Thursday, July 28, 2011


I remember in grade seven when all the girls were excited about becoming women. I spent grade six in England where the social girl language was probably different, because I don't remember anything being talked about. There must have been some kind of high-pitched squeaks that I didn't recognize, but when I returned to Canada it was palpable. All the cool girls were wearing plastic go-go boots and training bras. I always wondered what the breasts were being trained for, exactly. I tried one and discarded it soon after, relegated to my dresser drawer along with highly scented deodorant, ugly costume jewelry, and pantyhose. We all waited anxiously for our periods to start, and then complained when they did. My body continued to do what bodies do and it grew and formed in most surprising ways. As it happened, I felt my spirit, my character, the definable part of me changing unaccountably. I was not the common-sensical little girl any longer, I was a nonsensical mix of girl, woman, and beast. "And when she was good, she was very, very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid."

The initiation ceremonies of Junior High took me completely by surprise, the couplings and pairings, the whisperings, the poms poms and bottles. I remember a girl asking me "Do you drink?" I looked at her with astonishment - how could a person not drink? Was this another strange attribute of the Blond Westerner?

I turned away from adolescent drama, made my own way through the sex, drugs and rock 'n roll generation, and slowly became accustomed to being a woman. Childbearing and breastfeeding became part of my life, and when my youngest weaned I was sad but content.

Now, all of a sudden, the body is acting up again. I was always rather slim. 52 kilos was how much I weighed. That was part of me, except when I was pregnant (or that time in London when I survived on Guiness and chocolate cookies)... Now, suddenly, my waist has thickened. My hips are wider. The skin all over my body feels softer. Everything is somehow changing, changed. My body feels like it is not mine any more. I am trying hard to accept it. I think I should build up my abs - but I never used to build up my abs! I look at twenty year-olds and wonder - did I ever look like that? I ask my husband if he still loves me.

And I dream of sailing the Atlantic, or cutting loose, leaving the rat race, not doing the dishes....

Life is constant change, constant wonder. I am always at a crossroads. I wonder what I am going to do when I grow up...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Frutti di Bosco

I winter in a cold and unfriendly climate. Some love to ski and skate, and walk the wintry streets. I enjoy a bit of cross-country skiing, but my African infancy taught me the pleasures of a nice hot sun, preferably above body heat. Which pushes me to southern and equatorial climes. But, as I said, I winter in a cold spot and that is where I can make enough money to summer in the sun.

As I work and struggle with the winter, I watch my cold-weather friends and I see there is a definite sense of scarcity. The Rat Race is a northern concept, and the affluence of the northern societies is born from and gives birth to this sense. After all, if there really is enough to go round, we don't have to claim anything as ours. I find myself subscribing to the scarcity theory, when I don't feel I have enough work for a month, I blame my colleagues' greed and worry that I will lose clients to less qualified folk. We all rush around, in the cold, to get and spend more and more, to fill our days with goods and things.

I summer in a paradise, fertile, green, affluent in a different way. We live alongside wild boar, deer, badgers, snakes, scorpions, mice, and all sorts of creepy crawly creatures. Birds sing in the morning and evening. A predatory bird and his family fly and call overhead. We spent the first few years in tents and now have a cozy house that echoes Middle Earth. It is not everyone's idea of a villa in Tuscany.

But here I learn about scarcity. I reflect on my life as a farmer, when we were raising children, poultry, grapes, and grains. Feeding our family from the earth was our priority, and we managed to do it with a great sense of satisfaction. Here in the middle of nowhere, on a mountain top, I can wander down the road and pick wild berries, or not, as the whim suits. There are mushrooms growing in the woods, some will kill me, others are delicacies. An egg is produced every so often from one of my hens. Nature doesn't care if I eat or not. There is definitely enough to go round, but we humans continue to build mazes and fences to feed our rats. Let them free!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


There is a Muslim saying, "Pray to Allah, but tie your camel to a tree". There's a longer Jewish story about a fisherman who is having trouble in a storm and his boat is being blown towards a rocky shore. His advice is "Pray to God, but row away from the shore".

My oldest son is sailing across the Atlantic this summer. My friends and relatives have asked me if I am afraid for him. My answer is, well, actually, no. I know he is afloat in a 40 foot boat, bobbing on top of many thousands of feet of water. Rogue waves, storms, whales, and possibly even sea monsters do exist and are a threat. But his safety and well-being are not in my hands. I know he and his crew mates are conscientious and skilled. Beyond that, well, pray. Or at least have faith. Or just have a pragmatic or fatalistic view of the world. But the worst thing to do is either to live in fear, or to attempt to wrap yourself and your family in bubble wrap so as to avoid the rocky shore. At the same time, of course I am afraid. I would like my sons to stay at home and ... sit in the living room?

Of course, our fear and worry for our children starts when they are still in the womb. We try to eat well, to avoid dangerous substances. We wonder if they will be okay, even if we have an argument or become sad. Then during the labor and birth we try to have as gentle and positive an experience as possible, in the hopes that this will reflect on the small human's life.

