Slow Change

Living a slower, simpler, more meaningful life

Changing of the Seasons

I’m astonished to discover it’s winter already. Summer and Autumn flew by. We’ve had a lot going on and at times it’s felt like we were just keeping our heads above water. Or perhaps that’s the wrong metaphor for the hot, dry summer we’ve just been through. Limping through the desert?? Just getting through, anyway. Life can be tricky sometimes, can’t it? We’ve had our fair share of trickiness over the years and I do occasionally wish for a normal, boring life. At this point in my life I’m not particularly fussy or demanding. I’d settle for stability, enough of the basic necessities, good food and simple comforts. I’m not that interested in material things – I’d be more than happy with a healthy body & mind for me and my loved ones, plenty of sleep, sunshine, laughter and hugs. And it’s not like we don’t have a lot of that already – we do. And we’re on track for even more of it, but there are balances and checks every step of the way. Moving to the country has had its pros and cons. A healthy body and mind demand some sacrifices. Not everyone will be happy with the choices you make. Human bodies age. Good food costs more in time and effort that you can sometimes invest, and you don’t always get enough sleep, feel like laughing or appreciate the simple comforts.

On the plus side, my health is improving, the dam is full again, there are enormous parsnips in my garden… and I have a job! I’m a bit late in sharing that news, but I’m happy to report my gainful employment with the Open Food Network. For the last 4 months I’ve been doing about a day a week of customer support work, helping local farmers and producers use this fabulous open source software platform. The OFN is a not for profit organisation that I volunteered with many years back, and did a bit of content work for just before I got sick. Their goal is to make food fair by putting control back in the hands of the people who grow and eat the food. Producers get the tools they need to create a path to market, and people like you and me get to buy it, knowing that our cash goes straight into the farmer’s pocket. It’s a win – win! And speaking of win-wins, I get to work from home, manage my own hours and feel good about making a difference. I also get to work with great people who have a genuine passion for what they do. It’s been the perfect next step in my return to health and the big wide world.

The new work routine has slotted fairly easily into my life. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to manage the commitment, small as it is, but any negatives have been balanced out by the positives. Probably the biggest impact has been my reduced tolerance for ‘leisure’ screen time. Now that I have to sit at a screen for a short while each day, my body complains if I do much more. It’s pretty weird. If I spend too long sitting or working on a laptop, a strange kind of ‘screaming’ feeling rises in my body. It’s hard to describe but feels like a distressing kind of restlessness, with elements of anger or panic. It’s a bit like I’m possessed and something’s trying to get out (me?). It subsides as soon as I stand up and start moving. Usually, one or two hours a day is my limit and if I stick to that I feel pretty good. Given I could sit and research or read all day, it’s a positive thing to be connecting with my body in this way. It feels like my soul talking, telling me what I need to hear – which is move and go outside! Of course this does limit my blog and insta posting, but I know my audience (all 7 of you) will understand.

Season of the winter garden

Winter seedlings starting to emerge, late Feb 2019

Here’s a pic of our winter plantings getting started back in Feb. It’s the first time I’ve raised seeds for winter vegies. We started early but probably didn’t quite get there in time. We should be harvesting by now, but all we’ve got are greens and parsnips. Awesome parsnips, it’s true, but still. We’re following Matt and Lentil’s guide from their book Grown and Gathered but fell a little behind, partly due to procrastination (too hot to go outside!), but mostly because so many seeds failed and seedlings were munched. I think most of the plantings will go to sleep soon, and we’ll have to wait til early Spring for everything to wake up and kick into action. We’ve got broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, peas, snow peas, white, red and brown onions, leek, broad beans and garlic in the ground, all looking pretty good. The beans have been slow to take off and I had to raise heaps of extra brassicas cos they all got munched, and munched, and munched. Anyway the garden looks lush and healthy and I feel happy when I see it out the kitchen window.

Our winter garden today. You can see kale, silverbeet, chard, parsnip, peas, cabbage & rocket.

Here at the foot of the mountain we’re getting more rain than the surrounding towns. It’s misty most mornings and damp in the evening, even on drier, sunny days. It’s been a relief not to have to water every day, though it took a few weeks to get out of my summer habits. I like watering, but I think in a year or two we might install a drip system in the kitchen garden. It’s more efficient and better way to conserve our precious water.

