Wednesday, December 19, 2012

twenty five years on

A few days ago the small world that is facebook has reconnected me with Nick who I haven't seen in about 23yrs. Today was the twenty fifth anniversary of his older sister's unexpected death when aged 20 she collapsed in the street in York from an undiagnosed brain anomaly that I used to know the name of but have long since forgotten.

I had known Heidi from Yorkshire Friends Summer School, she had been there as a Stu(dent) Hel(per) the one year I went as an attender rather than as a Stu Hel myself. I was 16 and still fairly new to the world of Quaker youth events, whilst I'd been to JYM earlier that year (over the Easter weekend for 16-18yr olds) and a couple of Link Group weekends, Holiday School was a whole new world. It was a whole week for a start off. At these events I had discovered it was possible to get to know people in a way that just didn't seem to happen at school, people I'd known for a weekend seemed to know and understand me better than those who had known me since playgroup, we had deep and meaningful political and spiritual conversations I'd never dreamed I'd get to have with people my own age. So a whole week together with people like this was a pretty mind blowing experience.

The Stu Hels as far as I was concerned were all amazing, but Heidi stood out for me. She reached out to those of us who were new whether we were 13yr old E groupers or 17yr old A groupers and made us feel part of the 'family'. She sang and played her guitar and led the music activity group I was in - so many songs will always remind me of that week at Ampleforth and of Heidi. Holiday School and music are intertwined so deeply; whether the songs were from sitting around with a guitar and singing in free time, in activity sessions, the old time and country dances from the socials each evening or out of the silence of the epilogues - especially the last night one (which had some classic play lists the years I was there). My cd collection has so many albums that are there because of Holiday School, which when it boils down to it only equated to 3 weeks of my life between 1986-1990 yet has influenced my entire life since.

I can remember sitting there one day watching Heidi and thinking 'I wish I could be like her', when I went back as a Stu Hel and following that switched allegiance to Northern Friends Summer School and went there as staff for several years over two eras (one in the 90s and again in the 00s) it was Heidi who shaped the way I worked, and even the songs I sang and shared. Not only did I help at these week long summer events but at countless weekend events across the north of England and Scotland with various groups. There is much less for Quaker children and young people here in Aotearoa NZ but still I have kept involved, even if some years it is only helping out with them at Summer Gathering. I remember how important it was to me, and I want to enable others to have something akin to that experience, and to have someone there who fills the Heidi shaped hole for them.

I missed Holiday School in '87 as I was on the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage so that one week was all the time I ever spent with Heidi. I was living on the farm with the Brockleys when she died, after Helen told us Ruth and I sat in our room in tears not wanting to believe it was true. Luckily we were able to make it to the memorial service for her; all through it as I listened to the ministry and remembered who Heidi had been to me I found going around and around in my head the song I had first learned at JYM and that we had sung at Holiday School that same year. It seemed to capture her so perfectly, yet I couldn't quite manage to get myself to my feet and start to sing. Afterwards it turned out several others had been having the same thought and we all wished we had...

So, twenty five years later... this is for Heidi, for Nick and Kate and everyone else who misses her too.

Building bridges, between our divisions
I reach out to you, will you reach out to me?
With all of our voices, and all of our visions
Friends we can make such a sweet harmony

Saturday, December 15, 2012

in the money (ish...)

For the second time in my life I find myself with what to me is a substantial amount of money in the bank. Last time was in 2005 when I eventually got the pay-out from my ex for my share of our flat. That money was what enabled me to come to Aotearoa NZ and be Resident Friend in Wellington. I knew that if I was careful I could make it last the 18 months I was contracted for and a further 6 months on a visitor visa whilst I figured out how to stay here!

This week I got my redundancy payment. Whilst nowhere near as much as the last payout (especially if you think of it in pounds, yes I know the exchange rate is in my favour but still the number looks a lot smaller!) it is still enough for me, with my relatively frugal lifestyle, to live off for about 6 months once added to the modest savings in my account. Thankfully I'm not needing to pay for any round the world tickets out of it just yet which makes life considerably easier.

The temptation to spend is strong, even for me, but my wish list is things like a new battery for my laptop (which now only works when it is plugged in), replacing my 10yr old gortex jacket which even with the best will in the world isn't going to manage to keep me dry for another winter (it has been re-waterproofed several times!) and splashing out on an overlocker which really does fall into the 'want' rather than 'need' category - especially as I have no idea where I'd store one! I know Jess sorting through some of her late grandfather's collections this week ended up with me having an extra empty drawer in my room (woo hoo!) but it would be pushing my 3D packing skills to reorganise my belongings to that extent. Even if I did buy all those things though I'd still have a comfortable amount left in my account.

I know that there will be relieving work in both kindergartens and other ECE centres in town to top up the funds next year which gives me more 'wobble room' but what is stopping me rushing to spend the money (apart from waiting to actually try a jacket on rather than speculate online!) is this continuing sense that change is about to happen - possibly heightened by the associations of the last time I received a lump sum! So until I have more idea what that change might be I'm holding fire.... well almost. I did order a beginners Italian cheese making kit which arrived today, so now I'm trying my hand at ricotta rather than just paneer. I watched Ben & Charlotte make mozzerella when I was there a couple of weeks ago and I decided it was time to get a bit more adventurous. We'll see how it goes!

Friday, December 07, 2012

more than oats

I was reading Rachel's blog post about Quakers being associated with oats and sometimes not much more, even in Nicaragua and it made me think about a conversation I had on my way back from Auckland on Monday.

I was in Kerikeri waiting for the shuttle bus to take those of us from the Auckland bus the rest of the way home and a guy sitting at the picnic table next to me asked if I was waiting for the bus too. We drifted into conversation about the journey and the convenience of the bus (even if it takes 7hrs, well it does for me, he was only going as far as Kaeo which spared him 3/4hr of that!) and got round to why we had been in the big smoke. A meeting yesterday I replied, and catching up with friends either side of it whilst I was down there. A meeting on a Sunday? he queried, yes it was for church, ah right. So I simply asked what he had been doing - he had been installing solar panels on a house on Waiheke Island so I told him about the photo-voltaic array that had been installed on one of our church's buildings back in January and how at the Meeting yesterday we heard it had fed 3.8 megawatts back into the grid over the last 9mths. I added that we had a strong testimony for the earth and that the photo-voltaic array was as more about setting an example, education and lowering our energy footprint than about feeding into the grid.

After a short technical discussion he asked which church was that? Quakers. I didn't know there were any Quakers in New Zealand! Well there aren't many of us, but we're here alright! He shrugged and said he didn't know much about Quakers, just what he'd seen on tv and films and stuff. I said that was most likely Amish rather than us and explained that whilst Quakers way back might have looked much the same we'd moved on a bit since then. Were we christian? Well not entirely - and many Quakers here and in the UK had a far more universalist approach, but in other places yes, they were very much christian. I told him there was a group that met here in Kerikeri, and one couple in the Meeting had built their eco-house 30 years ago. We continued the discussion on eco-housing etc and as we headed off for the bus he was looking thoughtful about our discussion.

Will he ever look into who we are further? Who knows but at least someone else at least knows we exist! I find myself constantly challenged about how much to say about Quakers and when, I don't want to be seen as one of those who rams their faith down other people's throats whether they want to hear or not, but if people don't know that we exist how will they find us? As Rachel says the question is whether 'to be or to be and to be known'; letting our lives speak is such a strong testimony and many of us shy away from vocalising what leads us to live our lives the way we do but if we don't share what drives us how will anyone know? Over the years I've challenged myself to be more open about it when people ask 'where are you going?' on trains, buses etc and other such situations, I try to gauge the depth of my explanations by how interested they seem rather than fall into a pre-prepared spiel.

I must admit when the guy on Monday asked me why I'd been to Auckland my heart sank as I knew that if I was to stick to my own decision on this I had to tell him but I just didn't feel like I had the energy to explain, but then a way opened to fall into it anyway. A reminder perhaps to me not to try to avoid answering the question and stick to my outreach commitment?!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

the sound of sirens

I don't know if it still does, but as I was growing up in Holmfirth the Fire Station there had a siren that was set off to call the firemen (and yes I mean firemen, I don't think female firefighters had arrived on the scene back then, certainly not in Holmfirth anyway) in in the event of a call out. There were some firemen based at the station full time, all of whom I knew at least by sight and some by name after doing my Guides firefighters badge. I walked past the station every day on my way home from High School and always got a wave from whoever was on duty.

