Monday, 22 December 2014

Live life your way!

I couldn't resist coming back for another blog post.... I enjoyed the last one so much so here I am again. And it feels like the right time to publish what was going to be an article for EOS, but which was too dear to me to change or compromise in any way, which is what they were asking me to do...

I really wanted to write a piece to empower people to believe that they too can achieve all kinds of things in their life if they are willing to make the right changes, sacrifices, effort and decisions, because usually we hold the key to our own freedom. The chains we claim hold us back in life are often self-built, and completely imaginary, made out of our own fears. Not always, but often, they are.

I often get told "Oooh, you're so lucky to be doing what you're doing!" And I agree. Up to a point. I am lucky to have been born as a white female in a relatively wealthy country, which is relatively tolerant of people's religious beliefs, of race, or sexual preferences or lifestyles. I am lucky to live in a country where people can make choices and generally speaking, not be attacked, imprisoned or even killed for making the choices I make. I am lucky to be healthy, and for my family to be healthy too. But the rest? The exact life I live? Is it really just luck, or being 'jammy'?

It always hurts my feeling a little when people imply that I am somehow exceptionally privileged to be living the life I am living, as if my life just got handed to me on some golden platter or is some kind of extended golden handshake. As if there was no reasoning, or decision making or hard-work or sacrifices that have gotten us where we are now. Because nothing could be further from the truth! The fact is, we've made choices at every turn to align ourselves with the life we wanted. It wasn't pure accident. We've engineered and steered our lives, and if the winds have blown for us, it's because we bothered to make good sails!

So's my article......... I hope you enjoy it xxx

Live the life you love

Sitting in bed and looking out at the view from my window this morning, I am faced with a beautiful misty mountain scene. We are high up in the Alpujarra mountains in southern Spain – quite a feat for our 32 foot bus. It was a pretty hair raising adventure getting her up the twisting and turning ribbon of a road that clings so precariously to the mountains edge, like the slowest roller-coaster ride. It took some balls, I tell you.

When I look back over the last few years there have actually been quite a few times when we have taken a leap of faith, into the unknown, and made choices that required growing some … cajones! Deciding to home ed was one of them. Having our second child at home was also another leap into unknown territory. Moving our family to an area where we knew no one, and starting again, is another example.

Professionally speaking, Pete has spent his entire working life pushing passed boundaries that might have put others off. Fronting up to bosses and asking for a promotion, offering an ultimatum to allow him to work from home, quitting an unstable company and setting up his own whilst I was seven months pregnant with our third child. It took further guts to close that company whilst it was thriving and providing our family with a high standard of living. A move some thought was madness, as, in closing the company he gave away his clients and assets to the employees who had worked for him. And on one level perhaps they are right, but how many old men look back upon their working life and wish they had spent more time in the office…. missing those precious early childhood years?

Taking risks and leaps of faith have become central to how we roll as a family – and of course, this means occasionally that we fall flat on our backsides, or have to make sacrifices in order to achieve a bigger goal. This is part and parcel of life’s twists and turns and no one could ever take such leaps without life slapping you in the face with the some amount of hardship, failure, rejection and sometimes even a string of bad luck. Ever the optimists though, and like those weeble toys, our default setting is to accept these setbacks with as much grace as we can and bounce back up. We don’t stay down for long.

When our last bus burnt to the ground in a glorious blaze it would have been easy to give up our life on wheels and call it a day. We very nearly did. With only three weeks until our departure date for a trip to Austria and Italy, we had to work out just how badly it mattered to us to travel and live in this way. We decided it mattered so much, that we could not cancel our trip and we took a huge risk and bought a new bus – before our insurance money had come through. Using our precious savings to do so, we took a punt that we’d recover the money. It could’ve all gone wrong, but we reclaimed it eventually. Some things in life are worth gambling on!

In the last year there have been a number of circumstances that prompted our family to truly follow our hearts and these things have taken us on a journey that has seen us coming up against the system and the conventional way of doing things, and forging our own path.

When faced with the scenario where we were told the homebirth service had been withdrawn in our area, we searched long and hard inside ourselves and talked over many solutions and scenarios before taking the leap and joining the ranks of those who call themselves ‘freebirthers’. A decision which we researched extensively and was not taken lightly, but which was born of our refusal to sacrifice all that we held sacred and true about birth. But even after spending the last decade studying, living, breathing and talking birth with other women, in the same level of depth as a midwife might do (out of my own passion and curiosity), and having birthed three of my babies at home – it was still a big deal to cut loose, to deliberately do something so ‘audacious’ as birth my daughter without the approval or assistance of the NHS.

