Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

Digging. Slowly. August 29, 2014

Filed under: Creativity,Depression,Operation Slow — hannahoakland @ 6:57 pm

This morning I went to my allotment. For the first time.

Well. The first proper time. The first time I’ve done anything other than survey my land. Or show it off to anyone who displays the slightest bit of enthusiasm. Some people have seen it twice. In the same day. Sorry Mum.

It’s possible that I was a little over-excited. At the prospect of this brand new, weed-riddled start. So excited, in fact, that Wes took a picture before I left. Sort of like a grown-up first day of school. With dirty jeans and a trowel.

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Yes, that’s a tonne bag over my shoulder. Yes, it was empty. Yes, it’s now full of weeds. And exactly where I put it, in the middle of my plot, because it’s way too heavy to even think about lifting. Details, details.

I still have a lot to learn.

I spent three hours there this morning. Battling dandelions and bindweed and tall spiky purple things that I wouldn’t even like to guess at the name of.

I found slugs. Loads of them. Huge great slimy things. Ladybirds. Beetles. A frog. Just one. Brown and speckledy. Which sat right in front of me for a good long while before thinking better of it and heading for the nettles.

Oh, are there ever nettles. I’m certainly not going to run out of them.

I met a woman who complimented me on not rotavating my plot, because it would only have spread the bindweed. Which was totally my plan. Of course.

I met a man who knew instantly that it was my first day, and told me to take it easy. Little and often he said. And then he left. Roughly four minutes after arriving. Without doing anything. You have to admire someone who takes his own advice so seriously.

I met a lovely old Irish man. Who told me all about the previous owner of my plot, and the stroke she had suffered. Before confiding in me that his own wife won’t eat anything he grows, living instead by the mantra “there are no slugs in Morrisons.”

He also told me to help myself to his runner beans whenever I wanted. I’m 98% sure it wasn’t a euphemism.

Three hours, I spent there. Maybe three and a half. Until I got hungry. And my back hurt. And I came home.

Honestly, I haven’t cleared much ground. There are a lot of weeds in the tonne bag, don’t get me wrong. But there’s not a lot of bare soil to show for it.

It’ll be backbreaking work just to get it ready for planting. But I’m determined. Because for me, this feels like more than an allotment. It feels like a change of pace. A critical part of my slowing down. My being gentle. Accepting my place in the world.

Allotments are about seasons. Times when the ground seems barren. Times when the trees are overflowing. Times when you put hours and weeks and months of brutal hard work in, and you have nothing to show for it. Times when the weather foils all your best-laid plans. And times when you get an unexpected surprise.

Like the mint I found this morning, thriving in amongst the weeds. I totally have a crop already. Check. Me. Out.

These are the rules of nature. Life is the same. At least it should be. I think. But it doesn’t feel that way.

It feels like achievements and targets and pressures. A world of instant gratification. Where everything is only ever a click away. Where it only matters if someone else can see that you’ve done it.

In this world, there are no seasons. You can have peaches in January if you look hard enough. The Christmas chocolates are out in shops already. Even the weather isn’t left in peace – tabloids threatening total white-outs or raging storms. As though an-appropriate-amount-of-snow-falling-at-the-coldest-time-of-the-year is no longer good enough.

Everything comes with drama. With deadlines. With the feeling that you should have completed it, instagrammed it and moved on to the next thing already. Preferably yesterday. There is no waiting. None.

It’s making me tired. So, so tired.

The pressure is unsustainable. Something has to give. For the last few years, that something has been my sanity. Literally.

Not any more.

I’m going slowly.

As the sweet lady pointed out, I’m not rotavating my plot. Not because of the risk of spreading bindweed. I’m pretty sure it can do that without my help. But because I want to dig it. All of it. Slowly.

I want to know what it’s like. To feel the soil. To dig. And sit. And think. And, for a few snatched hours, not do anything else. I want to have a place that is mine. That is peaceful. That exists purely to make my soul happy.

It may sound foolish. Or wasteful. Or a poor use of my time. I could have spent three hours sewing name labels into Elvie’s uniform. Cleaning the bathroom. Filing.