When I moved to Kaitaia coming up for 6yrs ago it was the first time I'd lived within earshot of a station siren since I was 17, and still it reminds me of Holmfirth when I hear it go off. It also reminds me though of old newsreels and period dramas etc with the air-raid sirens, especially with the slightly eery tailing off at the end. There is talk of using them as tsunami warning sirens in various flood-prone areas as part of the Civil Defence system here, but they'd somehow have to make their sirens sound different or most people wouldn't react until the fourth round of it as up to three (which means all three engines are needed) is considered normal!

Since moving into town last year I've become far more aware of the siren, mainly from being 8km closer to it - we also hear more of the sirens of the various emergency response vehicles that can set off around the same time, sometimes followed by the sound of the air ambulance/rescue helicopter coming in over our street (and kindergarten) to the hospital to whisk serious cases off to the better resourced Whangerei or even Auckland hospitals. After an instance of hearing the full set we're usually pouring over the next edition of the local rag to find out what happened if we haven't already heard on the small town grapevine.

The station siren usually causes great excitement at kindergarten as it means there is the possibility of a fire engine going past or even better the helicopter. In some ways I suppose it is good that the children don't yet associate those sounds with sadness, injury, death and destruction, but when the siren blows for the third time, or has gone off on several separate occasions during the day, it is hard to acknowledge their enthusiasm. I for one am extremely grateful for those prepared to put their lives on the line to respond to the call and even if briefly hold those heading off in the light along with whoever is at the other end needing help.

The siren went off again tonight, twice, and was what prompted me to get around to writing this. Somehow it going off in the dark always sends a shudder down my spine, maybe it is the air-raid association and too many books and tv programmes like Carrie's War and The Machine Gunners... whatever the reason I hope everyone out there is ok.

Friday, November 30, 2012

where to worship

A couple of days ago Eleanor and I went to look at a room at the Peoples' Centre with a view to considering it as a possible venue for Meeting for Worship once a month. Currently we meet in each others homes once a fortnight-ish in the evening, the sort of once a fortnight that means if everyone is away or inundated with visitors one week we'll skip a week and meet the next. It is all very well for meeting the needs of those of us already coming but it isn't particularly practical in terms of outreach and advertising that we have a Quaker presence in the Far North! Also for those further out of town evenings aren't that great, especially in winter.

Another of our group was already familiar with the room and wasn't overly keen on it but we thought we'd have a look anyway. It was smaller than I had expected and certainly didn't have the lovely green outlook Cherry Park House in Kerikeri does where Bay of Islands Friends meet once a month. But it was big enough for our small worship group, had facilities for making hot drinks and into the bargain we'd be able to store a box of books etc there which would mean we didn't have to guarentee the same person would be there each month or keep dropping things off with each other inbetween times.

Recently Eleanor and I were in Kerikeri for Meeting, along with visiting Friends Ronis & Michael. We were rather envious of their ability to have a small library easily available, information laid out for enquirers and the fact that we didn't sit there with the lingering smell of someone's tea or the gentle hum and slosh of the dishwasher in the background! This renewed our determination to check out the room we knew was available and see what we thought.

It was funny how the fact that there was an old fireplace and a couple of period leaded windows made all the difference for us both. It gave the space some character. But surely it shouldn't matter what the room looked like to be a venue for Meeting? Well maybe not in theory but how a room feels certainly makes a difference to the quality of Meeting for me. When I was on the wardening team at Edinburgh QMH I sometimes got to show people round who were wanting to hire a space - so often people would walk into our Meeting Room and exclaim 'wow, what happens in here?' there was something about the atmosphere in that room that exuded calmness and peace. Given how much overseers (of whom I was one) and elders were being exercised at the time over various tensions and issues in the Meeting it was a good reminder that actually yes, there is something about that space that has become special. Not because it is sacred space in itself in the usual sense but that in that space Friends sought, and indeed found, a deeper connection with the Spirit.

So could we imagine worshiping in that room in the old museum building? We decided that yes, we could. It is light and airy, there is good parking, it is a well known building, it is 2 mins walk from where I live and only about 5 mins from another. It would be a big step to book somewhere and create a fixed point in our lives for sharing worship together. Would we, in an attempt to be more accessable to others make life more difficult for those already coming? Possibly, but BOI Friends say that despite the times when they end up with only one or two Friends present they wouldn't change the arrangement they have. I hope we too can keep the faith that we can make it work and go ahead with it next year. I'll miss the discussion about it on Sunday as I'll be in Auckland in order to attend MM, but I'll be holding them in the light. Fingers crossed the next step will be deciding how and where to advertise our presence!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

good hair days

My hair is stubborn. It doesn't like being told what to do... a bit like the rest of me really. It is fine and doesn't like being washed more than about once every 5 days or it gets too greasy. On top of that I get psoriasis on my scalp and on my hands which means that finding shampoo that suits my hair, hands and scalp has always been a mission. Sods law usually means each time I find something that works it ceases to be available or they 'improve' the recipe after about a year or two and I'm back to trying to find something else again.

In the UK I rarely used conditioner, my hair just didn't need it. But under the harsher sun here I've found I've needed it, which just adds to the trial and error process.

So when once again I was finding my scalp was not happy with the latest combination of products I decided to try something new. Well, something old really. I'd heard of homemade rosemary hair rinses before but it was only after reading Wendyl Nissen's book The Home Companion lately that I decided to give it a go - the basic instructions are here, the book recipe is a bit different, 2/3rds boiling water and after 24hrs add 1/3rd cider vinegar. I haven't been bothering to store it in the fridge (partly because there is seldom space in there!) the bottom of my wardrobe seems to be cool and dark enough.

So far so good - if I use the rinse plus shampoo once a week and just the rinse on wet hair after a shower once extra between washes my hair is soft, clean and shiny and more importantly my scalp is happy! With summer coming on it remains to be seen whether I'll still need to condition my hair occassionally too. A handy bonus is that I use far less water when washing my hair without conditioning it as it used to take me ages to rinse it all out properly - given how often we have water shortages around here this is definitely a Good Thing.

Due to our rosemary bush not being very big I've been using a mixture of rosemary and our more plentiful lavender, and with the latest batch threw in a sprig of mint too after reading this, if there is one thing we have loads of in our garden it is mint!

I'm enjoying finding another ways to use the produce in our garden. Okay so I'm hardly a big consumer of hair products so it isn't going to make a big difference financially nor in terms of packaging etc (especially as I buy eco-friendly products anyway!), but it is another of those small steps. If it encourages others to have a go then great, that is why I've blogged about it! But for me it is part of a longer journey towards reducing my footprint on the earth and working towards a more sustainable future.

ps whilst I wash/wet my hair in the shower I use the rinse at the sink, put the plug in and pour it over my head and use a cup to repeat this until all my hair and scalp is rinsed.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

marking time

Today was the annual end of year social get-together for the local genealogical society. Unlike last year where it teemed with rain and the venue of the croquet club would have been better for water polo given we had to paddle in and wade out, we had glorious sunshine and blue skies.

That was but one of the noticeable differences between the two events. Last year I was still very much the newbie, even though I'd been going for half the year I was still the 'new girl' and stood out as being both new and considerably younger than everyone else. This year I was still the youngest by over a decade but that was an improvement by at least half, and there were a good number of new members along who had joined through this year.

Before we ate our fabulous picnic spread we had grace, a moment when many of us felt again the passing of our dear friend Joyce who usually rose to such occassions. Given we're a group that spends our time researching and discussing the dead it has still been a tough year with the passing of several members and members spouses - the idea of adding to your family tree is not intended to be via your own death certificate. It does seem to be predominantly a retirement hobby though so I guess it is only to be expected.

We met this year at Butler Point, the Whaling Museum itself was closed for refurbishment but we had a fascinating talk from Jan Ferguson and a guided tour of the homestead and grounds. Such a beautiful spot, so tranquil... such a difference from what it must have been like in the 1800s. It was hard to imagine the place reeking of rendered whale oil and the Mangonui harbour so full of ships you could walk from the Point to the township across the decks of the boats. The homestead is restored to how it would have been in the time of the first residents, William & Eliza Butler and their family. For me it was reminiscent of the Colne Valley Museum, Beamish and other such places of my childhood.

Various items in the room settings were familiar for having been functioning parts of our own childhoods yes, even mine - although admittedly the tin bath at Granny's was for playing in in the summer rather than bathing! However I was the one who explained to the guide why the cooking range seemed so low - you try lifting a cast iron cauldron pot off something waist high when it is empty, let alone full of simmering stew, then you'll understand why the 'stove' was only knee high! But I'm probably one of the last generations to have grown up with a lot of those things around them, even if they were consigned to the coal shed like Granny's mangle, so museums like this become even more important to remind people of our past. Not only to see and appreciate how life has changed, but also to help us envision how to manage with lower levels of technology and find new ways of moving forward that neither rely on plugging everything in to electricity nor winding the clock back 150 years.

