Saturday, November 26, 2011

Vegie Wednesday on a Saturday: thanksgiving

Thank you, so much, for your comments on my last post.

Thank you, so much, for sticking around. I am so grateful for that, and for you. I hope to be around for you as much as you have been for me.

I suppose this is a beginning, then? Where I declare Loving to Learn to be about Everything and Nothing and all the bits in between.

I am so glad for that.

And thank you, in advance, for reading a Vegie Wednesday post written on a Saturday! (I think it's clear to everyone now, that my attempts at living a predictable life are futile. Which I think—actually I believe—is okay.)

Thanksgiving: different but the same

Nine years ago, we began a tradition of having Thanksgiving dinner here in Australia. We did it with our neighbours and friends who had lived in the US for almost 2 years. When we decided to do it, we consulted our American expert, my husband, for the Official Thanksgiving Menu. He said:

"There's one way to do it. I'm going to give you a list. These things HAVE to be on the table."

There had to be mashed potatoes. Then some sweet potato dish, and gravy—there had to be lots, no, oodles, of gravy. Cranberry sauce needed to be there, but it didn't need to be fresh. Out of a can was fine. Plus we needed to have "some sort of green thing," my husband said. "It can be green beans or peas. I won't necessarily eat them, but they have to be there."

Of course there would be pumpkin pie. It had to be served with whipped cream AND icecream. And without question, there would be a big old turkey. The turkey was not negotiable.

So that's what we've eaten. Year after year, with this family and various invited friends, for 9 years.

Last year, we were vegetarian, but my husband was on the fence. He was still a meat-dabbler, a turkey nibbler. Last year, the kids and I ate the vegies, and my son and I tasted a single turkey slice each. (And then decided it was not for us, ever again).

This year we are committed vegans (well, that is, if you don't count our eggs from the backyard chooks and the honey we still eat. We're never very good at fitting completely into labels).

Our friends are committed carnivores. Yikes. What would we do? Would we have a big old bird on the table or not? Such a quandary!

Then our friends decided to go away camping for the rest of the year. The turkey/no turkey dilemma was avoided for another year, but it left us wondering what we should do on this special day. Celebrate it? Ignore it? Try and replicate the menu using vegan alternatives? (Tofurkey anyone?) Invite friends, or not?

I have loved our Thanksgiving menu in the past. Who doesn't love knowing that on a single day, every year, you'll put the same delicious food on the table, and share it with loved ones? It's the same fizzy, delighted feeling you get when you put the Christmas tree up. You pull out the decorations, the home-made ornaments, the tinsel. You dig out the stockings. And every single year on Christmas day, you give presents. It's a tradition. 

Like all the other important holidays, in every culture, there's a way to do it. There are particular foods you eat, rituals you follow. And I have never ever celebrated a Thanksgiving and not had a turkey sitting on the table when we sat down to eat.

So what did we do this year?


We decided to re-invent.

We decided that Thanksgiving didn't actually have to have a turkey.

(Crazy, I know!)

We decided, actually, Thanksgiving wasn't about my husband's long ago list of Must Eats.

(But it was such a good list!)

At its heart, we decided,

Thanksgiving is about sitting together with loved ones, sharing gratitude, sharing a meal.

This is true, isn't it? As yummy as the food is, as delicious as that turkey leg used to be for me, and the lashings of whipped cream all over that pie, it's the sitting and the sharing and the thankfulness that matters most.

I can't think of anyone who wouldn't agree.

(At least in part! All you Thanksgiving turkey lovers would say: Yeah. It's that, AND the turkey.)

So this year, for our Thanksgiving, we invited two new families over. Two families who are very dear to us. Two Australian families who had never done Thanksgiving before in their lives. Luckily they had no tradition to be attached to, so we could experiment on them with our very own Vegan thanksgiving menu. Lucky, unsuspecting them :)

Ah, it was a beautiful night.

We had home-made guacamole and corn chips for appetisers. Then for dinner, there was loads of garlic bread, and a roasted pumpkin and sweet potato salad with chick peas. Plus an enormous Vegan Shepherd's pie with green lentils, tons of vegies, and a crisp mashed potato topping. For dessert? Fresh mangoes and mango sorbet.


not my pie, but it's pretty, no?
I got the recipe from here and then tweaked it a lot.
Our pie wasn't spicy. Our pie had lentils.

