Saturday, December 05, 2015

preparation vs planning

Ooops, November seemed to get away on me. I've had this half written for a while though....

I have a reputation for being organized. I'm not entirely convinced that I deserve it (especially having missed out on blogging in November!), and many the occasion has been when I've felt well if I'm the organized one heaven help everyone else. However having known several people who really would fail to organize the proverbial piss-up in a brewery maybe it's all relative.

After 30 years or so of planning Quaker events, 5 years of juggling up to 4 part time jobs simultaneously (not to be recommended I hasten to add!) and finding myself in life situations both through work and my personal life where organizing others has been required, as well as organizing myself I suppose I do have a tendency to try to plan.

But slowly over the years and particularly in recent months I've been learning the difference between planning and preparation. You can't plan for every eventuality no matter how much time is spent on risk management strategies. Rules will get broken in ways you haven't thought of, the unpredictable will happen and there is no legislating for the quirks of human nature, nor mother nature come to that.

I was jokingly saying to someone a while ago how it's always good to have a 'plan b' up your sleeve, but the concept of 'plan b' does rather rely on there being a 'plan a' in the first place. Right now in life I have no 'plan a', and as Steve Hanson put it the only thing I have up my sleeve is my arm. I have hopes and dreams, and one or two 'well if nothing else turns up I can always do...' options, but there are too many variables beyond my control to make firm plans.

So instead of trying to plan I'm focusing on preparing instead. The downsizing/decluttering is a part of this, so is trying to maintain a certain level of voluntary work so I can keep a handle on just what my capacity is for paid work should something suitable and manageable come along, and being realistic about this. Whilst the theory of a regular extra couple of hours or so a day looks good on paper, the reality is flexi-time is still far more sensible. Some days my brain still decides that today is not a day for thinking, making decisions or even any sense of the world, and still I easily get overwhelmed. Thankfully the worst days come around far less often than they used to, but they crop up often enough for me to still have to factor them in to the equation. Those days however are great for getting simple tasks done at home that don't need much thinking about, and I now have a pile/list of them so I don't even have to try to remember what they!

Another side of the preparation is continuing my journey in extending my urban homesteading skills. Obviously these skills are useful right now, but being able to learn them when I have plenty time and have a well equipped home and garden at my disposal helps me figure out just what I would need in terms of time/energy and resources to carry on doing it in 'the future'. There are many more things that yes I could make my own of, but is it really what I want to spend my time and (limited) energy doing?

I'm being more proactive regarding my 'well if nothing else turns up...' options; doing a bit of research and sounding out some ideas, so when I finally do have to make a decision it can be a more informed one which hopefully will ease the pressure on making proper plans somewhat. I suppose it is like an extension of the Civil Defense Emergency kit, you never know exactly what might happen, but having some basics sorted out in advance means the essentials are hopefully covered in the short term.

Be prepared. All those years in Guides obviously taught be something useful after all!

Friday, October 30, 2015


I've been doing some research into the family of my maternal grandmother, whose surname was Cox. Having never really come across the name much I was somewhat taken aback by just how common it was in the part of Gloucestershire they come from (near Stroud, should you be interested!). If that wasn't enough it appears that just about every family in the village had a daughter who was either born Ann Cox or became Ann Cox through marriage, which made tracing my Great x3 Granny even more complicated!

The menfolk have somewhat less common names; Laban, Benjamin, Ira & Reuben. So that should've be easier right? Yeah right... how can people simply disappear for a couple of decades? Or appear in a census as very much alive thank you but not appear in any Death records? Well not that we could find at first, leaving a conundrum - Laban must've died somewhere otherwise he'd be 190yrs old by now, and much as the idea appeals I didn't think we had Time Lords or Immortals in the family.

So in an attempt to make sense of some of what was going on I started looking at the bigger picture; how come so many people from Bisley, Gloucestershire ended up in Halifax, West Riding of Yorkshire around the mid 1800s, and who were they?