Other benchmarks of the passage of time there are some amazing pohutukawa trees, one thought to be about 1,000yrs old. Their knotted and twisted branches mean they are no use as timber and their wood isn't that great for burning so they've tended to survive the ravages of early European settlement far better than the much more versatile kauri and rimu, but these were far more impressive than any others I've seen here.

I came away with some great memories, some good photos (which I'll upload to Flickr soon...) and a renewed determination to one day get around to making a rag rug like I've been promising myself since I saw one being made at the Colne Valley museum when I was aged about 10yrs old! Oh and of course the usual monthly reminder to actually do some research myself and not just learn how...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

all consuming...

I was reading Cherice's blog post on ecojustice today and it prompted me to get around to writing this which I've been mulling over for a week or so. As she says it is the little steps that make the difference...

I usually reflect on a regular basis about my consumption of food, goods etc and try to be honest about what I need vs want and how I can improve my ethical and ecological footprint on the world. This is something I've done for so many years now that I couldn't say exactly when it started.

Over time different 'causes' have taken priority for different products; organic or not, country of origin, foodmiles, packaging, sweatshop/child labour, recycled products, fair trade, charity goods, sustainability of production... the list goes on. I soon figured out it was easiest to change one thing at a time, wait until that became 'normal' and then add in something else, plus things do change and boycotts come and go. Given on top of this I've already spent my life checking ingredients lists to ensure products are vegetarian and later dairy and (even later) wheat free, there is only so much time and energy that can sensibly be devoted to shopping! Switching from one side of the globe to the other required a wholesale rethink as foodmile rules of thumb got turned on their heads and there were a whole bunch of different products on the shelves than I was used to, so this slowed things down in the supermarket etc for a while I can tell you!

Sustainability has become the big watchword in recent years and I've been around discussions at various Quaker events about the impact we have on the world with our global and domestic travel. Given that I am someone who does travel around the world (literally) due to having emigrated but still wanting to visit where I came from, plus representing Friends at overseas events, I've been using this as my main focus for re-evaluating where I am at. For a while I tried not to fly domestically - but got scuppered on that front once I was working again rather than studying as it became impossible to get to YM etc and back without taking so much unpaid leave it wasn't practical. I still try to travel by land though when time permits.

Packaging, foodmiles and where possible organic produce have roughly been the order of priority for me regarding food of late. I try to avoid non-recyleable or excess packaging - discovering that the local wholesalers sells 1kg resealable bags of many items was a huge boon, especially as they aren't that far from home (unlike the local supermarket on the far edge of town - remember I don't drive!). I try to buy goods that are preferably grown/made in Aotearoa NZ, and the closer to home the better. But even packaged here is better than overseas as it mean less packaging has been shipped. Organic is a decision mostly made on price - I don't mind paying a couple of dollars extra but baulk at what can be up to four times the non-organic price.

The last rethink had been about milk/margarine. Marion's talk at Summer Gathering had led me to try using ghee (even better than butter according to her research and leagues better than marg) as I can digest that - I just don't like the butter taste particularly. The stronger taste did mean I used less though and my marg consumption has dropped considerably (one day I'll get her to write up her talk, I can't even attempt to explain it here!). But I still hadn't cracked the milk issue in terms of the type of fats and added sugars. Further ponderings co-incided with a stay at F/friends who were getting raw cows milk via a co-operative arrangement - they were experimenting making their own yoghurt, cheese and butter. I've long held the theory that my dairy intollerance is due to pasteurisation as I didn't have any problem with dairy when I had farm bottled milk as I grew up. The few occassions I've had it since have borne my theory out but I hadn't had the chance to make the jump easily as technically it can't be sold here for consumption. There are loopholes though and I got the opportunity to split a 2ltr bottle each week with someone.

So now with the aid of a kefir starter I'm making yoghurt (even easier for me to digest) one week and paneer the next - I then use the whey left over from the paneer process on my porridge and when I make my bread. Pretty much anything else I would normally use milk for I use water, whey, yoghurt or coconut milk (which at least comes in a recycleable tin!). I had monitored my soy/rice milk consumption for a while and figured I used on average 1 litre per week, hardly a high user, but in some ways all the more reason to move away from non-recycleable (up here) tetrapacks of a product grown, made and packaged in Australia at the absolute closest! Plus I got through about 3 blocks of feta cheese a month, ish... hence the paneer which is really quick and easy to make and can be made to be more like non-stretchy mozzerella than cottage cheese just by pressing it overnight.

So I collect locally 1 litre of milk from an organic farm (just over an hour drive away) in a glass jar that gets washed out and returned to be refilled - this so far has provided me with all my milk and cheese needs for the week and I am slowly building up small quantity supplies of 'spare' milk in the freezer for those occassions when I do need a little bit more for baking etc. Plus my cheese now doesn't come in plastic and only contains milk and lemon juice! Ok so I'm also still eeking out my lump of sheeps peccorino I got in Wellington but that always lasts me for ages.

Yes I know there are endless arguments against dairy cows but for now I'm giving it a go, another case of seeing it as a choice or compromise I guess. Trying this at a time when my hayfever was at its annual low point (when the privet flowers) in some ways didn't seem too clever yet even so I haven't ended up any more mucusy than usual and there don't appear (yet?) to be any obvious signs of the milk disagreeing with me. It feels good to be making my own yoghurt and cheese and the kefir culture sachets are far better than easy-yo packets etc in terms of content and of course packaging, especially as you can keep some back of each batch and start the next one with it for about 4 or 5 times before starting afresh. What is more it works out way cheaper and the kefir ends up with a cream cheese-like layer on the top from the cream of the milk too, I hadn't had cream cheese in years! Well that is my milk sourced more locally along with my veg - now I just need to crack the flour/grains conundrum!

At a workshop on Sunday we heard a reading describing how things might be in 2035, where locally sourced food and products was all there was left available - we aren't at that point yet, but deliberately moving towards it as much as possible in a planned way makes sense to me rather than finding it imposed on us with no alternatives in place. I hope we don't ever get to the point where we can't bring things in from elsewhere, I'd miss various spices for a start and many of the grains I use are imported. But if I think in terms of how much stuff gets shipped around the world for my daily benefit I'd rather keep my optimal 'shipping quota' for things I can't get locally than things that I can. I much prefer to make positive choices now that mean I have to make fewer compromises I don't want to later...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

the big C

Cancer. It has a lot to answer for. And this year it appears to have more to answer for than most as far as I'm concerned.

When our friend Natalie died earlier this year Ange described how she felt angry with cancer, yet how could you be angry with a disease? I knew just how she felt. I've lost two friends of my generation to cancer this year, both mothers of young children. One of my school friends also lost her husband to it recently and another's husband is currently getting treatment for testicular cancer. On top of this a family I know well in the UK and another friend here are in the unenviable position of currently having their mothers in a hospice with cancer. Last week I was at a funeral for another friend who died from the same, although given she was nearly 80 and had squeezed more living into her retirement alone than most people could hope to manage in several lifetimes you can't help but feel she had a good innings really. And that is just since March this year and are those who spring to mind without having to think about it too hard... on top of this are all the mentions on facebook of other friends who have lost dear ones through it. At least on the bright side Eleanor still seems to be in the clear after her treatment.

Is it one of those stages of life things where as well as the hatched and matched the dispatched start stacking up as well? Or is there really more cancer about than I remember in the past? Is it a case of greater awareness, better diagnosis or simply as a society we're more upfront and open about what is wrong? I just don't remember there being so many people I knew being affected by it in the first two or even three decades of my life. At least not so many younger than three score year and ten. I can think of one family friend who died 'young' from it during that time (hard to get my head around the fact looking back, but she probably wasn't much older than I am now!) but that is all, it seemed then to be an 'old persons' disease affecting my grandparents generation. Maybe my parents will be able to rattle off a list of ones I've overlooked, but the fact that I've forgotten or more likely never even knew about the cause shows that it wasn't really talked about, otherwise why does Lynne stand out as the exception?

Whichever it is, my thoughts and prayers are with Susan, Megan and the K-Ds as they either hope the treatment will cure or at least ease the passing. I watch with admiration as various friends do all manner of things to raise money for cancer research and can't help but feel that my monthly donation to the cause is a bit of a feeble cop out on that front.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

choice or compromise?

Mair blogged recently about deliberately becoming a 'lady of leisure' for a while, intending to do some writing and other creative things which led to an email conversation between us commenting on how hard some people find it to get their heads around the idea of deliberately not having a job for a while.

