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Wednesday, 28 October 2020

The Coach House

A week or two ago we went to stay at the Coach House in Napier. It was perhaps, the loveliest holiday we've ever had.      

Just like this old dwelling, our lives, have so many layers and stories woven through them. Napier was a profoundly different place back a century ago- the Coach House belonged to the grand home on the hill and housed the horse, the gig and the coach "man".

Eventually, the whole horse and coach (or gig) carry on slipped in to obsolescence, the land was subdivided, the catastrophic earthquake of 1931 changed history for all of Hawke's Bay and the Coach House eventually slipped in to disuse and disrepair.
It has now been skillfully renovated and made in to a charming little cottage, sitting within the grounds of Jan's home and cleverly dovetailed in to her Mediterranean garden.
The colours and details are gentle and kind and evoke memories for me of my grandmother Edna- her pastel palette and warm hospitality.
Good old human nature- don't you just want to pull that ladder down because it says "Please do not lower ladder. Private storage only" and climb right up there to see!
A mixture of vintage and contemporary elements 
are found through-out the cottage.
Our own vintage baskets, blankets and tablecloths enhanced our comfort and the charm.
 None of us knows quite how our own story will unfold, in fact, it's probably just as well that we have no idea how it's all going too end up!
We start out thinking that our lives and stories belong to us and that we are free to chose. I was so often told by my parents that "the world was my oyster", perhaps that is true for some, but for many of us, no matter how hard we try to build and weave and learn and grow, it just doesn't work out that way. Not because we've failed, but because we are not always truly free- when the previous generations are not able to reconcile their own journey, traumas and experiences well, the burden and the consequences get passed on and on. But here we are coming up to our 40th wedding anniversary and looking back over those four decades wondering how we ever survived- we both brought so much grief, confusion, abandonment and other people's baggage to our union- it's amazing there was any room for our love. No one talked about dysfunctional families back in those days- there were no tools and no useful outside help. In church they told us emphatically we must honour our parents no matter what. How grateful we are to be living in an age of knowledge- eventually we did find the tools to navigate ourselves to safety; to learn about boundaries, to tell the truth and tell our truth and be open to heal and reset a million things, but it's taken 40 years! People often tell me that I should write a book- I think those people may be waiting a very long time. I am never going to write a book- ever. And I am especially not going to go to all that trouble just to tell the stories of people who nearly destroyed us and whom I hold accountable for some pretty appalling and unacceptable behaviour. When you are almost 65 you really should not be hamstrung by your own mother. That is plain wrong. 
With a bit of luck we're nearly out the other side of it all.
I learnt this simple practise (from a river) a while back- it's called washing and weaving and it's given us fresh perspective and huge armfuls of hope. I've always known how to weave a good life- the first thing I did when I left home was to go to a whole foods shop and a Chinese warehouse, I went to markets and libraries, I walked for miles, I climbed hills to see the view, I bought an old treadle sewing machine and started to sew my own clothes. Over the years we have learnt all kinds of new skills, we're still mending an old imperfect house and we've planted a garden- over and over again. Gardens are never done- they're a living thing! We've just re-roofed our house. Rob did all the supervising and skilfully managed all the building repairs. We are learning about herbs together every day and we go out to the land to wildcraft and visit whenever we possibly can. Warp and weft, on and on we weave...together. But then there's the washing- that removes the sediment and the crap. It's an essential art. Sometimes, with my hands in the murky water, I wonder what has become of our weaving, but when the water washes clear again I see that it still holds. Sometimes, you just have to flush!
It really helps to take a a day or two away from your own life periodically. There's a momentary release from the daily patterns and habits; a necessary refreshing of perspective, a healthy resetting.
It's such a treat to spend time in someone else's pretty garden- this rondoletia amoena thriving on Napier Hill.   
The old tennis pavilion of days gone by revived.
This old-fashioned rugosa rose Roserie de L'Hay has the most glorious Turkish delight fragrance.  
A vista to the past.