After trawling through the census records from 1841 (the first one done) to 1891 for the district I started tracking various families and individuals over the years. I've no idea (yet...) how many of the Cox families listed are related to me, but I found myself getting quite emotionally involved in their histories. Having studied this period for my Social & Economic History A Level, plus having read a fair amount of historical fiction set in this era, I know a reasonable amount about it. However it was one thing learning about it in an abstract fashion, and quite another following the lives and deaths of real people, especially when they might be related to me. It was sobering to see how many children simply didn't make it from one census to the next, ten years later. The oldest person I recorded was 75, and few got to more than 60. Children as young as 7 and 8 had occupations listed next to their names in the 1841 census, and the designation 'pauper' was next to several names. One was living in the workhouse and another the local orphanage, several were servants in later decades and the earlier ones were full of weavers and spinners of both wool and silk, workers at various stages of the walking stick manufacturing industry (stick cutters, varnishers, polishers and bone carvers). Watermen (whatever that may mean!), railway labourers and agricultural labourers made regular appearances but the trade that cropped up again and again was stonemasonry, and that is what took sometimes just the menfolk, but sometimes entire families, up to Halifax.

According to a local history website, the district had had a lot of textile small scale industry, both wool and silk. The industrial revolution hit the area hard in the mid 1830s and many were left out of work. I've not yet figured out what the stonemasons were all working on until the 1850s that kept them in the area, but in the 1851 and 1861 census returns there are several families where the 'head' of the household is absent and the wife listed as 'wife of a stonemason'. Family tradition has it that Halifax Town Hall was built by members of our family (plus a few hundred others no doubt...) and that seems to be born out by the number of stonemasons from Bisley, including a few Coxs, who appear in the Halifax census returns in 1861.

Eventually the mystery was solved, it turned out that there weren't two Labans in the Bisley area about 10yrs apart in age, but just the older one, and someone had stuffed up (made up?) his age on a subsequent census entry. It turns out that his son Benjamin, my G.G.Grandad was from his second marriage, and the other Coxs they are later listed as living with in Halifax are from the first marriage. The reason it was all confusing is in the earliest census returns Laban is listed as living with his first family, and in the later one in Bisley he's just with his younger family, the older children being at a different address.

So it appeared that alas, no Time Lords in the family after all. Well that was until we started trying to research Benjamin's wife Janet who appears in the marriage register, several census records and the death register, but is conspicuous by her absence from any birth registers or census returns from the part of Scotland where she was supposedly born and spent her childhood! I'm reasonably certain she didn't die from having her head lopped off with a sword though as that would've caused quite a stir in Halifax in 1917, so that at least rules out her being an Immortal! Seems we're stuck with invisible for the time being instead.

A bizarre twist to the tale has been in relating some of these research challenges to long standing friends I've found that two of them also have Cox ancestry in the family from that part of Gloucestershire! I know it has long been said that Quakers makes the world a smaller place, but I wasn't expecting to end up potentially related to people I've known over half my life who also happen to have made their home in Aotearoa NZ!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

past present

I've spent a lot of time over the last few weeks working on a photobook, not for me or a Summer Gathering one (although one of those is also in progress), but as a birthday present for one of my self-appointed nephews. I'm reasonably sure no-one who sees this post will see him before he gets it, or if they do I'm sure they can keep a secret!

For almost four years we both lived around here and I spent many a weekend plus time in the school holidays looking after him. Anyone who followed my photostream on Flickr will know I took a lot of photos of him, and the ones that got uploaded were often only a fraction of those taken. I'd hear 'Take another, and another, and one of this' as he'd pull a different pose, expression or jump yet again off whichever piece of playground equipment it was, aiming for that 'perfect' shot.

These days though he's very reluctant to be in front of the camera and I practically have to plead with him to get a more up to date photo, so I figured it was time to share a reminder of how it used to be! Well that and the fact that when I was visiting recently he very proudly showed me an album with old photos, school certificates, and postcards I'd sent to him over the years. I'd thought about making the book last year but wasn't really sure the time was right so left it, this year though I knew for sure he'd appreciate it.

It was lovely looking back at the photos as I pulled the book together, it was as much a document of my life then as his. Amongst the stuff I'd recently brought back from Pukepoto was a bundle of paintings and drawings he'd done when staying with us. Those have now been photographed and recycled, it was hard to let go of them even so. But I have a box that has been covered with his pictures that I keep my files in so I do still have some originals. I think putting the photobook together helped me let go of the pictures, realizing that it was the memory of him doing the painting and drawing with me that was far more important to me than what he actually produced.

