I have two little girls. (I also have two bigger boys, and if there was another option, I'd probably have two of those as well because we do things by twos in this family.)
My little girls are 7 and 5. One is a creative introvert with a kind heart and a mane of curls. The other is a plucky extrovert who strikes up conversations with the most unlikely people and then reports back, 'Well, they were very nice.'
I look at these two and wonder how they can be so absolutely perfectly themselves all the time. They just are. When I hear horror stories about the life and times of teenage girls I want to clamp my hands over my ears and run around in circles singing, "I can't hear you! I can't hear you!' (I can be surprisingly grown up on occasion.)
My little girls are friends with their bodies; they run around, they swim in waterholes, they climb trees, they skip. My little girls, so far so good, are also friends with me. I want these two things to co-exist more than anything. If I can get any of this mothering caper right, I would like it to be helping my girls love their bodies, and themselves, just as they are. Because from where I sit they are (warning: rampant maternal bias ahead) mind-blowingly beautiful, inside and out.
A local kindergarten near me has recently banned the use of vegemite, honey and jam as sandwich fillers. They have sent home a list of other acceptable lunch options which include a quinoa and kale salad. Show me a 4 year old who will eat a quinoa and kale salad and I'll show you a mother who has time to make one.
And today, my 11 year old is having the day off school because of it.
I hate football. I hate everything about it and every different kind of it. I just don't get it. I don't get lots of things, I don't get why people don't immunise their children, I don't get why Tony Abbott is the Minister for Women, I don't get internet trolls. But most of all, I don't get football.
I hate the dominance of it here in Victoria. We hear of little else for 6 months of the year, and don't forget the 3 month pre-season and the 3 month post-season.
I hate the blokeyness of it. I hate the fact that every second news article is about some dopey footballer who is up on a physical assault charge, a sexual assault charge, a drink driving charge or is just getting off one thanks to Club-funded lawyers and a sharp suit.
I hate the booziness of it. The players and the spectators seem to be happiest wiping themselves out whether they're celebrating or commiserating. I abhore the culture of heavy drinking. It wasn't so long ago that the prize at the local footy club for the Under 16 Best and Fairest Player was a slab of beer. Really.
I hate the brutality of it. The deliberate elbow to the nose when someone is running past regardless of whether they have the ball or not type brutality. I hate the thought of long term damage of repeated knocks to the head, and all those doctors, surgeons and physios employed to patch up the insanity.
I hate the culture of disrespect towards women. How many workshops on 'changing attitudes' can clubs run in desperate responses to yet another inappropriate behaviour/tweet/photograph/criminal charge by a player/coach, before we all throw our hands in the air and say, 'Oh, for goodness sake! They don't need a jolly workshop, they need to go to prison.'
So, imagine my response when the note comes home that the whole class is off to an AFL Super Clinic. My little fellow who has never seen a game or touched a football can go along and hear all about how marvellous football is! From footballers themselves! Think of the role modelling! Oh, don't worry, I am thinking of it. He looked at me aghast when he gave me the permission slip. (Yes, I know, prejudices are highly contagious) and said, 'I don't have to go, do I Mum?' And I briefly wondered about my prejudices and my stereotypes and said, 'No mate, you don't have to go.' And we both smiled with the relief of it all.
Please understand that as a family we like exercise. We like bike riding and bushwalking and swimming and circus skills and cross country skiing and camping. Golly, if the Super Clinic was for triathlon, decathalon or highland dancing I would have signed him up in a wink. But it was for football. And as I may have mentioned, I don't like football. So instead his job today is to do his school project and cook his family dinner. And in doing so, I reckon he'll be his own best role model today.
Biophilia is the study of our connection to nature. My learned friend and mentor, Dr Les Higgins, is an expert on biophilia and why we desperately need to strengthen our connection to the natural world in order to enhance our health and well-being. His blog and book is a scientifically-backed call for us all to seek out experiences with nature.
As I bumble through this parenting gig, I fear my parenting report card has an endless list of topics under the heading 'galaxy-sized room for improvement'. So imagine my delight to read a blog post from Les about our youngest child, listing all the things I/we have inadvertently got right.
(As an aside, my dear friend Sam told me once that completing an Ironman event (3.6km swim, 180km ride, 42.2km run) was relatively easy because the streets were lined with people cheering her on. 'Parenting', she told me wisely, 'doesn't have anyone cheering you on - it's much, much tougher than Ironman.)
I once bought a laptop based solely on a friend's one line recommendation. "I love mine," she said, "it's just so intuitive".
