Angel Wings and Herb Tea

Life after loss; healing through creativity, writing and art


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You can too!

power

 

 

My life has changed so much from those early days of this blog…recently bereaved of my daughter Lily and living in the middle of a wood in cabins and caravans.

Now I live on the edge of a city, my children are in school and college (and toddler group!) and I am finally finding my steps into a new life for myself that is not just focussed on home and family.

Th truth is that I have started to believe that I can.

And whilst that has been a long slow journey whose many permutations I will not bore you with now…the reality is that I am now painting for my third public exhibition, well on the way with writing a children’s novel and more importantly; believing that I can make a difference in the world.

I have always been someone who looks at others and thinks…’yeah…they can do it because they are…. (insert more gifted, more confident more experienced more attractive, more..just you know…whatever it is that I don’t seem to have.)

This happened recently. I finally emerged from an extremely protracted period of my life where the dramas and  crisis of my own existence took over my entire being…excluding any consideration for what was going on with anyone else in the world.

Having emerged, and looked around, I became aware of the refugee crisis. You know…I knew it was going on, but kind of, well looked the other way, was too busy having babies, living in difficult places, moving house. Hell, there really is something terrible happening and I just wasn’t absorbing it, the images had been glancing off me somehow, too hard to really see.

Except now I saw them. And it was too much. What could I do? NOthing. I was a mum at home with a toddler, three other living children, living in a yurt in our back garden while we renovate. I wasn’t tough and brave and well, I wasn’t the sort of person who could just walk into a refugee camp and start work.

I wanted to be, but of course I couldn’t.

Then  a friend started to work in Kos, handing out baby carriers…but of course she was smart and tough and brave and um ….she had a toddler at home and three other kids and….anyway. She was good at that sort of thing.

But I wanted to do something. So I started to meditate. For peace. And I started to do it every evening at 9.30….I had read about the powers of mass meditation on areas of conflict and it was something I could do, at home by the fire. I even got a facebook group going to encourage others to do it with me.

Magical bird takes flight.

It felt weird at first, sitting there by myself, trying to imagine love inside me spreading out to where it was needed. But as the days went by,  it began to feel powerful, like I was powerful, heaven forbid. The love kept growing and I realised that if this movement grows it has huge implications. And at about the same time, I read the Dalai Lama’s words that prayer is not enough in this global situation…and I had a tiny huge realisation one evening, a revelation that I could DO something too.

I got cold feet in winter, so goodness knows how cold the refugees stranded all over Europe would be. I could collect socks.

There.

So I did. The very next day I called every Steiner school in the UK (my kids go to one and I know how much store Steiner mums put by wool socks) and asked if they would support me by collecting socks. Most wanted to help.

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I put a wee note on Facebook that I was thinking of taking a carload of woollen socks to France some time after Christmas and three people offered to come too.

To cut a long story short, we raised £3,500 on a crowd funding page ‘Wool Socks for Refugees’ gathered several hundred socks, made litres of homemade herbal cough syrup, and spent’ three days working at the Grande Synthe Refugee camp near Dunkirk. I was interviewed on live radio and am planning another trip to support refugees..possibly this time near the Macedonian border.

Next time I will write about our journey, and where it is going next, but for now my point is this:

I thought I was powerless. I didn’t want to be but I thought I was. I labelled myself as ‘not that sort of person’  Just as I might label someone else…’not that sort of person’…..or even ‘not my sort of person’

And that’s dangerous thinking which leads to fear, judgement and separation.

We are all powerful. We can all do something. There is no other who is better or worse, or not good enough or too good.

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We can all do a little bit. From tiny acorns grow enormous oak trees.

I’m thinking of the acorn , I mean socks…..who knows what the tree will be, when it grows?

I didn’t do a big thing, I did a tiny thing.

You can too.

Until next time

Love Henrietta xx

 


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An An Angel at my Shoulder

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Sometimes things happen and it’s always for a reason.

Especially things that  I think shouldn’t happen.

