Wednesday, May 29, 2013

eco/ethical living

I found this post half written in my 'drafts' dating back to when I was in Wellington, but it is just as relevant today so I figured I'd finish it off! Over the last few months I've been doing the bulk of the shopping so I've been 'greening' the household - I'm not sure I'll ever convert the homehelp away from using Jif (yes it is still called that here!) but at least she's using it for fewer things these days and there are some more environmentally friendly alternatives around.

Our news this week has been full of the controversy around Dole bananas and their self appointed 'ethical choice' sticker despite child labour and spraying crops whilst workers are still in the fields etc. They have now removed the labels, whether their practice will improve remains to be seen. I was very glad to know that in recent months our banana consumption had been of organic bananas from Ecuador, high in food miles, but you can't win on all fronts.

Living in as ethically and environmentally friendly manner as I can is important to me and is partly why I board, alongside financial reasons and not actually liking living alone. Two of us sharing a house has a far smaller environmental footprint than two people living alone in separate dwellings.

I've been trying to remember where it started and have decided I can't. Having been brought up vegetarian and a member of the Vegetarian Society (who for some reason still send membership cards for my brother and I as part of our parents 'family membership' - you'd think their database might have twigged after 40 or so years...) it meant I had an awareness of ethical living issues fairly early on from discussions at home and reading the Vegetarian magazines (me being the kind of child that read anything left lying around).

I can't underestimate either the influence of growing up through British Young Friends - being a large, strong group with a fairly broad age range (then 16-30's, plus the likes of Dave and Horace...) it meant that I was socialising with people who had salaries and mortgages as well as students and so on in shared housing living off grants, unemployment benefit (in the days when students could sign on through the summer so that they could study rather than work) or low income jobs like clowning, peacework, or whatever gave them time and energy to be active YFs! Not only did ethical issues of daily living come up in conversation they were on our business agendas at YFCC (now YFGM) - ethical banking is one I remember clearly - moving our banking away from the originally Quaker Barclays Bank because of their involvement in apartheid South Africa to the Co-operative Bank.

Flatting with Quakers (as they say here! Sharing a flat with...) and like minded folk meant it was easy enough in principle to have a fairly ethical household, our restriction was financial but we did what we could, always aware that there was more to be done. Recycled loo roll was a given - Andrex was a no no, no matter how cute the puppy or any appeal to send in wrappers for guide dogs. Going to the 'Scoop Shop' was not only avoiding heavily packaged goods, it was cheaper as was going to the local veg shop rather than buying at the Supermarket. A flatmates diet for medical reasons which avoided all tinned foods did wonders for our collective cooking skills.

Seven years of working for a Steiner organisation and getting the task of the bulk shopping without having to worry too much about budgeting meant I became used to automatically selecting environmentally friendly products, organic food and drinks. I'd always been used to preparing meals from raw ingredients rather than living off pre-packaged foods and buying them always felt wrong, like cheating. Sensitive skin has meant that I can't use cheap toiletries anyway and an abhorance of the thought of animal testing for beauty products had me at the Body Shop's door as soon as I was buying my own (in those days of course it wasn't owned by L'oreal!). These days I either buy ecostore or make my own.

Being on a much tighter budget these days often means bulk buying from the local wholesaler wins over organic but it is still something I try to do as much as possible, I console myself with the thought that the 1kg snaplock bags (which get reused) use less packaging than smaller quantities from the supermarket! The Rainbow Falls organic cows have been dried off for the winter so I'm making my own almond milk, the liquid goes on my porridge and in my bread etc and the left over nut pulp gets turned into nut loaves, fruit and nut slice etc.

As ever there is always more that could be done, but with almost all the lightbulbs now being energy saving, a bigger and more productive veggie garden and various other minor changes around here at least I feel like progress is being made.

Friday, May 24, 2013

rescue mission

Having 'liked' various urban homesteading pages on facebook I've come across all sorts of 'useful' information I'll probably never need (and when I do I doubt if I'll remember where I saw it... but then that is what Google is for!) but one post caught my eye last year which was restoring rusty cast iron frying pans/skillets to their former glory. Having wanted such a pan for about two decades but never really been in a position to buy a new one I read with interest thinking well one day I might spot a rusty one at the market (Kaitaia having that sort of market!), as I was impressed as to how achievable it was.

