The Therapy of Baking and Why It Can Be Helpful to Not Be a Minimalist

 

Sometimes bad things happen. Things that you think only happen to other people. When you hear the stories you gasp and say ‘how awful, how terrible for them’. And then you move on. Until one day it is you being told the terrible news that something bad has happened.

Your brain goes in to a dream like trance – I think the official term is shock. I remember when I got the call from my sister to say that my Mum may not survive and if I wanted to see her one last time I would need to come to the hospital immediately. In the time between leaving for the hospital and trying to contact my husband I took to sweeping the floor.

There is comfort to be found in the domestic, in the mundane, when big bad things happen that your brain can’t quite process.  Busying one’s hands while one’s mind tries to swim through the reality of shock is oddly soothing.

Today I made one of my favourite cakes – the Bill Granger vanilla buttermilk cake. I made it to take away for the weekend to share with our extended family. I mixed up the ingredients in my Mum’s metal mixing bowl – it would be called vintage now. I sifted the flour using my Gran’s sifter. I remember using it as a child at her place in the country. There was always a cake at Gran’s house.

As my mind was reeling over the bad news we received the night before, I found solace in holding the bowl that my Mum had held and mixed, just as I was. And holding the strong metal handle on the sifter I thought of my Gran, and I thought of all the bad news they would have heard over the years; the deaths, the sicknesses, the losses… the sorrow, the sadness.

 

And now it was me. Holding their things. Being propped up by both of them. The scrape of the sifting handle being turned to sprinkle flour into the creamed butter and sugar. The clink of of the wooden spoon on the metal bowl as I stirred the in eggs, and I thought about both of them and their strength of character and their will to keep going, their mettle. To keep going, to not drown in the shock of bad news or from the sorrow of loss, or the fear of what will come next.

Often I curse myself for holding on to things, to stuff; for being so sentimental. Cursing the clutter and often wishing I could be as clinical as Marie Kondo. If it doesn’t spark joy – it goes.

But today I was thinking ‘thank goodness for my sentimentality’. Whatever those mundane domestic objects were imbued with over the years served as a crutch for me today. Their stoic utilitarianism brought the strength of my Mum and my Gran to life. The act of beating, stirring, and mixing was a salve to my troubled thoughts. To the chaos of shock, to that feeling of not being able to catch my breath.

Who knew baking a cake could be so therapeutic?

Baby It’s Cold Outside: How To Hygge With Kids in the House


While some say hygge, the Danish obsession with getting cosy, is passé, I say it is still very current and for the Danes, it’s not a trend, it’s a way of life. It is well and truly embedded in Danish culture. While there is no direct translation in English for hygge, it can be described as a feeling of unfussy cosiness, wellbeing and safety. It is loosely related to the English term ‘hug’, so in a way hygge is like a warm hug, but it’s not quite as straight forward as that.

Having just returned from three weeks in a hot (very very hot) climate, the winter is wreaking havoc in our house. I’m trying embrace the cosy, warm, snuggly things about life. Which, to me, says one thing. I need to get my hygge on. While hygge is not dependent on cold weather, the climate in Denmark means that warmth and cosiness are a big part of it.

As the parent of three small children I have looked longingly at interior magazines where the home has captured the essence of hygge. Simple Danish design, earthy tones, candles placed atmospherically around the room; simple, stylish and no clutter to be seen. Attaining hygge in my home seemed as likely as a family trip to the top of Mt Everest. Why would I even try?

Yet, having done a little bit more research into hygge, I now believe that hygge is an every-man’s concept and no matter what your circumstances, you can achieve elements of hygge in your life, even when you feel like you’re drowning in Tonka trucks and Barbie dolls.

Meik Wiking, Director of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen and author of “The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well” explains in his book that hygge is about “atmosphere, and experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling we are safe…” On reading this I realised that not only was hygge possible with a busy and rowdy family life, it was necessary as an antidote to the busy chaotic lives we all lead.