Like getting an unexpected day with Finch at his Granny’s and me going to a cafe to catch up on a long list of internet based activities. Mainly grocery or booking half term activities, paying bills.Writing a blog post, possibly starting that short story that has been on the back burner for a while… I buy a tea, and settle in.

The internet is not working.

Except it is for everyone else but not for me. The waitress reconfirms the Wi Fi code, and gently suggests I turn off and try again. I do. Nichts. I am frustrated. I glance at my list with panicky frustration. We still have no internet at home, the engineer comes later this week. There are things I really need to do. had also been planning to write, possibly a blog post or a new short story that has been simmering….I am singularly uninspired and consider ditching my tea and walking back through town to the library to use the internet there.

And then a tiny newborn cries in the corner, his wails raw and pure. I tear up, as usual in the presence of such an occurrence and remember my five babies and that glimpse of other worlds in their inky bottomless eyes. It’s a moment suspended from the coffee chatter and internet anxiety. I glance at the computer. The time stands at 11.11. Now this is happening a lot at the moment, and often does when there’s something going on that is bigger than I can understand, some greater energy surrounding me, a flutter of excitement that there are possibilities in life that are deeper and more lovely than I can imagine at the moment. 11.11 moments usually come in a rash and are often accompanied by white feathers floating into my path. For white feathers click here. Last time it happened , a few months ago, I even found that the change in my purse added up to £11.11. If you are interested in the whole 11.11 phenomenon….have a read here…

So I’m in the cafe, my frustration at the internet failure abating and the newborn is calming with his bottle and I take a moment to get up and go to the bathroom, just to be quiet. In the quiet while I soap my hands I feel that shiver of excitement a feeling of some sort of divine flow, synchronicity, love…it could be called so many things but it’s similar to when you see a gold streaked sunset with a perfect V of home bound birds and everyone stops for a fleeting moment to forget their deadlines and lost car keys and just sinks into an ‘aaah’ ..and it feels as if your very soul is just free for a minute. Flowing out of the scratchy demands of its body to be part of the liquid gold sky and hundreds of beating wings

And looking around the cafe, suddenly everyone is beautiful, the man who is struggling to put his jumper on the right way round after two failed attempts, and the new mother pale and exhausted gazing at her little child with love, the woman with burgundy nail varnish nervously stroking her hair braid. And the man who tips over his coffee cup in the middle of what looks like a business meeting and tries not to lose face by being brisk and calm.

And so to cut a long story short, the lack of internet has become a blessing and a chance to connect to the possibilities of the endless now and my connection to it. Rather than wasting an hour and a half anaesthetizing myself with facebook and ordering my veg box.

In the same way that being accidentally sprayed in the face with pesticide this morning by the woodworm treatment man actually ( after much eye flushing) led to a connection between Hugh and I which pulled us out of our early morning frenzy to get out of the door and into a lovely moment where we stopped and remembered that we loved each other.

It’s moments like this that led me to think about the title for my new exhibition of paintings currently up in a cafe in Totnes,  (Willow Restaurant for any of you Devon peeps)  ….’An Angel At My Shoulder’.

I don’t think that having an angel at one’s shoulder is necessarily a privilege reserved for those of us who have lost a child. I just think that in my case, losing my daughter Lily precipitated me into a heightened awareness and sensitivity of dimensions which I was simply not aware of before. Our physical lives are so demanding and so time consuming they can effectively block out any connection to a spiritual plane, or even those heart connection moments like the golden sunset or a stranger in the street. I don’t know how I would be if Lily was still alive….but it might have taken me alot longer to start the journey I’m on now.

I am still put into a soporific state by media, and being too busy, rushing …losing my connection to myself and others in the process.  But I am learning to quiet myself when I can, get into nature; do some centred breathing or simply sitting by the fire and gazing at the flames. For moments when I find this difficult,  something will usually happen to remind me…a lost internet connection, a baby crying, a look of outrage on my children’s faces at being rushed again…..or that angel at my shoulder, just giving me a gentle tap to remind me what’s important.

Does anyone else have 11.11 moments? Or feel that they have any sort of connection to that vast feeling of love and flow that can be called so many things? I think it’s a growing revival!

