The best laid plans of mice and men…

Six children sitting around my kitchen table colouring in. How did this happen?

Six children, busy and happy.

Six children, busy and happy.

I’m on a break from full-time work.I haven’t written anything for weeks. I have hundreds of unread emails.  My friends are being neglected. There’s gardening to be done, boxes to be sorted and emptied, an entire house waiting to be painted, my “to do”  list is endless… and six children colouring in. Yes, I’m babysitting one of them, but six! In my living room? How did this happen?

The day began with no commitments. Hours stretched before me, waiting to be filled. My co-houser would be away for several hours. Space.  Solitude. Quiet.  I could sit, I could write, I could ponder and dream, let my thoughts meander.

Knock on the door:

Could I babysit for a couple of hours?

Of course, after all one of my priorities is creating community, building networks and providing support. I am committed to putting the ideal into practice. As my father would say “putting my money where my mouth is.” I’m good at the mouth bit. So, babysit? One child? Couple of hours? Sure. No problem.

However, it is school holidays and there are other children who live close. One child became three, became four… five… six. A mention of colouring in to the youngest and soon all six had joined in. I mentioned find-a words, mental arithmetic exercises, spelling … as long as I provided sheets, they would  do them.

These children wanted school! They were bored, they had nothing to do,their mothers were either at work, or recovering from late shifts. This little gang were wandering around the street, looking for entertainment or something to occupy them and an adult to supervise. I sympathise and remember my own childhood with much gratitude.

I grew up in a village. Our house was on a hill sloping steeply down to a river. Other houses were scattered between paddocks. I climbed trees, built cubbies, fished in one of the creeks and wandered about. There was a house with space under it’s verandah post where we left pieces of moss and flowers for the fairies. And I read books, any book I could lay my hands on. I had a favourite spot in the pepper tree where I could lie back and read- soft breeze, birds, the smell of the pepper tree and endless time. Adults were not part of it. No one supervised us. We never complained of being bored.

184There were jobs. I had younger brothers and a sister to keep an eye on; there was  washing up and clothes to be hung out and brought in, chooks, ducks and geese to be fed, sometimes a cow and a calf,  but in my memory it’s one long sunny day that went on forever.

These children in my street have nothing like I had. There are paddocks to roam in and trees they can climb, but they aren’t  accessible. Most are in someone’s backyard and children aren’t welcome. Ride your bike up and down? Gets boring after a while. Read a book???  Reading is becoming a lost art and the little one can’t read.

I send my co-houser to the shops as soon as she drives in – bread rolls and sausages, let’s feed the mob.

My neighbour returns home and I feed her. The children leave, reluctantly and slowly. I feel torn. I would like to continue to entertain them, but I don’t have endless time to give them. We’ve gardened earlier, searched for grubs and I have things I must do.

kindnessThe day ends. I haven’t crossed much off my list. I had no time to sit and dream but I have given. I have chosen to give my time, my attention and my compassion.  Perhaps this counts for more than time for myself. Perhaps I am learning about priorities of lasting value. And perhaps this is an opportunity to practise acceptance, acceptance of what is.

 

 

The Great co-housing adventure begins!

images[6](Or, as Max says in “Where the Wild Things Are”, “Let the show begin!”)

Well, it’s almost begun. Angie, my co-houser hasn’t arrived yet, but all her things are here. (Well, except the clothes and things she needs for the next few weeks.)

Life is an adventure!Here’s some of the background to this adventure.

Angie and I have been friends for forty years. More than friends, she’s part of my family. We have cared for each other, slept on the floor at each other’s homes when we’ve been homeless. She’s the person I have phoned in the middle of the night, after I have phoned for an ambulance. Over the years we have  guarded each other’s back, when trouble was stalking.

We’re often single. Careers and security have not been our primary aims. So we haven’t reached middle age, financially secure and affluent. ( Most of the time we realise how  very secure and how richly abundant we are in so many other ways.) For many reasons we have chosen to buy a home together.

There are so many reasons. I am passionate about the necessity to create community and build a safe and loving space where we can belong and have that absolute sense of trust. I love the Wendell Berry poem which says “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

to give my presence, my aim

to give my presence, my aim

I want home to be that place of unconditional love, total trust and safety…the place where I know I can be completely vulnerable… and I’m not thinking only of these four walls here and of Angie and myself. I am committed to building a larger community and helping to create such a space for others.

