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!