AUDACITY: A willingness to take bold risks. An impudent disregard for convention.
The Audacity of Youth
I was on a women’s community master mind call the day before yesterday and it will come as no surprise to some that I chose audacity as my theme.
Because if there is one thing I believe in, it is that women in the 21st century need be more audacious than ever before.
I started out in life as a most un-audacious little girl. If there as a rule, I followed it. I was not late for school and I did not jump my place in the lunch line. The very idea that I might find myself at the dark end of a reprimand left me quivering in fear. Homework was handed in on time. My room was tidy and my bed was made every day. I used my knife and fork in the correct hands and my elbows were never on the table.
I did what I was told.
A part of me rebelled at this. By the age of 10 I had big dreams of living on my own by the shores of a Scottish Loch where I could eat Lucky Charms for dinner if I wanted to – something that never happened in our house because we only ate Cheerios and certainly never for dinner. I lived with my dog and my horse and wrote books that told the stores of daring girls who slew dragons and tucked their skirts up under their belts while they climbed trees or fenced – verbally and with a broad sword – with villains and heroes alike.
Audacity was budding inside of me and taking root.
As I became a teenager, I became a bit more…questioning. My parents sent me to a wonderful all girls Catholic school where both my classmates and the faculty endured my early attempts at intellectual independence and rejection of all things conventional. I questioned everything – faith (obviously), why we had to wear a uniform, the need for homework (turns out I was right about it being useless), and why I couldn’t stand up and declare that being a teenager sucked without getting sent to therapy because, as we all know, your high school years are the best of your life and woe betide anyone who says otherwise.
Clearly, I was nuts.
But I never did anything truly audacious until I turned 19 and met a highly Unsuitable Boy (I thought I could change him – rookie mistake, I know), and became pregnant by the time I was 20.
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to live in England.
Perhaps it was growing up in California with its unremitting heat, or my love for English history, or a childhood spent peering over my mother’s shoulder as she read English mysteries and romances.
Or maybe it was the fantasy that because we shared a name, I must be Princess Diana’s long lost cousin.
Whatever the origin, it came as no surprise to me that I grew up and married and Englishman and that I now live on his island.
As an ex-patriot, there are many things I have learned about myself and my two homes – England and America – in my almost 10 years of living in England.
So I decided to write some of it down in the form of two lists – one list for the things I love about living in England, and one list for the things that…well…frankly, the things that drive me batty.
But let’s start off on a positive note, because let’s face it, there are a lot of Anglophiles out there and they are on to something. Here are the Top 10 Things I love About Living in England:
1. Drinking Tea:
You cannot survive for long on this cold, grey island without learning to love a hot, steaming cup of the warmth and light that is tea. And when I say this island is cold and grey, I am not joking. The air is often dark and heavy with an oppressive chill that seeps through the ubiquitous brick architecture and clings to you like cloak of doom. I’ve written before about the cultural touchstone that is tea – it is always hot, with milk, the sweetner optional. To the English, the idea of drinking it iced absolutely preposterous. They will drink it hot even in the blaze of an August afternoon (they say it’s cooling, even while it’s boiling). But then, the English have never really been hot, either.
2. Bacon Butties:
Like tea, this food is simple goodness. Take a hot piece of English Bacon (not the thin strips of fat found all over America, but rather a lean and generous slice of good quality pork), and place it in a hot, buttered bun. Some enjoy it with ketchup, but I do not think this is strictly necessary. Have a mug of tea at the ready, and tuck in. Just thinking about it is making my toes tingle and my mouth water.
3. The Right to Roam:
In 2000, Parliament passed a law that allows regular folks like you and me to walk across privately owned property for recreational purposes. All over the countryside, across farms and fields large and small, you see little wooden signs and stiles declaring “public footpath”. This is a hiker’s dream. You can put on your hiking boots, pack up your flask of tea and a bacon buttie for later, plot your course and march off in your chosen direction, fences be damned. To some, it might seem like a violation of the Sacred Cow of Private Property. But in a small country, where the countryside is loved and fiercely protected, if the public did not have a right of way over private land, most would see very little of this island. The Right to Roam ensures that any Englishman or woman has the opportunity to get to know the land itself. That right surely has to be as valid as the right to private property.
4. English Accents:
I love an English accent. It tickles my fancy no end that my daughter has one and my babies are developing theirs. The last time we visited my brother he made my daughter say “Harry Potter” over and over just because he liked the way she says it. One thing I learned quite quickly, however, is that there is not a single “British” accent, nor even an English one. There are many! In every city, there is a different accent, and sometimes within a city, too. West London sounds quite different from East London, which is different from the West Country, which sounds nothing like Manchester, which is nothing remotely like Liverpool which bears no resemblance to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Folks can open their mouth and within a few words and phrases, you know where they are from and (sadly) their family background. No data protection laws can secure that information! We live in the middle of England (literally, rather than figuratively). The local accent is quite unique, not quite Northern, not quite Midland, but definitely not southern. It is completely distinctive– “look” is pronounced “Luke” and people say “Ter-ra” as a farewell. James Bond and Adele would both sound very foreign here.
