A lost cat & A beside note.

The witching hour. 6pm. The high risk period when Mum would need a drink. When she couldn’t get alcohol, she would work her way through a block of cheese. Something, anything, to alleviate the high anxiety. These days she can’t get wine, so she obsesses about her cats. One in particular. Piddle.

Poor Piddle, an extremely elegant little Occicat, who went through a phase of piddling as a kitten and the name stuck. However Piddle is now wonderfully self-sufficient. She usually disappears for a day or so on the full moon, spends time roaming across the nearby golf course. She always comes back. But these days, every day, at 6pm, Mum goes outside and calls and calls and calls. Then she comes back inside and tells her caregiver that she is worried because ‘Piddle is hungry, lost and alone‘.

But Piddle is not the one who is hungry, lost and alone.

There’s no ‘medical proof’ of this of course, but my theory (and while I don’t have a psychology degree or a medical one, I have a lifetime of experience) is that as Mum becomes more childlike, she is becoming more open with her feelings. And while she can’t, has never been able to, will not ever say ‘I am hungry, lost, alone’, I know that this has how she feels. And this has how she has felt for a very long time.

The hunger, of course, is not a hunger for food, but a hunger for a very different type of nourishment. A sense of fulfillment. While she is not physically lost, she lost her way many years ago. And while she has constant company, my lovely mother feels that she is alone.

The anxiety, an almost constant presence of worry, preceded the alcohol dependence and the dementia. I have no doubt it started before I arrived on the scene. According to New Zealand’s Mental Health Foundation, New Zealand has a high prevalence of anxiety, mood and substance abuse disorders, exceeded only by the US for anxiety by the US, Ukraine and France for mood and only by the Ukraine and US for substance abuse disorders.

Recently, I read a fascinating article by a Rick Hanson PhD, a neuropsychologist on Self-Directed Neuroplasticity: A 21st-Century View of Meditation. Addressing the field of contemplative neuroscience, Dr Hanson concludes by taking the reader through a simple 5 step meditation. Becoming attuned to the breath, conscious relaxation, a feeling of safety, wellbeing and connection. What fascinates me, is that for each stage, he provides an explanation of what happens to the brain. The element of safety, struck a particular chord.

“The third suggestion focuses on feeling safe. This is a very important one, although it’s often hard for people because we have what I call “paper-tiger paranoia.” Essentially, we evolved to overestimate threats and to underestimate opportunities and resources for dealing with threats. Although that may have been a great way to pass on gene copies in Africa two million years ago, it’s a lousy way to experience quality of life in the twenty-first century. Most of us can feel safer than we normally do. I prompt people to feel as safe as they reasonably can because there is no perfect safety in life. None of us is safe from old age, disease, or death, for example, but most of us can afford to feel less guarded, less braced, and more confident in our capacities to meet life.

It sounds so very simple, but at the end of the day – and at the beginning, middle and every moment in between – isn’t that what we all want?Nourishment, mind, body and soul. A sense of purpose. To be attuned to our self, to feel relaxed, safe, well, connected.

I cannot undo a lifetime of feeling hungry, lost and alone for my mother. It took me a long time to realise that’s not my responsibility.

But she is my mother and I love her and I it makes my heart ache to think that she feels hungry, lost, alone. So next time I visit, I think I might just put a little note beside her bed which says ‘Your life has purpose. You are loved. You are safe. You are home‘…If I could, I’d sprinkle a little fairy dust and put one beside your bed too.

A tale of three nourishing women

Or how to avoid a grumpy path…

By way of introduction

I’m very seldom in a foul mood, but late yesterday afternoon I spent 20 minutes stuck in traffic in the supermarket car park, after I’d spent too many hours in front of my laptop, without a break. I scowled. I cursed. Not at other people, but myself. For not listening to either my rational mind, which had told me that 4.30pm on the day before Easter was not the smartest time, or my intuition which had hollered “Woop! Woop! Pull up!” as we motored towards the supermarket.

Forty minutes later, as I dropped the three items I’d bought on the kitchen table, my evening could have gone either way. I could have eaten too much potato (Irish ancestry), watched crappy television and stayed grumpy. Or not….

Three very simple things

Three very simple things prevented me from continuing on my grumpy path.

The first thing I did, before any further grumpiness and lethargy could set in, was to head out for for a walk in the botanical gardens. The second was half an hour of yoga. The third was assembling a delicious salad, from a fridge and fruit bowl full of fresh local produce.

Three women you should know more about

I have three women to thank for helping me make a happier and healthier choice remarkably easily.

Marianne Elliot and 30 Days of Yoga

After years of occasional yoga classes, in October last year I took part in Marianne Elliot’s 30 Days of Yoga course. 

