It is the season of slowness, both internally and externally. The urge is strong to spend my days inside, reading, writing and watching the grey winter days slide by. Outside my windows the garden waits, pleading for love and attention but it’s cold out there, and windy, and the pickings are slim.
I got my winter brassicas in too late, after a bout of wild weather destroyed my little plastic greenhouse and the green shoots nestled within. Unseasonal warmth at the start of winter confused things: one of the apple trees attempted to flower and the potatoes I missed in the harvest sent up floats of green leaves just in time for the frosts. My leeks, beets and carrots failed to germinate (I suspect the blackbirds). The kale, my winter staple, got powdery mildew while I was away and hasn’t really recovered. Dandelions will be a bigger part of my diet this winter than the last…
I have rocket though, and a small but steady supply of sprouting broccoli. The salad burnet just keeps on giving and makes a nice mix with nasturtium leaves and the tender shoots of the sweet peas that came up in the warmth. The tatsoi in pots is slow-growing but tasty: the plants in the garden perform better but I have competition for the harvest from the brown rats that have set up home in the neighbour’s wood-heap. Too smart for their own good, they ignore the baits the neighbours have laid and the tasty morsels I place in my big steel trap (I have ethical issues with using poisons: I don’t think anything deserves that kind of horrible death or the chance of such nasty things getting into the food chain). Strange rats, they prefer to graze on my vegetables and decimated my winter lettuce crop.
I had to get the oca in a little early after they discovered the tasty tubers and started nibbling. Some things I’m not prepared to share. Now I have 2.5 kg of this delicious Andean staple to keep me going through the cold months, and just as well, since the June warm weather sent my stored potatoes sprouting despite dark storage. Not a bad effort for a new-to-me crop, grown from a half-dozen donated tubers thrown into a hastily-dug garden bed and largely neglected for nine months. I like plants that grow themselves.
I did motivate myself a couple of weekends ago to re-edge the garden beds in an attempt to keep the grass out and the mulch in (as much as possible when there are blackbirds…) and was pleased to discover that, for the most, the soil was in good condition, rich in humic matter, retaining moisture and alive with worms and insects. Given the dry, compacted wormless dirt that was here on my arrival I’m pretty happy with the improvement. It’s amazing what lazy composting, liberal applications of manure and enthusiastic mulching can do!
Mostly though, I like to sit at my table, taking my time over a pot of tea, looking out over the winter landscape and watching the birds. There are crescent honey-eaters in the banksia hanging over the fence, and they sit on the house wire, chirruping their cheery call, “Eegypt! Eegypt!”. The little friarbirds are a rarer visitor during the cold months, but I sometimes see them perched high, surveying the scene. Flocks of cockatoos wheel way up overhead in the afternoons, on their way across the river to roost. Some winter days flocks of silver-eyes flit among the brassicas, feasting on the aphids in a rush of tiny feathers.
On cold, clear mornings, fog glides down the river as the sun rises. On clouded afternoons the sunset paints pale pastels across the sky, and on crisp winter nights the stars shine ever so bright as I peek out through the curtains, the cottage warmed by the wood heater. Best of all, though, are the days when the raindrops ping and trace patterns across the glass, when I can stay inside, reading or writing and drinking my tea without any guilt, knowing that nature is providing exactly what my garden, and I, need right now.
As may be apparent, 2013 has got off to a busy start for me. Summers in Hobart are jam-packed with things to do, I’ve struggled to find time to write and I’m not as on top of things as I’d like to be.
It can be challenging to maintain balance during busy times and so often I hear people say that they’d like to be more environmentally-sound in their choices but they lead busy lives and they just can’t find the time. And so we let unsustainable choices sneak into our busy lives. We go to the supermarket to do our shopping, instead of visiting the local grocer and the farmer’s market. We drive places instead of cycling or walking. We buy ready-made and processed foods to eat on the run. Gardens get neglected… In the name of convenience, of saving time, we make a thousand small choices that make our lives less sustainable, that lock us in to being busier and busier, that have negative consequences on our health and the health of our planet, our one and only home.
