Thursday, December 25, 2014

with or without you...

I'm not quite sure why, but this year more than most I've been far more aware of those who have been facing the prospect of spending a first Christmas without various loved ones lost during the year. There are also those psyching themselves up to get through a day with those they'd rather not have to for a variety of reasons. Both I think are made far worse by the feeling that Christmas Day is somehow supposed to be magically beyond the ups and downs of everyday life, and as a result it is often a disappointment as unrealistic expectations are hard to meet.

I hope everyone manages to get through okay, and if not perfect that your day is 'good enough'. As they say around here, kia kaha, have strength. After all, tomorrow is another day...

Monday, December 15, 2014

on a mission

No, it isn't dark and I'm not wearing sunglasses...

However, apart from the usual repatriation of of certain confectionery items and one CD that has become something of a tradition, I have been spending the last few weeks trying to meet my own goal of giving only hand made items for Christmas. Admittedly I have only got close to achieving this thanks to the efforts of my lovely friend Sue at SuperVery, but it feels very satisfying none the less.

I'm afraid you're not getting any more details than that as the chances are at least some of the recipients will read this before Christmas and I know for a fact there is no way at least one of them could get this far through a post then close it down if she thought there would be a clue as to what is in the parcel! Sorry Mum...

It all started off thanks to a couple of things doing the rounds on Facebook, one was variations on a theme of shop from local independent stores/make/swap/etc presents and the other was a campaign to boycott Amazon due to their very poor working conditions/wages and tax avoidance.

I've used Amazon UK over the years to avoid paying postage twice when sending books/cds back to the UK as we don't have much available locally in the way of books/music here so as often as not I'd bought them online. So if I'm buying online anyway it makes sense to buy online in the country they're heading to! Given it has become something of a tradition for me to send someone a cd of a Kiwi band/artist each year for Christmas that was the first crunch test. However my trusty music guru Thomas, who happens to be in Villainy, gave me a link with this year's suggestion to the ecommerce platform that the artist is selling through, sorted! Proving once again it's not what you know but who you know that makes all the difference.

So, with a pile of presents being made for Christmas, plus some belated birthday presents to complete I've been a bit busy of late, hence the lack of blog posts. But with the last two presents needing posted completed today I thought I'd post something before I got completely out of the habit again...

I've been extremely grateful to have had the energy to even attempt this, and whilst I've over estimated my brain's capacity to think a few things through at times I've got there in the end. My quick-unpick has had a lot of use of late, and a few measurements ended up being something other than originally intended as "it's good enough" won over the prospect of 'Merry July'.

Whether I'll manage to get my annual Christmas epistle sent out before Christmas Eve for a change still remains to be seen. As the saying goes, miracles I can do, the impossible takes a little longer...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

aliens in my head or just another day?

Today Jane and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Finally, after about a year, the Kaitaia TimeBank banner to be used outside the EcoCentre, at working bees, market stalls etc., has been finished. It didn't take that long to make relatively speaking, but there was about a 9 month gap between cutting out all the lettering and starting on the main panels.

The main reason things stalled was because my brain just wasn't up to figuring out the logistics of the banner which goes on one of those freestanding pole things. Should the pole go up one side or the middle? Should the lettering be from top to bottom (so you tilt your head to read it) or go across-ways? How do I make it so it will cope with the high winds of the Far North and not get ripped to shreds in a few weeks? If I put a pole pocket down the middle which seams can I sew before I turn the thing from inside out to the right way out and which have to wait until after?

Gradually I've plodded through the list. Jane, bless her, did the applique work which at least saved me that headache. Today saw the final piecing together of the two panels to make a single banner. It is a sign of how much I have improved over the last few months that I even tried. How often I used my quick-unpick is a sign of how much further I still have to go... I nearly had the whole thing sewn together complete with pole pockets etc before the penny dropped that the three lines I'd just sewn meant I now couldn't turn it the right way out - d'oh. I shouldn't have been surprised though. Earlier in the day, whilst working on another rather time-delayed project, I'd ironed several metres of binding in half the wrong way out before I realised what I was doing.

Common sense is something I've usually had a reasonable supply of. In various circles I gained a bit of a reputation for pointing out 'the bleeding obvious' to those who had somehow completely overlooked it. Until this year I could never fathom how people could miss such things. I really do feel handicapped without my usual capacity to see what's staring me in the face. Similarly towards the end of my time teaching I was finding my usually long patience had shrunk and I was snapping at kids in a way that shocked me when it happened. It felt like someone else controlling my tongue. I'd be horrified at myself at times and apologized straight away to whichever poor child I'd just bitten the head off. It was an eye opener to me to realise that this is what life is usually like for some people; that frustrated verbal response before thinking. Thankfully I didn't have to deal with an instinctive physical response on top, the flash of uncontrolled emotional response was bad enough.

For whatever reason I haven't had that flashpan response to children happen again since I stopped teaching week in week out at the end of 2012 and I am extremely grateful for that. I know one of my colleagues got the sharp edge of my tongue a few times when relieving last year. Our methods of teaching were completely at odds with each other and I wasn't in a space to be able to just let stuff go that in a better state I would've had the wisdom to just leave be.

The more my physical health improves the more obvious the anomalous state of my brain and emotions becomes, and reflecting back, the more I realise how long ago the changes started to become apparent. A lot of it is quite simply hormonal and due to going through peri-menopause of which several doctors, nurses and specialists have all agreed I've been having a lousy time of. The fact that most of the more obvious symptoms seem to fluctuate in sync with how tired, run down, and otherwise not well I am does give me some hope that 'this too shall pass' and normal service shall be resumed at some point. Hopefully some point sooner rather than later.

Spending a lot of time with those a generation or more older than me has meant I have been around regular discussions about those in the community slipping into states of advanced Altzheimer's, or senile dementia. I do wonder at times about the similarities between the way my brain feels mussed up and those conditions, although those I know with them aren't really in a state to compare notes. But in a week when 'today, tomorrow and yesterday' have got completely mixed up (what do you mean that if I re-read an email on Tuesday that I got on Monday that refers to 'tomorrow' that means today and not Wednesday??? In my defense I was expecting it to refer to Wednesday due to an earlier conversation); where I've given someone an answer only to ask them the same question back 10 minutes later; where I can't even get to the compost heap and back without forgetting what I was doing before I set off bucket in hand, I do have to wonder just how well I'd do in those assessment tests right now! But whilst I might be struggling to know what day of the week it is or how the heck it came to be Tuesday again already (but not today though!) I did figure out that Granny would've been 110 yesterday without even having to think about it. Admittedly remembering it was Tuesday before it got to 1.30pm would've been far more useful given Granny has long since gone beyond birthdays, whereas the pay office needed my timesheet posted yesterday and I was supposed to be somewhere else at 12...

I have to take heart though from the fact that I have more than one thing going on to keep track of, and that I do have a life again that doesn't simply consist of endless medical appointments and not much else. I don't mind unpicking seams half as much now as I used to as at least it means I had a go at sewing them in the first place, and I spotted the mistake before it was too late to change something. I still haven't quite plucked up the courage to attempt to unpick a counted cross-stitch I started some months ago and somehow managed to get the centre line in the wrong place, despite carefully (I thought...) counting the holes twice to make sure! Some mistakes are easier to fix than others.

Given what feels like personality transplants and my brain short-circuiting at times over the last few years I can understand why there have been people convinced they've been abducted by aliens in their sleep etc. It wouldn't need much mental instability, paranoia, certain drugs, or living amidst a culture of fear, scaremongering and some really dubious red tops 'journalism' on top of my own kind of experiences to really freak folk out. It's freaky enough at times as it is when I have a perfectly rational medical explanation for it all! Mind you when I had the third pregnancy test done on me this year irrespective of me pointing out that whilst I dropped biology at school as soon as possible, I did know enough to know without a doubt that I couldn't possibly be, there was that back of the mind thought 'But what about the Midwich Cuckoos?' I'm still debating whether aliens would be preferable to angels proclaiming or not... Thankfully the tests all agreed with me that I wasn't, so that all remains hypothetical!

So life trundles on. The 'guilt pile' is slowly being tackled and whilst new things inevitably get added to it at least I've not been looking at them all year. Another sewing project is close to completion, and only 6mths late this time so there is actually a chance of folk getting handmade Christmas presents after all. I'm not going to say when they'll get them mind, that feels far too much like tempting fate!

Monday, November 10, 2014

procrastination, part II

I almost got this finished last night, but the need for sleep got the better of me. Of course I've now left it until nearly bedtime to try to finish it off, some habits are hard to shake...

Well I'm making a start, however I'm also hungry, and it is lunchtime... I'll be back later, I promise!

Right, so where was I? Ah yes, procrastination. Something I've been an expert at for many years. I could get a degree in procrastination, oh wait, I've already got one of those, well not in it as a subject but as a study method. Well it worked didn't it?!

I arrived in this world about 10 days late and lets face it that is around the time when the word 'induced' starts being bandied around by the medical profession and there's still nothing like a deadline to get me moving! I'm also pretty practiced in being stubborn in the face of authority, or as I like to call it now, speaking truth to power. I managed to arrive just before the end of evening visiting hours, so contrary to the rules of the time my dad was given special dispensation to stay in the maternity hospital and wait in the nurses' rest room so he could see me (and probably more to the point, my mum) before he went home. So I was already aiding and abetting breaking the rules of convention as I took my first breath.

