Tuesday, 31 March 2009

What is work?

I've been wondering what work is recently? The definition, I mean, of paid work and its meaning for us all, individually and as part of society. Bear with me, this might be a bit of a ramble as I try to sort my thoughts out.
Like many people of a thoughtful disposition, I've found working for a living stressful quite often, and I know this to be because I've never found paid work which really fits with my personality, skills, and values. So, that's what I'm trying to do now. I need to work for money (sadly) and so I want o find work which fits as much as possible with my values and skills, so that I find it more fulfilling and less stressful.
A book I've been reading recently differentiates between a 'job', 'occupation', 'career', and 'vocation' with job being what you do to pay the rent, occupations something you are slightly more invested in, a career something you put more of yourself into and get more out of, and a vocation being something you'd do anyway, even if you weren't being paid for it.
So, should we all be holding out for 'vocation'-type paid work? Is this realistic? If it isn't, why isn't it and could it ever be realistic?
It's not that I'm a work-shy layabout. I work very hard all day every day - I home educate my children and nurture them with love, food, rest and everything else I think they need. I create a home, I put a lot into my relationship with my husband and our families and friends. I cook, clean, grow food and look after the cat. Does this count as work? I do it for love not money.
I also write - I do this often, whether I'm paid for it or not although I'd love to be paid for it. So is this work? Or is it only work if I'm paid? I can't really think that the definition of work has to include payment, and yet that is what it seems to be in the general society definition. I can't help but think that this is part of the problem - work and paid-work have become two separate things, quite often two opposing things, pulling in opposite directions. It's all part of that whole work/family split that is the norm now but never was in the past until the advent of the Industrial Revolution.
I feel as if I'm pulling against my instincts so much of the time just trying to make our life work in the framework that the 21st century imposes on it, and I don't think I'm quite brave enough to drop out entirely from that framework. I don't think I even want to drop out entirely from our society - I want to be part of a community and I want to live among other people. I'm just feeling this clash every day and it sets my teeth on edge all the time, so there's this background stress that I can't filter out and it makes it harder to make every other decision as my true instincts get lost in all this white noise.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Musing again

I'm musing again on future careers. But once again, everything seems to need proper training and that costs money and time - neither of which I'm blessed with in abundance. If only I knew which was the right path to go down, it would be worth making an investment of time and money (well, if we actually had the money to invest that is!). But how do I know which is the right way to go? There's so many things I'm interested in and if only I could do one of them without any further training, I would like a shot. But all of them seem to need training that costs £1000-£1500 which may not be a huge amount in the long run, but is a very large amount to us.
There's several things that I would like to do as a career if I could just get on with them right now and not have to go through a period of a year or two's training. After all, I have to consider the children - they are and will be my first priority for some time to come yet.
There's just too many variables and too many options. I hate to be hemmed in with no choices, but on the other hand I freeze up and can't function in the presence of too much choice. How picky I am! It seems very scary to spend £1500 and a year of my (and the children's) lives on something that I can't be certain will be the fulfilling and interesting career I'm looking for at the end of it all.
It seems that the NCT antenatal teacher is not a option for the moment at least as the training very definitely includes several residential weekends away which is not an option for my family right now. Maybe a few years down the line, but not right now. So that's out. I looked into training as a life coach but that didn't quite seem right either. And also cost at least £1500 and up to £4000 for training (eek!). So that's out too. So, reflexology is another option which I've considered at various points in my life but not ever actually made a firm decision on. Again, it costs about £1500 and would take about a year of going up to central London for Saturdays, or Sundays (about 1 or 2 a month for 9 or 10 months) and only being back for H's bedtime (well, a bit after actually). I'm a bit unsure. In fact, I'm a lot unsure. Maybe I should just stick with the minimum wage online work I'm already doing for a while. After all, until my husband does his course and finds work, we don't know where we are with either time or money and the chances are we won't actually have the money for a reflexology course anyway.
Or maybe there's another job option out there that I haven't considered. Probably. Maybe I'll keep on looking for a while longer. But how will I know when I find the right thing? Should I be expecting some sort of thunderbolt or 'falling in love' type feeling? Or would I wait a lifetime and still not get that? Bearing in mind that I already know where my passion lies and that's in writing. (Which I am also still trying to make a go of.)
Argh, too many options, too many thoughts. If only I had a bottle of cooking sherry, I'd be on that while I cooked tea, but as I haven't, I'd better go and cook tea sober.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

*That* conversation

We've been having a lot of discussion about sex in our household recently - usually in the bath or on the train (I'm sure we've amused many a fellow train passenger!) and I have to share Where Willy Went with you all as it is hilarious and also gets the information across. It's all about the 300 million sperm who live in Mr Browne preparing for the Great Egg Race, and the hero Willy, a sperm who isn't very good at sums but is very good at swimming. This book is regularly requested at bed-time and sometimes provokes questions and at other times just enjoyment of the story and characters. But either way, it's been a very good book to have around.