If we really want to make this world, our home, a better place, sustainability needs to be a priority in our lives at all times, especially when we’re tired and stressed. That’s when our bodies and minds are telling us we need to slow down, to rest and to focus on the things that are really important: taking proper care of ourselves and our loved ones. That’s when we really need to nurture ourselves, and we do that best by making sustainable choices, by feeding ourselves wholesome and nutritious food, by connecting with our communities, by ensuring we breathe fresh air and get some exercise, by remembering that living in tune with our beliefs and values actually lowers stress levels and makes us happier.
So stop a while, take a moment to just breathe and remember how it is that you really want to live your life.
Making sustainable choices:
For me, I get through these busy patches by making sustainable choices part of my day’s structure. Daily routines and habits are much easier to maintain than big new changes, so when sustainability is part of your every-day lifestyle, sustainable choices just flow along.
Of course, I don’t have access to an endless well of time so some things do fall by the way-side when I get really busy. It used to be the healthy choices that I let drop. No time for a swim or a bush walk, no energy to cook a proper dinner, and I’ll just finish this or that before I head to bed (oh look, another night of not enough sleep…). Now I’m learning to stay off the computer when I’m tired, that blogging can wait. That I’ll feel better in the morning for cooking a real meal tonight and not opening that bottle of wine. That heading to the pool will clear my head and lower my stress, while an evening on the couch will do the opposite and that no-one is really going to notice if I didn’t do the cleaning this week, but I’m going to feel it I don’t get to the market and stock my kitchen with the sort of food I should be eating.
It’s taken an concerted effort to break these habits and I’m still working on it, but work it does and I’m getting through the busy patches now without dropping the things that really matter to me, without winding up sick and miserable as I push myself too far.
Learning new habits:
- Walk - the daily walk to work is so ingrained into my routines I don’t even think about taking the bus, plus the time and activity help me clear my head for the day ahead. Driving to work or the local shop doesn’t even occur to me now.
- Nourish - it’s very easy when busy to give into the temptation of easy food: processed stuff that will give you a quick energy hit but in the long run is bad for you and the planet (packaging, farming practices, food miles and the rest of it) but preparing and eating real food makes me feel better. When I’m tired and lack the motivation to cook I wander into the garden and find inspiration in what I can harvest there. I also over-cook when I can and stock my freezer with home-made insta-meals to get me through the busy times.
- Prepare - have the little things that help you make the right choices near to hand. I keep fabric shopping bags in places that mean I’ve almost always got one on hand and don’t get caught out needing plastic. I keep my swimming bag packed and hanging my the door. I have raw nuts on hand for snacking. I order seeds so I know I’ll get the garden ready!
- Share - turn chores into a social event by inviting friends, thus helping you to keep the commitment as well as spreading sustainable choices. I make dates with friends to sow the new season’s seeds, to go on foraging missions or get our preserve on to store seasonal surpluses.
- Decide - a friend introduced me to the concept of mindfulness a while back and it’s an amazingly powerful tool I use to keep myself going and being the kind of person I want to be. When I’m tired, grumpy or feeling over it I ask myself who I’m choosing to be, what impact will that choice will have on me? It’s usually enough to get me out and working in the garden or researching sustainability things!
- Stop - I’ve got into the habit now of giving myself a half-hour every evening to just sit and be quiet before bed; time I used to sacrifice in the name of productivity that now allows me to sift through my thoughts and feelings and work out where I’m heading each day. It’s keeping me grounded and has greatly improved the quality of my sleep.
How do you keep yourself on the right path?
I’ve just returned home from a failed attempt to do my usual weekly produce shop down at my local farmer’s market. I go most every Sunday to buy my fruit & veg, perhaps a little free-range meat, and catch up with the friendly faces. Not today though: today it was bedlam as the collective insanity that is Christmas hit the market at full force.