This linked in for me with some thoughts that were raised partly by Aletia's blog post about where is feminism these days and partly from my own contemplations a couple of months or so ago (before redundancy was on the cards as far as I knew). I caught myself thinking during one particularly stressful day at work after reading a book about living more self sufficiently 'is it wrong to just want to be at home with more time to do all these things rather than be out working?'. The thought felt like a betrayal on some levels - although I'm not sure who of, presumably those who fought hard for women's rights to work, but perhaps on some level of myself and the assumption that my contribution to society would be via the workplace.

My journey is similar to Aletia's, albeit starting almost a decade earlier, growing up with the assumption we could (should?) do anything and everything. I recently read Jill Tweedie's Letters from a fainthearted feminist which whilst not exactly stunning literature was a reminder of the politics around in the 1980s, particularly around gender issues. It is no wonder that we grew up assuming we needed to be Superwoman (albeit probably in less revealing clothing, plus Dr Martens and fringey scarf) to challenge the inequalities and suppression that undoubtedly had limited the options of earlier generations. But in the same way that I've accepted that I no longer personally have to prove that girls are as good as boys at a-z, I've also accepted that it isn't about not doing 'girls' things but sometimes doing them through choice not conditioning or lack of alternatives and it being ok to pick and choose your battle grounds. But don't get me started on the issue of aisles full of Barbie pink...

So, rewinding slightly, whilst going back to 'living like nana did' and being more self-sufficient is more time consuming I'm pretty sure that there is no need to throw the baby out with the bath water and revert to the social norms of that era too. If I spend some time basically being a housewife for a while (for lack of a better expression) it is a life-style choice, and no doubt a temporary one at that, rather than a compromise. Surely living in manner that helps generate home produce, is generally kinder to the environment, and allows time for more involvement in both the local community as well as the usual multi-layered Quaker commitments is still making a contribution to society just as much as going out there and earning a living? But it is simply not socially nor politically acceptable to be a 'stay at home not-a-mum', the down side of liberation perhaps?!

But still it is easier for me to make such choices than many. I don't have any dependants, nor a partner whose life is also affected. I have the luxury of being able to choose how I spend my life and money, rather than having circumstances seemingly beyond my control dictate it.There are what some would see as compromises in my life - there probably aren't many people in my age group content to board in someone else's home, but if I had to pay rent/mortgage and bills etc in the usual way the pressure to have a regular sizeable income would be far higher. But I don't like living alone, boarding is a cost effective way of not only avoiding living alone but sharing a carbon footprint and currently means I can contribute to society by helping someone else remain living in their own home more easily.

I try to focus on them as choices rather than compromises - compromise seems to imply that having everything for myself is what I should be aiming for, when actually I've spent a good chunk of the last 10yrs or more actively trying to have less! I don't see that as depriving myself but releasing myself, from a lot of stress for a start off. Instead of worrying about paying to fix the chimney or paint the outside of the house I'm left with cleaning the windows and weeding the vegatable patch - sounds like a good deal to me.

So where does that leave me in my ponderings? This post has taken a couple of weeks to write and has been cut-n-pasted, re-written and deleted so many times you'd think it was an assignment! Each time I come back to it a different aspect seems more relevant, but I guess the thing is to post this now and blog more later as the issues bumble their way around my head a bit longer, or not as the case may be!

Friday, November 02, 2012

'but will she jump?'

Me finishing my current post at the end of the month was in the newsletter that went out this week and gradually various children and parents have been asking me about it.

One 4yr old girl who I'm pretty close to is not impressed. I was trying to cheer her up by explaining that Bonny, who will be the new full time teacher, is one who has worked at our kindergarten in the past and I know she's a great teacher.

At the time we were up on top of the big boxes outside, stepping (for me, jumping for her) from one big box to the other, going up and down the three that make 'steps' and round and around in circles across the tops and planks between the big ones. This is a game we have played together for a while - she doesn't need to hold my hand to do this, but she clings on tight - mainly I suspect to make sure I go where she does! To get down from the blocks I'll often sit astride the parallel bars slide and slide down to the ground. There is usually a blue mat (thin crash mat) by the highest box that the children jump down onto (some hardy souls, or should that be soles... ignore the mat and simply jump barefoot straight on to the bark!). Due to having dodgy knees I don't jump down except in emergencies, much to the childrens' disdain, after all what was the point of climbing up there if not to jump down?

The children think it is funny that I climb up on top of the boxes with them as none of the other teachers do. So I was explaining to my small friend that Bonny was the sort of teacher who would climb up on the boxes with her too, so she'd still be able to play this game even after I'd left. She looked at me through narrowed eyes, considering this extra bit of information. Then she nodded, 'okay' she told me. There was a pause, then the big question 'But will she jump?'

Now Bonny several years ago would've done, that is for sure, but whether her knees are still up to that I have no idea, so I was careful how I answered. 'If she still can she would, we'll ask her when she gets here eh?'. She decided that was okay, but indicated quite clearly that she'll reserve judgement in terms of full approval until she knows for sure.

It looks like I'll probably be there until the end of term doing lunch cover hours anyway until they get a new lunchcover teacher sorted out, so the chances are that game will have run its course before I leave. But the question 'but will she jump?' has stayed with me; yes Bonny has jumped at the chance to come back, but what will I be prepared to jump for? And will my jumping be tempered against the wish to protect myself from discomfort and pain? Or will I end up jumping anyway as what I'm jumping towards has to be dealt with now and can't wait for a slower or alternative approach? I guess only time will tell.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Embrace relational uncertainty. It's called romance. 
Embrace spiritual uncertainty. It's called mystery. 
Embrace occupational uncertainty. It's called destiny. 
Embrace emotional uncertainty. It's called joy. 
Embrace intellectual uncertainty. It's called revelation.
-- Mark Batterson
This was on a friend's facebook status update today and it spoke to me. No surprises there I guess given my own occupational uncertainty and my belief that the universe has a plan even though I don't, which I suppose is another way of saying 'destiny'. The only thing with thinking of something as destiny is that I find it hard to take it seriously as it always brings to mind the line from Back to the Future where Marty McFly's father-to-be fluffs the line he's been given and tells Marty's mother-to-be 'You are my density' instead.... ah well.
We're about to start week two of term tomorrow (today having been Labour Day and thus a public holiday). As far as I know the interviews for the new full time post at work will take place this week and then once the decision has been made about who will get it (assuming someone will!) we'll start to have a bit more certainty about how the rest of term will shape up in terms of staffing. So I'll know if I need to work the last three weeks of term or not, and if I do whether it will be for 21hrs or 11hrs a week. Whilst I know that financially three weeks at 21hrs is the better option than 11hrs, or none aside from any relieving that comes along, it has to be said the idea of an extra three weeks free this side of Christmas has a certain appeal! I think mentally I've already filled up those weeks several times over with things I'd like to get done.
I've discovered that there is something quite freeing about uncertainty - it certainly gives me the perfect excuse to say to our new MM Nominations Committee that until I know what I'm doing next year I can't really take any roles on as I don't know what else I'll be doing, nor where that might be. I'm not expecting to move, and am rather hoping not to, but in order to be truly open to where the winds of the spirit might blow me I have to be free to be blown!

Monday, October 15, 2012


Well having given Deb & Jim the link to this lately I guess I should write something eh?

Term started again today, with avengence. I'm not entirely sure why today was so knackering other than perhaps the fact that none of the teachers had slept well last night having each woken with a start several times panicking that we'd slept in.... and tomorrow if they all turn up we'll have 35 children, god help us. Here's hoping that the in-undies (and somehow every other item of clothing he was wearing) explosion I cleaned up today isn't repeated, or at least if it is that it happens to them at home and they therefore don't come in! It is at times like that when the upcoming redundancy seems like the promised land.

I think a lot of it has to do with shifting gears though. Especially after managing to have a fairly relaxing term break despite travelling from one end of the island to the other and back. Making sure it was a relaxed pace did mean I was only able to spend a couple of nights at JYF Camp at Huia, on the Waitakere coast rather than stay with them all week but I'm so glad I went.

The drive down on the Sunday with John and the boys provided the biggest catch-up I've had with them since I moved and as ever the conversation was stimulating and varied and made me appreciate how rarely I end up in such in depth political discussions these days. It came in handy actually as yesterday I ended up answering one of those telephone opinion poll surveys where the Government's planned policy for plain packaging for cigarettes was a big part. I hadn't changed my view on it after my grilling from Francis but I certainly had my answers ready a lot quicker! (personally I think the cigarette companies will get around it by making the cigarettes themselves look more different from each other even if the packets don't, plus cigarette cases are bound to make a comeback as the latest must-have fashion accessory - and of course the tobacco companies will lead the way on that front I'm sure, no doubt complete with matching phone covers. Not that I'm cycnical or anything...). Stimulating conversation was obviously to be the order of the day as a meal at the Stover-Watts household with eight of us round the table was hardly likely to be anything but! Good to reconnect again with another part of my Kiwi whānau I haven't seen as much this year as I usually would expect to.

