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’.

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I’m gradually starting to feel reconnected with my faith 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 (and to have learned to stand firm through all those negatives).

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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

Summer Solstice

We are 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.

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 left  me with a feeling of balance.

Radical Homemaking

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So it seems that out there in the real world beyond my house there is already a term to describe what I am trying to get at with matriarchal homemaking – domesticity without the gender inequality….and a whole heap of other stuff.

I’m still trying to get a real grasp of what I really feel and think about these things so today I’m going to tell a story and this story will provide context and make sense of the questions I am trying to answer. It’s a story about gender, culture, spirituality and religion. It begins in my childhood home where feminism was espoused but not necessarily fully  lived. Still a home in which gender norms did not necessarily prevail – a mother, a (gay) step-father (the marriage ended when I was twelve), three small half-brothers. A home full of art, culture, music, discussion, intellectual argumentation. Unconventional and in some ways brilliant, sometimes dysfunctional (aren’t we all?), hilarious, difficult, enriching and stimulating, challenging and tough. In many ways it was a fabulous life and in some ways it was heartbreaking.

We were, for all intents and purposes, homesteaders before it became trendy. We raised our own meat, my step-father had a beautiful jersey cow that he milked. We churned our own butter, we drank the milk raw. We grew vegetables, we ran food related businesses, we worked. He preserved fruit and made jams and fruit cakes. My mother spun fleece from our sheep and knitted it into beanies and thick woollen sweaters. Tasmania is cold. We lived in one hundred year old farmhouses. We worked. Life on a farm is hard, running your own business is difficult. It was all hard work, it wasn’t really intentionally gender specific. It’s hard to remember but my mother washed the nappies and did the bulk of the cleaning and childcare. I think.

She also read Germaine Greer and I wore overalls.  The women I encountered as a child were feisty and loud. Most people we knew laughed at religion and laughed at the idea of the home being the domain of women, we were people of equality or so it seemed.

By the time I got to university I was adamant that I’d never have children. I lived within a small subculture of art students all with similar ideals. Gendered oppression was something I read about in books, I couldn’t recognise it in its more subtle forms at that stage, I thought it belonged to faraway worlds. It was not part of my life or my conscious thought.

Because of this ideological basis (which I did not recognise as an ideology) I never considered motherhood as a viable career choice. It was lesser, you couldn’t just be a mother, you had to be something else. I went to art school and I wanted to be an academic. I wanted to live in the inner city and surround myself with bookshops and art galleries.

Our family hit a series of hurdles and I experienced fairly severe clinical depression. I was diagnosed with PTSD but I didn’t know what to do about it so I did what many soul searching young adults in the first world do, I travelled. I found myself in Morocco and I became fascinated by Islam. When I wrote about my first trip to Chefchaouen I described it as a town which was filled with a sense of ‘in-placesness’ , a tangible stillness unable to be expressed in words. I filled my sketchbooks with my new ‘obsession’ layering and pasting Arabic and Persian newspapers with text and drawings of my own, it looked like a kind of orientalist exoticism but it was building as something so different than that within me, I just did not have the language to articulate it and I had a conditioned resistance to considering that it was something spiritual. Five years later after a move to Melbourne I met a Muslim man and my curiosity about what he believed led me to look into Islam more deeply. Quite astonishingly within months my ‘research’ became a personal quest and I became a Muslim. I didn’t know what I was doing. Most of me recognised it, resonated with it at a deep non-verbal level. The other bit railed against it, rejected some of it.
It was, to say the least, turbulent.

I was occupying that cultural no mans land that often happens to Muslim converts. I wasn’t sure where my culture ended and Islam began. Often people assume that I converted to Islam because I fell in love with a person but it was the other way around, I got married because I had fallen in love with Islam.

Immersed in a world that was the complete opposite to what I was used to, a world in which there were distinct roles and expectations for men and women my reality was turned on its head. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, I didn’t know what the religion really indicated about these things , I loved the idea of being at home with babies. I was filled with a warmth that I wanted to pour over things and gift to my family – love. I thought our expectations and wants were in alignment.

Needless to say it was the utmost naivety and a recipe for conflict. Our expectations of each other were way out of whack. I wanted to be at home, I wanted to be with the children but not the way he wanted it. Both of us felt like we were experiencing injustice.

My experience of domesticity within the framework of strict gendered expectations is what has made me a true ‘feminist’ . It was all theoretical before, lived experience is what creates a fire in the stomach. Yet motherhood has also seasoned me and brought me into being a woman in a way that is in conflict with some aspects of feminism. I don’t want an equality that is a sameness. I believe I have the right to be with my babies when they are small, it’s more than a right, it’s a known…the small child belongs to the woman’s body and space, psychcically mother and child are one in the infant years.

So what exactly is my feminism and my homemaking, my spirituality and my womanhood? These are things I am fleshing out. I know what I don’t want, I know what I feel is harmful, not just to women but society as a whole.  I’ve a large family to raise, they are my purpose. I love order and cleanliness but I’ve learned that I can’t do it all without killing myself. I protect my physical health now and I prioritise the education and guiding of my kids into adulthood over a superficially perfect home.