Look forward to hearing from you

Love Henrietta xx


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My life at the moment.

Each day a few blog posts shuffle through my mind, some fully formed, some in fragments of ideas, phrases, images. None of them, as you’ve probably noticed have made it onto the blog.

Time. Time is elusive. Time by myself is elusive. Slips through my fingers like a fish sliding back into the river, iridescent and  flashing silver, ephemeral and taunting , like my dreams of creating something tangible..like a book or a painting.

Yesterday I drove down the A38 from Exeter to south Devon with one sleeping child in the back. Just one….that took some organisation.  I realised that it was the most relaxing thing I had done for a week, apart from actually sleeping myself. I could think, sing, plan the weeks menu and activities, look around, (in a limited way obviously given that I was travelling at 70 miles an hour) but mostly think, or not think as the fancy took me. What freedom!

Last night I read a lovely blog post, where the writer is struggling at home to get some food in the oven with a baby and toddler, hanging with gritted teeth until her partner arrives to help. He calls, to say he is stuck in traffic, and will be an hour late. She starts to fantasize about being stuck in traffic, which I know could sound a little extreme, but I can totally relate, and also feel astounded that sitting in traffic has become a relaxing activity. I told someone without young kids about this and she looked blank. I would have, before kids!!

The desperate need to have time that is free and formless, fluid and flexible to wrap around me like a soft blanket or shake into little shiny crystals that fall around me like diamonds, to shout in, whisper in,  to eat when I like in, to not eat in…Time to go to the loo alone in, to  have a cup of tea without having it joggled over me, or interrupted by a fight, an accident, tiny arms clamped around my neck and a soft writhing body squirming on my lap.

We’re trying to renovate a house. A wrecked bungalow with walls covered in greasy, mouldy, nicotine stained wallpaper, no toilet, or kitchen and a garden full of brambles. Hugh is working on average six days a week on the river canoeing and I am with the four children, based between a one bedroom flat in the city centre and a yurt in the back garden of the wrecked bungalow. There’s not really room for all of us in any of these places.  I have around an hour and a half a day of Finch’s nap time to steam mouldy greasy, nicotine stained wallpaper of the walls with no concern about him having accident (he’s potty training) or running onto the street, or falling down the steep outside steps or ‘nanging ‘ himself with a crowbar, hammer, drill or angle grinder. Often during the nap, other things happen, like necessary phone calls to pay bills for example, or urgent emails that just cannot wait, or refereeing a fight between older children who know I am now free to intervene, or hell, even having a cup of tea without the joggling squirming issues. Or obviously, going to the loo alone.

I don’t really want to do any of these things. Apart from the loo and the tea obviously.

But I can’t write or paint with everyone else around, and bedtimes seem to have slipped to 10.30..yes really. 10 .30. Which is actually my bedtime. THEY JUST WON’T GO TO SLEEP EARLIER, despite calm cups of warm rice milk with honey and cinnamon, calm stories and chats, cuddles, herbal teas….sedation..no just kidding. But really. And Finch wakes early. There are no windows of time. No early morning meditation slots before everyone arises. No serene yoga stretches and writing sessions late evening. No stretches of time to make coffee, well barley cup I mean and waft around with my paintbrush creating a new painting for my exhibition in autumn. Yes autumn..how did that happen? We weren’t renovating when I organised that one.

The thing is I have stopped expecting it now. Time I mean. Expectation can be a very troublesome concept. If I wake up expecting to be able to write, I will probably end up cross resentful and hard done by. If I wake up with no expectation of anything but living in each moment as well and lovingly as I can, then I’m more likely to notice the way Finch’s hair curls in little blond loops on the back of his head or how Tansy slipped off to a neighbour who had a headache and picked her mint leaves and rose petals to make a tea, or how Leo would actually really like a cuddle and a story.

I have some unexpected time today, which is how I am able to write this, so I came to the library…that oasis of calm and studious quiet. In a twisted turn of events, my visit coincides with a rambunctuous , no actually two, sessions of ‘Bounce and Rhyme for Toddlers’ Hurray! Two hours away from my toddler and I am surrounded by bouncing singing toddlers and the beautiful bell like tones of the librarian leading the session. It’s HIckory dickory dock now. Great.

