Christmas was a day of blessing, of excitement and sunshine, quiet and calm, candlelight. It was perhaps the simplest and gentlest one we've had as a family (in part owning to my being so weary and recovering from recent illness), and yet it was a day overflowing with love, and mugs of warm tea, good food and company, hearty thankfulness.
May all God wants
to bless you with
come to be, and may
your inner mangers,
fresh with hope,
hold wonders of His love,
and splendors of His world,
and wisdoms of His word
May peace surround you,
behind and before you,
your words and work,
your hearth and kin,
and all the friends
you haven't seen,
in your heart speak:
the prince of peace
And as the trees of the field
clap their hands,
may you sing joy -
marvel in the clouds
bees and sprouting seeds
full plates and grubby chins,
it all begins with love.
Winter ending and all about us glimmers of colour and life emerging: growing grass and velvety moss a shocking green which months of soaking rain will bring. There's blue through skeleton trees, that if you look carefully reveal tiny shoots and buds. The garden gifts us lettuce, spinach and broccoli florets and the fattest worms we've ever seen. Longer days means more eggs laid and outdoor rambles before tea. I spy a rainbow on the fridge and all manner of drawings plastered above boys' beds. So much good food on our tables, freuqent celebrations for little things. And everywhere we look daffodils and jonquils blooming. Thankful //
Midwinter is damp and overcast and my hands ache in the cold // We enter our fifth lockdown and return to the rollercoaster of big feelings and disappointments, slowness and exasperation // The heater is lit every day and kept glowing hot over night, and the nook beside it is perfectly cat shaped // Wood cut from trees that blew over in the storm are stacked up to dry // Craft brings much comfort - face masks for friends and family, a colorful beret from leftover yarn scraps and a thin nae shawl in a delicious deep red // Hope is a short walk every day on my own, ruby rose hips on a dry vine, wax flowers on the kitchen bench, flower buds on the Chinese quince // Hope is everything beautiful and true and praiseworthy, the Good Shepherd who leads me gently on, in everything we can't see yet, a cup of hot tea, a ray of sunshine on the cheek //
Lovely things bringing colour to my life: golden fennel flowers, profusion of pink hebe and the zinnias about to open // in my hands a top I'm knitting for my sister in the most theatrical and luscious yarn, a row added each morning and evening as the kettle comes to boil // on the table flowers for my son, to mark his 9th birthday and also balloons and a giant fruit mince pie (as requested), holding this beautiful human tight and delighting in him reading, snug in my hammock, as the sun sets // the sight and sounds of the farm's not-so-little and very enthusiastic goat kids, nibbling our hands, tickling, bleating for oak leaves (or anything really) // cutting fresh plums in half for tarts, eating them whole, stewing them slowly // savouring the summer rain and mild mornings, the return of school, beginning of kindergarten and my weekly studies, sandal wearing and overnight-zucchinis and everything this season brings...
"The question of attention in the age of digital media may ultimately come down to the question of limits, the acceptance of which may be the condition of a more enduring joy and satisfying life. What digital media promises on the other hand is an experience of limitlessness exemplified by the infinite scroll. It tempts us to become gluttons of the hyperreal. There is always more, and much of it may even seem urgent and critical. But we cannot attend to it all, nor should we. I know this, of course, but I need to remind myself more frequently than I’d care to admit."
- M.ichael Sacasas, from his article: "Attention, Austerity, Freedom"
Earlier this month I quit instagram.
I had spent almost six years sharing publicly: lovely photogenic bits of my life: farm, kids, meals, garden, sunsets, flowers in hand and crafty projects. Highlights and carefully curated lowlights, poems, recipes, thoughts. It was almost six years of watching other people's lives too, people I knew in real life and others I'd never met before - their faces, homes, artworks, babies, businesses, handmade clothes, coffee mugs, freshly baked loaves of bread.
I joined in 2015 when everyone else seemed to be there. I was drawn to the visual nature of it: photos with little notes accompanying. It felt so much more interesting and enjoyable than other social media platforms that were focused on text and emojis. It also seemed a more convenient way to share (and follow) than writing and reading blog posts. The blog was dead, we all said. I had a toddler and a newborn baby, we were learning to farm and start a small business from scratch - it seemed the perfect place to document the journey: to fix the beautiful, ridiculous and important scenes in time.