As many of the texts I read as part of my Early Childhood Education training point out, it is the early experiences of life that shape what follows. Well with that start to life I was obviously destined to a life of leaving things to the last minute whilst thumbing my nose (I never did learn to suck my thumb properly...) at the powers that be. Speaking of powers that be, that reminds me I need to sort out my visas again, I'm fine as long as I don't leave the country, so it can wait a bit longer, right?

Soooo, procrastination. See, I can't even get to the point without putting it off, wandering around the houses and going off at odd tangents - a bit like Ronnie Corbett rounding off The Two Ronnies, sitting in that big chair that looked like they'd borrowed it from the Mastermind set. Ooooh, is that the kettle I can hear boiling? Must be time for a cuppa.....

Mmm, that's better, tea and chocolate. You can put the world to rights over tea and chocolate, there obviously isn't enough of it around in places of Government. You know I never did read the article editorialgirl referred to at the beginning of her post, I probably should before I go any further.

Just as well I did, as on the one hand it matches my modus operandi, yet on the other it just so isn't me. I suppose I'm one of the 'predictably irrational' people who knows my own weaknesses. Picking up on the studying research mentioned, for my ECE Grad Dip I found myself several times with three assignments due in within a few days of each other several weeks ahead. Knowing my propensity for procrastination I would set myself self-imposed deadlines of one per week over three weeks.

Week one, I'd usually have the first assignment finished early. But then I'd take a couple of days off before starting the next one, as technically those days were still allocated to Assignment 1 and I felt like I'd earned a break. Assignment 2, well it would be harder to get going again after those two days off, and I knew I should really have got cracking straight off whilst the momentum was there, but.... And I'd end up dragging it out, finishing it some time on the last day of the allocated week.

Assignment 3's turn, and I'm feeling really hōhā about all this and am totally over it. Who on earth thought writing thousands of words in short spaces of time was a good way to train teachers anyway? Didn't the university actually read the stuff they were setting us? It was a dreadful way to learn, it becomes meaningless and boring, students disengage from the subject etc. etc. etc., if I could be bothered I could find the APA referencing for the texts that prove my point! So, yup, Assignment 3 is the one that involves sitting up until at least 2am on the last night going crossed eyed checking the commas and italics in the aforementioned APA referencing and descending into absolute panic mode as the internet decides to throw a hissy fit the moment I'm ready to submit my last assignment with about 5 minutes to spare. Ironically of course that is the assignment I'd get the best grade for. Which is why any attempt to convince myself that there is a better way of studying was always halfhearted and destined to fail.

But on the other hand unlike the other examples given, I have ridiculous amounts of will power (aka stubbornness...). I can budget over a year and live off a very small amount if I have to. I can manage my diet and shopping in such a way that I avoid what is bad for me, although admittedly knowing something will make you sick is a far bigger deterrent than just knowing that 'junk food isn't good for you'. I was totally the kid who can wait 15 mins for the bigger reward. I learned to save at a young age, both pocket money and chocolate. I was the child who made my Easter eggs last for weeks if not months, whereas my brother thought he'd done well if they lasted hours. Yet I'll still leave things I don't want to do until the last minute.


Therein lies the crux of the matter usually. If I have to do something, I invariably find 101 other things to do first. If it is an essay needing written it is amazing how it is suddenly so important to give the bathroom a really good scrub. Yet if it is the bathroom really needing cleaned, well I could go and do some gardening instead... I can get stuck in a good book for hours and hours, and stay up all night if need be to finish it as I can't bare to put it down. But ask me to concentrate on anything else for the same timeframe and I simply can't do it. I zone out, fall asleep, end up doodling in the margins. No matter how hard I try I just can't focus on one task for that length of time. Even in the garden where I can while away an entire day it won't be solidly on one task no matter how big it is or how long it will take. To be fair to myself though books read like that I usually then reread almost straight away at a slower pace to pick up on all the details I've invariably not taken in in my blinkered dash to find out what happens next/in the end.

What seems to make the difference as to whether I procrastinate most is the element of choice - am I doing something on my terms, on my timescale, to my standards because I want to do it, or am I expected to meet someone elses? As soon as there is anything out of my control I seem to procrastinate. Not out of sheer bloody mindedness, but because if something isn't finished it can still be improved. Once it is finished it is there to be judged, and the perfectionist streak in me doesn't like that. So I'd rather be able to say 'it's not finished yet' which excuses any imperfections, than admit that my best just simply wasn't perfect. It's why I needed Natalie reminding me constantly through our Grad Dip that 'Cs make degrees' and 'good enough' was okay. As a strategy it obviously worked as we were both ended up A grade students! Something I would never have dreamed possible given my previous mediocre academic track record.

The other procrastination tactic is to not even start/attempt something; if I don't start I can't mess it up can I? Which is why so many sewing projects this year have stalled as soon as any maths has come into play as my head hasn't been very reliable at thinking straight. There's something so very final about taking scissors to a piece of fabric... Yet I can happily accept that my sewing will never be perfect and accept the fact that there will always be room for improvement. I know that if I strive for perfection I'll never finish anything so I pass the finished items on with the clear message that 'it isn't perfect, but it is there to be used, not framed, so please use it!'

I know that this year my procrastination has known no bounds. Given I can find some things hard enough to start/finish at the best of times you can imagine how it most definitely not being the best of times has made it far worse. And what is more my confidence has taken a battering to boot. So finding these articles has been timely as I start to feel more able to tackle stuff again, but so far only on my own terms, or with someone else checking it as back-up. My future self would love to be able to look back at the end of the year and see that in the end I did manage to write more blog posts than the previous year, or at least match the 38 posts of the last two! But as soon as more than a week goes by without blogging it becomes harder and harder to start a post or finish one, as I know it is becoming less and less likely that I'll reach 39, let alone 52... a target I set, that no-one else even knew about until they read this! And what is more it doesn't even matter whether I reach it or not, yet still I procrastinate as it is easier to accept that I failed from not trying hard enough than to try my hardest and still not get there.

So I need to stop being so hard on my future self, stop beating myself up for things that haven't even happened yet and might not, especially if I stopped procrastinating and just got on with things! I know I can do it, there are times when Cat's 'think it, do it' attitude kicks in and I just get stuck in and see something through to the end come what may. Like the time when we decided 15 minutes before the end of our shift to re-organize the linen cupboard, a task that usually took at least an hour! As for the day we decided to re-organize the pantries, well lets just say weren't popular with the next shift who had to cook tea in the midst of our chaos, but we stuck at it until it was done and all agreed that in the end it had been worth it. I must admit though it is usually my stubborn streak that over-rules everything else at times like this though, along with to heck with convention....


So I'll try to remember each time I procrastinate to consider whether that is fair on future me and aim to 'think it, do it' more often. Sometimes looking after myself has to over-ride any other considerations though, which is why I gave up proof-reading this last night and have returned to it now. I nearly put it off again as I'm tired and I really shouldn't have left it until this late at night, but I knew I'd be more cross with myself for not posting this today than I would be for not including all the things I meant to, but now can't think of as I'm too tired.... I just know there was more! But there's always another post and another day. And who knows, if I make this into three posts rather than one (or the current two) I might make that target of at least 39 posts this year after all!

Saturday, November 08, 2014


A friend of a f/Friend wrote this blog post which I came across via Facebook. It resonated with me and I really want to write something about it. But not tonight! Believe it or not this is not procrastination (who me?) but genuinely about looking after myself. I need sleep, and I needed it half an hour ago. So instead of procrastinating over actually getting ready for bed any longer, which somehow needs more energy than sitting here reading random things on the internet, I'm going to leave this like this for now and log off. You get to read her blogpost now, and I get some much needed sleep. In theory I'll write what I was going to say tomorrow.... assuming I don't put it off.


Saturday, November 01, 2014

keeping track

Having taken part in Plastic Free July and have continued to try to keep my single use plastic to a minimum I was curious as to how I'd get on whilst away from home for 10 days. Not only was I away from home but I was travelling on all but four of those days, and I was trying to travel light which meant there was a limit as to how much food I could bring from home.

The journey from home to Wellington went well as I had my wee Marmite lunchbox with me to fill up with self-service sushi in Kerikeri rather than use one of their plastic boxes. The cashier was surprised to see me provide my own box but thought it was a really good idea which was encouraging. At the airport I had oodles of time so could get a proper pot of tea with cup and saucer rather than a takeaway cup, and the miso soup which I had expected to come in a bowl (as it always used to) came in a paper cup but without a plastic lid. So I was feeling rather pleased with myself after the first day.

I've debated for some time whether it is worth getting one of those reusable coffee cups for takeaway cuppas, but I buy so few in a year it hasn't really seemed worth it. I was looking at them in the Kathmandu sale though in Wellington umming and ahhing over it yet again when I spotted some small vaccuum flasks. My old one leaks so it's no use for travelling any more, so rather than get a coffee cup (for about 4 cups a year!) I got a flask which had the added bonus of meaning I didn't need to buy a cuppa so often and I was guaranteed a cuppa I like as I generally try to avoid ordinary tea these days. I soon discovered though that it is a highly efficient flask and thus I need to add some cold water to my tea otherwise I have to wait way too long for it to be a drinkable temperature! There are way worse problems to have than a burnt tongue though.