Nature’s seasons

Along with the rains, winter has brought with it a chance to reconnect, slow down and breathe in that fresh, crisp air. I’m feeling stronger, I swim twice a week (in a heated pool, obviously!) and am outside more than ever. I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about ‘nature’ and the fact that we as humans consider ourselves separate to, rather than a part of nature. Now that my eyes have been opened, it seems absurd to me that we stand here and look out at nature, or talk about it as something other than what we are. We ARE nature. We’re made of the same stuff. According to American Science writer Dorion Sagan, our cells live in a unique combination of water and salts that mirrors the composition of the early seas. And it’s not just human cells – all of life on earth preserves the ancient environment of our home. We are part of this place, and it is part of us. When we deny ourselves access to nature, we deny ourselves access to our own identity. We cut ourselves off from our self, our family and our life support system. No wonder we feel lost.

Whenever I walk outside on our property, or along the walking track in our neighbourhood, I come back feeling more motivated, alive and refreshed. And I notice things. I notice new plants popping up where there weren’t any last week. I notice the dips that are more lush than the higher ground surrounding them. I notice how the water always follows the same path after heavy rain, washing away the topsoil to create the clay track that we humans follow as we wander. Yesterday I noticed bulbs coming up and remembered how pretty they were last year when they flowered. And I notice that winter here is not the same as the winter I’m reading about in books written by Europeans or North Americans.

In the Northern Hemisphere, winter is a time of hibernation for all of nature. It snows, nothing grows, and people take shelter. They rest, consolidate and prepare for the next growing season. Here in this part of Australia, while a lot of common (mostly introduced) plants bunker down and die back over winter, indigenous plants are coming back to life, bursting with green shoots and new growth. It’s actually the hot and dry summers here that indigenous plants need shelter from, and that’s when they bunker down and conserve their energy. Since moving here I’ve come to feel the same way. In the city, disconnected from nature, Summer was a time to play, stay up late and socialise. Here, exposed to the elements, I feel it the way the plants do. It’s just too hot in summer. I need to slow down, conserve my energy and do what I can to stay hydrated. The more familiar I become with the life forms and conditions I interact with on a daily basis, the more I appreciate the enormous disconnect we have with the land on which our feet are planted.

Seasons of the land we stand on

The first peoples of this country had a very different understanding of seasons to the Summer, Autumn, Winter & Spring that we imported from the Northern Hemisphere. Australia is a huge continent with enormous variation in climate – so there was no single seasonal calendar that all Aboriginal people followed. Some of these indigenous calendars were documented, but sadly, no-one asked the people of the Gunung Willam Balluk – here at the foot of Mt Macedon – how they named or recognised the seasons. Or if someone did ask, it was never recorded. We do know that most Aboriginal groups in SE Australia recognised five or six seasons with distinct characteristics that fall roughly around the times that we identify as late Autumn/early Winter, mid Winter, late Winter/pre-Spring, mid Spring, late Spring/high Summer and late Summer/early Autumn. These seasons would have been known for the food sources that became available at that time or the changes in environment or lifestyle they would herald.

Having spent just over a year here on the land, I’m a long way from being familiar with all the distinct seasonal changes, but already I recognise some of the patterns and shifts, and I can see how different they are to the European seasons that we try to squeeze them into. Imagine the greater connection we could feel with nature if we organised our calendar by what our senses perceive from the land we live on? Rather than ignore the flowering wattle and the emergence of bulbs in August, let’s celebrate their beauty. It’s Orchid season now – so why wait til the official declaration of Spring to celebrate new life? When Spring does arrive, and our European trees begin to flower, yes there’s joy in the beauty of the blossoms and the delicious fruits they herald. But also, let’s celebrate the indigenous root vegetables that are ready to harvest. While we busily plant and wait for our European foods to emerge, these nutritious roots are ready to eat now – so let’s have a Murnong harvest festival! In Autumn, how about we focus less on the fall of leaves from deciduous trees, and more on the return of water to the landscape. This is a time to work, capturing water that will soak into the parched soil and bring back life. Lets celebrate the arrival of the rains we’ve been longing for and a chance to heal our thirsty country.