I've also been sorting through a box of cassette tapes, and I managed to halve my collection - again! It's a decade now since I had anything to play them on so it really was getting ridiculous to keep them all. I wrote a list of a pile of albums that I had that had been copied by various people that I had yet to get on cd or electronically and parted with those, and for mix tapes I'd put together either from my own or various past flatmates/boyfriend's music collections I went through and wrote a list of the tracks I now don't have, and parted with those tapes too. Mix tapes made for me by others survived to live another day, along with some recordings of friends' bands and a few originals that I still can't bring myself to part with even if I do have the cd/iTunes version now! Then to make up for what felt like a ruthless cull I splurged on iTunes and bought some of the most nostalgic 'missing' tracks, and fished out the insert cards that had friends' handwriting on and kept those too. After all, it has reached the point now where it is the memory of the people associated with it that is far more important than the physical means to listen to the music. And a few pieces of card take up way less room than a pile of C90s!

So two very different eras of my life, one recorded in photographs, the other in music (I've photos of that era too, but they are a task for another time), both now reduced to a more compact mostly digital archive. Another step towards a smaller scale of living without sacrificing the important things, the memories of people who have shaped my life; our love, laughter, tears and hugs.There's a quote from Maya Angelou: I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel, this is very true and is probably the most important thing to remember about someone, but it is nice to have some physical reminders of the times you have shared all the same.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Another trip to Pukepoto and another bootful of stuff has been relocated to my current abode. This time I collected one of the small bookcases and contents, and the assortment of boxes and bundles stashed in the bottom of my old wardrobe. The bookcase is now at the EcoCentre full of pre-loved books for sale, including a shelf's worth of those that had been living on it for the last few years! The remaining books have been squeezed on to the bookshelves in my room, their precariously balanced state in some cases being a good incentive to crack on with the process of replacing my photograph albums with much slimmer photobooks. Hopefully the next trip will collect my American cabinet and blanket box, but that requires the right combination of people, trailer, fine weather and time coinciding. But hey, it's taken 4.5yrs so far, what's a few more weeks?!

The feeling of satisfaction I'm getting from this process of downsizing and amalgamation is reassuring me that I'm on the right track. A few weeks ago I was overcome with a feeling of helplessness in the face of the refugee crisis and the intransigence of our politicians who just don't seem to get the idea of helping others simply because they are human too and in need. Sure, clearing out some drawers and figuring out a pile more stuff to re-home won't make any difference to those being washed up on the shores of Greece and Italy, but it gave me something to do that felt constructive, that was part of changing my own lifestyle. The motto 'live simply so others can simply live' kept going round in my head, although the only direct link between my clutter clearing and improving the lives of others I could come up with was the result of me donating stuff to the Salvation Army.

Working through all my possessions has been a very physical reminder of the fact that I am a migrant. I shifted myself, my life and my stuff from one side of the world to the opposite. I chose to do this. I have paid more than I want to contemplate to the Departments of Immigration, and Internal Affairs over the last 10yrs in order that I might remain in my new home country, but it was all above board, by the book, official. I have the stamps in my passports and pieces of paper to prove I can be here. As I now have the letter saying my citizenship application has been accepted and am now awaiting a date for the ceremony, I'll soon be entitled to have a Kiwi passport in addition to my British one.

How different is my situation to those of the dispossessed, displaced refugees and asylum seekers who are desperately trying to get into Europe, and into Lebanon, away from the horrors of war and destruction. And yet the mainstream media has been using the same word, migrant, to describe them as is befitting to describe me. How can anyone think that our situations are even remotely the same? It angers me to see their true plight being sanitized into language that can be used to manipulate people into thinking there is an element of choice in what these people have done, and even worse implying that many are doing it to 'take advantage' of the destination countries and scrounge their benefits. I've been on the dole in the UK before now, and believe you me it certainly isn't worth risking life and limb crossing the Mediterranean in an overcrowded boat, then walking hundreds of miles, crawling through razor wire fences, or getting shut in a Chunnel bound lorry where you may suffocate, or hanging on to the top of a train for.