There were 15 of us, and we somehow fitted everyone around two tables, kids mixed in with adults. I had to borrow a pie dish and 8 plates from a friend, and one of the tables had a bedspread for a table cloth (don't tell anyone). We served the sorbet in coffee mugs because we didn't have enough bowls. The 9 kids tore about deliriously all night, and I think a 2-year-old guest might have swallowed the fooz-ball balls (we can't find them anywhere! I hope my friend doesn't find a strange surprise in her boy's nappy. Sorry 'bout that).

We were full, and more to the point,

we were so happy.

As we ate, we took turns saying what we were thankful for. The kids spoke, and the adults spoke. We spoke when we were moved to. We spoke from the heart.

The words we said were beautiful.

They floated.

Thankfulness lay itself on our skin.

It shifted inside us, finding room like children snuggling into laps.

We were thankful all the way through. We were joyous inside and out.

What a wonderful Thanksgiving it was.

What lucky, blessed people we are.

What a lucky, blessed person I am.

(And I nearly didn't go through with this wonderful night. I nearly let my recent health and possible diagnosis, overwhelm me. It would have been understandable if I'd just taken it easy. I lay in bed that morning, after writing my last post, and I thought, I'm not sure I can do this.
My son came and found me, as my kids always do. He lay down and wrapped his arms around me. He knew about my visit to the doctor and he knew some of what the doctor had said.
He said, "Mum, on a scale of one to ten, how much do you want to just lie in bed today, and read, and crochet?"
I said, "I think about an 8, or 9."
"So that's what you should do, Mum. You should do that."
But then I said, "But if you ask me how much I want these friends over, who I really want to spend tonight with, then I would have to say a 10."

Which meant we went for it.

It meant I chose love. I chose joy. I always will. To the best of my abilities, I always will.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

giving thanks: in sickness and in health

When I started this blog, in the wee hours of the morning almost two years ago, I thought it would be a homeschooling blog. Where I wrote about our journey—for me as a homeschooling mother, and for my kids as learners. I wanted to record our learning, and think about our methods. I wanted to focus on our love for learning, especially our creative learning and how important that was to our day.

Loving to learn was born. No fanfare, just a simple Plop, or perhaps a tiny Plink, and it was there.

I began to write. Very sporadically at first. More and more deeply as time passed.

I found myself writing not just about homeschool, but about parenting too. About choosing Yes in my parenting days over No.

I found myself

walking into Yes.

Into everything that meant. In our homeschool days,
in learning in general,
in our life.

Choosing Yes opened my eyes.

That choice became a turning over of the soil for me. It began a deep digging down and a deep unearthing.

It became clear that I wanted and needed to share more.

I began sharing myself, my own story.

My journey into and out of sadness, and how Choosing Yes was in fact a part of a bigger picture.

That of Finding Joy.

Seeking and finding joy, is for me,
the way I try daily to save my life. To lift and fill it.

This blog has become something Else.

In writing it, and in the passing of time, I have become something,



I am

a grown up

a writer

and a mother,

but I am ALSO

and have become

a homeschooler

a learning 'facilitator'

a student—of art, crochet, cooking, maths, astronomy, physics, history, knitting, sewing, gardening and lego robots

a cook, a cleaner, a dog washer and the owner of two fairly challenging cats

a lap (available at any time)

a vegan

the mother to two bright young artists, writers, inventors, and musicians (who are an inspiration to me)

and the wife to one extraordinary, beautiful man.

I am also


someone suffering from clinical depression.

As of this moment. As of Right Now.


as of yesterday, after a visit to my doctor, and a long long talk,

I am also possibly, probably,

someone with bipolar disorder II.

I am someone who will have to get treatment. See a counsellor, see a psychiatrist, go to naturopaths and to doctors. Someone who must seek help. Someone who might have to go on medication for life.

Where does that fit? In this life of mine that is

so beautiful?

So full? So blessed?

How is it even possible?

And how does that fit here, into this blog?

Where and how do I write about that?

Really. Without people squirming and looking away?

How do I write and not think: This is too much. This might make people see me differently. That label is not for people like me, is it?

Is it?