The months went by and whilst I kept an eye out I was never looking particularly hard for one so it wasn't really surprising I didn't find one. But then during our Great Garage Clear Out a couple of months ago I found one! A bit rusty, covered in cobwebs, dust and full of flakes of burnt paper from the fire (which was about 5yrs ago!). I carefully dusted it off and put it where I knew I'd find it again and hoped no-one else would spot it and claim it meanwhile.

I'm not quite sure what happened to the intervening two months in terms of getting around to the next step but today after a quick Google search to remind myself what to do (having long since lost track of the orginal info...) I armed myself with oven cleaner (a bad idea - that stuff is foul), baking soda, salt and vinegar and a metal scourer, and in way less time than I expected I had a clean pan rubbed with oil heating up gently in the oven to season and seal it.

I decided I couldn't wait for tea time to use it so made some drop scones/pikelets for afternoon tea instead. What a delight to use - I'm so pleased with the result, and totally understand now why people get excited about cast iron. Weight alone would deter me from using big pots of it but that pan is such a great size - big enough to be really useful but not too heavy to be unwieldy.

The best part of it all though is rescuing something and getting back in use again. There must be decades, generations, of use still to be had out of that pan. I get so fed up with the throw-away culture that predominates these days. Jeanette Fitzsimon's Quaker Lecture on the economy of 'enough' put into words far more eloquently than I ever could (not to mention better researched and argued!) the importance of changing the mindset that measures success by growth, when actually usually what is needed is not more but better quality - of life, of goods, health, etc. We don't always need a new..... the old one is perfectly adequate, does the job, but one small part may be worn out. However the economics of today drives towards buying a new model rather than fix the old, or worse upgrade to the newer model when the old one still does the job just fine. If I'd known years ago how easy it was to restore an old cast iron pan I wouldn't have assumed they were out of my league financially for so long, mind you then I would've probably had to lug one half way around the world...

I read lots of self sufficiency style books in my teens/early twenties, both practical and autobiographical, but it seemed a lifestyle beyond my abilities and way too time consuming to fit in alongside an active Quaker one etc. But through blogs and facebook I'm finding an increasing number of people seeking a way not so much going back to the 'olden days' way of living but incorporating some of the ideals and practices of self sufficiency into modern urban life. Somewhere there needs to be a happy medium between modern excessive living and the deprevation of the Great Depression which prompted so much household ingenuity to make do and mend. Finding that balance is a skill in itself, such as crafting rag rugs because they can be beautiful and practical rather than because it is the only floor covering you can afford, or baking your own bread because it tastes nicer and is better for you.

Someone said at YM that her generation (she is well into her 70s) has an opportunity now to pass on such skills and knowledge to the younger generations who can use them because they want to, because they want to be part of a world with less waste, to lower our carbon emissions and environmental footprint. And we have the advantage of being able to do so in conjunction with the advantages of C21st living - we can share via the internet what we are doing so others can learn too, we have instant access to a far wider pool of knowledge and ideas than our grandparents and great grandparents did. There are materials available they never had and advances in technology that make more things achievable. One of the other finds in the big clear out was a bean slicer - imagine needing to thinly slice bucketfuls of beans to salt down to preserve for winter? Thank heavens for freezers.

One other find I also want to clean up properly to use is the antiquated hand mincer, we don't have a (functioning) food processor and it will be far more effective than me chopping stuff up for my fruit and nut chocolate slice! Maybe that is a job for the rather wet day forecast for tomorrow...

Monday, May 20, 2013

rewind, repeat...

Occassionally I look at the statistics that blogger provides so I can see which posts have been read most often recently, a bit like with looking at similar stats on Flickr, it is more out of curiosity than anything else - I know what I read/look at of other peoples', what do they find interesting that I have to say/show? It is probably an insight into search engine results too as no doubt that is how most people find them beyond the few regular readers/viewers. Sometimes the results make me curious enough to go back and re-read a post as often I can't remember from just a title what it was I was blogging about - this time it was the post I wrote seven years ago called 'serenity'.

Reading the post, and the one I'd linked to that had originally prompted me to write it, I was struck by the resonance again for me of  the seven year cycles of life theory. I already knew that in some ways I was revisiting life seven years ago, in fact quite uncannily so on some fronts, and there I was, just home from Meeting for Worship, reading something that followed on from what had been going on in my head during the silence.

So have I made any progress in the last seven years or am I destined to go through it all again at some point? Well sort of. I've got better at deciding that in some situations the only thing to do is stick it in the 'wait and see' box and await further instructions. Although having come to the conclusion today that the answer is just see what happens and pray god has a plan about something because I certainly don't (and not for lack of trying), has taken me rather longer than it ought.

