Winter Update

Today is a particularly lazy stay at home Winter day. My two school going children are on holidays, we are all moderately unwell, we’ve had a conglomerate of different viruses for a few weeks – gastro, sore throats, coughs.  My lovely not so Waldorf homeschoolers are watching movies and yes we have been literally glued to screens for the last two weeks! I’ve been watching Christian homemaking vlogs again, I love families that make mine seem small and I love all the organisational tips. I’ve been wondering lately about my introversion and sensory issues and how they kind of propelled me into domesticity through necessity not ideology but now fifteen years or so into it I genuinely value the art of homemaking. I don’t however, excel at it but I do my best and I’ve learned to be gentle with my failures and shortcomings.

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making cookies during Ramadan

Ramadan and Eid came and went. Bit by bit we are getting closer to an understanding of what might be the cause of our littlest man’s health problems. I can’t really describe what it’s like to have a sick and vulnerable child. Alhamdulilah for this amazing public healthcare system that is providing us with wonderful care for free! I’m just so grateful for his daily health, grateful for every day we spend together.

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Over the last year or so I’ve felt a profound shift in my own attitudes and sense of self. Perhaps it is just the extended break and time alone after years of conflicts but I am feeling very internally quiet. It’s not that I don’t still get caught by some thorns or barbs but I don’t take them so seriously anymore. It’s like Rumi’s guesthouse

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

feelings come and go and there are amazing things to learn from them but ‘I’ am something deeper and more substantial than emotions and thoughts and I appreciate that sense of wholeness/spaciousness in the centre of my ‘self’. Consequently I don’t feel like writing much because the written word is so fixed and so limited no matter how articulate we might be.

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I’m gradually starting to practise properly (faith wise) again and maybe I shouldn’t jeopardise that by writing about it but it is something I am grateful for, to be able to approach Islam without negative associations and connotations and find in it something like the way of life I first loved. There is so much sorrow in the world and as an empathetic person I can sometimes get a bit overwhelmed by it so to have a place of respite (God focus or meditation or whatever you like to call it) is wonderful.

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Mother’s Day Delights

Homeschooling wise we are becoming more and more eclectic and unstructured.
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And Art. I need to find a way to make time for it. Art is the thing that makes me happiest.

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the beginning of some wall decoration using wet on wet watercolours

Joyful Mess

I talk about mess a lot. I guess for people who don’t have children or who haven’t been made responsible for a household mess it must seem kind of boring and irrelevant but for those of us who have been immersed in a life in which mess has become an

Enormous. Central. Factor of existence

it’s definitely relevant, it’s something we can’t get away from, it simply never ends.

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I’m a tidy person, my preference is definitely for things to be clean. Even in my student slum housing days I took a lot of pride in creating a beautiful home space, it’s just something I love. My Mum too always created a lovely home so I probably inherited it from her, I’m grateful for the effort she put into our home environment. There are various reasons why I can’t stay on top of the mess in my house though so it never remains in the state I feel comfortable with but rather than going into those causes I want to talk about how I cope with how things are.

Mess makes me feel anxious, if you aren’t this kind of person you can stop reading now!

I’m a highly visually stimulated person, I’m in touch with what it is about my environment that I enjoy and what it is that bothers me. The ways things LOOK matters to me because it impacts my psychological state. So conversations about roles and gender norms and women and housework only matter to me up to a point, in the end it is ME that requires a clean, organised and beautiful home. It is what I strive for but I simply can’t achieve.

So where’s the joy in mess?

It comes down to priorities. I tried for years to stay on top of it and tore my hair out failing. Who did what and when and how was also a highly contested and charged topic during some personal relationships. So mess brought with it a whole myriad of negative emotions for a while. It is why I came up with the term matriarchal homemaking. I have learned to discover what I do want through what I don’t want. I know what I can do through what I can’t do.

I’d love a clean and peaceful and beautiful house but the experience of family togetherness, of creative shared endeavours, of love and learning together, travelling places together, eating healthy time intensive foods, caring for the environment, mentoring and guiding the children through adolescence, these things are all more important, they are a higher priority.

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out and about having a picnic whilst ignoring the abysmal disastrous mess at home

And above and beyond dealing with the negative reactions and expectations of folk who are still attitudinally immersed somewhere in the nineteen fifties I had to come to terms with my own attitudes towards MYSELF about mess. I had to let go of trying to control my environment.

I still want to come up with strategies to make things easier, I still prefer the idea of a house that doesn’t look like it’s being squatted in by a horde of feral elephants but I know it’s going to remain just that, an idea, for at least another ten years and I am ok with that….I think….I hope.

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learning to knit, crafting, handwork, simple meditative togetherness, it’s all more important. 

So embracing joyful mess is what allows me to do things like spontaneous Summer Solstice happenings. I literally trod over boxes of unpacked fruit interspersed with clean washing that had somehow been dragged into the hallway in order to get outside and bask in the sun. I’ll spare you photo’s of our underwear interspersed with carrots and Bok Choy.

Priorities.