It must be, if it is true. If it turns out to be part of who I am, then it is. As much as any of the things on my list of Me.

On this day, I am either moving into good-bye, because writing about this was never what this blog was meant to be about.

Or I am beginning a new journey here. Where I write about finding the joy, more and more. Where I show our day-to-day and our Good,

along with the Hard and the Healing.

I wonder which one it should be.

I do know that having been swept hard into the undertow, I'm barely writing. I know that right now, I rarely leave comments on other peoples' blogs. That makes me sad, because I have found so much support and so much inspiration from their (your) words. I know that some days putting one foot in front of the other, thinking of what to have for dinner, finding moments to smile and laugh and really BE with my family, is an effort.

So what does the future hold?

Wellness, I hope.

Joy. I believe.

It will find me giving thanks,

every single day,

for the life I have, the people in it, the love in it.

I know it will see me
walking daily into love.

Today is Thanksgiving.

Today I am scared. I am sad. I am uncertain.

And I am so utterly thankful.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

why I write sometimes about being sad

I'm feeling Peace, again, of the 'mostly' kind. It's a welcome feeling. It's kind of fluid, kind of wobbly, mostly kind of nice.

This is what it looks like
I think.

It looks a little bit like acceptance. Like letting life Be.
Because life keeps on Being, doesn't it? No matter what.
It Be's and Be's and Be's. And before you know it, you're Being along with it. You can't help yourself. Life's like a jig you hear—you can't help but tap your feet.

'Mostly Peace' moves, with moods that shift like the wind. A gloomy, gusty wind, sometimes. Other times, a low breeze, calm and soothing. Wind over lake water, bringing the morning calls of birds. Sometimes it brings rain—majestic, maybe, or thunderous. Sometimes it's a rain to dance to. Sometimes, it's just rain.

'Mostly Peace' looks like

looking around. And noticing

all the love that's here, in the room and outside it.

There's a whole lot of love, I've noticed. How beautiful that is to see.

'Mostly Peace' isn't 'All-the-way-through Peace.' I'd be lying if I said, 'Hey! All I see is sun!'

Because I think I've come to realise something very important.

Depression, that mysterious thing—the thing that can topple a person, bring them to their knees—the thing that sometimes (maybe even Often, or Usually) you get to leave far behind—is a part of me. As much as any other part of me might be.

I used to be so afraid of that. I have been as afraid of being sad as someone might be of shark attacks or spiders or bears.

I believed that sadness, suffering a pervasive, often inexplicable sadness some days, and succumbing to it some days, meant I'd failed. I'd failed at being Normal. At being happy. At Life.

But that's not possible.

Because look: I am here. Aren't I?

Living it.

I get out of bed, almost every single day. I cook, I eat, I talk, I laugh, most of the time. I love my children to the ends of the earth, all of the time. I love with all my heart. Faithfully and foolishly. Giddily and always. This much and this big.

I walk my dog and don't walk my dog. I weep and I don't weep. I feel hollowed out and devastated and then I don't.

And still: I am here.

Even on the hardest days.

And in this moment, I want to explain why I write about this thing called Depression.

This thing that is Being Sad.

I write about it because

living, truly living,

matters so much to me.

I write about it
because I think,
If even one person reads this and feels less alone or hollow, then my words have done something

I write about it
because there are lots of us.
If you close your eyes and feel the threads of us, here we are—a translucent web, connected. Truly, you and I are not alone.

I write about it,
because what I care most about, and believe is possible

is the getting UP.

Finding the joy.

I write about that often, don't I?

More than that—I write how I find it.

Sometimes it's in something as simple as stirring porridge. Sometimes it takes a beach and a dog and holding hands with someone small. Sometimes it's hearing a bird call or seeing how light moves through a leaf, altering it. Sometimes it's in a movie, or a moment on the couch with your hands around a cup of tea. Or in talking to people you love, or sharing a meal, or getting a hug just when you need it most.

Joy is there. It's always there, waiting.

I write about looking UP.
Because I have spent months sometimes, looking down. Look up, I tell myself. I say it and say it. Look up, if you can. Even if it's only a little. Look up.

And I write about living

as much and as big as I can,

even if some days the Big is kind of small.
Even if all I have inside are small steps.

Those are wonderful. Those steps can be the most important ones you take.

