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New Year, Same Me: Just Better

I’ve always been a fan of New Years Resolutions, because it’s an excuse to procrastinate for the rest of the year. You know what I mean?

“I’ll join the gym in January. I’ll eat right next year. I’ll do better/be better in the new year, after [insert activity here].”

But then, inevitably, by January 2 or March 26th or some time early in the year, I’m back to my lazy ways of working through a Toblerone on the couch to Harry Potter, feeling like I could be better but resigned to wait for the next year.

I’ve been hearing a lot about One Little Word through Instagram, and some amazing podcasts I follow (Crafty Ass Females being the one that repeated it most!). Essentially, instead of making resolutions that will crumble within 3 months, you choose a word that is going to take you through the next year, like a focus term, or even a goal.

Thinking on this, I decided my word will be Strong. Not strength, because I feel like that is the past tense, strong – the action of becoming strong, of improvement.

This word has had a lot of meaning for me, all my life.

When my Mum was pregnant with me, she was prayed over at church, and she prayed for me a lot. Consistently, she received the same word, “strength”, about me. Even my name, Astrid, means strength of the Gods, in the Norse/Scandinavian mythology. (The version I prefer is strength and beauty of the Gods, but I’ll move on!)

Anyone who knows me and my story knows that I’m fairly strong, and resilient. I don’t let things hold me down for long, and I bounce back quickly. I’d say that strength has always been part of my personality, and I certainly have a strong personality too!

Looking forward, I want to become strong in myself. I, like many others, feel like I’m still figuring out who I am. It’s been obvious when I look at my dating history, for example! I’m great at being attracted to qualities that are there, but aren’t really being acted on. Ambition, it seems, is my biggest weakness, although I often don’t wait for the ambition to be realised, just verbalised. So my goal for 2019 is to get to know¬†me. Get to like me. Take myself out on dates, spend quality time with myself, whatever I need to do.

I want to be financially free! I, without question, make terrible choices with money. It’s as though, once I have any money, I want to spend, spend, spend! This habit has gotten me into trouble several times, resulting in my 2019 being a year of determination to get back into the green. I will be debt free by December, as long as I can continue with what I’m doing! I’ve always been good at saving for a goal, but saving just to save, useless. So, I’ve decided to set some goals for my savings. My cousin is getting married in October, in Bali (Indonesia), so I’m going to have to be careful with my spare money to save enough to go and celebrate as they deserve! After that, I’m hoping for a trip to South East Asia in 2020, and a full year in Europe 2023! That last one is still getting figured out, but that’s the goal to work towards, at least!

I want to become physically strong, too. I genuinely enjoy working out, lifting weights, but I dislike both cardio, and sweat, so I tend to find excuses to avoid the effort! Currently, my excuse is that I don’t want to spend money on a membership… but I’m perfectly happy to spend it on food, so really, I’m only holding myself back. I think I need to start pushing myself more, and recognise the value in putting my health first.

Lastly, going back to being strong within myself, I want to get better at knitting! That, for me, is one of the main goals this year. I want to publish at least two designs (big goals, I know!) this year, as well as completing other jumpers! I know that sounds like a lot, and it is a lot! But that’s the hopes for this year, at least!

I’ll leave you with a glimpse of Auseklis, my first jumper design, half completed and bringing in my new year.

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Latvia: A food journey

I talked last week about how my trip to Latvia, where my paternal side is from, made sense in a wholistic sense, in a way I could have never imagined.

One long-lasting impact has been the generosity and hospitality offered by my family. It is not a secret that the living standards and wages are higher in Australia than Eastern Europe, but the willingness and openness of food and lodgings were unending.

The meals prepared were often simple, nutritious and filling. Normally, I don’t eat breakfast regularly, and have my heaviest meals for dinner; whereas the European diet is much more substantial in the mornings, and lighter at night.

Unlike the last (and only other) time I was in Europe, there was much more seasonal food available, which meant I enjoyed a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.