Image of a Murnong Root (Yam Daisy) on the cover of Bruce Pascoe’s groundbreaking book, Dark Emu

Deep Winter

As we move into deep winter, the season of flooding lowlands, we’ll be making the most of softer clay and digging ditches (called Swales) along the contour of our sloping block. These swales will capture rainfall before it runs off the property, slowing the flow and allowing it to sink into the ground. Keeping our precious water in the ground means healthier soils, less watering in summer and healthier, happier country. In a few weeks we’ll clear a lot of the fallen dead wood down in our little forest and have a bonfire. We’ll leave some of the dead wood in place though; logs for habitat and bark and leaves to build the mulch base that’s essential for a healthy soil ecosystem. The cool of winter makes it easier to do this kind of heavy work. For the same reason we’ll use this time to mark out and clear paths which will keep heavy humans off the soil in our native regeneration area and build a fence around the kitchen garden. It’s not exactly a busy time, but there are enough jobs to keep us active and outside; just enough to balance out the hours spent doing my absolutely favourite thing – reading by the fire!

Following My Bliss

At 8am this morning a book of writings by Joseph Campbell was handed to me by a friendly Australia Post man. I was still in my Pyjamas and the joy of receiving a new book before breakfast started my day on a high. Good things were already in store because I’d planned a trip to the library first thing, to collect a stack of books I’d reserved. This morning’s delivery was courtesy of Qantas actually – an unexpected treat that came my way a few days ago in order to save my frequent flyer points before they expired. It’s complicated, but the good news is my points are secure for another 18 months, AND I have a new book. The book is called Pathways to Bliss and it’s a collection of teachings by Joseph Campbell about how mythology can be applied to our personal lives. I ordered another book at the same time which I had planned to read first, called The Power of Myth. It’s based on a BBC series that introduced a lot of the ideas for which Joseph Campbell is known, specifically how the themes and symbols of ancient narratives remain relevant to modern life. These two books looked like the most accessible way into Joseph Campbell’s work, which I’ve been meaning to find out more about for a long time. I think nearly every book I’ve read in the last 12 months has referenced his work and ideas in some way, and I felt like it was time I went directly to the source.

Without setting out to, I’ve spent the last year or two immersed in a highly customised learning program of my own creation. It’s been a bit like a university course crafted just for me. There are no assignments or exams, but I’m passionately engaged in every topic, so it’s not difficult to learn the material. I studied Business Marketing at University, mostly because I had to pick something, and ‘reading books all day’ wasn’t on offer. Actually, I suppose I could have considered an Arts degree, but exploring my passions, or even my interests, didn’t occur to me. Good students like me were encouraged to prioritise income and employment opportunities. I don’t regret my choice. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I’d taken a different path, but I do wonder where I might have ended up if I’d studied Arts and Literature and Philosophy – all the things that actually fascinated me as a young adult. I do know that as a consequence, I barely gave a moment’s thought to my own interests during most of my 20s and 30s. I was pulled this way and that by my own and other people’s ideas of what a successful adult should be, until the day I was forced to stop. Health issues kept me from returning to work. With empty time opening up in front of me, I realised I had no idea what I was interested in. I had no hobbies, interests or passions. Nothing fascinated me, and the only consistent thread of my adult life was a pervasive sensation that something was missing.

I decided to try an experiment. I would only do what I wanted to do, for a while. And if that meant lying on the couch reading trashy novels or sleeping in til midday, then so be it. I did do that for a while. I read dozens of novels, some trashy, many excellent. But gradually, a few themes emerged. I dived headlong into a whole new magical world. I studied Reiki, learned to hold Womens’ Circles, attended a Dreaming Retreat and went to Plant Medicine workshops. I bought crystals and tarot cards and burned white sage. I applied myself to all sorts of practical pursuits from knitting to drying herbs to preserving fruit. I found passions around every corner and felt happier than at any time I could remember.

But it’s my reading list more than anything that reveals the path I’m on. The books I’m drawn to are like a trail of breadcrumbs and each title that calls to me, each phrase that resonates, each paragraph that insists on being read aloud, inches me a little further along the path. I’ve read about womens mysteries, initiations, witch burnings and the rising feminine. Desiring to connect more deeply with land I started exploring aboriginal land management practices and ended up knee deep in books on Australia’s indigenous history, colonialism and invasion. I sought out novels by indigenous authors to understand what it’s like to be Aboriginal in Australia today. I learned the phrase ‘cultural appropriation’ which led me to explore my own ancestry. I spent hours researching my family tree, which opened up the doors into Celtic and Scottish history. That has led me down all sorts of fascinating, meandering paths…. right up to today, and to the titles on my current reading list. Can you pick the theme I’m pursuing at the moment??

