Angel Wings and Herb Tea

Life after loss; healing through creativity, writing and art


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I did it!!

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Well, that’s me, in a local cafe, with my artwork…eleven paintings up for the month of October. At eight o clock yesterday morning I was splashing Payne’s grey and cadmium orange hue around with abandon, in my dressing gown, trying to ignore babies, need for packed lunches and bus money, and clarity around the location of the car keys.

At nine thirty I was carrying my new babies into a cafe in town, ready to exhibit them for the very first time. Old familiar feelings of not good enough, hell, the guy taking his paintings down from last month has an art degree, shit what do I even think I’m playing at trying to show my work. It isn’t even work, I really should cancel and go home.

The guy taking his work down expressed a desire to see mine and I felt shy and ashamed…embarassed, had to force myself not to apologise. The woman exhibiting in the other room at the cafe…an artist for forty years came in..I cringed and started to stutter about it being my first time.

The paintings  went up, I made some wee price labels, I stood back, Hugh took some photographs and we went for coffee and cake to celebrate.

The paintings looked ok. They actually looked quite good on those blue walls.

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Can I call myself an artist now? It still seems a bit presumptuous….

Artist. That elusive desirable unattainable state. I’m 15 at school, gazing longingly through the glass doors of the Art room, the soft chalkiness of pastels scattered over the desks. The mysterious depths of the inner realm of the place, the printing table, the easels, the paints. The A level art students whisking self importantly (to my envious eyes) in and out with cups of coffee, paint spattered aprons and grimy fingernails, Stone Roses on at an acceptable volume in break times. How I wanted to be there, how I let my wings be clipped, and how I followed meekly my teacher’s advice to concentrate on academic subjects and not waste my brains. ‘Keep a little sketch book if you like,’ they said, ‘only thick kids do art.’ Really. My physics teacher, giving me GCSE options advice. So I took Physics and chemistry instead of art…I hated both, had no interest in either. Meekly following did not serve me.

But I forgive Meekly following, and I try to accept her as a necessary part of who I was, thank her for serving me in the past and explain that I now no longer need her around.

I spent years collecting articles about artists, magazine pages filed away in a cardboard folder, I spent years being magnetically drawn to art supply shops, allowing myself to occasionally buy a box of pastels or pencils, to  handcraft birthday cards, because that was ‘useful’.  I didn’t give myself the gift of time to explore and grow with my art because I somehow felt as if I wasn’t allowed. Voices in my head…’you don’t make money from art,’  ‘its a nice little hobby,’  ‘you have to be really good to make it’ were ingrained in my thought processes.

I was perpetuating the good child in me, doing as it was told, trying to please parents and teachers, not make a fuss.

But then it occurred to me that as an adult, no one was actually stopping me anymore.

Well there was one person.

Me.

Only me.

Oh yes I’m an adult now, but the chains were my own. I felt obligated to be useful and dutiful, as if being happy and fulfilled myself somehow had to come only in odd minutes when everyone else’s needs had been catered for. Which when you’ve had five kids is basically never!

So I had to do it, which felt pretty big and scarey and almost too much.

And the truth is, that Lily’s death, followed two years later by the house fire, have been huge reasons for me to not take the easy road of trundling along ignoring myself.

Life is too big and glorious and necessary to be ignoring myself.

I started to take some online courses;

The lovely Julia Freund at  Lineanongrata, a Berlin based illustrator who offers wonderful personable illustration tuition, with  regular personal feedback and help and lovely written and video illustrated assignments. I really enjoyed it when I did it.

Misty Mawn was great…so much detail and inspiration in her 12 week Full Circle ecourse, truly amazing how much material was covered from oil painting to modelling, portraiture, charcoal..I’m still working through it as we have a year access to the course.

Next up was Flora Bowley...wonderful woman, inspiring intuitive painter who I full credit with me letting go of shoulds in my artwork. Yes, even when I finally sat down with my paintbrush I used to start to fret and plan and think I should be doing things a certain way..well I took Flora’s course and realised it didn’t have to be this way. I let go of my mind and followed my heart and my paintbrush.

Finally I took Draw and Paint what you love with Pauline Agnew, very different from the above, with a warm friendly tutor and lots of art history inspiration and practical knowledge, a lovely course and individual support and feedback.

I’m deeply grateful to all four women who led such journeys for me to follow and ultimately start to carve my own path.

