Nature's Mothers Blog

Childbirth, Parenting and Other Passions

Our very own Winter Solstice celebration… December 8, 2013

Filed under: Parenting,sustainable living,thoughts — naturesmother @ 9:29 am

At the beginning of this year I did a blogpost about exploring an alternative to Christmas here

It seems to have come naturally for us this year to get more excited about the change in the seasons. Instead of feeling blue as the weather has got colder, I feel we have become much more connected with what is actually going on as the days become shorter, the bulbs lie dormant beneath the earth and the animals collect nuts and go into hibernation. I think part of it is due to having small children and embracing the magic that is our earth, and perhaps also living where we do with an amazing view of the changing natural world combined with spending more time outdoors. The beginning of the celebration, for us, was the advent spiral at Zelda School.  Whilst we each got a candle from an angel at the entrance of the yurt, walked to the middle of the spiral one -by-one (or with our child) to light it, bringing light to the darkest days of the year, and then placed our candle somewhere on the spiral and made a wish – children and adults were all singing wonderful rounds of songs together. These are my favourite:
“Oaken leaves, in the merry woods so wild,
when will you grow green, oh?
Fairest maid, and thou be with child, lullaby
may’st thou sing, ah.
Lulla, lullaby, lulla, lulla, lullaby, lullaby
may’st thou sing, ah.”
and
“Now I walk in beauty,
beauty is before me,
beauty is behind me,
above and below me” 977112_10153544056425398_529620047_o (1)

My girls had been so looking forward to the spiral. You could see the childrens eyes, filled with magic and things memories are made of, and this year it was especially contagious. I have officially embraced winter celebrations, and am too enjoying the magic. The mulled wine and sitting around a fire with friends is a wonderful tradition too, and I hope to always do it.

We have officially rejected the generic idea of christmas, where you get yourself broke and buy presents nobody needs or wants (sorry Christmas lovers) – and I have also rejected the idea of it being a purely Christian celebration, having explored many more of the pagan and natural folklore. That has allowed me to claim and embrace the celebrations as a non-Christian. I mentioned last year that we told the kids Santa was not real – well, hubby did and I was not sure how I felt about it. The kids haven’t really remembered as Erin is talking of Santa getting her an IPad (hahaha, whatever!) But this year we have got a book about St Nicholas(waiting for it to arrive), and are looking forward to reading about the amazing ways he helped people and have decided that we can embrace Santa in this way – in the spirit of giving and helping others.

After reading this very wonderful blog about a solstice celebration hubby and I have had a proper sit down, grown up chat about how we want to do this winter celebration thing. We have decided to completely make it our own, make it work for us but follow some of the traditions. So as far as advent goes, we have decided to start the countdown next Wednesday – 14 days, which is about half a moon cycle – before Christmas day. No real reason – perhaps we will start on the 1st of December next year, we are just not well enough organised this year! On Wednesday we will cut a small branch from a tree, bring it home and decorate it. Perhaps it will be an evergreen branch, perhaps it won’t – we’ll just see what feels right. Traditionally a evergreen was used as a symbol of life in the midst of winter. It will be our winter tree. We plan to decorate our house with bits of Holly and other evergreens too and winter lights, and have started making wreaths with willow which we will twist green into.

We have written a list of things we would like to do – one on each of those 14 days of our advent, not necessarily in this order. Inspiration from various Winter Solstice books and The Woodland Trust website:

1) Make bird seed donuts – bird seed rolled in peanut butter – for the birds.
2) Make a leaf scarf for a tree
3) Make a sunrise/sunset chart
4) Make twig stars
5) Do a scavenger hunt
6) Winter twig quiz – match twigs to trees
7) Make gingerbread trees
8) Make ice or tissue paper lanterns
9) Make paper snowflakes
10) Make pine cone trees
11)Make up our own Solstice Song
12) Collect twigs for the fire (possibly a daily thing)
13) Go ice skating
14) Play games

Our main celebration is going to be on the 21st, which is the shortest day of the year. We will be opening one or two presents, writing down our favourite memories of the year, making cupcakes with yellow icing (representing the sun) and making wishes.  Later we hope to have an outdoor fire with friends, make and drink mulled wine and spicy apple juice and have fun. Before you get worried, we won’t be sacrificing goats or anything 😉 There is a beautiful childrens book called The Shortest Day, which we have been reading to the girls. We will be looking forward to the days getting longer and the nights getting shorter again.