Sitting in peace, wrapped in beauty is a weaving of goodness but also a washing of the detritus of the past.
This year has seen us continuing to explore all the spaces of our lives and clearing out that which no longer has any useful service, offends unhelpfully, or plain weighs us down.
There is rest in clearing out the rubbish- spaces are harmonised or soothed and so are we.
Attics are fascinating places- holding momentoes, ephemera, awkward stuff we're not sure what to do with, junk, and sometimes remnants of the toxic kind. The hidden family secrets often cause the greatest disruption- usually for those left behind.
If we want to uphold life solidly and well- best we clear out the spiders and the skeletons from the familial cupboards. Taking sins and secrets to the grave may save the squirming one discomfort but frequently off loads the crippling, pain and consequences to their offspring.
We have been diligent in our opening of the cupboards and our determination to use a truth wash on the family linen and it's made all the difference in the world. Finally the spinning has (almost) stopped and the consequences of other people's choices no longer rule our lives. It turns out that we're pretty good at making fabulous choices about our own best interests and how we look out for each other.
The thing that has really sideswiped us though is that the weird stuff has kept coming- in full colour! Just when we've thought- surely there can't be any more!
We are constantly learning new ways of being, of eating, growing and knowing. This sushi salad is our most brilliant discovery of late.
It's such a satisfying way to live- slowly and simply. 
It also means we're not easily fooled.
So when we were sent a message by a friend back in June to say that Rob's old family home 20 Sunray Avenue was for sale, we were completely flabbergasted.
At 91 and a half that is quite an undertaking- to clean up, sell up and move.
To chose not to tell your eldest son (and have no intention of doing so) is just plain weird.
Rob's elder brother died abruptly 3 1/2 years ago, his much younger brother recently remarried and together (along with Mum & step-son) they all planned to sell the house that had been the family hub/home for 54 years. Wild dreams of escaping to the "country" outside of Auckland, with the now pregnant new wife and elderly mother in tow, were clearly vivid and all consuming. No one thought that it might be nice to send Rob a quick message and let him know what they were all up to. When he finally phoned his mother to ask her what was going on, there were elaborate and fanciful stories told as subterfuge...until he asked about the house being on the market- silence, dead silence " know".
I just love the resilience of this centranthus ruber growing in the wall. Sometimes we adapt and even thrive where others never would, sometimes we don't.
The story continued- "We don't know what we're doing, or where we're going, it's all in God's hands, we're just moving to the country" became the family mantra.
That's interesting because we saw the house near Cambridge on line- yip they bought it for around 1.3 million. Times running out to tell the truth- ah, well that may be a little tricky because no one will reply to Rob's questions and he is not allowed to have his mother's phone number- that is reserved for friends only.
We comforted ourselves with such thoughts as "Well at least Rob doesn't have to help clean up the property and the 5 or 6 dead cars and truck loads of crap"- a nightmare waiting to arrive in his lap for decades.
Ah, digitalis- foxgloves. Yes, Felicia had a quadruple heart by-pass some 20 years ago- almost total occlusion. Now she lives on warfarin and some kind of biltong-like spite.
Every move she makes is directed by God. She won't ever explain the directions given because "you wouldn't understand"- such missives are only for special people like herself. Never mind the lies and the slander that leak out through the half baked tales the rest of the time; the gossip that has divided and broken the family. But, of course, it's all my fault. She's been talking to the Lord about me apparently to see what he'll do with me since I have said dreadful things and she's quite sure I should be punished!
I'm not quite certain when she climbed in to that high tower of specialness, but she's never coming down. All the money lives there with her- that's how you get what you want of course- just withhold or dispense as you wish and that way you're always in charge, especially with God one your side. "Money's your medicine, but you're sick all the time". I'm also not certain when Rob got stepped down from the family- We are The Family...and you, are not. One day just like a lavatory door, the sign suddenly said "Uninvited", and that was that. This stuff messes with your head. So it is not the slightest bit surprising that when asked when they were going to tell Rob about selling the house, they said of one accord- "We weren't!". Fair enough if that's the way things have drifted over time, except... when you then decide to go to Stuff an on-line national news service to broadcast your story. The article is still here: Auckland's 'hottest do-up is a Mid-century time capsule with same owner since new. And then, for the icing on the proverbial, they went to Seven Sharp and were both interviewed for a slot on Prime Time national television. Rob made it to a vague wafty photo on the wall holding his baby brother, otherwise he never existed.
One morning as we were walking back up the hill and I was just admiring a delightful garden, I spied the gardener at work. I wandered up the drive way to speak to her and to tell her what a pleasure her garden was to passer's-by. Right about then, I looked down at my feet- what could not be seen from the road was this vast and glorious bed of my most beloved lily of the valley. 
The flowers Helen gave me lasted a week- that's surprising really as I thought they may have been sniffed away long before then.
Presently, we are pondering the strange but helpful message we received through the title of a book I saw in the library: "Holy Disunity". There will be no resolution to these peculiar events- only through death, I feel. So we will learn hand and hand, to dance along our own sacred path and not look back.
We have the loveliest plans for our 40th wedding anniversary coming up in a month's time. We are off to Tiger House!