Whānau proved to be an enduring link through the whole trip away. The theme of JYF Camp was 'My Quaker Family' - I was leading a session about the World Conference of Friends in Kenya which was well and truly the 'family reunion' on the level that Nancy Irving (FWCC General Secretary) meant in terms of bringing together the many branches of the Quaker family tree but also my own personal international Quaker family was pretty well represented on most fronts. The inter-connectedness of different people's 'Quaker families' was the aspect I emphasised given I was talking to the internet/cellphone generation where 'friending' their F/friends school mates via facebook seems perfectly normal even though they've only 'met' them through dialogue on the mutual friends page! For me even the microcosm of JYF Camp (all 17 of us!) proved the interconnectedness of all things Quaker as I am on committees with 3 of the other adults present, had been at the Triennial with a slightly different 3 and of course with Liam and Brendan there we're back around to my Kaitaia whānau (even if Liam has moved!) both of whom I've p(r)oxy parented at Summer Gatherings in the past.

Wellington was the same really, catching up with friends and Friends who feel very much like family, we may only see each other once a year or so but such is nature of the friendships (admittedly helped to an extent via facebook and flickr) that it seldom feels like it has been that long, well not until they come along with a small child in tow who wasn't even a twinkle in the eye last time we caught up! It was of course lovely to meet Bill and Elphine in person rather than just via internet photos - quite odd though to think that Bill will grow up knowing me from here where he was born rather than the UK where I first knew his parents, aunt, uncles, grandparents.... Ok sure Greg & Nicole's boys and Katy's children only know me from here too but somehow that is different given that they were all born well before I got here.

One of the best bits about my travels though was the co-incidence/serendipity/intervention of fate that meant I saw so many of the people in this country who I was closest to at the 2004 Triennial, which was perfect timing really as I approach the summer wondering just what life has in store for me next. Not only a reminder to trust that the universe has a plan even if I don't, but that they've seen me through this once before and are there to do so again. Chris did make me promise though that if I do end up emigrating again that I have to go and visit him before I leave! Fingers crossed emigration isn't on the cards this time, I've been enjoying my recent years free of dealing with Immigration Dept and I'm so close to citizenship now I really don't want to start counting for that all over again...

Friday, September 28, 2012

being prepared

A few nights ago I had a dream, or perhaps a mental wandering in that hynagogic state that is neither asleep nor awake, given that I seldom remember my dreams and this one I can recall quite clearly. In it I was sitting chatting to someone at our dining table when the room was plunged into darkness due to a power-cut amidst a cyclone. Finding a match and candle was easy enough from there and then I went in search of my lantern in the Civil Defence Emergency kit which is stashed under my bed (mine isn't quite as comprehensive as the official list). This was the point where I realised that not keeping the batteries in the lantern was not a particularly cunning plan given the lantern was new and I was fumbling around in the dark trying to figure out how to put the batteries in....

I don't remember much that happened after that other than eventually I did succeed. Woke up with a mental note to self - check how the batteries fit in to the lantern!

Well I didn't write it on my 'to do list' did I, so it didn't happen. And then, last night when I was busy working away on my session for JYF Camp on the World Conference of Friends out went the lights! Gah... well at least I didn't need to bother with matches and a candle as my glowball lamp was by my bed so having found that no bother it gave me enough light to pull out the right storage bag and get the lantern and the plastic tub of batteries out. Finding which batteries was easy - I'd written in black marker pen on the back of the packs which were for the lantern and which for the kitchen radio and how many of each were needed (well I am my father's daughter after all!). What I hadn't figured on was how blummin' difficult the batteries would be to get out of the packet! So one very badly split nail later (half way down my thumbnail kind of bad) I managed to get them out. Unscrewing the lantern was easy enough, finding out which way up the batteries went in was easy enough. Getting the battery holder back in the lantern however was a challenge. Luckily my brighter wind-up torch was on my bedside table (glowball and torch I can find in the dark from my bed anytime in pitch darkness - handy when I sometimes need to take medication on waking in the middle of the night, hence having acquired the skill). Eventually I figured out that the batteries weren't quite in right and hey presto, one lantern.

Several thoughts went through my mind; I was glad it was just a power cut and not a major emergency given how long it took to get the lantern going (the weather was pretty wild and worse further south and probably the cause of the it); I knew I should've done something about the lantern after that dream; if you're going to have a power cut then just before bedtime isn't a bad time really - although as I hadn't yet brushed my teeth I sent up thanks that we're on town supply water and so didn't need an electric pump to make the water flow out of the tap (Not an insurmountable issue had we not had flowing water after all, as there is a large stash of water bottles under my bed too, but even so...); it made me appreciate having the CDE Kit and knowing exactly where to find everything in the dark/dim light.

On Wednesday it was the Big Shake Out so we had the children practicing several times at kindergarten on Tuesday to get ready for it. They were excellent and had the added bonus of getting to laugh at the adults trying to squeeze as much of themselves as possible underneath tables only 18" high and still leave enough space for the children to hide! Going 'turtle' with your head under a chair or table ended up being the next best thing. We are highly unlikely to get an earthquake up here - tsunami or cyclones are our main risks in the Far North - but just because we live somewhere safe doesn't mean we don't need to know what to do, we could easily be visiting somewhere less stable (ie pretty much anywhere else in this country!) when a big one hits. I, for instance, am off to visit Wellington next week - bang on a major fault line and well overdue a big shake.

I haven't yet returned the lantern to where it belongs, it is still on my bedside table. I'm dithering about whether to leave the batteries in or not. I guess now I know what to do (and they are out of their packet!) putting them back in the tub isn't such a bad idea. I've dealt with too many old leaky batteries over the years from unused items stuck in the back of cupboards etc to be all that keen on leaving them in - but then again...

Meanwhile whilst I figure out what to do with the lantern I guess I need to get back to being prepared for my talk on Tuesday! Thanks to one of the JYFs providing the techie knowledge (cheers Jonty!) I now have downloaded YouTube clips of the conference in case there is no internet signal at Huia (highly likely) and I've almost got the rest of it together so I'm feeling reasonably prepared - but not yet at the point where I could manage without notes which is I guess the equivalent of being in the dark! However 'tis bedtime again (thankfully still with power tonight!) and if I don't get to sleep soon I won't be prepared for doing anything tomorrow...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

playing god...

As those of you who are friends with me on facebook will know I've been spending a lot of time in the garden over the last month or so. Basically since we've had dry weather on my days at home and when it hasn't been too soggy underfoot (which given how much rain we've had this winter has been limiting at times - nextdoor's lawn has been masquerading as a paddling pool on a regular basis).

What I think of as 'last year', ie my first year here, I did some gardening on and off, but it really takes a year to get to know a garden and what is where. But I'd gradually been working away at various bits clearing the vegetable garden of the encroaching flowers (alstromeria and agapanthas), trying to keep the bark paths weed free and waging war on the creeping buttercup and convolulous that seem determind to strangle everything else in the garden.

Once the worst of winter was past though I set out to be more proactive, especially getting the vegetable garden more productive. What I soon realised was that I was reaping the benefits of my labours over the previous year as jobs that had taken all day to do before were now taking an hour or so. This has meant that on top of finishing off a couple of jobs I'd started ages ago to edge some flower beds to keep the soil (and weeds!) from taking over the path, the back garden is actually starting to look pretty respectable. It looks even better now Dan has restored the garden furniture to pristine condition from their decidedly tatty state.

A crack has appeared in the chimney stack which is going to get filled soon so we decided to shift the pot plants from around the base at the side of the drive to give better access. Of course once they were shifted it made sense to get in there and give that area a really good (and rather overdue) clear out of weeds, a build up of roots, soil and a collection of pebbles and shells mostly at least half buried. As often happens, one thing led to another and having got that bit tidy it showed how bad the rest of the strip down the side of the house was, so today I tackled another section of it. The job is by no means completed but it will have to wait until after I've been away next week to be finished off, meanwhile it does look a bit better!

I've reflected many times whilst gardening that it feels like 'playing god'; deciding what shall live and what shall die/be relocated/composted and turned into something far more useful (to me); destroying the homes of insects and lobbing the snails on to the drive or lawn for the thrushes to find; pruning things back (WGYF planners, pruning always makes me think of you!) and generally reshaping the world. I'm not sure quite what image of 'god' I have when I think of it as playing god - perhaps more of a Discworld one (Thunder rolls... a six) than anything more theologically profound, it does all seem rather Old Testament which is an image of god I'm not especially sure about.