Imagine that a plumber makes a mistake and floods your bathroom with raw sewage. He then cleans up the sewage with your Egyptian cotton hand towel which he then rinses out in your kitchen sink before dumping it on the floor in front of the washing machine (true story). An American home maker might be inclined to “open up a can of whoop ass” on the SOB. An English housewife, however, may express that she is “not best pleased” with the use of her towels in this manner. In point of fact, she wants to hit the plumber over the head with a cast iron frying pan, but it would not do to say that to a tradesman, at least not in front of the children, the cat, or loud enough so that the neighbour three doors down sitting in their conservatory might over hear (a distinct possibility given the proximity of English houses to one another).
6. The Seaside:
I’m a California Girl and there is nothing I like better than a day at the beach. In England, this is less likely to involve convertibles, halter tops, white sand and sun tan lotion, and more likely to include a spontaneous romp through frozen surf (because – look – it bloody well isn’t raining so let the kids enjoy the fresh air!) in white underpants and a wooly jumper (the kids, not me, God forbid) followed by a plate of fish and chips and a medicinal cup of tea. Absolutely sublime and the kids love it.
7. The Church of England:
I grew up Catholic but I love the C of E. In many ways they are similar, at least similar enough that I don’t feel lost or confused during a service, despite the visual disconnect of having a lady vicar (that’s an English word for a priest). The lady vicar in question is wonderful, I might add, and the Catholic Church really needs to reconsider it’s position on women in the priesthood. But I digress. What I love about the C of E is that it has retained its sense of religious tradition as well as a glorious sense of grandeur when the occasion warrants, while at the same time being open to the possibility of change and modernization. Hence the lady vicar. And while I think the church made a mistake in it’s recent decision not to allow for the ordination of women bishops, I am encouraged that the vast majority of church leaders were for it and that really, the vote failed because of a technicality rather than any deep seated doctrinal objections on the part of the communion as a whole. I firmly believe I may yet live to see a woman Archbishop. Awesome.
8. The National Health Service:
If you watched the Opening Ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics last summer, then you know how much the English love the NHS. And I gotta say, it rocks. There is nothing to pay at the point of service. This means that there are never any bills. No co-pays. Immunizations are free. Pre-natal care is free. Prescriptions for children are free and adults are charged a very nominal fee of £6 for each prescription. Birth control is free. Doctors still make house calls, there are no charges for using an “Out of Network” provider and patients have the right to choose whatever doctor or hospital they want. If you need a heart by-pass, you get it. If you need dialysis, you get it. Yes, we pay taxes for it, but when you need a doctor, you never have to check your bank balance first.
9. English Television:
Some of the best television in the history of the English language has come from England. Just to think of shows like Absolutely Fabulous, The Vicar of Dibley, All Creatures Great and Small, and Downton Abbey is to think quality, serious comedy, brilliant acting, and writing that is second to none. Many classic American television shows, like All in the Family and Sanford & Son were knock offs of great English programmes (see how I spelled that?). And if you haven’t discovered recent classics like The Royale Familyor Gavin and Stacy then go find them on Netflicks or Amazon. You can thank me later.
What is not to like about a pub? From a former coach house with solid oak beams that has been serving the local farmers for 300 years to a modern micro-brew tavern, to a good solid neighbourhood “local”, there is something special about an English public house. It’s hard to say what makes a pub great. Some serve the most amazing Michelin starred foods, while at others you will have to settle for a packet of “crisps” to go with your pint. And that pint? It’s sacred. Every pint glass has a Royal Seal of Approval. The English take their pints seriously. My favourite pubs are the old, set out of they way variety, with names like The Headless Woman and The Slaughtered Lamb. Inside there is a warm fire, people at the bar in green wellington boots, and a dog bowl by the door. There should be a selection of beers from the nationally recognized to the local microbrew, and a variety of crisps, pork skins and peanuts should be in abundance. In the summer, there should be a beer garden with play equipment for kids. The chairs and booths should be worn and comfy, the decor no newer than Edwardian. The only music should be a local acoustic musician. Best of all, it should be within walking distance to home. In fact, a good pub is a second home, and if you are lucky, everybody really does know your name.