Then something began to shift in me, in the platform, my feed became a way to idealise my own experiences: an easy way to escape the monotony and difficulty of life with three tiny people dependant on me and a business that was holding on by fragile threads. I thought about it constantly, and in the middle of moments, how I could document and caption them later in a post.
I loved how it gave me a sense of accomplishment, a reward for my doing. I loved how it seemed to justify and reinforce the life choices I had made. I loved how connected I felt to people, how it allowed me to do less real life socialising and the (more difficult) reaching out to friends and family through phone and email. I also loved how immediate the feedback was - almost instantly - the likes. I'd rationalise that the liking and comments weren't important: they weren't a reflection of me, or my worth - but in my body was a different story: the quick release of dopamine-laced warmth was something I wanted everyday if I could, and I was becoming addicted.
I felt gripped, somehow beholden - like I couldn't leave but couldn't stay. I was spending on average 1.5-2.5 hours every on it. Scrolling, checking, reading, liking, watching stories, posting, re-reading my own posts and reviewing other people's posts I'd put in my bookmarked folders for ideas and inspirations (inevitably leading to looking up patterns and products). I called it a "little hobby", "a non-essential", "a tool for decompressing" but really it took up a big part of my life.
I tried extended breaks from it - some for a few weeks, the longest was four months. It would follow a predictable pattern: I would feel increasingly unhappy and overwhelmed using it, decided to leave for a while, delete the app from my phone, almost immediately feel better to no longer have the temptation to use it, followed days later by sadness and irritability (a withdrawal of sorts, with regular unlocking and locking of my phone), followed by calm relief, clarity, peacefulness. I would ask myself why I even used it anymore, and talk to friends and family who were willing to hear me ramble around in circles. Then I'd decide to return - download the app again - resolve to use the platform differently, with more boundaries and a lighter grip. It wasn't the platform, it was me I'd say, I can approach it differently! And I would, to begin with... but then I'd inevitably circle back to the uncomfortable, addictive mode.
In the past twelve months I've read and listened to some really thoughtful, challenging articles, podcasts and books on how social media is changing us: our culture, politics and relationships (see bottom of this post for more references and links). I really believe we need to speak about our experiences and gather together to brainstorm some best practice tools for these platforms and the important needs they meet - as well as call for appropriate governmental industry regulation.
I recently borrowed Jaron Lanier's books "10 Arguments for Deleting your Social Media Right Now" and "You are not a gadget" from my local library. I'd seen Lanier in the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, last year and was intrigued in his perspective as a computer scientist and "internet pioneer" but also a philosopher and musician. He is deeply concerned about social media platforms that play into our human desires for attention, approval and connection, whilst also exacerbating addiction, sadness, alienation, irrational behaviour, intolerance and mob mentality. He asks why organisations that purport to be "for people" rely on the free sharing of data that is collected and sold, targeted advertising and algorithms aimed at modifying human behaviour that ultimately go against people. Pit people against each other. Lanier is not anti-technology, or anti-internet - quite the opposite - he is calling for more dialogue around how to nurture personal dignity and promote diverse and kind community within the online world. These lines of his really stood out to me:
"The most important thing to ask about any technology is how it is changing people"
"If we associate human identity with the digital reduction instead of reality at large we will reduce ourselves"
In the end quitting instagram was my answer to an ongoing dilemma I found myself in. It felt good to realise I did have a choice and this could be mine. I know it doesn't "fix" the structural problems within the platform, or my own baggage around why I became addicted. It also creates a new burden of exploring ways to stay in touch with friends and connections made primarily through it. I really do miss "seeing" the glimpses of life on there - the creative community and diverse, provocative voices. I need to make more effort now to seek those out in other ways.
Quitting marks the end of a six year chapter - almost as old as my second born son. And while it is sad and painful in many ways, it has also made space and time in my life for something new. It has allowed me - so far - to rest, to contract, and to begin things I have long dreamed of like re-enrolling in my studies and in launching a monthly newsletter celebrating the seasons of life.
Some things to consider if you are using social media and not enjoying it, or at least debating whether you should quit. Let's call it Eight Steps to Quitting Instagram:
Step 1. Ask yourself some questions
-Why am I using this platform? Has my “why” changed from when I first started?
-List the positives and negatives you experience using it. Is one list longer or are they even?
-Track average time spent using it each day or week. Multiply it by a month or a year for some perspective. Be curious, not judgemental.
-If you want to stay, what would make it better for you?
