I’ve made another patchwork square for your Dear Daughter quilt. This one is called Farmer’s Daughter. I fussy cut the bees for some pieces, but left others so they look like they are scurring under the centre pieces. It would have worked more effective if the red fabric had less white. I’m hoping it shows from a distance.
With every finished square, I include a letter to you. Often I think about my words as I add little stitches to pull the bits of fabric together. The repeating action of sewing concentrates my mind and I can focus on what I want to say. Other thoughts can wait, which fits nicely with the topic I’ve chosen this time. Time to launch in to my letter….
There are no two ways about it. Life can serve up some real humdingers of moments, that we’d prefer to write out of our day. We all have them. We really do. Easy to dwell. Easy to let them pull us down. Easy to let five minutes of something not going our way, to make the whole day feel like a write-off.
So often we forget, dismiss or simply don’t register the simple joys in life, instead focusing on the bad. It’s the way we’re wired. A survival trait.
In basic terms, since time beyond, we are set up to pass on warnings and danger messages so we, and the rest of our community or tribe, survive. There is an immediate benefit from hearing about a wolf seen attacking local sheep. Less true of learning that the lilac down by the river smells particularly good this year. Especially if you depend on your sheep, rather than lilacs, for survival. In this case, focusing on the bad saves lives.
In modern terms, the gossip might fly about the cafe in town that’s linked to a possible food poisoning outbreak, or the road works that add time to your journey and cause major inconvenience. All will be discussed in detail and at length, while a rainbow overhead fades unnoticed.
With the focus on danger and disruptions, it does mean that we need to work a little harder at seeing life’s joy and making it part of us. Hang on. Wait a minute. Why does it matter, you may ask? Good question. I should cover that first.
I think it matters because each of those moments of joy lift our spirits and strengthens us. In contrast, being under a cloud of stress and anxiety leaves us depleted. Try tackling a day in that state and I think you’ll see the advantage of experiencing an uplift instead. Even if it is only fleeting.
By focusing on the small, or seemingly less critical (think lilac), we also glimpse the bigger picture. We gain perspective. It takes us out of ourselves and that is a good thing. A moment to step back, regroup, and then on to tackle at least some of what life can throw at us, slightly stronger than we were before.
Let me give you an example. It’s spring at the moment. We’ve spotted the first swifts of the year, flying over the house. What a sight for winter weary eyes. Often they are flying as pairs, but soon they’ll be more than we can count as they weave and streak through the sky above our heads, outmaneuvering flies to munch on.
Here comes the part that always catches my breath and makes me smile: they’ve flown all the way back from Africa to our patch of the world. Reportedly, without stopping. Just take a moment to think about it. Those little birds have covered thousands of miles, and they do it every year of their lives. Awesome. We witness only the end and the start of their epic journey.
I’m not sure why I was so worried about the traffic jam now. I’ll leave earlier. Although, I might loiter a little longer to watch the swifts dart above my head. ‘Tis a joy.
So how do we see life’s joy in our daily lives? Like gold dust it can be spread thin and difficult to grasp, but with practise it becomes easier. Look around. Stand still and look up. Stop, listen and notice. Take a moment and experience it. For one moment, give yourself permission to not think about the past or overthink the future. Be.
Here are some ideas on how to lose yourself and see the joy:
1. Go outside and take a camera. There is nothing like spotting something new – be it flower, insect or street art – to make you look. I mean really look. Frame it in the camera lens. Take the photo. (this is one of my favourite ways – just look at my instagram feed) Alternatively draw it.
2. Do something you really enjoy doing to the best of your abilities. Entirely for you. Baking, playing the harp, drawing, plant a seed. Concentrating. Getting lost in the process. If you make something, feel free to throw it away at the end, if you want. It’s all about the journey. (Although cake is nice. Just saying.)
3. Spend time with someone you like/love and enjoy their company. Fly a kite. Laughter is compulsory with this one, of course.
4. Find music that really resonates with you. Play it. Dance. Sing. Tap your toes. Lose yourself in it.
5. Meditate. Cloud watch. Stand out in the summer rain.
You will find your own method. Lose yourself in the process. Take no baggage with you. Tomorrow can wait. It will take practise, but the good news is that what ever method you choose, it will make you happy. In a better place to deal with whatever comes next. I know you can do it.
Wishing joy to all.
your loving mother
I miss sharing my current book and knitting progress on a Wednesday. It gave me that extra encouragement to do more. I’d like to carry on, but this time, I think, I’ll include progress in other long term craft projects, or even just life in general. Life doesn’t always serve up enough time in the week to add many knitted rows, or enough awake moments to read another chapter. Some weeks I want to sew or even grow something instead.
Here I go.
I’m going to kick off with my latest book. I have finished it. A few weeks ago, Briony shared a book she had been reading. From her description, I knew I’d like it, so I ordered a copy. The day The Blackout arrived, we had a power cut for a few hours in the evening (again), so I approached this book with even more interest.
