Slow Change

Living a slower, simpler, more meaningful life

Page 2 of 14

Designing our Permaculture Garden

It’s six months since we settled here on Gunung Willam Balluk country just outside Macedon, and many hours have been passed blissfully imagining the garden paradise we’ll co-create here with Mama Nature. My explorations have taken me on a fascinating journey of discovery about the nature of this land before white colonists wrested it out from under the people who had cared for it for countless millennia. How might I find the right balance between allowing the land to return to it’s natural state and creating a productive garden that can feed and support my family and community? The people of the Gunung Willam Balluk who lived here at the foot of Mt Macedon certainly found that balance, but they were operating within a like minded community of widely dispersed clans that worked together to protect and gently influence an ecosystem that covered all of the surrounding land; in fact the entire country from coast to coast. I can only influence what happens on my two acres. There’s no hope of me recreating that kind of balance. So what’s the next best thing?

Left to itself, what would this patch of cleared, degraded land return to?

 

I’ve read that, left to its own devices, land will always return to forest. It’s a nice idea. But in a changing climate, with bushfires a real and frightening risk out here, I’m not sure this is a good thing. Not for us certainly, and perhaps not even for the land. There are many who argue for the planting of mostly indigenous species, and I don’t disagree, in principle. But as we step into the unknown, facing an uncertain climate and the inevitability of energy descent, I have to question if two more acres of indigenous forest is in anyone’s best interests. Possibly I would think differently if I knew more about indigenous plants, particularly edible and medicinal ones. This is something I definitely want to learn more about, but I know it will take time and experimentation.  Ultimately I keep returning to permaculture; a sustainable system that produces food and supports people while simultaneously regenerating the land. Permaculture allows for native species and habitat regeneration, but also makes space for food gardens that are predominantly European. Most importantly, a permaculture system is designed to mimic nature, being self-sustaining and requiring minimal human intervention or external inputs, especially once established.

What would Ningulabul, the last head man of the Gunung Willam Balluk clan think of permaculture, I wonder? Would he and his family consider it a worthy compromise, given the limitations we face as caretakers of this small patch of fenced, degraded land? I’d like to think that our attempts to create a self-supporting system that can feed a family while regenerating the soil would earn a nod of encouragement at the very least. And if we can create a small, flourishing ecosystem on our two acres, perhaps that might inspire others around us to try it out. It’s certainly worth a try.

I still love the idea of a forest, but in our case we’ll be moving away from indigenous species for around 80% of the canopy.  Our forest will be a little more fire retardant, deciduous to a large extent, and a lot more edible.  My garden folder is overflowing with sketches that range from highly structured kitchen garden to barely managed food forest. The end result, I think, will be something in between. The vision is a lush, productive garden with winding mulched paths and surprises at every turn. Fruit trees will be planted in guilds, not straight lines. Each tree will have it’s own little ecosystem of species that attract bees, improve the soil, provide nutrients and mulch and offer protection from the sun and wind. The result will look more like it was designed by nature than by humans.

 

Imagining the lush wetland this might one day become. View back up to the house from below the dam in mid-summer.

 

A more traditional gardener might deem it messy, but nature doesn’t do straight lines or bare earth. In my vision, fruit trees drip with plums, apples, pears and peaches, nasturtiums wind up their trunks and bees hum around clumps of lemon balm gone to seed. Next to the house a fenced, potager garden will be more structured, with vegetable beds lined up around a central lemon tree. This space will be more intensively worked, with vegetables and herbs on seasonal rotation, and espaliered fruit trees and berries providing an edible border. It won’t be as tidy as a traditional kitchen garden, because well, that sounds like a lot of work! We’ll be using the guild philosophy here too, focussing on companion plants and allowing nature to creep in and do what it needs to. But ultimately this is a food garden with a job to do, so it will take a little more oversight than the food forest. Between the kitchen garden and the food forest, a giant mulberry tree shades a lush green clearing surrounded by edible hedges that explode with berries of every variety. Pergolas dangle grapes and kiwi fruit, vines wind up posts and tangle with pumpkins, and culinary and medicinal herbs flow over the edges of paths. Down the back, hazelnut trees encircle a lily pad strewn pond that supports a thriving ecosystem of wetland plants and animals. Beyond that a shady pocket of indigenous woodland supports local wildlife and the return of delicate native orchids that used to grow wild in the area.

Magnificent huh??

Of course, at some point one has to land back on solid ground, and with my health placing significant limitations on what’s possible right now, we decided to start small. Funny that!  First we had to prioritise a few things that would make living here more comfortable. This included clearing the stormwater drain that overflows and threatens to flood right through our front door every time it rains. We also needed to block up breezy drafts, install a slow combustion wood fire and fit window coverings that insulate from Macedon’s frosty winter. After many hours of research and investigation, we installed a Nectre wood heater (SOOO good) but are still procrastinating on window coverings and other matters of insulation. Breezy drafts will be addressed in the next few weeks. The stormwater drain was partially unblocked but now we need the guy with the expensive high pressure hose solution to help us out; currently pending budget allocation!