My roots have me seeking out the ways and methods of my childhood. I want to grow my own food, I want to handcraft. There’s a fullness in me that wants to nurture the world, I long for beauty and calm and peace. I’m attracted to fully-fledged home keeping.
Yet, not as some kind of insipid pandering to systemic male power, so I guess I am radical.

Homeschooling end of year updates

Zeph – continued withThe Ramayana in more detail and looked at some classical Indian painting using a still from the children’s Ramayan on Youtube to copy a watercolour painting of his favourite scene from the story. Of course he chose the most gruesome aspect of the entire thing.

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He turned eleven and we ate cake by candlelight, he assembled the stunt scooter he wanted and he has been enjoying it ever since.

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I introduced him to Baraka Blue and he loved the clip “Love and Light’  since we have been to so many of these places in Fes.
We talked about the elements that plants need to grow and about the differences and similarities between the way human beings and plants interact with the elements.

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He started learning about the story of the Buddha’s life and we discussed the Four Noble Truths.

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We discussed the Tree of Life including plant/animal kingdoms and he made his own Tree of Life drawing.

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Then we started making a Family Tree to illustrate how the Tree of Life/Plant and Animal Kingdoms branch out from one another. I showed him the old coffee and burnt edges trick to make a document look old and he loved it. We can trace our family to the Second Fleet on my mother’s side.

He finished reading Demon Dentist.

Tom – learned about gravity and wrote a humorous story about ‘The Day there was no Gravity’. We did some grammar and spelling.
We discussed the basic elements of photosynthesis.
He read from Little House in the Big Woods.

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He read two Native American Creation Stories – Cherokee and Sioux.

A theme of one Creation Story was to not be scared of trying new things, we made a plate with some new (to M) tastes, mostly fermented goodies from my fridge that the children usually turn up their noses at…

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We looked through a book I’ve had since childhood, Native American Portraits and began to talk about the impact of  colonisation upon the Indigenous people of North America and Australia.

He started a unit on the Water Cycle and an experiment boiling water to show condensation. And an experiment about evaporation.

Spelling and handwriting practise.

Lili – is six meaning she is at Kindergarten level according to our syllabus. The main thing is to focus on rhythm and play incorporating letter and number forms slowly.

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We have started in the garden. HH was delighted when I gave her a garden bed all of her own and everyone gathered together to help assemble it. She had been asking me for days if she could grow strawberries so this was the first plant I gave her for her garden.

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We read ‘Does my Garden Grow?’ by Gerda Muller. The illustrations are wonderful and the story is very involved, it is more like reading a chapter book and we read a little every day rather than it all in one go.

Our cucumbers seedlings are already at least one centimetre tall, HH was thrilled to see that they had already come up. We read a story about a germinating seed and we talked about how the sun ‘calls’ the seed to sprout through the surface of the earth. She has been watering her own veggie patch every morning and evening so she understands that the ingredients a plant needs to grow are sunlight and water and the nutrients of the soil. We talked about the number four and how there are four seasons and four elements. We read a story about the four seasons. And this afternoon it is raining heavily so the garden will be happily drinking it all in.

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Focused on the letter H and the number 5 so we listened to  ‘Aranjuez‘ and we performed the Dance of the Five Silks to an audience of dolls!

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She dressed as a Queen and we tried lots of different combinations of costumes made from play silks. These are really one of my favourite Waldorf toys, so incredibly simple and versatile and HH loves them.
We then played Hopping on the H. Later she kept dancing while I read to her from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Generally she loses interest in stories that are without many illustrations but the movement enabled her to stay completely absorbed.


We read Flower Fairies of the Seasons and HH loved that it was a copy I had owned as a child.

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She read the story of Eartha the Earthworm and then we went into the back garden to look for worms. It must have been too hot though as we didn’t find anything. Then we modelled the numbers one to six using modelling wax and played some number games.

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We sang a physical mandala, ‘Parts of Plants’ to the tune of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, an active way of learning the functions of the roots, stem and leaves….the leaves soak up the sun, soak up the sun.

The strawberries started growing well.

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She made a kite on a very windy day for the letter K.

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We read Sonia’s Chicken’s.

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We continued reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales and her reluctance to sit and listen to non illustrated stories is now a thing of the past, it just took the right stories to captivate her attention.

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My favourite part was really the Welcome to Country. The elder spoke of the Merri Creek we sat next to being like the blood in our veins and this really struck a cord with me because I feel like the Huon River is my blood and I miss that landscape more than I can describe, I feel it like an ache in my body. I wonder sometimes if the discord in my sense of place related to my becoming a Muslim has really sensitised me to the reality of belonging and where and how we are owned, which atoms resonate with which atoms. Perhaps because I no longer know where I belong in terms of race, my sense of connection to land is heightened. The land does not belong to my cerebral interpretations, it simply exists and is as it is and whether white, Muslim, city dweller or not it is the pulse of my childhood. I do think we are owned by the land we grow up upon. But I wonder how my children can foster a similar sense of place since our connection to the land in suburbia is so fractured.