Monday, 23 March 2009


I've been reading How to Live Off-grid and have been absolutely fascinated. This book has had a lot of criticism and probably an equal amount of praise, but I found it interesting and inspiring. In it, the author treks around the UK in a cusomised camper van visiting off-grid families, individuals and communities and chats to them about how they manage their lifestyle, what works, what doesn't work, the problems and successes they've had. The main criticism of the book is that the author is a middle-class wannabe off-gridder rather than the real deal, but I don't really see this as a problem. He never pretends to be otherwise. He reiterates throughout the book that his main motivation for seeking this information is not for environmental reasons and that he could only ever be a part-timer in this lifestyle. These things do not make his research any the less valid in my opinion. The people he visits are pretty inspirational. Even in the instances where things have not worked out or where they would do things differently if they had to start over, they are trailblazers, unafraid to do things differently and outside the mainstream, and those of us in a firmly-entrenched on-grid life can still learn a few things and maybe make a few changes without having to buy a woodland in Wales.
I found the views expressed in the book by various experts and non-experts on the likelihood of grid break-down scary, eye-opening and interesting and it has given me quite a few starting places for a wish-list of items to install if we ever have any spare money (yeah, right!). It has also reassured me that in the case of a catastrophic break-down on on-grid power and water services, it is still possible to survive and thrive.
All in all, I found this a fascinating and informative read with lots of handy information and interesting glimpses into the lives of people who have dared to be different in a way I'm not sure I'd have the guts (or knowledge) to do. I'd highly recommend it.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Spring Equinox

We've been out to a birthday party this morning and played in the sunshine which is a perfect way of celebrating, but yesterday we finished off our spring daffodils. We also made the vases to stand them in and they are now cheering up the children's bedrooms. These are my daughter's daffodils:

And these are my son's:

And I learned a lesson in how limited my thinking still is. For some crazy reason, I assumed we'd make yellow daffodils. After all, if you do this activity in school or nursery you'd put out yellow paper and yellow paint and everyone would do yellow daffodils. But of course, my children wanted to do their own kind of daffodils, which for my son meant red, blue and green daffodils and for my daughter meant mainly yellow, orange, red and pink. And it worked really well. And I felt really silly for literally not thinking of any colour except yellow! It does make me wonder if I'm missing something equally totally obvious in our everyday life because I'm just so used to thinking of things a certain way that I'm not seeing a different way.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Equinox crafts

With the Spring Equinox coming up in the early morning of 20 March, the children and I have been starting our Equinox crafts.

So here is my daughter's Equinox bunnies:

And my son's:

And their sun pictures - my daughter's is at the bottom and is a 'great big summer sun', my son's it at the top and is, according to the artist 'the middle of the sun, swirling with hot gas'!

We have also been making daffodils out of egg boxes (of course!) but they're not finished yet, and we went to the Children's Farm this morning and saw the tiny lambs and little kids (goats, not children) as well as baby rabbits. It was great and lovely weather too.

On another note, am I the only person who regularly has cereal in the cupboard merely in its waxed plastic inner bag as the outer box has ben removed due to urgent craft need?

Friday, 13 March 2009

The funny things they say

Overheard today as my son and daughter were supposed to be tidying up the living room from my son: "well, I'm the boss you see, and bosses stand and tell other people how to do the job...". Nice try, son.

And an example of why you should always ask the context before answering a child's question. My son asked me "what's a cannibal, Mummy?". I, fresh from re-reading Willard Price's Cannibal Adventure (not to the children just for my own pleasure!), gave an explanation of people eating other people, and how different species can be cannibals if they eat members of their own species. My son looked thoughtful, then said "but why are they so heavy though?". Now we were both confused. Further questioning shed light: he meant a *cannonball*. I had been wondering where he'd heard about cannibals...

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Allotment update

Today we went to the allotment for the first time this year and I was pleasantly surprised. I was dreading going as I half-expected that it would have gone all overgrown again, but actually it was fine. It's a rectangluar plot roughly divided into equal 6ths and the 6th that we'd covered with a tarpaulin was fine, the tarpaulin hadn't blown away or anything. The 6th we'd managed to dig over and mulch and manure properly was also fine with hardly any weeds. The 6th with the overwintering onions (also lightly mulched) was also pretty good with just a few weeds and the onions starting off nicely. So, a good half of the whole plot was fine and needed hardly any attention.
We've got a month until Good Friday and the planting of the potatoes starts, so I'm going to try and get the rest dug and weeded in that time - including getting rid of the rest of the damned carpet!!!
But all, in all, a good morning's work and feeling quite positive about the allotment this year.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

£1 a day?