Snacks for the road proved to be a challenge and I failed completely to avoid small packets and individually wrapped bars. When you're vegetarian and avoiding dairy, gluten and unwarranted amounts of sugar in things your options are limited. I'm fine at home as I simply make my own stuff and generally snack a lot less, but that's not so practical on the road. Also I simply didn't have room in my bag to buy a big bag of something and make it last several days of travels. I think I need to refine my 'packing light' skills - it was tricky though when the possible weather options for my trip were potentially 'four seasons in one day' let alone in one week and I was only going to be at one of my stops long enough to do any washing and get it dry.

But generally I think I did reasonably well until the penultimate day. I succumbed to the lure of a decaf soy latte at Christchurch airport and that meant a disposable coffee cup and plastic lid. Then on top of that the turbulence on the way north meant the Air NZ staff served the cuppa on the plane with a lid too. Quite understandable and far more necessary than such lids often are, but two such lids in the space of a couple of hours did feel a tad excessive. I did enjoy my coffee at the airport though.

What would I do differently another time? Well other than try to pack less so there was more room in my bag for bigger supplies of snacking food I should probably do a bit more research when I have browsing time to spare in a supermarket. Part of the reason why I ended up with some of the stuff I did was because I kept running out of time in shops and there is a limit to how many things you can read the ingredients list of when you're in a hurry! I'd forgotten/not realised that some of my old travelling staples whilst wheat free weren't gluten free and I'm trying to stick to being GF as much as I can as it does seem to be helping. Having got into the habit of making so much of my food from scratch at home I've not needed to buy such things for a while. If I've got a 'go to' list of things to look out for that I know I can eat and are sensibly wrapped I can probably avoid the GF snack bars which ended up being the default option this time. I did treat myself to a box of Nairns stem ginger oatcakes though and refused to feel guilty about it. I usually avoid them for food miles reasons, but I reckon an annual treat is allowed! I'm still experimenting with recipes to try to recreate them at home but haven't quite cracked it yet, one day I'll make an acceptable substitute....

As ever making lifestyle adjustments take time and effort to put into place and become the 'new normal', after a while it will become second nature and then I'll be ready for the next change, whatever that may prove to be.

Friday, October 31, 2014

almost home....

I wrote this a couple of days ago, but my host came home before I got round to posting it online, so I'm finally sharing it now!

Well I'm not sure if this is tempting fate or what, but I have so far managed to keep up with what I had planned this holiday in terms of energy. Only one more night and then I'll be home.

Planning the trip in such a way to be kind to myself and with mostly short travel times (except the last, and even more so the first day) and giving myself plenty of rest time seems to have paid off. For an assortment of reasons beyond the driver's control the bus yesterday was 3/4hr late getting in to Christchurch. One passenger who thought she had plenty time to spare went haring off at the airport with about 2 mins to spare before check-in. That was the moment when I felt really glad I'd decided to avoid such potential problems by doing one leg of the journey per day. Whilst my energy levels have been pretty good for me, relatively speaking, I would still struggle to run for a plane, or anything else! The added stress would not be good for my brain that can still only really cope with one thing at a time even when all is going well...

It is in the last few days that I have really started to notice the fact that my brain is feeling akin to jetlagged. The 'where am I, which meal is it?' feeling is fairly understandable when you've flown across several timezones but it isn't usually a feature of domestic travel! Another reminder that whilst my physical health seems to be improving in leaps and bounds, I've still a way to go before I reach what I'd like to consider as 'normal'.

It's the usual things that throw me, like decision making. You know, the really tricky ones like being asked 'what do you want for lunch?' Somehow that is much harder to deal with than me looking at the food in the cupboard/fridge and deciding what to eat. When I'm just left to it I can start on one thing and end up making something completely different, but when someone else is making it they generally want to know what the end result will be before they get there! I've been pretty much catering for myself for lunches this trip and know I have had Corn Thins, (British) Marmite, hummus and miso soup available so some combination of the above is what I have had, not exactly taxing. But when Catherine started reeling of a list of ingredients available today my brain just went into panic mode and blanked out. I knew having something different from the last few days would be nice, but I didn't know where to start! Yet last night I managed to successfully cook two different curries for us simultaneously, complete with giving chopping instructions, and hold a sensible conversation without any problems... go figure!

My short term memory has never been my strong point, but I know it is considerably worse at the moment. Usually I can look at a map to figure out how to get somewhere and then hours, or even days and weeks later I can find my way no problem. Yesterday evening I checked the map to find my overnight stay for tonight, I'd got my landmarks all sorted out. Then I arrived off the plane this afternoon and realised I could only remember where to get off the bus and the rough direction to head in. Admittedly it didn't help that half the streets in this neighbourhood seem to be missing their signage, but my recollection of where the street I was heading to in relation to Croydon Road (a name I wasn't likely to forget having lived on one!) turned out to be completely opposite to reality. Little things perhaps, but things I know that usually wouldn't happen. Thank goodness that not only had the morning's thunderstorms passed by the time I was wandering around, but that I actually had the energy to do so and the wit to ask for directions when I realised I was completely disorientated!

On the flight from Christchurch to Wellington we got The Hobbit safety briefing, the new one that is! (the old one is pretty good too). Having come through the Southern Alps yesterday, and having watched part of LOTR plus The Desolation of Smaug with the boys over the weekend I got quite choked up watching it. I'd been showing the safety video to them online just a few days before but having got Bear Grylls on the way down I didn't expect to see it on a plane so soon! I found myself surreptitiously trying to wipe away tears so the flight attendant standing right in front of me couldn't see. I did feel rather silly, but things still catch me off guard like that and for all my hormones are supposedly being sorted out now it is pretty obvious at times like that that there's still a way to go. Mind you to be fair to myself it's never easy saying goodbye to my self-appointed nephews and it's hardly the first time I've been teary on the way home from visiting them. But I did catch myself welling up whilst watching the films with them as the stunning local scenery was shown off to good effect. Ten years ago when that happened I put it down to homesickness, even though it was for a place I'd at that point only spent 2 months of my life in. I can hardly claim homesickness now for scenery I'd been travelling through a couple of days beforehand and would be returning through very soon!

On the whole though I coped far better than I thought I might. With a bit of luck this will turn out to be an ongoing improvement and I won't collapse in a heap once the travelling is over. If I can just get my brain to manage to multitask again I'll be happy and consider any further improvement a bonus. But simply getting there and back again over the last 10 days has been a pretty big achievement in itself and I'm really glad I decided to go for it, even though it felt something of a daunting prospect before I set off.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

on the road

This was written a few days ago, it's just taken me a while to simultaneously have time and an internet connection in order to post it....

There are times when you just have to make space in life to Get Things Done. For one of my co-editors of the national Friends Newsletter that meant going on retreat this last weekend to catch up on some academic writing. For me it has been allowing myself not to feel obliged to make the most of being in Auckland for a few hours and find someone to catch up with. So a couple of work in-house training questionnaires and a report on Yearly Meeting later (yes, exactly – that was in May!) I'm feeling as though the first half of my 3hr wait at the airport has been quite productive. It's much harder to procrastinate when doing what needs done is probably the most interesting option available!

I was about to pack away my notepad when I decided that I could draft a blogpost too, especially having failed to write one all month. Well that's not quite true, there are two half written ones in the Drafts folder... so it might be a case of buses posting again – nothing for ages then three come along at once. Then again, perhaps not.

I'm heading off for my annual tiki tour around assorted f/Friends and family, both a blood relation and adoptive whānau. It's a few months later in the year than usual but back in July I wasn't really up to it. So instead I'm encompassing Labour Weekend in order to get three non-school days with the boys in Hokitika in the middle of it all. I'm hoping my carefully planned bunny hops with a night in a bed between all but the first two stages (ie this one from home to Wellington) will ensure my energy levels keep high enough to enjoy the trip rather than simply enduring the travel. So far so good...

I must admit I'm feeling someone less organised that usual with several days only sorted in terms of a bed for that night rather than a busy diary of people as would be usual. This is partially intentional in terms of wanting to allow crash-out time should I need it, but some of it is simply slipping into the Kiwi 'she'll be right' attitude and making it up as I go along. Which was fine until it appeared that someone had changed their cellphone number and I realise I've left at home an address I need... ah well, it'll work out somehow [ed note - it did!]

