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

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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/

Thoughtful

DSC09450Fall leaves used to dye an old silk top that I never liked. The silk looks more beautiful now, cut into pieces soaked up colour from nature. I stitched a piece into my personal journal. The paper holds, a small surprise. Aren’t these leaves the most beautiful thing on earth right now?

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.

Love as a medicine

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Early this year, when we found out my father’s prostate cancer had metastised to his bones, we were shocked. Just three months before he had seen a neurologist for his back pain and been sent home with pain killers for a hernia. He suffered enormously through Christmas and the first months of the year, only to be told his cancer had metastised and, well, sorry for the mistake. Fortunately his oncologist was truly shocked at the neurologist’s negligence but that did not really help to soften the blow, of course.

A series of chemotherapy treatments was prescribed. Palliative, as my father was beyond the stage of healing at that point, but it was hoped the cancer would go into remission.

My fourteen year old son lost his father when he was six and his grandfather became the man he talked to, so he was devastated at the news. I wanted to do something with him that would help him feel a little more in control of the situation. So we decided to make my father a medicine bag filled with the love and encouragement we wanted to send him.

My son took an old leather bag we had bought on a wonderful family vacation with my parents and siblings and all our children. He set to work with scissors, a needle and thread and painstakingly and lovingly made a small leather bag. We picked a mother of pearl button from my collection, which I inherited from my favourite grandmother, and I braided some of my favourite wool into a necklace from which to hang it.

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He also carefully filled a little glass bottle with gold flakes and mountain crystal. I sewed a little pillow from fabric cut from a nightgown worn by both my daughters and filled it with lavender flowers and attar of rose.  A little string of seed beads from my grandmother was remade with a silver bead my daughters used to play with. We each picked a stone at a mineral shop and wrapped it in a pretty scrap of golden fabric. And finally, each of us wrote or drew something on a colourful heart symbolising our love for (grand)father.

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I am not sure what my father felt when he received the bag through my mother because he never told us. He is not very good at expressing his emotions. But the bag went with him to every chemo session Obviously he was not healed but several months onward he is doing well and his doctor is happy with the results.

Now the cynics among you may ask: Did you really think he would be healed? And I can honestly answer: No, I didn’t. My intention was not to heal him, but to make the whole ordeal of going through chemo and illness more bearable for both him and my children. It was to sustain my father and give him hope, to offer him something to hold on to while he was allowing the hospital to poison his body so that he might live longer. And to help him accept that he is not going to be healed, but that he will be loved and cherished throughout the time that remains.

My intention was also to allow my son to put his love and immense pain into something beautiful and constructive. While he may be helpless in the face of disease and death, he has all his love and his wonderful creativity that can help him express, and work though, these feelings. I hoped to help him understand that he is, therefore, not helpless in the face of his emotions.

I believe in the healing power of love. I also believe in accepting what comes with as much dignity and love as we can muster. This is what I learned when I became a widow at 34: Sometimes we must fight with all the force we have in us, and sometimes we must bow to the inevitable. The only thing we can really control is the way we ourselves deal with our experiences, and we must do so with all the kindness, love and gratitude we can muster.

Owl wisdom

Owl wisdom

It took me a remarkably long time to understand the truth of this statement. The owl does look extremely indignant, poor creature. I would be, too, were I in his place. (Oh wait, I have been, in my own way. My reaction was not nearly as dignified.)

This jewel came off Freethinkers Club’s page on Facebook, so I’m afraid I cannot ascribe the image to its rightful owner.

Disaster strikes

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I have been knitting and knitting and knitting this really big linen shawl. A design of my own in wonderful earthy tones, which I can’t wait to wash and wear. With my beautiful Knitpro needles, which make such a lovely sound when I knit, are perfectly smooth and yet have ideal grip on the yarn. I love these needles with all my heart.

Until today, when disaster struck. My knitting bag was on the backrest of the couch. My daughters and ten year old stepson had a couch battle. And jumped on my knitting bag.

You can imagine my fury when I discovered the damage. I am pretty sure I had steam coming from my ears. Now I have to pick up all these stitches, which is not my favourite occupation. Darn.

Has something like this ever happened to you?

For such clever critters, we can be remarkably dumb

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Photograph by Johan J. Ingles-Le Nobel

Yesterday, Treehugger reported on a scientific study on bee deaths. Bee populations have been declining alarmingly all over the world in recent years. Find the original research article here (the abstract is not complicated) and Threehugger’s article here.

Basically, the study reports that a mix of pesticides and fungicides found in pollen collected by honey bees increases their susceptibility to nosema ceranae, a parasite that is believed to cause Colony Collapse Disorder, one of the major causes of hive destruction.

Although I am pleased that there is now  hard scientific evidence to support this little piece of common sense, I am wondering how it can apparently come as such a surprise. Were we not once just about the cleverest things on earth?

Even the simplest household chemical comes with a warning: DON’T MIX WITH OTHER CHEMICALS!

It stands to reason that any living creature exposed to a mix of chemicals (which are known to be toxic individually) would die eventually. I think our bees have done a pretty good job staying alive to date.

So when are we going to wake up? If pesticides, fungicides and intensive modern farming methods are collectively killing our bees, what do you think they are doing to our children?

What can you do?

Start in your own homes and gardens. Seek out natural, environmentally safe alternatives to any household chemical you are using. There are plenty of ecologically sound options to replace pesticides and fungicides in your gardens, as well.

Visit your local farmer’s market or buy organically grown produce at your supermarket. Yes, your apples and bread may cost a bit more but that will only encourage you to stop wasting food – definitely not a bad thing if you know that fully one third of the world’s entire food production goes to waste every year!

To help bees (and butterflies) survive, plant shrubs and sow flowers (preferably from organically reproduced seed!) that provide pollen for bees. Most garden centres can tell you which varieties are best and many even sell bee mixtures suitable for your climate and region.

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I live in Holland and use Tübingermengsel from De Bolster, a biodynamic seed production company.

It is time for us to accept that we cannot have it all. The modern economic system has tried to convince us that we can, but there is always a price to pay.

I, for one, am thoroughly ashamed I lived for so long without thinking about who and what was paying the price for my convenience.

What are you going to do to save our bees?