-If you want to quit, what is stopping you from doing it?
Step 2. Talk your answers out with someone
Choose someone you trust to really listen to you - not tell you what you should do - but really listen, dig deeper on those answers you wrote down to the questions. I found this step especially cathartic and clarifying (thank you lovely people who know who you are).
Step 3. Try an extended break
Like a month or more. You could delete the app from you phone, ask someone to change your password or even disable your account if you feel that would help you get the break. Notice how you feel during the break: again, try writing some thoughts down. I usually found every time I had a break I felt pretty blue for the first few days. Like really sad, flat, unmotivated. I let myself feel that and try to be empathic...
Step 4. Remember you have a choice
… to stay… to quit. It's yours. It's going to be different from your best friend, your spouse. You can quit and decide six months later you want to join again, or two years.
Step 5. If you want to quit, you can download your data
This is assuming you want to actually delete your account and thus wipe your data. If you want to keep a record of your posts, messages, photos, stories, comments, activity - you can actually request this from the company. Go to settings and in "security" you can click request your data. It took about two days to receive mine.
Step 6. Make a book or prints from your favourite posts
There are many companies that will allow you to link up your social media account and easily access your photos. This is NOT an advert but I have used Artifact Uprising, Vista Print and Snap Fish for photo book printing and even fairly happy with the results. Friends have recommended Chat Books and I’m sure there are dozens of others similar.
Step 7. Ride the wave
This isn't really a step, or maybe it is. Ride the wave of letting go of something that was a big part of your life. Bake a cake. Dance a little dance. Have a cry. Light a candle.
Helpful further reading and listening on the subject
10 Arguments for Quitting Social Media Right Now by Jaron Lanier (2017)
You are not a gadget by Jaron Lanier (2010)
Rage Inside the Machine: The Prejudice of Algorithms, and How to Stop the Internet Making Bigots of Us All by Robert Elliot Smith (2020)
CBC's Ideas Podcast with Nahlah Ayed
Episode: The Joy of Mediocrity, March, 2020
Episode: Engineering Humanity with Brett Frischmann Part I + II, April, 2020
Episode: CBC Massey Lectures with Ron Diebart
Radio National's Big Ideas Podcast with Paul Barclay
Epsiode: The Inherent Prejudice of Algorithms, Jan, 2021
Epsiode: Ginger Forman on how trolling causes real-life harm, Nov 2020
Deep Brain Podcast
Episode: You can't hit unsend, Sep, 2019.
- Mental Health and Social Media (ABC news)
- Athleisure, barre and kale: the tyranny of the ideal woman by Jia Tolentino (Guardian)
- Attention, Asterity, Freedom by Michael Sacasas of The Covivial Society
Years ago when I blogged regularly I would do a review at the end of year using photos of my feet. It’s kind of odd to think about now but at the time seemed an apt way to honour where my feet had taken me over twelve months.
My feet are bony and long-toed and roll slightly inwards. “Pigeon toed” as a kid, sometimes tripping over myself, class mates noticed and made fun of me. For years mum took me to see podiatrists and I wore orthotics in my shoes to help my feet walk as they should.
Yet I have always loved walking. It is when I feel both alive and restful. Closer to nature and to the urban, to God.
It has been a year of walking. Short solitary walks, almost every day on the farm have sustained me. Given me relief from the strain I felt at home. Helped me reconnect with my body and my breath. Helped me notice the subtle changes of season: watch birds and grasses and cloud covering. A moving space to cry or rage or grieve in, talk it out, let it go, play with ideas, pray.
It has also been a year of walking with others: most of all my three children. It was the thing we most looked forward to and needed after a day of balancing (rather haphazardly) chores, egg cleaning, meals, schooling - the time after lunch we would be free to roam and ramble. Walks became our daily reset button, and oh did we need them.
Then there were a few special walks with my sister and friends after weeks of not being able to see each other: time to chat vigorously and move our legs, notice the season unfurling around us. My dear friend came on a walk with me in spring, and she took this photo. I think it’s my favourite from the year, a reminder that 2020 was a year of walking too...