Meanwhile I’ve been scribbling away on a garden plan and figuring out what our priorities for year one would be. The plan is a work in progress, and will probably continue to be indefinitely, but the main sectors have emerged and it’s starting to look like something we can work towards. Here’s a picture of what my planning process looks like.

It’s pretty fluid, and I’m not quite ready to firm up those pencil scribbles. It would be great to have a fairly locked in plan by the end of the year, at least in terms of the main sectors, though of course things will continue to shift. There were a few things we knew we wanted quite early on, so here is what made the Year One wish list:

Year One Wishlist

  • Plan the Garden (will this ever end..?)
  • Clear trees that pose a fire risk close to and overhanging the house
  • Clear trees that block winter sun to the northern house aspect
  • Clear blackberries from around the house and cut back the giant bush that we’ll keep to harvest from
  • Burn the enormous piles of branches and pruning that we inherited with the house
  • Prune the ornamental grape on the northern pergola and train it to block hot summer sun
  • Create a composting system
  • Build a chook pen and get chooks!
  • Build a fence for the Kitchen Garden and create four no-dig winter vegie beds
  • Build supports for espaliered fruit trees in the Kitchen Garden and plant bare rooted stone fruit
  • Plant a lemon tree, a fig and a mulberry
  • Make a start on the food forest with bare rooted apple, plum and pear trees over winter
  • Remove a Honeysuckle Grevillea and Limelight Acacia from the proposed herb garden space
  • Cultivate the herb garden for potted herbs that moved with us from the city
  • Dig swales (trenches) to capture storm water that currently runs off the sloping block
  • Have beds and soil ready for Spring vegies and herbs in the Kitchen Garden
  • Plant hazelnut trees around the dam
  • Plant reeds and other filtering water plants in the dam and establish a fish species that will eat the yabbies

So how did we go?

Halfway into year one, we’re mostly on track with what we wanted to have done by this point. A lot of the jobs are not much fun in winter, so we’re mostly hibernating til the warmer days of Spring. The garden plan is partly done and will continue to evolve. We’ll probably have to let go of a few winter jobs that we’re running out of time on. I don’t think the dam improvements will happen this year, and hazelnuts are looking like missing the cut for now. The espaliered stone fruit might also come in year two. But all things considered, I think we’ve done alright!

In the very first days on the property Scott and our new neighbours made short work of the two 6 metre high pencil pines that completely blocked sunlight from the main living areas. Scott gradually hacked his way through the blackberries and a variety of scruffy trees overhanging the north side of the house.  It was slow work with a succession of secateurs, handsaws and borrowed chainsaws. Finally Scott’s dad come to visit and immediately went out and bought us a proper chainsaw of our own. Thanks Vince! That said, it’s massive, terrifying and I will never use it.  More than happy for that to be a man tool..

We got Rhett the Tree Man out and spent an enlightening few hours discussing the relative merits of every tree on the block with him. What an incredible source of knowledge he was, and so generous with his time. Rhett’s most valuable advice was, with the exception of dangerous or fire risk trees, to wait a full year before deciding what to clear. Within weeks, a tree that I had been planning to sacrifice in favour of a promising deciduous sapling, burst into colour with the most incredible display of bright orange flowers I’ve seen. Thankfully that fella will be staying on!  We still haven’t had Rhett back to lop the 6 – 8 big eucalypts that overhang the house, but that will definitely be done before Summer, along with a couple of giant pines that block light and retard growth underneath their canopy. That will leave us with a good supply of mulch ready for making paths and a bit of firewood to supplement next winter’s biggest expense. Luckily local regulations allow us to remove pines, as well as any trees within 10 metres of the house.

Burning last year’s garden waste

As soon as fire restrictions eased up we had a giant bonfire and worked our way through all the branches and prunings that had been left behind by the previous owners, as well as all the prunings we’d already accumulated ourselves. A lot of smaller garden waste is in a giant compost pile in the utility area behind a shed, but I wouldn’t technically call it a composting system. We still use our black plastic compost bin for kitchen scraps, but when the weather improves I hope we can set up some proper bays and start producing compost a bit more effectively for our pretty significant garden needs. As for chooks, the jury’s still out on on whether they’ll be here in Year One.  We really want them and their yummy eggs, but we need to find time to build a chook house and pen, or convert an existing shed (currently the preferred option). With Scott working full time, and me not so handy with a hammer – yet – it might have to wait it until it reaches the top of the list.

Sheet mulching a patch in the Kitchen Garden at the end of Summer.