So, today I am at the beginning of a journey, where I take myself seriously, continue to paint, and believe that I can do it.

I have!!

Each step feels huge, fighting through fear and resistance but its the only way…

Have you overcome a childhood fear or block…I’d love to hear how you have got where you are today…or perhaps you are just about to begin to thank it kindly and walk on without it.

Blessings, love

Henrietta xx

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A fresh start

Summer closing berries dripping in glistening bunches, brandy and honey and spices and  bottles of syrup and winter medicine. New routines, new rhythms…the late summer sun mellowing the land. Ripe tomatoes, fragrant basil scarlet rosehips.

New projects with children, plant dyes, boiling and fermenting wise woman brews steaming the windows and acrid tang of simmering roots.

Back home and into autumn. Back from a summer of retreat from the internet hot earth under bare feet wet canvas  singing campfires, damp  cabins in a green Welsh valley far from home. Evenings to sit and write and read, play card games and drink tea, sheepskins and hissing logs.

Away from screens that dull and hypnotise, the screens that also connect us all and sparkle with jewels of inspiration, information, ideas. The screens that lead me astray down meandering paths which infinitely divide and leave me with a vague sense of bloat and unease.

I haven’t missed it and I have. Through the internet I have connected with people from everywhere.  Weeping shown fragments of my soul to people I have not met naked words bare of polished gloss and finish.

I write here in this space and want to write more. I have painted, written and shared with women from New Mexico to Singapore , I have been invigorated and encouraged by so much.

But this summer I left for two weeks with the children  to voice camp, and later to the tiny Welsh cabin. Campfire songs and cold showers, harebells and buzzards, no phone, no texts, no internet. My voice joined others as I sang and my tears wet the ground and the shoulders of friends who comforted me. Skin touch, the whisper in my ear the smile and glance the connection, the sweetness of warm chai and fire grilled aubergine, earthy real sensuous. Its a different connection.

I do value them all.

Sometimes I  wish away the internet, and feel a deep yearning for a return to the simplicity and spaciousness of a time before my head was filled with so much, before my time was swallowed in such large cyber mouthfuls. But I would find it hard to exist without it. And I know its there. And I don’t want to miss out!!

Actually I didn’t want to talk about the internet but about autumn and new beginnings.

I wasn’t planning to home ed again. It was always supposed to be temporary. A baby, other ambitions, need for time to write, to be, to paint, it all seemed too much. But  circumstances have decided otherwise and I may start a home ed blog to discuss them all and the reasons we are now committing to keeping the three younger children at home, at least for the time being.

I am trying not to do everything. I have found childcare for at least one and a half days. Its important. I have such a strong fire to create, such a lust to express the words and images which flow through me, that it is essential for my family’s well being for me to have time to do this.

Its too easy to be bottom of the pile for me. Too easy to end up lying on the big bed upstairs with my body pinned to the mattress by feeding babies and affectionate children. Its lovely and soft and snuggly and adorable and nourishing…but only if I’ve had  an hour to paint, an hour to write, an hour to share with a friend, an hour to plant seeds and gather herbs, time to stretch and remind myself that indeed I do have a body and it is actually mine. (Hmm easy to forget that one)

If these things are in short supply, or if they are nonexistent, I feel starved and desperate crabby and cross and my warm mothering arms become sharp elbows and I am like a buzzing naked wire, charged and dangerous. (I don’t mean literally obviously, before someone calls Social Services!) I FEEL like that . I want to run away and feel the north wind in my hair and a wide open road ahead of me wild and exciting and Free. With some really nice cafes and notebooks along the way. And circles of friends to talk deep and challenging and share the howling grief and the star spinning laughter and the grainy beautiful truth.

So.

I’m being firmer about childcare.

I’ve joined a beautiful circle of women, a deeply held ceremonial sharing space of wild hedgerow medicine and elemental prayers and love.

I’m painting for my first exhibition IN TEN DAYS (did I already mention that?)

I’m remembering I have a body and having occasional treatments and regular stretching and …well I haven’t managed the candle lit bath yet but its on my list.

I’m joining a writing group in the flesh…

Green smoothies…seriously they rock…breakfast, sets me up for the day.

Love remember love. It sorts most stuff out. Smooths resentment shoulds woulds crabbiness. Easier said than done. Trying to remember.