In the Welcome to Country he spoke about the genocide, about the stolen generation. At least two thirds of the crowd he was speaking to were not listening, already throwing colours upon themselves and laughing and dancing. I found it hard to hold back tears because it just seemed like a metaphor for the greater reality of our situation in Australia in which white people (and I am one of them) have not and will not and do not listen, not properly.

The elder also said we all belong to the land and we are all welcome and it is this humility and generosity that always rips my heart out because we white people are welcomed, we are included, if only we could just start listening as well. He spoke about refugee’s and boat people and Manus Island, he said that Manus Island is the same as the stolen generation.

I know that it isn’t completely the same but I am so, so grateful for my experience of sexism and my awareness of how male privilege works and how difficult it is to get through to some men about it because I can use it to recognise similar dynamics with white privilege and colour blindness. When we grow up white it is very, very difficult to start to understand how racism really works as opposed to what we have been taught racism is. Our understanding of racism is usually around 5% and if we don’t fit that 5% we assume we aren’t racist, we don’t realise that our entire society is built upon structures that are racist. Recognising this is probably the most difficult thing a white person can do and therefore most of us won’t do it.

It was great for Zeph to see the Festival of Colours in action, even if an anglicised version of it, they had lots of fun.

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Made watercolour mandala’s and decorated some of the lemon branches we cut from our tree with some colourful wool for our nature table.

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drawing mandala's

Made our Summer Nature Table

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We began learning to knit using Youtube video’s.

We cooked.

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dinner

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Pregnancy wise we had a bit of an upheaval when the lovely non-medicalised bubble I was living in popped and I discovered I have Gestational Diabetes again. Whilst not a big surprise since I have had it before, it is disappointing because it probably means I cannot birth at home as planned. I am grateful for at least spending 30 weeks in such a blissful, non intrusive space, an entirely different experience than my other pregnancies during which I was connected to the hospital system from Day 1.

Whilst I had planned to continue homeschooling through the Summer holiday break right up until my due date, the next few weeks I will now be busy with appointments so I think we will take a break from doing anything structured and just enjoy preparing the house for the baby.

 

 

 

 

Something beautiful and whole

It’s already Friday and most of my plans for the week fell through. I have been feeling really nauseous, I guess it is a just recurring morning sickness but strange to experience so far along. And next week I enter my third trimester so I shouldn’t be surprised to be feeling so tired again, now comes the homeward slog. I love so many things about being pregnant but I don’t have easy pregnancies. This week I have been grappling with all those now familiar to me feelings regarding being sick and needing the help of those around me and how difficult it is for me (being hyper-independent) to experience that kind of need. I always fight it and resist and make things harder for myself than they need to be.

I put a lot of effort into meal planning and then was unable to follow through every day, we ended up eating take away. That being said, I have been substituting hemp seeds for burghul and couscous in salads and I’m really happy with the result.

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The best thing about this week is that our garden bed has been weeded and filled up with soil and is now ready for planting. Plus we have another in the process of being built. All three of my homeschoolers have either gardening or botany components of their learning to be done so this is going to work well for us.

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As a perfectionist and an idealist I struggle when things threaten to taint the bubble of beauty that I have built for myself. I build and then my relentless intellect finds ways to tear it all apart. It’s just a little idiosyncrasy that I have slowly come to tolerate in myself, I am endlessly hard on myself and on the things I choose to be close to, always striving after some kind of unreachable ideal. There is a great irony between my spiritual sense of knowing truth and beauty lies beyond all frameworks and conceptions and the constant striving I find myself performing in order to capture and compartmentalise. It’s an endless tension and a futile one because the very nature of the thing I seek is beyond all forms, it is not in the nature of form to be perfect.

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It is also a tension between my creative/spiritual self and my rational/analytical intellect. Waldorf attracts me because it speaks to the first aspect in me yet I cannot help dissecting it with my mind. I have learned to live with Islam despite my mind shredding things continually, learned to recognise what it contains of truth and to leave the dogma to those who need it so it is foolish to be dogmatic in my interpretation of Steiner education. After all my children are not in a school, they are not at risk of being indoctrinated into some reductive cult vision and I doubt really that this is the reality of most of the schools anyway.

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I am a product of a generational cynicism raised to distrust religion, to hate dogma and to be suspicious of all spiritual leaders and yet as a young person I never realised the strong dogma’s of my secular humanism and now middle aged I have learned that there are spiritual truths that require leadership and directive to move towards.

But the distinct lack of this kind of leadership and directive in my immediate physical sphere and geographical locality has forced me to always be interpreting with my mind making my mind the site of practise. The gentleness of Waldorf as something reorientating myself into my creative being is something I consider a gift to come across because it is all interconnected, faith, education and family culture, the tone and spirit of the house.

So I am leaning back towards what attracted me towards Waldorf education in the first place, something beautiful and whole. Does it matter if I call it Waldorf or Sufism or Zen? I watched this lovely short video this week and it struck me that this is what Waldorf education is all about really…or at least this is what it is about for me….

H just came in and said ‘Mum, you said fuck today!’ and it’s true, I did. Life moves on.

So after a week of take-away and television we will simply get back on the horse.