Having set off though I've decided that I'll leave this trip very much in the lap of the Gods, or Fate, or whoever else is listening; but hopefully Thunder will be rolling sixes elsewhere and Death will be too busy rescuing kittens! (Mum you really do need to read some Discworld books then this will all make so much more sense...). These days the universe generally seems to have more of a plan than I do anyway. I've just come across this Harry Potter quote in my notes from the Yearly Meeting Co-clerks' address It's our choices that make us who we are, not our ability (Dumbledore to Harry, J.K. Rowling) I'm not entirely sure what that is saying about me at present, but choosing to let the universe decide is still a choice after all! My abilities are still something I'm getting to grips with as they continue to change week to week; many things that used to be easy still feel quite daunting, especially when they are cerebrally challenging. But at least physically things are somewhat easier again.

ps I'm still quite impressed that the first session of our YM included a Harry Potter quote; as the t-shirts say, 'Quakers are cooler than you think!' ;)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

standing up to be counted

Well it has been a disappointing time for me in politics lately. Firstly the Scottish Referendum delivered a 'No' vote, quite possibly on the back of probably illegal and most definitely unethical last minute 'Devo Max' offers from the combined Westminster parties (there were to be no new offers from any side less than 28 days from the vote according to the Edinburgh Agreement - the Electoral Commission agrees that what happened was against the spirit if not the letter of the law. There's a petition here that sets out the full explanation. It isn't calling to question the referendum results but the cavalier attitude with which the law was disregarded).

Then to run salt into a wound a couple of days later we ended up with a third term Tory government in Aotearoa NZ despite some pretty grim revelations about their modus operandi. Yet in some ways it wasn't that much of a surprise; the Labour party has been in a mess for the last couple of years with in-fighting over leadership, and after putting his not inconsiderable money behind the left wing Internet-Mana alliance, Kim Dotcom didn't have the sense to leave the politics to the far more credible politicians he was funding. So basically the left was in a mess. The Greens hung in there but found themselves once again without a viable coalition partner to get into government. 

Things were not looking particularly bright, especially with Tony Abbott over the ditch running Australia into the ground and assorted Western powers deciding yet again to get involved with a conflict situation that no doubt will turn round and bite back later...

The one bright spot for me is the response in Scotland post-referendum of the 'Yes' campaigners. I know many No voters are feeling pretty fed up and are thinking 'we voted No, get over it and shut up', but really? After 307 very long years do you really think the pro-independence lobby is going to shut up a few days after coming so close to success??? Quite. And if the boot was on the other foot I doubt if they'd be keeping quiet either. The bright spot I mentioned was that apathy and despondency didn't kick in as it very well could've done - had they really 'come all that way for this' yet again? But the determination that saw the birth of the vigil on Carlton Hill in 1992 has been seen in action again but magnified a hundredfold as thousands, literally thousands, have joined the SNP and the Scottish Greens (who also campaigned for Yes) in the last ten days. I don't think either party has seen such numbers before, and last I heard the SNP have become larger than Scottish Labour and are on track to become the third largest political party in the UK, let alone Scotland! [Update: They already are! Over 40,000 new members in less than two weeks! Plus the Greens now have a waiting list to attend their next party conference :) ]The Westminster elections next year have suddenly become a lot more interesting than they have been for a long long time. 

Many of those joining up, according to reports, are those who were involved with non-partisan Yes campaign groups, like Commonweal and Radical Indy, who've not been members of any party before, a lot of others are disillusioned Scottish Labour members from both yes and no campaigns who feel let down by both their own leadership and that of the UK Labour Party as the promised goods of Devo-Max have (unsurprisingly, some might add) failed to materialise. Given that Scotland is a nation that has had crying into her beer down to a fine art in recent decades (but never into her whisky, that would spoil the taste!) this mass pro-active response and determination not to lie down quietly and be trampled on yet again is testimony to the power the referendum debate has had in mobilising and engaging the entire nation. No matter whether you were a yes, no or maybe until the day, it was a topic everyone seemed to have an opinion on and was more than happy to share it with friends, neighbours, the postie and just about anyone else in the street, and of course on Facebook.

Given that almost a million people who could've voted in our general election a week ago didn't bother, that level of engagement is mind blowing. How on earth could we replicate that here? What would it take to get up to 100% voter turnout at some polling stations? In Te Tai Tokerau electorate (the Māori seat for north of Auckland) there were 47 polling stations where fewer than 6 people voted! Okay so we actually had two weeks in which we could vote early and usually that was at separately counted polling stations, and there isn't necessarily much of Māori roll anyway in some of those areas, but even so. 

Having taken great delight in seeing yet more status updates on Facebook about friends of mine joining SNP/Greens, whether or not they agreed with every one of their policies but feeling that there was a principle at stake here, I realised that had I been there I'd be doing the same. So if there, why not here? 

So for the first time in my life I'm a member of a political party. Having studied psephology (voting behaviour) as part of A Level Sociology I've ended up being a tactical voter for the last 26yrs. It seemed the most effective way to use my vote, especially in a first past the post system. There were always some policies I wasn't comfortable having my name against, so keeping out the worst of options (where relevant) rather than voting for the best of a bad bunch seemed a fairly logical choice. On the odd occasion in the UK where I was in a safe seat I didn't mind the outcome of then I'd vote Green to show they did have support when so often they were written off as irrelevant, plus they got my party vote for the Scottish Parliament - quite possibly the only time in the UK someone I'd voted for had actually got in! 

In the two general elections I've been eligible to vote in here the Greens have got my party vote, and the constituency one has gone to whoever had the best chance of beating National (ie our Tory party)... which realistically wasn't anyone, but Labour came closest. Given the mess both Labour and Mana are in, it wasn't rocket science, or even much psephology, to figure out that if I was going to join a party now it had to be the Greens. I still don't agree with all of their policies, but at least now I get a chance to have a say in them. 

The more of us that pro-actively join in the debate, the more we'll be able to engage those who for whatever reason feel they have no voice or chose not to use it. As long as we don't put them off first that is anyway...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

to do...

As I've no doubt mentioned in the past I've gotten into the habit over the last 15yrs or so of keeping a 'to do' list book when I've needed to. I started doing it when I had four part-time jobs and it was the only way I could keep track of what I had to do for where by when on top of what needed to be done for home and various Quaker committees I was on. Since then I've drifted in and out of using it, but generally finding that unless I'm in really good form it is the only way I can keep on top of things. Generally speaking I have to be really ill or extremely well not to require it to keep track of what I need to do, and whilst I've never yet gone back to juggling that many different forms of employment I seem to make up for that with voluntary work!

I have to admit I've been known to write things down once I've done them just so I get the satisfaction of crossing them off the list and proving to myself that I have got something done today, honest. But I will also carry things forward time after time for over a year in some cases to make sure I don't lose sight of things I mean to do eventually. The trick though is keeping enough easily achievable things on the list so I don't end up with two pages of carried forward tasks which are for whatever reason well and truly in the 'too hard basket'.

This year, when energy levels and brain functionality have been challengingly low at times there have been weeks where I've not even opened the book, either to add anything in nor cross anything off. But when I get a good day or even better a run of good days I find my response to the 'carried forwards' is a good indication of just how good (or not!) I'm feeling! If my heart sinks I just move on, find something else to do that is easier. But days where I've had a reasonable run and several of the easy things have been satisfactorily ticked off I make a point trying to find something that has been sitting there for a while to tackle.

One of the tasks had involved making a phonecall I wasn't looking forward to. I've been finding phonecalls hard to make this year, much preferring email/facebook which are much more manageable in terms of energy. But a week ago I decided that well I'd just grit my teeth and do it. And surprise surprise the person was out! Gah.... a whole month of psyching myself up to call and then I get nowhere. Oh well, it has waited a month, what's a bit longer?! But although I didn't get the information I needed to finish off one task, being ready to tackle it meant I did manage to complete a similar task that has been waiting just as long to be finished. I still haven't had another go at making that phonecall though...

The 'active' pages in the book had stretched out to four or five, generally I try to keep it to two, or the most three. So I carried forward various tasks and tidied up my list. Admittedly the carried forward lists is longer than the recently added by a long chalk, but once I'd got them all written down together rather than spread over several pages the list didn't look anything like as daunting. The thing is this week we've had some lovely spring days and the garden has been way too tempting to ignore. So whilst that is definitely looking better for some extra care and attention; and Joanne and I tackled to woodshed yesterday and apparently got it looking the best it has in the 30 or so years since it was built; my list has been carefully left to one side...

So today I am concentrating on celebrating the fact that I have had energy 'to do' quite a lot this week, more than I've done in months in fact. Tomorrow I'll go back to the list in the book though and see what I can clear off the the 'to do' list.... well they are forecasting rain after all!

Friday, September 12, 2014


I've been catching up with some photo uploading on to Flickr. Some people use their Flickr accounts to showcase their best photography, others like me use it for several purposes: to share photos, a back-up, and a record of progress - be it the life of a child, renovation of a boat or in my case the gradual development of a garden.

Many's the time I've looked back and wished I'd taken photos of all the spots that used to be over-grown and thriving on neglect. Unfortunately the plants that tend to thrive through neglect aren't usually the ones you want to have an abundance of, if any of it. But it didn't occur to to me back then to photograph the unlovely and unwanted, it was only after the transformation began in earnest did I think to start taking 'before' pictures as well as 'after' ones.

Looking back through the album of garden updates I see certain areas of the garden cleared of weeds and then gradually slip back to a more overgrown state again, never quite as bad, and much more easily cleared again. Sometimes the offending plants aren't ones that would normally be classed as weeds but over enthusiastic garden plants who don't want to be contained. A weed, after all, is simply a plant in the wrong place.