That’s it for now, except yesterday would have been Lily’s 13th birthday and I want to write something for her but don’t want to mix her up with the internet and autumn and all this so she’s next for sure . Always

Love Henrietta x

Ps. Any self care sharing? Any new autumnal routines and changes in your lives?

In ten days some of my paintings will be on show in a local cafe. My first tiny exhibition.

Learning from Finch

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Having a baby is a gift. Of course it is. Especially when he is as plump and juicy as Finch is. Especially when he is so lusciously relaxed and happy as Finch is. Especially when he has a warm sweet little head which nuzzles just perfectly under my neck.  Even when he’s kept me up all night nuzzling and slurping All those things .

But also this.

He teaches me to get out of my head. I’m in my head alot. Fretting planning thinking. It doesn’t help much. Well, I guess it holds this huge groaning haphazard rocking ship called Our Family together and gets it from this day to the next, vaguely clean, fed and sometimes educated. So yes my thinking does have its uses, but its also a bit excessive, and usually doesn’t contribute greatly to my emotional well being.

I almost never get through a batch of thinking  and feel relaxed and connected.

My brain might ache, I might feel frazzled, although perhaps a little more organised. Kind of slightly anxious and uncomfortably full

Finch doesn’t think much.

That’s not to say that he has issues in his development, but he’s only a year old and he lives entirely in his sensory body. He knows stuff , like where the blender is kept so he can take it apart, how to escape through the cat flap, how to steal my porridge, but he doesn’t need to make lists about when he’s going to do it.

Every sensation is all consuming for him, the wisp of steam curling in the morning sun from the teapot, the sudden roar of the blender, the soft sweetness of a ripe blackberry in the garden and the dry scratch of earth on his tender bare skin. If he wants to nurse his little head butts against me and if he’s really desperate and in the sling waiting, sharp little teeth will nip my skin on my chest. He lives in the moment, connected to each second by a pearled thread, sinking his little body into it, every pore open and alive to its delights.

Its easy to laugh with him pretend to bite his ear..blow raspberries on his tummy and  play peekaboo behind a muslin. Sometimes I can be overly serious and stressed and forget to play. Forget to have fun. Forget to be silly and roll around on the floor doing nothing useful. Forget that racing through my to do list and feeling ‘good’ because I have achieved alot is less important than simple playful connection..whoever it is with. And whatever it is. The dishes I’m washing, the person I’m talking to, the meal I’m eating. That’s not to say I often have playful connection with the dishes, but hey, its better than rushing through them planning and fretting and breaking a mug in my distraction with the future.

Finch is really good at playing.

 

He’s also pretty good at nursing. And I’m not one of those funky mamas who feels comfortable feeding standing, doing the groceries, cooking etc. Nursing is my ticket to sitting….I’m not choosy where, but a cup of tea is good. He makes me sit…and lately he’s started kicking any reading material out of the way which is aggravating but also makes me stop filling my head with more stuff.

Less stuff in my head means more emotions

Busy days mean less emotions…well apart from anger and frustration

Nursing and playing mean more.

Emotions and feelings like joy grief and  peace.

That’s what Finch helps me with.

Those feelings are always there but sometimes its hard to access them.

 

Being still, in the moment, deeply and playfully, connected to the texture of now; the grainy, soft ,velvety, spiky, hard,

 

But in those quiet moments of being still and present,

Darling Finch…

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Stifling with food

Ok I’ve just realized that this is quite a big one for me.  Food.

I wanted to write something here today and started a few times, but nothing seemed right for today. Finch had grabbed my box of Healing cards which I keep beside my bed and this one came tumbling out onto my pillow….

 

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I need to eat…..but do I need to eat all the time?

I almost never leave space when I eat.

Swallowing down emotions, pacifying anger sweet comfort reach for the peanut butter jar, make a hot chocolate, suffocate blanket down dull suppression denial..

I’ve just finished a thirty day stint going without sugar wheat and dairy, and honestly it was good…my whole family succumbed to a deep chesty cough and prolonged cold…me? On very broken teething baby nights, not much sleep and constant busyness and stress…a tiny sniffle, gone in a couple of days.

I made green smoothies, salads, dehydrated cashew apple cookies, quinoa, millet, raw mushroom burgers (not completely sold on those……..) It was good but I suddenly found myself eating a lot of dried fruit….in between meals after meals before meals…alot of nuts, tahini peanut butter. All good stuff but it was kind of obsessive kind of what I did when I was bored, kind of what I did when I was upset, uncomfortable frazzled irritated annoyed or impatient. That’s what I do. Maintaining a a grey emotional equilibrium with my face full. Swallowing the fear sadness worry, even excitement…down it went with a nice sweet mouthful. That’s what I’ve done for a long time. Only in the past it was packets of biscuit,s chocolate, brownies toast and marmite after alot of beer on a Friday night.

