Struggles and Decisions

The most important decision you will ever make is to be in a good mood.

Voltaire

This morning my neighbour and I waved and smiled at each other from across the road. He was shutting his gate and I was carrying an armful of clean laundry, the towels radiating the warmth from the sunshine that had dried them. The greeting was such a simple gesture but it warmed me up inside.

Sunshine on Barrie Island

The last little while I’ve been struggling with everything that is wrong in the world – there’s a lot to choose from, especially considering recent events from within our disability community in Australia. A part of me feels thankful that I’m aware of these things; we need to know what’s wrong so we can work together to make it right. However, I ponder longer: the systemic failures; the knowledge that people will continue to hurt themselves and others no matter what; knowing that for every person highlighted on the evening news, there are many others suffering in the dark. It all becomes a bit much.

In wrestling with these things, my old friend Guilt comes to visit, giving reminders of times I’ve failed to make things better for others, things undone both recently and in the past. Guilt is usually followed by a feeling of being overwhelmed, bogged down wondering what I could possibly do to make any difference, especially considering my past inadequacies. Superhero me dives in to save the day – I must do some major thing to solve some of these problems, something big and obvious. But what is that thing? How do I get from here to there? Doing some sort of Great Big Thing starts to look overwhelmingly hard and unattainable and I begin to feel small and useless again. It seems that a Great Big Thing will take place somewhere “out there” but I’m not sure where that is exactly. So I direct my gaze closer to home. The daily jobs in front of me can be done with a positive attitude. I can count my blessings. I can imagine and set a Great Big Thing sort of goal but then break it down into small steps that can be taken one at a time. Rather than saving the whole world in one fell swoop, there may be times when a wave and a smile might be enough for one day.

Wildlife Welcome

There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

Albert Einstein

Well hello again after a rather prolonged absence! The last two years have been a bit all over the place for me – both figuratively and literally. The reduced version of our family (down to just 3 now!) has now set up house in South East Queensland. We are becoming reacquainted with life in the sub-tropics and with all our goods that were in storage during the time we were living in Canada last year. It was a delight to open the boxes of familiar things, greeting much loved books and kitchen tools, my sewing machine and overlocker, as well as my crazy jar collection – I know so many were given away but just how many boxes were labelled “jars” was still a bit of a surprise! They are slowly filling the shelves in my new pantry as I gradually re-stock. Before this time of isolation, I was just starting to find my way around our area, discovering hidden pockets with interesting shops to explore. My sense of direction is rather poor and without using a GPS I often find myself taking “the scenic route” which adds a whole other dimension to my travels! I’m looking forward to being able to find my own way to and from places again rather than doing a direct, stressed out dash to get essentials.

Just a portion of my pantry!

Of all of the houses we have called home, this one is in the most rural location, yet it’s only a 5 minute drive to a major freeway. All our water is supplied by a 20 000 litre rainwater tank, our neighbours have chooks, cows and horses and there are fields of sugarcane within walking distance. We are learning to live with snakes, frogs, cane toads and lizards – at times both inside and outside the house! Within the first weeks of being here our little dog, Charlie, disturbed a green tree snake who decided to try to escape up onto the rainwater tank. After bringing Charlie inside and doing some desperate googling, the snake was nowhere to be seen. I think it decided to find a new, less challenging home. I was relieved to learn that these snakes aren’t venomous and don’t even have teeth. This was especially good news after seeing how adept it was at climbing stairs! Another afternoon I was folding some washing in my lounge room that I had forgotten to bring in the previous day and left on the line overnight. What a surprise to have a small but agile green tree frog leap out of a t-shirt! I ran to the kitchen to get a tea towel to capture it in but when I returned to gather it up, it had disappeared. I left the nearby door to the balcony open the rest of the day, hoping it might find it’s own way out. The next morning I went to get a glass of water from the kitchen and there in the sink was my little frog friend waiting for me, ready for freedom. I would have loved to have had an infrared video camera following its movements that night, like in a David Attenborough wildlife documentary. We could have observed its travels through the night to a nearby water source that felt like a safe place in which to rest and gather its thoughts, feeling lost and alone in an alien landscape. What stories it had to share with the other frogs as they hunted wayward moths that next evening!