Here are some of the key elements to hygge that Wiking outlines in his book and how, as busy parents, we can incorporate them into our everyday.

Togetherness

An essential element of hygge is human connection. Hygge is not about battening down the hatches once winter arrives and going in to hibernation. Inviting over a family, who have kids the same age as yours, for an afternoon or evening of sharing food and chatting is a way to create connection.

Part of hygge is the sharing of food so no need to take on cooking for the whole tribe, ask your guests to bring something to share. The kids play together and eat together, reinforcing their connection and the adults enjoy some conversation, wine and sharing of food while the kids play. Wiking notes in his chapter on togetherness that “the best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships.” So making the effort to create a connection will benefit your children, your guests and yourselves.

Food & Drink

Food and drink is another essential element to hygge, but it is simple low cost fare that wins the day. Slow cooked stews with meat and potatoes, cake, sweets with coffee or hot chocolate. The key that makes this hyggelige (meaning hygge-like, or hygge in nature) is the element of ritual attached to the food.

Spending a cold Sunday on a hike with your kids and coming back to a house smelling of a warming, slow cooked casserole. Getting your children to help bake a cake, it is the sitting down together for an afternoon tea of hot drinks and home made cake, that makes it hygge. A sense of smell is a wonderful trigger for nostalgia, and the smell of home made cakes or slow cooked stew can trigger wonderful memories for the gown ups, while making wonderful memories for their children.

Home

Wiking describes homes as the ‘hygge headquarters’, which makes sense given the element of warmth, cosiness and safety that contributes to hygge. The hyggekrog, which translates roughly as a nook, is a space in your home where you can snuggle down with a blanket, a hot drink and a book.

Our little nook

Australian houses are less likely to have a nook like this, partly due to the modern trend of open-plan living, but it can be as simple as a favourite chair or corner of the sofa that you can retreat to. Cuddle up to your kids in this space, read a book together under a blanket or share a treat (such as a piece of that cake you baked earlier).

Candles are also considered a not-negotiable for achieving hygge. Having small children doesn’t exclude you from burning candles in the home – just make sure you place them out of reach of little hands, and don’t forget to blow them out. All things wood are another essential ingredient; wooden toys, timber floors, a piece (or several pieces) of timber furniture. Wood is hardwearing and durable so is the perfect material for a family home. And of course, wood to burn, but many modern homes are no longer built with open fires. An outdoor fire pit or chiminea is a great alternative to to an indoor open fire place – and  no child would argue about toasting marshmallows outside.

Including elements of nature inside your home is another way to achieve hygge at home. Indoor plants, tree branches and leaves, twigs, pine cones and animal skins. Going on a nature walk with your kids is a great way to collect some of these elements, and spending an afternoon collating a nature display is a lovely way to do hygge (although probably leave the animals skins to the professionals!). Books and ceramics also make for a hyggelige feeling, and can be picked up cheaply in your local op shop.

Hygge isn’t expensive, in fact most hygge activities are frugal – encompassing connection, slow living and a feeling of wellbeing. Hygge is “humble and slow” according to Meik Wiking, which makes it a perfect lifestyle to incorporate into family life – after all, we know that our kids are happiest when life is simple, calm and full of love.

The Importance of Finding Purpose

The idea of ‘finding your purpose’ can be all sorts of scary. Call me a cynic, but the idea has been appropriated by all manner of gurus, counsellors, and coaches who don’t have entirely noble intentions. It is not uncommon to see ads proclaiming to help you find your purpose (at a cost) and achieve a lifetime of happiness.

It sounds cliched, I know this, but I have found that a sense of purpose can only come from within. While I acknowledge that it is not as black and white as this, as different people have different struggles, ultimately, it is as black and white as this.

It just requires honesty, and perhaps a little bravery.

I want to be clear also that purpose and passion are two entirely different things. Again, the idea of ‘finding your passion’ has been appropriated for marketing value and has come to be a meaningless statement. We’ve been sold this idea, but at best it may be something temporary, at worst it is a flakey premise with little or no substance. But purpose is something else entirely.

