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.

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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?

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…

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.

Leaves and earth

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I don’t have many words today but still wanted to share a moment with you. So I spent some time enjoying myself with my Koigu lace scarf-to-be and a lovely earthenware pot my son made in school.

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about my children is how creative they are. They keep coming up with things I did not know they could do. We are a very visually oriented lot. Even when he was very young, my son was always creating little panoramas with objects he liked, just for the sheer joy of ‘creating a pretty picture’. We are all very much about beautiful things, cloud shapes, a tiny flower in a field of grass and a lovely ladybug on a leaf. And we are very touchy-feely.

I sometimes pity the guy in the house, who was not raised with a lot of hugging and touching and is very much of the quintessentially Dutch (or rather quintessentially Friesian, my mistake)  ‘just act normal, that’s weird enough for us’ persuasion. He keeps getting bombarded with (in his eyes) weird thoughts and ideas, particularly by my son and myself (our daughters being a bit young for the weird and off-beat as yet, although the guy must be fearing for our youngest). He will probably go to his grave with an eyebrow glued to his hairline.

On the other hand I sometimes pity myself. It can be very annoying to be hugely enthusiastic about something and receive a tepid and usually somewhat bored ‘Oh yes that’s nice’  response delivered without any inflection. Which is usually what happens. I used to let it dampen my own enthusiasm, which led to a fair amount of conflict between us. These days I just let it be and go about my own way.

It is more difficult to shrug off when I am sad or hurting, however. While these days I do understand that it is not so much not caring as not knowing how to express emotions, and I also know that it is as difficult for him to deal with all my big and intensely felt emotions, it can make me feel very lonely and unsupported to not receive an appropriate response. It is something we are both working hard to improve.

So in the end, there were more words than I thought. I hope you enjoy the photos.

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.