Tuesday, 14 April 2020


Through this autumn of 2020 I've been thinking a good deal about breath.
To breathe is to live.
As we all journey through this peculiar time in world history, here in relative isolation, I've been living my life in simple, daily ways and noticing my breath, my lungs- how they feel, where they are in my body and what limits my capacity to breathe. I am also noticing what it is that causes me to breathe deeply, to relax, centre and feel alive. I first began to notice the impact of fear and anxiety on my ability to breathe easily, just before the "Lock Down" here, almost 3 weeks ago, when Rob's mother sent him an email that we had no idea was coming- it's been three years since they last spoke and with this unexpected correspondence came a wave of deeply dark energy and trouble. The following day Rob hurt his knee with a piece of wood while building, (and he'd been doing just fine on the safety front until then)
which created an injury to the bursa, that then developed in to cellulitis and caused a huge amount of subsequent trauma and worry. This pattern of cause and effect has been repeated hundreds of times through the last 26 years. When it first began it was through letters being sent. Crazy behaviour and angst would inevitably erupt in our household and other consequences- troubles: burst pipes, complaints at Rob's work, our children having wild meltdowns, terrible arguments between us and various forms of accidents and sickness. Nothing I did ever stopped this dreadful process from happening again and again. We'd pick ourselves up, just get our dignity back and mend the broken pieces when wham it would strike in yet another form. I eventually took to pegging the various letters and other posted items in trees in the garden until Rob came home from work, as I didn't want to bring them in to the house. Many times we burnt them, some are still at the lawyers office for "safe keeping"- out of our domain. The thing that I noticed this time around, was the impact of this dark energy on my breath. When the autonomic nervous system (fight/flight/freeze) is triggered due to a perceived threat, the breath shortens and becomes constrained and the natural easy rhythm is misplaced.
One of the consequences of these visitations is a form of mis-communication and dislocation between us (which is why I knew something was very wrong before the email came through) and it was a wee while down the track before I realised that Rob was in trouble with his knee injury. It felt like the whole world was against us and it felt very, very scary. A water pipe in our front garden then burst. I felt incredibly panicky and anxious through these days, while also wandering in and out of rage-a huge anger that this woman would continue to bring so much trouble into our lives. And my breath told me the story- shortened uneasy breath and heart palpitations.
How can this possibly be- well may you ask!! A woman who loves Jesus above all else, yet can activate so much harm in the life of the son that she professes to love so well. Every day praying- prayers becoming bad medicine. "Blessings" sent that morph in to curses. My lungs hurt- life diminished to survival. But I..AM..WOMAN here me roar!! (huge breath)- how dare you!! This life of ours is not yours to take. This marriage is sacred before God! And so I set about gathering my medicines and herbs that I have spent the last year preparing and I made poultices for the infected leg & others for the damaged knee and I made nourishing food and herbal infusions and I brought out my tinctures and I read some more of what I needed to do.

