Growing pains

Growing pains

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Lots of em. One step forward, two steps back. Will I ever learn?

I know I shouldn’t let my emotions run away with me, and yet that is exactly what I keep doing. Which is not so bad when they are good but… Well, you get my point. That centre just keeps getting away from me.

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And yet… when I look back at who I was almost nine years ago, I find her hardly recognisable. It seems impossible that I was ever this cocky. I keep asking myself: How did I manage to think that I knew so much (which I did, by the way, and do) when I knew so very little (and keep knowing less as I grow older, it seems to me)?

I feel both more in control and less. A little the wiser, I hope, and a lot of illusions the poorer. Still teetering on the edge of cynicism, although I keep scrambling away from it. Is there bravery in refusing to give in, or is it sheer stubborn stupidity? A bit of both, I suppose.

What I do know is that the world will only change if enough of us refuse to become cynics. If enough of us continue dreaming, fighting, rebelling… being naive and seeking to meld together the wisdom of the past with the knowledge that our species gathers so very eagerly.

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And so I continue to seek out the Light.

As the days are darkening and the summer in which I went through another transition stretches into fall, I stride — or perhaps I should say ‘stumble’ — forward, feeling both as confused and as certain as ever (and perhaps more), but holding on just a little more securely to who I am.

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Yeah, right.

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Breathe

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Around the time I turned 40, I thought my heart was in serious trouble. I experienced heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness… One night I got so anxious I called the doctor. He asked my if my arms were tingling (‘Yes, they are! That’s why I finally decided to call because I was so afraid…’).

His answer? ‘Well that’s good, because it means you’re not having a heart attack. It does mean that you are hyperventilating, however. And that means you need to take a close look at your life. Because 16-year old girls can start to hyperventilate for no reason, just because. But 40-year old girls… well… if they start hyperventilating, it usually means there is something seriously amiss in their life…’

I never forgot those words and the way that kind, kind doctor said them. Of course my life was in real trouble at the time, and it only got worse for a while. But it was the day I realised how I simply stop breathing when things become to hard, in an effort to hold in that deluge of pain, or sadness, or anxiety, for fear it will swallow me alive.

It was also the day I started to learn that you have to keep breathing. In… out… Deep, endless breaths that not only fill your body with oxygen but allow you to breathe in light, and breathe out darkness.

It was the day I started to take life back into my own hands. And breathe as if my life depended on it.

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Time Keeps Flying…

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…but that’s okay because I’m not wasting it. My days are filled, sometimes to overflowing, but that’s okay too because it all belongs. And there is so much joy in my life, it fills my heart and my soul. And that, my friends, is the stuff happiness is made of.

My soul is firmly seated in my body once again, no longer trying to flee reality. Am I sounding like a mystic? Too bad, there’s nothing I can do about that. Be it shamanism, witchcraft, giftedness or new ageism – I am coming alive and feel like i’m more or less consistently in control for the first time in my life, regardless of external circumstances. Which is great, but also the tiniest bit scary because if I screw up, there is no one I can blame.

Apart from all this metaphysical wonderfulness, I have been knitting (a little), dyeing (a lot) and enjoying life with my children, family and friends. (Yes, and working, cleaning, ranging, running after children, doing the administration, dropping into bed exhausted and much more not so fun stuff – but that is part of life, too.)

Too much to share in a single post, of course, so I’ll conclude with a couple of pictures of roses, rose leaves, achillea, hydrangea, buddleia, maple and a sprinkling of iron on tussah silk wrapped around a copper pipe.

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White Light

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Lots of things seem to be taking shape these days. Including the future. I was shocked to realise how reluctant I had become to plan. How afraid I had grown of imagining what the future might hold in store. I remember times when closing my eyes on the day was a relief and all the morrow held was dread. No more. Oh, definitely not anymore.

It takes an effort to change your mind. Open up. Take a chance. Believe that yes, there is brightness in the future. Lots of it.

A name was coined in those days of dread. One that despite everything kept coming back. Demanding its due. Asking to be seen. Considered. Its truth realised. Its perfect fit accepted.

Two days ago after an engagement with my beautiful Italian hairdresser (who loves the colours I wear and my ‘expressive personality’, so there), I was cycling home and stopped for a while to listen to the birds chattering in the twilight. So lovely. The street lighting switched on and I was just slightly… miffed… at the bright light just behind me, wishing it would go out. Pffft, off it went. Just that one. For a little while I enjoyed the twilight that had returned, laughter bubbling up. When I was ready, I looked back over my shoulder at the lantern in question and said laughingly: ‘Oh, come on!’

