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?

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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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.

Longing for spring

It is nearly February. Outside it is raining, the snow is melting and a few rays of sunlight pierce the clouds. Suddenly I realise I am longing for spring. I want the first snowdrops to push through the moist black earth and herald the coming of better weather and life outside.

When the guy caught me by surprise a couple of days ago and said ‘I’d like a hat something like that’ after trying on my Tuke hat (which really didn’t look as silly as you might think), I immediately stash-dived before he changed his mind and came up with this Manos del Uruguay silk blend in Orion, a lovely mossy blend ranging from olive to a pale yellow white.

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The intricacies of hat knitting no longer holding any mysteries for me (just kidding), I happily cast on Brenna England’s Classy Slouchy Tuque just three days ago and set to work. I am amazed at how quickly it came together because I finished up yesterday night and he is wearing it today.

I know we women are supposed to be difficult to please but men are just as bad. He had approved the pattern and yarn in advance but the moment he put it on his head, what did he say? Not ‘Thank you darling, I love it and I really appreciate the effort you put into it’. No, he actually said: ‘I’d prefer a solid hue next time.’ Of course darling, your ears can freeze off your head next year for all I care, see if I ever make something for you again! Grrrr.

ImageStill, it was nice practice and I made sure to pick a pattern and yarn I really liked so I could wear it myself if His Lordship wasn’t adequately grateful for my hard, loving labour. I really like the star pattern on the crown, which makes it special. And thanks to the little bit of slouch, it keeps one’s head from looking like an egg. Prettily decorated perhaps, but still an egg. Next time I might use a smaller needle size for the border because it turned out a bit loose but this is probably one of those quick and easy patterns that I will use again and again. It is great for last-minute gifts, too, and you can pick the yarn and needle size to suit the intended wearer.

At the yarn shop the other day I saw a lovely scarf called Unique Melody. Malia knit it in a Cascade lace yarn that made for a really pretty, cosy little scarf. I cast on today but the lace yarn is so fiddly I was afraid to keep dropping stitches. Since I also had not realised the pattern is available in chart only, which I have never done before, I started with some trepidation. And indeed, the fiddly/chart combination (plus some new stitches, once again) just overwhelmed me so I went on another stash-diving expedition and came up with this lovely Koigu Painter’s Palette Premium Merino in pretty spring colours – it’s perfect! Just looking at it makes me happy and knitting up the leaf-like pattern of Unique Melody will feel just like spring. What projects, yarns and colours do you turn to when you need a little happiness in your life?

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The hat has me worried

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Its maw is threatening to swallow my peace of mind. Even though it is actually getting along just fine, since I have reached the decrease section without further mishaps. To date, that is. I sought out some expert online advice on the knit4togethers and althought I would like them a bit tighter, they actually look fine and very… controlled. A miracle in itself, considering the intricate fiddling and fuzzling that is involved in knitting four stitches together (the online expert handed me a cheat: knit one, slip back onto the left needle, pass three stitches over, slip back onto the right needle. Still lots of fiddling but it beats the alternative: actually knitting four stitches at the same time!).

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As you can see, I have come a long way already. What has me worried, though, is that I am supposed to continue decreasing according to the pattern until I have 16 stitches left. Now how on earth am I going to knit in the round with just 16 stitches? It is getting pretty tight already and I’m shifting the stitches around all the time. Does anyone have any suggestions?

On a positive note, it’s much better worrying about my knitting than all the other things in my life that are clamouring for constant attention in the background of my mind. It seems that problems can never await their turn like good little soldiers; they always have to come knocking all at the same time.

There have been times where I got totally overwhelmed and felt like I had no control whatsoever. That made me passive, angry, and totally frustrated with myself for being such a wimp that I was unable to make a better life for myself. Sound familiar?

These days, I am slowly learning to let things come as they may. I am being forced to learn, the alternative being drowning.