We plan for the days that follow to hold lots of family time and time with friends, walks, reflecting on the past year, looking forward to more daylight, enjoying the great outdoors and good food. On Christmas morning the kids will open their christmas stockings and I think we will open the rest of our presents (one or two more) later in the day. We are having a meal with friends, although hubby may be at work, and maybe we’ll have another fire to mark the end of our solstice celebration. Ooh and another thing I’d love to do at some point, is go to Winter Wood again (if you are local, this is a must-do…so magical!)

I would also really like to do something specifically for others/helping out somewhere – not sure what yet…suggestions?

How do you celebrate your winter season?

Here are some of our sources of inspiration for creating a celebration of our own:

http://www.monbiot.com/2012/12/10/the-gift-of-death/

http://sweetsky.net/2011/12/light-and-life-solstice/

http://altaredspaces.com/2010/12/solstice-brings-inner-illumination/

http://storyofstuff.org/

http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mk0FyZqNp5Q

http://science.discovery.com/tv-shows/wonders-with-brian-cox/videos/wonders-of-the-universe-winter-solstice.htm

The Return of the Light

 

I jinxed it… December 7, 2013

Filed under: babies,Breastfeeding,Parenting,thoughts — naturesmother @ 10:07 am

I thought I should update you with the truth! Last month I posted about The end of an era. I said “…this may be the beginning of the days where I am not awake breastfeeding all night.” Well, I can confirm – it wasn’t! In fact in the last few nights I feel like I have been woken up every 10 minutes!  Now before anyone feels sorry for me, I feel that I should point out that even though I am thoroughly shattered (and should have gone to bed with the kids!), it is not all bad. My days of snuggling my little boy at night, undisturbed, are numbered and I do actually really treasure this time. He is still in bed with me, so it is pretty easy for me to just roll over and feed him when I am exhausted. I have tried sleeping with the girls, but he knows when I’m in the house and cries for me (even toddles through the dark looking for me…bless!).

However, I can now go out in the evenings…I even slept over at a friends house and he is totally fine when I am not there, and Erin and Ayla ADORE feeding him a bottle of oatley and snuggling him to sleep (something that he won’t do if I’m around). I, on the other hand, feel a little bit like a teenager having a chance to leave the house in the evening…something I have don’t think I have done once (without having a child with me) in the last 6 years! I even went to out with a friend to see the lovely Martha Tilston sing …woooo!

Hubby & I are going to try to go out to see a film next week. WITHOUT any children, for the first time in over 14 months! Wish us luck!

My Amazing Children!! 🙂

 

Our low impact life… October 28, 2013

Filed under: Community life on the farm,Parenting,sustainable living,thoughts — naturesmother @ 8:19 am

People often wonder what our life is like. Our lifestyle is not totally unique, but it is very different to that of the vast majority of people I know.

We have moved 11 times in the last 7 years…that’s a LOT of moving! Why, you ask? We cannot afford to buy a house – we do not earn enough to get a mortgage – and neither would we want one. The idea of working our whole lives in order to pay a mortgage fills us with dread. So we’ve rented – normally we go for the cheapest – which was mostly short term lets.  Other times we’ve intended to stay long term, but our bills worked out to be unsustainable, or we just weren’t happy. We were having to claim housing benefit and having more and more drama with the fact that all estate agents in our area would not accept anyone on Housing Benefit, and most private landlords were wary of HB too. Basically, the Council provided a system which didn’t work for us. And neither were we happy depending on it.

We are happiest close to nature, some of our fondest memories whilst Wwoof’ing. The simple life is for us…so when I found a part time job available as personal assistant and event organiser at a daycentre for adults with special needs, on an organic farm…well, this sounded like heaven.