One common element across many members of my family was the act of growing and preserving their own food. Greenhouses were found at most summer houses, growing foods such as mint, dill, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peas. We also ate a range home-preserved dill pickles and sauerkraut, which are staples in Eastern European cuisine (and a favourite of mine!)

As a reformed black-thumb, this was inspiring and exciting for me, and eating freshly grown, natural, and pesticide-free produce made me feel so much healthier and rejuvenated after a long and difficult term. It also made me much more passionate about reducing the waste in my own food journey, by growing and composting food, and pickling, preserving (or freezing) the surplus.

Returning home, two things have stayed with me.

Firstly, gardening!

I moved houses to a rental closer to my family with a huge backyard. There were already lemon, loquat, and sweet almond trees established, as well as grape vines. With a little effort, I have cleared out an extra space and planted a few vegetables, as well as finding cheap pots at a local hardware store and using those.

(Just a snapshot of some of my sprouting vegetables!)

I have growing: broccolini, lebanese cucumber, peas, capsicum, leeks, dill, and watermelon (all in the cleared space); tomatoes, parsley, chives, strawberries, chillies, and asparagus (in the pots).

I am so excited to watch these grow and bloom, and I have been researching inventive recipes to trial – particularly for loquats! I will share them as I go, successes or fails!

The second impact of my travels has been a desire to open my home and bless others with my hospitality.

I am an extrovert in personality, but I recharge on my own. I need my own space, peace and quiet, a good book and some craft, otherwise I cannot fill up my own cup. My experiences (particularly sharing a room with my sister and every moment with family of some description) showed me new ways to appreciate quality time on my own. At the same time, I love to surround myself with friends and family, and make others welcome.

Returning home, I had a friend stay with me for two weeks – and I tried to put into practice the experiences that I had learnt. While our preferences aligned well (no breakfast, relaxing at night in front of Netflix), I made sure to spend time checking that her needs would be met before she realised she needed them.

I really enjoyed having her over, and keeping front-of-mind hospitality and openness. It wasn’t so much a full-circle, but a spiral, where I learnt and developed skills and traditions of hospitality and generosity in my own life, and continue to develop these as it goes.

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Where do I come from?

When I was little, my Grandmother used to say to me, “you’re not Australian, you’re Latvian”. This confused me to no end, because I was born in Australia, brought up here, my accent is “occa” (strong Aussie – some say “bogan”!); and yet she was denying something I held close as truth.

My grandparents came to Australia from Latvia, a small country in Eastern Europe, during the mass emigration of World War Two. They brought with them traditions, strength, language and love of their culture, and integrated into Australian society at a time where to be different was noticeable (although, that’s much the same for any time in history…). My last name means “of the lowland or swamp”, which, while not the most exciting, I take to mean “grounded”, which suits my family well. Also, the Greek version means “full of fire”, which suits me perfectly!

I grew up admiring traditional arts like tapestries and long stitch, and when I in turn began to knit, it was something that brought me closer to my cultural roots. However, I didn’t understand how I could be Latvian – it’s as if my Australian-ness overrode my Latvian-ness, contrary to my Grandmother’s insistence.

On the other side, my maternal line is British. My grandparents met on a ship and came to Australia, my Grandad working his way up over time from a naval mechanic on Her Majesty’s Navy to a lecturer at the university I would one day attend. My Mum is possibly the strongest woman I have ever met, and she instilled in me a love for crafts – sewing for us as children, creating cross stitches to decorate our rooms and homes, and eventually teaching me to knit.

It has always been easy for me to connect with my British side – for one, I speak English! Australia is, in my view, very Western-Europe centred, and I have found it easy to find and connect with other fellow British or part-British people. Conversely to my “I knit to connect with Latvian culture but don’t feel it in my daily life”, I felt British connections regularly, but felt a disconnect in my craft.

This all changed, this year.

