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.

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

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?

Courage is love

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I have never felt I was a particularly courageous person. Even as a young child, I tended to be aware of all the risks involved in any undertaking. Climbing rocks? What if I slipped and fell and broke a leg? Or worse, my neck? Swimming in the sea? Those waves looked really big and scary, what if I drowned? I fear that my countless fears have kept me from many wonderful experiences. I have often felt (or been made to feel) like a coward.

I was also a hugely sensitive child. I cried easily (and still do, which I hate), feeling the pain and suffering of animals and people around me. Whether in a movie or in real life, I tended to get overwhelmed by their misery, drowned in their sorrow. Or so it seems when I look back at my childhood, and beyond. I have also come to believe that I unconsciously absorbed the emotions of others, which accounts for some of my inexplicable mood changes and the fear that I could not really rely on my own judgement.

I never learned to shield myself and boy, the sorrows of the world are way too big to carry for a young child. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Curiously, I was also totally fearless in the face of injustice. As a teenager, I faced down the doctor parents of a girlfriend who suffered from the advanced stages of anorexia and yelled at them that they should stop seeing only what they wanted to see because their daughter needed help. I told off bullies who harried my friends (quite naturally, I tended to befriend the bullied).

Aged 11, writing my first essay for school, I asserted that the civilisation of the American Indians (which fascinated me) may well have been more civilised in many ways than our so-called Western civilisation. My essay was assessed by the head of my school and I remember being totally pissed off that he had not recognised how completely and incontrovertibly true that statement was (and for not giving me a higher grade). Such unfairness! Can you tell I was also a tiny bit precocious?

I was a little slip of a girl with a big mouth. And way too big fears. An unhappy combination, I often think. Particularly if you do not get the spiritual guidance such children require.

Today I look at my children and wonder how I can help them love this big, bad world and its teeming mass of defenceless creatures while refusing to get so caught up in its suffering that it incapacitates them. The two eldest are just like me, particularly my daughter. The youngest, I think, is more self-contained.

I am 42 years old and only now learning how to keep the world’s suffering at bay, how not to be overwhelmed by it. It would have been easy to become a cynic, to withdraw into myself and give up on the world. I understand how this happens. I was sorely tempted. But it would have made me even more miserable to cut myself off from the world when it needs all the help it can get, as do I.

I know it sounds crazy, but it is true: I am learning to encounter the negativity with love. When I talk to someone who is suffering or needs help in whatever way, I offer what I can from my own experience, however humble that wisdom may be. And I give them all the warmth and love I have in me, and some that is offered through me.

While I am unsure that it eases their pain or helps them solve their problem, it is sometimes all that I have to offer. An added benefit is that it helps me be stronger and keeps me from being overwhelmed.

Perhaps this is my particular kind of courage. To get up and struggle on against the odds, to persist in seeing light even in the darkest hours of my life (there have been a few), to speak up for what I believe even if it makes me an annoying firebrand. And to love beyond reason.

Thank you, Oscar.

I am leo, hear me roar

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I bet you are thinking that this is going to be one of those blog posts in which I lament my neglect of A Gilded Yarn and my lack of time. Consider it done.

That is indeed where my thoughts started out but then I realised we are all busy (well, most of us anyway). Most of us have too many things they need and want to do and too many things they do not want but feel they have to do. Let’s face it, most of us have a lot of Duty and a lot less ‘Do as thou wilt’ time than they would like.

In this I am blessed. I do not have to work two or three jobs to survive. I do not have to watch my children starve or waste away of an illness that would be easy to cure if only they had been born in the Western world. I do not have to spend my days sewing and growing old in a dark and dank workshop, locked away from light and the world, fearing every day that I will burn to death only because that same Western world wants to wear a different T shirt every day.

I am blessed. I have three beautiful, healthy children and a spacious, warm roof over my head. I have a job that brings in money and is fairly intellectually challenging yet allows me to be a stay-at-home mother at the same time. While I do complain sometimes (too often!), I love being able to take my children to school and pick them up for lunch. I love when their school day ends and I get to take them home, or to the park for a picnic or the museum. I love being able to visit events and farmer’s markets and watch my children explore new things or play in the sun. Truly, I am blessed.

My house isn’t as clean or well organised as I would like it to be (I admit, it is far from that). While there is a lot I would like to improve, I now also accept that in the choice between a spic and span house and an actual LIFE, the latter easily wins out. My children don’t (usually) eat from the floor so why should they be able to? I’d rather take them to discover what life is really about and learn to live it to the fullest.

When they grow up, I don’t want them to say that they could eat from the floor, that their ears were washed every day and they learned about being dutiful and following the rules.