So many things made Christmas feel special this year: waking up with my sister and a dear friend to celebrate with us // Filling the house with flowers from the garden: feverfew, smoke bush, hydrangeas, valerian, lavender, dahlias and nasturtiums // Feasting on so many delicious things like ricotta pancakes for breakfast, trout gravlax Alex prepared, creamy potato salad with homegrown dill, rosemary crackers the boys helped me make with the best local pate, pavlova adorned with fresh fruit, cherries and roasted peanuts in their shells // Spending the afternoon outside in the mild summer air napping, playing games and reading books // Watching the house grow dark and quiet after all the excitement and intensity of the day // Lighting all the advent candles and saying a payer of thanksgiving for the Christchild and all the gifts He brings...
Eight years ago I made a skirt from the most beautiful fabric I had ever seen: a linen and cotton blend by Japanese textile designer Nani Iro of dark blue with sage and green and purple and cream and yellow gold hues. We were living in France and I had recently had my first baby. I was 23, and learning to sew clothes for myself felt exciting and daunting in equal measures. It was a gathered, high-waisted skirt with a zip, I had just enough fabric to make it. And while I loved it, I found the skirt to always a wee bit tight.
In eight years my body changed further. I developed an autoimmune disease and lost and gained weight, I moved house five times, I became a farmer, I grew and birthed and breastfed two more babies. The skirt was sometimes worn (partially zipped), but eventually got packed away in my sewing box to "do something with one day".
That day came recently when I decided I really wanted to modify it; extend it's waist so I could wear it with comfort (and joy!). I unpicked the zip and the gathers on one side of the skirt - I inserted a piece of dark blue linen in the waist band (since I didn't haven't any of the original fabric left) and re-attached the gathered skirt and zip. I added a little silk thread embroidery to blend the linen in - but also make a feature of the modification, a whiff of whimsy.
The skirt reflects my body in many ways: the lines and scars of wear, of use and growth. I am softer than I was eight years ago, softer to touch, yes, but also softer in my heart and mind towards myself. I speak kindly to the face that looks back at me most of the time: the body that enables me to do and feel and sense so much life. I am also stronger than I was eight years ago, in muscle and also in resolve to stand up straight and speak clearly to the world of the things I care about, the hopes I hold.
Making clothes is never just about the clothes, it's a story of who we are.
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb
If I were a wise man I would do my part, -
Yet what I can I give him, give my heart
~ Christina Rossetti
Today marks the fourth and final week of Advent where we consider the gift of love. How wonderful it is to be able to bed loved and to love others! Do you know it is because “God first loved us”: his immense love for us that is the reason Jesus came to the world at all? It is from this place of great love that God desires relationship and connection with each one of us and Jesus makes possible through his birth, death and resurrection. Jesus said: “Let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (John 1:4-7).
Look for opportunities to show love to others this week: love that is patient and kind, that does not envy or boast or keep a record of all the wrongs. Love without expecting anything in return, love born of compassion and grace.
Let us pray as we light the fourth candle on our Advent wreath, the candle of Love:
Thank you for the great love you have
for every one of us. Thank you for our
capacity to feel love and be loved by
those around us. Give us opportunities
to show your love to others: love that is
patient and kind, that does not envy or
boast or keep a record of all the wrongs -
love without reciprocity: love borne
of sacrifice and grace. Thank you for being
above all else a God of LOVE. Amen.
This is a Christmassy twist on classic play-dough which includes cocoa, cinnamon and essential oils. You can even mix in a little gold or silver glitter. It makes a lovely, creative gift for young children in a container with a few cookie cutters, interesting rocks and gum nuts to play with. See instructions below for how to make baked salt-dough decorations with it which you can hang on your tree.
Festive Salt Dough
You will need:
- 1 3/4 cups plain flour + 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 cup fine salt
- 2 tbsp oil
- 4 tbs cream of tartar
- 2 cups water
optional: add a few drops of essential oils such as sweet orange and clove
Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and stir over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, until the mixture thickens and comes away from the sides of the pan. Tip out onto a clean plate and roll dough into a ball and let it cool before playing with it.
** You can make decorations with your salt dough by rolling it out flat, cutting out your desired shapes. Gentle poke a hole near the top of each shape (the end of a pen or pencil works well) - this hole will be what you can thread ribbon or string through so it can be hung up. Arrange your shapes on an oven tray, and bake for 15 minutes in a moderate oven at 180’c. They will harder as they cool. Once cold you can paint your decorations or brush with glue and glitter etc. Thread ribbon or strings through the holes and hang on your tree **
ABOUT the author
Emily Clare Sims is a farmer and mama to three young boys. Each day she looks for ways to notice beauty, contemplate her faith and savour the seasons...