Yet whilst I can't go along with creationist theories I can quite happily accept there being 'something' out there that is behind/underneath/inside of everything. For years as a teenager I fell back on the Star Wars 'Force' as a way to explain the concept of the Inner Light or that of god in everyone/everything to my school/uni friends who were trying to understand what this Quakerism stuff was that I'd got involved with. It still comes in pretty handy occassionally as an explanation I must admit!

Given how much my back is telling me about it I obviously wasn't using 'the force' with any amount of Jedi competence but there was a fair amount of brute force involved with shifting some of the more stubborn roots and creepers today. All I can say is thank goodness I didn't have to do six days of this before I got a rest...

Monday, September 24, 2012


On our news tonight was a piece about the Liverpool vs Man Utd match, showing the roses, balloons and the words truth and justice being held up by the crowd in memory of the 96 who died at Hillsborough. The recent clearing of the Liverpool supporters for the tragedy and the exposure of the enormous cover-up that occurred being way overdue.

This case has been covered by our media a fair bit, surprising given it is about something that took place over 20 years ago on the other side of the world. But I am grateful for it, It has made me think back to that time and two things have really struck me.

Firstly was the memory of sitting watching the news at my parents in the Easter Holidays, at the time they were living in the Channel Islands. I was in my first year at university in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, living in Castle Leazes halls of residence. One of our crowd, Andy - an ardent Liverpool fan, who lived on the corridoor below me had been really excited at the end of term about going to the semi-finals with his cousin. So there I was, on a wee island with no-one but my family watching the news and having absolutely no way of knowing if Andy and his cousin were amongst those involved. No emails, no facebook, no cell phones... and as most of us then suddenly realised as we were scattered around the country - most of us didn't have anyone's parents addresses or phone numbers. We had to wait until we were all back at uni to find out if Andy was coming back at all.

Thankfully he was there, he and his cousin had been in the upper terrace and had been involved with hauling people to safety. One of the first things we all did when we got back was get out our address books and get home phone numbers and addresses - no-one wanted to go through that anxiety of not knowing again, that horrible feeling of isolation and helplessness. I just love how these days through facebook when some disaster happens I often know within hours, let alone days or weeks if those in that area are ok no matter where in the world they are.

The other aspect that hit me was the realisation that I had forgotten that there had been a cover-up. I can't now remember how I knew the true story, other than obviously hearing what Andy had had to say. Most likely articles in the student newspaper and the Independent or Guardian and other such publications - I didn't watch tv in halls. But being a Social Studies student, and having covered the sociology of the media for A level, I had a healthy disrespect for mainstream media, especially the tabloids. Also I had a healthy disrespect for the police authorities - watching on dvd the series Our Friends in the North in the last year reminded me why that was! It is easy to forget now the way they behaved through the '80s, it wasn't pleasant. So I had believed the Liverpool fans, the doctors who had happened to be there and the journalists who didn't cow-tow to the official line, and was duly sceptical of the Taylor report findings. After all it wasn't that long after the Bradford City fire and that botch up, and less than 6 months since I'd seen for myself how the police story differed from what my own eyes saw at the so called 'Battle of Westminster Bridge' when the mounted police charged student demonstrators and one of my friends got kicked on the shin by a horse.

It is only reading up on it again that that is starting to come back. Luckily for me I had the luxury of forgetting it, it wasn't me or my family who had been blamed. Life moved on. I do remember getting a start though, when being driven through Christchurch not long after I'd moved here and seeing a suburb called Hillsborough. My driver was a fellow Brit though and he understood the instant connection my mind had made. It was more than the usual mixture of feelings about seeing place names from the UK being used here, although no doubt when the suburb was named it was long before the stadium had even been dreamed of! But where I could, and still do, laugh about Morningside, Costorphine, Portobello, Rotherham, Sheffield, Oxford and Cambridge (to name but a few) somehow Hillsborough didn't feel quite the same. It was almost like naming somewhere Cullodden or Glencoe and invoking the ghosts along with the name. It definitely brought with it a sense of unease. So whilst the details had gotten hazy with time, the underlying sense of injustice and horror was obviously still lurking around in my subconscience.

These days I'm only in touch with a very small number of my friends from Havelock Hall, Castle Leazes - and most of them indirectly. But over the last few days the old crowd have been very much in my mind. Somewhere I think I still have that address book, I wonder where everyone is now? Scattered to the four winds far more than we were that Easter, that is for sure.

Monday, September 17, 2012

getting on with it

Well thankfully by this afternoon I was out from behind my dark glasses and resuming some semblance of normality, albeit after I'd had a power nap admittedly.

Whilst trying to find things that Needed Doing that weren't overly taxing I got on to ironing some patchwork squares ready to sew them together to make a quilt top. Once ironed I figured there wasn't much point putting them back in the bag and set to laying them out on the sitting room floor working on the final layout (most of my patchwork works on a 'start with a general plan and then make it up as you go' basis). I had it all laid out, the intertwined koru of kiwiana fabrics and of autumnal colours, and went to get my camera.

I learned early on in my quilting days to take a photo once I'd got the layout sorted so that should something happen I didn't have to figure it all out again from scratch. This was after I had discovered that my cat Banjo had decided that his new hobby was quilt design too, ie after I had it all beautifully laid out he'd go and reorganise it as soon as I turned my back! Banjo stayed in Scotland when I emigrated, but the habit of photographing it all 'just in case' has stayed with me and I've had cause to be grateful for it a few times.

Great, I'll just email the photo off to... oh. In more recent years these photos have been shared with Natalie as we've encouraged each other along with our various quilting projects, helped make decisions on which fabric looked best for a sashing or a border, was the layout ok or did it need something in to break up the intensity a bit more, is it me or do those patterns just not look quite right next to each other? At Natalie's memorial her friend and quilting mentor spoke of how she'd post a quilting related photo on facebook and then find herself disappointed that Natalie hadn't commented yet before the reality of the fact that she wouldn't any more would register. This is the first quilt I've worked on in ages, so this is the first time I've had that 'oh' moment which left me wondering 'but who can I send it to instead?'

I know Jane will be popping in on Thursday, so that is okay - she and I often talk quilting at length, although her skills are far superior to mine - she makes works of fine art complete with exquisite embroidery. I really felt the loss of having someone whose skill level was comparable, and whose practical approach of 'I'm making it to be used, not hung on a wall and admired,  no-one will notice once it is on the bed/floor/cot/etc' fitted so perfectly with mine!

So I sat and thought, what would Natalie do? To which the obvious answer was - just get on with it. So I sewed, trimmed, ironed and sewed some more. By teatime I was knackered and more than ready to stop but I had the quilt top done. All it needs now is some sashing/framing and I need to go shopping to get material for that. Later on I even managed to sort some of the backing material out, that'll be tomorrow's project then.

I might not have her here any more to give me encouragement and ask later 'so how's it going?' when progress reports have dried up but I'm pretty sure that one way or another Natalie will remain part of my quilt making for many more quilts to come, as inspiration and motivation to just go for it, after all, it's only a quilt.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

as I see through a glass darkly

When I was a student (first time around) my flatmate Jo wrote a poem with that line in it (and yes I know she'd borrowed it - I just didn't know that then!), and I have been reminded of it over the last few days as I've peered at the world through sunglasses.

I've got a rather nasty virus (viral encephalitis for those medicy geeks amongst you, or those who just like an excuse to play with google) which amongst other things means I have conjunctivitis and photosensitivity.

Now my eyesight isn't actually that bad, even though I wear glasses - it's just that one eye is long sighted and the other short sighted and I get headaches without corrective lenses. However I've not had prescription sunglasses for a while having gone for contact lenses and cheapo sunglasses as my summer option - working with small children being the main reason. Of course conjunctivitis means no contact lenses...  and unlike one of my colleagues I've never managed to get the hang of wearing sunglasses over my glasses so this has meant that the last few days have been spent wearing my sunnies indoors, preferably in a darkened room trying to persuade my eyes that they don't mind managing without corrective lenses, not really.

It has taken until day 4 to be able to look at a computer for more than 10 minutes at a time, in fact it has taken until today to be awake more than I've been asleep during what would be considered 'normal waking hours'. In other words I've reached that point of being sick where you start to feel better enough to want to actually do something other than roll over and go back to sleep, but you still aren't actually physically capable of doing very much.

All my usual sickbed stand-bys of books, radio, music, dvds or sewing have been out of the question - noise sensitivity and horrible earache being one of the more prominent symptoms on top of sore/very tired eyes and a pounding head (not helped by trying to peer at soft focus text through aforementioned dark glasses...). The weather hasn't really been particularly helpful either - either the sunshine has been painfully bright (to me) or the heavens have been chucking a rather spectacular deluge at us. However unlike the 2yr old and 5yr old playing next door in the enormous puddles I didn't feel quite in the mood to run around screaming in delight getting soaked to the skin. Funny that.