I got the job and a few months later we moved onto the farm. We lived in a touring caravan – where we built a small top bunk above the single bed so that we each had somewhere to sleep. It was hubby, myself and our 2 girls at that point, but I was expecting… As ‘nesting’ kicked in and began to worry about how I was going to cope with 3 children in this square metre(or less) of floor space. I opened my email one day, and there was an email from a local forum I belong to about someone selling a large shed for £600. I immediately called and we went to see it and bought it straight away. The man who we bought it from was a builder and he told us it’d take a day to take down and a couple of days to put up. Well, we aren’t builders – and it took about 6 months to rebuild it and make it habitable – we had the learning experience of a lifetime! We employed a builder here and there to get us started on the things we didn’t know how to do, but mostly we (or rather, my husband) built our house with his own bare hands. There is a huge sense of achievement in that alone, and even though it was stressful we feel really grateful to have had this opportunity.

We do an exchange – we work a few days a month in exchange for our beautiful piece of land – above an apple orchard and overlooking a valley…what more could we want?! I will save the details of the build for another blog, but suffice to say that our house cost more than £600 in the end – as we took advice to use new cladding (we chose larch as it doesn’t need to be treated). We used recycled/reclaimed things wherever we could, and learnt many a lesson on the way….

This is more or less the end result…

IMG_3122

We get our little bit of power from solar panels – not enough to run a fridge, so we do without one. When there’s no sun, we have no power…although usually the panels will charge a bit, even on an overcast day.

Our loo consists of a shelf, with a toilet seat on it and a bin underneath. The bin gets emptied into our compost bins and will be eventually used as ‘humanure’ to feed our plants. During the year we spent in the caravan we had no toilet, although there are toilets on the farm – so having a compost loo of our own feels like a luxury.

We have a sink with running water…wooo! Another luxury! Our water is from a borehole. We don’t have a shower or bath, but there is a slightly temperamental shower on the farm. A flexitub and a couple of kettles of hot water sort us out just fine mostly, but we do indulge in a shower and swim at a nearby hotel every couple of weeks. We don’t have hot water in our house (at the moment) but we are hoping to buy a new woodburner with a boiler, so we should have that soon…(ooh, imagine washing dishes in warm water!)

We have a second hand gas cooker – one that someone was throwing out because the exterior is starting to rust. Our heating comes from our woodburner, and wood is something we have no shortage of on our farm as the farm gained loads of salvaged wood from a fire on the Falmouth Docks. It of course has to be collected and chopped, and fires are now becoming part of our morning and evening ritual. The girls love to help light it and little Leander loves to blow out the match.

We are very fortunate to live on the same farm as Zelda School, which is a unique school with a beautiful philosophy, run out of two yurts. The girls go there 3 days a week. I work those 3 days, whilst Hubby looks after Leander. Hubby works on weekends, as a Support Worker or Health Care Assistant (the money is best on weekends – which frees him up during the week) We have 2 family days during the week, in which we try to cram a bit of one-on-one time with the kids, home schooling ideas, and outings – amongst breastfeeding, meals, my self-employed work and other voluntary jobs I seem to accumulate.

We like to grow our own food although we haven’t done too much this year – but that is something to work on in the years to come. There are polytunnels on the farm, so when in season – we have an abundance of tomatoes, courgettes and runner beans.

We love being so close to nature, and we love that we are off grid and not dependant on the Council for housing benefit. We love that we have pretty much no massive overheads or bills. Even so, money is tight – petrol and food being our biggest expenses – but we would much rather be a little short of money and be able to share childcare and experience our childrens childhoods with them…it goes so fast!

Don’t be disillusioned however, this lifestyle is not for the faint-hearted. There is no switch to flip when it’s cold…and if baby has a poo explosion there’s no warm bath to plonk him in…but these things make you think about and realise how much energy and time goes into things that most people simply take forgranted. It makes us realise how wasteful we have been in the past, and how we need to look after our resources more carefully. This is not always an easy lifestyle – but it is a beautiful one – one where I feel so much more connected to mother earth and where my children are free and happy.

So that, in a nutshell, is our low impact lifestyle!

 

A letter to my baby boy January 14, 2013


Dear Leander,

I cannot believe that 4 months has gone by since you entered this world.  You are the happiest, most chilled out, loveliest baby I know. Ok, obviously I would say that…I am your mommy!