I've just read How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day which has been a thought-provoking read. Author Kath Kelly discovered why it is that the poorest memmbers of our society are the fattest even as she walked miles to avoid paying for public transport.
Her challenge isn't one that many people could pull off. I feel she was very lucky in where she lived (Bristol) as there seemed to be free events, receptions, shows and openings every night of the week, all of which provided free food and wine. There certainly aren't so many free events in my neck of the woods, and I couldn't use them to feed the children! Also, she hitch-hikes a lot and I wouldn't feel safe doing that. She constantly reiterates that she was safe doing it, but I can't help but think that every person who has ever been murdered hitch-hiking presumed they were safe until the fateful encounter where they weren't safe.
I also have a few problems with buying elderly and reduced fresh food from the supermarkets - everyone knows (don't they?) that vitamin content is hugely reduced in fresh produce the older it is, so I think it's actually a false economy to buy that kind of thing when discounted. Obviously, this doesn't apply to all produce and I'm the first to buy other kinds of discounted products.
I did enjoy the book though. The author is likeable and some of her money-saving ideas are interesting, and the whole idea is quite inspiring. I felt slightly sick that she managed to find over £117 in lost cash over the course of the year of her challenge (I've never managed to find that much, people are obviously richer in Bristol!). And, as she herself pointed out, if you're trying to spend as little as possible then you can't buy organic, fair trade or ethical. For me, this is unacceptable. And all the free samples she manages to blag of toiletries and household cleaning products are full of chemicals which I'd never use on myself, the children or around my home, even if they were free or only cost 10p. But the whole book is very good at helping you see what your own priorities (and extravagances) are, and on the whole I'd recommend it as a good read, and one which makes you think.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

4th birthday!

So, it was my son's 4th birthday today which went as well as could be expected. He got loads of great presents, nothing hideous, and saw lots of family. It all got too much for him and my daughter once each during the course of the day, which was pretty much as expected, and he's asleep now, exhausted from the day, while Daddy's putting our daughter to bed. Then we can relax!
As promised, a picture of the train cake, made this time by my own fair hands, based on a design from a Jane Asher cake book:

It is very difficult to get the balance right with a birthday cake. We don't usually go overboard on sugar and they never have sweets, but for a one-off I didn't want to be a spoilsport. I left out the food colouring completely (the original Jane Asher cake was green!) as I didn't think that added anything to the enjoyment factor, and toned down the use of sweets to decorate quite considerably. It is tricky to make fun-shaped cakes without colouring and decoration though.
And so I'm musing on my son's birth and how different it was to my daughter's. One of the things which sticks in my mind the most is how lovely it was to be in bed half an hour after he was born, with him in the crook of one arm, feeding, while eating beans on toast with the other hand. It was the first meal I had actually enjoyed for 9 months and the first time I hadn't felt nauseous in that same time and it was heavenly! I can recommend a homebirth wholeheartedly.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Scarcity and abundance

I've been thinking about scarcity and abundance since reading Accelerando in which a main character invented things and patented things which he then deliberately gave away or made public access in order to move onto a economics of abundance in which everyone could assume their basic needs would be met so there would be no need for struggle or competition. I hadn't really thought of our current economy in terms of being an economy of scarcity, but of course it is. And it is because of that that we all scurry to be ahead of everyone else in earning our wage - because if we don't do so, someone else may get 'our share'.
With not having a wage for us all to live on at the moment, my mind has been rather concentrated on the theory of cash acquisition and what it means to us, in practical and philosophical terms. But I haven't come to any startling realisations or made any revelations - if only I could. I can see how ridiculous the whole thing is and yet still not see how to free ourselves from it. I'm sure I must be on the brink of some kind of mental breakthrough (or perhaps just breakdown?), so I'll carry on musing. There must be another way to live than this constant striving to get cash to pay for the roof over our head and the food we eat. Mustn't there?

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Hearts, fairies and birthdays

Mysterious adverts appeared all around our house last week (see below) for an upcoming Fairy Dance Event. It was all very serious - the costume, adverts, choreography, music, confetti (for the audience to sprinkle at a pre-arranged moment), and tickets were all organised and created by my daughter. We all enjoyed it very much.

And, after a particularly enjoyable family day, these hearts appeared on the wall by the back door. How sweet.

And my son is having mixed feelings about his upcoming 4th birthday. On the one hand, a special day and presents. On the other, being older, and being the centre of attention for a whole day (he's not too keen on this). We have currently come to an agreement. He agrees to turning 4, but he doesn't want to get any older than that - and certainly not grow up. I've agreed he can turn 4 and see how it goes for a year, and then we'll see how he feels about turning 5.
And in the meantime, I've got a train-shaped cake to make - eek!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Spring hypermania!

As you may know, I suffer from moderately severe SAD and this winter I've found particularly trying as it's been so grey and cloudy and dull, and I haven't managed to get much time to sit in front of the light-box due to many domestic reasons. So, now that we've had 2 sunny days this spring, I'm really finding my mood hard to control. I almost find the winter grey, dull, flat depression easier to deal with as I know where I am with it, but now that we have an occasional sunny days interspersed with grey days my moods are up and then down and all over the place. As soon as the sun comes out I rush out and speed around the place feeling light of heart and kind of dizzily, stupidly high and can't achieve anything because I'm running around like a chicken with no head. Then the next day is invariable dull again and I just crash big-time - headaches, depression, inertia. It's kind of embarrassing being so unable to control my moods, like being a toddler. Roll on the proper spring.