Charlie on the hunt, the stair descending snake and my water-seeking frog friend.

Most of us have had encounters with wildlife of one sort or another in our homes and yards. I’m reminded of one of my favourite children’s books, “Possum in the House” and the calamity that poor possum caused! In Ontario, Canada, my dad has had to put an electric fence around his beehives to protect them from hungry black bears looking for sweet treats. Who have you been visited by?

Nesting


“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” ― William Morris.

I love the word ‘nesting’ and all the imagery that comes with it. I picture bird’s nests that I’ve seen, how I’ve observed the careful way the materials are woven together to create a home, often lined with feathers to create a cozy spot for nurturing. I remember each of the homes I’ve lived in and the little ways I’ve tried to make the space comfortable and welcoming for family and friends.

An abandoned nest from last season, uncovered when the snow melted in my yard.

The quote from William Morris (above) is one that I’ve been using lately to inform my choices when it comes to what objects to add to my home. One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about moving to a home that is a bit of a clean slate has been creating useful things. I promised myself that I would do my best this year to not buy anything that I could make myself of find second-hand. I was loaned a sewing machine and gifted a couple bags of scrap materials to get me started. Other bits I’ve found on my visits to the op-shop / thrift store, like a lovely floral sheet, thick towels and wool blanket. I’ve been happily creating, delving into the depths of my Pinterest boards for the all inspiration I had saved for just a time as this.

First off the mark was a set of coasters. I think I’ll eventually fancy them up with a bit of embroidery but for now they are doing their job in a serviceable way.

Denim coasters, lined with an old towel.

I stitched strips of this cute bunny material together to make two larger pieces, in order to make this bowl cozy.

My scrappy bunny bowl cozy.

I’m also trying to make things that can be re-used, replacing as many disposables as possible, so these “un-paper towels” have found a home in one of my kitchen drawers. They are towelling on one side and plain cotton on the other and they’ve already proved their use in cleaning up spills! In reality they are just fancy cleaning rags but sometimes I think we’re more likely to use things that we look at, feel good about and give a clever name.

Unpaper towels, made from an old towel and scraps of cotton material.

Cocktail sized serviettes were next, they are great for popping into a handbag or lunch bag for when we’re on the go.

Cocktail sized cloth serviettes.

Finally, with all this stitching happening, I realized I needed a pincushion. I was inspired by this particular fabric scrap, it reminded of some funky succulent pincushion tutorials I had tucked away. I stuffed it with tiny scraps of fabric and glued it straight to the top of the little pot. The pot is filled with pebbles for extra stability. I don’t have my embroidery cottons with me, so I sewed the little white spikes out of dental floss. The flowers on top were from another scrap and are the perfect accent for the top of my cactus!

Succulent pin cushion.

I find great satisfaction in collecting ideas and then using what I have to make something of my own. Are you a maker? What have you created lately? If you’d like to make any of the things I’ve shown above, here are some links to get you started:

http://angiesartstudio.com/2010/12/08/fabric-coasters-a-quick-and-easy-sewing-project/#.XKY3ZJhKjIU

https://joybileefarm.com/paper-towels/

https://abeautifulmess.com/2015/07/cactus-pincushion-diy.html

Toward a Simpler Life

The quest for a simple life has never been so popular, with the Komari method espoused so eloquently by Marie Kondo, Swedish Death Cleaning, the tiny house movement and the emphasis on living with less (and hopefully more sustainably) by ABC Australia’s ‘War on Waste.’ They all encourage us to clear out our homes, to redefine “need” when it comes to our possessions, to imagine a world where less is truly more.

I recently had my own encounter with enforced decluttering courtesy of an overseas move and the necessity of putting our family’s belongings into storage for at least the better part of a year. Sadly for me, I have a combination of personality traits that include frugality (I might need this someday), creativity (I will definitely use this in a future project) and procrastination (I’ll use this once I’ve explored all these other ideas). This meant that I had many objects to sort and classify according to whether or not I was willing to actually pay for them to be stored for that elusive date that I might actually use them.