No – when my children grow up, I want them to say that they were encouraged to explore the world and their interests. That they were allowed to try new things and play and enjoy life. That they were taught that doing your duty is important but they should also think about how much sense that duty actually makes. That their freedom ends where the freedom of others starts and this means respecting other cultures, beliefs and ideas, however foreign they might seem. I want them to know that following the rules is right, but only if those rules are fair. And to have the courage to stand up and rebel against the rules if they are not.

Above all, I hope that they will know that they are beautiful, good people who are allowed to make mistakes. I hope I will have helped them develop the resilience to get up and try again or move on when they fall. And know that they don’t have to live their lives the way others expect them to live. They decide what is important to them and no one else.

And yes, I have to ‘lead by example’. I believe this is one of the main lessons I have learned in the past years. If I want my children to be free, I must be free myself. And if I want them to be the beautiful people they are, to the fullest, then they must see me be as I am. Not as others want me to be. Not as duty tells me I should be. Not even as I think I should be.

Just simply, purely me.

It may seem the simplest thing in the world. To me it proved one of the hardest. I hope I can make it easier for my children.

Out of the mouth of babes…

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My eldest daughter Isabeau and I have frequent conversations about the concept of God these days. While I believe, it is an entirely personal faith and I would like my children to make up their own minds as to what they believe – or not. At the same time, I want to offer them guidance, teach them to be open to, respectful of, and curious about what others believe, and help them explore what the world has to offer in this respect.

My five-year-old attends an ecumenical school, which in the Western part of the world tends to mean that religious teaching (if any) is restricted to the Christian churches. I think this is a pity because there is much beauty and goodness to be found in most of the world’s faiths and particularly in a mixed culture like ours, children should learn about as many of them as possible. What matters is the quest for truth, beauty and goodness – the light within – and not what form it has been moulded into by mankind.

Be that as it may, I am grateful that she is taught the story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus in a playful and (hopefully) loving manner. As long as there is freedom and no force in the learning, any teaching about faith is welcome.

What that teaching, and my own little talks about God (by any of His or Her names), lead to however, is a lot of difficult questions! Any parent who has discussed abstract concepts with their children will know how children infallibly zoom in on the most unanswerable questions – and expect us to answer them, as well!

It is very important to me that I do not obscure their own easy, bright light and understanding with ‘difficult stuff’ so it is a fine line I am treading. I think I will have done one vital part of my job as a parent if I help keep that bright light shining in in my children.

Last week my daughter and I talked (among other things) about how God is both Father and Mother. So I said that God is in everything. God created everything and is in everything, including your heart. Whenever you feel lonely or have a difficult decision to make, you can just be still in your head and listen, and God will help you feel better and know what is right. (‘Still, like this, mommy?’ ‘Exactly so, darling’)

Today while playing a game, Isabeau offhandedly continued our discussion (as if it had never been concluded, as our discussions tend to be) and said that God and Jesus are in everything. So are they also in toys?

– Well, yes of course, darling.

– Because God and Jesus created everything, didn’t they?

– Well… actually God created everything. He imagined everything and created the little pieces that are in everything, like molecules and atoms (oh God, there I went with the difficult stuff)…

– Okay… So God created everything, and Jesus painted it all!

– Right… That’s exactly right, my darling.

Phew… she got me out of a difficult situation there and solved it all neatly and perfectly. Out of the mouth of babes…

Oppositions merging

Ram Dass we are moving toward a light that embraces the darkness

Today I just wanted to share this image and thought with you. I feel it is particularly appropriate at this stage in my life, where I am learning to accept me the way I am.

I am finding that my strengths are also my weaknesses and my weaknesses are also my strengths.  It is equilibrium that counts.

And so embracing my darkness is the only way for me to move into the light.

Ssquisshy ssilk under glass

Some yarn is just so pretty, you want to look at it all day. I could not resist…

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This extraordinarily beautiful yarn is Diva Sock Silk in colourway Early Rise from Dutch Wool Diva, an online shop selling yarn dyed by the Diva herself, among other things. She also offers dyed felting and spinning wool and a range of other knitting, crocheting and spinning necessities.

Agnès runs a monthly prize drawing in her Ravelry group, where group members can submit a picture relating to a specified theme. Agnès selects her favourite picture and dyes one of her yarns to match. Isn’t it gorgeous? I just want to look at it all the time.

Today I remembered the glass cake stand I inherited from my oma. Like some others in our family (I’m not naming names but yours truly is included), my maternal grandmother was a bit of a… well… a pack rat. Having lived through WWII in what was then the Dutch East Indies and the subsequent period leading up to Indonesian independence from the Netherlands, she knew what it was to have nothing. Pretty much all they had left after the war and nationalist camps was a box of photos that had survived in an uncle’s garden shed and some jewellery she had managed to hide in an empty powder box. There are many more tales to tell about my grandmother because she was an extraordinary woman. Today, however, I wanted to tell you about the cake stand she gave me. It is mismatched and has no real value, I suppose, except for the emotional value it has to me.