I’d almost given up on the kitchen garden for year one, but over a couple of big weekends in Autumn we managed to throw together four no-dig garden beds and get in seedlings of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and beetroot. A few weeks later I popped some garlic in the ends of the beds, around a potted lime tree and anywhere else I could find good soil!  Scott pulled out the ugly acacia that was gracing the sunniest spot in the garden, and we got a delivery of compost and planted parsley, garlic chives, lavender, rosemary, sage, oregano, marjoram and thyme.

Scott up a ladder, pruning the unruly grapevine

When the leaves had all dropped on the grape vine Scott got to work on pruning and I’d say it’s about halfway done. The massive overgrown blackberry by the dam still needs pruning. This will be a huge, not so much fun job. With luck we’ll get that and the grape vine done before Spring overtakes us with new growth – quickly approaching!

 

 

 

A few weeks ago we picked up our bare-rooted fruit trees; 2 apples, 2 plums, a crab apple and a fig. It’s a small start, but we didn’t want to bite off more than we could manage right now. As it turns out, it’s just as well we didn’t get more as the weather has been awful ever since. Eventually we bit the bullet and went out in the freezing rain to dig the holes. When I say ‘we’ I really mean Scott.  I shovelled a bit of soil and gave instructions, but I am nowhere near being able to dig holes just yet!  Next year maybe.

Alexa though, pulled on her gumboots and got stuck in, digging more than her bodyweight in heavy clay and jumping in the holes which rapidly filled with water. We crossed our fingers that the trees wouldn’t drown and got them in, and then went back out the next weekend and hauled them out of the quagmire; just like quicksand to the kids’ delight!  Most of our mini orchard has now been replanted a good 30cm higher and hopefully will stay above the water line.

While we were out there, Scott got started on digging a swale that sits just above the food forest to capture storm water and hold it there while it soaks into the soil, rather than running off.  We’ll observe it in this week’s rain to see how it works before filling with mulch.

I’ve been recording all our progress and will share more stories and pictures soon. With the slim, windswept forms of our baby fruit trees visible out the window, a real productive food garden is starting to feel like a real possibility at last. I’m so excited to see the vision emerge and I think I may burst with joy the day we harvest the actual fruits of our labours. Can’t wait to share it all with you.

 

My Neural Retraining Adventure – Update 1

About a month ago I shared that I was about to start a neural retraining programme, based on the theory that some chronic health problems can be traced back to a neural impairment – basically a brain injury.

I’ve now completed a 4 day training programme, and am into my 2nd week of implementing the strategies. I’ve decided to share regular updates on my progress, as I think this is something that a lot of people would be intrigued about. Now that I’m immersed in the programme, I should state up front that there are a few caveats about what I can share. Because retraining your brain involves neglecting old patterns in order to replace them with new neural pathways, there are certain things that won’t be helpful for me to think or write about. In fact, simply by giving them thought, I am reinforcing the old patterns that I’m attempting to rewire. So, I won’t talk specifically about my symptoms, and I won’t have much to say about bad days, or any setbacks that I might be having. That said, I don’t plan to sugarcoat the experience. I’ll just be focussing on the wins and sharing any positive outcomes. No doubt you’ll be able to read between the lines and see the complete picture!

The programme I’m using is called DNRS (Dynamic Neural Retraining System). It’s based on the idea that an impairment of the limbic system can trigger a wide range of symptoms. Obviously it’s important that these symptoms be investigated by western medicine initially, as they can be caused by a number of potentially serious illnesses. However, in cases where mainstream medicine turns up a blank, limbic system impairment is considered. The kinds of symptoms that respond well to neural retraining are chronic and unexplained pain and fatigue, and sensitivities to chemicals, foods, smells, sounds & light. People have also seen remarkable relief from depression, anxiety, brain fog, migraines, EMF sensitivity and all sorts of seemingly unrelated conditions. The case studies are fascinating. Some of the most extreme conditions see dramatic turnarounds in a matter of days and weeks. Others see slow and gradual improvements over many months of sustained practice. I’ve noticed that chronic fatigue sufferers tend to be in the ‘slow & steady’ camp.

I went away for four days to do the DNRS training so I could replicate as closely as possible the workshop experience that attendees normally have (DNRS is usually run as a live workshop in Canada). Remote attendees watch 14 DVDS that explain the theory and teach the retraining process. There are writing exercises and activities and the expectation that you focus on applying the theory to your daily life over those 4 days. It also involves a deep dive into the science of neuroplasticity and how the limbic system works. If that interests you, I recommend starting with Norman Doidge’s ‘The Brain That Changes Itself’.