I was bemoaning this feeling of frustratedness to Phyllis earlier today and she laughed and basically said welcome to my world! Okay so using her magnifing machine she can read, albeit in short stints but her eyesight really is not good. After all that is partly why I live here, to be eyes that can see, although the last few days have been the not-quite-blind leading the not-quite-blind. It made me really grateful that when doing the dishes or cooking I could, if I really needed to, lift my sunnies and peer in better light at what I was doing. Not for very long before the brightness got too much but enough to get the job done effectively. After several days my eyes have got used to focusing without my corrective lenses again and I can manage to type/read the screen as long as I do so in relatively short bursts. I also have good reason to believe that in a day or so all will be back to (my) normal again...

It has given me a much better understanding of what life being partially sighted is like - the frustration of almost being able to see well enough but not quite. I'm no stranger to partial sightedness - my Grandad gradually lost his sight through my teens, and I've worked with those who are blind/partially sighted but there is a big difference to being familiar with it from the outside and experiencing it for yourself. The trust games of being blindfolded and led around the room by a partner are great but the difference between not being able to see at all and almost being able to see is huge psychologically.

When you can't see, you can't see, and that is it, end of story - you just have to find another way. But when you hovver on the verge of full functionality there is an expectation on yourself that you should actually just be able to do it the normal way, so things take longer as you have to do so many things twice, once the usual way and fail and then try again in an adapted way.... I guess with time you'd get used to it and theoretically you'd automatically go for the adapted way, but human brains are strange beasts! Maybe it is the added combination of old age or perhaps simply stubborness but I can understand now better why I've witnessed so many repeats of trying and failing to do things the 'usual way' rather than accepting that asking for help or doing it differently in the first place might be a better plan.

Well fingers crossed tomorrow sees (literally and figuratively!) more improvement. If nothing else I've certainly learned how bad my touch typing is that is for sure, I really must make more effort to improve!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

endings.... awaiting beginings

Last week was quite a lot to take in really. Lots of endings and uncertainty about new beginnings...

The week didn't exactly get off to a flying start as I got made redundant. I've had a job share for the last couple of years and my job share partner had just been appointed for a full time post in our kindergarten. So the powers that be decided to disestablish the job share and revert to three full time teachers plus 11hrs lunch cover. I was offered the opportunity to take either full time or 11hrs but full time is way beyond practicality for me in terms of health (I only just manage my 21hrs some weeks, so 40 is way out of the question!) and 11hrs isn't really a living wage. So after a lot of emails back and forth and some soul searching I've decided to take full redundancy and see what relieving work I can pick up....

In some ways I'd been expecting life to change, I just wasn't sure how and when that might come about. I'm pretty sure I've blogged about the apprehension I felt about going to the World Conference in Kenya, knowing how the 2004 Triennial changed my life I had this unsettled feeling that change was once more on the cards and had assumed the World Conference would be the catalyst. Yet the event came and went and life went on much as it had been, yes it was a transformative experience but not in the turn-my-life-upside-down way the Triennial had been! Then more recently I realised I was about to clear the last of my debts and wondered what would happen next as every time in the past that I have gotten myself into a secure financial position life has shaken things up and put me back at square one and counting every last penny/cent again! I just didn't anticipate the way that this would happen.

It was looking back at this growing feeling that change was in the air that helped me make the final decision. Pretty much since I got back from Kenya (minus the half-expected life changing experience) I'd found myself sitting in Meetings for Worship holding the question 'so what does god want me to do now' in the light and hoping for divine inspiration, but all I ever got back was 'be still and know that I am god'. To which my impatient reply was 'yes I know that but what I am supposed to be doing?' until I finally twigged that what I was supposed to be doing was be still and know that god is there... harrumph. So I am now (slightly less patiently again) waiting to see what the universe has in store, working on the grounds that something has always turned up in the past and that getting anxious and trying to hurry things along or shape them myself has always ended up with frustration and dead ends.

It is rather ironic really that after a year of being over-committed on the Quaker committee/responsibility front I will find myself with more time on my hands to deal with it all just as several of those roles come to an end! At the end of the year our Monthly Meeting is amalgamating with part of the neighbouring one which is dividing in two, the larger part joining with us and the rest joining the next MM down the line and sorting out some geographical anomalies of boundaries that have been around for some years. For what feels like my sins I've been very much involved with the transition process and am part of the amalgamation committee which meant I ended up facilitating a day for our MM on Sunday addressing some of the issues.

It has been a painful process on many levels and brought about mainly due to the failing health and aging population that makes up the majority of our MM, so there is a constant flipping back and forth on the part of several Friends between wanting to hand everything over and not have to deal with any of it ever again and then not wanting to let go of control and change things as it means having to accept their own inability to manage. Add to the mix a certain amount of failing cognition and we find ourselves going around in circles a lot of the time - discerning gods will requires letting go of ego and seeking beyond individual preference, but that seems to be a step too far for many so it feels like a small group of us in our MM dragging them kicking and screaming along into a future that is nothing like they had expected, yet it is where the discernment of others is leading us. Ho hum. I keep telling myself that 'this too shall pass', that it isn't long now really to the end of the year and then it all becomes someone else's problem. Well okay, it doesn't really cease to be my problem but at least I get to share it with more people who are willing and able to deal with it!

As if those two things weren't enough for one week Saturday was spent saying goodbye to Natalie with her Kiwi based friends and whānau. Richard and the boys plus a couple of friends flew over from Australia to join us for a very special celebration of Natalie's life. It was a very moving occassion, with many a 'leaky moment' as Richard called them - just as well I took plenty of tissues, I needed them! I still find it hard to believe that someone who lived life to the full in the way Natalie did could be snuffed out so fast and so young. That night when I got home someone had posted something on facebook which I wish now I'd copied down as I can't even remember who shared it but it quoted some cleric explaining (to paraphrase badly...) that untimely deaths are more a case of crossed wiring in the universe rather than being part of a divine plan and that god greives them as much as we do. I'm not sure quite what I think of that theologically in the cold light of day but when feeling exhausted emotionally and physically it was a comforting thought as I crawled off to bed knowing I had to be up early again in the morning.

In memory of Natalie some of us who studied with her are working towards getting a community quilt made for Natalie's whānau, the beginning of what could be a major project... at least it looks like I'll have plenty of time for it!

Monday, June 18, 2012



A week ago my dear friend and former ECE classmate Natalie died of lung cancer a month before her 32nd birthday. She has left behind her husband Richard and her fantastic boys Matthew (almost 6) and Caleb (aged 3). She was diagnosed just 3 months ago after 3 solid months of chest infections, flu and bronchitis.  It never sounded that great but none of us  expected it all to be over so fast.

Natalie was a tower of strength in so many ways, taller than most of us she had a fabulous smile and an ability to talk to anyone; be it a stranger in a shop or on the street let alone during our on-campus weeks where the flexi-study intake tried to put faces to on-line names and those of us who lived out of Auckland gradually found our feet in strange surroundings. Our course was full time and full on. A Graduate Diploma meant 3rd year degree level assignments from day one. It was hard enough being a full time student, yet Natalie not only excelled at her studies but also managed to run a home, bring up her then 2yr old son on her own half the time as Richard's work took him away so often oh and continue to work part time and be pregnant for the last few months of it! As if that wasn't enough she was doing all of this from Sydney, coming over for on-campus weeks (4 in one year) and practicums (14 weeks all in within 12 months). On top of all this she was incredibly creative, kept her friends and family in touch with what was going on with regular newsy emails and lots of photos. In short she was superwoman.

She was the most positive thinking person I have ever come across - she could make Pollyanna look pessimistic, her enthusiasm was infectious. When we were struggling over a particularly difficult assignment she'd sigh and then cheerfully say, 'Never mind Cs make degrees!' and then of course get an A despite having finished her assignment at the airport on the way across for another on-campus week...

In the years since we were studying Natalie and I managed to meet up occassionally when she was over visiting her mum in Kerikeri. One time (pictured above) our paths crossed at Auckland Airport as she arrived as I was leaving for the UK for Christmas. They'd been on an early morning flight from Sydney which had been rather bumpy and not much fun - but you'd never have known it to see her.

It seems incredible that such a bright light could have been snuffed out. Finding out about Natalie's condition a week after Annie died was hard. I was so glad to get a chance in Kenya to talk with Rosie about Annie - we'd been pilgrims together and the two of them had remained close friends over the years. The grief at that time was still raw and Rosie said it felt like everything at the time seemed to come back to the same question 'yes but why did Annie have to die?'. At that point I was able to be more rational and philosophical, but now it is me with the same question 'why?'.