But I didn’t. I needed the calm, the air, the mud. I needed my little patch of earth. My promises of slowness, of self-compassion, of seasonal living. Made tangible. Before my very eyes.

It may sound like a poor use of my time. If you ask me, nothing could be more essential.

Maybe one day I’ll win allotment prizes. Maybe I won’t. Perhaps it will yield huge crops. Perhaps it won’t.

None of that really matters.

There’s no rush. No pressure. No targets.

Thank goodness.

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Our big fat summer of slow. I hope. July 22, 2014

Filed under: Elvie,Family,Nursery,Operation Slow — hannahoakland @ 12:54 pm

Summer is almost here. So close I can reach out and touch it.

This time last year I was shaking with terror. Literally. This year, it’s different.

Tomorrow is Elvie’s final day at nursery. Before seven weeks of glorious, laid-back summer. And then Big School.

At least, that’s the plan.

This morning we made cupcakes for the teachers. Despite being utterly intimidated by the hand-decorated wrapping paper on the implausibly large presents that another parent brought in yesterday.

It was fun. We cracked eggs everywhere, covered the table in sugar sprinkles and mixed up some icing in a pretty lurid shade of pink.

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Elvie had a great time. Joel mostly licked things. Between them they consumed so much sugar that the traditional pre-nursery meltdown was at least ten times the usual volume.

We’ll miss nursery. Elvie especially.

We’ll miss the structure it gives to our days, and the friends we see on a daily basis.

We’ll miss the toys, and the climbing frame, and the seemingly unlimited craft supplies.

We’ll miss the wonderful teachers, who deserve much more than a day-glo pink cucpcake.

They have treasured her throughout this year. They’ve let her play in the mud and draw endless pictures. They’ve given her such a positive introduction to education, and opened her mind to a hundred new ideas.

We’ll miss them. Seven weeks is a long time to fill. But I’m optimistic about this summer. I’m even (whisper it) looking forward to it. A little bit.

Mostly because of last weekend.

On Saturday we spent all day in the garden. Literally all day. It was beautiful.

The sun shone. Wes built a play-house. Joel bounced on the trampoline. I was weeding. Elvie was covered in mud. Completely covered. From head to toe. As is her way.

It was perfect. Warm, relaxed and surprisingly productive. Followed by a friend’s party in the evening, where we sat outside eating delicious food while the children ran wild into the night.

It was the epitome of calm and gentle. Of our own particular, cherished brand of slow.

It just can’t happen during the week. When we need to eat lunch by midday to get to nursery on time. And we daren’t stay out late because the consequences are disastrous.

Unless it’s the holidays. Which, thank goodness, it very nearly is.

This summer holiday feels like the perfect chance to practice living slowly.

To eat more meals outside. On the floor. To spend hours in the mud. Or digging up weeds at our beautiful new allotment.

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To have lazy movie nights. And ice cream. And lots of parties with friends. To take my eye off the time, and the calendar and the to-do list. To breathe deeply. And relish the chance to really connect with my children.

Before Elvie starts school in September and everything changes again.

It won’t be easy. Wes is away a lot. Seven weeks is a long time. The heat makes Elvie spectacularly grumpy. As does being bored. It’ll be a delicate balance to maintain.

But, for the moment at least, the chance of arriving at September as a blissed-out, tanned, tie-dye wearing hippy seems a very real possibility.

That’s already a big improvement on last year. And the holidays don’t start until tomorrow.

I’ll keep you updated.

Unless, of course, I’m too chilled out to bother.

In which case you’ll find me in the garden. Feel free to bring cakes.

Whatever colour they are.

 

 

Charity begins at nursery. July 11, 2014

Filed under: Community,Elvie,Faith,Nursery,Operation Slow — hannahoakland @ 2:23 pm

Elvie has gone to nursery in football kit today. I say football kit. I mean shorts and a t-shirt.

Seriously. She’s three years old, and football kits are expensive. Not to mention that if the football’s ever on the telly, she settles down with a gleeful cry of “ooh, rugby!”