Marianne Elliott is a change-maker, a human rights advocate, a yoga teacher and a writer. She is the creator of 30 days of yoga: an online course to establish a regular home practice of yoga and to build a kinder relationship with your own body. She is currently writing a memoir about her life as a UN peacekeeper in Afghanistan. And as of today, she is now a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.

In Marianne’s own words, “30 days of yoga is an online program designed to give you everything you need to begin (or restart) a regular practice of yoga in the comfort of your own home. All you need to bring is the intention to give yourself what you need and the willingness to be a bit kinder to yourself than you might generally be.”

One of the key lessons I’ve learned from 30 Days of Yoga is the benefit of simply showing up on the mat. Carving out some space and time for embodied practice. Even if only for 10 minutes. In ways I find difficult to articulate, it has has become an essential ingredient in my recipe for self-nourishment. It has strengthened my body and my intuition. And I have no doubt that because of Marianne’s course, and the practice I have embedded into my daily life as a result, I am more attuned to my self. The decision to go for a walk in the gardens I can link directly to time on the mat.

To experience a taste of what Marianne has to offer, I suggest you start here with her Free Easy-Breezy Do-It-In-Your-Chair Yoga Class http://marianne-elliott.com/easy-breezy-do-it-in-your-chair-yoga/

Nicola Cranfield and Brooklyn Kitchen 

I met Nicola a couple of months ago and soon afterwards invited her to speak at a NourisHer evening. After years as a corporate accountant, interior design and extensive travel, Nicola has established the Brooklyn Kitchen in Wellington and is following her bliss coaching people in healthy living, particularly food and wellbeing. You can learn more about Nicola and the services she offers through the Brooklyn Kitchen by clicking on her logo, but the key learning I’ve taken away from my conversations with Nicola, is the importance of tuning into how you respond to food.

As Nicola points out, there is a sea of information on food and health and diets out there, and what works for you may not work for me. However what will work for me (and you), is paying attention. For example, I love fresh, warm French baguette and yet I know that my tummy doesn’t. It’s not that I’m allergic to gluten, but I don’t digest the bread easily. The intolerance wouldn’t necessarily stop me from enjoying a slice if I was sitting in a cafe in Paris, but faced with a choice between quinoa salad for lunch and a baguette with cheese, I’ll go for the salad.

As is also the case with Marianne, what Nicola does with warmth, wisdom and kindness, is suggest that we pay a little more attention to ourselves. And she is able to give very sensible pieces of advice which are easy to digest and won’t weigh you down.

And so, when I stood in the kitchen yesterday evening, listening to my mind-body, knowing that it needed to walk and stretch, I also knew that the food I ate would directly affect my mood. Quite simply, I would feel better, lighter, happier, after eating a salad. Which brings me to the third woman who helped me avoid a grumpy path.

Jo Freeman and Urban Harvest  

In the spirit of transparency, let me say that I spend half of my week working with Jo, marketing Urban Harvest, the online fresh food market she founded here in Wellington just over a year ago. But might I also point out that I was a customer before I became a contractor!

As a woman with a tremendous amount on her own plate (family, voluntary work, a one year old business) Jo is her own target market. She knows, only too well, how important it is to source local good food easily. With every cell in her being, Jo believes in Urban Harvest’s mantra ‘feeding you well, saving you time, making life simple’.

And so do I. I love food. A perfect holiday for me is one which includes wandering through farmers’ markets. But for most of the year I’m not on holiday and my days are full. I actually don’t want to even really think about food. I want to go home and know that I have the ingredients with which to whip up something fresh, nutritious and delicious, pronto.

Rock on, Urban Harvest. Thanks to Jo, and the courage she had in founding Urban Harvest (in a recession, I might add), once a week I take home with me a big red chiller bag full of fresh produce. Most weeks, it contains a dozen free range eggs, the organic fruit & vege box, gluten free bread, fresh fish and a treat. I may well have devoured the treat earlier in the week, but the kitchen was still bountiful last night and in the serene wake of yoga, a salad all but assembled itself in front of me.

Authentic with a capital A

If my purpose has a recipe, I suspect it’s this: discover, create, connect, communicate, nourish. Or something to that affect.

It has been a joy discovering Jo and Marianne and Nicola. I consider myself to be very lucky indeed that each week I work with Jo. And that most weeks, I walk with Marianne and drink tea with Nicola. These women walk their talk, each is in her element.

Knowing these women nourishes me. Connecting you with them, so that they may also nourish you, nourishes me too.







Chew longer. Be full. Not busy.

At a Onemeall lunch on Thursday, I asked Nick if he’s busy and instead he said his life is full. At NourisHer with Brooklyn Kitchen later that same day, Nicola reminded us to chew longer.