A couple of weeks ago, things came to a head. I was SO full of children I stopped being able to enjoy them. Tansy and Leo have developed the unusual pastime of counting exhaust pipes. I’m not sure how it started but it has now become the travelling game of choice, superseded only by Animal Vegetable Mineral. A car with four exhaust pipes even gets me going now. The thing is I stopped being able to appreciate the exhaust pipe thing. We were walking back from the library and one of my children was placing a foot in front of the pushchair wheel every five seconds or so, alternating with putting a foot on the brake..behaviour that is usually a  sign that maternal attention is deficient. The whole pushchair obstruction thing was combined in a slightly lethal way with constant chattering about exhaust pipes. And an expectation of my eager participation. If I remember I was also desperate for a wee, a cup of tea, to get a cranky toddler home etc. etc. You get the picture. I just couldn’t listen to a moment more. I was bored bored bored with everything. Not just the exhaust pipes but my whole dull life of minutiae and endless  pulses and vegetables and potties and details about Lego cars and plumbing in toilets and steel reinforcement in the roof…(I’m back to the renovation now…)

I just didn’t want to be alert and on duty anymore. Constant maternal motion, a whirlwind of scooping and saving and mollifying, pacifying, coping, soothing placating, cooking, wiping chopping stirring, . I was simply not interested. I pushed the pushchair decisively, but not painfully, over the obstructive foot and marched home in silence.

Well, by another strange and this time blissful twist of fate…two days after that I was alone at a festival…(apart from Fred, who is pretty self sufficient).

I cannot tell you how this was. Two days and THREE nights to do WHAT I wanted, WHEN  I wanted. Really. Sleep, sit in a sauna, eat, hangout in  cafes drinking chai, going to as many inspirational workshops/dance events as I wanted. It was sunny. Lots of my friends were there. I didn’t cook once. It was beyond paradise. I had actually forgotten what it was like to have this much freedom and time to myself. Usually I might have a chunk of say three hours in which to achieve something creative, shop for groceries, take some exercise and rest and I end up feeling completely stressed and torn in two, or four!

Which brings me back to the wrecked bungalow on the edge of a city.

School. Tansy and Leo now have places at a free Steiner school for September. I have located some very local lovely childcare for a short time each week for Finch. Freddie will be at art college.

In September I will have a little space, admittedly with a house still to renovate and an exhibition looming, but space nonetheless.

I feel sad at the big change for Tansy and Leo who will no doubt undergo the biggest adjustment to their new life, but there will be benefits as well as losses for them.

Hopefully their mother will have enough space to nurture herself so that she can enjoy them for the sparkling ,unique and lovely people they are, and she will be able to engage in conversations about exhaust pipes whenever required.


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I’ve been umming and aahing about writing this post for a while….sometimes I even bore myself with waffling on about what special diet I’m trying at the moment, gluten free, dairy free, raw.. alkaline….but actually I’ve realised that it’s important I do.

Why?

Because the healing process I’m in at the moment, is one that I’d actually like everyone to read about. It’s an issue which goes hand in hand with our fast paced stressed out malnourished life and it’s barely recognised by the medical profession unless it’s in it’s most drastic, fatal form.

I didn’t even know about it until I read an amazing, informative and helpful blog post (link i a moment) and  realized that I had ticked yes to almost every box on the list of symptoms.

Then this library book on the same subject literally jumped off the shelf as I was passing, and I started to take action.

Action to heal Adrenal fatigue.

Relief, that’s what I felt.  Relief that my crankiness, extreme irritability, inability to cope if something went a tiny bit wrong, absolute overwhelm, sugar cravings, loss of libido, (well I am also breastfeeding my fifth child!!!) was not as I was constantly telling myself, a result of a major character defect. Bad mother, bad partner bad person generally. And pretty moany and miserable as a result.