I write about it all because I am so very glad for This.

This Peace, and Mostly Peace, and Elusive Peace, and the Peace that comes and surprises me just when I think I might never see it again. It's waiting there,
a lot like Joy.

I think sometimes they sit together, you know? Peace and Joy. Like two old men at the bus stop. Just waiting for you to pass by, and pick them up.


Friday, November 11, 2011

into the light

And quite suddenly, the sun comes.

You're looking out over the open ocean, perhaps, or a range of mountains, or some other open space. Looking out into the distance, out to the East. You're stamping your feet against the cold, perhaps. Blowing on your fingers, feeling kind of giddy. Because you are up early, mindfully. To see something extraordinary. To be a witness to light,


You see the clouds change first. They are the heralds. They hark and marvel at the light. They stream in pinks and golds. Streaks of change, the idea of it, marking the sky.

Then, there, just over the horizon. It comes in a glimmer to begin with.
Slowly, slowly, a band of light appears. A glow.

Something, here and now, is happening.
Something is possible.
Something different.

Something magical.

Suddenly it is here.

The sun appears.

Bold. Glorious. New.

And the sky shouts.

Light! Light!

Light arising!

The birds wheel and marvel; they careen into that blue like daredevils.

Light! they call.

Light arising!

And there you are. Tiny. Awestruck. Standing, watching, your mouth open, your heart lifting. Because you are witness, here and now.  To something extraordinary. You could watch this every day and you would never stop marvelling, being thankful, feeling blessed.

You press yourself into the light—it opens its arms and lets you in.

Peace be with you,

on this special day of ones,
and beginnings!

Peace be rising.

Peace be by your side.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Look at how it shines

What do you do?

When you are a writer but you can't write?
When just looking at words exhausts you, and inside, you feel filled with silence?

What do you do when some days you can hardly speak or move because the Sad is so big?

When you can see joy, so clearly—it's right in front of you—but it skims over you, past you. It can't get in.

What do you do when you feel thin as clouds?

What do you do when you know you should feel your good life deeply, you should feel it well, but you can't? It's as though you are outside yourself. Watching the smiling and the good things and the sweetness but you can't get to it. You know, logically, the joy is there. You want so badly to have it inside, to keep it close. You wish for it—you will it inside. But it slips by.

Two nights ago, my son said, "Mum, do you think you'll ever feel happy again?"

All I could say was, "I think so, sweetheart. I hope so. I'm working on it."

How hard that moment was.

What do you do when the loss of a friendship brings back your whole history? Everything you've ever feared and everything that was devastating about your childhood—here it is again.

But now you're a Grown-up and you should be able to take it, shouldn't you? Where is your armour, woman? Where is your bounce? Why are you lying down? Why aren't you fighting?

Damn it, get up.
Why can't you stop crying?


What do you do?

Well, I guess you start right here. Right now. With something simple. You make yourself raise your head. You look around. You point yourself towards the good that is. Whatever you can see.

Here, you point. And here

and here.

My girl's birthday was on Friday. She's 9 now. She is so beautiful to me.

She had such a great day. She got a windmill house and tiny toy cats to put inside. The paddles of the windmill actually wind up and move. How amazing is that?? Guess how big her smile was all day?
It was this big.

I just held her close and breathed her in.

We went to Taronga Zoo in Sydney on Saturday. With my niece who makes every day technicolour. She is so cool. My kids loved being with her. We laughed and gave hugs and saw tiger cubs! My kids got toy animals from the zoo shop and played with them the whole car ride home. AND we found vegan gluten free pizzas for dinner in Newtown—one of the hippest areas of Sydney. What a fine day that was.

Then it was my birthday on Sunday. My very own. I got cuddles and sweet presents (toy foxes and owls from my kids. So gorgeous). Dear friends came for lunch. They sang happy birthday to me in three part harmony. Can you believe it? It doesn't get more beautiful than that.

After our friends left, I walked the dog. Slowly, slowly, just the two of us, to the park and back. And then—as the kids read peacefully on their beds,
and my husband took a nap—
I went
quietly, privately,
to church.

It's not something I regularly do, or grew up with (religion and faith were not my parents' thing at all). So now I'm a grown up, I visit places of worship with wonder. I go to church services like they're an Event, like an art opening or the ballet. Each time, it feels special. Every time, I feel like a tourist, wondering how and where I can fit.  I sit there taking it all in, my mind and heart open.