Fear during birth has been discussed through history and is still a controversial subject. Unfortunately, it can be a pivot upon which a woman may make choices that can be dangerous for her and her baby. Of course, most of us, if we are told the baby may die if we do not do such-and-such, will agree to whatever it is immediately, in order to save the baby's life. Unfortunately, I have seen this type of prediction based upon bad science, or fatigue, or simply impatience, and I have seen women make choices based upon fear that they later regret.

The presence of a doula dilutes this feeling of anxiety and fear. We can radiate a sense of calm, that even when the most unexpected and difficult events take place, will allow everyone to do their work in a sensible and honorable fashion. We do not suggest that fearful predictions are wrong, but when a doula-assisted birth is going smoothly, and the woman and her partner are confident that the process is normal, then fear-based predictions are out of place. The medical staff will enter the room and recognize a normal, active process. The room is full of calm, concentration, activity, emotion, but the dominant feeling will not be one of fear.

So, my advice: keep your faith, but hire a doula!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Snakes from a Copter

When we first saw our place it was just a spot of orange in a sea of green, with an amazing view - on top of the world. The orange was a little bit of the roof of the barn, and the house was completely covered by greenery.

Our youngest was only two years old and as we were clambering down from the road, someone stopped and said "Be careful of snakes." Well, of course we knew about snakes, having farmed in Italy for many years. We taught our children about vipers and were careful to keep the grass short around the house.

But what we didn't know was that here in Lunigiana, vipers have been "seeded" from helicopters, by those who want to save the lives of predatory birds. So they sent sacks of young vipers up in copters, and the sacks were thrown into the hills, releasing the babes into the woods.

So we do in fact have a large population of poisonous snakes to deal with, and whether or not the buzzards and kites I have seen above our house are grateful, who knows. It does seem strange, though, that the lives of birds would be considered more carefully than the lives of humans.

City people can often be very sentimental about Mother Nature. But nature isn't gentle - she is strong and can be cruel. The subtle opening of a flower and the pounding of a hailstorm, a giant tsunami, and a baby sparrow, are all part of nature's variations. Who are we to interfere? And especially at the expense of our own kind.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Words and Birth

I was the late-blooming Jewish girl with pigtails and crooked teeth, at sea amongst the Aryan cheerleaders, hormonal giants and cowboys. Back then we had real cowboys, not just dress-ups. I bloomed suddenly, and became the craziest, most radical cowgirl in the west. But not before I learned a few things. One of these was, never use a word with more than two syllables if you want to be accepted.

I continued to write longer words in my diaries - I have a fine assortment of them now, dating back to 1966. My diary did not judge me, and I could be as magnificently cantankerous as I wanted.

What joy when I finally decided to go to university, several years later. I met people who spoke with many syllables, and occasionally used words I didn't even understand! We wrangled about concepts that were beyond belief, wrote terrible poetry, and thought we were the vanguard.

How much of schooling is simply imposing? King Julian suggests it may be fun to "impose my ideology on them - even if they don't want it." How many unspoken and unheard beliefs and opinions have flooded my mind and the minds of my children, just from being in school? I'm not suggesting home schooling is any better - I never thought that I could provide absolutely everything for my children. I sent all my children to school, and school itself was mostly a dismal failure. But I have five completely different and magnificently cantankerous sons, who like to use many words in many languages. So their difficult birthing and difficult schooling didn't destroy their characters at all.

I digress.

Of course, that is part of being alive, being affected by our surroundings and affecting others. At what point does this process become dangerous, when does it start inflicting wounds that cannot be healed? Do we ever truly understand how sensitive most human beings are? How absorbent children's minds are? How fragile a developing character?

During the birth of a child, this fragility is beautiful - a woman is at her most vulnerable and her strongest. At this time, more than ever, it is very important for the attendants to watch what they say and how they say it. Th doula can act as a filter for rough language, and she can heal hurtful words if they are spoken. The birthing woman is well equipped with filters of her own - lost in the absorbing task of giving birth, she will sometimes not hear what anyone has to say. But if she has been pulled out of her task, she may hear and absorb some though that will plague her forever.

Words are powerful! Use them well!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Tickets for Italy!!

We'll be arriving before June 15 this year so we can definitely put some piantine in and hopefully get some vegetables this year. I'm thinking basil, tomatoes, lettuce, dill, zucchini...

Time travels so fast! Here we are already - tomatoes, lettuce, squash, onions, green beans, basil, parsley, comfrey, all my herbs from last year, except my huge rosemary who died probably from the cold.

Insect aggression is on us this year - the first night I was attacked by spiders, then G got a tick, then the wasps built a nest in the wall by the door. Small beach mosquitoes caused hives. Mice as well, they had a fun time with some pillows. But we have reclaimed our territory.

And minor ailments, I thought I broke my finger with a hammer but although it is very colorful I can move it well.

We got our hens back from their winter home - fresh eggs are so good.

City slickers back in the countryside - where the water tastes like wine ... and you can see forever from your front door ...