We seem to lose the plot a little at Christmas. I don’t know why. The market was jammed with festive season shoppers, forming huge queues to purchase must-have items like raspberries and cherries. I stood there, watching, feeling totally overwhelmed (I dislike crowds at the best of times) and wondering how much of the food they were buying would just end up as waste. Honestly, who needs 2 kg of raspberries, or 5 kilos of cherries (or in some cases, “and”)? Are they really going to be able to eat them all before they spoil? Who needs all that in one glut anyway, when the fruit will still be available next week, and the week after?
It was enough to get me feeling misanthropic, so I beat a hasty retreat home, brewed a pot of tea, put some calming oil in the burner and some soothing tunes on the stereo. Ah, so much better!
Please don’t lose the plot this Christmas. Remember it’s not about having the most heavily-laden table or all the seasonal goodies. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t found the perfect presents, or if you haven’t bought presents at all. No one cares if you’ve missed out on raspberries this year, or if the panforte didn’t set (sticky, but still delicious!). It’s about spending time with the people who matter to you and celebrating the things that really matter: family, friendship, love.
Please, remember what’s important this season. Be kind to people, slow down, smile. Take your neighbours something from your kitchen or garden. Be nice to the people working to serve you and remember to treat them like the human being they are. Say hello to people you pass on the street: go, on, make eye contact and say it like you mean it! Reach out to others and let them know you care. Take stock of just how lucky we are to be living this life, with all that we have, and do what you can to build the kind of world you want to live it, a place you’d be proud to pass on to your children.
All I want for Christmas this year is a better world: more sustainable, communal, joyful.
Day by day, it’s what I try to build. I think, perhaps, you’d like it too.
On that note, I’m taking some time out in January to focus my energy on other things. I wish you the very best over the holiday season, no matter what your beliefs, and look forward to what 2013 will bring. See you next year!
I’m writing this on a Monday – that dread day of the week – telling you that life is beautiful.
Thanks to a weekend with the most excellent company, filled with shared laughter, food and affection, I’m feeling totally in love with life. My perspective is refreshed and I can see quite clearly that my life is amazing.
I look around me and see so many good things: the little cottage that’s become a cozy home, the community of warm and inspiring people I’m connecting with, the astonishing natural beauty of this place (that I get to appreciate every day), the loving and inspiring people I’m fortunate to call friends and the many excellent adventures I’ve had and have yet to come. In a few weeks’ time I’m off on an adventure of a lifetime with one such friend: the Atacama Desert and Machu Picchu (I’m almost imploding with excitement about this!). I have a job I enjoy, working with people I like and respect. I wake up in the mornings and I want to get out of bed, to see what the day brings.
This little corner of the universe is a pretty damn special place to be. This life – my life – is something astonishing. My life is amazing. It wasn’t always so.
Not so long ago, my life looked very different. I was lost, defeated and seriously ill. Disaffected with my career, isolated in a State where I knew no-one and with my life tied to another who was pulling me in the opposite direction to where I needed to be, it was a very different picture indeed.
I was not living my values, I was not listening to my emotions and I was very, very stressed. Every ounce of energy I had was expended running as fast as I could just to stay still. They call stress the silent killer, and they’re really not kidding: I developed severe Grave’s Disease, an auto-immune condition triggered by stress and a latent genetic susceptibility. I lost the best part of 5 years of my life to this illness and I lost my will to fight, instead watching my life slip further and further from where I wanted it to be.
Eventually, after two doses of radio-iodine, my body recovered and I finally found the energy to start re-building my life. It was a long, slow process, filled with challenges and difficult lessons, but it’s brought me to the place I am now, and for that I will be forever grateful.
Being sick was awful. Extracting myself from the unhappy mire that had become my life was one of the hardest choices I’ve ever made, but these experiences helped me to build the life I have today. Worth it? Yes, several times over.
- Life in tenuous, uncertain; the future rarely turns out the way we plan. Stop waiting, stop telling yourself “one day” and start living now.
- If your thought processes seem a little broken or you just can’t keep your head clear, find a good psychologist. Persist until you find one who feels right for you; it’s worth every cent.
- Without risk there is no reward. Taking risks challenges us and makes us grow. Playing safe constrains and cripples us. Put yourself out there.