And it appears that my unhappiness in past times was as much of my own making as it was caused by the actions or inactions of others. I have found that the way I responded to events was at the heart of much of my sadness, fears and unhappiness, as well as the numbness, the sense of detachment and ‘deadness’, that these emotions caused. My way of dealing with external events and internal emotions also had a huge impact on how long such periods would last. Never having learned to deal with my emotions in childhood and then going through a long period of traumatic experiences often left me feeling like a ship set adrift by the storms of fate. I was also much too dependent on the emotions and opinions of others, letting their ideas of who I was determine how I saw myself.

Perhaps you are aware that depression (and I suspect any kind of psychological upheaval) causes changes in the brain. I won’t go into the particulars but what it boils down to is that if you have ever had a depression, you are more likely to experience further periods of depression in your life. It is as if the tracks associated with depression in your brain are carved more deeply and therefore more likely to be used. This is just like what happens to forest paths more frequently travelled; they are worn more deeply into the soil.

On the other hand, it seems that you can learn how to be a happier person, as well. And this is the path I started following some time ago. It is darned hard work, I can tell you. Similar to digging the Panama canal perhaps. It is not so much physical as psychological and emotional hard labour. I am slowly figuring out how to deal with negative emotions like fear, sadness, anger, anxiety and the resulting depression in such a way that they do not result in total paralysis.

I suspect that what works is different for each individual person. For me, part of it is seeking out the company of people I like instead of hiding in a corner. My mother once said to me: ‘When you stop calling, I know you are not doing well’. This was some time after my first life partner died. I still need solitude from time to time, to recharge, to reflect, to regain my balance. But I also know that isolation is one of the worst things I can do to myself when I am feeling down. The hard work is in seeking out company and being ‘sociable’ when it is, in fact, the last thing I may want.

I also rediscovered what is now fashionably called ‘mindfulness’ – simply being, instead of always thinking. I have always had this ability to see the beauty in the smallest, simplest things but in the past years – and indeed in periods throughout the past 20 years – I forgot how much love and balance can be found in the enjoyment of simple beauty. For instance when I am outside riding my bicycle, I try to stay out of my head (thinking about work, the children, all the stuff that needs to be done and worried about in general or particular) and simply see, smell, hear, experience what is around me. I enjoy the time I spend with my children, pay attention to nature, read good books. When I spend time surfing the net, I seek out blogs with beautiful pictures and lovely words, the stuff of life written by people who struggle, who fall and get up and seek moments of happiness, just like me. And I try to laugh as much as I can. It is an absolute truth that love, hope, and beauty heal. And so does laughter. The hard work here is in not falling back inside your head but staying outside, in your senses as it were.

The hardest work, however, has been in how I perceive things. In how and how long I let outside events affect me. Personally, I think it is impossible not to be affected on an emotional level and this is what I always found difficult about Buddhist detachment as I understood it. How can you not let things touch you? I am finding, however, that it is not so much about not letting things affect you but about how you deal with the resulting emotions.

I had two methods to deal with my emotions, both miserable failures. Either I would dive into them totally, immerse myself until I suffocated in my misery and found it nearly impossible to return to normal. I always did, eventually, but this generally took me a lot of time and a nearly inhuman effort. My other method was to drown my emotions out, to repress, ignore and neglect them. After all, what you can’t see (or feel, in this context), doesn’t really exist, right?

Wrong, of course. I think many of you who read this may know from harsh experience that it doesn’t work. It usually makes things worse and above all, it makes you do a whole lot of other stuff that you will come to regret. And regret, I’m sorry to say, is definitely an emotion that we need to avoid like the plague. Because while useful to make you see the error of your ways, regret keeps you from moving on and seeing all the things that are worthwhile in your life.

All this has given me a new understanding of the lessons many religions try to teach us. Now I must first acknowledge that I do not belong to any faith in particular. I take what feels right from each and so cobble together, pebble by pebble, my own private faith. I respect those who need a more structured, dogmatic approach but that has never worked for me. I ask too many questions that usually cannot be answered and I simply cannot accept that I will suffer torments eternal just for using the brain that the Almighty (by whatever name he or she may go) has given me.