Something I've got into the habit of photographing is the rather unlovely green waste pile, partly because it is incredibly satisfying to take a couple of trailer loads to the tip and see the pile shrink. But it all too quickly grows again hence the need for a reminder! This pile is made up of the stuff that won't compost easily and any invasives we really don't want to put back in the garden. Next to it is the pile of stuff to be mulched and re-used on the paths, or if big enough chopped up for firewood. Being able to look back on old photos and remind myself of just how much has been dealt with and disposed of over time is quite satisfying.

As part of the treatment for my health problems I've been going to counselling for the last few months. When giving my counselor an overview of my life to date early on in the piece I pointed out I'd been to counselling before, after my marriage break up, and I'd dealt with a lot of stuff then. 'When was that?' she asked. 'Oh from sometime in 1998, through to about the end of 2000 I think' I replied suddenly realising that actually I wasn't entirely sure, but I knew I'd just stopped going by the time Colette died, but which year was that??? I was busy drifting off in my own little world trying to figure out just 'when' it had been, when I was broken out of my reverie by it being pointed out that I'd lived through 14yrs of life since then, and not exactly an uneventful 14yrs either.


Those bits of garden you weed and get them looking all lovely and then they suffer again when you neglect them whilst you focus on something else? Yup. Those bits.

The good news is that as with gardening the hard work you put in earlier does pay off and sorting out the mess is a lot quicker the second time.

I wonder if this is why I like to look back at those piles of garden waste as a measure of progress. Seeing the 'problems' all lumped together rather than spread out around the place makes you appreciate better just how much crap there is to deal with even though a quick glance around doesn't reveal anything like the depth of the issue. (Those convovulous roots are a right pain to get out, and they grow back if you leave so much as an inch and turn your back on them.) Seeing the pile grow and shrink over time proves to me that a lot of work has been done, even when it doesn't look like it at times. It is also a reminder that life isn't static, and just because you've dealt with something once doesn't mean you won't have to do it again. To be quite honest I'm getting sick of pulling out canna lilies but if I don't keep doing it they'll take over and smother everything else in their path, except the convovulous of course!

I remember thinking back whenever-it-was that having gone to counselling and found it really useful I wouldn't shy away from going back again in the future and I'd be really positive about it as a tool for coping with life if anyone asked me. Yet when it was suggested again this year all my old reluctance had slipped back when I wasn't looking. However I do know it is helping, I am seeing patterns in my life that I'd never quite joined the dots up about before. So in theory I can either avoid certain things happening again, or at least go into a situation better prepared for it. In theory anyway, there's a huge part of me that is thinking up 'Yeah, right...' Tui ads in response to that idea, but hey who knows, it might just work!

There are times when the only way to tidy a cupboard is to empty everything out and start again, or clear a patch of land and replant it. We can't dispose of the clutter of life experience quite so easily, but we can take things out and have a good look at them from a different angle; and that is so often when the connections and patterns start to show; when the things that really don't need to be right in front of you all the time shaping your responses to the world can be acknowledged, dusted off, and put somewhere out of the way to make room for more positive influences to grow. Unfortunately large scale clear-outs require energy, and when you've got less to spare is usually when the clear-out is needed most. 

Energy can't move when life is too cluttered, and it might not just be cluttered with material 'stuff' or doing too much. I thought that last year where life was much simpler than it had been and I had space to focus on some of the things I wanted to be doing in life, it would be what I needed to find a new direction. But whilst I was busy adding things in to life, I wasn't doing anything about clearing out the 'clutter' inside of me as I was too busy literally clearing out the clutter in the house and garage and getting on top of the weeds in the garden! It took getting really quite ill to get me to stop and take stock of life on a different level.

It is harder to document piles of emotional clutter than it is piles of green waste in a way that can be looked back on to appreciate progress later, or to bolster you on those days when it feels like no matter how hard you work at it you feel like you're getting nowhere. So this post is as much a reminder to myself as anything that yes, progress is being made, but also that I need to keep working on these things otherwise life gets out of hand again.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

August, and everything after...

Well I said I was going to monitor my single-use (ie non-recyclable or re-usable) plastic consumption for longer than a month, and I did! I got through August keeping everything aside. However as we now have two additional folk in the house for a while I'm not even going to try keeping that up as it will just get way too complicated. However once we're back to just the two of us again it will be interesting to try it again and see how much, if anything, my habits have changed!

The collection for August is larger than for July mainly from using things up: a couple of packets of microwave rice from the CDE Kit, some cotton wool that I've had since I lived in Wellington (so at least 7 1/2yrs old!), a thingy of liquid soap from a hotel that is a plastics number we can't recycle locally and the bottle has split so I can't refill it, a carton of rice milk I'd bought for when my parents were here late last year & hadn't needed then but was about to go out of date, and finally I finished off that bag of pasta I started in early July!

Of course there are the usual medication packs, strips off the top of bulk buy bags etc. as well. I've been thinking about how to reduce the amount of plastic I use that can be recycled as even reusing and recycling just postpones the day when it becomes waste and as is becoming increasingly evident there is no such place as 'away' to throw it.

So, there are a few changes in shopping habits I've decided to commit to and the idea is gradually I'll add in more things to the equation, basically the same way as I've phased in any other change in my shopping habits. Using the glass bottled organic cider vinegar (or refilled bottles from the health food shop) in my hair rinse rather than buying separate bottles of the cheaper stuff in plastic bottles was my first decision. I'd balked at doing this before but then realised just how long a 750ml bottle had lasted me and figured it was hardly a huge financial commitment! I'd been buying coconut milk powder when I could find it, but have switched to tins as the amount I use on a regular basis has increased enough now to warrant it, I just need to remember which brands don't have plastic linings in their tins! I've discovered I can get my long grain brown rice in 10kg paper sacks via the local food co-op so that is duly noted for future reference (I've quite a stash to get through first!). I've already mentioned changing the supplies in the CDE Kit, that will take a while to complete but at least I've made a start.

I'll see how I go with those, and no doubt as the weeks roll by I'll find other things to add to the list. One unlooked for plus is the dosage of one of my meds has changed so once I've finished the current supply I'll be taking one or two tablets not three which will reduce the amount of rubbish as well as hopefully improve my health!

I was quite impressed though that despite all the stuff being used up, two months worth of single use plastic still fit into one bag in the end. The info from Plastic Free July keeps coming through their Facebook page which is great, lots of ideas and plastic free products still being shared including some I hadn't even begun to think about - suncream anyone?! Mind you given the initiative comes from Western Australia I shouldn't be surprised that they were on to that one. I do have a recipe for making some, but I can't say as I've been enthused enough by it to give it a go. But who knows where I'll be on this journey by July next year - hopefully making even more of my own things and creatively avoiding more and more plastics in my life.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

plastic free July - the finale, or rather the beginning...

Well the month is over. In fact it was over a while ago, but for various reasons this didn't get finished at the time so I'll try to edit this to make sense timewise as I finish it off....

I managed to come up with a compromise solution for my CDE Kit dilemma of the other week. I've bought a sistema microwave noodle bowl which at least is BPA free even if it is plastic. After a bit of experimentation I've now got a collection of buckwheat, stock powder and sundried tomatoes in the kit replacing the rice ready meals (which have now been eaten, and the packets added to the August plastic collection - ah well!)

Week four saw another packet being used up - having found the tail end of a packet of rice floating around forgotten about in the cupboard it got tipped into some miso soup I was making. I was feeling rather pleased with myself as I've made miso soup from scratch a few times now rather than just open a sachet. Sure it takes longer than boiling the jug, but it doesn't take that much longer and the result is much more satisfying. However I'll still keep some sachets on hand for emergencies (aka very low energy days). Unfortunately the only way I can buy miso around here is in a plastic bag within a resealable plastic pouch. Not tubs or jars like I used to get in Edinburgh and Wellington. So an empty miso bag has also been added to the weeks collection, but better one bag than a pile of sachets.

The 'foil' seal on a new jar of tablets (the only one I take that that isn't in blister packs) turned out to be plastic film masquerading as foil - bah humbug. Plus I'm on to a new moxa stick (shhhh, don't tell Teri it has taken me this long to get through the last one! I tend to forget more often than remember to use it...) so that's another packet on top of the usual blister packs.

I bought myself a mini processor, basically a bowl with two sets of blades and a motor. Sooooo many of the recipes I come across these days that work for my dietary requirements seem to involve whizzing up a lot of dried fruits, nuts, pulses etc and our poor overworked whizzy stick blender isn't really designed for such. So I made the most of a half price sale! Aside from the plastic bags wrapped around each component part (why???) in theory this means I'll be more easily able to avoid certain plastic packages as it will be easier for me to make things like oatcakes and crackers so I'm less likely to resort to buying them when low on energy (I finished a packet of Corn Thins recently that had been bought for that very reason). I started to try making my own LSA but realised I need to buy more linseed after I'd already whizzed the almonds and sunflower seeds, but hopefully that will be another plastic packet no longer coming into the house. Sure I'll still be buying the bulk bags of the ingredients, but I get them anyway. I've got a whole heap of recipes to go at now that I've been procrastinating over trying as putting things through the mouli or using a pestle and mortar instead is much harder work. Whilst I'm all for avoiding unnecessary electricity use I've had to accept that for now I just don't have the physical stamina for the more energetic methods.