Envisioning my future has never been my strong point, and given how many twists and turns my life has taken that is really no surprise, I'd never have predicted emigrating for a start. But here I am, hopefully a little more serene, definitely just as clueless as to what the future holds but with the wisdom of hindsight and ability to recognise patterns in life that hopefully mean that this time around I'll get the things I can and can't change the right way around.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


I'm not sure if that is a real word or not, but it will do!

I was asked if I'd be on our Epistle committee at YM last weekend, along with two other Friends. Knowing I had quite a heavy workload on already whilst there I was hesitant, but knew I had to do it. I've moaned often enough about epistles turning into reports in the past so felt obliged to 'be the change you want to see'.

It was an interesting experience trying to take useful notes in session, and I found I was writing down expressions and quotes voiced by Friends rather than the facts and details that were shared. Many of those voices found their way into the finished epistle and I'm grateful for the spirit moving through them.

There were several times when we had to discern which were 'newsletter moments' and which were epistle ones - the 'tuis outside the window and the 2Es at the desk' being one of the easier ones (and yes I know that really the plural of tui is ngā tui not tuis but I'm afraid the anglicised version tends to predominate). In jokes take a bit more explaining than a glossary footnote allows!

One very affirming experience was that each of the suggestions we received in the basket from Friends turned out to be something we'd already included, indicative perhaps of how gathered and cohesive YM felt this year.

It was still too long really in the end, but honouring our bi-cultural commitment doesn't make for a low word count when you meet in the rohe of three iwi and include both names of our YM! Hopefully though we've done better than a well known character of a previous Meeting of mine who after 5 minutes or more of vocal ministry would say "and I've said too much already, but..." and then proceed to double the length of his ministry without actually adding to the message.

Being active in the worldwide family of Friends certainly made me more mindful of maintaining a balance between being true to ourselves and the character of our YM, and ensuring that we didn't put out what to many might feel like a secular statement. Our first drafting certainly felt it was leaning towards the latter and I went into Meeting for Worship on the Sunday morning holding that concern and wondering where I'd find the words we needed given that none of the committee leaned to naturally talking in a more religious framework. As we went into worship someone said 'well at least you will get a rest now and won't have to take notes for an hour!', to quote another kind of tui - yeah right... we got gifted with so much inspiration during that hour from the vocal ministry given that the rest of the epistle just flowed from there. Ask and it shall be given, seek and ye may find!

I'm still not sure I'd volunteer to be on an epistle committee again, but I'm grateful for the opportunity this gave me, for having two wonderful women, Valerie and Carril, to work with and for it making me see YM through a different lens as I tried to focus on the spirit and message we had for the world, rather than the nitty gritty of business to report back to my Worship Group later.

Epistle from the Yearly Meeting of Aotearoa New Zealand

Yearly Meeting of Aotearoa New Zealand, Te Haahi Tuuhauwiri,
held at El Rancho Christian Camp, Waikanae, Kāpiti Coast 10-13 May 2013

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa, greetings to Friends everywhere,

Over eighty Friends gathered from te hau e whā, the four winds of our country and around the world to the homeland of Te Āti Awa ki Whakarongotai, Ngāti Raukawa, and Ngāti Toa Rangatira to meet amidst the trees and constant ministry of birdsong.

Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.” These words of Isaac Pennington (1667) quoted in advance documents and shared in song and spoken in session, set the tone for our gathering where the presence of the Spirit has been strongly with us.

We were reminded by our co-clerks that in mechanically clinging to our structures in detail “they become a box to imprison us, rather than a trellis on which we can grow, flower and fruit”. As we looked at respectful relationships, Treaty commitments and constitutional reform, and meeting our educational and spritual needs that sense of reaping the harvest of earlier struggles and hard work, sometimes over many many years, was indeed blossoming and fruitful. We look forward to future positive developments with a sense of excitement and anticipation.
The importance of inclusion, drawing on the roots of our many layered communities, recognising our interdependence, and the need for respectful participation has been a recurring theme.

That we are part of the worldwide community of Friends was recognised in many ways, we welcomed the presence of our invited representatives from Japan and Australia Yearly Meetings as well as our current Wellington and Auckland Resident Friends from Britain YM. The FWCC Asia West Pacific Section AGM was held during our time together giving us a greater opportunity to participate.