I've not seen much news over the last couple of weeks whilst I was away, so have relied on snatches of info picked up online, and now I'm back I find that, as it was before I left, the bulk of our news is about the Rugby World Cup. I am grateful to have such a great bunch of friends around the world who have kept heart-wrenching stories like this circulating around social media, reminding us of the far bigger issues out there. References to this poem by Warsan Shire popped up in my feed again, and again, and again.

I truly hope enough Help is Coming....

Monday, September 21, 2015

WGYF+10: nostalgia, reflection, and looking forward

I'm not sure quite why it has taken several weeks to finish this post, probably because the right words kept eluding me, but having to get something written down for Thomas helped give shape the bits I'd been struggling to encapsulate. Anyway, 'tis good enough, and it will have to do...

WGYF 2005 participants plus children
It is 10 years now since the World Gathering of Young Friends 2005, was held in Lancaster, UK. Thomas pitched the idea of a reunion event that would also be part of the preparation for those going to the FWCC Plenary in Peru in January 2016, and he made it happen. It wasn't until I got there that I really appreciated how nice it was to just turn up as a participant at a WGYF event! Something I hadn't had to organize or feel any responsibility for, that was a real gift for which I am incredibly grateful.

Accompanied by the next generation we had a very literal reminder of what 'fruit had been born' in the intervening years. Sharing the less obvious fruit that had grown out of WGYF was a really special experience. We drifted between a worship sharing mode and discussion as felt moved and there was a real depth to the time spent recalling what stood out for us most about WGYF itself, the Triennial here in 2004 that led up to it for four of us, and the subsequent impact on the following decade.

We had Ben, Lucas and Saskia join us as they are all hopefully heading to Peru in January, along with Charlotte and Thomas, so the ease with which we dropped into that deep sharing cannot fully be pinned on the collective shared WGYF experience. But the fact that we had so much shared spiritual experience between us I am sure helped us slip into the space so easily and comfortably. I found myself holding back a couple of times from saying something as I 'knew' that a someone was about to speak and I knew my contribution could, and should, wait until after it.

There are some groups where I am hesitant to engage with fully at a deep level as I feel vulnerable, and unclear as to whether that is the right space or time for certain sharings. The old 'not wanting to sound silly' anxiety is a long standing acquaintance of mine. Yet in this space there were no such worries, no holding back. Even in an over dinner conversation that included visiting local Friends I was able to better articulate something I've been grappling with in recent years than ever before. The sense of everyone really wanting to make this work, that had flowed through WGYF itself, carried on and really enabled us to all be fully present, no mean achievement with young children around!

I've been trying to distill from that weekend some coherent thoughts to pass on to Thomas who offered to write up a collective piece on the event for our national Friends Newsletter. What was it about the WGYF experience that I carry with me today in my life and into my future? Two things that really stand out for me are the Meeting for Worship to discern the theme for WGYF, and the strong sense of calling to do the administrator job. Both of which happened the year before the event itself.

The Meeting for Worship was at the FWCC Triennial in Auckland January 2004. It remains the most amazing worship I have ever been part of, and at over two hours is most definitely the longest unprogrammed Quaker worship I've been part of. Yet somehow the time flew by, it gave us some insight into the early days of Quakerism and the lengthy Meetings for Worship that seemed to to be fairly common at the time, with or without a lengthy sermon from George Fox and others. There was a palpable sense of the spirit moving in that Meeting, and yet when we looked back at it the four of us there at the weekend who had been part of it had very different, but equally high impact memories of it. In some ways that Meeting has overshadowed every Meeting for Worship I've been part of since, as none have had quite the same feel. Although there have been a few that have come close.

In a similar way the incredible sense that the administrator job had my name on it has made other leadings feel more vague and shaped by my will as much as any leading of the spirit. I'm not saying that sense of calling hasn't been there, as it has. But nothing quite like that almighty kick up the backside that sent me hurtling into a whirlwind of 18mths living, breathing, and often dreaming, WGYF around the clock. Part of me yearns for that overpowering sense of purpose, yet at the same time the mere thought of of it is exhausting! It was achievable for a shortish set period of time, but as a way of life??? Can that same drive to do whatever be compatible with ordinary life, one that has time and space for other things and people, and can it be done without being detrimental to my health?