The word was like magic fairy dust to me. It had connotations of tapping an inner wisdom, of somehow knowing what I needed more than I did. Yes, please, I'll have the intuitive model in silver.
Some folks are naturally intuitive, they have insight and self-awareness by the barrow load and use it with grace and wisdom. They are clued in to what brings out the best in themselves and what they need at different seasons of their life. (I'm looking directly at you, darling Wendy, my dear friend and blog reader.)
But for me, in writing and in life, I can overthink things. I wrangle and wrestle with topics and end up exhausted. Not being naturally intuitive, I need all the help I can get. Hence the choice of laptop. I crave a little voice that can help me find a calm way to proceed. I am a huge fan of getting out of my own way.
Intuitive eating seems to distill all my new learning about food into one neat package. It is a wise, calm, kind voice. It is a sprinkling of magic fairy dust on my omelette.
750 million people in the world to do not have access to clean drinking water.
And I felt like I had been shot, to be honest.
750 million people.
I look around my home and I see taps in the kitchen, bathroom, laundry, and, for goodness sake, the guest cottage. Hot water, cold water and warm water just waiting to be turned on. There's even ice cold water from a dispenser on the fridge. There's taps in the garden and a tap near the chook yard.
I am never more than a few steps from clean, fresh, safe drinking water. Never once do I give a second thought to the quality of the water I drink.
As I type this, 750 million people are wondering how they will get their water today. They will walk long difficult distances with leaky containers and babies on their hip. They will endure all kinds of things that I can't begin to imagine just so their families can drink, wash and cook.
There's an organisation called water.org who are doing great work in regards to water. I'm going to count up the number of taps at my place and multiply it by something and donate to them. Because clearly there is much to be done.
While I dither on here about health and wellness (and have I mentioned how marvellous I am because for four breaths a day I manage to breathe mindfully?) for others health is unfairly out of reach.
Love your Sister is based on two siblings, Samuel and his sister Connie. They love each other and have done extraordinary things because of that, including but not limited to, Sam riding a unicycle around Australia. Truly.
Connie is young and gorgeous and the mother of two young boys. She is also terminally ill. She is living fully with everything she has, in every moment that she has. Her mantra is, Now is Awesome.
And if someone who is battling the brutal big C disease who is facing the unthinkable prospect of not seeing her children grow up, can adopt that approach with grace, I'm not sure what my excuse is exactly.
On Sam's epic trip, our family went to a small town he was passing through to cheer him on. He came into town at the end of a long hot day of peddling. He spoke about breast awareness, and of wanting to spare another family what his own was going through. He jumped in a dragon boat for a paddle with those surviving/battling the disease. He was delightful and unassuming despite no doubt being tired and over it and wanting to paddle a boat like a hole in the head. He spoke to my little fellow who had just been given a unicycle for Christmas and told him that only 1 in 100 kids will perservere long enough to master the skill, and told him to practise in a hallway. It was the perfect pep talk and it worked, within a week we had a unicyclist in the family.
Let's be breast aware. And thank you Connie and Sam for everything you have done.
I have a writing project coming up and was planning it with my colleague, when my phone chimed. It was my Mindfulness App, which then prompted a little discussion about meditation. A little while later her phone made a glug glug noise which she explained, reminded her to drink water, and she duly took a big swig from her water bottle.
And it got me thinking about how many things we should be doing for our health that are so easy to let slide. So I thought about designing an App that does it all. A chime for breast examination, teeth flossing, drinking water, applying sunscreen, eating 5 serves of veggies, walking 10, 000 steps, pelvic floor exercises, yoga stretches, meditation, cardio and strength exercises and, and, and...
Then I realised with so much chiming I would probably hurl the phone across the room. It's hard to do everything. Some days, it's hard to do anything. But we can only try to put our health first, and use whatever cues work best to keep us mindful of living well.
Let me know if you have something that helps keep you on track.
My littlest friend has just started school, and she is given each Wednesday off to rest. It works a treat. By Tuesday night I have a small train-wreck of a child on my hands, completely overtired and overwhelmed with all the structure, rules and a deep desire to get everything right (beats me where that came from). Then, magically, by Thursday morning I once again have a cheerful school girl eager to face the world again.
So, it came to me in a blinding flash - the whole world needs Wednesdays off! Not just 5 year olds but everyone. Look, I'm no economist and I don't know how the global financial side of things would hold up, but imagine, if we all worked Monday and Tuesday, then took a day to recharge, wash clothes, sweep the floor and have a swim in the waterhole, then headed back to the coalface for Thursday and Friday. I'm thinking productivity will be up, blerkdom would be down. Fewer grown-up tantrums in the workplace and less folks losing their will to live by Thursday at 3pm.