There have been12,400 quakes and aftershocks in and around Christchurch since September 2010. We heard personal testimonies from Friends as they face their third winter of physically broken homes, dealing with the 'new normal'. Friends are repeatedly speaking truth to a power that doesn't hear, a bureaucracy which lacks consistency, transparency and integrity. They are weary and stressed, we grieve with them and hold them in the Light.

We were challenged by the words of Micah (6:8) 'And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.'

How can we each be more effectively a 'publisher of the Truth'?

We recognise the need to let our light shine as Quakers, and not hide it under a bushel. To avoid growth simply for growths' sake we have to support and nurture those we have as well as look for and welcome newcomers. We need to enrich our worshipping communities by getting to know one another in that which is trivial as well as the eternal. Our worship underpins and supports our communities' spiritual and educational development.

Our newly revised Advices and Queries was launched within a period of worship, this reflects not just the work of the committee but the spiritual discernment of our whole Yearly Meeting. Making this freely available for Friends and enquirers is a step towards honouring our renewed commitment to our spiritual nurture and outreach.

The Quaker Lecture by Jeanette Fitzsimons (former co-leader of the Green Party) on planning for an economy of 'enough' reminded us that humans have outgrown our habitat. The holy grail of economic growth as a mark of success is not a sustainable one and instead we should be seeking to increase the level of human wellbeing. Generation Zero and have taken up the challenge of being patterns and examples as they work towards shifting political opinion. Ways of supporting our younger Friends to more fully partake in this work and similar concerns, through internships, grants etc. are being explored. We enter this process in faith and trust that a suitable way will open.

Despite the difficult times we live in, we affirm that we are all loved and worthwhile, we're in this for the long haul and together we have a tremendous collective power.

Signed in an on behalf of the Meeting

Elizabeth Duke & Elizabeth Thompson, co-clerks

Glossary & pronunciation guide: [purists don't be too harsh on us!]

Te Haahi Tuuhauwiri – Teh Hah-he Too-ho-wi-ri – the faith community that stands shaking in the wind of the Spirit, the Māori Language Commission gifted us this name

Waikanae – why-can-i

Kāpiti – Kar-pi-ti

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa – Teh-nah ko-toe, teh-nah ko-toe, teh-nah
tah-toe ka-toe-a

Te hau e whā  – Teh ho eh far  – the four winds

Te Āti Awa ki Whakarongotai - Teh Ah-ti Ah-wah key Fark-a-rong-o-tye
Ngāti Raukawa - Ngah-ti Row-ka-wa (row rhyming with now)
Ngāti Toa Rangatira – Ngah-ti Toh-a Rang-a-teera.

These are the three local iwi (tribes) of the area.

Ng is pronounced like the ng in song

Sunday, May 05, 2013

budget time

No not the governmental one (although I've a good few not very polite words to say about that too...), but personal.

I try to keep up with Kate's blog but often end up catching up in splurges, which I guess describes real life fairly accurately too, although the gaps between reading blog posts are considerably shorter than the years between visits! I was reading this post of hers and it prompted one of those occasions where lots of bits and pieces from over the last few weeks or so suddenly click into a coherent set of thoughts.

Recently on facebook the advert for Quaker Social Action seeking two new project workers has been doing the rounds, as has a photo of the Downtown Community Ministry Foodbank's near empty shelves and a plea for donations. This is one aspect of social media that really appeals to me - that causes like this can reach huge audiences at low cost both in terms of money and time investments, leaving them more of both to deal with their respective good works.

Earlier many UK based F/friends of mine were sharing an assortment of images and petitions demanding that Ian Duncan Smith try living on 53 quid a week as he claimed he could do and see how he manages. (For those of you who are lucky enough not to know who he is he's the Work and Pensions secretary in the UK and a former leader of the Conservative party). 53 quid a week was my income for a year on a Community Industries youth training scheme 23yrs ago (yes you read that right, twenty three...) - 38 quid wages plus 15 quid housing benefit. From memory I was about three quid a week better off than I would've been on the dole as an under 25yr old, (over 25s got 37.35 p/w plus had I been on the dole I would've got an additional 2.50 housing benefit - so basically financially I gained 50p a week and an all zones travel pass which handily took me out to visit my Granny on the Metro each week too). Living off fifty three quid then was a challenge but doable, helped no end by living round the corner from Gregg's half price bakery and a cheap greengrocers. My Young Persons Railcard was probably one of my most treasured possessions and my flatmate and I were really good at finding bargains in jumble sales, charity/op shops and the cheap clothing chainstore sales (no doubt the sort of places the recently collapsed factory in Dhakar supplied...). But to think of living off that same amount all these years later???? According to the online calculator I found inflation in the UK has gone up by 110% since then. I wonder how much ministerial salaries have gone up over the same timeframe? One heck of a larger percentage than the benefits have that is for sure.