(When I say extreme irritability, I don’t just mean a bit overreactive when a child spills some milk, I mean a feeling of near desperation like I may need to slap someone if I hear Tansy’s pvc apron crackle as she does some baking, or Hugh trying to cut a packaged cake, without removing the wrapper, so it crunkles and rustles as he slices. The stuff of nightmares, truely. You can imagine how more serious issues affect me. )

Well it turns out I’m actually ok I just have Adrenal fatigue. Some of the causes…major trauma, mother of young children, repeated and severe lung issues, feelings of disempowerment, being trapped and unable to be fulfilled. Well I had them all in spades.

Phew! So now I can do something about it.

I started with diet because that’s something tangible I could get going with right away.

I cut out all grains, yes all…not so tricky as I’d been veering in that direction for a while anyway, and with any major dietary transitions, it’s really really important to take it gently, for your body and mind.

Sugar had already gone, but now I cut out all fruit (except an occasional apple) juices, smoothies, sugar substitutes.

Dairy…that was on it’s way too, now gone.

Instead, shed loads of vitamins, green drinks, seaweed, herbs….meat, fish, nuts beans and lots and lots of veg, not too much starchy veg, so no potatoes, and minimal squash sweet potato etc.

For a nice thorough resume of causes, symptoms and effective remedies for Adrenal Fatigue, look no further than this great post by Lucy Pearce.

Two weeks in and I can calmly stand next to Tansy in her crackly apron and, while it does register that actually I’d rather she took it off, I no longer want to punch the wall. I feel clearer, and more able to think under pressure. Generally happier, calmer and able to spread more love around.

And, as always, because I’m feeling so much better I start to take care of myself in other ways too; taking regular Epsom salt baths..(.another way for the body to absorb Magnesium, an important mineral in the recovery process) journalling more often, starting a daily, well, frequent stretching routine; starting to weasel little non pressured moments to write into my day (involves story cds and making use of toddler naps!!) Meditation…getting there.

It seems as if the healing process always attracts more avenues to heal. I had just got on top of the diet when I spotted another blog post, this time by the inspiring Marybeth Bonfiglio about self care and establishing a regular daily practice as a means of honouring and nurturing yourself. You can read that here. It really spoke to me.

For me, there is another incentive to sort myself out, apart from feeling as if my life is more like a summer stream on Dartmoor now, instead of the volcano it was a few weeks ago.

Diabetes. Adrenal fatigue has been described as ‘the waiting room for type 2 diabetes’ and as both my mother, aunty and Grandmother have it, than I am very predisposed to it. I always get raised sugar levels in  pregnancy. By treating myself well now, I plan to avoid it completely. I really don’t want to get diabetes! I want to be healthy, calm energetic with abundant love and serenity..is that realistic? You bet!

I won’t pretend it’s easy, especially not whilst cooking for a large family and being at home with hungry kids pretty much everyday, but it’s been totally worth it, and I’m planning to persevere.

So how about you? Do you have any experience of Adrenal fatigue? If you have had it , how have you treated yourself, or do you think you have it now? It’s good to share experiences and raise awareness of something that can be incredibly debilitating, with symptoms such as extreme fatigue, panic attacks, low immune system, insomnia and dizziness.

It would be great to hear from you,

Much Love Henrietta x


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The scent of flowers

Well scents generally. Where do they take you? How can it happen so quickly? One minute you’re walking down the street aged forty two, with …and the next moment you’re back in the school toilets aged five. Yes really, that did happen to me the other day…a wisp of scent from who knows where, that provided the same olfactory experience as the toilet cleaner used in Colerne Primary School in 1976. So, so strange..I walked back over the spot where the scent lingered and there it was again. Inhaling, I even conjured my friend Yvette who came from Cyprus and the little girl who was always in the loo because she had something wrong with her kidneys. Who I had sealed in some dark lost part of my memory for nearly forty years.

I began wondering if she was still alive and how we used to play with the toy shop in class and how all the pretend fruit was painted over with shiny paint which always cracked to reveal crumbly white plaster underneath. And the exact feel of the scratched plastic water beakers from the dinner hall on my mouth, and tepid milk in tiny glass bottles…and… you see, just from a whiff of loo cleaner.