Chew longer. Apparently most of when we go out for a meal, chew only four times before swallowing. We eat fast and consequently make it much harder for our bodies to digest.

After making myself a lovely big salad yesterday for lunch, I sat down with the bowl placed to one side of my laptop and kept working. Jabbing my fork into it as I sat focussed much more intently on an email I was writing, than the food which I’d so enjoyed making. And then after several mouthfuls, I realised that I was only chewing three or four times before swallowing. And I probably should add in the spirit of being honest, that I was also chewing fast. In a hurry to finish my food for no good reason.

So I sat there, slightly startled, and proceeded to chew more slowly and for longer. I kept working, but I paid more attention to my food and the amazing thing was that I was much more full than I usually am after eating a salad with no carbs.

And it made me think of Nick’s earlier comment about considering his life to be full rather than busy. Because somehow when we’re busy-busy-busy we’re also often slightly distracted.

So thanks to Nick and Nicola, today I am feeling pleasantly full. Yes I’ve had a very busy week and the next few weeks look like they’ll be the same, but now I’m choosing to view them as full rather than very busy. And the fruit I ate for lunch was consumed more slowly and my tummy is feeling much happier as a result.

Smart people, Nick and Nicola, with wise things to say. I would highly recommend that you visit both their websites… Learn how to relate, renew, relearn with Nick Potter at Re-Be and how to be more aware of your body and the food that you eat with Nicola Cranfield at the Brooklyn Kitchen.

The university works in mysterious ways

In the early 90s I studied law and art history at university. Art history because I loved art. The law, because I was advised by my career advisor at school to not just study art history.

I spent five and half years at uni and for the most part, wondered what the hell I was doing. There was no burning desire to be a lawyer. Nor, for that matter, did I want to pursue a career in the history of art. I nearly flagged the whole thing several times to pursue fashion design but didn’t. Partly because I couldn’t sew, in part because of the family pressure (and to be honest my own self imposed pressure) to finish a law degree.

I can still remember sitting in the law library looking around at all those self-assured young people, who seemed to know exactly who they were and what they doing and feeling an almost overwhelming sense of discomfort in my own skin. I had no sense of the direction in which my life was heading.

I’m not sure how many people were in my year of law school, hundreds I guess. Obviously, there were many I passed daily in a corridor and yet never had a conversation with. One in particular haunted me for all my years at uni, because she appeared to be everything I wished I was.

Lucinda (not her real name) exuded confidence. She was beautiful, smart and popular. Striding through the law school, she wore floaty flowery skirts in the summertime and trailed the scent of some expensive French perfume behind her. I would look at her, with gritted teeth, and just know that she would go on to be an extremely successful lawyer, marry an extremely lawyer, have beautiful children and live in a beautiful house.

Years passed. I found myself guiding media around a yet to be opened Te Papa. Participating in a disaster relief effort in India. Making a documentary film. Having lunch with a famous author in New York. And today, I found myself in the same street as Lucinda. At least I’m 99.9% sure it was her.

And because this is 2010 and you can find anything on the internet, I’ve discovered that just as I anticipated, she is indeed an extremely successful lawyer, has married one and has children. I’m going to continue to assume that they’re beautiful and that their house is too. I’ll even throw in an Audi wagon and a labrador for good measure.

Was I surprised to see Lucinda in the street? Of course. But what surprised me even more was my own reaction. Not one of discomfort, but absolute delight.

Because it might have taken me a whole lot longer than Lucinda the Confident, but today I am truly comfortable in my own skin. I love what I do, I know who I am, I have found my voice. And although I may not have a floaty, flowery skirt in my wardrobe, I’m wearing the prototypes of my own clothing range and trailing the scent of a beautiful English perfume.

Connecting the dots

Trying to ignore the noise the kitten is making chasing bugs on the window sill, fingers poised on the keyboard, I am full of questions and one in particular is demanding my attention. Why should I start blogging? Each day it seems, I come across another excellent blog with someone who has something informative, entertaining or downright inspirational to say. So why me?

Because actually this is about you. This is about connecting you. To amazing people, to their stories, to very cool and sustainable ‘stuff’ and transformative services.

I believe that a big piece of  this planetary puzzle we’re all a part of, is people who care about each other and the planet, doing what they’re good at and doing what they love. Being, as the marvelous Sir Ken Robinson would say, in their element.

I’m in my element connecting people. Connecting people to each other, to goods and services which I (and more to the point other people who know far more about these things than I do) believe will make a contribution to restoring the planet.

Recently I watched Steve Job’s commencement speech at Stanford in 2005. He talks about connecting the dots and how so often, it’s only in retrospect that we can connect them.  For me, the challenge and the joy, is in figuring out how to connect some of the dots as we look forward.