The event itself in all honesty is a bit of a blur. In the flurry of WGYF related posts on Facebook as the 10 year anniversary came around Betsy shared a photo (amongst many others) of me sitting at a computer in the corner of the administration team's office with my back to the rest of the room engrossed in whatever it was that needed doing. I have some very vivid memories of sitting in that chair, including receiving Loida's email about getting the delayed Friends from Bolivia and Peru to WGYF 'Miracles we can do, the impossible takes a little longer'. That line summed up a lot of the achievements in making the event happen. Still I find out new things that took place somewhere along the line to make WGYF happen that I had no idea about, and I was the one supposedly in the thick of it with a finger in every pie! It really does feel like a miracle that it happened at all.

I keep coming back to something Leith said at the weekend, and has written about for our Friends Newsletter that she has shared with us, about the importance of the stories that were shared, of the inspirational people that were there, the many and varied ways in which Friends put their faith into action in their lives. There were many there passionately pursuing their causes in life who stood out like beacons, successors of the Valiant Sixty perhaps? But there were also those whose light wasn't as blinding who still inspired a reassessment and taking stock of how our faith integrated into our daily lives. It isn't given to all of us to be 'speaking truth to power' at QUNO, FCNL or QCEA etc, or being International Observers in Palestine with CPT or EAPPI, or being out there in the thick of aid and development work with AFSC, QPSW, Peace Corps or many other agencies. To me those are the dauntingly scary tasks that I'm very grateful others feel called to do and it never failed to amaze me to hear the stories of those, often a decade or more younger than me, going out into the field or working in the political arena. These were Young Friends, between the ages of 18-35 remember, which is why it sticks in my craw somewhat when I hear older Friends lamenting the lack of younger Friends 'getting involved'. If only those Friends could hear some of the stories we did.

Equally powerful were the stories of those working within their own communities to bring people together, share resources and learning, resolve conflicts and create a better environment for all. These stories were often the ones that had the most power in that you'd more often come away thinking 'I could do that too...', which then begs the question 'so why don't you?'

It wasn't just the activists working for change that inspired me from within the WGYF community, but the depth of soul searching, prayer and seeking clearness that often accompanied or prompted it. As administrator I was privileged to get to read all the application forms that came in and get an advanced insight into those about to be gathered, and I was rather relieved when reading them I hadn't had to fill one in! I could much better articulate my readiness to perform the practical tasks of enabling such an event happen than I could find the spiritual language to express what I could give or hope to get from participating from the event at a deeper level. By the end of it all though, through a process that at times felt like total immersion surrounded by those to whom such words came more easily, I had started to find my own voice, and better articulate my experience of the movement of the spirit without feeling awkward or silly.

I met many people through WGYF who I continue to admire greatly to this day. I get a a little glow of reflected glory every time I see a WGYF name pop up on the international Quaker grapevine - whether they are working for their YM, running seminars, taking up Quaker posts in educational establishments or the kind of organisations I mentioned earlier. The mission statement spoke of creating the next generation of Quaker leaders, words I wasn't fully comfortable with when I first heard them as the concept of 'leadership' is often linked with a hierarchy we generally don't have. But I will say this, there are an awful lot of 'weighty Friends' around the world who went to WGYF 2005, which I think means we can claim that that mission was certainly accomplished! To take all the credit for it would be ridiculous, but as Jonathan put it, WGYF reinforced a trajectory he was already on. I know that for some people WGYF sent them hurtling off in a new direction, for others more the quiet reassurance that they were on the right track.

For me, it felt like a stepping stone in a journey of having faith that the universe will show me the way; the next step being to get to Aotearoa NZ and be Resident Friend in Wellington, the one after that to undertaking my ECE training, but the last few years I've had a feeling of being stuck midstream. Not without things to do mind, and maybe I've needed this time to take stock and sort a few things out in life.

But where is that journey taking me now? I think the simple living and plain dress discussions that I ended up in at WGYF have definitely shaped the downsizing I'm currently in the midst of. It isn't so much the 'live simply so others can simply live' ideology, worthy as that is, that drives this but an increasing awareness of my footprint on this planet and my attempt to reduce that. Being able to live less encumbered massively increases ones ability to go where the spirit blows you too. Some of the threads of conversations had and stories heard feel like they are starting to come together and form a new pattern, and I'm pretty sure that conversations from this weekend that have built on those from the last ten years will in time be seen to be milestones on that journey.