As soon as I let go of the anxiety around  ‘finding my life purpose’ (as if it was a singular golden ticket to a happy life) and sat with the idea of peaks and troughs, my life became much more purposeful and deeply satiating on many different levels.

For some, their purpose maybe getting up each day to tend to their children – creating and nurturing family life, for others it may be to create art, or for others, go to their place of work and do a day of honest graft. Different things appeal to different people. But finding your purpose, to me, is about feeling like you are home when you are doing what ever it is.

I’ve accepted that purpose is fluid; just like people. It seems crazy to me that you discover something and expect that one thing to fulfil you forever more. Growth comes through continuing to explore multiple purposes in life.

I’m grateful that I’ve never got caught up in the idea of status. I don’t care what car I drive, as long as it’s safe, I don’t care that I don’t live in a castle; I only want my home to be a haven. I’m not fussed about fancy clothes – I want to feel good and comfortable. I don’t care that I am not changing the world or saving the world from itself.

I’ve found purpose in doing enough paid work to help pay the bills, but not so much that my children never see me. I’ve found purpose in temporary projects, like the #100dayproject (which I’ve written about here), I’ve found purpose in planning our next family adventure to Vietnam, I’ve found purpose in baking a simple treat for my family.

I guess what I’m getting at is that purpose is fluid, and it can be whatever brings you joy, motivation, contentedness. Yearning is natural, that cliche “the grass is always greener”, it’s a cliche for a reason – because of the truth in it. I yearn for many things – sometimes those yearnings are in conflict and soon dissipate, other yearnings are more consistent, and longer lasting. When I follow these up it helps bring me my sense of purpose.

In paying attention to what brings me this sense of purpose, I’ve also established what I don’t want from life. I don’t want to be harried and rushed and hassled, because it leaves me irritable and grumpy. I don’t want to be anyone’s slave or a slave to any one thing. There’s no satisfaction in being a martyr. I don’t want to accumulate much of anything – not money, not clothes, not modern gadgets.

Filtering in both directions – looking at what you don’t want, and then seeing what nourishes you, is a great exercise. Essentially it is about being mindful (that ole buzzword!), and tuning in to yourself – often we have found our purpose already, but just haven’t taken the time to notice.

I’m interested in this idea of purpose and what it means to others.

I’d love to hear what brings you to your sense of purpose? 

Womenfolk Series: Elizabeth McDonald – Meet My Mum

IMGP1039As most of you know, our family lost our Mum three years ago and we still feel her absence keenly. On Mothers Day in particular – not just because it’s Mothers Day, but because Mothers Day marks the beginning of the end of her life. Mothers Day was the last time I saw her at home. It was the last day we shared a cuppa, and the last day that we had a proper conversation. After that, for the next couple of weeks, it was just the hospital bedside, and Mum, asleep.

But I don’t want to dwell on the sadness, or how keenly I feel her absence. Or how much I know she would have loved my three-year old, if she’s had the chance to get to know her. I’m not dwelling on that, because it makes me sad.

I want you people to get a feel for the woman that she was. So today for my Womenfolk series, I introduce you to Elizabeth McDonald, my Mum. [Read more…]

Authenticity – Just How Authentic Is It?

Hell yeah

Flowers styled by Martine Cook at The Whistle

When you work in the ‘online’ world, the concept of authenticity is always amongst the chatter. To succeed as an online writer, you have to be ‘authentic’, prove your authenticity. It’s overuse is becoming somewhat tiresome to me, and when I hear someone spouting how authentic they are, I struggle to stop the sneer from ruining my happy-selfie face.

The thing is, by virtue of working online you must orchestrate, curate and create in order to find your place. And you must convince. This is why it is also known as the ‘virtual’. So why bang on about being ‘authentic’ when the concept of online authenticity is an oxymoron? It automatically leaves me skeptical.

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” – Hamlet, Act III, Scene II

[Read more…]