  • The Power of Myth
  • The Binding
  • Clan of The Cave Bear
  • Pathways to Bliss, Mythology and Personal Transformation
  • The Memory Code, The Traditional Aboriginal Memory Technique
  • Traditional Healers of Central Australia
  • Skywoman – Legends of the Iroquois
  • Becoming Animal. An Earthly Cosmology
  • The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu – The Quest for this Storied City and the Race to Save it’s Treasures
  • The Wisdom of the Mythtellers

At the moment the intertwining themes are myth and story and indigenous wisdom. I’m halfway through a couple, some I picked up from the library today and others are winging their way to me from various online bookstores. I should probably stop adding more to the list and try to finish this lot!

Though there’s a strong mythology theme in my explorations right now, more specifically I’m curious about how a society’s stories define its culture, and what that means for the descendants of colonialism who’ve lost the stories of their ancestors but failed to connect with the stories of the land on which they now stand. Along the way I’ve been pulled into Australian indigenous history and the mythology of the Dreaming. I’ve explored connection to Country, and how that might feel for me, and I’ve been rocked by the realisation that we are all indigenous to somewhere. Now I’m exploring the mythology of my own bloodline, and what connection to country meant for my ancestors. Sharon Blackie’s book If Women Rose Rooted has taken me a long way on this journey and illuminated the way to seek connection with both this land on which I stand, as well as the lands of my ancestors. Historical fiction has also been more revealing than I could have imagined, as it also was with works by Australian authors who’ve written about our own history. Manda Scott’s Boudica series, and the Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley are based on what is known of Britain’s indigenous history, and they’ve given me a personal experience of my ancestors lives, along with a feeling of connection with them as real human beings.

It’s a mixed up, muddled up cauldron of ideas, but something is emerging. The two strands of story and land twine around each other through all of it. I’m dipping now into archetypes and tarot and the common threads that emerge from so many indigenous stories (Joseph Campbell is sure to feature here). I have a sense that it is stories that ultimately bring us back into connection with land and with ourselves. I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this, but I have faith that one day all these threads will weave together into something beautiful that can be expressed and shared. There’s a sneaking suspicion that I’ll end up writing my own stories at some point, but every time I start, I’m pulled in another direction. That’s not for me perhaps, or maybe just not now.

Of course, if I’d just studied Arts at University, I might be a lot further ahead on some of these themes. On the other hand, coming to it late, I have the pleasure of crafting my very own, specifically tailored curriculum, and every word of it is fascinating to me. If I’d studied mythology or folklore or indigenous culture back in my 20s, there’s a good chance I’d be jaded or disillusioned by now. Instead I live in a permanent state of glittering possibility, surrounded by stacks of books overflowing with deliciously potent ideas. Nothing makes me happier than sitting here with a cup of home grown tea from the garden, my latest book obsession in hand and a notebook by my side, delving into the mystery of it all.

One Year Down

This time last year we had moved into our little pocket of paradise on the edge of Mt Macedon. Thankfully 2019 brings a quieter and slower January, and I’ve had a chance to reflect on the last 12 months and ponder where we might like to be in another. My feet are deeply rooted in this soil and the place speaks to me like no other place I’ve lived. We’ve worked hard to breathe our life into it over the last 12 months. So much has been achieved and yet I still feel like we’re on the edge of a big adventure. There’s so much to learn and do and I swing between feeling inspired at the possibilities and overwhelmed by their enormity.

I’d like to share a photo update soon. There’s plenty to show, but for now I can tell you there are pumpkins and tomatoes coming along and beans winding their way up trellises. I have jars filled with dried lemon balm, comfrey and chamomile and today I’ve nibbled on wild strawberries, red currants and blueberries straight from the bush. On the other hand I just lost two new lavender plants, I’ve killed more cucumbers and zucchinis than I’ve kept alive and I can’t get a radish to fruit for the life of me. But we can swim in the dam when it’s hot, there’s a perfect spot to sit for every time of day and the chook pen is ready except for a door. On balance I think we’re winning.