- Learn to be resilient: build the support structures, emotional strength and coping mechanisms to roll with life’s punches and make the best of it. Fighting things you can’t change is a waste of time and the universe doesn’t give a damn about fairness.
- Stress is your body and brain telling you that something is wrong. Chronic stress is a sign that something is fundamentally off-track in your world. Find it and change it.
- Where you can’t change the circumstance, try changing your perspective. Sometimes looking at things a different way can change your whole world.
- As much as possible, live your values. Work out what they are, then how to build them into your every day: life feels much less like hard slog once you stop fighting yourself.
- Don’t underestimate yourself: you will be amazed at what you can learn / achieve / withstand once you’re making those choices for the right reasons.
- Trust your instincts. Our brains are processing so much more information than we’re consciously aware of and feeding it to us as gut reactions.
- Surround yourself with the kinds of people who bring out the best in you. Choose friends who inspire, motivate and encourage you to be the best version of you. Avoid the people who try to make you less than you want to be.
- Tell the people who matter how you feel. Be honest with them and with yourself, ask for what you need, give what you can and love freely.
- Make mistakes, and forgive others for making them. Remember that everyone deserves a second chance, including you.
- Take good care of yourself: no-one else can do it for you, so it’s up to you to work out what you need and provide it for yourself.
So have I won the war? No, but I have learnt how to win the battles that really count. I still take on too much, get over-stressed and under-slept and let life’s knocks bowl me over now and again. There are many lessons I’m going to need learn repeatedly: the ones about balance, about the warning signs of stress, about taking on too many things and trying to control too much, about security-seeking, risk avoidance and resilience. There will be many times I fall down, sliding back into old, broken thought patterns and behaviours. I will fail again and again and again; that is inevitable. But you know what? That’s not what counts.
What matters is picking yourself up again, dusting yourself off and getting back on that bloody horse, no matter how many times you fall. It’s remembering who you really want to be and putting in the work to get there. It’s about learning from each fall, challenging your behaviours and beliefs and finding a better way forwards, building the shape of things to come. It’s about making change sustainable, and stopping occasionally to look around and see just how far you’ve come.
So who do you want to be?
 Unless you’re a woman on the contracetive pill, in which case your instincts may well be broken.
Do you have a happy place? Somewhere you can go when the world gets too much, a place to re-charge and reconnect?
I do, and I’m lucky that my very special place is practically on my doorstep. It’s one of the reasons I love Hobart so much and am loath to consider leaving. My happy place is Mt. Wellington, the dolerite peak that makes this little city so unmistakable. Hobart folds itself around the Mountain’s flanks, seeking shelter from the westerly gales that batter this latitude and drinking from the many creeks and rivulets that drip their way down the slopes and run through the gullies. The Mountain’s unmistakable silhouette can be seen from most every part of this little city, watching over the lives below.
Wellington is special, and not just because it’s an ecological treasure-trove (A Gondwanaland remnant, with wet and dry sclerophyll forest, temperate rainforest, stunted alpine woodlands and alpine heath-lands, it’s incredibly diverse). There’s a power to the place; a deep, quiet presence that sinks into you and reminds you that the world is so much bigger and older than your little griefs and anxieties.
I like nothing better than to lose myself in solitude for hours on one of the many trails that criss-cross the Mountain’s peaks and valleys. After a year of walking on the Mountain most weekends there are still dozens of new trails awaiting exploration, plus old favourites to re-visit and experience in different seasons. In autumn the rainforest is full of fungi in a riot of shapes and colours. In winter the summit may be dusted in snow and the woodlands wreathed in mists. In spring tiny wildflowers sprout unexpectedly from rocky crevasses, tiny jewels in a harsh landscape. In summer the views stretch out forever and every inch of Mountain hums with life… There are hidden waterfalls, arresting outlooks, vast alpine plains and craggy peaks to climb.
Wellington is the wilderness on my doorstep, and it calls to my soul. Every hour spent walking the slopes is time well spent, restoring my spirit and reminding me why these wild places matter. That’s what is so important about preserving pockets of wilderness: these spaces nourish us and help to keep us connected to the ecosystems we rely on. Wild places teach us how to be alone, how to reach the sacred inside ourselves and how to reconnect with our environments. My Mountain, it is love.