In brief, it is now well accepted that the brain is plastic, and that small changes to our patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving can trigger dramatic physical changes to the wiring of our brain. We can literally think our way to a new brain. So, in the case of a person with a limbic system impairment, something has caused our brain to get stuck in a loop whereby a threat is perceived. Initially the threat is real, but for some reason, when the danger is over, the brain doesn’t return to its normal calm state. Instead, a pattern is set up that continually reinforces the messaging that the threat remains. The longer this goes on, the stronger the reinforcement and the more intense the brain’s response patterns. The initial trigger could be any kind of trauma that the brain perceives as dangerous, be it exposure to a toxin, a virus, an accident or stressful experience. The trigger could be acute or build gradually over a long period. I can trace the beginning of my symptoms to a car accident nearly 15 years ago. Stressful experiences in the intervening years intensified the reinforcement which has led me to where I am today. Understanding all of this has led to me viewing my symptoms in a whole new light. I can now see them all as the result of a malfunctioning brain, rather than a whole lot of disparate and seemingly unrelated physical problems. It now makes complete sense that so many of my symptoms could never be diagnosed. And perhaps most comfortingly, having done the training, I now feel in control of my recovery.

Understanding how the limbic system works is core to successfully embarking on the DNRS training. It’s important to be able to accept that a person with a healthy limbic system would not be experiencing the symptoms that you have. The next step is to change all of the thoughts, beliefs, feelings and responses that you currently have in relation to your symptoms. For someone with a very limiting chronic health issue, that means changing almost every thought, all day every day. It’s hard work. The first part of the programme involves spending an hour every day repeating a series of words and actions that reinforce a new way of thinking, and associating this thinking with positive emotions. This is effective because the more deeply you engage with something, the more likely it will ‘stick’ in your brain. By engaging your whole body, your voice and strong positive emotions, you give the retraining the best possible chance of having an impact.

I call this ‘doing my rounds’, as it involves repeating a particular process for an hour, either all at once, or over a number of sessions through the day. I’m yet to fall into a groove for this routine, but I think breaking it up over the day works best for me. I’ve found it to be less tedious than I expected, and I absolutely notice a difference in my energy levels after completing a round. The most challenging part of doing my rounds is coming up with memories and visualisations to create a genuinely strong positive emotion. I really have to trawl my memory banks and creativity to make this as powerful an experience as possible.

The second part of the process is to catch all of those old patterns as they occur, and ‘reverse’ them by applying the same theory. This is way easier when I’m in a good mood, or just generally feeling optimistic. For me, this might look like doing a short round of retraining when I wake up tired, and rather than buying into negative thoughts and accepting that heavy feeling, I’ll take a walk around the property and enjoy the fresh air. Or quickly heading off a thought process about back pain by doing a quick round of retraining in my head. A few nights ago we went to a winter solstice celebration for Matariki at my daughter’s school that involved watching a performance, sharing a Maori feast and toasting marshmallows around a bonfire. This would normally be a significant challenge for me – physically and emotionally. I would expect to suffer physically during the evening, and worry that the impact would last many days after the event. In the lead up I worked hard to think about how much fun this would be, and how enjoyable the bonfire experience would be for all of us. It presented such a challenge (emotionally) that on the day I couldn’t even do my rounds, but in the end I enjoyed the experience far more than I might have, and followed up by working hard on the ‘day after’ symptoms. It’s baby steps for sure, but it’s heartening to have small victories and see my efforts pay off.

The final step in retraining is to challenge yourself daily by wrapping a previously triggering experience in new patterns of thinking and feeling. A challenge might involve exposing yourself in a controlled way to something that would previously cause symptoms. In my case, this could be anything from going for a long walk, to driving to the city or having coffee with a friend. I’ve had mixed feelings about this step. I already feel like I challenge myself quite frequently in my daily life, as I’ve never been particularly good at accepting my physical limitations! I’d usually just do too much, feel anxious about it and suffer the consequences. Now I’m trying to keep doing what I would always do, but instead of worrying, or expecting consequences, I work on catching and changing the old patterns in the process. I have successfully headed off symptoms on quite a few occasions by doing this. I think in the coming weeks I’ll try to do this in a more structured way, but it’s hard to get my head around pulling back and limiting my challenges to one a day, as this feels like it goes against the training. I’ll probably try a few approaches and see how it goes.

After 2 weeks of neural re-training I’d say I’m seeing results. At this early stage I don’t think there has been any permanent ‘rewiring’ as such, but I do see that when I practice consistently, I feel better. I have more energy and my symptoms are less impactful. These are great signs. I’m motivated to continue, and I do believe that I will keep getting results. Ultimately I have real hopes that this is the final countdown to getting my mojo back. With one more week until the school holidays, my plan is to set up a more structured daily routine and practice it. I’ve been less focussed than I could be, and I know I’ll need to set up some good habits if I want to continue to retrain effectively while I have a full house of kids and visitors. Wish me luck!