The book starts as the electricity begins to go off all over Europe, but no-one knows why. The grid is interlinked across countries. As one area loses power, there is a ripple effect across all countries. Chaos. Traffic lights stop working and cars crash. Hospitals try to cope with more casualties, without the help of power. No water. No sanitation. No power to pump petrol from the underground tanks. Soon everything grinds to a halt. No food or medicine. People start to die.
I thought it was interesting how people went from helping each other, even strangers, to looking out for themselves. As resources diminished there were still pockets of support, such as a soup kitchen and the government departments in some countries struggling on, but there were plenty more that chose to wield a gun instead and seize power.
The failed attempts to bring the electricity back on line were interesting. There were parts in the plot that had holes (what really? You really didn’t think of that? Where are your procedures?), but some of those were necessary to make the story.
It made me think. How would I survive? Water would be our main problem. Over time, I think we’d have the skills and knowledge to survive as a family. I remember reading years ago, that if such a major permanent change happened, such as no electricity, it would be those that stuck together as a community, and shared skills, that would survive. I think that’s true. They advocated building communities in readiness, which seemed to be taking it a little far. I’d hate to eat my words on that one.
The book made me realise how much people rely on electricity. An eye opener. If you read this book, be prepared to add candles and extra canned food to your next shopping list. Maybe water too and a generator.
Thought I’d include the children’s books too. They’ve all read lots this holiday and the pile of read books is even bigger.
Nine year old has resumed ploughing through the Harry Potter series, he’s on number 5.
Twelve year old was desperate to read something less depressing, so I suggested the Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. One of my favourite books when I was her age. She loves it. I can’t remember the last time I saw her so engrossed in a book. There was a film based on the story, but the book is a million miles better than the film. In the sense that the book may once have been in the same room as the script writers.
Fourteen year old is flying through books. She’s finished this one now. Her sixth book this holiday. She is enjoying the uninterrupted time to read.
Last but by no means least, our bed time story book. We popped into the Oxfam bookshop today and picked up a copy of More About Paddington. I’ll be reading a chapter a night to the Youngest, before bed. Often the others will quietly turn up to listen too. There is something rather lovely about having a book read to you, last thing in the day. Especially such delightful stories.
No knitting progress. I’ve been working on my Dear Daughter quilt. Two more squares finished. They are waiting for letters to go with them, which in turn, is waiting for me to be inspired. Sometimes thinking of the right subject, that meets the Teens approval, can be challenging. I’m sure I’ll think of something. In the meantime, I’m on my third square, with three more to go and I’m finished.
In the kitchen
With the children on holiday, my role as chief chef has been called into play more. My usual lunch of grabbing a cheese and pickle toastie is not always enough for my growing brood. I’ve been making fruit muffins each afternoon and chopping up fruit to keep in the fridge, ready for the “I’m hungry” cry.
Another big hit is so simple. It’s an old favourite that tends to be forgotten during the colder months when the ingredients are out of season. I chop up tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and red onions, then top with parsley and fennel from the garden. The children love it. Even enough to discuss whether it would make a suitable breakfast.
The difference is the use of herbs. If I add chopped chives to the top of a dish of boiled potatoes, they disappear in a flash. Without chives, I can guarantee I’ll have left overs.
This summer, my herb collection is going to get a lot more care and attention.
In the garden
I’ve been busy potting up sweetcorn and cabbages. If all goes well, we should have enough sweetcorn for plenty of meals in the garden, and some left over to freeze. Cabbage is a more distant ambition. They will be helping to add fresh food over the hungry months, after Christmas, when not much else is in season. This is planning ahead. It feels way ahead.
A generous slice of life.
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This quilt block (Contrary Wife) very nearly escaped being made. After the last block, I had enough patchwork pieces to make up your Dear Daughter quilt. Albeit, as a square, but a chance to finish the quilt. Hooray, I thought. Then I remembered a letter I wanted to include, which meant another block had to be made.
My square quilt no longer worked, with this plus one. I need to sew more blocks to make the quilt into a rectangle shape. Six more required after this one. It would have been even more if I’d wanted to make it square again.
The upside is that I can choose more patterns to include in your quilt. Play with more combinations of fabric. Maybe dig out a few bits of advice to share, in the form of letters, which brings me nicely onto the subject of this latest Dear Daughter letter.
(Contrary Wife quilt block no 21 and harp tuning key)
I’ve told you this story many times. You even join in on the punch line, but it seems amiss to not include it as one of my Dear Daughter letters. It is a lesson I learnt too late. If I could send a letter to my younger self, this is the one I would choose. Without a doubt.
I’ll start at the beginning. In secondary school, at the stage they now call KS3, I found school work relatively easy. With a little bit of work, I could get good marks. I’d be one of those students that everyone automatically assumed would be in the group, getting the top test scores, each time. It was great. I liked it. It opened doors to other learning opportunities. I was in top sets. Before long, this meant that the work I was set was challenging and that was spot on for keeping me interested and focused.