I know what your thinking, 'Indigo Kate for PM', and look I'm happy to take up the challenge, as long as I can take Wednesdays off.
I'm still luxuriating in my newly found time for self care. Yesterday, I saw a beautiful Australian film called Paper Planes. In the daytime. With my husband. No babysitter required. Extraordinary!
I laughed and cried through this film, completely engaged with a beautiful boy and his dream, set amid the exhausting hell of fresh grief.
Not since 'Lars and the Real Girl' have I loved a film so much. And it reminded me of the role of stories. We want to connect with each other and story is a natural platform for that. Through hearing another's story we celebrate with them, we grieve with them, we cheer them on. Muriel Rukeyser, poet and teacher, was right, when she said, 'The world is not made up of atoms. The world is made up of stories.'
In my Year of Living Well, I want to hear and share stories. It's our way through, and our way forward. The next time someone says, 'This funny/weird/terrible/amazing thing happened to me...', please stop what your doing, and listen carefully with your ears and your mind and your heart. It may just be the story that holds up a mirror to your life an reveals the very thing you are searching for.
What happened to the daily blogger I use to be? Where do some of these crazy-busy days go?
Despite a few missed blogging days, I'm exploring the idea of self-care, which I must admit is not easy for me because any phrase that sounds remotely Californian makes me slightly queasy.
But whatever you call it, the idea of looking after oneself is sound. When I had small children, and lots of them, climbing all over me day and night, I would have rolled my eyes at anyone who talked about self care. In fact, I wouldn't have got a full eye roll in because on the upward swivel of eyeballs I would have fallen deeply asleep with a bunch of children on top of me, like a pride of lions. They were deeply exhausting years.
But now, magically, I wave my (warning: blatant maternal bias ahead) four fairly magnificent children off to school each day. Bye! I say. Have a great day! Love you, love you, love you, love you! And I send them off into the world and I experience a wave of amputee-like lightness. I feel like I'm floating, or at least gliding, around my kitchen as I deal with post-breakfast dishes.
Hence time to think about things like self care, minus the eye rolling. In the last fortnight, I've managed some laps in the pool and a Pilates class, neither of which are Herculian but both jolly-well impossible when you are caring for little people. I've managed an unhurried walk with the dog. I've had a nanna nap. I've met my husband for lunch in a cafe. I've had a haircut. I must admit, I am positively giddy with the possibilities of the whole thing.
Then I see some poor mother who is trying to collapse a complicated pram with a baby under one arm with a toddler threatening to dart out into the traffic while she finds her keys and answers her phone and slams the car boot on her head, and I feel overwhelmed remembering the sheer unrelenting scale that was each single day.
I'm not sure what my point is exactly. Be kind to mothers of small children everywhere. Chances are they are tired, they are doing their very best and then some, they are wondering what happened to their life and they are worrying if they are doing any of it right. Hold their baby, cook them a meal, tell them they are dong a wonderful job. Just don't blab on about self care.
I have a new App on my phone. A mindfulness App. For the dizzy sum of $2.49 I now have my very own mindfulness coach, called Natalie, in my pocket. Natalie sends me little reminders to breathe and asks me to consider any sensations in my toes. It's a gentle call to the present. She gives me short videos of streams rippling, or ladybugs climbing a blade of grass, to watch while I breathe in and out. I must say, I'm loving it.
Yesterday my little chicks returned from school hot and bothered. Why does the hottest weather of the year always coincide with the start of Term1? Anyway, my Grade 2 girl, walked in the door with her face red and her hair sticky with sweat and announced, 'Mum, can I just sit quietly with your phone and do some breathing exercises?'
And apart from falling in love with her all over again at that moment, I was struck by the modelling thing. Parenting is a massive responsibility. It's the kind of responsibility that could keep you up all night, every night, if you let it. But modelling, I find more possible. I can try to be more self aware, have more self-compassion, strive for wellness and hope that somehow this is planting a seed somewhere. The next time I walk in the door hot and frazzled, I'm going to take a leaf out of Miss 7's book and find myself a quiet spot on the couch and do my breathing exercises.
I worried that something significant needed to be said on Day 100. And I dilly-dallied wondering what it should be. But in the absence of a letter from the Queen and a ticket-tek parade, I give you this. But be warned, a long post about my 100 days so far is coming soon.