I’m pretty well too. Christmas took it’s toll, because of course I did too much, took on too much, ate all the inflammatory things. But I’m bouncing back and I feel like there are new possibilities in 2019. We’ve been chatting in the last few weeks about the best way for our family to have everything we need. This is a conversation that would have been mostly about money in the past, but the shape of things is changing. It’s felt weird not to be earning an income, but honestly I can no longer imagine giving my valuable time and energy to anything that doesn’t nourish my soul or make a difference in the world. Life’s too short and I have too much to offer. Also, the world is changing around us, and I just can’t see the point in going on as we have previously.

The fact is, we’re on a collision course with ecological disaster, and I personally think it’ll hit us far, far sooner than most people expect. Recent reports suggest changes to the global climate could lead to societal collapse within 10 years, driven primarily by failing agriculture and financial systems. I don’t know if that’s realistic, but I don’t think it’s impossible. I certainly think that our children will grow up in a very different world to the one we did. None of us have any experience in making decisions to create happy, healthy and resilient families with this kind of future ahead. I don’t think we can assume previous wisdom will guide us well in the big decisions we make about savings, jobs, mortgages, education or retirement. We’re making it up as we go along and I imagine it’ll look different for everyone. For us in recent years, it looked like focussing on our health, reducing our mortgage and having more time together. In a marvellous turn of events, it also looked like a few acres of land! In 2019 I want to delve deeper into what we might be able create here, in light of where I think we’re headed as a society.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of the home being a centre of production, rather than a centre of consumption. This is how it’s mostly been for human beings, up until not so long ago, and I’m drawn to make it so again. Obviously I’m not alone in this thinking. Plenty of folks have worked themselves to the bone finding out that self-sufficiency ‘aint all it’s cracked up to be. But, I think it’s a mistake to aim for individual or family self-sufficiency today. To begin with, we would each need more land than is available, and most of us are unwilling or unable to embrace the level of hard work and simplicity that true land based living requires. Besides, other some of the early European settlers in this and other lands, most of our ancestors were far from self-sufficient (unless you descend from one of our nation’s first peoples, in which case we’ll have to come back to that, cos I’m trying not to write essays anymore!). Generally, our European, Celtic and Northern ancestors lived in communities, and they were self-sufficient within the broader community. Food, clothing and tools were mostly produced at home rather than purchased from a store, but no one family produced all that they needed. Everybody worked hard within the home and the neighbourhood to produce what they could, and people specialised. That way they could share, trade and help each other out so that everyone had what they needed. Money may still have changed hands, but earning a wage was nowhere near as important for survival as it is today.

Consider what percentage of our material needs are met by our own efforts of production today? What do you produce rather than consume? For our ancestors it would have been maybe 80 – 90%. If we go far enough back, it’s probably 100%. A few years ago I could safely say that I produced nothing. Zip. Zero. I was 100% on the consumption side. Today, the scales are tipping; just a touch, but definitely tipping. I now produce some of my own fruit, vegetables and herbs. I’ve started making tea and medicines and simple home remedies. I make gifts of seedlings and herbs and home cooked meals. We also consume less in the leisure category now, given much of our fun and entertainment is sourced from the land and our imagination. I’d like to see that balance tip a little further. Could we produce 30% of what we need? What about 50%? More?

With the land that we have, we could certainly produce most of the fruit and vegetables our family needs. We could also probably produce things like honey, olive oil, mushrooms, medicines, teas and herbs. By buying in materials from local producers we could also theoretically make soaps and cleaning products, baskets, tools, and even some of our linen and clothes. None of it is particularly complex – no more so than the professional work I used to be paid for. It just takes time and effort. So what if this became my work? Instead of being paid to leave my home and work to buy what we need, why couldn’t I put the time into the production of those goods? If it were possible, surely this would make us happier, healthier and more resilient. We would have less money it’s true, but we’d enjoy doing this work. We’d be stronger, fitter and spend more time outdoors in nature. We’d eat more home grown organic produce, and spend time together producing it. Would it be the best of use of my time? That’s a tough question. I mean, I could certainly earn more money than the value of what I’d produce, but what would I buy with that money, and would it benefit us or the planet to have those additional goods?