There was, however, one fly in the ointment. I could never reach the accolade of first. Leader boards were posted up on classroom walls, telling us who came first, second, third, etc. Awful when I think back to it. I don’t want to think about the long term effect of these lists on the students that tussled for last place each time.
In reality, it really didn’t matter if it was posted up on the wall or not. We all compared scores and places among ourselves. We all knew who was doing better than us or who we were beating. I know it’s the same for you. You tell me who did better than you. Sometimes adding an “of course, X got a higher score than me”.
I’m jumping ahead. In my story, the fly in the ointment was one particular person. We’ll call him D. I could never beat him. It got to a stage when even fellow classmates were aware and would joke as test marks were handed out. I didn’t always come second. There were a group of us that jostled around to get the top positions, but none of us broke through to the top spot. There may have been the odd occassion, but there was always a good reason, such as D hadn’t taken the test, which would mean I still hadn’t beaten him.
I was competitive. I wanted to beat him.
To such an extent that my actual score became unimportant. What was the point of getting 89%, let’s say in the test, if I only ranked 2nd or 3rd? Getting the first position was all that mattered. Now this is not a good mindset, to say the least. It is unsustainable. To run a race everytime for first place and, at best, achieve second each time, eventually something had to give in my young mind. It took me years, but eventually I gave up. I stopped caring. I was never going to win. I was beat. I no longer cared if I did well.
I dropped. Not to the bottom, but I left that top group, scrabbling for first place. It was easier and less pressured. I did enough to stay off the radar. I wish someone had noticed. Given me a guiding hand. Instead I just cruised along. Distracted by other aspects of being a teenager. Not entirely happy. Not achieving my full potential.
It wasn’t until years later, as I flicked through a magazine, that I realised that I had been running the wrong race all those years ago. How did I not realise? This is the message I would love to go back and tell my former self. Oh, for a time machine. Who knows what I’d be doing if only I had known. Maybe I’d be inventing the time machine. One thing I’m pretty sure about is that I would have been happier at school.
So as I flicked through that magazine, a photo caught my eye. It was of D. Older now and smiling out of the pages. Face tanned. He had his arm round a girlfriend. Judging by the background and their clothes, they were on holiday. Maybe in the far east. Wherever it was, it was hot. He had chosen to send in a holiday snap to our school Alumni magazine. I was curious. Of course I was. Here was the person that I could never beat. What had he done with all
my that success?
He was now a surgeon.
At that moment, the great, big, proverbial penny dropped. Oh my goodness. Why had I not realised? I had been running a race against a future surgeon. What was I thinking? Why did no one tell me? Of course, no one could have told me the future, but if I had known, I would never have tried. I had been running the wrong race, and the funny thing was that the race track I was on, I had been the winner. I had been winning all the time.
You see, I came top in the race of future programmers, my future career. All that time, my eyes had been on the wrong race track. I didn’t know it, but that was the one for the future medic. I was me. Not him. There was only one person on my particular race track that I had to beat, and that was me. I shouldn’t have been comparing myself to anyone else but me.
If I was to go back in time, I would give one piece of advise. Beat your own personal best. That’s it. It’s OK to see how others are doing. Not to wish to beat them necessarily. More to spur yourself on in your study and keep you on the right track. Check you are putting everything of yourself into doing your best. If they are beating their own scores by studying in a certain way, maybe you should try that too.
I wish I had known.
I wish I had tackled every test or homework with the attitude that I wanted to get a better score than my last one. I wish the league table on the classroom wall had shown how I was beating my personal best rather than showing I had beaten so many other people in my class. It could have been a graph, where I would have willed it to get higher as the line went from left to right. That should have been my race. To beat my personal best.
Yes, there are exams approaching. You have a year until you sit your GCSEs. Yes, your score will be compared with others. Thousands and thousands of others. Most of those people, you will never know. They may have all sorts of advantages that give them a better chance. It will be the one and only time you will run a race against them. How do you prepare for that? How do you prepare for a test against future surgeons/astro-physists/aero-engineers/professors and goodness only knows who else?
You don’t. You can’t and you shouldn’t. That would be the wrong race. You need to beat your personal best on the day. You need to beat your personal best on all the tests and homeworks running up to that ultimate exam, so that when you take the exam, you are doing your best. To reach your full potential. Reach for your sky.
Like they say, if you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves.
If you take care of your personal bests, then the grades will look after themselves.
I hope D is doing well. He was a nice person. It would be good to know that he has become top of his profession. If for nothing else, and partly because it is such an ingrained attitude, I find myself thinking that it wasn’t so bad to come second to a future, first class surgeon, all those years ago. Turns out I wasn’t in the same race.
Hindsight. Would be a wonderful thing.
Your loving mother
This is part of my Dear Daughter quilt project. One quilt block. One letter. For my eldest daughter. To see more blocks, and letters, and the background to the project click here.