But I digress. I am learning that it is alright to feel anger and fear and sadness. In other words, it is right and even needful to experience your emotions in full. But you must also learn to take some distance from them, to realise that your entire being is not wrapped up in them for all eternity. When you are angry, even in that moment you can remember that you will not stay angry forever (or at least you shouldn’t since that would be very unhealthy). When you are sad or depressed, even in the depths of your misery, you can recognise that you will not be sad or depressed forever. And when you hate or dislike yourself or think you are a loser, you can remember that this will not be so forever. There will always be good things to experience again, like love, laughter, beauty, your own accomplishments and those of the people you love. Or in layman’s terms and however dumb it may sound: there will always be sunshine after the rain, even if it is just the smallest ray or the tiniest spot of light.

Like life itself, emotions are temporary. They do not encompass the entirety of who you are.

And while you should not repress or ignore them, it is in fact possible to distance yourself from them and say: Yes, I am angry (or sad or depressed or lonely) and I acknowledge that emotion, but I am going to let it go for now. If I need to, I will come back to it later but at this point it is an obstacle in my life that I need to remove before I can move on.

And this, my dear readers (however many or few you may be), is the hardest work of all. Because emotions (and the memories associated with them) are pesky things that crop up at the most inconvenient times. I tend to get caught up in them before I even realise it. I fail miserably all the time. But I refuse to give up. I will keep rolling that bloody huge rock up the mountain no matter how many times it squashes me like a bug.

So what do I do, exactly, at moments like this, you may ask? I think this will be different for everybody so it may take some experimenting (and failure, obviously) before you find what works for you.

What I do is to tell myself firmly: ‘You are now letting this go. It is not useful, it is wasting your time, and it is unproductive. So you are letting go of your [insert whatever particular emotion or combination thereof I am feeling] right now’. Then I take a couple of really deep breaths, exhaling forcefully so as to really, physically, expel the emotions. And I move on.

Or rather, most often I try to move on. Because as I am still learning, it does not always work immediately. And when the emotions are really intense, my body also needs time to get rid of the adrenalin and other stuff it released in response to the intense negative emotions.

The key here, again, is time. When I am really really angry, upset, nervous or afraid, my entire body shakes and trembles. It is in full fight-or-flight response. This strong physical response is partly due to violent events in my past, I suppose, which may make my physiology respond more quickly and more intensely than it would otherwise have. But everyone’s body responds to emotions in some way or another. And it needs time to get back to normal.

So while I mentally may have made the decision to let go of the emotions, my body has not, in fact, let go of them yet. And I think this is where Buddhism’s detachment comes in handy – you can be aware of the fact that your body is still in condition red while the rest of you has already made the decision to let go. There are all kinds of ways to get through that time: going for a quick run, jumping up and down, listening to a favourite (preferably upbeat) song, getting involved with something you love to do. Pretty soon you will find your body is back to normal, as well.

There is one other method that works for me here. Crazy as it may sound, I sometimes choose to just ‘wait it out’. Some of you may recognise this from addiction therapy as one of the things you can do when you experience a trigger that would normally have made you use (or engage in whatever addiction you had to deal with). Once you know your body’s response and you also know that it will go away in a little while, you can just wait for it to actually go away. And then get on with your life.

I think this is an extremely enlightened response, in fact, in that you really learn to separate your being from your mind and body. Theoretically, anyway. Because I’m still learning.

So there you have it. A glimpse into the life of Iris. I hope that those of you who know me will deal gently with what I reveal. And that those of you who don’t, recognise me as a fellow human being seeking her way through a complex world. There is one thing that Jesus said that has always struck me as the essence of compassion: ‘Let those of you who are without sin, cast the first stone.’ I have learned the hard way that none of us are without sin. Compassion and true forgiveness are among the most godly gifts you can give another. The greatest lesson I have learned in the past year is that you must also learn to give compassion and true forgiveness to yourself.