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

Treading Water

I’ve been here before. Unable to make it work. Overwhelmed by the debris of daily life, swallowed by both the details and the larger picture.

All this hatred and contempt makes me wonder how to guide my Muslim children into adulthood here in this atmosphere of intense malevolence. How do I protect them?
The shield of my whiteness has lowered and all I see is pain and injustice and a deep, deep commitment to maintaining a hierarchy of racial oppression.

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The fight against misogyny and racism is so enormous, so much bigger than me, all I can do is offer it to God. Somewhere I read ‘God is my inexhaustible resource’. I read about a man who had seven versions of himself. I need to be seven. In the minutiae of my daily life it is hard to get the dishes washed or the clothes dry or something healthy cooked and ready for eating. I cannot do everything, I cannot be everything.

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These are the times when I am all ideals with little application. Homelife feels like chaos. I’m seriously contemplating school. The questions I ask myself are

are there any clean pants?
what is rotting in the back of the fridge?
will my baby be ok?
how do I guide my sons towards a healthy masculinity?
is crying in the car worse than being forward facing?
can I get up and pray without waking him up?
will Ramadan tip me over the edge?
are we looking down the barrel of a holocaust?
will I be able to cook dinner?
what is the real ‘Feminine?’
will I ever ‘know’ God?
am I making a mess of it?
should I try and get a ‘real’ job?
why is my arthritis flaring?
is this my fault?

and so on

All day, every day.

who am I?
why do other people not question themselves the way I do?
do I know what I am doing?
is homeschooling a mistake?
am I ruining them?

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I’ve been here before and I’ve learned to ‘chop wood and carry water’…be still and be carried. I turn to one small patch of my corner and give it my full attention. This small thing I will do well. I’m sitting quietly nourishing him at the breast, he breathes in and out, the curl of his hair wrapped around my finger. I am only one but I can still give it all I have, whatever I do I can choose to do in love.

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I’ve been here before and I know the days turn quickly. In my country there are people of beauty and goodness, soon my baby will be running and talking and I will make bread and soup.

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I am not a failure, I am just stretched thin.
I am not alone in it, this is our modern world. We are mothers, fractured, carrying weights that were once carried by many..we do it side by side, we do our best.

Days at home

 

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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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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.

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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