With Angie here, I can relax. There’s someone else to share all the jobs.  There’s someone who loves  and supports me through thick and thin. There’s someone who will give me space and silence and solitude whenever I need it. There’s someone to provide that rare and special feedback that will enable us each to grow and blunt our sharp edges, to point out when we  have been less than the best we can be.  There’s someone to laugh and play with, to have fun. So much, so much to be so very grateful for.

The garden will be started- finally! The house will be painted. (I HATE THE COLOURS!) Together we will practise living frugally and sustainably and we’ll be better at it, because we’ll  have each other to prop up our resolve when we fall into lust and wanting. (We both love things- books, paintings, beautiful objects… and I adore clothes. I fall into lust and wanting very easily.) We have more than enough.

(And you thought this was going to be easy, Angela!)

Life in the moment!

Life in the moment!

I said to Ange the other day: “Thank God you will finally be here!!! We can paint and garden and start a market stall and go to the gym regularly and get fit and have picnics at the beach and invite people for meals and sort out boxes of stuff and get started on that photographic project and you can begin building and making and maybe we’ll have some hens and we’ll sit about and read and have a glass of wine together and cups of tea and…(I stopped for a breath)”.

Angie: “I’ve been looking forward to resting and doing nothing much for a while!”

(Silly girl!)

A grateful heart.

Thank you

Thank you

Today I find myself aware of so many things I’m grateful for.

I arrived home last night after a trip to visit my brother and sister. My sister has a mental illness, my brother cares for her. Every day of my life I grieve for my sister, my baby sister, ten years younger. Every day of my life I am grateful to my brother and his care of her.

My sister, my brother, myself and pet rabbits- a very long time ago!

I am grateful I was finally able to make the trip. I have wanted to for so very long and I’m so very glad that at last I  have the time and the energy. I get to see where she lives, share her birthday and spend some time with both of them.

During the long train and bus travel, I texted and phoned the friend I was going to stay with en route and my brother, reminding me how much I appreciate mobile phones and emails. I’m running late? No problem. Send a text. I’m feeling distressed?  Text a friend I know will understand. I get messages from caring friends to let me know they’re thinking of me, phone calls from friends to check how it’s going.

I’m home again. Send some emails to let everyone know how it went. So simple, so useful.

Gums and European trees at our picnic spot.

Gums and European trees at our picnic spot.

Southern New South Wales is so different to the Mid North Coast. We don’t get much change of season, a few deciduous trees, a few spring bulbs.  Canberra is a city of trees, many of them from the Northern Hemisphere- oaks, elms, ashes, spruce, cedars, birches…such an abundance and all with delicious new spring growth. I could have walked and touched and marveled and enjoyed for many days.  I’m grateful I could experience them even briefly.

I meet some of the community who support my sister and I’m overwhelmed by the love they have for her and for the loving-kindness they extend to me as I break down in tears. I am so very grateful.

the joys of Spring.

the joys of Spring.

Coming home our bus to Sydney passes through the Southern Highlands. One of the  pleasures of my life is to visit this area in Spring and Autumn, something I haven’t been able to do for too long. It’s green and lush. Lilacs are in bloom. Fences and trellises drip with wisteria. Blossom trees, tulips, roses…old stone houses…lambs…I feast on it all.

A moment of synchronicity. We’re stopped briefly at Bowral station and I get a phone call. It’s a cousin with whom I have a special connection and had accidentally dialed the day before. The synchronicity? She lives in Bowral and is about two minutes away- driving! Unfortunately there is no time to see her, but we make an agreement for me to visit soon, something else I need to do.

If we can care for ducks, can we not care for each other?

If we can care for ducks, can we not care for each other?

Then, on a busy main road the traffic both ways is held up. For what? A family of ducks- mother, father and six ducklings are crossing the road, in safety. Bless the softness of the human heart that stops to let ducks cross. And remember this moment as a reminder to trust that goodness of the human heart to care for both my sister and my brother when I am not able to do so.

Set for Solstice

Writing 101. Daily Prompt.

Set for Solstice.Today’s summer solstice, the longest day of the year…How are you taking advantage of the extra hours of light at this time of year?