Will you believe me if I say it lit up, quite happy to comply? It did.

Magic is a welcome, happy companion in my life these days.

So. There it is. The name by which my creative endeavours will be known:

The White Light Studio.

First used in 2001 (or was it 1999?) when Silence, a collaborative work with my then partner combining photography and poetry, was published. At the time I did not see how good a match it really was. Scoured clean by the years and hopefully a little wiser, it now fits me like a cherished, comfortable old glove.

I’m sure it will only get better.

What I have been up to

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Healing love sent out into the world

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The other side

Oh, there is just not enough time in my days! Yet I believe I have never put my days to better use than I do now… 

Rare is the day on which there is not a dye pot simmering on my stove, on which I do not take thread and needle to fabric, on which I do not put pen or brush to paper or find another way to express my soul-expanding joy at having unlocked the gate to my creativity and artistic expression. I had no idea how narrow my life had become until it opened up again.

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Boro stitching on denim, using Japanese sashiko thread and a piece of eucalyptus-printed silk

I seem to have stepped into a fractal labyrinth, where every step opens up an infinite number of new paths. Trouble is, I want to follow every one of them and preferably all at the same time – but there is just one of me. Which leads to another lesson: learning to pace myself, something at which I have never been very good. I keep telling myself: You don’t have to do all this now – there is a whole life ahead of you yet, you can do this next year or the year after. After having looked backwards and inwards for so long, I see the future opening up and presenting a joyful array of opportunities once again. I may be growing older (just a little) but inside I seem to have found the fountain of youth. 

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What can I say? I love feathers.

One thing I have decided for this blog is that I will post more often but spend less time on the individual posts. I tend to brush and polish and check and double-check and I post less often because I know how much time it takes me. So: more posts, less time.

I’ll leave you with these images of an old cotton T-shirt ecoprinted with eucalyptus, which I simmered in an iron bath for a while… 

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How it came out of the dye pot. The string has since been used to make iron marks on a piece of wool.

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Unwrapping the magic…

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Glowing…

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I love how the string resist shows up in flowing white lines on the heavily iron-marked fabric. This part of the tee was in direct contact with the iron bath, unfiltered by layers of fabric. It makes me think of seaweed floating in water.

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One of the things I most love about eco printing is the huge array of colours it produces. While you can influence the outcome, you have no absolute control over the results.

It may be raining cats and dogs outside but in here the sun is still shining…

Silver and Golden

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Last year this time, I was home alone. For me, New Year’s Eve has not been a night of celebration for a long time and I’m not sure it will ever be that again. Somehow it is associated with too much melancholy, endings, saying goodbye and farewell. And yet something is different. Last year on my own, not feeling forced to be artificially happy or pleasant, it felt like a new beginning for the first time in a long time.

And so it is this year. Somehow I have come into my own and that, my dear and faithful friends, is reason to celebrate. It is an ongoing process of course and I still battle my daemons, but there seem to be fewer of them and more of me.

I think there has not been a single day this year in which I did not realise and appreciate how beautiful this world – this life – really is. Naturally there is sorrow and sadness and pain and anger, but there is always beauty. And I have learned the true meaning of gratitude.

Gratitude when riding my bicycle in sunshine or rain, one little girl in front of me and one in back, singing, humming, chattering, warm bodies pressing against me, saying ‘Mummy you are the sweetest and the best’. My beautiful fifteen year old regaining his joy and wonderful smile in an off-system new school, hugging me and rubbing his cheek against mine, hoping for the day I will tell him his skin is prickly and he needs to shave. 

Gratitude when sticking my hands in the earth, picking flowers and herbs in my beautiful little garden, smelling the lovely, lovely scents of nature. Walking on the beach, head bent towards the sand as in my youth, collecting shells and storm-tossed wood… Strolling through the forest, smelling the earth, sitting beneath an oak tree and hearing the leaves whisper in the wind… My house has been filling up with plants, leaves, sticks, stones, shells and feathers and something loosens inside me every time I see them, smell them, touch them. Truly there is healing in allmother nature.

Gratitude when getting up at five in the morning, shivering and tired, to start work because that is the most quiet and peaceful time of day for me and those few precious early hours are when I do most and best. Oh, so grateful for having work and making money I can call my own (sort of) and at the same time being home for my boy and girls, even though I complain because I am running around all day from school to work to grocery shopping and laundry and cleaning and finally, blissedly, bed. 