It’s not just places and people, it’s feelings and emotions. The scent of mock orange blossom for example, just a whisper on the breeze in the park, and a wave of depressed melancholy trickles over me, the lonely despondancy of  mid teens when I wandered for hours around the abandoned gardens of an old art college, desperately wishing for Something to Happen to me….preferably male! ! Excerpt from diary of the mock orange blossom era,

‘I feel like a washed out gourd, round, with nothing inside apart from hopeless wishes’

Herb Robert Flower Fairy

The pungent smell of Herb Robert….happy dog walks in the lanes of Witshire when I was about five or six. I love the smell of this beautiful wayside plant, and always point it out to anyone I happen to be with. No one shares my enthusiasm for the smell, but for me it is comforting and safe, a good time in my childhood.

And the strong, aromatic smell of Elecampane root cooking is unforgettable for me. Recently I even recognised the smell in a blind test among several practising herbalists who failed to identify it by scent. The only reason is because I was immediately transported to a rat infested cabin on an island off British Cloumbia, where I boiled some up for the first time to cure a cough over twenty years ago. There in a flash! And all the passionate, complex relationships that were brewing at the time too along with the Elecampane tea!

Sometimes, if the memory triggered is a very precious one, I try not to search out the smell too often. I don’t want the experience of memory to be diluted, or even sullied with another , more recent or trivial moment. Like Lilies, obviously. When my daughter Lily was born I didn’t really have a thing about them particularly. She would always spot them proudly if we were looking round a garden, but although I liked them they never had any real emotional significance for me when I passed their intoxicating scent.

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Of course, now they do….around the time of Lily’s death, nearly six years ago (and that’s something I can’t fathom) we were swamped with Lilies, great bunches of them festooned our tiny home in the woods. The whole of that strange ethereal time out of time, was infused by the scent of Lilies, and now, I ration myself to smelling them only a few times a year. I buy some for her birthday and anniversary, and sometimes allow myself to sniff a Lily in passing a florist.  The memories are so exquisitely precious, excruciatingly painful and also strangely filled with love and a great widening of reality; that I don’t want to reduce them to daily mundanity.  It feels like a great privilege to smell a Lily

This time of year, approaching Lily’s anniversary,  feels tender and raw,  yet also graceful and expansive as if I am treading on gossamer with  whole realms swirling around me which I can’t yet put a name to. My perceptions are in a heightened state and magic starts to shimmer at the edges of my daily life.

But it’s the foxgloves which get me every year. Not the scent, because they don’t really have a perceptible smell, but they are so bound up with her last week on earth. I always know the time is coming  when they are blooming.

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So much of my life is bound up with shallow, quite trivial thoughts, concerning necessary daily practicalities, but the scent of flowers is a gateway to my heart centre, like an arrow darting straight into a  shining sparkle of emotion, or a slough of depression or great lake of grief. I’m so grateful for these reminders, so pleased to be stopped in the middle of my mind chattering day to feel, and remember.

Although I’m still not sure where the loo cleaner scent  came from!

What memories are triggered for you by sudden scents? Home made marmalade or creosote? Seaweed or roses?


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Time to breathe

It’s been a long time. It seems like a very long time. But I’m back, with little snatches of internet time here and there..in the library, in a friend’s house.

It feels as though a whirlwind has taken us all up shaken us around between its teeth and flung us down…raging on with its wildness and leaving us, for now,, to limply rise, pull on our socks and stumble to the kettle for a morning cup of tea.

We moved house. In a rather complex protracted and convoluted way.

And yet, for this week, we are still where we have been for the last two years, in the beautiful community of forty or so people in the luscious green rush of South Devon springtime.

I’ll explain.

In this blog I have rarely discussed education. I’m not about to start now, in any great depth, but I have slowly, over the last three years of home educating Tansy and Leo that I’m actually not cut out for it. In my ideal world, all children would be around all the time, dipping in and out of adult’s (meaningful, wholesome and productive)activities and getting up to their own mischief, projects, shenaningans with each other. We adults would be hanging out together…not going stir crazy alone in our little boxes, toiling struggling to accomplish everything; but co creating our lives and food and meaningful existence.