I know I answered my own question back there under the baking sun in Kabarak, that whilst it might not make sense to us there is often so much growth that can come from grief, so much good that might not otherwise have happened. I know how in ringing/emailing round classmates and one of our lecturers it has strengthened the bonds between us, I know that there are those who have gone to extraordinary lengths to fundraise for Natalie and her family and that the Australian Lung Foundation's coffers are fuller as a result of her request for donations to be sent there. I know there will be many more positive aspects when you see the long term greater picture, but... there is still a strong sense of injustice, like another of my classmates I feel an irrational anger against cancer, especially for depriving (yet another) young family of their mother - how can you be angry with a disease? But as Ange said, nothing makes sense with cancer.

Today, whilst Natalie's funeral was taking place I was in a meeting at work about a child whose lot in life has been unstable, full of violence and neglect - the complete antithisis to the start in life Natalie gave to her sons. Part of me was wishing that instead I could have taken that time instead to find a quiet space and be with those gathered at the funeral in thought and prayer if not in body, but the rest of me knew that the greatest tribute I could give to Natalie's life was to try to find the positive in the situation, to focus on the aroha I have for that poor kid who has been handed a raw deal in life and do my best for him.

I'm trying to think positive as I know Natalie would wish, but mostly right now even though I know the silver linings are there, the clouds are what stands out most.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

home group

I've (finally) started to make progress uploading my photos from the World Conference to Flickr. Some of the photos were taken during the home group facilitator training, that combined with thinking again (in the light of new contributions to the emailed reflections on Pardshaw) about tūrangawaewae, got me thinking again.

I really enjoyed my home group at the World Conference - we were a large group including Friends from Britain, Ireland, USA, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Myanmar/Burma, India and of course myself from Aotearoa NZ. I don't know about any of the others but I didn't really socialise with any of my home group outwith our sessions, yet this didn't lessen the sense of having a solid  base to go to most days for sharing our reflections on the conference, personal journeys in life and deepening our understanding of each other as individuals, representatives of different cultures, theologies and backgrounds.

Thinking about Pardshaw I know that there are many who I only ever see when I am there. Once we'd ceased to be YFs and prior to facebook coming along contact in between was sporadic and usually centred around organisation of the next get-together with the exception of a few of us hijacking the Pardshaw email list to share Christmas newsletters! But again there is that same sense of there being a solid base to return to (albeit with a longer gap between times and for more than the hour and a half or so we had each day in home groups!) where contact inbetween times isn't really necessary for the experience to be a place for deep sharing.

On the first day of our home group it became apparent towards the end of an introductory go-round that one of the late arrivals had very little English, only speaking Swahili and French comfortably. Thankfully one of the Kenyans stepped up to interpret for him for the remainder of the session. At the end my co-facilitator asked him if he would prefer to move to a French speaking home group but no, he was quite clear, he had been made to feel welcome and wanted to stay with us.

As the week went on a couple of the Kenyan Friends worked out between them a way of interpreting that required less consecutive interpretation using written notes as people spoke, and our Friend from Burundi got more comfortable using a little English with us (two of us had some school French but it became quickly apparent that he understood our English far better!).

On that first day one Friend seemed quite agitated about his inclusion in our group and thought he should be taken to the French group there and then. Whilst I'm sure she had his best interests at heart I am so glad my co-facilitator and I decided instead to continue on that day and let him make the decision to stay or not himself at the end. We were all very much the richer for having him with us and the interpretation time was valuable not only a timely reminder to those of us who have English as a first language to taihoa (hold back/wait) and not rush but it gave us added reflection time on what had been said.

It was a bit like heading over the Fell Road (Pardshaw to the Kirkstyle Inn at Loweswater) at the speed of the slowest 'wimps' walker  - it gives time to admire the scenery/light/flora and fauna etc in a different way than the head down ascent of the 'M word' (aka Melbreak) or other 'keenies walk' does when staying there (thank heavens I've seldom been fit enough for a keenies...). Having a small child or someone with health issues etc is never seen as a 'problem' at Pardshaw - time is made for them, to work around their needs. It enriches the community and possibilities, it doesn't take anything away from it. We're only human and therefore failable so the odd comment about loud snorers etc does get made, but you learn to take earplugs (or sleep in the drying room) if it bothers you that much! Those new to the gatherings may be a bit uncertain at first but if they are willing to trust and take part then they go away enriched and feeling a sense of belonging. As with home groups, you get out what you put in.

Our home group included people from many walks of life, thrown together for the conference. I many never see any of them again but I was so glad to know that they were there to go 'home' to each day. Spending that bit longer in each others company meant we got to know each other in a different way than many others I met often briefly, we shared more of our life stories, our hopes and fears, that which is mundane as well as eternal. All that was missing was a wall to sit on with a cracking view!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tūrangawaewae - a place to stand

Tūrangawaewae -  Tūrangawaewae is one of the most well-known and powerful Māori concepts. Literally tūranga (standing place), waewae (feet), it is often translated as ‘a place to stand’. Tūrangawaewae are places where we feel especially empowered and connected. They are our foundation, our place in the world, our home. (Te Ara )

A few days ago an email came round to a group of us asking us to write and explain why it was that Pardshaw Quaker Meeting House was so important to us as the trustees couldn't understand why anyone would want to go and stay somewhere so cold and damp - it's future as a Friends' hostel is somewhat precarious and has been for some years.

Well the first three to respond to the whole group were all ex-pat British once-were-YFs now living in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our responses were very similar - naming Pardshaw as a tūrangawaewae of huge importance to us both spiritually and emotionally. Part of me wonders if it is living in a place that culturally not only acknowledges and values such places in ones life that elicited such strong and quick responses, or if it is from living so far away - having somewhere like Pardshaw where it is so easy to get Friends together is worth its weight in gold when you only have a few weeks in which to cram your visiting in!

It is probably as an ex-pat that I have come to value Parshaw even more than I did before. Whilst I didn't get there last time I was over as Christmas and Hogmanay etc kind of got in the way (not to mention sub zero temperatures and lots of snow making it a tad impractical!)  having a Parshaw gathering is a big part of 'coming home' for me, a connection with a huge part of my life that was once upon a time Young Friends.

Not only do I think of it as one of my tūrangawaewae but also as an equivalent to a another Kiwi tradition - the bach. The bach (pr batch) is anything from a plot of land to a glamorous seaside residence but for most people it is a fairly ramshackle affair furnished with 2nd (or 3rd...) best everything which is a family (in its widest sense) retreat for generations. It too is a place for home-comings, but with that sense of being away from the world, a safe space to gather ones thoughts, reconnect with the land and just 'be'. The fact that it is often cold and damp, requires you to chop wood for the fire, shower (or not!) in the stables and use an outside loo is actually part of the appeal. In a world that is ever increasingly geared towards all mod cons and everything being faster etc staying at Pardshaw is a chance to step aside from that, to slow down, get closer to nature and connect with a way of life that is much simpler. Where you have to make your own entertainment be it sitting round the woodstove knitting, making music and chatting, playing cards at the trestle tables or sitting on the wall watching the world go by.

Staying at Parshaw is a bit like camping, only with the knowledge that you have better proctection against the elements and a relatively decent kitchen! Going there is why I own a 4 season sleeping bag, a thermarest, waterproof trousers and a frisbee. It is often cold and damp camping too, but plenty people still get the gear and go anyway!

The sense of history and connectedness is really important to me - whether exhibited through the journals of the various gatherings or the fact that Quakers have been worshipping there since the days of George Fox - the crags even have their own 'Fox's Pulpit'. As Quakers it is ours, it is a place we belong to - in the words of Dougie MacLean 'you cannot own the land, the land owns you'. For me Pardshaw is up there with Swarthmoor Hall, Brigflatts, Pendle Hill, Firbank Fell, Friends House and Woodbrooke; places of pilgrimage - to acknowledge the past and enjoy the present company of Friends.

Pardshaw is in many ways what has kept the people on Dawn's email list together as a community over the last 2 or 3 decades - we've watched children grow up from bumps to babies to adults, lived through deaths, marriages and divorce not to mention a good number of emigrations. The passage of time is also marked by the coinage for the meter, the phone box and Kirkstyle Inn cream teas all changing along with the addition of floorboards, mattresses, shutters and the woodstove - it is almost like a badge of honour to have stayed there (and come back!) pre-floorboards and shower! It is a place of many happy memories and yes, a few painful ones along the way but it is 'our place', Quakers as a community are often referred to being like family and Pardshaw is for me very much the family bach where I expect to be able to bring the clan together, not necessarily to celebrate anything or welcome home the emigrant, but simply to be together as a family in a place where we belong.

And where on earth would we go to be together if it wasn't there?