Gratitude for the rediscovery of my great well of creativity, sadly neglected these many years but still waiting and willing to pour forth in such wealth. And the discovery of so many others whose creativity has inspired mine and made me better. So many beautiful people willing to share and reach out and encourage.

I have discovered people on the Web who have become precious to me, places that I love to dwell in, new dreams and creations to explore each day. People with great courage and love and wisdom who have made my life richer in the encountering and sharing. 

Gratitude, also, for having so much and so much therefore to give. Gratitude and generosity, I have come to understand, are two sides of the same coin. I hope I have given freely of myself and returned some of the gifts I have received.

It has been a silver and golden year. Not without its shadows, of course, some cast by others and some my own, but definitely filled with silver and golden light and much, much love.

So I am strangely amused to find myself looking forward to this ending and beginning all in one, even if just symbolic, and curious to see what another year will bring. I have been falling into the gravity well of my self and now, cautiously finding an orbit around that stable centre within, am striding forward once more.

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Photos: Eucalyptus and iron eco dye on ecological silk jersey, December 2013

Fall weekend at De Uelenspieghel

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With fall coming to a windy end, I thought I should share these pictures with you now or forever hold my peace. I always have so many things I want to post here but somehow too rarely get around to it. My current obsession being textile dyeing, most of my free time is spent doing witchy things with pots and pans, plants and flowers. And knitting, painting (still planning to post those photos, too), writing letters (more photos I owe you), and so on and so forth.

The pictures above show the last borage flowers fallen from the plant, which caught my eye last Ocrober when we spent a weekend volunteering at the beautiful Uelenpieghel. The old farm was converted to a cultural and spiritual centre and welcomes visitors throughout the year. In summer I spent an elfish art weekend there with the children and we had the most wonderful time. This weekend in October, however, was spent collecting apples…

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And more apples…

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After which we had the privilege of sipping freshly made apple and elderberry juice, still warm, tasting like a divine gift from the earth.

We also went mushroom gathering in the beautiful woods surrounding the farm’s grounds. My girls call it the fairy forest, with the pines rising from mossy soil, so soft and springy you wish you could lie down and have a nap. All of it studded with jewel-like mushrooms in so many colours, a light shroud of mist, and such peaceful quiet… 

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Although the picture is not sharp, unfortunately, I still wanted to show you these ‘dead man’s fingers’ looking like bits of charred bone sticking out of the forest floor. Pretty creepy, aren’t they?

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A beautiful little fairy circle or, as the Dutch call it, heksenkring (witches’ circle).

In front of our house there is a small field of grass, a fairly steep slope that runs up towards the road. It is lined with beautiful big trees that have lulled me to sleep with their swishing wind dance many a night. Every fall and sometimes in spring, too, a wonderful witches’ circle arises magically from the grass. As if this earth already knew what took me so many years to figure out and issued a standing invitation…

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This pretty little thing occupied a mossy old tree stump all on its own, while those below seem to cluster together in a fairy village…

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Catching the light and drawing attention in her beautiful autumn frock…

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These, apparently, make a wonderful dye bath for textiles. I wish I’d known earlier although I’m not sure I could have torn them from their perch on this lovely silvery tree trunk… 

Below is a pretty yellow stagshorn (Calocera viscosa), which the Dutch call ‘sticky coral mushroom’. Doesn’t it make you smile just looking at it?

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In the evening the girls were exhausted from their day outside and fell asleep within minutes, giving me leave to join the tango workshop downstairs. I took some lessons years ago and amazingly much of it was dredged up from my body’s memory banks very quickly. It was lovely to dance, I’d forgotten how much I love it. Even better to hear the teacher say I should to take up dance again because I have a dancer’s body (underneath those childbearing pounds I never managed to shift, at least…). It was one of the loveliest compliments I’ve received these many years.

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The place is permanent residence to a changing group of sculptors, healers, seekers and finders, all gathered here by the lovely Annette whose parents believed in self sufficiency and walking lightly upon this beautiful earth, raising their children here. Annette lives in the original farm and has turned it into a welcoming sanctuary for the weary of heart and soul as well as a gathering and replenishing well for those who have already found their natural place in this world.

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This beautiful apple tree looks like it would up and walk away if it ever got bored in its current sunny spot.