Nonetheless, the note from nursery said that the children needed to wear football kits today, for a kickabout with the Royals mascots. And that we should pay £1 for the privilege. Of not wearing uniform. Which the nursery children don’t wear anyway. It’s all a little farcical.

I do need to buy Elvie’s uniform. Ready for September. I’m considering only buying one outfit. Given the number of times she has to turn up wearing football kit / something spotty / a visual representation of her favourite haiku, I don’t think we’ll get much wear out of the little grey tunics.

Still, I mustn’t complain. Because they’re raising money. For charity. More specifically, on this occasion, “to help Africa.” That’s a direct quote from the nursery.

Brilliant. It’s always good to know exactly where your money’s going.

On closer investigation, it turns out that they’re aiming to build a school in Kenya. At least that’s what it said on the packets of the ‘football’ cakes the children baked on Wednesday. Which we paid 50p to take home.

I hope we see some pictures of this school. Otherwise I’ll be very suspicious when the dinnerlady gets a shiny new car.

Teaching children about charity is brilliant. In theory, I love it. In practice, if I’m honest, I find it really hard.

I’ve sponsored a girl in Kenya for the last twelve years, through Compassion, who are fantastic. But I’ve done it by default. The money comes out of my account on a direct debit and I never have to think about it. Easy. I’m great at that.

I’m not so good at the kind of giving that actually costs me something. Time, or thought, or money. Or the effort of remembering to take £1 to the school gate.

For a long time I’ve suffered from a scarcity complex. Living in a place of ‘not enough.’ Not enough time. Not enough energy. And definitely not enough money.

On one level, it’s true. I’m raising our little family of four on whatever Wes brings home. Which, as a self-employed craftsman, varies wildly from month to month. It’s easy to panic. To fret about the mortgage, or the water bill, or the cost of school uniform.

And when I fret, I go inwards. Every single time. Grabbing hold of every single penny I can hold in my hands. Squirreling away anything that’s spare. Stockpiling any freebies that I set my eyes on. Ignoring anyone else that might need help.

It’s not a good look.

The ironic thing is, all this grabbing and stockpiling and fixing my eyes on us, actually makes the feeling of scarcity worse. It makes me feel less secure and more as though we’re going to go under at any minute.

The reality is that we’ve always survived. We’re frugal and creative and fairly easily pleased. And we have a net around us. A support net of friends and family. Who tell us constantly that we’ll never go hungry. Or homeless. No matter how bad things get.

I’ve been trying, consciously, to change my mindset. I don’t think all this scarcity and insecurity is helping my depression, and it certainly sucks all the joy out of everyday life.

I’m taking small steps. Perhaps that’s a little generous. I’m taking baby steps.

When we had a clearout, I put all our unwanted things on Freecycle. Instead of trying to sell them, in the desperate hope that they’d make enough money to justify the effort I was making.

I’ve made endless, mostly enforced, contributions to the nursery charity collections. And not been too grumpy about it.

I’ve decided that I genuinely like getting rid of belongings. It makes me feel lighter, less encumbered. Like I can breathe more easily. And there’s less stuff to tidy up. Bonus.

I’m not so good at giving away money. That still hurts. We have a jar of loose change in our dining room, and I’ve often thought how good it would be to give that money away. I’ve never managed it.

Until this week.

Over dinner on Wednesday, we were discussing the Kenyan school, and why they needed help to build it. Elvie was fascinated by the idea of people who couldn’t afford to eat. Or put a roof over their heads. Of children without parents. Children just like her. Who happened to have been born somewhere else. And were suffering because of it.

My parents are in Tanzania at the moment, visiting a charity that they run. Providing care and education and sponsorship for orphans in remote villages. Children who have been abandoned by their communities. Children who need our help.

I explained this to Elvie. Told her where Grandma and Grandad are. What they’re doing. How those children are being looked after.

She’s a deep thinker, my Elvie. She listened, and listened, and then thought for a while. And this is what she said;

“Mummy, we could give them some of our money that we use for bus rides or food…what about all the money in the change jar? We could give them that. To help build their house.”

