

    What am I trying to say? I'm not really sure! A large bit of me longs to live simply and sparsely, paring down the dashing, accumulating, achieving parts of my life to spend time calmly creating what I need, with my own hands. Clean clothes, delicious food, toys for the children, knitwear, medicine, candles, work, crafts. My labour and time, not money or a switch. The problem is that I do try to do all this, but also dash around and put pressure on myself to achieve as well. Two life styles in opposition?

     I do know that doing without a so called 'necessity' such as electricity or running water can bring me down to earth with a big flash of realisation about just how disconnected we have all become from what is real in our lives. The easier and quicker tasks are to achieve, the less I engage with them and the more I try to cram in. I don't have to use my ingenuity and creativity to work out how to do something or develop a system to cope with a difficult task.
    The work  involved to fill the gap left when I can't just flick a switch does help me to slowly slowly think about radical changes that I can make towards simplifying and enriching my life.

    Times are changing for us.
    How about you, do you find satisfaction from doing without? Do you become more creative and have fun from making do?

    Sunday 23 October 2011

    Once upon a time

    Once upon a time there was a little child.. This child was three, and had a sore finger which was threatening to turn septic. It bothered the little child, and the kind mama put some special herbal cream and drops on it every night to help it heal. All was well and the little child enjoyed having the soothing salve smoothed on to the sore finger at bed time.
    One night however, the little child was especially tired, after a long busy day with friends, and everyone was tired and a little cranky. The kind mama had a headache and lots of fractious, squabbly children to put to bed, she also had at least ten very important tasks which she needed to complete that evening. The kind papa was out. Bed time stories were read, teeth were cleaned and after alot of effort and struggle, the little child was snuggled into bed with Sleepy the doll.
    'Time for the magic cream to make your finger better', announced the mama in what she hoped were bright, breezy and encouraging tones. (Were they laced with a little exhaustion and desperation? Maybe)
    ' No! 'said the little child and hid under the covers
    'Now darling', began the mother in as calm and reasonable voice as she could muster 'you know we must put your cream on or your finger will not heal'
    'No,' the child buried further down and began to cry.
    This exchange was repeated a few more times until the kind mother felt her blood begin to boil, just a bit. The child was screaming and sweaty under the bed clothes.

    Now the kind mama had seen the sore finger and knew that it was quite nasty, and the cream really did need to go on. She could also feel white hot anger and frustration rising up inside her like a simmering volcano, her head seemed too small for what was inside. She could only think of two options, one, admit defeat and leave the child and the festering finger to sob themselves to sleep; two, she could rip back the bed covers and forcibly apply the cream. Neither option seemed that appealing, and both were guaranteed to make both herself and the child feel worse. However she didn't have the energy for finding another option.

    Fortunately, just at that moment, the kind mama remembered to breathe, she felt her feet on the ground and looked at the sobbing heap of bed clothes below her, and the voice of her child's wise nursery teacher floated breezily through all the volcanic activity in her head.
    'Just tell a story, that's what I always say to parents, it's very easy, it always works...,'
    And right after that, a little mouse scampered in to the tired mama's busy brain and she took a deep breath started to tell his story.

    A little mouse had found some delicious cheese and, tempted, had ventured too close and caught his beautiful long tail in a trap. A kindly grandfather rat was passing by and helped the young mouse free himself, and then took him home to his wife who boiled up some magical healing herbs on the fire. The rats took the herbs and some bandages and gently put them on the sore tail, and invited the little mouse to come back each day to have fresh herbs put on until it was better. The grandfather rat showed the little mouse his own paw, which he had healed a long time before, after his own mishap with a human trap. Before long the little mouse was well and his mother sent round a pot of hazel nut preserve to thank the rats for their kindness.

    About half way through the story, the little child emerged from beneath the covers, and with wide, wet blinking eyes, silently held out the sore finger for the cream to be applied. The wise mama, never pausing in her tale, swiftly smoothed on the healing salve and calmly continued until the end of the story.
    She kissed her child lovingly goodnight and left the bedroom, calmed, energised and strangely serene. The child drifted to sleep.
    And that's a true story!

    I'd love to hear about your tales of the amazing healing power of stories

    Thursday 20 October 2011

    Where we live, and where we are leaving

    This is where we have lived for three years, a mobile home in the middle of a wood in South Devon. We arrived as a family of six, fresh from our 18 foot yurt on Dartmoor, and before that our five bedroom house in North Devon!
    In just under two weeks we will leave as a family of five for a two month respite in a house, courtesy of some lovely friends, before moving onto our own piece of woodland nearby; this time in an eclectic blend of a dwelling..part timber, part caravan, part bender. The first two parts of the eclectic blend are already in place, and the third part, the bender, will be built when Hugh returns from a ten day wilderness survival quest in the Pyrenees. I will be busy harvesting hazel poles in the meantime and chopping firewood, lots and lots and lots. Ready for a hungry woodburner and a cosy home.

    It's so strange to think about leaving, my heart feels settled here like nowhere else. We have very kindly been allowed to live here by some more lovely friends, well past our expected  stay of six months, and for me it will be hard to go, I have felt so close to life here, close to my family, close to the earth. Part of the surging swell of the year's cycle.

    Life is lived close to the weather, we feel the spiky frosts through the thin walls and huddle close to the fire in woollen long john's,  snuggle deep under the blankets for stories and hot chocolate. We know the winter so thoroughly, the dazzling ice ferns painted on our windows, the ice in the water pipes. We live the winter.

    Life is lived close to the sunny open easy summer days, pattering barefoot, picking lettuce,  a jay noisily flustering away among the trees, a precious blue feather caught in the ferns. The sun soaks us, fills us until we drift away into the cool trees quiet in the sun, dappled and entrancing. A golden bug, a shimmering damsel fly, the flutter of wings among the flowers. We live the summer,

    Life is lived among the scents of May, the ringing of the bluest fairy bells, the promise of the unfurling burgeoning wood, spring swirls around us, dances with us, spins us around in the dizzying energy of new life, eggs crack among the leaves. We live the spring.

    And we live autumn now, the settling down grumbling surge of the earth shifting under its leaf mantle, gathering, enfolding, hurrying to rest before the winter chills. Madcapping squirrels and their  autumn carnival,  chestnuts cracking in  the fire,  

    We feel the change of the earth, the movement of the seasons here. We cannot escape the chills and changes, the mud and the hurried night trip outside in sheets of rain. We live in a very small space but have many acres of trees around us....outside happens alot.

    Every corner of the wood, every corner of our home, holds a memory, an occasion, the skeleton of a den, a forgotten birthday song, a whispered secret, a lilting lullaby. Laughings, cryings, bakings, makings, firewood foragings, tree scrambling days, we have lived so much here. This wood has held so many tears and ragings so much loving and sighing, so much life in all its tragic and majestic complexity, in  all its magnificent splendour. The flow of life, which moves on.. and on, and with us and through us and never ends.
    And so we will move on.