The following summer was much harder financially though, back as a uni student with a dissertation to research and write, no dole, no housing benefit, flatmates all away, and having to travel to research so not really able to get a summer job. At one point I found myself with seven pounds a week to live off until my dissertation travel grant cheque came through - thankfully I got asked to be staff at Summer School at the last minute two days before it started and I gained a full week of being fed for free and got given a tenner at the end by a F/friend to 'see me through', a gesture for which I am eternally grateful.

I've always been pretty good at managing money, learning how to save and budget as a child stood me in good stead for an adulthood of earning what has been a low income for a graduate (so much for the 'you'll earn more with a degree' theory that was drummed into us whilst teens! But I guess it helps if you actually do jobs where you need one, which mostly I haven't). I do remember in first year at uni being incredibly impressed by the detailed accounting one of my friends did to make sure there wasn't too much term left at the end of the money, but I never achieved such meticulous standards myself. However when I found myself needing to move into town a couple of years ago the memory of that prompted me to do similar, albeit with the glorious advantage of spreadsheets rather than a pocketbook, pen and calculator!

My original reason for keeping track of my spending was I didn't know if boarding here would work out long term and I was trying to figure out how much my living costs actually were so I'd know what I could afford in terms of rent if I had to look elsewhere. Never having had to pay the real costs of living in this country I wasn't sure what they'd be, I'd always had my housing and bills either fully or partially subsidised one way or another. Fortunately partial subsidy has continued, but keeping track has been a useful exercise and I'm about to go into my third year of it. Being presented with redundancy and a period of limited income wasn't anything like as scary as it might've been as I knew straight away how long at my then current spending rate I could live off my redundancy funds plus savings, and where I could cut back spending to make it go even further.

The QSA projects are both about managing money, and helping people budget. The DCM foodbank's work is about bailing out those who fall short of managing their cash flow. For me managing my cashflow became a whole heap easier once I could get a credit card here as I no longer had to wait for payday - I could shop when was convenient, make the most of special offers and sales and then pay the bill once my salary came through, usually paying my bill off each month without any interest. Now with my redundancy money as a back-up fund I can buy things more cheaply in bulk at the wholesalers when I need them - all I have to do is make sure the money is in the right account at the right time. But most of those living off benefits don't have a back-up fund and many don't have the budgeting skills or financial literacy to manage credit cards without stacking up huge amounts of interest on their bills

Thanks again to the wonders of social media I came across this article via a friend on facebook reminscing himself about cash strapped dilemmas between only being able to afford one of two particular items in the supermarket - one food and the other household 'necessities'. The article makes similar points about having the funds upfront to be able to afford the cheap bulk options etc - as it says, many simply can't afford to eat cheaply. In another post Kate refers to those being faced with the prospect of choosing between food and loo roll... which reminded me of conversations recently with those closer to my grandparents generation, they were reminiscing about their mothers recycling flour and sugar bags to make into underwear and aprons, cutting down their old dresses to remake into children's clothing and other such money saving ventures around the home, including of course alternatives to modern toilet paper! I wonder how many of us would want to go back to that? Memories of Izal scratchy school toilet paper in single sheets rather than rolls are quite bad enough thank you.

So many of the ways people made a little go a long way then simply aren't an option for most now - even if you already had a sewing machine would you know how to make the clothing? And believe me it's far cheaper to go to the charity/op shop than buy sewing supplies - 50c for a child's top from the Sallies or $3 for a reel of cotton? I've lived for many years in homes with no garden, with either a yard or a 12th or 16th share in an Edinburgh tenement back green for hanging out the washing (if you could be bothered lugging it up and down the stair!) - neither of which are much use for growing your own veggies. Things are made to be replaced now, not mended; you may have been able to 'sides to middle' a linen bedsheet and eek out a few more years use but you wouldn't gain much doing that with a cheap polyester one, and good luck finding a cobbler to re-heel your shoes...

So for all of those 'benefit bashers' who think people have it easy and are scrounging off the State whichever side of the world, try thinking a little harder about what it really means to live off that little and if you think you could do it, go on, have a go and give the difference in what you spend to charity (making sure you do spend that little and not just eat a fraction of what you really spent) - preferably one like the DCM or QSA who really make a difference to those who know all too well what living below the breadline really means.