Needless to say, there were tears in my eyes. Tears of pride for my beautiful three year old. Who runs rings around us all for most of the time, and then shows her soft little heart, and her wonderful compassion. And a few tears of embarrassment. That it had taken this child to show me what I should have done weeks earlier.

I told her how proud I was of her. That we’d count the money and give it to her grandparents. That it would be used to build a house for the orphans.

That met with her approval. On the condition that she could draw pictures and send them to every single one of the children. To let them know that we love them.

With that, wise words over, she proceeded to wedge a baked bean between each toe on her foot, admire her handiwork, then take each one out. And eat them. That’s my girl.

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Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to collect the bean monster herself from nursery.

And take another 50p for a picture of her with the mascots.

I’ll try not to be grumpy about it. I promise.

 

Slow. May 12, 2014

Filed under: Adventures,Operation Slow — hannahoakland @ 1:27 pm

Fittingly, this post has taken an age to write. Because life moves so fast.

Elvie is weeks away from starting school. Thank goodness. It’s impossible to keep her sufficiently entertained at home anymore. She gets bored. And restless. Which leads to this…

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(Yes, it’s Sudocrem. Yes, it did come out. Yes, it took five washes. And yes, it was almost instantly replaced by Pritt Stick.)

…and also this…

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(Yes, it’s lipstick. Yes, it did (just about) come out. Yes, it took an hour of (Wes’) elbow grease. And yes, our bedroom floor really is that filthy. You’re welcome.)

She’s non-stop. All the time. And it seems Joel is determined to follow in her footsteps. He is running, jumping, dancing and talking. All. Day. Long. Not only that, he’s decided to drop his nap. His last precious nap. That tiny pause of childfree time in my day.

All things considered, it’s a little frantic round here at the moment. Even on the good days. It is hard, hard work. And my brain is paying the price.

I just need a rest. All the time. Even I know that’s not feasible.

A few weeks ago I got invited to join a mindfulness course. Three Wednesday nights of peace, quiet and meditation.

To be honest, I would have gone if it was flower pressing, or three intensive weeks of badger spotting. Just the chance of a cup of tea in a calm, dimly lit room on the other side of town from bedtime. Heaven.

I didn’t really know what mindfulness was. I just knew that I needed to do it. Right now.

Within ten minutes I realised that this was my sanctuary. Flickering candles, meditations, prayers, quiet conversation.

No agenda. No to do list. No expectations.

An entire hour in the week when all I needed to do was breathe.

An entire hour in the week when I felt at peace. With myself. With my family. With the world.

An entire hour in the week to be myself. Stripped back, uncomplicated, honest. Without saying a word.

It was, needless to say, a gorgeous experience. I won’t be the only one mourning the end of the course over the next few weeks. Or the only one desperately trying to figure out how to build it into my everyday life.

Because, far from translating seemlessly into a calmer, more peaceful life, those three hours of mindfulness have only served to highlight the stressed-out, manic nature of my day-to-day existence.

The pointless pressures I put on myself. The unrealistic expectations that I live by. That I put on my children.

It’s only during these last three weeks that I’ve become aware of the predominant theme of this blog. Whether it’s been dealing with Christmas, tidying shelves or packing away the things that I ‘should’ be.

It’s all been driven by an unconscious awareness, hidden somewhere in the back of my mind, that life is too fast and too complicated.

That happiness doesn’t come from being busy. That it’s ok to be completely out of touch with the ‘must-watch’ tv series of the moment. That nobody will die as a direct result of me not changing my Facebook status every day. That sometimes, often times, simple is best.

Thankfully, I’m not alone in this. Last weekend Wes had an epiphany which, if he agrees, I’ll post here soon.

Turns out we both need slow and simple. He’s a keeper.

I’m still trying to work out what it means. In practical terms. I’m tentatively writing something of a manifesto. It’s a work in progress. But when it’s ready, I’ll share it.

I’m hoping that this blog will be a companion to our snail-pace journey. A tiny record of an attempt at simpler living. With stories about beans on toast. And poo. Obviously.

Slow. Simple. Honest.

It’s a revolution just waiting to happen.

And I think it’s exactly what we need.