Getting to know you has been such an absolute delight:  from the moment I reached down and touched the top of your head as you were crowning just before you were born to watching you doze off on my breast just a few minutes ago.

Some of my favourite moments with you include holding you in my arms seconds after you were born, watching you breastfeed for the first time, climbing into bed with you a couple of hours after you were born and letting your smell and oxytocin inducing gorgeousness envelope me in bliss, watching you sleep, smile and nuzzling your neck.

Now you are a whopping 4 months old, well out of your 0-3 month old clothes and some of your 3-6 month clothes are on the small side. You are a proper little giggler now and it’s so contagious! I can’t look at you without getting an overwhelming sense of how much I love you, and how I just – selfishly – would like to freeze time and keep you in all your gorgeousness the way you are now.  You are  like a drug – intoxicating to the max – I want to bottle your smell, somehow store and save the way you make me feel.  I love the way you reach for me in your dreams at night, put a hand on my cheek or my chin and immediately settle knowing that your mama is close.  I love the way you wriggle close to me when you’re hungry or need comfort in the night and latch on to my breast.  I couldn’t not share my bed with you, that would be just too hard and too tiring for us both!

I love the milky smell of your breath, and I love spending most evening feeding you. Truly I do! I remember your big sister wanting to feed all evening – and being my first it spun me out a bit.  I wondered if it was necessary, whether I was spoiling her as some claimed, or worse still over feeding her. I also had the sense that my evenings, in fact my life, was no longer my own and this used to scare me a it. But now I know that either you are telling my body that you are growing and I need to make more milk, or you just want to be close to me and suck for comfort. And both are fine!  I also now know how quickly this time goes and I absolutely treasure and cherish it! I love the way you giggle uncontrollably when we snuffle your neck or tickle you, only a baby can laugh like that. I am so happy to be your mummy.

One thing daddy and I really enjoy is chatting to you.  You really make eye contact(and have done for months!) and you look so chuffed and joyful when we copy the sounds you make and give you a chance to answer back.  We have tried to get these chats on video, but you’re distracted by the camera…but they are so precious.  You can almost see the neural pathways forming as you have realised that you have control over your hands.  You have quick reflexes too and will have our bowl off the table in a second if we don’t keep our eyes on you!  You want to put everything in your mouth now, which we don’t mistake for you being hungry.  You are discovering, and this is the way you do it. You are also chewing on things and dribbling as your first teeth must be lurking under your gums, not too many months away from making their appearance. You have a lovely little amber teething necklace now, and I have one to match. You enjoy holding onto it and pulling it while you breastfeed just lately too.

Your sisters love you very much. You make them giggle when you accidently bash your rattle against your nose, or drop things repeatedly on the floor. They want to hold, cuddle and kiss you constantly, and it’s not unheard of for them to wake you up to do so! You love grabbing hold of their hair – this makes them shriek and giggle and you look so pleased with yourself.

My only one regret is that I can’t be fully with you 100% of the time, that I have other jobs to do, but in a sense this makes the undisturbed times with you all the more special. I am so grateful for your calm and happy soul! Our family would not be complete without you!

Lots of love

Your mummy

 

Exploring an alternative to Christmas… January 6, 2013


This is not written in the spirit of The Grinch, but is simply an exploration…

First a bit of history.  I grew up in the Plymouth Brethren (aka Exclusive Brethren) which is a strict Christian sect, or more appropriately – a cult. We didn’t celebrate much, and certainly didn’t celebrate Christmas. Jesus’s birth was mentioned in our usual daily meeting (church) on Christmas day, and “the world” was looked down upon for using it as an excuse to have a party..

I was never told about Santa, or given presents, and to be perfectly honest was never bothered about it…just a bit confused. I remember asking my mom loudly in a supermarket about Santa at Easter time.  🙂 She blushed and shushed me.