Yes I know there are home ed groups. But somehow I struggle with sitting around watching kids do an ‘activity’ and for me it can seem a bit contrived and forced. I’d far rather they all just tagged along and witnessed real work….gardening, making food, whatever, done by relaxed and connected adults. And learn that way.

I’ve also realised I have very high expectations of what I ‘should’ be doing with the kids, and when I fail to live up to that on a daily basis, it kind of bothers me. And then I yell at the kids . Because I’m frustrated we haven’t managed to achieve the felting a wall hanging and writing a neat beautifully illustrated (and annotated) piece of work about the uses of a sheep. And I’m also super frustrated that I can’t get anywhere near my paintbrushes or writing book….Or any of the other a hundred projects that I want to do. (Have you ever tried writing a children’s book with a toddler on your lap and a 7 and 9 year old in the background, not to mention the teen after school…)

Well, we discussed and discussed and talked and talked and realised that we had chosen Steiner education for a reason…back when they were in school. It’s not that I’m completely in love with or even understand some of Steiner’s more eccentric ideas, it’s just a more heart centred, nature focussed, less pressured,  less intellectual based place for my kids to be. Freddie has gone through nearly the whole school pretty well.  It’s just that, well you have to pay. And we struggled with that. So in (a rather large) nutshell, we are moving to where there is a free one, state funded, in the hope that they will get places.

And it’s a sacrifice. Leaving acres of beautiful gardens to the city streets. Have we done the right thing? I ask myself daily. But then I remember the shrivelling feeling inside at the end of the holidays when I know that I ‘should’ be educating the kids and actually its the last thing I want to be doing. And I know that there are hundreds and thousands of wonderful, talented successful women who home ed multiple kids..like five or six or more…and still run their own businesses and write blogs etc…and I have no idea how they do it. Having a toddler makes a difference of course…but they do too.

But it’s not me. I’m not particularly patient and I worry that what my kids see of me most is me holding my head in my hands and moaning in frustration and desperation.

So we’ve  moved…and more of our new home in another post, but for now, for now, we are in our converted horsebox, parked up at the community we have just left due to car problems. There are various commitments we still have here which, carless are tricky to attend to, so, I have been forced to take a break, stop and breathe.

In our horsebox there is beauty and simplicity. There is no room for more than the absolute basics, a change or two of clothes, a couple of books, a game, pots pans, a few packets of food. There is the moon at night, the patch of nettles which I have been cooking most days, the squirrels and rooks. There is a connection to the outside, to nature and all her teaching and complex simplicity. There is no ‘stuff’ to sort, pack, cajole, box up, shift around, rage and weep over. Which is how I seem to have spent the majority of the last few months, preparing for the move. (I wrote more about my battle with ‘stuff’  here )

Sure I’ve still had the kids, but suddenly we’ve been finding time to pick dandelions and create delicacies such as fritters and coffee again; making up stories…aahh I missed this; sitting in the evening crocheting, or, gasp, doing nothing. Just sitting, by candlelight. Breathing into the moment.

And just when I was starting to get a wee bit twitchy, like, actually, this car problem needs sorting, I need to renovate a house, get on with it, do some maths with the kids…get serious again….well, Finch gets  ill. Feverish, limp, attached.

Back to sitting telling stories and picking nettles it is then. And what a wonderful teaching it’s been, I shout less, I haven’t held my head in my hands and groaned all week. I feel calmer, happier, like this is how its supposed to be.

It is how its supposed to be but we can’t live in the horsebox for ever. Tansy and Leo are sleeping  in a tent, and Fred is lodging nearby…its a short term solution but I’m really enjoying it.

And I plan to take the teaching from this interlude  into the next, potentially manic phase of my life.

More sitting.

More stories.

More breathing.

Less Stuff.

Amen !