 And so with a doctors visit (for work and to be safe and yes, an antibiotic) we applied what we had and little by little we healed....the leg, the knee and our lives.
While Rob rested, I walked to the friends. And I found strength and I found solace and I gathered up my courage. That first day- heart beating strangely, breath all over the place, anxiety  extreme (beyond normal- I'm a resourceful person) and as I walked across the paddock under the watchful eye of the grand old trees in the Showgrounds, a bee came and landed on my hand, a little further a long a red admiral butterfly came fluttering up and landed on my breast- breathe....reassurance- it'll all be ok.
The next morning when I could hear the sound of water rushing through the pipes like crazy and Rob was still asleep, I walked around the house in the early morning mist in my dressing gown- once again feeling agitated and anxious (what next!) when I looked up the path and here coming towards me was the most beautiful little hedgehog- all will be well. Breathe.
 As is the way when you develop a relationship with healing plants- just the right thing presented itself to us to help heal the knee. A post by a friend prompted me to research the Cotton Rose bush that is growing down the back of the garden. A glorious thing- its also known as Hibiscus Mutabilis as the flowers come out white then fade to pink and the following day they finish their life in a deep shade of rose.
 This is the first year that our Cotton Rose has flowered properly. It'll be finished as soon as we have the first frost. I read that the flowers most especially can be crushed and used as a poultice to help reduce inflammation due to injury. Perfect! Breathe.
 We both felt ourselves settling in to trust, breathing more fully, as these beautiful flowers began to work their magic.
I crushed up one flower at a time to make a poultice each day.

 Until we found that it was no longer required.
 Lots of rest was also helpful.
 Beauty...deepens the breath too and is everywhere we look.
 Cats know just how to collapse in to deep peaceful relaxation when they feel safe.
One morning I was watching a video from the wonderful healer Prune Harris and she was demonstrating an exercise that connects the lungs and the immune system. I taught it to Rob and so we practised it that evening in Lucy. He got it perfectly. Breathe- deeply. Rest.  
You can learn it here too, if you like.
And so we naturally return to  "Acknowledging the good that we already have in our lives as this is the foundation for all abundance". Slightly paraphrased from Eckhart Toile.
 And soon enough we have been able to ride our bikes and walk again together and visit our beloved places and trees. For it is amongst these friends- "The Lungs of the Earth" that we find we can draw breath most deeply.
 And know that we are safe in their care and strong arms.
It's fascinating to me that we call the in breath inspiration- to inhale, to in-spire.
Trees absorb carbon dioxide, humans exhale it, trees breath out oxygen- the very substance we need for the breath of life-in. Isn't that amazing!
I have also been thinking about this global state of emergency caused by a particular virus & it's mutations, that is effecting and limiting the breath of the entire world; simultaneously. This impact is brought about obviously physiologically, but also psychologically. The virus infects/invades the cells and inhibits the natural function of the body, the emotions of fear, panic and anxiety and so forth, evoked either by presence or imagined threat of the virus- in us, have precisely the same impact. All of it alters our ability to breathe- in, oxygen. Life.

The dictionary states that breath is:

~ The air inhaled and exhaled in respiration.
~ Respiration, especially as necessary to life.
~ Life, vitality.
~ The ability to breathe easily and normally. She stopped to regain her breath.
~ Time to breathe; pause or respite. Give him a little breather.

 And isn't that just the simple reality of things- we each must attend to our own respiration. Our life breath is our own and cannot be shared. Our inhalation forms our inspiration- out of which comes our unique creative gifts- our offerings to the world. When we are not able to breathe freely we seldom flourish.