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Mess is joyful when it enables us to be. It’s as simple as that…

Summer Solstice

My love for and interest in all things related to Waldorf began many years ago before my children started school but in terms of practical implementation and adopting it as a way of life we are still fairly new to Steiner education. This means we are new to developing a seasonal yearly rhythm. As we are Muslims our rhythm needs to not just take into account Muslim festivals but to filter existing festivals as usually incorporated  into a Waldorf year through the lens of an uncompromisingly monotheistic faith. There are many Muslims who send their children to Steiner schools and many Muslims who homeschool in a Steiner inspired way. Our adaptation of the festivals will differ from family to family, we are all different. For me, this whole area is a work in progress.

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Midsummer Fairy in the apricot tree

Over the last few days I found myself brimming with a creative yet anxious energy. Because my hands are often full (with a baby) and because I have formed habits (since becoming a mother ) to deal with my creative energy in a cerebral rather than handcrafting way, I started to write. It didn’t help much, I felt very pressured and scattered, not grounded at all. It then occurred to me that it was Midsummer Eve! It was Summer Solstice! The Summer energies were at their peak. Could it be that this was what I was feeling?

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A Waldorf daily and yearly rhythm are based around cycles of breathing in and breathing out. In Sufism we call this contraction/qabd and expansion/bast.

The whole of reality breathes in and out. 

In ancient times human beings were innately connected to the cycles of the Earth and the expanding universe. In the contemporary world however we are totally out of touch. We cannot even see the stars anymore because of pollution. Electricity has extended the day well into the night, we no longer follow the cycles of the moon or sun. Disconnected from the natural/created world we are also disconnected from Source/Creator.

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When we bring our attention back to the natural world we increase in reverence for the Divine Reality that we Muslims call Allah/God. 

This is why I think the Waldorf calendar with it’s recognition of festivals we consider ‘pagan’ has relevance for us as Muslims and it doesn’t need to be something that gets our monotheistic knickers in a twist because ‘actions are according to intentions.’

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Islam has always been a faith that pays attention to the cycles of the natural world. The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar, our festivals are heralded by the sighting of the moon, we pray according to the position of the sun. So it seems like a natural extension of this to pay attention to the cycles of the seasons, to the longest and shortest day, to the tides. Giving attention to something is not the same thing as worshipping it as an individual entity. On the contrary paying attention to rhythm and cycles is a way of honouring the interconnectivity of everything. What Islam does is simply bring this multiplicity and interconnectivity back to a Single Source.

Since we are just starting our journey towards a full Waldorf rhythm I hadn’t organised anything for the Solstice so what we ended up doing was a kind of on the spot happening.
We gathered together some things orange and yellow, we made chalk drawings, we took Midsummer Fairy to a lovely spot in the apricot tree, we ate some oranges while basking in the sun and we felt ourselves radiating with the Summer energy. We recited a surah/verse that begins

‘Allah there is no God but He, the Living, the Self-Subsisting, Eternal’

We also recited the following poem.

‘The radiant beauty of the world
Compels my inmost soul to free
God-given powers of my nature
That they may soar into the cosmos,
To take wing from myself
In cosmic light and cosmic warmth.’

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Afterwards, satisfied and relaxed, I started to ponder about the significance of nature orientated action. Our interaction with the cycles through a simple acknowledgement and commemoration gave me a feeling of balance. But this is a conversation for another day.

Instagram as a Meditative Practise

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Instagram has been around for years but I only realised quite how much I enjoy using it recently. It is interactive and visually focused, it is topic based so you can explore all areas of interest to you and it’s incredibly user friendly. The aspect I enjoy the most about it though is that it can be used as a place of intentionality.

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I recently began a series of instagram photographs tagged #thirtydaysofhomeschooling. I loved the idea of recording a whole month of moments but as the days passed I realised it was not so much the recording or the online interaction that I was enjoying (although these things were great), it was the rhythm and repetition of ensuring I did the same thing every day.

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Although I don’t have a lot of time or skills to take fantastic photographs one of my favourite things to do is curate and assemble objects. I love moving furniture around a room for this reason. In the course of this little self assigned project I’ve looked forward to deciding what to photograph on a daily basis, initially I gave myself an exact time to photograph but with breastfeeding that proved difficult so I chose a window of a few hours.

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I started to discover that the act of recording was causing me to be intentional not just about the photography but about the actions I was undertaking to create the image – making a meal, reading to the children, setting up a homeschooling activity, I started to approach these things with a reverence I don’t normally have simply because I was paying more attention to them.

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What do you like about Instagram and why?

Spring 2016

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The year is drawing to an end already and this space has remained largely empty. I haven’t had time or free hands for our usual arts filled approach to homeschooling. It’s been a bare bones/skeletal kind of year and I’ve really just focused on the dry necessities such as literacy and maths. That been said the way these things are folded into our days kind of organically is far from dry and nothing like the way a school would approach it and our experience just leaves me marvelling at how easy these things are when children want to learn.