Early on in the exercise, when the move was still far enough away to be not quite real, I had a burst of energy directed at completing as many UFO’s (Unfinished Objects) as possible. This was short lived as the enormity of the number of projects I had planned became evident. I became increasingly despondent as reality crushed the dreams I had clung to. Partly finished projects that had been tucked away over many years were re-discovered: cross stitch; quilt squares; bags of all sorts; wool and cotton for knitting; fabric for sewing; and a myriad number of bits and pieces that I had held dear at some point. My sympathises for people who struggle with hoarding on a grand scale increased. I identified that many of the things I collected were connected intimately with my perception of myself – my identity, the one I projected to others and the many stories I told myself about who I was. So many of those stories were aspirational – they were about who I wanted to be and not necessarily how I truly was. It was an increasingly painful exercise to sort fact from fiction and in the end the deadline I had so resisted, procrastinated about and tried to avoid was upon me. I had desired so greatly to be objective and rational about the whole sorting process. I’d wanted to embrace the freedom of a life not bound by objects and their hold on me, not just my imagination but my physical space. I felt that I’d failed.

In the last days of removalists of both treasures and trash, I declared that I was letting go of anything undecided about. I was overwhelmed by lack of sleep, the steady march of time towards our overseas flights and a complete inability to make any more decisions. I had started out strong, determined to prove that I could live without but ended up finishing a sorry mess, contributing a truckload to landfill like the many consumers I’d tried desperately not to be.

My kind and patient husband regularly reminds me to ‘look for the positives’ and despite the self-pity I felt as we left it all behind and settled into our overseas flights, they are surely there. Many car loads of worthy items shared with local op-shops. Friends and strangers gifted with items from our garden, garage, pantry, freezer, bathroom and laundry. A steady and unflappable son who finished the job after we’d flown away. The knowledge that I had had time to make many good choices to re-home my excess, despite what I felt was undone.

As we look to the future and plan for it by reflecting on the past, we hope to make changes to prevent such a stressful exit in the future. Finally unpacking those boxes now in storage and realizing that we can actually live without a lot of those things will be part of the process. Exploring more deeply the reasons why it was so hard to deal with the things I knew I didn’t want to keep but still felt attached to and struggled to off-load will help as well. We are doing our best to be mindful of our purchases here and what we bring into our new home, trying to live more simply with less. Arriving to a furnished house with just our suitcases packed with clothes and a few personal objects has helped us make a good start. I know that this is unlikely to be a cure-all and that old habits die hard but just as Pandora discovered after decluttering the contents of that precious box, there is always hope.

Neighbours

Do you know your neighbours? This question is regularly asked in the media, often when an isolated person has died alone and not been missed or at times of disaster when people who’ve lived close to each other but perhaps not engaged much have come together in mutual support. ‘Neighbour Day’ is celebrated in Australia on the last Sunday in March and many town councils promote this day as a time to either meet your neighbours or to celebrate the friendships you’ve developed within your neighbourhood.

I got thinking about neighbours I’ve had after someone in a gardening group I belong to recently told the story of how she and her elderly Italian neighbour share produce from their gardens over the back fence on a regular basis. Then one of my neighbours rang the doorbell that very morning with a gift of homemade bread rolls that she’d just baked. We introduced ourselves to each other and I thanked her for the generous (and delicious!) welcome to our new neighbourhood. I was reminded of the neighbours we’d gotten to know in various ways at our last home in Adelaide. We might not have known them all well or become close friends but the contact we had was usually positive and certainly helped us to feel safe and cared for in that community.

Light fluffy rolls from my neighbour – we had some for lunch before I remembered to snap a photo!