The Last Time I Tell This Story

We all have a story. It’s the story we tell ourselves when we wake up in the morning and step into the details of our day. The story tells us who we are and how to operate in the world. We use our story to make decisions, engage with people and makes sense of things in our life. Our story evolves with us. Every period of our life adds a chapter, and some chapters change the flow of the narrative so fundamentally that we find ourselves in a totally different story to the one we expected to be living in. One day you might wake up and find yourself stuck in a story that doesn’t work for you anymore. What if you want a new story?

It’s not easy to change your story. You can change your circumstances, your location, or your friends, but in the end, your story is who you are, and you take it with you. As Confucius is supposed to have said “Wherever you go, there you are.”  But the science of neuroplasticity tells us that this doesn’t have to be the case. Habits, patterns of behaviour, ways of thinking and even physical limitations and injuries have the potential to be re-wired in your brain, changing your story forever. I recently came across a neural retraining program that uses the science of neuroplasticity to rewire the brains of people with mysterious chronic health problems. I’ve decided to give it a shot. It’s a lengthy process that uses repetition to create new neural pathways, replacing the ones that have been laid down for many years and are being reinforced daily, every time you tell your story. I know that once I begin, I’ll need to start telling a different story. I won’t be able to tell the old story anymore, because I’ll need those neural pathways to wither up and die from disuse. And so, I’d like to tell my story, the one I’m currently living in, one last time.

In this story is a girl who had a good start in life. She had a nice family, a good education, a comfortable home. She grew up, left the family home and made her way in the world. She did all the usual things for a middle class Australian girl. Studied hard, got a job, made friends, had boyfriends. She travelled, got promotions, rented houses and went to parties. She knew certain things about herself and she considered those thing to be mostly immutable. She was clever, nice looking, easily bored and not particularly disposed to tedium. She was naturally good at most things, and didn’t have to work terribly hard to be successful. On the other hand she never seemed able to achieve quite enough to be satisfied. She certainly didn’t feel good enough compared to other people, and was always trying hard to be accepted by them. And so she made sure she was very good at everything and did all the things that other people did. She made plenty of mistakes along the way as she sought acceptance and and belonging, but they were small mistakes in the whole scheme of things. Mostly she followed the rules of society, and at the age of 33 she had a good job, a husband and a pretty house in a good suburb, filled with nice clothes and furniture. But she wondered why it still didn’t feel like enough.

One day she realised that this was not the way the story of her life was supposed to go, and she decided to take it in another, very different direction. This was the most difficult and painful chapter of her story so far, but by following her heart the story began to flow as stories should, and she found and married the love of her life. She created a family with this man, embracing his two boys and eventually bringing a beautiful little girl into the world, just as she’d always known she would. Her story was better now, with belonging and growth and a deep abiding sense of contentment. But it had also become a story of struggle. There was illness and hardship and conflict; things she’d never had to contend with before. She learned about compassion and selflessness and vulnerability. She made new friends, and found herself coming closer to the person she really was, underneath all that striving for acceptance. And yet she was still striving, and she still had quite a bit more to do before she was truly enough. The girl had been working so hard, supporting her family through tough times, doing all of the things that mothers and stepmothers and wives and business owners and friends had to do, and she was so, so tired. No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t find a way to do all the things that other people did. She saw all the health specialists, did all the tests and ate all the right foods, but she failed at being healthy, over and over again until eventually she broke.

The girl is now in her mid 40s and knows she has moved past the physical prime of her life. She has accepted that she suffers from chronic fatigue or something like it. Her body aches most days, but if she is absolutely vigilant about diet and rest and yoga and meditation then she can minimise the fatigue and the pain. She is not vigilant though, and she gets down on herself all the time about failing to be the best version of herself. She sometimes eats gluten or drinks wine or stays up past 9pm because she misses having fun and spontaneity in her life. She knows that no-one can help her get better and is jaded and cynical about alternative therapies and treatments that people recommend. She holds onto the dream that somewhere in the future is a time when she is well again, and there’s enough light in that vision to allow for optimism. Even through the tedium, the self-judgement and the occasional despair, there is still plenty of hope. She loves her home, her friends and her family. She reads, she writes, she plants seeds and she dreams of all the things she might do when she’s well. This is her story. It’s not a bad story, and a full and rewarding life could be made from it, but her soul is asking for more in this lifetime. Forever the optimist, she believes it can be done.

I begin the neural retraining program in a few weeks. As part of the program I won’t be allowed to live in the old story anymore, as breaking it down involves actively avoiding the reinforcement of old ways of thinking. Negative thinking is off limits, so this is my last chance to say that the cynic in me is alive and well. I don’t feel altogether comfortable with ‘thinking’ my way out of chronic fatigue and I have this feeling that I’m going to be forced to tell half truths that only focus on the positives and ignore the reality. I have done a lot of reading about the science though, and I understand the fundamentals. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns and if I have to live in a somewhat fabricated reality for a period of time in order to rewire my brain for health, then it’s a small price to pay.