Comfort eating.

Its not exactly uncommon is it?

A friend of mine followed a forty day juice fast a while back in her dance with cancer and apart from being very thin at the end, she said that she had never felt so clear, sensitive, her taste buds had never experienced such subtleties, her body minutely attuned to nuances which she had never felt before….the breeze on her cheek, the colour of the Beech leaves in spring, unseen energies, spiritual awakenings, meditative revelations….

There’s a hidden sweetness
in the stomach’s emptiness.

We are lutes, no more, no less.
If the sound box is stuffed
full of anything, no music……

So the dairy free sugar free wheat free four weeks was great but I still felt like I wasn’t quite getting there.

I still rarely felt hungry.

I still nibbled..I am known as the mouse in our house…

I still ran to the cupboard when things got tough.

Suffocated dulled desensitized

….If the brain and the belly
are burning clean with fasting,
every moment a new song
comes out of the fire

At the moment I am fully immersed in Our word,  the spectacular gut searing bone splitting, soul baring down deep and dirty writing collective  (that I still seem unable to provide a link to here…have left one on the face book page)

and I am digging deep, diving head first into  a dark rich seething brew of alchemy, word magic, healing and connection with the other women on the course. I need Rumi’s new song coming out of the fire, I need to be a hollow resounding lute with clear clean resonance and vibrations, not clogged and hampered by the suffocation of overeating.

Sometimes when I write, I  get to the shimmering moment where the magic happens and the words just seem to flow through me from somewhere else, and its often then that it’s scarey, so I get up and have a snack.

….The fog clears, and a new
energy makes you run up the
steps in front of you.

Be emptier and cry like
reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with
the reed pen.

When you’re full of food and drink,
Satan sits where your
spirit should, an ugly metal
statue in place of the Kaaba…..

 

A while ago a friend  started a mindful eating group, based around this book

 

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I made it to one meeting, with the newborn Finch, and we reverently sniffed strawberries, caressed  mangoes, discussed our smoothies before taking slow thoughtful bites letting the delicate flavours roll into our mouths like a lover. It certainly wasn’t bolting a packet of hobnobs while checking Facebook. We were full on a small plate of fruit, satiated in all ways and nourished far beyond our bodies. Unfortunately life with lots of children and a new baby precluded any further part in the group for me and my energy  and time dissapated more quickly than my drive to continue.

 

The book  considers 7 types of hunger, Eye hunger, Nose Hunger, Mouth hunger, Mind hunger, Heart hunger, Stomach hunger and Cellular hunger.  It’s that  complicated, its that simple. We are hungry for so much and in so many ways and food can fill lots of needs.

Its worth diving into that complex  charged issue of just why I eat. Not often because I’m ravenously hungry I can tell you…

But now, now its time.

 

Gently, kindly without harsh self judgement , no self berating if I mess up, just starting a more mindful relationship with food, seeing it as nutrition and medicine rather than a subsitiute for emotional deficiencies. A slow savouring experience rather than a gobbling urge to suppress strong emotion.

 

 

When you fast, good habits gather
like friends who want to help.

 

Rumi expresses it like I can only dream of, his words ring like clear calm bells which inspire me and make me breathe into the deep well of inspiration which lies hidden and clogged in the layers of coping suffocating tactics I employ….

I’ll let you know how I get on.

What’s your relationship with food?

Do you simply eat when you’re hungry or is it a substitute for something else?


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And the Winner is…

Well we missed the 6 pm deadline tonight and I suddenly remembered I was supposed to be drawing names out of a hat right in the middle of serving dinner. I hastily found some paper, scrawled all your lovely names down, and handed over the cutting out, hat finding, name drawing to Tansy while I got on with the rice and dhaal

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We raced out into the garden wher everyone was waiting for their food, and Finch started his lentils while Tansy took a deep breath and…

 

Tada!

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Congratulations Zoe, and thanks everyone who wrote such lovely comments….I’ll message you Zoe about how to get your new book to you…..