There are many other Things I love about England that didn’t make the list, things like an English Christmas, Fish and Chips and the Royal family (Queen Bess & Co, not the TV show). Would you add anything to the list? Take anything off? Leave your thoughts opinions in the comment section below:
Naming (and knowing) our foremothers is a powerful act. In matrilineal cultures, the naming of generations is a sacred. And there is increasing research that the genetic history of women is intimately interwoven with our mothers and passed from mother to daughter through the generations (see the book by Dr Christiane Nortrup’s book Mother Daughter Wisdom which is on my Goodreads bookshelf on the sidebar of this blog).
Sadly, most of us cannot name our foremothers much past a generation or two. I know that I cannot name any foremothers beyond my great-great grandmother and I find this very sad.
What I do know about my matrilineage is this:
I am KATIE, daughter of
TERRYNE, born in Pakistan and raised in New Zealand, daughter of
DOROTHEA, an Ack Ack gunner on the Burma Road, daughter of
DORIS, an anglo-Indian who studied music at Cambridge, daughter of
AIMEE BLOOD, a Scottish missionary to India.
Looking at these powerful and audacious women, maybe it explains why I am a teacher, an artist and a fighter. If I carry just a fraction of their audacity in my own genetic code I will count myself lucky.
My foremothers go only to about the mid to late 19th century. Perhaps there is more to learn, and one day I will find out more about Aimee Blood and why she decided to leave the safety and comfort of Scotland’s cold grey shores for the explosion of heat and light and color that is India (maybe that is the answer, lol!).
I know that Aimee married a young Anglo-Indian named Henry Bloomfield who was the son of an Englishman of some standing and an Indian woman. I am determined to find out more about this mysterious Asian foremother as well.
I love this photo. The love of the generations is so evident. I hope I am blessed to be in such an amazing photography someday as the oldest mother.
That would be a remarkable blessing.
In honor of International Women’s Day tomorrow, please name your foremothers in the comments section below and I will repost these names on the blog.
Remember, this isn’t necessarily about biology. Giving birth is not a requirement for motherhood so include anyone who mothered you or any of your mothers. Women are born, yes, but we are also created by loving and supportive hands ♡
I am an autistic mom and I have a confession to make.
It has been 21 years since I celebrated my eldest child’s first birthday. On Friday, I celebrated my last child’s first birthday.
Oh. My. Goodness.
I cannot put into words how difficult these last two years have been for me. Two babies a little more than 12 months apart will Wear.You.Out.
Add in a little thing called autism, and you almost come undone.
I have known since 1991 that infancy is not my favorite part of raising children. The noise, chaos, confusion, and messy physicality of it leave me breathless and I frequently find myself pressed right up against the edge of sanity.
It is only in the last few months that I have come to accept that a large part of my struggle through the first years with my children is due in no small measure to being me being on the autistic spectrum.
Intellectually I accept – no, I embrace – that the energy and demands of babies is necessary to their growth and development. Intellectually, I see attachment parenting (or evolutionary parenting, or natural parenting or however you wish to phrase it) as being best for babies. They need that close contact with their mother. Their little brains grow and thrive in the close attachments facilitated by breastfeeding, co sleeping. Their emotional well-being is strengthened by a mother’s physical and emotional commitment, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
But it drains me. And I don’t mean in a normal New Mother kind of drain.
By the end of each of my children’s first year, I have felt close to running away – far away – to a locked tower. To a place where it is quiet. Where I can regroup. Where I can focus my mind of books and learning and writing. Where I can retire into my head and just exist in the absence of the demands of my family. Where the only noise is the sound of a dawn chorus of birds or Chopin.
Do not get me wrong. I love my children. The older they get, the funner they become. I love toddlers and their endless quest to try everything. I love preschoolers and their budding inquisitiveness. I love sharing books with my older children, watching their TV shows with them, and spending time with them in silly conversations that develop into Big Conversations the older they get. I love encouraging and facilitating their interests. I don’t mind being a taxi and there is nothing a I love better than bringing out a plate of snacks for all the neighborhood kids.
I adore my children.
Being an autistic mom does not mean I do not enjoy them.
gBetween 1976 and 1983, Argentina was besieged by Dirty War.
It took a group of mothers – the Madres de Plaza de Mayo – to end it.
The phrase “Dirty War” refers terrorism waged by the state against it’s own people. In Argentina, the military junta, in an effort to control the people and limit resistance, organized the systematic rape, assault and kidnapping of anyone who spoke out against them.
The list of targeted people and organizations was long, but essentially included anyone who was a left-wing sympathizer, including union activists, Marxists, students and journalists.
Conservative estimates suggest that some 11,000 people were “disappeared”. But there are many who suggest the number is likely to be closer to 30,000 with some estimates reaching 45,000 people detained by the authorities, and then just…gone.
Imagine 30,000 people – mostly young and idealistic, fighting for civil rights against a military dictatorship, marched from their homes, schools and places of business. They likely faced torture. Some women were pregnant at the time and there are hundreds of babies of the disappeared who were taken from their mothers and illegally adopted by junta members and supporters.