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Memory quilt

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It was long in the making. What is now Finches quilt was started four years before he was born. Cutting out the pieces, one by one, surrounded by little children, covering squares of cardboard with cloth; for years the little basket of prepared patches lay dormant, waiting, unfinished. Sometimes I get frozen when the task is too important , too big, too overwhelming. It wasn’t physical dimensions that were the issue, it was always going to be a small quilt, given the amount of fabric available; but the memories behind each square.

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All the fabric for the quilt was from my daughter Lily’s clothing. Now some people could not understand how I could cut up her clothes, one of the few tangible possessions which she had for me to look at and remember. And for a while I resisted. Desecrating her dresses and skirts seemed too violating, too distressing, too disrespectful. I folded her things, the rosebud pyjamas she had worn when she had chicken pox aged three, the flouncy blue dress she wore at two and a half to  the Mayday celebrations, the brown skirt which she pretty much lived in in the time just before the accident. I folded them all, and wrapped each one in tissue, laying them carefully with lavender in a box under my bed. And there they stayed. Inert, slightly musty, unused.

And that didn’t feel right either. And so the box came out again, and I tentatively started to cut. I wasn’t going for anything complex or fancy, (although I did initially have a beautiful sketch  involving appliqued doves and unicorns and trees worked out) because I knew the reality of my days with three young kids would make it almost unattainable. Just squares. Coloured squares.

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As a kid, my mother spent the majority of her free time making quilts. Usually pieced together out of tiny hexagonal patches which she cut in card first, from old cereal packets, before covering each one with fabric, to form a rigid shape to make sewing together easier. Sometimes I was allowed to help pull out all the card patches when the quilt was finished. And she made big double bed sized quilts, all ablaze with Laura Ashley and Liberty fabrics. She still has stacks of them all neatly folded away in the closet. So I had the background. But I wasn’t trying to compete with the intricate geometric designs of my mother’s quilts (this might, I realise now, have been another reason for my delay in getting on with this. Fear of unfavourable comparison…) I just knew what to do with all the cardboard business.

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Over a few weeks, I assembled a neat basket of fabric covered squares. And then they just stayed in their basket. A combination of busy family life, procrastination, fear, who knows, but eventually the little basket made its way to our workshop/storage while we moved house and each time I saw it I felt a pang of sadness that I hadn’t made the quilt. And then our house burnt down and the patches were safe in storage. Most of Lily’s other things burnt, her pottery horses, scraps of knitting and crochet, still attached to the needles, her jewellry box, notebooks, her crystal collection in a little box covered in roses. But there they were, the patches. And I newly…and slightly unexpectedly, pregnant with Finch. I took the little basket back to the house we were staying in after the fire, and looked at them for a while. And it became very clear and beautiful what their destination should be.

A quilt for the baby.

I was really excited and started at once, although a combination of being newly pregnant, home educating Tansy and Leo, moving from temporary home to temporary home four times, meant that I only finished it for his first Christmas, when he was 6 months old.

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It felt like a blessing from Lily to the little brother she never got to meet on earth. The hours of play and sleep, tears and laughter that had been lived in those clothes, the love for her baby brother as he slept enfolded in her clothes. It seemed important symbolically that some tangible physical connection be made between them . I am sure that they already had a connection before Finch was even born, so I realise that it was mostly for me and the other kids that I made it, to see the physical reality of something that had once been worn by Lily remade into something warm and nurturing for Finch.

image It feels so much better to be using her clothes. Not preserved in musty entombment in a cupboard but reborn fresh and living to be seen and touched every day.

Leo still wears one of her sweaters…in a suitably masculine sage green….Tansy wears the slippers I knitted her for Class one. A few days ago, having lost my gloves, I wore hers, a little tight but just right. It was as if all the memories of what she had done in those gloves were still, somehow, entwined in the yarn , snatches of shouts snowballs and blue fingers. It wasn’t easy to wear them, and it was the first time I had ever done that, but feeling something is always better than feeling nothing. It’s easy to avoid grief and shy away from doing things that will make me sad. But joy and grief are two sides of  the same coin, and shunning one dulls my life to a monotonous depression.  Laughter and tears are so close. And they are such good medicine.

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