Wishing you self-compassion. I had to think about it for a while to make sure I understood it. And then it became crystal clear; self-compassion is the opposite of dieting.
I saw a T-shirt today that said, 'Life is a special occasion.'
Yes, I thought to myself. Yes, it is.
And I wanted to grab a permanent marker and scrawl 'no matter what the scales say' across the bottom. But that may have been slightly weird for the person wearing the shirt.
What I'm learning - gear-grindingly slowly it would seem - is that life is a gift to be savoured no matter what our size. When my weight piled back on and I was in the grip of vicious relationship with both food and myself, I was socially avoidant (fancy pants psychology term for hiding). With four children I could always blame one of them for being sick as a reason to miss a party or gathering. I simply stopped going out because of how I looked.
I look back now on those missed weddings, 40ths and 50ths parties with a sense of remorse. They won't come again. I didn't feel worthy of joining those special occasions because of my size.
I don't want to miss anything else. I'd like to think my social avoidance was like, so 2014. I want to get out there, in my bumbling introverted way, and make the most of life, and all it throws at me. Because, after all, it is the ultimate special occasion.
When my little people were really little and I had to run the gauntlet of supermarkets filled with experienced mothers freely dispensing advice, I had a rule.
I would listen and smile and then say, as sweetly as I could, 'I'm so glad that worked for you.' It was great because then I didn't have to even pretend I was going to try holding them upside down when they cried/letting them cry/not letting them cry or whatever else was being advised. It was my get out of gaol card and I kept a very tight grip on it.
Despite not knowing one end of a baby from another, I just knew I had to find my own path. I found advice conflicting and confusing and I loved my babies so desperately that I hoped that would be enough. In hindsight, it more or less was/is. Sure, I could have done with a few more hours sleep per night over a decade but other than that we've come out of it alright.
But in the health/food/wellness arena, whenever anyone had an opinion I was all ears. I soaked up conflicting/confusing/contradictory advice like a sponge. If someone sounded like they had found a path through the overgrown thicket, I would buy their book and try whatever it was they were on about. I was a willing disciple following blindly, always looking around for my next guru.
So I loved this one from the Moderation Movement. (I also loved the image of the green smoothie because not so long ago I was on about those in a rather big way!) So, the next time I hear somebody talking about THE way, I'm going to smile to myself and think, 'I'm so glad that worked for you' and then run in the opposite direction. Fast.
If this blog was a little shop there would have been a wee sign on the door this last week or so that said 'Temporarily closed due to tricky family circumstances.' Or 'Life has gone mad - back soon.' Or perhaps 'My husband has a kidney stone and keeps needing me to take him to hospital in the middle of the night and my four children need to get ready to start school and I haven't slept in three nights and I have slightly no idea what day it is or even what my name is.'
Some very lovely readers of this blog were deeply kind during this little weird episode. There were thoughtful emails, texts messages, and phone calls. Gentle support swirled all around us as we trundled through a messy week of life unedited.
And now here we are, one kidney stone out (cue loud cheering and streamers falling from the sky) and husband has morphed back into his usual low-maintenance, capable, hate-to-be-a-bother, self. Our four little people have happily settled into their year of learning (and yes, they do all have library bags, art smocks and matching shoes - all labelled). I am no longer breathing through a straw but taking big lungfuls of air and feeling thankful for everything, especially you all.
Sometimes a quote comes along that hits the spot so sweetly it needs to stand alone.
We have, in effect, an Eleventh Commandment. We have come to believe thinner is healthier, happier, and more beautiful as though it were handed down on Mount Sinai. But these are not divine truths- they are prejudices with a complex history. They have led to a false religion that does not deliver what it promises.
(Roberta Pollack Seid, Never Too Thin: Why Women Are At War With Their Bodies)
I've always avoided salad dressings - think of the calories! - but as a consequence I've also tended to avoid salad. (I don't think about calories at all any more, and just between you and me, I've made a sacred vow to myself to never count another one as long as I live.)
Yesterday my new friend made my humble lettuce, cucumber, avocado and tomato salad dance in my mouth like something from a fancy pants cafe. It's fair to say we bonded. And there's plans afoot to catch up at dinner tonight over some roast veggies.
I read an article in the Sunday Age magazine yesterday. A personal trainer associated with that ghastly Biggest Loserprogram was asked to share his secret to successful weight loss. Inevitably his message was unsustainably hard core.
'Prepare, cook and eat bland, plain food. No sauces, spices, enhances or sweeteners.'
