Sometimes our story isn’t clear until we look back. And then we can see the threads that run through all that we have done and they show us the way forward.
Ever since I can remember I have been making things. I learned to embroider, crochet, knit and sew at the knee of my mother and grandmothers, to make burley cages with my grandfather and daisy chains with our neighbours. More crafts were added over the years. When I learned to use a sewing machine it became, and still is, my favourite tool. When I learned the art of drafting patterns, the sky was the limit. When life gets tough it is making things, especially with textiles, that puts the world right again. I always know when I have strayed too far because I have a deep need to make again.
I have always loved the challenge of making something simply from an idea in my head. That might be a ball gown, or a chair cover, or writing a book, designing a playground or building a wall of rocks. The problem solving part, the planning and process brings me as much pleasure as the finished product.
As a child, when I wasn’t making things I was teaching others how to do things I could already do. Sometimes that has even been to do crafty things. I think my younger brother was my first student as soon as he would stay still long enough to pay attention.
There have been many students since then, first as the ‘classroom helper’ (I did a lot of that!) then later as a teacher in Kindergarten and Early Childhood classrooms, and later again as a Gifted Education Specialist teacher across the primary school years and running holiday workshops. Parents and teachers were also my students and the common thread that runs through all my work is change – helping people learn, gain skills and strategies that empower them to try new things, help others, or appreciate their own abilities.
I grew up practical and handy. I wasn’t ‘just a girl’ although I was compliant and did what was expected, never stretching too far to upset anyone. I was an observer and still enjoy watching people. I grew to be independent and determined with a side serve of over-thinking and self-doubt.
I was someone’s daughter, sister and friend. When I grew up I became someone’s wife, and then a mother. Sometimes I’m not sure that I do much of a job of any of those things. Overthinking again I suspect.
I love being part of something that brings pleasure to people but my comfortable place is in the background, helping make things happen for others rather than standing in the limelight.
I cruised through school. I loved learning and still have a thirst for it. It is part of my every day. Every strength contains a weakness though and learning has sometimes been a great procrastination tool for me.
I have learned the hard way that it is important to put yourself and your family before external things that you think give you value. I have been over committed to my work and ‘doing the right thing’ and there have been times when that didn’t end so well. It was a long road back from the darkness at one point and there have been lessons to learn and relearn along the way. I have always been a ‘good’ girl, someone who was no trouble and pleased everyone but I used to be a lot more deeply committed to pleasing others than I am these days.
Despite my grandfather’s best efforts, ‘sporty’ or ‘athletic’ are not words that anyone would typically use to describe me. The genes that saw my Aunt become an Olympic runner clearly didn’t come my way. So it seemed a fairly unlikely thing to do to set out to walk 900 km across Spain with a friend. It was a journey to mark our 50th birthdays and almost 4 decades of friendship and an adventure, something that few people would have expected of either of us and a great chance to see just what we were capable of.
While it wasn’t a religious pilgrimage for me, I embraced the opportunity to be immersed in nature (including the unseasonably cold, wet Spring we experienced) and pay attention to the small things that are often lost in the blur of daily life. Slow travel is a truly unique experience. We carried everything we needed on our backs and walking each day regardless of the weather or how we felt, we saw first-hand how taking consistent action can see you achieve anything you set out to. Even walking an incredibly long way.
Walking is meditative and contemplative. You have time to notice little things, subtle changes and the wonders of nature whether it is the shadows moving across a stand of trees or the spring blossom. There is time to reflect on what serves you, and to discard what doesn’t, both mentally and in your pack. You discover that climbing mountains and traversing valleys provides the contrast that lets you appreciate the flat sections, just as joy and sorrow add colour to life. That examining your feet each morning before you step out is much like examining the foundations of your life. With your thoughts for company you learn to choose good ones and to find joy around every corner.
And slowing down changed just about everything.
I no longer enjoyed filling ever moment of my day and dashing about in order to feel productive and valuable. I craved being outdoors and in the fresh air (our girls joked that I had to open every window when I came home because I missed being outdoors so much). I felt a strong need to be more creative and put a lot of energy into building up my vegie gardens on our farm and learning to dye silk with the natural materials that are all around us. I decluttered. I rekindled the wisdom of my grandparents, living more simply using what was to hand. I made my own cleaning and skin care products and nourished myself, mind, body and soul. I planted trees and looked for ways I could plant seeds for other women, helping them to create something that captured a little of the joy I had felt from stepping out from my shadow. I am still working on quieting the doubts but there is a little more heart in my life to balance my head these days and that feels so much better.
From all of that what I can now see is that I want to help women journey back to themselves so they can live-like-they-mean-it. Live life ALIVE not in the shadows. It’s all a lot better in the sunshine.