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It was a magical weekend. There are places like this that make your heart peaceful and your head quiet, that heal your aching heart with every moment you spend there. The Uelenspieghel is such a sacred place to me and I already know that I will return there again and again…

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http://www.uelenspieghel.nl/

On scarves, chairs & favourite books

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Yes, I finally finished that scarf! It was actually (almost) completed some time ago but I procrastinated endlessly on weaving in the yarn ends. But it got done and sent off by mail to my lovely friend Zurn. She confirmed receipt this week so I can show off the results, looking rather excellent on my beautiful daughter Isabeau if I say so myself.

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The book by Sibella Court is one of my favourites, not to mention it coloured nicely with my scarf. It is a great source of inspiration and a wonderful way to while away an afternoon lounging in your favourite chair with a cup of tea. Definitely recommended for adventurers and nomads who want to use the stuff they bring home from their journeys in their home. See Sibella’s website for more information and a good look at her style…

The children’s chair is one of my most beloved pieces of furniture. It was given to me by my mother, who bought it for her dolls (which are quite hideous and scare all the grandchildren but she was given one of them on the ship that took her and her family from the Dutch East Indies to the Netherlands after WWII and I’ve promised to give it a good home in the future). I was allowed to take the chair home with me for my daughters. It is old but incredibly sturdy and I am totally in love with it…

If you like, you can go to this page on Ravelry (a.k.a. Knitters’ Heaven) for more information on the scarf and pattern.

Roses & Steam part I

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After visiting India Flint’s wonderful blog Prophet of Bloom (I love the subtitle ‘Not all those who wander are lost’)  for the umpteenth time and gazing in admiration at the wonderful stuff she makes, I decided it was time to throw some roses & steam together for myself and see what would happen:

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That was try number one. Oh, the folly of thinking I could keep up with India Flint! I obviously used too few petals but it did give me a good idea of what to expect. The red roses came from my garden. The rambler has been there for 14 years, I think, and offers up red splashes of huge blooms all through summer. The last ones were in bloom just now and I’m worrying my favourite rose will not last through winter (don’t ask me why – I hope I didn’t just jinx it to death) so I figured, at least I will have a tangible reminder.

The little bag is something I found lying around while I was looking for white natural fabric. The kerchief, however, I inherited from my grandmother and is much loved (although I never use it – does that ever happen to you? I just like to look at it every once in a while). So anyway, take two:

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So… what happens is you suspend the bundle over a pot of steaming water for an hour or two. The steam leaches the colour from the petals and leaves, which then imprints upon the fabric. India gets the most beautiful prints of entire leaves and branches and colours, a glorious representation of summer and fall. Obviously she has turned it into an art. If you live in America or Australia, you should definitely try to attend one of her workshops if you get a chance. Look here for more: India Flint’s Workroom.

Wrapping the bundles is wonderful because it makes me feel like a bit of a witch, quite frankly. But unwrapping is the best of the whole process because the outcome is such a wonderful surprise!

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I love how the bright red of the roses turned into this vibrant purple! It’s as if I gathered summer grapes or berries in a kerchief and accidentally crushed them and the juices stained the fabric. Definitely something I’ll do again and recommended for all ages and abilities if you are not too demanding. I’m sure the children would love doing this, too!

A description I found online says to iron the fabric to set the colour and it should be (hand-)washable after that.

What caught my eye today

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[This was actually said by a character called Socrates in Dan Millman’s book ‘Way of the Peaceful Warrior’]

This quote caught my eye on Facebook today. While I think it is applicable to pretty much every aspect of human society, I first interpreted it in terms of myself. (How egocentric? Yes, and gladly so, as you’ll see.)

Reading the quote was a bit of an AHA moment for me. For as long as I can remember, tThere have been many things I wanted to change about myself. Often because I suffer from the plague called perfectionism, but just as often because others wanted or expected me to be different or criticised (part of) who I was.

In the past year or so I have been working on shifting my attitude from ‘trying to be someone or something else’ to ‘liking (and even loving) myself just the way I am’. And to hell with the rest of the world. And to hell with perfectionism, too!

Somehow thinking of change as building something new instead of fighting the old makes a real difference. Fighting is hard. Building, however, is a challenge and a privilege.

My challenge today is learning to love myself. Instead of trying to change the old, I will learn to look at myself with new eyes and figure out what I want to build: new skills, new friendships, new confidence, new joy. And somewhere along the way, I will find back many pieces of myself that I lost along the way, as well.

What caught your eye today?