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If you’re interested in learning more about neuroplasticity, check out the book ‘The Brain That Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge. It’s been a fascinating and life changing read for me. And I’ll definitely be sharing more about the neural training once I get started.

 

On Writing, Finding your Place and Hibernation

I’ve been writing a lot lately.  Nearly every day, sometimes multiple times a day. I write in the shower. I write while I drive. I write as I chop vegetables, put away shoes and fold blankets. I know it’s time to really write, on paper, when my thoughts are no longer rambling and a bit wild the way thoughts are, but rather more like essay drafts complete with fully formed sentences and paragraphs. I always have such grand intentions about writing. I will do it often and consistently. I will get up every morning and write for 15 minutes. I’ll journal and blog and capture little moments from my day and use it as therapy. I want to say I’d do it too, if I were well enough, but I haven’t always been sick, and I didn’t write consistently then either. I think though, that you know when you’re a writer, and even if you resist it, for whatever reason, you still live with the soul of a writer. Even though the world might conspire to keep you from actually capturing the words on this day, or any other day. For me, having a blog means always having an outlet when the words are ready. I like that. One Day I’ll write more than this and maybe I’ll need another outlet. Wouldn’t that be fun!

When you have chronic fatigue I think it’s OK to say ‘One Day’.  When you have chronic fatigue, if the day ever comes when you actually have the energy to do all the things you were going to do One Day, then by God you’ll take that energy and do those things. But for now, I’m sitting here by a crackling fire, and I’ve pushed the armchair back a little so I can turn and see through the big windows into the garden. A burst of sunshine has just broken though from behind dark clouds, and the rain soaked garden is positively glowing. Light is streaming through the deep red leaves of the grapevine on the pergola and the dappled light is glorious. With the sun out, it feels warmer than it did, and I might even need to layer down soon. This is a good place for writing. For sitting and reading and being too. I’m feeling pleased and self-satisfied with this house and this comfy armchair. I like being here, in this part of the world, at this time in my life. I feel like I’ve come home.

My armchair view, just before the clouds cleared.

 

I would prefer to be well. I haven’t been improving, which is a big disappointment. I really thought a few months of country air and quiet living would make a big difference. I think I probably sabotaged my recovery by pretending I was improving and doing too much. I may have mentioned before that I’m a slow learner, but I really have outdone myself. That time when I thought I was getting there, that time last year, and that other time early this year – I probably wasn’t. I was probably pretending so that I could trick myself into a speedier recovery. I’m closer now. I may actually be learning! I’m more disciplined. I realise more quickly when I overstep my limits, and I correct before veering too wildly off course. I still veer, and there are still tears. There is despair and exhaustion and overwhelm. There is ‘will I ever have my life back’ and ‘what if I can never work again’ and ‘maybe I’m doing it all wrong’. But then it gets better and I sleep and I say no to more things and the future looks ok again, if not ideal. I’m trying something new soon, an alternative therapy designed to gently rehabilitate from chronic illness. I’m quietly hopeful. Or hopefully cynical! But more on that another time as for now it’s all about slowing down and resting.

During the holidays we went away for a weekend with friends. It was a beautiful spot by the beach, and we enjoyed a restful few days of slow walks, books and soaking up the autumn sunshine. We all had a lovely time, and maybe I’d do it again, but I was exhausted and emotionally drained for several weeks afterwards. For every action there is a reaction, and I’m getting better at recognising what I have to say no to. A little while ago I said yes to a quick play at the park after school, even though I had to get to the shops and make dinner that night. The outcome was being unable to do anything the next day. I like going to the park. I like chatting to the other mums and being part of a community, but I know now that I can only do that if I plan my day around it.

This week I drove an hour to my Osteo in the city. Afterwards I took some preloved winter threads to a little store up the road that buys second hand clothes. I was there about 30 minutes and found a great new coat and dress to buy with my store credit. Then my friend cooked me lunch and I lay on her couch for a while and chatted with her before driving home. I was wiped. I had to spend the whole next day in bed with my head in a fog and my body too heavy to move. That night I couldn’t sleep, managing only 2 hours before spending the day at home with a sad girl who needed a bit of quality mama time instead of going to school. By the evening I was so wired from exhaustion I thought I’d never sleep again. I got there eventually, and now it’s another day, the sun in shining and things are clearer, but next time I’ll drive straight home after the Osteo and hopefully I won’t lose 3 days as a result.