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Journalling and a wee giveaway

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve always felt uncomfortable when I don’t have ready access to a pen and paper;  if the words jumping and shivering in me can’t be snared and captured on the page.  If the only thing in my bag is an old receipt and a blunt pencil I can do it. I’ve sneaked precious thoughts down the side of old metro tickets,  I’ve biroed over paper cafe serviettes, weasled along the top of cereal boxes, on  my hand, even though I don’t like the feeling   of ink seeping through my skin and blood and becoming part of my cellular makeup…

Above are the overly neat pages from a 1990 diary…full of lonely desperation and determination to make myself better.

I have kept a journal intermittantly forever, and l have most of my old journals…they were in storage when our cabin burnt down so I can still trawl through my teenage angst ridden pages and wince at their pious judgements self loathing .

 

‘I really should curb this tendency of mine to always say what I think when I’m arguing with Mum, really everyone would be alot happier if I just kept my feelings to myself’

 

‘       ‘I am quite pleased with myself that, at the end of a Thursday I have arrived home happy and cheerful without having had a major depression during the day’

I struggle to feel compassion for her, the overly self conscious prissy teenager, cowed and petrified of life, controlled and unempowered. I wince because I still see fragments of her splintering into my life everyday

 

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Despite feeling a vague sense of melancholy at the state I was generally in at that time, I realise how the journalling process helped me navigate those torturous years. Somewhere to flood with thoughts, words and feelings, never mind how pious and and negative they were.  A place to process desperation, despair, loneliness anguish, and obviously to record those happy Thursdays where I didn’t have a major depression!!

Those beautiful clean white pages were my friends….they diin’t judge or criticise or ignore me …..but most of all I just loved to write, to create something out of my experience, a safe space for me.

 

I still write  journal, it still seems to be less about what I’ve done and more about how I feel and its such a gift to have that  sacred place to work through ideas, offload things that really, noone else needs to hear…

 

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I also really really love journals. Beautiful blank books to fill with juiciness, ravaging despair sublime joy, I could own hundreds, all lined up with shivers of anticipation.

I’ve started making a few hand sewn books, mostly with the kids, art journals, cookery books; its so satisfying, the cutting and stitching , creating

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So I decided to offer one as  a giveaway to one beautiful reader.  I love reading your comments, suggestions, support, and if you leave a comment on this post I will pick some one to receive a book.

How would you use it? What would you write?

What would you draw, rant or collage

There’s nothing like an empty book……


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Writing into spring: Our word

Even my blood is running thin and light, sap running clear and green . The fresh tender shoots the riotous petals and rook shit tumbling from the nests onto our car every night. That’s how we know its Spring. We need a new parking place.

 

My hibernation from words is over. Winter, hormonal baby slow thick brain, soft and sluggish, sweet porridge of slumber and dreaming through the cold months. The colours danced off my paintbrush but the words slept, a sweet sleep.

Nursing hours under blankets, casseroles of winter roots and the words wouldn’t come. Trying to write a journal entry was like a brisk walk through quicksand.

 

Time poor as always but always shards of exquisite freedom to create a tiny gem to hold in the palm of my hand. A few brushstrokes, a charcoal sketch, a few stitches on my art journal, a coil pot made.

 

I need it

But as the new leaves butterfly  fresh on every tree in sight, and even the snakes of old ivy whisper their stories around the oak; (they remember last Spring, and the one before, and before that) I start to write, little phrases twist and squirm, a word to remember, a rush to find my notebook, or old receipt, or paper napkin…

Then I remembered

Our Word*

That’s what I needed.

Something to pull me out of my nice girl comfortable dullness, goody two shoes careful what would the neighbours think brain…..and into my heart, my guts which shriek and swear and sometimes are not nice but always want love and hold the truth.

I three quarters completed an online course with Marybeth Bonfiglio last year, and Finch came two weeks early and swallowed the final week.

 

Our Word isa writing experience led by five guidesses..one each week, with soul shifting, shape sorting, bone wrenching goodness, writing prompts to dive into the underbelly of reality, to grapple with the stars and caress the moon.

I’m on day two and still struggling with prim miss making a good impression and am feeling scared  and stilted.

It  will change.

Down the road I’ll share some words here.

In the meantime check in later this week for the wee giveaway I have planned to celebrate my move over here….

Until then,

love Henrietta x

 

*http://marybethbonfiglio.squarespace.com/    for some reason the link icon is not functioning at the moment….so here is the link to Marybeth’s site.