So, after a month of trying to avoid single use plastic what have I learned and achieved? Well it is certainly much easier to keep single use plastic consumption down when you're at home under normal circumstances. I don't seem to be alone in discovering that either. I've started to radically rethink the food in the CDE Kit, I'd gone down the usual track of various packets and tinned convenience foods, most of which I don't usually eat which is a pain when it comes to refreshing the contents each year. It has also made me think about how and where the food in it would be used ie it is unlikely to be at home. I've become much more aware when shopping about packaging, I thought I was pretty good at this already, but have realised that there is still a lot of room for improvement. I've got into the habit of not only carrying around with me my cloth shopping bags but a handful of clean plastic bags - these can be used for loose veg and bulk bin items, standing pots of seedlings in etc instead of taking another new plastic bag in the shop/at the market. At some point I'll make some of those tulle bags for veg, but I've way too many other sewing projects to finish first!

But the biggest realisation I suppose for me is that if I'm going to really make a difference to my habits I need to monitor my usage for more than just one month. It is now three weeks into August, and sadly the collection for August already has more in it than the one for the whole of July, but that is mostly due to using things up and phasing them out (like the rice packets from the CDE Kit). But I'll write more about August in another post.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Okay so it has been a while since I've blogged, several reasons - a stinking head cold, a dying laptop, coming off the herbal meds that make day to day life bearable for a fortnight in preparation for a minor op which happened yesterday, and trying to get to grips with a new laptop which I still haven't managed to make talk to my camera.

I do have an almost finished post about my Plastic Free July attempts but the final photo is still on my camera... I should just finish it and post it without the photo, but promises of help are in the offing so fingers crossed I'll have it sussed soon! Meanwhile I have continued the exercise into August, but more on that later.

Anyway, I'm now back on my meds which help my head work, although also popping painkillers like smarties again whilst my innards recover. The world is slowly coming back into focus again and hopefully normal service will be resumed shortly....

Friday, July 25, 2014

plastic free July - three weeks on

Well more of the month has gone than there is to come and how am I doing with regard to keeping single use plastic out of my life?

That depends on how you look at it. Compared to many people I probably do pretty well. This month compared to what I usually use? Hmmm, not that much difference to be totally honest.

I was brave enough to refuse a plastic bag in Farmers the other day, in the past I'd been told there that they have to put things in one of their bags and seal it with tape for 'security reasons' whereas this time the teller didn't even bat an eyelid, so hopefully that is a positive sign of policy change.

I've become more aware of the remaining bits of single use plastic I can't figure out how to manage without like tablet blister packs. Yesterday as I was sewing and came towards the end of a reel of cotton I lamented the passing of wooden cottonreels. Some thread comes on cardboard spools so I can try to buy those where possible but the range of colours available (locally) is rather limited. Mind you I have a sizeable stash of cotton which I always try to use first, including some industrial cones dating back to the 70s, and I keep inheriting collections of cotton so I don't often buy it anyway. There are some food items that I buy because of my particular dietary requirements that as far as I know only come in plastic; as each one has come along this month I've thought hard 'do I really need this'. Some I don't and most likely won't buy again or, like the pasta, I haven't actually bought for a long time, I'm just using up what I still had in the cupboard. Other things are in the 'pending' pile as it were - I can't figure out a way around it just yet, but I'll work on it.

Then there are the times when different sets of principles/priorities clash - without thinking I bought some paprika in the health food shop last week as we'd just about run out. It comes in a resealable plastic pouch. If I'd waited until I'd next gone to Pak'n'Save I could've got it in a box. But a) that could be weeks away yet, and b) I do try to support the small shops in town as they need all the help they can get. I had checked Four Square that stocks some of the spices in boxes, but they don't keep a large range and paprika isn't part of it. But did I really need paprika now? Could I have lived without it? Of course I could. But when cooking with a limited range of ingredients it is often the herbs and spices that make all the difference. I bought a new recipe book recently and one particular recipe caught my eye, which calls for paprika. The fact that I'm even thinking of trying a new recipe is a sign of me slowly getting better and I'm not about to hold back my own recovery over a plastic packet of paprika. When I've made it as per recipe once I'll happily adapt, but I do like to try things as close to intended as possible the first time - especially when I can eat all the ingredients in it!

Yesterday I needed to go and buy reasonably large quantities of veg to make soup for a TimeBank fundraiser so I fished bags out of the pile in the laundry that I know came from Bells originally and  re-used them rather than tear new ones off the roll. I certainly wouldn't have thought to do that before, so I guess I am making some progress in my thinking and, more to the point, habits.

One thing that has been niggling in the back of my mind for a while is the food in the CDE Kit most of which is plastic packed. On the one hand this seems like a really good thing as plastic is light, doesn't easily break, and it is waterproof. But these foods need rotated and ideally replaced once a year. Of course I'm not about to throw out perfectly useable food so that means eating it... and it has to be said unless I'm camping I find it really hard to summon up any enthusiasm for instant rice meals! I've read some blog posts about making up your own 'instant' meals (ie just add water and cook) which would be all very well if I was at home or in some else's home. But if I end up at the college along with half of Kaitaia due to flooding, something that can be bunged in the microwave as is for 40 seconds is still looking like a better option as chances are I won't be able to eat what is served up for the masses. I'll work on this one!

But anyway this is what the last 3 weeks of single use plastic in my life looks like:

New from last week: a rice flakes packet (I mix these with oats for my morning porridge - I'm trying to cut out gluten and reduce the amount of oats I eat. There are other things I could use, but they all come in plastic too); an old wet wipes packet which had been in my bag for a couple of years, literally, I bought them for going to Kenya!; yet more tablet strips (but as yet no more painkiller ones, woo hoo!); the seals off a bottle of cider vinegar; the strips cut off the top of a couple more bulk buy packets and I think that's about it. I'm seriously considering keeping the challenge up for a second month at least to see how much is simply a case of using up what I already have, and how much new still manages to sneak in. Because I'm on a fairly tight budget I'm not rushing out to buy alternatives until I have used up what I have so it will all be a gradual process to reduce my consumption of single use plastic. Hopefully over time I'll also be able to make an impact on reducing the plastic use in our household that isn't generally my responsibility. Being healthy enough to get to market regularly will certainly make a difference to start with. I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

plastic free July - two weeks in

Okay, so when I find an old cotton reel hiding down the back of the chair that has been there for months it doesn't count right? Not much of a dilemma I admit and I'm pretty sure it could be re-purposed, just not quite so easily as it could when I was working at kindergarten!

I'm doing the Plastic Free July challenge to try to avoid single use plastic for a month.

Again this weeks collection has a fair chunk of tablet blister packs in it, plus a couple of packets from things that were bought specifically for me to use at the bach which have now been finished (some GF wraps to stand in for pizza bases and some feta cheese). These aren't things I would usually buy if I was going to be eating at home as usual, and I quite possibly wouldn't have got if the cooking arrangements at the bach weren't so... odd, ie no stove! We did alright with the wood-fired pizza oven, barbeque, electric frying pan, microwave, and the dinky grill/oven box thingamijig Margaret managed to bake a birthday cake in (I was well impressed with that achievement!). But it was a challenge trying to shop when I'd never been there before and wasn't going to know until it was too late for me to go shopping again what they had planned for meals beyond pizza. However I now know the cunning plan of using the cast iron frying pans in the pizza oven and... anyway I digress.

Rather than seperate out each weeks collections here is two weeksworth together (week one can be seen here).

I've been reading some other peoples experiences about doing the plastic free July challenge and realising that my existing shopping habits certainly make it a lot easier for me than many. For a start I don't do that much shopping and for practical reasons I'm limiting this challenge to things I'm responsible for. I got to the market this weekend so managed to do our vegetable shopping - so that all came loose or in paper bags which went into my cloth shopping bag. It's only whilst I've been sick this year and Phyllis has been buying all the veggies that the amount of fresh food associated plastic has crept up as she goes to Four Square where most of it is pre-packed or puts everything in new bags when she goes to Bells. Buying local produce direct from the growers means there are no sticky plastic lables on the fruit etc. which had become some folks bugbear last week. Hopefully I'll be up to going to the market again from now on, so I'll be able to keep the amount of plastic creeping in to the house that way down again.

When I'm getting the bus back from Auckland etc I'd got into the habit of buying sushi from the shop where you change buses in Kerikeri. I had planned to the same last Tuesday, but I was off eating altogether when the time came, however I had set off prepared! I had my wee Marmite lunchbox with me which I was planning to fill up instead of the plastic trays they have - that being the great advantage of it being a self service sushi shop rather than everything pre-packaged. They serve the pickled ginger out of a big catering box rather than sachets and I was just planning to say no to wasabi and soy sauce having forgotten to refill and bring with me the wee squeezy soy sauce bottle I'd got from there last trip.

One thing that did strike me about this week was sellotape etc! I used some insulation tape in an attempt at some cable management and the first plan failed after a few days so I was about to throw away the tape then realised what it was! So into the bag it went with the rest of the plastic. Also in there is a shop sticker that had been used to seal up some tissue paper around a gift I received. The padded bag that arrived in will get re-used so certainly doesn't count as 'single use' - it was interesting to see it had two recycling numbers on it, presumably one for the bag and one for the bubble wrap inside it. But it doesn't say which is which and one number you can recycle locally and the other you can't... I'll add writing to NZ Post about that to my 'to do' list.