In the end, our family needs at least one income. We may never be able to produce or acquire all our basic food needs without money, and then there are bills and train tickets and medical costs and school fees and various luxuries and consumables that we (currently) choose not to let go of. The ideal arrangement would be to share the earning between Scott and I however, so that we can both spend time on production in the home. Right now Scott can’t do as much on the property as he’d like because he works five days a week out of the home. Given I’m here all the time, I’m the best person to focus on production, but my limitations are different. I’m held back by strength, practical skills and at the moment my health. Truth is, Scott could probably contribute more than I in terms of pure production. He’s stronger, fitter, and he can dig and lift and cart heavy wheelbarrows all day. He can also build structures with power tools, repair pumps and install irrigation systems. But he’s quite happy earning an income for now, and I’m the one stuck at home with a barrowload of enthusiasm, fewer practical skills, and limited energy!

The answer of course is to simply begin. We are in a great position to work towards the ideal, in which we’d both bring in income and both work on the land. For now though, Scott has a great job that he enjoys, and that covers the consumption side of the equation. I have the time and enough spare energy to put some of it production, and we get to spend weekends together as a family. That’s a pretty good start. My biggest job this year will be food production and practical skills development, but there are other dreams bubbling away in the background too. I want to work more with herbs over this next phase of my life. I’m embracing my inner witch, with tonics and salves and strings of drying herbs everywhere. I’ve been deeply immersed in reading, learning and playing with ideas around connection to land and place, and how this plays into the feminine mysteries, working with nature’s cycles and stepping into our power as women. One day I will work with women and herbs and stories and ancient wisdom. Marrying the mythology and stories of our ancestors with the indigenous wisdom of this land is a thread I tugged on in 2018, and the more I pull, the more magic it reveals. Who knows where the unravelling will end. I hope one day to have something to share, though what format it will take remains a delicious mystery for now.

These mysteries may one day translate to paid work but in the meantime I’d like to start shifting the money responsibility away from Scott so that I can get his skills (and company) at home a few more hours a week! I’ll never go back to corporate work, and for the moment I’ll need something flexible and pretty low key, but I think 2019 might be the year to step back out into the world. I feel ready to give it a shot. The tricky thing will be finding something that’s both meaningful and low stress, and ideally that I can do from home! I wouldn’t dare risk my newly recovered health on a long commute and high pressure deadlines that push me back over the edge. I’m sure it’s not impossible and I’ve already started having some conversations – who knows where that might lead. I’ll keep you posted. I’m excited by all of these projects and explorations. Summer is in full swing and there’s food to harvest and winter crops to plan. The wheel of the year rolls on and as much as I’m enjoying the abundance that sunshine brings, there’s a part of me that’s already secretly longing for winter to roll back around so I can sit by the fire and knit again!

My Neural Retraining Adventure – Update 2

It’s just over four months since I started the Neural Retraining Programme and shared that I would post updates on my progress. Clearly I haven’t done that – see that’ll teach me to make commitments!  Anyway, better late than never. So has there been progress?? I guess I should start by confessing that I wasn’t consistent in doing the program. I really struggled with it. I tried and tried to do the rounds (one hour a day, repeating mantras and positive visualisations) but as I didn’t enjoy it, I kept putting it off, then felt bad about letting myself down. I lose motivation quickly for boring, repetitive tasks, and the DNRS training was SO boringly repetitive. I did get results initially, and for about a month things looked really promising. Gradually though, I found myself in a very negative frame of mind during the process and struggled to pull myself out of it. Given the whole point of DNRS is to create a positive frame of mind, a successful outcome was feeling pretty out of reach.

I was pushing through against the drive to quit, when a headache started to build. This isn’t one of my normal symptoms, so I thought I might be getting sick. After a week I went to see my Osteo, and ultimately had 3 appointments over the next month, as well as visiting the Physio I see who specialises in chronic pain. She recommended seeing a GP who prescribed 24/7 anti-inflammatories. The headache kept getting worse. I had stopped doing the neural training, as well as all the other good things I do to keep my head above water. I was just surviving. Finally I made an appointment with a local Chiropractor, mostly because I couldn’t manage the drive into the city again. This Chiropractor is a pretty intuitive lady, and she pressed a few of my buttons. When I broke down and told her how I was failing at all the things I should do to get better, she asked me why I felt I ‘should’ do these things. And she suggested I go home and tear up my ‘Should do’ list (yes of course I had one!).  I did as she suggested and the headache faded that night, never to return.