Now there's an idea! I, for one, love the idea of eating plain boiled rice for the rest of my life, and I'm sure I'm not alone. It's a truly excellent solution.
How on earth can we have an obesity crisis with such sound advice being so freely available?
His other suggestion to people who are probably already entrenched in a long, difficult relationship with food was to ' ...try slightly over cooking your meat, chicken and fish so it is not quite so irrestible.'
I know what you're thinking: where can I sign up for this bland, overcooked, joyless life and can I do direct debit?
So, it was a great relief to see this image by Shelley Lask circulating today. Here is the edited version which transforms this article from the moronic to the sensible. Clearly this fellow could do with taking an editor with a pink pen with him wherever he goes, in case he has to, um, write anything about health.
In the same way staring at a treadmill can make you feel like you are almost exercising, reading about writing can make you feel like you are almost writing. I love reading about writing, it's my guilty pleasure. I came across one of those articles where a writer who is currently hang-gliding on a thermal of literary success is asked about their writing process. These type of interviews tend to crack me right up. Do you write in the morning or the afternoon? Where do you write? Do you write a set number of words per day? Do you wear red socks? There is an unspoken desperation to these questions where the subtext is, if I do EXACTLY what you did, will I also get a multi-book deal published in 30 languages and a movie deal. Will I? Will I? (I imagine if they asked a concert pianist about their process they would laugh and say, 'Process? I practise 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, that's my mysterious process.') Anyway, the writer in question said she has a sign on the wall of her study (she writes in a study, we have that much in common, things are looking good for the book deal) that reads KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. I think it was a saying the British trotted out during the war when the place was getting bombed into next week, to make sure people didn't become hysterical, best to keep a stiff upper lip old chap, and all that. The writer said even when her words were dead on the page and sounded beyond dreadful (and boy, we've all been there), the sign helps her through the fear and insecurity so intrinsic to writing. I like it in relation to writing but I also love it in relation to health. Despite the daily dumpings of new dietary information and misinformation, of fads and big personalities, of celebrities draping themselves over dubious products and photoshopped fitspiration images, we simply have to find our own quiet truth about health and ignore the nonsense. Basically chaps, we need to KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. Cheerio! Indigo Kate x
My groovy friend Sue, a lovely reader of this blog, recently introduced me to Pana chocolate. As you can imagine from my blog title, I was fairly wary (read: terrified) of reintroducing chocolate into my life. But in an attempt to avoid rigid food rules (y'all know how they tend to work out for me) I decided to give it a go in a controlled manner.
Mindful eating is about taking things slowly (almost comically so) and focussing on the five senses when you sit down to eat. How does the food look? What is appealing about it? How does it smell? Etc etc. This process continues throughout the whole meal, noticing the flavour of each mouthful, which is savoured and carefully chewed. None of this shovelling food in while reading the newspaper online. No more chewing your breakfast while you make up 4 school lunch boxes. No, mindful eating is about being present. I love the concept, but golly, with my monkey mind, I find it hard to implement.
So I ate a square of Pana chocolate mindfully. I admired it's cute little cardboard box, And read its messages. I unwrapped it from the gorgeous patterned paper and breathed in the wonderfully rich chocolate scent. I noticed the imprinted symbol on each individual piece. I marvelled at how homemade and unique it felt.And so on and so on until I finally took a fabulous nibble. It was soft, but not quite gooey, dark in colour and with the subtle taste of peppermint essential oils and cacoa. We sat together a long time, my square of Pana and me, longer than I could've believed possible. It was so deliciously satisfying that fireworks went off in my mouth and brain.
I don't get paid to plug anything on this blog, so I will tell you out of the goodness of my heart that Pana chocolate is raw, organic, low GI, non dairy, non soy, gluten free and has no refined sugar. I wish I could send all you lovely readers a truckload of the stuff, but you know what? All you really need is a square. Or two.
I have decided that the sooner we run screaming from the nonsense of airbrushed perfection, the better.
Whether it's images of ridiculously perfect bodies, or images of ridiculous perfect lives, they are not helpful. At best, they make us sigh a little inside. At worse they reinforce, sometimes for the 500th time that morning, that we are not enough.
Reality is good for our mental and physical health because it makes us feel okay. And okay is 12 million times better than not enough. So, in the interest of reality, I need to share these two things.
