It’s possible! Who needs lots of money to be happy?

You can do it! You can stop working full-time and have enough to eat, somewhere to live, your basic needs met and enjoy being alive. Trust me, I’m doing it, so I know what I’m talking about. (The tiny house movement is just one example of doing it differently.)

 

I remember the anxiety and fear. Sometimes I think it was terror- of the future, of what might happen, of all the what ifs. I dreaded being old and homeless, joining the community who lived on the street.

I remember the constant anxiety before I bought a house. The constant worry of when I would have to move again. Rentals get sold or the owners want it for something else or… the one certainty in life was that sooner or later I would have to move. There would come the search for somewhere suitable, finding the best possible home that I could afford, then the packing and cleaning; the expense and the disruption and the stress.

I remember finally, at last buying a house. I was fifty-one and I had lived for years without even the hope that this might happen. I was given the keys to my house and that evening I sat on the floor, I simply sat there,  and  the fears and the tensions and the worries melted away. I had a home. I could plant a garden. It was mine. (Well, yes, there was a mortgage, but…)

Manning Regional Art Gallery's photo.

After many years of insomnia I started sleeping. I fed birds from the deck through the day and possums at night. I sat by the lake and was content or wandered into the rainforest across the road and breathed in the trees.

And then ( there always seems to be an “and then”). Illness happened. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and I couldn’t work for almost twelve months. Then a gradual return: a half day, two half days, one full day… I reached four days. Then brain surgery, then a heart condition… In six years I was never able to return to work a five day week in my full-time permanent job.

The fear and the anxiety returned. What if I couldn’t pay my mortgage? What if I lost my job? What if I was too ill to continue working even part-time? The bag lady spectre came back.

Eventually I sold my house. A work flat was available, furnished and the changes had begun. A friend in a similar situation ( single, unable to buy a home by herself ) was happy to buy a house with me.

And we lived happily ever after. Well, you can fill in the next events. They aren’t what matter here.

What I really want to tell you is how part of this story, the part before I resigned from my job, meant facing the possibility of poverty- looking the fear in the face and asking if I could cope. (This is a wonderful post exploring some of the possibilities.)

Harvest from the garden.

Harvest from the garden.

What if I couldn’t afford to have a car? What if I couldn’t afford heating?  No new clothes? Dentists? Food? Doctors?  Never have another massage? Or see a chiropractor? What if I couldn’t afford the restaurant get-togethers? Meeting friends for coffee? Would I have to live with hairy legs, no more waxing? Concerts? Theatre?

Of course I went through the self reprimands of how privileged my life had been, of how I had frittered money, if only I’d been more frugal, if I’d stayed in one job and worked my way up, if …but that’s another story.

Two and a half years later I can tell you that it is possible! I still have my car but if I can’t replace it in the future I live in a small town where I can walk to the things I need or catch a bus.

Shared bounty from a friend.

Shared bounty from a friend.

I know that if I have no money left for food one week there is enough in my pantry to feed us. My neighbours have hens and can give me eggs. The vegetable garden is developing and will supply some food. There’s always rice and lentils and …

If it’s freezing and the heating bill is high, then… more clothes, warm underwear… there are secondhand clothing shops, there’s the world of online buying and selling… I need special clothes for an occasion? someone might lend me something…

The most significant awareness I have and that which I believe with all my being is that we must  join together. A group of people on limited incomes can support each other in times of need. We must reach out and not be alone. A pestilence of our modern lifestyle is isolation and loneliness. We can find ways of living together and of sharing and of caring for each other.

It is possible! Not only is it possible, it’s fun and exciting. I have challenges, things to strive for and the endless possibilities that come with stepping out of the box.

Never give up, I say.

 

Take the step and throw yourself in.

Take the step and throw yourself in.

“Ah, sleep it is a blessed thing.” (Rhyme of the Ancient mariner.)

Kate and the dog, after a busy day.

Kate and the dog, after a busy day.

Sleeping is a beautiful thing.

I speak as a person who can’t always manage it. Today I’m singing, chatty, smiling at everyone I meet, happy, positive, busy…I slept last night!  I hadn’t realized how badly I was feeling until today when I’m  feeling so good.

I know with my head how sleep is fundamental. Fundamental to our health, our well-being, our motivation, our energy… do I need to go on?

But today I feel it in my body, my mood, my level of activity.

The dog could even read and still sleep.

The dog could even read and still sleep.

Do you sleep well? Do you take it for granted? Do you wake up, after a good night’s sleep feeling rested and renewed? And do you take a moment to be grateful? Light a candle sometimes, in gratefulness? I’m quite boring- I nag my friends to be grateful for their ability to sleep. I simply cannot comprehend what it must be like to lie down, close your eyes and…go to sleep, every night. Just like that! Even when I’m sleeping better, I never go to sleep quickly and I almost never sleep for more than four or five hours at a time.

For so many years I lived with not enough sleep. Mornings I struggled to wake up, to get going, to get to work, was late regularly.  I struggled through the day. Most times my main aim was to stay awake. Couldn’t focus, couldn’t concentrate, rarely felt alert, energetic, keen. Didn’t make longterm plans, day to day was enough. Life  was hard. I struggled to get out of negative to zero. Get into the positive? Seemed impossible. I don’t remember ever sleeping easily and well.

The man would tell you he can sleep anywhere! Oh the envy.

The man would tell you he can sleep anywhere! Oh the envy.