Since then, I’ve done exactly as I please and my energy has been gradually returning. I’ve done no Neural Retraining, no Meditation and no Reiki. Instead I have been wandering around outside a lot, planting seedlings, weeding and reading plenty of good books. In fact, you know what, I think I’m allergic to SHOULDS!  In all seriousness though, I’ve changed the way I think about my symptoms, which is basically what DNRS teaches. I spend hours sitting in nature, pulling weeds, digging in the dirt and talking to the birds, which is a form of meditation, and I have become more in tune with what my body is telling me it needs, which is key to practicing Reiki. What has changed is that I’ve taken away the lists and the formality and instead allowed my body to absorb the things I’ve learned, integrating them naturally over time. It’s slower perhaps, but it feels more sustainable.

Ultimately DNRS was the trigger that allowed me to reach this point. Although I haven’t implemented the system as it is taught, I have taken on most, if not all of the philosophy of the programme and found ways to integrate the system into my life, in my own way. Learning about DNRS did completely change the way I feel about my illness. I no longer feel as though I’m helpless and dependent on others to fix me or solve the mystery of my inexplicable symptoms.  I have completely accepted that the symptoms I experience are a result of a limbic system impairment, and are triggered by normal everyday experiences that my body perceives as threats. I‘ve recognised that my triggers are stress related, and even tiny stresses, like racing to get to school pick up on time, can kickstart a cascade of symptoms. I’ve tested this theory by gradually increasing physical activities that I find enjoyable and relaxing. I can now do a full day of relatively heavy gardening work, or go mountain bike riding with the family, with no discernible side effects. Yes that’s right –  I have a mountain bike, and I’ve gone on a few short rides – this is a great victory!

I’ve also monitored my response to activities that my system has perceived as stressful in the past, like driving to the city for appointments or committing to volunteer at my daughter’s school. I don’t manage these things anywhere near as well. Factors that impact my symptoms are things like urgency, the need for concentration, or consequences for not meeting a commitment or deadline. I had the chance to really test this out a few weeks ago when a friend offered me some overflow report writing work. Initially I accepted one day of work, on the condition that I might take it one day at a time, as I couldn’t be sure how I’d manage. I gradually took on more days over 2 weeks, but as deadlines loomed and I got more involved, I started to feel the impact. Eventually I had to decline the last few days of work and fall in a heap. It was a valuable lesson in what I’m capable of today. There’s been much improvement, and great clarity, but there’s still a way to go. I might have to choose a very different style of work in future, which is not necessarily a bad thing at all.

We were reflecting the other day on how far I’ve come. Two years ago when I first had my crash, I wasn’t doing any cooking or housework. I wasn’t going out of the house for anything other than school drop off and I couldn’t walk a block without becoming fatigued. I was eating no sugar, gluten or alcohol and having a lot of trouble sleeping. This is worlds away from where I am now. I’m now cooking more than half the time and probably do about half the domestic stuff including grocery shopping. I’m very active out in the garden, and although I’m still reading heaps, I’m on my feet more than not most days. I’ve been out for dinners a few times in the last month, eat sugar and gluten sometimes and have even had wine on a number of occasions, including last night!

Yesterday we had a Halloween / Beltane bonfire and I fooled all the local kids into downing shots of Spring wildcrafted smoothies (AKA bug juice), lit a bonfire and dragged branches onto it with a glass of Chardy in my hand. I then stayed up til 9pm, chatting around the fire before remembering we’re parents and it’s a school night!  That my friends, is the good life, and it seems I am living it. Onwards and upwards.

Winter in the Kitchen Garden

In the last post I wrote that we built vegie beds at the end of summer in our proposed kitchen garden space. It was a last minute rush, as I’d pretty much ruled out having the energy to get it done and maintain it over winter.  Then all of a sudden we had a burst of enthusiasm, and decided to get something in so we could learn what works. So one day in early Autumn, we decided to throw it together. There was no time (or budget) to build raised beds and we didn’t have much in the way of materials, so we bought in a little bit and scraped together what we could.