It’s so beautiful here right now, on the precipice between the seasons. Nights are crisp with just a hint of the Winter to come. Autumn’s endless sunshine is faltering, and some mornings it seems we’re in for nothing but gloom and clouds. Then just when you’ve given up and gone to collect some kindling for an early fire, there’s a glimpse of blue sky and that Autumn sun comes streaming through. One more time. Perhaps today is the last day. I wanted to do more in the garden before winter set in. Oh the plans I made! Landscaping and swales, an orchard and espaliered fruit trees. A dry creek bed to capture the stormwater run off, lilies and reeds for the dam and a cute little home-made fence for the kitchen garden. But you know what, we’ve only been here 4 months and there’s a whole lifetime ahead of us. These things will happen, eventually. We did manage to get some carrots into the raised bed and create three no-dig beds with broccoli, cauliflower, beetroot, cabbage and garlic planted in time for winter. I’m not sure if they’ll survive the Macedon frosts (and snow??) but I’m glad we’ve got our first experimental crop in. Plus I’ve made a start on my medicinal herb garden.  This is the real passion project for me at the moment. With compacted, heavy clay soils it’s been mostly Scott’s hard work with a mattock, cultivating the beds that I’ve designed and getting them ready for planting. I’ve been engaged in much more gentle labours, transplanting the herbs that mum had been propagating for me over the last year. There are some salad greens in pots, a few bits & pieces of seedlings and some pretty trailing plants in a couple of hanging baskets on the deck. It’s a start and probably more than enough to keep an eye on over the hibernating period.

Speaking of hibernating, next week our new Nectre slow combustion fire is being installed. There’s a delicious open fire in the lounge, but it’s enormous and burns through the wood at a great rate, so it will be saved for those super chilly nights and special occasions. With the (heavenly, sigh) hydronic heating too costly to run on bottled gas, the new Nectre will be our only heating and it will burn 24/7 over winter. I can’t wait. There’ll be a boiling kettle on the hob always, ready for visitors who drop in for a cuppa and a warm place to shelter from the cold. Yes, winter is coming, but I’m not dreading it. Apparently Autumn has been unusually warm and dry, so perhaps I’ve been lulled into a false sense of comfort, but I don’t think my expectations are unrealistic. So far I’ve loved the marked difference between the seasons. Summer was scorching, harsh and a little frightening because of the bushfire risk always in the background. Autumn by contrast is crisp, still and gloriously colourful under a perfect blue sky. Winter I imagine will be dark, damp and miserably cold, suitable mostly for casseroles and cups of tea and huddling by the fire. I’m ready to hibernate and take this time for myself and my family as we rest and prepare for another year. I think I’ll try knitting again; there’s a half made beanie somewhere that I really should finish. My book stack has been building up in anticipation and hopefully I’ll write a little too.

I’m glad every day that we moved here. We looked at so many places over so many years.  We considered so many factors, requirements and conditions, priorities and preferences. In the end only Macedon felt right. I gaze at the mountain every day and am comforted by its weight and presence. I close my eyes and see myself here, in the west of the state and it feels right. It’s where my people are from, although they were further west. But it’s right, somehow, and I no longer feel lost and disconnected. I knew all along I needed land, though I could never fully explain why. I needed a place, the right place, MY place to set down roots. Those roots of mine are shallow still, but they’ve already taken hold of this land and begun drawing in Mama Earth’s life giving nourishment. I can grow here. I have so much to learn here.

Every day I dive headlong into books, stories and other people’s words about land, being indigenous, and belonging to place. I am beginning to see how it all comes together, all this work I’m doing to explore ancient wisdom, the rising feminine, medicinal herbs, earth regeneration and creating soul deep, nourishing spaces. I am reading about myth and folklore and the dreamtime. I have ideas about women and displacement, our lost power and our sacred role to protect the earth. My head is full of stories and initiations, rituals, circles and ideas for bringing it all into the world in my own unique way. One day.

 

The current book stack. 

 

The BIG change we always wanted to make

I called this blog Slow Change because it was going to be the story of how my family and I made small, slow changes to our life. It was all about slowing down and living as though we had bought a little house in the country and were living the simple life. Even though we hadn’t, actually. Even though circumstances made it impossible for us to buy that little house and create that idyllic life of country simplicity. My dreams of kitchen gardens, orchards, home made jams, freshly baked bread, lush green views, fresh air, and above all financial freedom were not to be realised.

Faced with this disappointment, it dawned on us that there was still plenty we could do to slow down and live simply, without actually moving anywhere. Thus I coined the term slow change to represent the small, slow changes we would make to find pockets of peace and simplicity in our otherwise fast paced city life.  That was exactly what we did, and it made for a nifty blog name, but I did end up feeling like it was just a positive spin on a massive compromise – what I really wanted was that little house in the country dammit!

So we slowed down, and we really did make a lot of changes. These days we cook and eat differently, shop differently, spend our time differently and ultimately value time and people over money and things. We grew a few vegies and learned a LOT about what not to do in the garden. I didn’t make jam, but I did bottle tomatoes and make kombucha. We also ditched a whole lot of nasty plastics and chemicals from our lives and started buying bulk organic food, at least some of the time. As it turned out though, that nifty blog name was more apt that I could have realised back at the beginning.  We hit a fair few roadblocks along the way to change, and the pace of change was certainly slower.. and bumpier… than we anticipated.