After bodies, the next most overpopulated corner of the unrealistic perfection arena is motherhood. Endless images of perfectly groomed women looking straight from the health retreat, gliding through spotless houses to adorable, well-mannered children to attend to their occasional small, sweet need. Is it any wonder women open and close their mouth like a gold fish when the Maternal and Child Health nurse pops by a few days after you have birthed a baby and says, 'So then, how do you like being a Mummy?' So, bless Esther Anderson for telling it like it is, with oodles of good humour, sending a wonderful message that life with a baby just isn't anything like the TV commercial perfection you've been been fed. Her videos and blog are doing wonders for the mental health of parents everywhere.
If you've ever rolled your eyes at those photo library images that pop up everywhere, you might enjoy this. I know I did.
In the interest of our health, let's collectively laugh in the face of the unrealistic. Enough already! Instead, let's savour our own fabulously authentic, wild, fun, messy lives a whole lot more.
When I finished Uni, I went to work for an outdoor education organisation. It was a mad travelling circus kind of arrangement living in base camps across the country. We led groups, worked insane hours in challenging conditions and barely earnt enough money to buy ourselves a beer at the end of each course. I had the absolute time of my life with the most amazing group of people I'd ever known. We laughed our heads off, we talked long into the night around campfires, we showed others the bush we loved and helped them glimpse some new possibilities within. The friends I made during these years are like family to me, 20 years on. I even married one of them.
At my very first basecamp, I met a woman named Sam. I was the terrified rookie, she was the capable senior instructor. With a generosity of spirit that took my breath away, and still does, she mentored me through my early courses and has mentored me through life ever since. I love her to bits.
I mention Sam to you here because she understands that if we are talking about health in Australia, we need to widen the conversation to include indigenous health, where there is much to improve. One thing we can do to put this topic fairly and squarely on the table is to address the fact that our indigenous people and their culture are not currently recognised in our Constitution. The Recognise movement hopes to change this through a referendum and is working hard to raise community awareness. My friend Sam ran a marathon (a marathon!) in the desert (in the desert!) last year to get people talking about Recognise. Please read her story here, and you may like to consider supporting the Recognise movement. Sam is currently in training for an ultra-marathon (I know! Extraordinary!) for Recognise.
It's all very well to navel gaze about health like I do, but it's something else all together to use your own health and hard-won fitness to actually make the world a better place. Go Sam!
Funny how sometimes the universe sends you exactly what you need, at precisely the right time.
After feeling the crushing hopelessness of the 'thin is best' message lately, I have come across two excellent resources that have given me cause to hope.
The first is a campaign from Sport England, This Girl Can, in response to research that women and girls would like to be more active but are intimidated to try because they don't have the perfect body. It would seem the barrage of 'fitspirational' images of mega-lean young women deadlifting the weight of a small African nation without a hair out of place and only a single bead of designer sweat on their temple aren't actually helping the sisterhood. Golly, who knew?
Please, please watch the This Girl Can video to see some real women exercising. There's not an airbrush in sight and it's pure joy.
And then, thanks to my mind-blowingly fabulous friend and extremely loyal blog reader Wendy, I came across Curvy Yoga. Anna Guest-Jelley founded Curvy Yoga after coming to the realisation that she had been on 66 diets. She faced the tough question, 'do I start diet number 67, or do I admit this is not working and try something new?' The world is definitely a better place because she chose the latter. Anna's message is that yoga is for everyone who wants to feel healthier. She might also have the best smile of anyone on the planet.
I raise my glass to these shining beacons of hope, and their very important message.
My little chicks have swimming lessons on each day this week. They skip along to the pool edge with their little class mates, caps and goggles in place, jiggling with excitement, cute as buttons. I then have 30 mins to myself to wave madly at them and return the odd phone call or email. It's what known in the parenting biz as win-win.
Yesterday, I bumped into another mum I really like. She's one of those incredibly capable women who parents gently and patiently, all the more remarkable when she had four exquisite brown-eyed babies in the space of four and a quarter years (twins helped this along). But what I always notice is her beautiful smile and the warm way she greets me. It's always a treat to see her and soak in her positive, happy energy.
We were at the swimming pool counter together, chatting about family and Christmas and paying our kids' accounts. My friend noticed there was a sale on for adult swimming cossies and asked to have a look at them.
'What size are you?' asked the teenage attendant flatly, utterly oblivious to the terror this question can strike in the hearts of grown-ups.
'Um', this beautiful woman said.
I busied myself retying my shoelace at this point.
She leant forward and said in a faltering, shameful whisper, 'I'm a 14.' Her voice was laced with the kind of shame which would not have been out of place coming from Pol Pot.
I just wanted to cry a river, there and then. For her, for me, for every single woman who has ever felt they needed to apologise for not fitting some stupid photoshopped ideal about what we're supposed to look like.