Why did I continue like this? Think about common attitudes to sleep. I accepted the view “live with it, if you think about it you only make it worse”.  Or, “anyone can sleep, it’s all in your mind.” Or, “you sleep more than you think”.  And the criticisms: ” You’re always tired, You’re always late,…” Unless you’ve experienced chronic lack of sleep, you cannot understand. It’s the truth of “walk a mile in my shoes.”

For whatever reason, I lived with it. With chronic lack of sleep, with exhaustion, with poor concentration, with poor motivation- after all, why want to do something when I’d be too tired anyway?

One day, on the way to work, late as usual, I heard a specialist in sleep disorders interviewed. He described me. He described how I couldn’t sleep- hours to go to sleep, difficulty waking, feeling jetlagged all day… and named it as a sleep disorder!

Revelation! If I had a sleep disorder, then I could do something about it! It could be fixed! Maybe I would sleep and maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t always be so tired.

What to do? I found a hypnotherapist. One session and that night, I slept! I spent the next day in a state of wonder. I knew I could do anything. Fly to the moon, climb Everest, anything was possible. And I wondered. Did people who slept well feel like that every day? Was life that easy? That much fun?

Pusska liked to keep some books handy, just in case she couldn't sleep.

Pusska liked to keep some books handy, just in case she couldn’t sleep.

Did better sleep continue? Am I now one of the fortunate ones who go to bed and go to sleep? Well no, it hasn’t been that simple. There have been periods when my life has been calm and sleep has been better. There was one scary and difficult time when sleep was disrupted completely, but that’s another story.

I understand myself better now. Such self understanding has taken sixty-six years and several years with a wonderful therapist. Self understanding, growth and change don’t come easy. Having now experienced times when I am rested I have great compassion and admiration for my sleep deprived self. How did I survive? How did I hold down jobs? Even turning up for work was an achievement. I can forgive myself for so much.

Today? I continue to learn about and to understand chronic insomnia.; to be grateful for the simple, necessary things of life; and to cultivate those practices that aid my rest.

For the times I’m rested and refreshed I shall be forever grateful. And for those other times? I’ll accept them and not worry. Today I know that if the non-restful times continue I seek help and I know that I will be helped. And I’m grateful for wisdom and experience that has given me tools so I’m no longer powerless or helpless.

Sleep comes naturally for cats.

Sleep comes naturally for cats.

What are some of the things I’ve learnt? Knowing when to ask for help and being able to accept it and having the courage to be vulnerable and humble enough to learn.

 

 

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!)

Country Life.

Some of my loot!

Some of my loot!

I’ve just arrived home from our monthly farmers’ market. It’s a lot of fun, although I always buy much more than one human being could possibly eat. There’s so many yummy fresh vegetables and fruit, home-made jams and pickles, organic meat, seedlings and much more all begging me to take them home and grow them.  Chooks and ducks, rabbits… once I was offered a belted Galway calf (oh, the temptation!). For a person who yearns for the large, productive, rambling and beautiful garden, for the paddock with an alpaca or two, a donkey or two, maybe a pretty cow, a dovecote, chooks, ducks, a dam, a creek with a stony bed and maybe platypuses, deciduous trees, an orchard every aromatic herb ever…it’s an endless source of temptation! You get the picture?

(The reality is a yard that is too small for even one alpaca or donkey or cow; there is no dam or creek; the garden is still in the planning stages; maybe there will be chooks; maybe we’ll get a paddock.)

But there’s still the monthly market. I’ve been living here just over a year and so I’m familiar with most of the stallholders. There are the wonderful women from landcare who run the community stall- when I have an excess of produce I will sell it there. I go into the local Landcare office with all my questions and they provide advice with endless patience.

John's Japanese pumpkin. Isn't it beautiful?

John’s Japanese pumpkin. Isn’t it beautiful?

Then there’s John from Chichester- probably three hours away. He’s a large genial man, dressed in King Gee overalls with a broad grin. He gives me practical advice on saving seeds, on how to grow everything.  He’s a country man of several generations so his advice is grounded in what has worked. His produce, like all the others, is picked that morning and will last for weeks. Goes without saying that everything is delicious.

This week I meet a young couple who are pickling the vegetables they grow. They also have some ketchup, some harissa paste, some fermenting- all from their own garden and all organic. They ooze their dedication and love of what they’re doing. I make a note to remember the ketchup for Christmas presents. They also have Jerusalem artichokes and guavas. I have to buy them because my grandmother grew them. As I eat them it will be a chance to remember her.

Jerusalem artichokes and guavas, in memory of my grandmother.

Jerusalem artichokes and guavas, in memory of my grandmother.

I don’t need fresh macadamia butter or oil from the couple with the macadamia business. The macadamia butter is probably addictive it’s so delicious. And, it’s good for you!

I buy some pecan nuts and make a note to myself: visit Uncle (about an hour away), to gather some pecans for myself. He has so many they fall to the ground, ungathered. Maybe I’ll meet my niece there  to talk about bees and bee-keeping. My uncle lives on my grandparents’ farm and my grandfather kept bees. My niece who is experimenting with dried honey products, wants to see her great-grandfather’s bee hives and talk about bees.

I’m glad to see the family with the local, organic oranges is back. It’s orange season and these are sweet and juicy. Almost as good as the ones were on my father’s orange trees.

I meet my neighbours and we have a coffee. I’ve talked  to everyone and had a wonderful time. Once again I relish the sense of well-being from that comes from the simplicity of life in the country. And I’m grateful.

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;…”