Just before the service started, I met a woman who has read my blog all year, who has sent me the kindest emails, even given me a book. I walked up and said, "D__? I'm Helena." We hugged like we'd known each other for years. What a gift that was.

The kids were waiting for me when I got back.

"Where did you go, Mum?" they asked. "What did you do?"
I told them, and they said, "That's great. That's cool."

Because, if I've taught them anything, it's to explore.
To learn, to reach for things bigger than them, to dream. To let everything in.
To be open.

I try to live that, with everything I am.

Then on Monday, I had to face our loss all over again.

Friends were meeting up for lunch, but not us—we couldn't be a part of that circle any more. On Tuesday, our regular group met, but we aren't part of that any more either—I can't see how to go without causing stress.

All the lift I'd found—the positive I'd tried to build over the past three days—disappeared.

Monday and Tuesday were deep and hollow.

And I blamed myself completely. I felt (and still feel) so sorry—even without knowing exactly what we did. I keep thinking, Somehow, I missed something. Somewhere, there was a moment I could have turned this around. I could have been finer, more together, been a better friend. I could have fixed it. And then I wouldn't have this loss. I wouldn't be here, on the outside.

Childhood all over again.

Days like these you think, How do I get out? Where do I go?
Where are the ladders, where is the light?

You look out and think you see nothing.

But yesterday, in all that hollowness, I took my kids to the pool. We swam and relaxed, and in that moment my girl—who has steadfastly refused to have swim lessons—suddenly figured out how to breaststroke. Just like that.

On Monday, I took my son to circus class. He laughed with his friends and learned to spin a plate. He loved that.

Tuesday afternoon, I ran my after school writers workshop. Those kids are so fantastic. Every single time I see them I am glad.

Last night I had a date with my husband to the movies. The film was lovely and sweet. I curled my arms around my husband's arm and he kept his hand resting on my leg.

My mother watched the kids while we went out. She is so beautiful. She is staying close—like a mama bird with her wing out.

Each day I have cooked for my kids. I've taken them to every place they needed to be. When I have seen friends, I have smiled. 

This Friday is lunch with friends, old and new. I just know it will be filled with Lovely.

Tomorrow is another swim, with other good friends. Another swim to go with the one we had on Tuesday, and the one we had today, out in the glorious summer sun.

As for this moment?

Well, the frogs are croaking outside. The dog lies, splayed out, on the cool tiles. My husband is reading upstairs in bed.

The children lie in their beds with fans blowing on their skin. Their cheeks are so soft. Their smell—I could live inside it. And inside their kindness, their sensitivity, their thoughtfulness. Inside their pealing laughter. Inside the way they reach out to me,

with their wings out, sheltering.


Look at this.

What I have.

What we have, together.

Such beauty.

I say to myself.

Look, please.

Look at how it shines.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

vegie wednesday: a book and a burger

Here we go, my first Vegie Wednesday post! I meant to start last week but…didn't.

Life's like that, isn't it? All unpredictable and pebbly sometimes?
But you keep on. At least, you try.

So yesterday marked day one of moving on. And today? Well, it's day one again, like tomorrow will be. Fresh and unbroken—a field of unmarked snow. Perfect for making new prints, unlike any I've made before.

Anyway, on to Vegie Wednesday! Here goes nothing, as they say…!

So I read this book the other day.

Now, there are books you read and think, "That was awesome! I couldn't put it down!" Then there are ones you think, "Yeah, it was okay, but I didn't like the part where the guy did that thing and it didn't seem that believable and I thought the language was kind of trite so anyway, meh."

And some books? Well, they change your life.

They are written in a way that completely resonates with you, all the way through. It's like the author is sitting there and simply talking. Quietly, he or she reaches in and rearranges you—the way you see things, the way you live your life, the way you want to live your life from this point on.

This book was like that.

This is the first, and probably only non-fiction book for author Jonathan Safran Foer (who wrote a book I loved, called Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). He wrote it because, as a dabbler in vegetarianism  and as a new father, he wanted to know about the food he gave his son. He wanted to know, specifically, about his meat.