One of my favourite neighbours lived across the street from us and I referred to her as “my Chinese grandma.” If I spent any length of time in my front garden, she would come across the road with a tissue containing lollies and often a pair of knitted slippers which I love to wear around the house. On Sunday mornings she would sometimes knock on the door and present me with a bag of tomatoes, excess from her trip to the market. I sometimes gave her preserves I’d made in return. Like most grandmas, she always gave a lot more than she received back from me. Her smile encouraged me to continue with my weeding and planting. I looked forward to seeing her shuffling across with what I’m sure were admonishments to not be out working up a sweat in the heat for too long and sweets to give me a bit more energy. Her husband would also come across and inspect my gardening attempts and we did our best to communicate with each other through gestures and smiles. I have a special memory of seeing him in the city once when I was on an excursion with a crowd of school children, it took us a moment to recognize each other in an unfamiliar location but there were broad smiles and waves when we did. I was pleased to share with the children who asked, “who was that, Kelly?” that he was my neighbour.

The morning after the removalist van loaded up all our worldly possessions, I heard a loud knocking at the front door and then it burst open, my Chinese grandma calling out! She came in and waved her hand around at the big empty space that had been our home, distressed that it was this way. She had a final gift for me, a special box of chocolates. We embraced and had a good cry together. People who know me well know that I’m not much of a crier but I think all the emotions of the previous couple of months caught up with me as I hugged this little old lady and said goodbye not just to her and my neighbourhood but to a chapter of my life. Later that day her daughter met us in the front yard and we explained our move as best we could, she speaks some English but it is pretty limited. I’m thankful that we had that opportunity and I hope that in some way we might continue to stay in touch.

There can seem to be many barriers in getting to know our neighbours these days and to be fair, not all neighbours are smiling gift-givers. Neighbourhood disputes are a familiar story on Australian current affairs TV programs! The automatic garage door opener gets a lot of blame for preventing us from getting to know each other also, it’s so easy to drive in and out of your garage without stepping foot outside the front door. Perhaps fewer people spend time in their front gardens these days as well, advertisements for houses for sale love to let people know that the garden is “low maintenance.” In Australia the summer heat can keep us indoors almost as much as we are in the Canadian winter. The Aussie “Good Neighbour Fence” which is always at least 2 meters high appears to be more about keeping our neighbours in their own space and not invading our privacy than anything else. Sometimes I think having the privacy to do what we like in our own backyards can be overrated, especially when you consider how many people identify as being lonely and isolated in this increasingly digitally connected age. In the northern suburbs of Adelaide there is pro-neighbourhood group called “Joe’s Connected Garden” which aims to be “a new kind of community garden where neighbours have joined together to link their gardens and share the harvests. It is not just about growing food but creating community and fostering respect for the earth and each other.” There are four backyards linked together by a series of gates and the gardens are set up using permaculture and organic gardening techniques. Not all of us are in a position to imitate something like this, but each time we support our neighbours with a friendly greeting, the sharing of baked goods or excess produce we are creating a better community and a kinder world.

Do you know your neighbours? What are your stories of positive connection and community?

Endings and Beginnings

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom – Marcel Proust

 

When I look back on the last phase in my life and forward into the next, I can’t help but feel both thankful and blessed! We left dear friends and family behind in Australia are finding our way now in rural Saskatchewan, welcomed by another group of beautiful people. Our family has moved many times, this is the 9th house that we have lived in over the last 30 years. Each shift has been an opportunity to make assessments: of belongings, of experiences in that place, of the person that I’ve been. I consider what I might like to do differently in the next place, what will  be left behind, what will change and how to adapt to new surroundings. Along the way it has always been the people in our lives who have helped us create a sense of home, of belonging to a community.

One of my mantras over the last few years has been “find your people.” When my children were small it was a simpler process to find people to connect with through their kindy, school and extra-curricular activities. As they’ve grown and left home, there have been the communities I’ve deliberately joined, the sewing / crafting / gardening groups discovered through church, friends, community notice boards or online. There are times that the connection you feel with a particular person is immediate and electric and other times that you slowly grow together in your relationship. The delight of finding ‘kindred spirits’ wherever I go never leaves me!

I hope that by starting this blog I’ll be able to continue to connect with old friends and perhaps gather a few more along the way. I’m a bit of an information bower bird, when you visit you will likely find a bit of this and a bit of that, things I’ve been pondering, creating and what has inspired me lately. Hopefully it will encourage you to stop and think, perhaps try something new. If you do I’ll be thankful and blessed all over again!