The dictionary also offers this definition of the word inspire:

To fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

I love that we are so wonderfully and marvellously made, but it's funny how we really have so little knowledge about all the complexities of our human functionality. I'm a pretty simple living woman, I've come to realise- while others pursue knowledge, information and what they believe to be truth with great gusto, I am happy pottering a long in life with my own personal interface; yet ironically, I ask a thousand questions a day and I have a huge passion for learning- real stuff- things that are either wondrous, or that provide answers or assistance for everyday living. That's why I love nature so much. The plants and trees never put you crook and are always too happy to see me and offer their support and assistance.
In the lovely Steiner/Waldolf model of the 12 senses that I mentioned in my last post I have discovered that there is no Sense of Breath- I guess, because breath is life itself, but there most certainly is The Sense of Smell. Fairy Dust Teachings suggests: " It is through the sense of smell that we gather massages about the environment with every breath we take by the automatic function of smell that detects dangers, food, and other people. Think about common phrases we use like "I smell" trouble in the air". "Did you get wind of that?", "She is a breath of fresh air", "It's stink that she can't have the day off"....Our sense of smell plays a powerful role in the way we recognise each other, are attracted to mates, recall memories and even warnings about the environment around us".
I realise now that I have always had particularly acute senses and it is through my sense of smell most of all that I navigated my early years of life. The comforting smell of my Teddy was my anchor in those first 7 years of my life. The scent of winter sweet, blossom flowers, daphne, feijoas, passionfruit etc were all indelibly embedded in my olfactory memory bank from very wee. It was the smell of the house at Sunray Avenue (Rob's childhood home) that I will never, ever forget- the rank, mouldy, musty odour of contained mildew & dirt pervades every inch of that dwelling. It always made me feel very ill and sometimes gave me nightmares. Half the house has no concrete foundation so the stench of stale dirt has permeated everything in those 50 years of it's standing. Interestingly- in truth, I was never welcome, nor safe in that house. What we can smell we can make a choice about- mostly. "Ooh that bread's gone mouldy" causes us to throw the offending food in to the compost. Stinky feet, bad breath- we'll keep our distance. And of course, there are all the glorious smells that enrich our life daily: the comforting smell of dinner cooking, for instance, allows us to relax, feel safe and perhaps edify our much needed sense of belonging- even if just to our own lives.
But, it's that which we cannot detect, yet we breath in, that can really cause a problem: the pollen grains I see all over my car just now, but are invisible to me as I inhale them, or the cold, 'flu, covid19 virus that gets right up your nose without giving the slightest hint of it's presence. Even more disturbing is the energetic, covert toxin that arrives by stealth and causes chaos without the slightest permission- only the symptoms give it's presence away. In every instance it's the breath that let's us know what's going on in the beginning.

When it comes to these invisible invaders, we find that we are not in control of the situation, but what we can do is to gather around ourselves allies that will help to strengthen us and equip us to manage an uncalled for encounter with that which seeks to aggravate or destroy. And again I return to my simple ways and knowledge. It's tragic that in our modern age so many of us have lost generational knowledge of almost all good living practises. This has been brought home so powerfully as we've all had to be so forcibly re-educated to the basic practise of washing our hands to stop the spread of disease- any disease. But we've also forgotten about fresh air, sunshine, gardening, growing food, gathering herbs for nourishment and healing and how to prepare and cook food from real and actual ingredients. Learning and practising folk medicine and growing our own food or foraging for it and knowing local food producers well is the most fundamentally empowering thing we can learn to do for ourselves. Every part of this process is entirely in our control. We get a choice. We get to build our own immune response system in to health, or we can choose to tear it down and pretend that someone else was in charge. What I love so dearly is that these skills will travel with me through the rest of my life and they help me to breathe, to inspire, to create, to live my best life and they give me the very best shot at loving myself and others well. The other toxic stuff- I'll go on fighting for our freedom no matter what it takes.

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