Sometimes we are faced with situations in life that are simply non-negotiable to us. And for our family, having to go and have our daughter in a hospital and for our other children to miss this unique life event, would have been a sacrifice too far. We took responsibility for her birth into our own hands, quite literally, and it was truly the most beautiful experience of our lives as a family, and I will always be grateful we went against the norm, and found the courage to do it.

Many months after her birth, I am now fighting for other mothers who are not inclined as I was to give birth without assistance, and am campaigning to reinstate the homebirth service so they can have that option. Not every mother has the confidence, experience, knowledge or desire to freebirth, especially first-time mothers, and I have been lobbying the hospital for several months.

Bypassing the usual complaints procedures and preferring instead to write an impassioned plea to the homebirth policy-makers has been one of the most empowering experiences of my life and has opened up so many doors and connections that I would have missed out if I’d taken the conventional route, or not complained at all and kept quiet about the injustice of the hospital’s actions. My own bravery sparked the bravery of others.
Finding the courage to share my letter online prompted scores of women to write to me with their own birth stories, some of them never shared in public before, some of them so painful to recollect and write, confirming for me that I had absolutely made the right choice. It was heart-breaking to read about how these women had been so poorly treated, or how their hospital experiences in general had left them feeling so traumatised – sometimes even years after their babies’ births.

I decided to collate all these women’s voices into a dossier to send to the hospital and it has, over the last couple of months, grown into an 80 page document called Birthplace Matters, with comments and support from a number of prominent midwives and figures in the birth world. In fact, some of my most ardent supporters in this campaign have been the midwives themselves.

Today, an article about Birthplace Matters featured in the Lynn news. Who would have believed all this could have started from just from one little letter? And who knows if we will win? Even if we don’t – I have learnt something so valuable from taking a stand and following my heart. I hope my legacy will be that I believed passionately in something, that I stood up for my beliefs, united a lot of people together, and didn’t give up, but kept persevering. When I took to the streets of Kings Lynn with my family and some other mothers, carrying some home-made placards and leaflets and a petition, I was shaking like a leaf, my insides all in a swirl. My inner critic was saying “Who do you think you are, Paula?” and “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” and yet I put a smile on my face and once I got talking I discovered it was the easiest and most natural thing in the world when we talk to people about things that matter, things that are truly important to us. And you know what? The good people of King’s Lynn blew me away with their solidarity. Imagine if I’d chickened out? What an opportunity would have been missed.

What I hope we are teaching our children, is that some things matter so much you have to follow your heart even if it means bucking convention, being scared or facing ridicule or criticism or being blocked or even persecuted for it. Home educators well know that not all family and friends are delighted with their informed choice. Yet when we make an informed choice, it is a way in which we reclaim our lives from simply following what we are told by society we must do. Can we really call it a life unless we are prepared to live it on our own terms?

Often we can choose our life without resistance from anywhere or anyone. But as Nelson Mandella so beautifully said "When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw".
I agree.

Either way, whether it comes smoothly or by effort, no-one will hand us the exact life we want on a plate. It is ours to reclaim, to fashion for ourselves. Our decisions, our challenges, our opportunities are unique to each and every one of us.

This last year has taught me that unless we are sometimes disobedient, unless we say boo to that goose, unless we say NO to what we cannot condone, or YES to what we truly desire, our soul slowly withers and we become small and sad, resenting others who live the life they want and waiting for that lottery ticket to solve all our problems.

Grow some balls. Take some risks. Get your priorities in order. Go out and do what you want to do. Live the life you want to live. Grab life with both hands and own your choices. Love your life and don’t complain and wait for it all to fall in your lap.

When you make up your mind to act decisively, the universe has a funny way of showing up and helping you out.
Only you can take those first brave steps towards the life you REALLY want, so what are you waiting for?

Friday, 19 December 2014

A properly crazy year! 100 things we did in 2014

Phweesh, what a crazy crazy year. It has been a wild ride. Occasionally frustrating, sad, stressful, as life can be, but overall…. Wow! Here’s what I have compiled to help us remember what we did and who we met. In spite of some sad things going on in the lives of friends and family, I’ve loved this year so much. Welcoming our daughter into the world with no midwives present was a really life-changing and defining event for us and made us step up in so many ways to what is important to us in life! The experience of taking on that kind of level of responsibility was intense beyond anything else that has ever happened to us, but it has totally strengthened us all and given us a lease of life, energy and passion that spurred us into action to do so much cool stuff!

Earlier in the year I watched a heartbreaking series of photographs a husband took of his beautiful wife over the months that she slowly deteriorated to cancer. It made me sit up and take note that life is unpredictable, short and precious. I have decided to really live life to the full this year and live truly authentically in my own power and by living more on my own terms, not everyone else’s… because we don’t know how long any of us will be here on this planet….we all live on borrowed time.