Some of the disappeared were held in detention camps. A few were freed.
Most were never heard from again.
The junta hoped that would be the end of these “agitators”.
You would think that in this day and age finding stay at home jobs would be easy.
We have the technology, after all, to do almost anything from our computer screen. We can buy and sell just about anything we want (as long as its legal), we can get medical advice, house hunt, do our weekly grocery shop, pay bills, watch movies and TV – heck, you can even find your next spouse and attend a very good university, all without leaving the comfort of your home.
So why is it so difficult for most of us to find viable stay at home jobs or business opportunities?
The answer is simple.
Unlike large corporations like supermarket chains, utility companies, online superstores, and universities, most of us are not willing or able to step into the 21st century and accept that the working paradigm has shifted and that we can find stay at home jobs and business opportunities and work from home if we are willing to make technology work for us.
We can find good business opportunities and a stay at home jobs if we are willing to change the way with think about business.
The most important woman in early American history you’ve never heard of is Anne Burras.
In fact, you’ve probably never heard of most of the intrepid women who were the first European colonists in what is now the US.
We’ve heard of John Smith. We’ve heard of Captain Miles Standish of the Plymouth Colony. We’ve heard of Squanto and William Bradford and a few other men.
But where are the women?
They were in Jamestown, down in Virginia, and had been since 1608.
Thanks to those story tellers over at Disney, at least we all have heard of Pocahontas. We know that she was a beloved daughter of Chief Powhatan, and while her romance with John Smith is debatable, there is no doubt that she married John Rolfe and journeyed with him to England.
Sadly, in England she died, although her son with Rolfe, Thomas, survived.
But for some reason, we know next to nothing about the first English women to settle in the New World.
This is not surprising given that until recently, many women were illiterate as worst and semi literate at best. Nor do we do we find women in the records historians commonly rely on – contracts, journals, correspondence, deeds, manifests, supply lists and account books. For women, these records simply do not exist, either because women were not involved in commercial transactions, or had neither the time nor the capacity to record their lives on paper.
But we do know a bit about the first women and some of their stories are truly audacious.
You know what I love about today? Despite what lots of folk who hate this day of insipid greeting cards, environmentally toxic flowers and boxes of heart-shaped and bad tasting confectionery say, the truth is, Valentine’s Day has been celebrated for centuries.
Yep. You can’t blame this one on American corporate greed or sentimentality.
In point of fact, the current day of celebrating romantic love probably dates to the 14th century. Chaucer is one of the first to mention it, and it was also referenced by no less than John Donne and the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.
So Naysayers and curmudgeons can crawl back into their little caves of negativity and put aside their urban myth-busting swords – Valentine’s Day is, as it ever was, and ever shall be, a day for those who believe in love…and marriage.
While historians are not certain of the exact origin of the the feast day, many believe it stems from Roman times when a Christian priest was arrested and, you guessed it, persecuted. He was given the opportunity to renounce his faith but he chose not to. During his imprisonment and prior to his execution, he performed marriage ceremonies for Roman soldiers, who at the time were forbidden by law to marry. The emperor believed for some reason that married soldiers made bad soldiers – perhaps because they had something to live for.
I mentioned in an earlier post that everyone enjoys a good love story. Even more than a plain old love story is a story of Forbidden Love. Most of us are familiar with Romeo and Juliet. We may even have experienced forbidden love in our own lives – that boy in high school of whom our parents did not approve, or a romance that confronted and confounded our deepest beliefs about race, class or nationality.
Forbidden love comes in many guises. Star-crossed lovers are supposed to be just that – crossing paths, but never on the same journey.
Daughter. Mother. Wife. Abolitionist. Women’s rights activist. Public speaker. Reformist. Agitator.
By whatever label you apply, Sojourner Truth is one Audacious Foremother.
When it comes to an impudent disregard for convention and a willingness to take bold risks, Sojourner Truth is second to none. She was born Isabella Baumfree in New York state around 1797 – the exact date is unknown as the birth dates of slaves often went unrecorded. Her father, James Baumfree, was a captured slave from Ghana and her mother, Mau-Mau Bet, was the daughter of slaves captured from Guinea.
Like many stories of slaves, Sojourner’s life was full of separation and loss. At 9 years old she was sold for the first time to a violent man, and was subsequently sold two more times. As a young woman she fell in love with a man from a neighboring farm, Robert, and gave birth to a daughter, Diana. But Robert”s master forbade the relationship and “Belle” (as she was then known) and Robert never saw each other again. She was forced to marry an older slave, Thomas, and gave birth to a son, Peter, and two more daughters, Elizabeth and Sophia.
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