This was the spot. It was a lush green ‘lawn’ in spring, but had become dry and sad looking by the end of summer. The aggi pipe was here when we moved in so a few half-hearted efforts were made to direct laundry water onto it over summer, before giving it up as a waste of effort.

This area is really sheltered on all sides. It’s on the south side of the house (house is to the right of the above photo, opposite the pergola) but set far enough back from the house that it still gets heaps of sun (or so we thought…)  To the West we have that big pergola, the carport and lots of tall trees behind. On the South side is the neighbour’s fence and more trees, and on the East side are some low shrubs looking out to a big open area that is also pretty sheltered on all sides by trees. It’s the perfect spot for a kitchen garden. Close to the house, warm and sunny, sheltered from North and South winds and, with the addition of one fence, will be completely enclosed from troublesome pests (though not possums, as we’ll be inviting them in via the trees and fences.. hmm)

The whole process of building and planting these beds took a few hours over two weekends. To begin with we cut what was left of the grass down as low as possible with a lawn mower and gave the ground a deep soaking:

You can see the bushy Limelight Acacias along the back in the above photo.  We’ll replace those with Feijoa bushes one day, hedged behind a low fence, with a gate at the end of the path – hopefully a job for early Spring.

Next we covered the whole area with flattened moving boxes, to provide a weed barrier, and threw grass clippings and weeds on top so they wouldn’t blow away while we sourced straw, compost and manure.

The following weekend we got a small load of a mushroom compost/soil mix delivered from the local nursery and laid it out in four raised beds. We later realised the beds weren’t high enough, so we sacrificed the furthest bed and added the extra soil to the other three.  Just around the corner was a place with an aptly named ‘Poo and Plants’ stall out the front of their house, so we picked up a few $5 bags of well rotted manure, which you can see Scott spreading here over the beds:

A couple of hay bales were thrown in the boot at a local roadside stall and we spread it over the cardboard for paths and then again over the beds as mulch once the seedlings were planted. Next time we’ll be more careful about our hay bale choice, as these bales were full of grass seeds and gave us a nightmare of weeding all through winter.

A few fallen logs were dragged up from the woodland, and cut to make edges, seedlings planted and mulched with the extra straw – et voila – three winter garden beds:


It was 27th March before we got these beds planted. In Bed 1 we put broccoli, Bed 2 was beets and red cabbage, and Bed 3 was cauliflower. A few weeks later on April 13th we planted garlic.   As we’d sacrificed Bed 4, I squeezed the garlic in on the ends of Beds 1 and 3, with the rest popped in pots and around the edges of herbs.

So what did we learn? Well, I’m really glad we went to the effort, cos the first lesson we learned was that the front third of each bed was in shadow for most of winter.  You can see a bit of shadow from trees in the top left of the above photo.  This should have alerted us to where the sun would be by the time it dropped low in the sky by mid-winter, but we chose to simply leave the first 1/2 a metre of each bed unplanted and hope for the best.  Next year we’ll move the beds up another metre again, and plant something shade tolerant along the front. Maybe greens or mint.

I also spent a lot of early Autumn picking green caterpillars off the Broccoli & Caulis. I’m not sure if they did much harm, but I might try Dipel next time – we’ll see! (It’s apparently ‘natural’ but I’m still reluctant to use it). Apart from that we basically did nothing to these beds over winter. Whenever I walked past I pulled out a handful of grass that arrived courtesy of our hay bale mulch, but that’s it.

Here we are nearly 6 months later:

We’ve just finished a rush of broccoli that we had to eat fast as they were all going to seed at once. I’ve pulled one beetroot just to see if anything was happening (it was delicious, but tiny!) and there’s no sign of any cauliflower. The garlic in Beds 1 and 3 looks a bit yellow, probably from the wet (or frost?), and the red cabbage looks like it might be on track, but we’ll see.  My fairly amateurish guess is that we probably got the cauliflower and broccoli in too late, and with the unseasonably warm spring, things haven’t had enough time to mature before bolting. The garlic won’t be ready for another month or two, so I’m not sure how the damp will have effected it, and it remains to be seen if we maybe planted baby beets or if they’re going to grow some more!

So many lessons!



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