Where is your happy place? Where do you go to get away from it all? Does the wilderness call you, or are you refreshed by city life or the sea instead? What makes a place truly special to you?
…and if you ever want a walk on my Mountain, you only have to ask.
This week marks a major work deadline for me, with the final draft of a project due tomorrow that’s been the best part of a year in the making. Despite the long lead-time it’s now a sprint to the finish to get everything done and off to the publishers tomorrow. I’ve been working long days, then dealing with the house move on the weekends and it’s fair to say I’ve just about had it.
It’s late, I’m tired, grumpy and in serious need of a massage, and I still need to do the dishes before bed. Despite a valiant attempt at writing something thoughtful about electricity costs there is no finished blog post tonight. I’m accepting defeat and prioritising getting some sleep.
One more long day tomorrow and I should be done. This weekend I shall sleep and sleep until I am no longer a tired and grumpy little fish. Unlike the gruff old fellow above, the grumpy look doesn’t sit well with me.
Right, dishes, shower, bed!
Balance is an essential quality of living sustainably: prioritising activities and accepting limitations to reach your goals and avoid the pitfalls of over-commitment, burn-out and apathy. Balance is critical in managing our time, resources and health, maintaining momentum and juggling competing demands. It’s so damn important, and I’ve been so bad at it.
I may have the best of intentions, but I over-promise and under-deliver. I take on too many commitments, throwing myself into activities without allocating time to rest, relax and nourish myself. I lose sight of the big picture, expending too much energy on small stuff or prioritising things that really could wait. Depressingly, I still get sucked into the time-wasting void of the internet. I say yes too readily and I never, ever get enough sleep.
It’s a familiar pattern: procrastinate and fall behind then go into manic over-drive, or over-estimate what I can do in a given amount of time and run around like a mad thing trying to keep my promises until eventually the mind or body cracks under the pressure and I succumb to sickness or anxiety. It’s the habit of a lifetime but it has become a problem: it’s clearly unsustainable.
Experience and expert advice has taught me that I need structure and routine to help me find balance, though routine doesn’t come easily to me. The last six months have seen the routine I worked so hard to establish disintegrate completely due to housemate dramas, injuries, illness and a period of rapid change and uncertainty. It hasn’t been good for me!
Now I’m living on my own and starting to settle into the Cottage it’s time to work on establishing new routines and seeking that elusive balance.
I’ve been pushing so hard to get this place set up and the House of the Gumtrees ready for final inspection (not helped by my housework-shy and occasionally stupid ex-housemate) I haven’t been setting aside time for me, winding up tired, cranky and no fun to be around. After having a minor meltdown last week over a dodgy oven I realised I was long over-due for a break to re-charge and relax. Despite my seemingly endless to-do list I took some time out last weekend to look after myself, heading out to Mt. Field National Park with a good friend for some quality time in the forest.
It was just what I needed, helping me to clear my head and re-evaluate my priorities. I still have just as much to get done, but now I have a much better idea of how to do it. And the best part? We were lucky enough to find a protected pocket of fagus up there, still blazing with colour. *happy face*
Of course I’m going to keep struggling with balance. It’s going to take me a long time and a lot of conscious effort to learn to walk that fine line between effectiveness and burn-out, but establishing a basic routine and prioritising sleep and forest time is a positive first step. I have no doubt I’ll mess it up many more times, but the important thing is to keep learning and working towards finding that blissful state of equilibrium.
If I’m to build the life I want to live I need to find balance.
How do you maintain balance in your life?
You know what’s truly unsustainable? Pushing yourself until your body finally breaks.
Yeah, I’m sick. Proper, no fighting it, sleep all day sick. Instead of moving house I’m spending this weekend curled up in bed feeling pretty sorry for myself. A sustainable life is all about balance, and that includes giving myself enough time to sleep, rest and relax. I’m notoriously bad at that, always trying to squeeze a little more out of myself. I really, really must get better at looking after myself.
On that note, I’m heading back to bed.