Some of the tough stuff we experienced distracted us from our slow lifestyle for a while, but ultimately placed us even more firmly back on the slow bandwagon in the end. Scott found out he had rectal cancer, so we went through all of that and came out the other side. We had some crazy Ketogenic diet times with Beck’s epilepsy before we got his seizures under control. I burned outgot diagnosed with various tedious things and stopped working.  We realised we couldn’t live on one salary, so we sold our house and moved into a rental for a year. I didn’t get better, ended up with some more diagnoses and had a hysterectomy. It was an exhausting, overwhelming few years, full of ummm….. opportunities for growth and…. valuable perspectives on life!

And so, there we were. Cashed up but homeless, living in a little house in Melbourne’s Inner North surrounded by another family’s furniture. A family that would be coming home soon, so we REALLY needed to make a decision about what was next for our little family. How WOULD we live on one salary indefinitely while I rebuilt my health and embarked on a totally new career path? How could we balance financial stability with happiness and good mental and physical health. How on earth could we manage to keep slowing down and living in alignment with our values to create the life we’d dreamed of?

And then… OH MY GOD WE DID IT!

We bought the little house in the country.  Look!

Exhibit A: Little house in the country. Ignore plastic bag in foreground (who put that there????).

 

Yes we did! Well OK, the house is actually not that little. But it’s most definitely in the country, there is definitely enough land for a kitchen garden and an orchard and trees and fresh air, and there has definitely been some bread baking going on*. We’re not quite as financially free as we might have liked, but we now own a home with the potential to support all of the dreams we can possibly dream up and a few more besides. So it’s a done deal. We moved in over the holidays and spent a few weeks juggling around getting it painted, which meant we finally had the house to ourselves on the first day of school. And now here I am, a week later, alone in a fresh, white, quiet house, with (almost) all our furniture, quite a lot of boxes and absolutely no plans. Bliss! A couple of days ago I felt like writing for the first time in quite a while. This is what I call an exceptionally good sign.

In other news I’ve been pretty exhausted. House hunting, moving, school holidays and just getting our new place set up has really taken it out of me. It’s been non-stop for 3 or 4 months and through it all I’ve only just kept the fatigue at bay. It’s that old familiar story of running on adrenaline, then hitting the wall as soon as you stop. Not the best approach when you have adrenal fatigue, but it was kind of unavoidable under the circumstances. I’m still feeling optimistic about recovery, and really it’s all been leading up to this moment. Now I can finally stop, walk in the garden, breathe the fresh air, rest when I need to and simply take the time I need. I can already feel the rejuvenating effects of this place; this place that I’ve dreamed of for so long. Finally here! All the pressure of striving and planning and problem solving has finally dissolved and I feel relaxed and hopeful. A lot of things have fallen into place, and even though there’s still plenty to work out, there’s time for everything and I’m not in a hurry.

I don’t know when I’ll have the energy to get back into running my women’s circles. I really loved holding space for women, but it was shocking how much energy it took from me. I had to put that, and all my other plans, on hold so we could get through the moving process. Now we’re here and it looks like I need to go back to square one and start my recovery again. It’s oh so frustrating and tedious to have so many plans and so little energy. I’m getting better at sitting with it though, and I’m getting better at recognising that I’ve stretched my limits and putting on the brakes before I go over the edge. I’m a slow learner – but hey it’s all about ‘slow’ change right???

Anyway, I hope to be able to continue sharing the journey with you. I don’t know what the next year will be made up of. I might be focussed mostly on my health and recovery, or I may be well enough to continue my Reiki journey and begin working with women again. I hope to be able to share the transformation of our beautiful 2 acres in the Macedon Ranges and share some of the ups and downs we experience as we re-connect with the land and discover how we might breathe new life into it.  It’s something I’m approaching on multiple levels. I’ve started sketching out a plan for the property, using all those permaculture skills that I knew I’d use one day. But also I’m wanting to sit and breathe and connect with the spirit of the place and feel what it wants from us. I love wandering around this little piece of paradise and discovering all the surprises the garden presents as it changes every day. I may have to start an instagram account, cos I would love to share all this colour and wonder with you. Check out just a few of the little details I’ve enjoyed this week:

Anyway, watch this space. There’s plenty more to come. You can sign up to receive emails when I post updates, because you really can’t rely on Facebook to let you know these days. No doubt you’ll have noticed that I post pretty sporadically so there’s not much chance of it becoming annoyingly spammy. Or if, by some strange turn of events I become a prolific sharer, you can easily unsubscribe. Thanks for coming along on the ride with me.

 

*I never said I was the one baking. Thankfully Scott is the resident baker around here, and I just get to eat it 🙂

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