I looked through the glass window at my little girls, so gleeful in their swimmers and without a body image thought in the world. And I wondered how I can spare them this.
Once upon a time I was a social worker. Social workers do lots of stuff, some of it life-affirming, most of it messy. I aways found it hard to describe exactly what I did without telling people the kind of stories that would make the blood drain from their face and make them want to suddenly pick invisible pieces of lint off the carpet mid conversation.
One definition of social work that I always liked was that it helps adjust the fit between the individual and society. I was reminded of it yesterday reading about Laura McKibbon's work in the States. Laura says she was 'fatigued by the relentless over emphasis on healthy eating for the purpose of weight loss' and so developed the 'Food for Thought' pyramid as a teaching tool.
I'm a bit old to have a poster on my bedroom wall, but I reckon I could almost make an exception for this one.
I'm working hard to learn (and really understand) that 'health' and 'weight' do not equal the same thing. Everywhere - media, social conditioning, bully-boy/girl personal trainers, the diet industry, all form a fairly united front that Thin Is Best. Thin equals health.
I have bought into this concept my whole life. I have relentlessly aspired to it, attained it briefly a few times, and made myself incredibly unhealthy in the process. At the age of 45 years and 2 days, I hearby officially declare it nonsense.
Health, I now realise, is made up of lots of different layers like stress, sleep, environment, financial resources, emotional supports and a bunch of other stuff that I take for granted in my comfy first world existence. Exercise and food are in there somewhere, but they are by far from the only things keeping this health boat afloat.
There is a movement called Health At Every Size. These guys say, and I must admit I had a slight hallelujah moment reading this, that the best way to improve your health is to honour your body. They encourage people to adopt healthy habits for the sake of well-being not weight loss.
It seems to me there is a gentle tide turning here, away from self-loathing and deprivation towards treating ourselves, and our bodies, with kindness, acceptance and self-compassion. And I, for one, am watching this slow tide come in, and I'm running joyfully up to the waters edge, ready to dive in.
Some days the cursor on this blank page blinks at me impatiently for a long time - waiting for me to write something.
Some days I start typing simply because I can't bear the blinking any longer.
Some days I just want to shut down the page and admit, 'You know what? I just don't have anything to say about health today.'
But to be honest I'm scared to do that, in case it means that I don't have anything to say about health tomorrow and the next day, and slowly the whole idea of health slides off my agenda like icing off a too warm cupcake and I'm headed back there.
So here I am again today, even though I have no burning topic to share. I'm horizontal on my mattress resting my cranky back, surrounded by homemade birthday cards. Even my boys, reluctant writers at best, have neatly and carefully scripted their heartfelt messages of love. They have made me a cake (which being made entirely of cream and sugar is not fitting any health plan that I know of) and my little girls have made me necklaces and bracelets and drawings with stickers.
It's fair to say I am full to bursting with love for my four little people and wanting, more than ever, to be my best self for them. And at the end of the day, my best self is my healthiest self. Hence the Year of Living Well. Hence the blog. See you tomorrow.
I'm taking things slowly here, with this funny little back episode. Funny being a euphemism for all kinds of things, none of them terribly funny in the haha sense.
I've been reading an interview with Carl Honore, who is the father of the slow movement. He wants us all to slow down. As he says, 'It's when things move very fast that you need to cultivate the art of slowness, so you can make sense of it all.'
Carl thinks we can slow down at everything from work to food to parenting. It's about being mindful, meditating, cultivating community, and prioritising quality over quantity. I'm all for it. I'm going to take it slow in 2015, in every arena (except maybe recovery from back pain, which I would like to expresso fast track). Carl says slowing down 'gives family life special meaning, texture and colour,' and I'm sure he's onto something.
Wishing you and your family an abundance of slowness.
We live several hundred kilometres inland, quite possibly due to my pathological aversion to being eaten by sharks. (Ankle deep is plenty deep enough for me if we ever find ourselves at a beach and even then I keep a very good eye on the water surrounding my ankles.) So it is quite strange that my little fellows are doing a sailing course this week. There is a stretch of water nearby big enough for sailing, but fresh watery enough to rule out sharks. Ideal.
The lads have taken to sailing like the proverbial duck to water. They return home each night with tousled hair and sun-kissed faces bursting with stories of capsizing and adventure. Dinner time conversation is peppered with talk of team mates and tacking and catching the wind. 'Mum, I love it so much, it's just so great!'