This all made me think about packaging for postage. Generally I re-use jiffy bags/padded packaging that I receive things in, or use brown paper and recycled bubble wrap. But I have to admit between parcels and re-using envelopes I do use a fair amount of sellotape and parcel tape, and I'd been using sellotape without even thinking this month. I've no idea how well brown paper tape works for anything other than mask making, I suppose I'd better get some and find out! Glue is okay for some cases, but comes in a plastic container itself and I'm definitely not going to use Cow Gum I'm afraid, I can smell the stuff just thinking about it and I doubt I've seen a tin since Primary school - which does make me wonder if it is even available here. The enevelope re-user lables I've got are just small address lable size, not the sort that can fold over the top of the envelope to seal it, and it was hard enough to find those! Hmmmm....

The observant will spot an ink cartridge - well that's the last one, I now have a reservoir in my fountain pen so I am back to using bottled ink. I haven't bought a biro in years, but somehow I accumulate freebies. I do have a pack of ball point refills but I seem to lose biros as easily as gain them so them running out isn't usually an issue.

The more time passes doing this the more I realise that keeping single use plastic out of life is a long term strategy not a short term fix. I keep coming across things I'm using up that I actually stopped buying regularly some time ago, partly because my lifestyle has changed or because I bought it when I was really sick and not able to do as much cooking from scratch as I usally do these days, but partly because of making a conscious commitment to keeping throwaway plastic out of my life as much as possible. It would be even more wasteful not to use those things up just because of their plastic component. In theory though as I finish things, this should get easier, right? We'll see!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Facebook and vocal ministry

En route to Yearly Meeting I was having a conversation with Charlotte about giving vocal ministry in Meeting for Worship (that's speaking out of the silence of worship for those not so familiar with our ways), when it was appropriate to do so and so on. The conversation came to mind recently as I was sharing something I'd seen on Facebook on someone's timeline rather than simply sharing it on my own. I'd been telling Charlotte one of the rules of thumb I'd picked up some years ago (no idea where now!) about testing ministry that comes to you:

1) Is it a message for yourself? If so accept it with gratitude and sit with it in the silence and see if more unfolds.
2) Is it a message for a particular individual? If so tell them afterwards, in person if possible, otherwise use the phone/email etc later (although I suspect when I first heard this email wasn't an option!)
3) Is this message for the group, or someone you can't identify? If so share it as vocal ministry

Of course if it is #3 then Margaret's method of saying it over in your head three times before getting to your feet is a good stage two - usually I find before I've managed to get my head around it for a third time someone else has said whatever it was far better than I could, the sense of urgency to speak has eased, or another way had opened to follow the thought through later. Alternatively this could just be me making excuses for not liking to give vocal ministry, the few times it has happened I've been a proper quaker and been quaking in my boots!

So what does this have to do with Facebook?

Well when you have +500 Facebook friends you have to hope they share a certain amount of discernment before posting otherwise you end up with a lot of 'stuff' to get through to find the important bits of news and information. There are only a few of my friends who are prolific sharers of things and mostly I'm grateful for what they do, but after the 3rd or 4th consecutive link to articles on the same topic my eyes glaze over and I start to skim past them without even reading the snapshot properly to see if it is worth reading in full. A bit like tuning out when you hear ministry repeated for the umpteenth time by an elderly Friend who is getting a bit yonderly, if you focus you might get something new out of it, and those hearing it fresh are quite likely to, but that Friend is still probably on the Elders 'what can we do about so-and-so...?' list!

So generally I try not to post too much in one day. Often I'll post something direct to someone's page rather than in my feed if I think it will particularly appeal to them, even if I know others of my friends would appreciate it they'll probably appreciate me not sharing half a dozen items or so a day even more! A bit like going directly to the Friend in question after Meeting rather than adding to an already busy hour of ministry - when there's too much being said I stop taking things in properly after a while, both in Meeting and on Facebook.

But then there are some articles etc that I'll make sure I share liberally - in my own feed, and in various groups I'm part of to make sure the message gets out there: like our YM statement 'Lest we forget' and AFSCs piece on the current appauling violence in Gaza which gives the context the mainstream media seem to be glossing over at best. I guess that's like giving ministry in Meeting, adding campaign info in the notices, and just to be sure writing something for the newsletter!

But there is a lot that I see on Facebook that speaks to me and my condition that I don't necessarily share further, but I'll definitely 'like' it and often leave a comment so the person who shared it has a bit more idea as to why I 'like' it. Often these are the inspirational quotes or funnies that say just what I needed, (and sometimes didn't necessarily want to hear!), or that really made me laugh. After all laughter is the best medicine!

Where I dither regularly (and generally decide not to share) are the petitions. I often get several emails a day direct from the likes of Causes, Sum Of Us, Avaaz, Story of Stuff as well as groups like Greenpeace and Amnesty International that I support directly, and those petitions friends of mine have signed and passed on etc etc etc. I unsubscribed from 38 Degrees as really you're supposed to be a UK resident and whilst occasionally I've been known to borrow my parents postcode when I feel really strongly about something it is cheating the system somewhat! I don't think I've ever signed anything they wouldn't agree with should anyone care to check the electoral register for an 'A Dunford' in Whithorn, who could of course be my mum!

Given I often sign at least 10 petitions a week I figure that sharing requests to sign for all of them is going to bring upon whatever the petitioning version of 'donor fatigue' is on my friends and I'd rather they stayed my friends... In the same way that there really is a limit as to how many notices you can give about worthy causes after Meeting before folk start getting fidgety and thinking more about their upcoming cuppa rather than what you're saying. Instead I'd rather share links to articles that help people make their own mind up about whether to sign such petitions when they land in their inbox or news feed by other means. The few I do share are those unlikely to get much publicity otherwise such as to Save the Whithorn Trust which thankfully got rescued with Heritage Lottery funding (my misgivings about the ethics of Lottery funding in general is another topic altogether!) Call it my bit of repayment for borrowing a local postcode...

Anyway, as Victor used to say I've spoken for far too long already, but I assure you I'm not about to repeat myself and go off on several tangents for twice as long again. Well not this time anyway!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

plastic free July - one week in

Well it hasn't been the easiest week to start trying to keep track of my single-use plastic consumption! I was away with long time f/Friends for a few days at "the bosses' bach" near Tutukaka which was fantastic. It's been years since we've spent that long together and the break was just what I needed. It did mean though that they had done most of the food shopping not me so I had to figure out how I was going to deal with the plastic monitoring. I decided that anything that was just for me, or that I had brought counted, if it was something of theirs that I happened to have shared then it didn't. The only thing I dithered over was the seal of a tub of hummus that they probably bought because of me but we did all tuck in to it so I let it go!

So my total of single use plastic for the first week is pretty low: the strips cut off the top of several bulk buy bags, one crisp packet from the weekend (that I didn't track down until after I'd taken the photo), the wrapper from a box of teabags that had been gifted to me and a few extra scraps; but a lot so far is medical - blister packs from tablets and the wrapper from a moxa stick the acupuncturist provides. It doesn't look that much but I know there are a few packets close to being finished that no doubt will be added to the collection before the month (this week?) is out. I must admit it is tempting to avoid those things until August but that really is cheating! I did pause before opening the box of teabags I have to admit especially as it is a brand I'd never buy myself.

I knew I already did fairly well in terms of keeping my single-use plastic consumption down, and this week has confirmed that. But it has made me think a lot more about the issue, and notice how much is wrapped in plastic that really doesn't need to be. Also so far I don't think there is much more I could cut out - I don't think the pharmacy would be too happy if I asked for counted out tablets in glass bottles like we used to get, especially given how many tablets I take! I suspect all their dispensing bottles are plastic these days. Didn't we used to take empty glass ones back to the chemists? I've a feeling we did, well when not filling them up with potions and and various things made from painted DAS clay for playing shops with anyway!

Anyway, two days into week 2 and so far the pile hasn't grown much more, we'll so how it looks by the end of the 14th!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

plastic free July

Well if you've been following my blog for a while (thanks for hanging in there with me!) you'll know I've been trying to reduce the amount of plastic in my life, especially single use plastic. So when an email arrived mentioning Plastic Free July of course I had to investigate!

Now the quibbler in me who knows I have to go shopping for bulk items this week and those things all come in plastic, is thinking if you re-use something it isn't single use any more is it? Like the bags I get my bulk food items in, these pre-sealed (so it isn't like I can take my own bag) large snaplock bags get washed out and re-used. Well okay, some of them get re-used, the rest are gradually accumulating in the laundry. But the only way I can avoid plastic when I buy such things is to buy organic versions from the health food shop which uses corn starch bags for it's bulk bin products, and I simply don't have that much money right now and they don't stock all the things I buy anway.

