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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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/

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.

Yellow is a rose…

Yellow is a rose...

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose
Loveliness extreme.
Extra gaiters,
Loveliness extreme.
Sweetest ice-cream.
Pages ages page ages page ages.

(Gertrude Stein, 1913)

My lovely heirloom tea rose is blooming. Every year I am reminded what roses are supposed to smell like – nothing like the vapid non-scent produced by most greenhouse-grown modern varieties.

The complete poem, by the way, is totally weird. Just so you know 😉

Orange and Lilac

ImageWith three children (who have been sick on and off in the past few weeks – what am I saying? months!), housekeeping, loads of home repairs in arrears and work, I haven’t had much time or energy to work on my garden. I still have loads of plants to pot (from the garden centre) and a variety of seeds to plant if I want to be able to eat from the garden at all this year.

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Last year the snails got my fledgling beans, the mini maize never materialised and the edamame soy made a valiant effort and produced exactly 2 beans. Making for a meager meal. Ah well, we have a saying in Holland, ‘Alle begin is moeilijk’ or beginnings are always hard and I am sure I will get the hang of it.

In the mean time, I just wanted to share these images from the few flowers that did appear without any help, If you know what the orange beauties are, let me know because I lost the name tag a long time ago. The pink/purple ones are lilacs, of course. If I pick some tomorrow I’ll be able to make lilac sugar…

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Beppe’s leafy neck warmer

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A couple of weeks ago I mentioned working on a little project for my grandmother-in-law (is that even a word?), D’s beloved grandmother. Or properly speaking in Friesian, his Beppe. She is ill and recently celebrated what may be her last birthday, so I wanted it to be a special birthday gift. And of course in many cases making a gift with your own hands is probably much nicer than something store-bought, especially if you want to express your love for and appreciation of the recipient.

I wanted this one to be a little frivolous (because life is serious enough as it is), something sweet and lovely to look at.

My daughters picked a skein of Malabrigo silky merino from my stash. I have no idea what colourway – could it be Arco Iris? I spent an enjoyable hour trolling Ravelry for a suitable pattern and finally picked Grace Mcewen’s Leafy Cabled Neck Warmer as suitably frivolous. It is one pattern from the Tangled Leaves e-book, which contains 10 patterns inspired by nature. You can also find Grace’s patterns in her KnitChicGrace shop Etsy here.

The leafy neck warmer is a quick yet challenging knit (the leaves in particular require a bit of undistracted attention), especially for a beginner like me. It is knit in two halves, which are then grafted together.

Since I blocked the first half I had to do the other one as well, but I think I preferred the unblocked version. It had more body and the leaves really stood out in relief. Unfortunately I cannot show you any pictures of my own (because I forgot to make some) but I think Grace’s pattern on Ravelry shows an unblocked version.

Also I could not figure out how it was supposed to be worn. None of the yarnovers created holes big enough to pass the other end through, so in the end I crocheted a little loop that does the job perfectly. To be honest I’m not sure how wearable it really is as a scarf or how warm it is as a neck warmer but it certainly looks pretty. Especially in this beautiful yarn.

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All in all I was pretty happy with the result. I would knit this pattern again and experiment with yarns and gauges, as well as blocking intensity (the Malabrigo silky merino did a ‘whoosh’ relaxation act when blocked, it flattened out rather a lot).

The girls decorated a bag and were very excited to present our gift to Beppe, who is their great-grandmother of course. It must be such a privilege to live long enough to see your children’s children’s children…

FO: Saroyan shawl

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Just a quick note to show you my Saroyan shawl, which I cast off last week. Although I do know that wool garments need to be dried flat, I never really thought about it until I learned about blocking. Saroyan was my first official ‘finished object blocked’ (FOB, not a bad acronym actually) and I am utterly pleased at how the blocked shape remains… well… in shape as I wear it. Wool is truly the most amazing thing.

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I did not block aggressively (partly because I only had a small box of needles inherited from my grandmother) so I concentrated on the leaf pattern. That turned out really nicely although I wish Saroyan had been a bit wider. I loved knitting this pattern and I might cast on again, but I would increase more intensively and use more repeats to create a wider shawl.

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I am very pleased with how it turned out nevertheless and in love with the Madeline Tosh… um… I’m afraid I have to admit I do not remember which MadTosh yarn and colourway I used. The photos are fairly true to colour and there is a lovely glaze to the yarn that makes it look truly luxurious. Definitely a yarn I will use again!

I find that I am drawn to patterns that reflect the natural world. You are doing a beautiful thing when you create such luscious, useful, intricately worked objects with yarn from nature, inspired by nature.