Is there anything as wonderful as enthusiasm? That magical connection between finding your spark and letting it propel you towards new possibilities. I'm loving that gleeful, unstoppable energy in my boys this week and grateful for those who are sharing their own passion for sailing with them.
Here's to our own individual spark - finding it, rekindling it and maybe even sharing it.
The gremlins in my back continue to highland dance in all the ouchy places. But that's enough of my complex medical talk. This too shall pass. Quickly please, if it's all the same to you.
I have read a lot about health in the last wee while, which is a big change for me being a fiction girl. I've read about the evils of sugar, the evils of gluten, the confusion around calories, the joys of paleo and the holy grail of wellness. But there has been one voice in the whole health round table discussion that I have found deeply comforting. Dr Rick Kausman sounds like somebody's Dad, a kind man who also happens to be a world expert on the non-dieting movement. I wish there was a cardboard cut out of him with a voice recording reading his book in every high school, every Mum's group, every gym, every newsagents (next to the women's magazines), every Doctor's waiting room and every street corner in the land. He is one of the good guys and if I ever met him I would probably cry like a baby and hug him like a bear by way of thanks.
I mention Dr Rick because as I am spending a lot of time horizontal at the moment with my friend the heat pack. I am reading various newspapers online to pass the time and have been inundated with the standard 'Kick Start The New Fabulous Thinner You in 2015' type stories that make me want to poke myself in the eyeball with a fork. And yesterday, amongst the madness, there was my friend Dr Rick quoted in this typically kind, smart, helpful article and I thought I'd share it here. In a crazy world plagued with unsustainable weight loss regimes and the subsequent raft of distorted body image issues, this man needs to be heard.
For all my healthy living I am now barely mobile, reduced to a shuffling wreck, watching the clock and wondering when I can have my next anti-inflammatory. My newfound walking habit has been shelved and I am officially miserable.
The good news is my favourite physio has returned from holidays and will see me today.
I am reminded, even in My Year of Living Well, how much I take my health for granted. I just expect my body to work well, day in, day out. And when a small part of it doesn't I am shocked, outraged even.
I realise I have a lot of work to do on cultivating an attitude of gratitude for my health. And I will try, just as soon as I can sit/stand/lie without grinding my teeth.
I read about a women who doesn't make New Year's resolutions, but instead sets goals. Makes sense really. Goals are more specific and she is still working towards them when the rest of the population has reached what my writer friend calls 'the broken-resoultion end of January'.
I must admit I felt a quiet sigh of relief when Jan 1 rolled around this week and I wasn't looking at that tired old wish list of 'lose weight, eat better, exercise more.' These are still my goals of course, it's just that this time around they are already built in to my Year of Living Well, which is now 65 days old. My limited maths would suggest that there are 300 days remaining. Enough time to get the hang of it all really.
So whether there are goals or resolutions (or revolutions as my little girl calls them) on your list, here's to seeing them all the way through.
Golly. What happened? It was Christmas Eve, I blinked, and now here we are in 2015. A happy, healthy New Year to you. Here's a summary of how it's been here.
1. Our peaches are currently ripening on our trees. If there is anything more satisfying than biting into a homegrown peach before a possum does, please let me know.
2. Our Christmas at home, just the 6 of us, was wonderfully relaxing. There was just the right balance of excited bouncing and mooching. My favourite moment was a prolonged joke reading session from the joke books in the stockings, everyone perfectly content and laughing their heads off, before a single present was opened.
3. There have been some quiet early morning walks with the dog. The air is cool and it feels like the whole world is calm and still. Wonderful for the body and spirit. And goal setting.
4. There was some homemade rocky road consumed. Holy Toledo, Batman - it was good. But, in the interests of public health, that recipe and its ingredients have been shelved again until next Christmas.
5. I finally over came my intimidation of cacao, enough to both actually pronounce it and open the box. I made some cacao bliss balls which were, well, positively blissful.
6. I shared time with some special friends who inspire me to live fully. Is there any greater gift?
7. I have swum and read in delicious quantities. I have watched my children play board games in their jarmies until lunch time. Just for the record, I have not missed making lunch boxes, ironing uniforms and doing the mad dash for the school bus one little bit.
8. My husband has been home on holidays. It is fabulous having two grown ups on duty. If it wasn't for the prospect of abject poverty I would recommend he stayed home all year.
9. I met a new little friend, baby Zoe, who is both so breathtakingly beautiful and so deeply loved that I tried not to cry when I kissed her soft head.
10. 2015 looks set to explode with creative and healthy possibilities. I'm delighted to be here at the start of it all, looking foreward.