I’ve met some wonderful people this year in the process of producing a document called Birthplace Matters and becoming a grass-roots birth campaigner, and I will continue to campaign for others so they can have midwives at their homebirths, since not everyone want to freebirth like myself, eh?

I truly feel that putting off what's important to you or swallowing bitterly what others serve up to you is madness. And, in waiting to fulfil dreams and lifelong goals, we might not ever get to do them. We only have today, we only have the here and now... So this year has been a year of living, doing and daring. It’s been absolutely amazing and I don’t have a single regret.

Bring on 2015!

Who knows, I might get to do some hands-on doulaing again.... that would be fab!!!!!

So without further ado, here's the amazing list of 100 things our family did in 2014

1 Met the girl of our dreams (literally) when she swam up to meet us all in our birthpool at home, surrounded by just us, and she has rocked our world ever since. Love her soooo much
2 Celebrated 20 years together as a couple! Wow. I’m so glad to be with Pete after all these years, we’ve journeyed together through good times and shit times and I love him completely, with all my heart. He knows me inside out and loves me flaws n all. Woohoo for real love!
3 Our Winnebago burnt down in a glorious blaze….so…. we searched our hearts and decided life on wheels is part of our lives now…. and got a new bus!
4 We went around England and visited…. Wales, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Italy, San Marino, Vatican City and Spain and traveled thousands of miles in our bus - with five kids!
5 We stayed in a real actual castle and celebrated 70 years of the lovely Dennis
6 We slid down wooden slides into the Salzburg salt mines
7 We canoed on the beautiful lake at Zell am See In Austria
8 We walked across the three dragons bridge in Ljubliana
9 Took a land train up to Ljubliana castle
10 Walked across the famous Rialto Bridge in Venice
11 Saw models of Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions in a church that was in an Indiana Jones film
12 Took a super cool 70’s style boat taxi across Venice waterways
13 Met a long lost cousin at St. Mark’s Square, Venice
14 Went to the Peggy Guggenheim museum and saw Jackson Pollock paintings amongst others…
15 Took a funicular ride up to San Marino
16 Swam in a lake at a really cool campsite
17 Visited Emperor Hadrian’s Palaces outside Rome – Villa Adriana
18 Took an open-top hop on – hop off bus tour round Rome
19 Took a family Pizza making and Gelato course in Florence and got a certificate
20 Visited an artisan Gelato making café and had a private tour of their kitchen
21 Walked across the famous bridge in Florence, Ponte Vecchio and looked at the tat
22 Had an old-fashioned photograph taken by an American photographer who then sent us a copy months later
23 Visited The Leaning Tower of Pisa, and touched it, even though you’re not supposed to!
24 Went through 92 tunnels in one day
25 High fived hundreds of runners who ran past our bus on a fun run
26 Went to Parc des Lutins – an awesome treetop adventure playground park
27 Visited the most Fabuleuz gastro-circus-musical-eatery in all of France
28 Went cherry-picking on the family farm of an artisan cherry grower called Jeremy
29 Camped by an AMAZING river where the kids paddled and swam and birds and crickets sang long into the night
30 Turned up at a really cool campsite where there was an awesome pool party in full swing
31 Saw the World’s Biggest Tyre at the Michelin factory in Clermont-Ferrand
32 Took a train and stood on top of a dormant volcano and felt on top of the world at the Puy-de-Dome
33 Visited a pottery museum in an old chateaux
34 Visited the fabulous medieval castle Guedelon (BBC now showing a series about it) in France which is being built using medieval tools and techniques and saw demonstrations of all the crafts and skills
35 Walked around the medieval city of Troyes
36 Visited friends and family in Brighton, Worthing, Dorset, Nottingham, Norfolk and Suffolk
37 Went to The Green Gathering festival with friends
38 Operated a lock for a canal boat to pass through on the River Avon
39 Went to the MAD museum in Shakespeare’s Stratford Upon Avon
40 Visited the chocolate box town dubbed Little Venice, of Bourton-on-The-Water, in the Cotswolds
41 Camped up by the rivers Cam and Trent for two special birthday treats
42. Did some glassblowing at Caithness Crystal
43 Visited a lavender farm
44 Had fun with my sister and cousin who stayed at our house this year
45 Heard the Shantymen sing their beautiful songs in The Lord Nelson Pub at Nelson’s birthplace village with some dear friends
46 Hired a beach-hut at sunny Hunstanton for a fun day with friends