When Lili turned seven we started spending time learning to read more earnestly. I purposely delayed pushing academics with her before this age ( in line with both Waldorf philosophy and the advice of our faith) but it turned out that her interest really increased in natural tandem with reaching these milestones anyway so our approach has still been mostly child-led. She enjoys it immensely and it’s a beautiful process to watch unfold. We are half-way through ‘Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons’ and whilst it took a little while to really get into this method of teaching/learning we are finding it so straightforward now. We spend about twenty minutes per day plus story time and letter writing practise.

I’m continuing to use computer programs for Maths. Future School is my favourite as it has video tutorials on all topics. Tom has finished his program for his ‘year level’ this year,  not that we stick to year levels entirely but it’s nice to know where they are ‘at’ according to the system. There are still some topics that need to be brushed up on so we will go back over them. I don’t like the Future School Gr 1 curriculum so we are using IXL practise for Lili.

We’ve been doing a lot of reading out loud since it’s so easy to pick up a book and listen to Tom read while I’m busy with the baby.

Zeph (who has always been my child most suited to unschooling) is preparing for high school next year. Mostly I am letting him pursue his interests and passions which largely revolve around technology since this is what he will be able to follow up in detail once he starts Year 7 at his new school. Unlike his siblings he has always resisted more formal learning so it will be interesting to see how things go next year. He teaches himself to do a wide range of stuff and I know with the right guidance he will be able to flourish.

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It hasn’t happened, the garden until yesterday was an overgrown jungle. At least now the grass is no longer one metre tall! It’s time to plant the Summer crop of tomatoes and cucumbers, I really want to do it early this year so we make the most of the season.

I’ve been reading a lot about gut health and whilst I’ve known that I have ‘gut problems’ for a long time, it is daunting taking stock of what really needs to be done to attempt to heal it (leaky gut). I’m deeply concerned that I have passed these issues onto Ollie as he is already experiencing repeated ear infections. I’ve been reading up on the GAPS diet and I think we need to do it, the question is when? I can’t do it now, I don’t have the hands or time. Plus I eat a mostly plant based diet and it is SO meat based, I can’t handle that aspect of it, very challenging. I can bring myself to cook chicken as long it is as ethically sourced as I can muster but this is very expensive. I’m thinking to start with two special organic chickens per month and make bone broth with them.

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I am making our  own yoghurt using the machine from GAPS Australia which is a long ferment, up to 24 hours which hopefully means the yoghurt is almost casein and lactose free.

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It’s takes about thirty hours all up to make including the setting time in the fridge. Twelve small jars will last our family about one week. I use Schultz organic milk so it’s not any cheaper than buying pre-made organic yoghurt but hopefully it’s softer on our tummies.

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Ollie has been diagnosed with ‘Failure to Thrive’ which basically means he is not anywhere meeting his milestones in growth and it is currently unexplained. He needs to see a Geneticist to work out what the underlying problem might be. It’s very worrying and I’m really grateful for my faith because it’s a source of strength. He is now eight months old.

Simple joys that emerge from nowhere

It’s dusk. Outside two of my children are playing basketball. The air is chill and my fingers are cold. The street is quiet, it’s winding down time. Families at home together winding down, eating, the end of the day. My baby is sleeping beside me but I know if I try to move into the kitchen and start cooking he will wake up. How many years have I spent like this I wonder? Immobilised by the power of a sleeping child!

The last few months have been a soporific, milky blur. We have been unschooling through necessity, there just hasn’t been time for structured activities but this week we made a tentative start towards incorporating more planned learning. Really the kids have done just fine in the last six months even without strewing, life is a teacher and children are curious, they want to learn, they want to know their world. That being said I love the Waldorf curriculums we have and I’m looking forward to suggesting some projects. Lili is now seven so it’s time to get more serious about learning to read.

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At times recently I’ve felt overwhelmed by what is happening in the world, by what is happening in my country. Raising the kids amongst so much doom and gloom has felt like a burden. Somehow I made choices that situate me between a potential war of civilisations, if I fall for that rhetoric. I won’t fall for it though and I won’t succumb to fear. I turn from negative thoughts and focus on the beauty. Small things like a shelf of loved objects or laughing with the kids.

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Zeph is preparing for high school next year and I will keep homeschooling the younger kids. We will be spending a lot of time travelling but I think it will be worth it, the school curriculum is great, it’s kind of Sudbury style but a bit less alternative.

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So while we plan ahead and whilst the outside world gets ever madder and ever more destructive I reaffirm my commitment to giving my attention to all that is good. There is absolutely no point in being worried about outcomes, what matters is our present, what matters is simply to keep trying. And this is the curious paradox, the more rotten things seem, the more likely we are to surrender our expectations and then simple joys just emerge from nowhere.

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I tell my children all the time to ‘just be the best version of you that you can be‘ and it’s about time I applied the same logic to myself. It’s so easy as a Mum to focus on what we are doing wrong, I need to focus on what I am doing right. Our daily life is full of simple pleasures, simple beauty. And the hardships are just there to orient ourselves towards what is important.

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