I haven't used cling wrap in years, I very rarely buy takeaway food that comes with disposable plastic and I always refuse plastic bags it at all possible, so the main things most people are cutting back on are hardly a challenge for me. Today as I was walking past the butchers in town I saw he had a big poster in his window - tofu on special, $3.50 for about 680g. Well at that price it was definitely worth investigating and whilst I'm a life long vegetarian I'm quite happy to support a local independent butcher on the high street, especially as he sells local meat (keep those food miles down where possible!). Plus Kaitaia needs all the retailers in town that it can get to fill the numerous empty shops.

The tofu in question is made in Auckland from GMO free beans, and I know it is pretty good having had it down there at a friend's. I had been making a point of buying Tonzu's tofu as not only is it organic but they are a Living Wage employer too, but feeling it was worth supporting another small business for a change got me in the door. Anyway, the point of this (before I completely do a Ronnie Corbett) was the dither over packaging once I got in the shop - it is in a plastic tray with a film seal over the top. Tonzu sell their tofu in cardboard boxes, but packaged in plastic inside. I figured the plastic seal was about the same amount as the Tonzu inside packaging so fair enough, but the tray? Well thriftiness won the day and I bought it, but I was very glad to find out when I got home that the tray is recyclable. But this all got me thinking again (and that was before I'd read the email!), could I manage without buying anything in plastic?

I've signed up for the challenge, but knowing that for some things I have the choice of plastic or going without. I could just wait until August to buy them to improve my July target, but that really feels like cheating. Whilst I've changed my diet considerably to reduce the amount of processed food in it over the last few years there are some things that I really need to eat to keep my diet properly balanced, and right now the only way I can get them is in plastic packaging. But I'm definitely going to make the extra effort this month to cut out as much single use plastic as I can and see how I go, hopefully the promised emailed tips will help!

Friday, June 20, 2014

to use or not to use...

I while back I was pondering on the use of plastics in gardening after Cherice's EcoLent postings. I meant to get around to do some research into this. But whilst I did get around to throwing away the disintegrating tubs in the potting shed, looking into what the interweb had to offer in terms of collective wisdom somehow fell off the 'to do list'. Not all that surprising really I suppose as my energy levels still aren't that great and brain fog keeps sneaking back in. However good ol' Facebook came to the rescue and a link to this article about plastic in the garden popped into my feed this week!

I guess it make sense to follow the plastics mantra if you wouldn't put it in a baby's mouth don't put it in your garden - although there are plenty things your average baby will put in their own mouths that I'd rather not even think about!

I like 'The bottom line: Until a better alternative comes along, some reusable plastics are still a good bet, energywise', it is reminiscent of George Fox's advice to William Penn 'Wear it as long as thou canst' - recognising we can't make every change straight away in our lives, but we should do what we can when we can.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Love life. Engage in it. Give it all you've got. Love it with a passion because life truly does give back, many times over, what you put into it.
Maya Angelou (1928 - 2014)

This post has taken a few weeks to write, not because of my health/energy levels, but because it is hard to type with a lump in your throat, eyes full of tears, and when your words feel inadequate.

Twenty five years ago after Meeting in Glasgow Meeting House I met a cute little 10yr old who was incredibly cheeky. I was there as a Young Friend helping with the catering at an NFPB event over the weekend, he was there with his Dad. Recognising the London school on his sweatshirt I innocently asked 'Do you know the Gibsons?' Hervey replied with a laugh 'We are the Gibsons!' I can't quite remember Anders' exact response but it was along the lines of him being the most important one, and the fact that I knew his older brothers Kester and Stefan would pale into insignificance having now met him! It seemed quite funny at the time, but no disrespect to them, it proved to be more prophetic than I'd ever have imagined possible.

Much to Anders' disgruntlement time put paid to him being 'cute' and 'little' but he never lost his gift for cheek and his ability to find the humour in life, often at someone else's expense when not at his own, and somehow he usually got away with it.

The early 2000s saw me traipsing through to Glasgow from Edinburgh for a series of training courses as I tried to get to grips with Sage and advanced use of Excel. The bonus of which was catching up with assorted f/Friends through there more often than usual, including Anders. It was the first time we'd really spent much time together not at a Quaker event or planning one, and despite having known him for over a decade by then it was probably the first time I'd had any lengthy in-depth conversations with him about his Cystic Fybrosis and assorted side effect conditions. I'd picked up quite a bit over the years, you couldn't know him and not do. He was far from afraid to talk about it and would take great delight in giving somewhat graphic explanations at mealtimes about feeding tubes and and sputum if only to see how many people he could put off their food. His party trick for several years as a pre/young teen was sticking the entire length of his little fingers up his nostrils to prove he could, well what can I say, there's something about finding humour in bodily functions that must come with the Y chromosome, and he had a double dose...

Anders had often reminded us he was living at the cutting edge of medical science; even by his teens he'd already well exceded his original life expectancy and we all knew it was a case of hoping that science would progress faster than his lungs deteriorated so he'd have decent chance. It was one thing intellectually knowing he was on more tablets a day than most folk his age would take in a year, but seeing all the boxes, jars and packets lined up in his flat along with the oxygen machine and protein drinks made it really sink in for me. At the time Anders was campaigning for all the medicines needed by those with CF to be free as only a fraction were - those for associated conditions such as osteoporosis, kidney problems, diabetes etc were still charged for and these could mount up to a hefty sum which the Disability allowances weren't really geared up to covering. Although I'd left the country by the time it happened I gave a whoop for Anders and co when I heard all prescriptions would be free for everyone.

I can still remember one particular conversation as if it were last month, rather than over a decade ago, when I first realised the future option of a lung transplant was a possibility for him. He reckoned that one could give him a life expectancy of late 50s - mid 60s, which, as he pointed out, wasn't bad for a Glaswegian! However of course there was always the possibility that a transplant could fail, or him not even survive the operation. It was a risk, but one he was prepared to take. He figured that by the time one would be available to him the chances were he'd not have long left anyway so it was far better to die trying. It was all so hypothetical at the time, and there was something slightly surreal about even having the conversation. Apart from prompting me to get a new Organ Donor Card as my old one had so many changes of contact information crossed out on it that it was almost illegible, there didn't seem much else to do at the time, but it certainly gave me a renewed admiration for his pragmatic and philosophical approach to life and death. Oh and it also meant I was slightly more anxious each time he landed in hospital, he just had to live long enough to get that 'second chance', he just had to....

In more recent years Anders became a regular in the Scottish media giving interviews about the Cystic Fybrosis TrustThe Butterfly Trust, and Live Life Then Give Life amongst other things. The great advantage of the internet meant I still got to read print articles even though I was half a world away, although internet broadcasting restrictions meant I missed the radio interviews. Being Anders he not only got heavily involved himself but got a whole heap of his friends on board, whether playing in the fundraising football tournaments he organised, inspiring them to do crazy (as far as I am concerned!) fundraising events of their own, or simply getting a large number of people sharing links to the NHS Donor Registry on Facebook. The 'Anders Effect' as it became known by some of us had become evident back at Northern Friends Summer School in his teens where his frank openness and sometimes blunt way of putting things got a lot of people to really think about issues around medical testing, disability awareness etc. Telling someone to their face that you'd be dead if it wasn't for experiments on animals when they've just been trying to convince a room full of +60 teenagers and 20 adults it was a bad idea certainly makes an impact! Not only has he led to people running races etc because of him, he's immeasurably shaped the lives and thinking of so many people.

In April last year Anders made it to the lung transplant waiting list. It was good news and bad, great that he'd get a chance, but you have to be in pretty bad shape to make it to the list. It took over a year, and several false alarms that saw him rushing down to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne only to find that the op couldn't happen. Either his health wasn't good enough (ironic really, you have to be pretty bad to get on the list then you have to be healthy enough to have the op), or someone else got the lungs. The journeys between Glasgow and Newcastle themselves didn't help his health and with one lung collapsed and the remaining one at 35% functionality it really was becoming a race against time. Then finally it was his turn, if the number of Facebook likes and messages of support could dictate a medical outcome he'd have been jogging straight from the operating theatre out on to the football pitch (probably still in his theatre gown for the laugh of it!). However after a few all too short days it became evident that the lungs hadn't taken, and after 7 weeks in intensive care the refs whistle blew, it was game over.

As well as getting to know most of his family fairly well at one point or another over the years, Anders was part of a crowd of Quaker teenagers I'd looked after, and in time worked with, at various events who became very dear friends. They have supported me through some pretty lousy times of my life. I've watched that crowd grow up, grow together, and support each other through thick and thin. Not being able to be there for them now hurts about as much as losing Anders does. But I am oh so incredibly grateful to know they are grieving as adults in their 30s, and not as a bunch of teenagers. As one Summer Schooler put it on Facebook 'You kept telling me this day would come, but I didn't want to believe it.' None of us wanted to believe it, and kept hoping for that miracle, yet Anders would be the first to tell us that he got the miracle, he got 30yrs over the odds which isn't bad really.

As this article from the Evening Times shows, Anders inspired to the end. The pages and pages of tributes that poured in to Facebook, those who showed up to his Memorial Meeting, not to mention all those who would've if they could, speaks volumes about a a life well lived. Oscar Wilde said 'One has a right to judge a man by the effect he has over his friends', and the Anders Effect I'm sure will be with us for many, many more years to come as we do our best to dance for one more of us.