So I love the cake stand but never really knew what to do with it. Looking at that lovely sun-and-sky-coloured skein with its pretty glaze, I just could not bear the thought of it sitting on my desk gathering dust. Enter the cake stand! With the wool inside, it creates a pretty picture on my desk. Just perfect! Now all I have to do is think of something I really, really want to knit with this. I am thinking a lovely lace wrap or scarf that shows off the vivid orange splashes. Suggestions, anyone?

In conclusion, I hope Agnès and Abessijn at the Dutch Wool Diva’s Ravelry Group won’t mind if I share the beautiful photograph that inspired the Early Rise colourway with you.

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Early Rise colourway inspiration © Dutch Wool Diva and Abessijn, who submitted the beautiful photograph for the November competition.

Einstein knew…

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Is it the human condition or is it the society we have built for ourselves, that so many forces around us try to mould us into being something we were never meant to be?

Oh, I know I am guilty of it all too often, when I want this or that or the other for my children. Particularly my eldest son, who is developing so quickly right now. It is hard to find that fine line between helping (and sometimes pushing) a child to develop as he should and trying to force him into a straitjacket – and it seems even harder to stay on the right side of that line. As a parent I am supposed to intervene from time to time, but I am not supposed to run interference.

Obviously schools and well-meaning ‘others’ can make any parent (especially first-timers) lose their way. I know I lost mine. Everyone else seemed to know better and so I, conditioned to fit in as much as anyone else, tried to keep everybody else happy and still find a way to ensure the happiness of my son. And myself, too, if at all possible. And I stopped listening to myself. In fact, I think I had stopped listening to myself a long, long time ago. Perhaps even when I was still a child.

That turned out just fine and dandy, of course. Not.

So I finally figured out that trying to fit into that straitjacket is part of what always made me feel like an outsider. And what made me increasingly miserable through the past years, as I desperately tried to make what people consider to be a ‘normal’ life for myself.

Because I just happen to not fit into a straitjacket, thank you very much. Nor does my son. If that means I am not normal, then so be it.

So these days I am trying on this jacket and that. I expect that I will end up sewing one by hand, piece by piece and stitch by stitch, and adjusting it until it fits me perfectly. It will probably be a very curvy (not straight) jacket made from different fabrics, with a lot of different buttons, tough leather and studs down one side and perhaps some embroidered silk down the other. It will have many colours and be versatile to fit with any hat I might choose to wear. It will be both extravagant and restrained, smart and silly, and very stylish, of course. And it will not look one bit like that straitjacket I finally managed to escape.

And in the process, I hope I will teach my children how to sew their own.

Thanks for clarifying that one for me, Albert.

Turning towards the light

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Like me, my son and my eldest daughter have a character of distinctive emotional ups and downs. We can be ecstatically happy or miserably unhappy. There is an in between, of course, but we do have a tendency to experience emotions that feel like they are too big for who we are.

On top of that we are very sensitive to moods and atmospheres. My five-year-old daughter sometimes feels uncomfortable with people ‘because of their voices’. In her perception, people have beautiful or not-so-beautiful voices. In the past few months, for instance, she has been reluctant to go to school because her teachers this year ‘do not have beautiful voices’. While I did realise it is not so much the voices as what they express, I only recently came to understand that she actually literally means voices. Just not the ‘real’ voices of people, but their inner voices.

My son, in puberty, is feeling terribly lonely at times. I recognise it so well, that searching for meaning and purpose in life. And the fear that perhaps there is none. The knowing that you exist for a reason, that you have a mission, but not where you have to look for it and fearing that perhaps you are wrong, it is all useless.

Today I am still not sure of my meaning, my purpose, but I am slowly starting to explore the possibilities. I have realised that, in point of fact, it does not really matter if my existence has a true meaning or purpose. What does matter is that I make sure it has significance to me. It does not matter what others think of me – all that really matters is what I think of me. Because I have found that no one can judge me more harshly than I do myself. And if I have no love and compassion for myself, then who will?

Hoping that I can help him avoid years (or decades, in my case) of internal struggle, I am now trying to find a way to explain this to my son. And in a more simple way, to my daughter. How can they shield themselves from what others think and feel? How can I help them understand that they are not their emotions, they have emotions and as such they have a certain extent of control with regard to how they feel? And how can I reassure them that their lives always have meaning even if just because they matter as uniquely individual beings that can never be replaced or recreated?

The world, and the people in it, will never be as beautiful or kind as they would like it to be. We can try to make it a better place but what really matters for us as individual beings is the place we make in it for ourselves.

The fact that my children are gifted (there, I said it) makes them wonderful creatures capable of soaring to incredible heights. But like every child, they need proper nurturing so that they learn to spread their wings and turn towards the light. And I can only hope that I am the right person to teach them how to fly.