Well, here in Australia it’s the winter solstice and because of the time difference it was actually yesterday. So while you may choose to write about sunshine and long days and watermelon and going to the beach, I shall write about sitting by the fire, and mulled wine and books and slow cooked casseroles…

We have pretty skies

We have pretty skies

But no, I won’t write about such things because I’m sitting on my front porch, wearing a short sleeved tee-shirt and the cat’s asleep in the sun. It’s a warm, sunny day with yet another pretty skyscape; people are walking their dogs and a family just went by on their way to the park. There are still tomatoes ripening on the bush- it’s supposed to be winter! Does this mean the cold will come later? Even though it doesn’t feel like midwinter, yesterday was our shortest day, with only nine hours of sunlight.

Around both winter and summer solstices I find myself wishing for traditions and rituals to mark the turnings of the year. I’ve grown up with a British sensibility; my ancestors who first settled here were  from Britain. At school I studied British and European history and read mostly British literature. I’m a transplant. So I want to celebrate Beltane in May, have bonfires for Midsummer and a Yule log at Christmas.

We haven’t worked out how to replace these old traditions. There are still Christmas cards with snow, robin redbreasts, holly, Santa Claus and reindeers. The attempt to put Santa on a surfboard or replace his reindeer with kangaroos doesn’t seem to work. But we still have traditional Christmas dinners even though it may be a heatwave.

The question of how to create meaningful rituals and celebrations is something I ponder. Here in this new home which I share with a friend we will attempt to create moments of community for the times that matter. Perhaps those moments will include telling stories of special times and sharing our memories. After all, much of our history has come through the stories we have shared.

Five minutes from my house- black and white cows!

Five minutes from my house- black and white cows!

My favourite winter memory is  from my early childhood. I would have been, maybe four, and we were living with my grandparents on their farm. I would jump out of bed early and run across to my uncle,who was doing the morning milking. Barefoot, I used to dance across the grass, sparkling with frost still on it, my breath misting out. The dairy was filled with the big, black and white cows, swishing their tails as they waited to be milked. I would put my finger under the milk coming down the separator and lick it- warm and sweet, straight from the cow. The clang of the buckets, the sound of the machines, the stamping of the cows, the smells of the dairy…I wasn’t cold, I was filled with the joy of the fullness of the morning.

It was a moment when “God’s in His Heaven, all’s right with the world.”

This memory will be my Winter Solstice celebration for this year.

Everyone needs to belong

Building a life in a new place takes energy and courage and sometimes I’m tempted to give up. I don’t like walking down a street where no one recognises me, knowing I have to start all over again.  I need to feel safe and secure and I need to feel I belong somewhere.

Yesterday I visited my old neighbours, that is, my neighbours where I used to live. The swans were on the lake, the people in my house, well, it’s theirs now, were feeding the king parrots, the beaches looked wonderful and my garden… I know it’s no longer my garden, but I started it from nothing and loved and cherished it. It was my first home and my first real garden, in a wonderful place, with wonderful neighbours.

Deb, my neighbour, values her family more than anything else and she has adopted me as her big sister. For me, this is  priceless.  I don’t have children and  I can feel my lack of a “normal” family intensely. It doesn’t take much for me to tumble into a hole of self pity- “I’m all alone, when I am old no one will visit me, I don’t have the big family get togethers with my children and grandchildren I dreamed of, I don’t belong anywhere…” I know I’m loved, but most of my friends do live far away, as do my brothers , sisters , nieces and nephews. Christmas especially, can be a time of feeling sorry for myself.

One of my friends used to say that when he died there would only be about five people at his funeral and they wouldn’t know each other. At that time I used to walk my dogs through Waverley Cemetery (Sydney) and reading the headstones would plunge me into self pity. I would think that when I died, no one would come to my funeral because they wouldn’t know I’d died (too many moves, too many jobs, too many scattered friends) and I had nothing to put on my headstone! I was no one’s dearly loved wife or mother or grandmother… So, I asked my friends “Can I say ‘dearly loved friend  of’…”and of course they said I could. Now I have a list of people to be contacted when I die and I can walk through a cemetery  with equanimity. My headstone will show I did belong somewhere.

My aim  to create a  network here where I live is a priority. I’m passionate about the need to create community; for everybody to feel loved and valued; to have a place where they belong; to have that sense of knowing that there are people they can call on if they need; that they are not all alone.

A wise friend once reminded me to reach out, rather than fall in a hole. Or, to remember the words of St Francis:

“Make me an instrument of thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow your love;

“…grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love;…”