47 Went laser-questing, wild swimming and kayaking with The Styles family
48 Did archery, pellet-gun shooting targets, multi-climbing sports and multisports sessions
49 Became a grass-roots birth activist and produced a document of people’s feelings about Natural and Home birth called birthplace Matters
50 Made placards and organised a demo in King’s Lynn
51 Was in the Lynn news in an article about Birthplace Matters
52 Met some Witchez, in Brighton and learnt how to make Kopytka, inspired by said Witchez
53 Took a horse riding lesson
54 Hung out with my cousin and niece and auntie for some cuddly times
55 Spent hours and hours and hours smiling at my daughter and hours and hours feeding my tongue-tied sweetie, which has been incredible, intense and so beautiful
56 Climbed up Glastonbury For at sunset
57 Hardly drove my car since Poppy wails in her carseat unless I am literally right next to her!
58 Met the lovely ladies at The Fire Pit and Norfolk Sling Group
59 Paid our respects at a War memorial In Normandy
60 Walked around the streets near Notre Dame Cathedrale in Paris and soaked up the atmosphere
61 Visited the world-famous bookshop Shakespeare and Co in Paris
62 Took a ride along the Seine
63 Walked all 1710 steps up and down the Eiffel Tower – phweesh!
64 Walked round an abandoned and very magical sun-dappled castle
65 Visited Futuroscope a fantastic futuristic amusement/science park, on the warmest Halloween ever and time-travelled – bwaaaah!
66 Freecamped right next to the wild Atlantic ocean and got lashed by rain and wind
67 Went to WOW! Park – a really cool treetop adventure place with scramble walkways in the treetops and climbing frames in the sky
68 Camped on the top of a cliff near San Sebastian
69 Visited the fantastic Eureka Science Museum in San Sebastian and saw a film in Basque in the Planetarium
70 Blew bubbles in the street with a street artist in San Sebastian
71 Went to Madrid and hung out in the rather pretty Park del Retiro
72 Visited the Science Park and saw the Egyptology displays of Tutankhamun replicas in Granada
73 Visited Escape Park – and solved a Sherlock Holmes/Dan Brown style mystery in a staged apartment, saving the kidnapped man by working out a complex riddle of clues
74 Walked around The Alhambra complex and enjoyed the walk down to town from the top
75 Drove the hair-raising drive to a tiny village called Atelbietar and stayed in a gorgeous house high in the Alpujurras – no cars, just houses and a truly fabulous family living off-grid in a place of jaw-dropping beauty 
76 Slept on a dam
77 Visited the National park of El Torcal taking the most awesome and scary helter-skelter journey up the mountain in our bus
78 Met up with friends by the sea and went fishing, swimming and playing
79 Quit my writing job for Education outside School Magazine
80 Went rollerskating
81 Went to an awesome indoor skatepark
82 Slept on a clifftop in Nerja and watched the sunset and sunrise
83 Watched an Alpha Romeo advert being filmed
84 Boys went to Wildwise camp in Devon and made Atlatl spears and learnt to walk silently and track animals, be careful with knives and fires
85 We got our bus stuck in Bovey Tracey and some lovely people helped us!
86 Visited the House of Marbles
87 Went Geocaching at Wandlebury Country park
88 Said hello to our old house in Littlehampton, the place where Herbie and indie were born
89 Learn how to make iron hooks by getting hands on at a blacksmiths
90 Gave thousands to good causes
91 Met for the first time, the wonderful…. Awen, Jess, Cameron, Lanaya, Josh, Vero, Jeremy, Alison, Lizzie, Rachel, Claire, Sadie, Nancy, Bessie, Ali, Josh, Ruth, Lucile and Fabian, some others I have sadly forgotten names of but were lovely, many awesome midwives and mamas through the process of writing Birthplace Matters, and will hopefully meet more before the year is through – Vanessa B you are next!
92 Improved our Spanish and French
93 Saw a bitch with her full-moon born pups just hours after the birth :-)
94 Cried big fat tears but laughed even more
95 Went to a 3-D Symphony Orchestra in Granada
96 Grew a bit fatter (not all of us… just me! oh well)
97 Offered a spot writing for Education Otherwise, the most well known Home Educators Charity in th UK
98 Offered and turned down a fab job because it’s not quite right, right now… maybe one day…..
99 Applied to two magazines for paid article work – watch this space!
100 Planning surprises yet to come…. 

Still planning more adventures for Herbie's 12th Birthday, Christmas and New Year.... as I write, we are in Spain... still much fun to be had still... must keep remembering to live in the moment, count my many blessings and laugh lots....

Big kiss and merry Christmas y'all

xX Motherfunker Xx