When I was 18 I left the cult and was excommunicated from my family, and celebrated my first christmas with the lovely family who took me in.  I don’t remember it in lots of detail – emotions were high from having recently left home and there was a lot going on – but I do remember feeling blessed and lonely all at the same time. Blessed that I had such a lovely family including me in their celebrations and lonely because almost everyone else seemed to be spending time with their real families whilst mine wouldn’t even talk to me. I had joined a charismatic church at this point, so Christmas had some meaning. (By the way I am no longer completely excommunicated…my mom even sends parcels sometimes and we chat on the phone about twice a year, but their rules do not allow me to see her so my husband and children will probably never meet her. My 3 brothers don’t communicate with me.)

For a few years after that I celebrated Christmas in various rave clubs in Somerset West and Cape Town where I lived at the time. 🙂 I had been shunned by the happy clappies at this point, as you can imagine – and to my great relief I began exploring a world where there may or may not be a God and where fear wasn’t a factor in determining this. Christmas in South Africa was a different affair to here in the UK – buffets and braais (barbecues) around the swimming pool and swims at the beach…and I don’t remember getting loads of presents at any point.

Then I came to the UK on a working holiday – almost 8 years ago now – and a year later I met my husband.  Christmas officially become a stress. It’s not anybodies fault, and is slightly tricky for me as I don’t really know which of my experiences are ‘the norm’.  We spent our first christmas together at my in-laws. We were presented with astonishing amounts of presents – a bin bag full each- nevermind the bigger stuff for the kids in the family – and not just the immediate family. I was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity, and whilst I got some really useful  and lovely presents, I also couldn’t help noting the quantity of stuff that I may never use.  I also felt terribly guilty that I could not possibly reciprocate.

Before long Steven and I discovered The Story of Stuff Project and other more balanced ways of living.  We became much more aware of what we buy and have even requested no presents from family members. We started shopping at charity shops (we very rarely go into a regular clothes/toy shop). It is truly liberating! I can now not fathom how people are bustling about spending all their money on an i-phone or playstation that is going to be upgraded again in a years time – only to be left broke and in debt.

Then there is the issue of quantity. I am used to nothing, but now like to get a present or two. Steven grew up with Christmas being about lots of presents.  We now have to find a happy medium. This year we bought quite a few charity shop pressies for each other and the kids, but I am still feeling rather like a consumer. Instead of 10 to 12 presents that will be thrown to the side while fumbling with the wrapping on the next present, how about two or three really treasured ones?  The thing is, I like giving and I don’t intend to give that up just yet. I like making a little something for friends and family – and I like seeing my daughters eyes light up as she rips the newspaper from a new swing (even if it is temporary while she grasps at the next present).  But perhaps less is more – I think we may try this next xmas.

But what we want to figure out more than anything – is what are we celebrating if not Jesus’ birth? Since we are not Christian I feel that if  we celebrate Christmas we really are just being sheeple(at best). Although I do really like the opportunity to spend time with friends and family, and have a good meal, and think we will continue to do this – I don’t think we should need an excuse to do this.

Winter Solstice/Midwinter is on the 21st and it was apparently around and celebrated by Pagans, with greenery(hence the christmas tree), before Christmas came along. We feel much more connected to the rhythm of nature rather than to any religion so really it’d make a lot more sense to celebrate this. We could take it the other way, and instead celebrate the New Year with presents…  So what do we do? Change the day we celebrate it? Change the way we celebrate it?

Will this make the kids feel left out? Does it matter?

I have friends who don’t give presents at all and instead go away for a few days together, or go out for a good meal. I have friends who buy lots of expensive presents, I have friends who buy lots of cheap presents, I have friends who make presents or shop at charity shops. I love home made presents. Most people say that they don’t have time to make presents, but isn’t it ironic that they don’t have time because they are working their butts off to make money to buy presents and pay off their credit cards?!

My husband has told our 4 year old that Santa is just a story. This Christmas I have felt cruel that she ‘knows the truth’, but really – why should she believe in a funny man bringing her presents if she’s good? It’s freaky, in my opinion. I’m happy for her to believe in fairies and elves…kids need make believe.

I think it’d be quite fun to have a treasure hunt for your presents…perhaps an idea to try next year.  Do you have any ideas for an alternative to Christmas? I’d love to hear from you…

father-Christmas

 

 
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