In December, I travelled to Manchester to meet my family there. Whilst there, I found several things I never connected with (mushy peas, overcooked vegetables at carveries, and rude servers), but I found others that I did – including my great aunt, who knit! Finally, my craft made sense on both sides of my family tree.

In England, I found strength and connection – a country that has been influenced by so much, and has spread its influence so far.

In July, I travelled to Latvia for 2 weeks on a sort of pilgrimage with my Dad, grandmother and sisters to meet family, and watch the Song and Dance Festival (oh my god, if you ever get a chance – it’s a must-see!). There, I connected with my Latvian culture on a level that I could never have predicted. The kindness and generosity of extended family members (or in one case, my cousin much removed’s husbands’ parents) has astounded me, and shaped a part of my identity that I never imagined.

Here, I found a different sort of strength and connection, plus beauty and fragility in a country rebuilding from decades under foreign rule, the generosity and smiles of tall, beautiful people who have a hard past and a magnificent future.

I’ve always known my identity was Australian. But all Australians are Australian-and-something. Australian-and-Indigenous, Australian-and-Malaysian, Australian-and-whatever. I found out I am Australian-and-British-and-Latvian – all three components make up me, and they each have weight within my soul.

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The Journey Begins

This is a new adventure for me, to journal and record my journey to a sustainable, slow living, eco-friendly life, as slow or as fast as I get there.

Who am I?

My name is Astrid, I’m a 25 year old from Western Australia, I’m a high school teacher, I’m a knitter, I’m descended from strong women and a strong heritage of culture and creativity.

How did this start?

Oh, so many levels!

I have been knitting since I was 17, when I couldn’t focus on my studies in my final year of high school, and needed something “mindless” to fidget with so I could focus better. My Mum (a creative woman in her own right, she has a knack for sewing and cross stitch, and making gorgeous quilts!) gave me two needles and some wool, and taught me how to do the basic knit stitch. I taught myself how to read and knit at the same time, and trawled local big brand craft stores and op shops for how-to instructions and cheap wool. I set goals for myself and started to cable, yarn over and knit as fast as I could, a skill that now provides me with down-time and sanity after a busy day at work!

I think many knitters go on the same journey as I have, to some extent. The awareness that wool is (at least, to me), long-lived than acrylic, and feels nicer in my hands and on my needles, didn’t take me long to reach. From there, I found yak, alpaca, baby alpaca, merino, cashmere… living out in the Australian bush amongst canola flowers and merino farmers for a year also deeply impacted my appreciation for natural fibres. I became a self-admitted “snob”, foregoing cheaper acrylics for natural fibres. But I never cared about the other elements of it – the dyeing process, the animal cruelty possibilities, or the myriad of other ethical issues that can arise.

I also started to look around for other creative outlets, and have fallen head first into the worlds of sewing, embroidery, and a few others that I’m peeking my way into! Similarly with knitting, I have an interest in using environmentally friendly, ethically sourced materials.

Taking a side step for a second, I have been teaching Geography this year, and one student project in particular has caught my attention. We asked them to explain the impact of farming or manufacturing a particular product on the environment, and my heart hurt to read their findings. The impacts of basic staples in my life, namely palm oil, coffee and cocoa beans, really resonated with me. I started to read more into the dangers and impacts of these products, and what I saw saddened me.

In Australia, we have such beautiful nature: red dirt, blue water, white beaches, yellow wattle; I am so in love with the scenery that I have grown up a part of. But we also have issues with pollution, waste, landfill, mining, possibilities of fracking, water shortages, and endangered animals – just to list a few. Why can’t I start to focus on my own ecological footprint, and limit my impact on my country; which could have a world-wide impact?

What will this become?

Honest answer: I don’t know! I want a safe space to fail, to share my success, thoughts, feelings and processes in becoming plastic-free, using sustainable products, and creating an ethically sourced and produced life, as much as possible.

I expect to move slowly, to fail often and surprise myself with success – but that will make my achievements that much sweeter.

Comment below with your ideas on where to start!

Astrid x