He researched this book painstakingly for three years. He interviewed cattle ranchers, turkey and pig farmers, activists, members of PETA and even a vegetarian who is building a turkey slaughterhouse. He read exhaustively on the subject of animal farming—hundreds of articles, reports and books. He visited industrial farms, family operated farms, and animal sanctuaries. He went deep inside the subject and came out altered.

His book is not, in fact, one huge argument against eating animals. He actually becomes friends with a number of ranchers and farmers. He never says, "Meat is murder!" but he does say this:

The way most animals are farmed today is cruel and destructive. To the environment, to communities, to people and, especially, to the animals themselves.

Foer writes that industrial farming, the farming that represents over 90% of our pork and chickens, and over 75% of our beef, didn't exist 100 years ago. Farms have become corporatised, animals have become mere products, and many independent family farms have disappeared.

Foer presents clear evidence that this type of farming harms the environment in countless ways. He shows clear connections between factory farming and public health issues—such as our growing resistance to antibiotics, the spread of food poisoning and outbreaks of disease.

As for the way the animals are treated—at best, they are treated as commodities. At worst, the treatment is inhumane. Most of these animals lack anything resembling a normal life. Their suffering is often extreme. And this, quite simply, is how most factory farmed animals live and die.

Some of Foer's book is incredibly hard reading. It should be. I mean, we all know, in some part of ourselves, that if we had to face the reality of the modern meat industry, we'd find it a terrible thing to watch.

It's hard learning, but Foer never stands up on a soap box and shouts at us to change. He doesn't say, It's all or nothing! Do this! Do that! This way is right! This way is wrong, wrong, wrong!

He just states what he learned. Bluntly sometimes. Conversationally most of the time. Then he states what he and his family chose to do as a result of his learning, what path they chose for themselves personally.

Foer chose to become a vegetarian. My family and I, who were already vegetarian, have chosen to become (for the most part) vegan. But Foer says you can make a difference with other choices—like, by simply eating less meat. You can also make a difference buying your meat from ethical farms, family farms, local farms. You can read the food labels, do research, be informed.

Foer says, "Our day to day choices shape the world." They do, even though we sometimes feel so small and insignificant. I really believe they do.

He also writes this:

"Compassion is a muscle that gets stronger with use 
and the regular exercise of choosing kindness over cruelty would change us."

When I read those words I thought, That, there, is the muscle I choose. The one I most want to strengthen.

Compassion. First, and most.

This book made such a difference to me. And I've read so much about the subject since. I'm still learning, investigating, making up my own mind. Our family is traveling the path that fits us,

there is no single path to walk.

I love that a book changed me. I love that a writer changed my life. That's how it should be. Books should do that to you, don't you think? Otherwise, they are just marks on a page. Otherwise, we are just people holding paper.


Now. Who wants some lentil burgers?

We made them this week. Oh, they were deliciously divine. They were lip-smackingly scrumptious!

They kind of surprised me with their yumminess, as the last two attempts at vegie burgers haven't been so great. The previous ones needed a LOT of sauce :) But these… well, they were moist, didn't fall apart when you looked at them, and were totally tasty. A very welcome addition to our new menu (which we keep adding to, so watch out!).

Here's a link to the recipe and a fancier picture than mine, so you can salivate some more:

I should mention that for our vegie burgers, I forgot to add the bread crumbs (or rice crumbs in our case). I think you don't need them and it might have made them a bit crumbly. Our burgers were really moist and moldable (just how you want your food to be, right? Moldable. Yes.)


Okay. That's it for this week's episode of Vegie Wednesday. I truly hope you enjoyed it. :)

If you want to share any tasty vegie things you've had recently, please do. I would love to think of us cooking together, leaning over the stove, sniffing, tasting, testing. Then sitting down, together, to eat.

Isn't that a beautiful thought?


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

let's begin

Here's to

And to moving forward.

Here's to letting go.

(of expectation, of outcomes, of the past. Of as much Stuff as you can)

Here's to living what is,

which is not always what you plan, or dream of, or wish for

but surprises you sometimes

with how very beautiful and true it can be.

Here's to beginnings.

To the rest of Now.

1. 11. 11

Here's to moving on.

Into clarity,

into light.



Love without end.

'The greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion'

H.H. the fourteenth Dalai Lama