Whatever happens, I am really grateful to have been blessed with such amazing fellow travellers on this WGYF journey. I cannot imagine my life without them, even when most are only a Facebook post in my day. Seeing the energy that buzzed round in Kenya 2012 when the WGYF 1985ers got together for a photo op, as well as us 2005ers, just reinforced for me how lasting that connection is, irrespective of how well or often you've kept in touch over the intervening years. We were a great people to be gathered and we are still seeing what Love can do in our lives, and long may that continue.

WGYF+10 particpants

Thursday, September 10, 2015

making it so every day is like Sunday

No not silent and grey, although that would be appropriate enough I suppose for a Quaker, especially one with a collection of Morrissey albums! It would also match todays weather, but that's by the by.

Recently a friend was visiting and as is fairly common here she took her shoes off when she came in, and she was apologizing for the holes in her sock. Trying to reassure her that it really didn't matter I came out with an old family quip about her wearing her Sunday socks. I got a completely blank look. 'Your holy ones!' I added. More blank looks. Never mind, I assured her, a family joke, it obviously doesn't travel well!

It dawned on me later that she was of the generation where your Sunday clothes were your best ones, plus English had not been her parents' or her late husband's first language, so puns and plays on English words simply had not been a part of her everyday life in the way they have been in mine.

'Sunday best' or 'keeping it for best' was the theme of a series of adverts on tv a few months back, I think they were for Twinings Tea. They were making the point that it is silly to keep things in a cupboard for best, go ahead and wear/use/drink them and get enjoyment out of them. It's a mantra that I'd gradually been coming round to myself as I decluttered my life, or more specifically my wardrobe. After all there aren't that many 'Sunday best' occasions in my life as generally Quakers don't dress up to go to church, the idea is that all days are equal and sacred. This meant we looked like a right bunch of scruffs in Edinburgh turning up in our everyday clothes next door to the well scrubbed and polished 'Wee Frees' in all their finery!

I had a pair of smart boots that I used to keep 'for best' but my orthotic insoles didn't fit in them so I was wearing them less and less. Fortunately they fit a friend of mine perfectly who was looking for boots and she now wears them for work. When I replaced those boots last year with a pair that I could wear my insoles with I decided that whilst yes, they are expensive boots and smarter than my usual footwear choices I wasn't going to let them gather dust in the bottom of the wardrobe waiting for some special occasion to arise like the old ones. Also I'd noticed my walking shoes/trainers that had been my winter shoes for the last couple of years or so weren't quite as comfortable any more, and replacing them as well just wasn't within my budget, so my smart new boots became my winter shoes. Two winters later they are still looking smart and as they fit my orthotics I haven't worn down the heels at a ridiculous angle either! I'd been careful to buy some that could be re-heeled when necessary so I should get a few more years out of them yet. Well worth the investment in a decent pair, especially as I've still managed to postpone replacing my trainers!

When paring down the contents of my wardrobe I also made a decision to 'reclassify' a knitted top that I'd bought with birthday money from a fantastic boutique shop on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh many years ago. There aren't many advantages to an early January birthday in the UK, but the sales are one of the few! I have two items from there, both much loved but rarely worn. One I had worn regularly in Scotland, but the other was definitely kept 'for best'. The regularly worn one is a bit too thick usually for a Far North winter, but the other is fine, I just needed to get my head around wearing it as an everyday item. I still hesitate a little when getting it out, but I've worn it quite a bit this winter and I've got to enjoy the lovely softness of the merino/cashmere mix and appreciate its warm red colour properly rather than just when looking in my wardrobe for something more ordinary to wear instead! There are a couple of other tops that I love but had thought of as 'too smart' for everyday use, but they too have been integrated into use as I told myself that if they didn't get worn they'd have to go and I wasn't quite prepared to part with them yet! After all it isn't like my days are spent in the sandpit or getting clarted in glue, paint and various child produced bodily fluids any more.

When I first started clutter clearing about 15yrs or so ago (yeah yeah, you can't do it all in one go okay!) the William Morris quote  Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful struck a chord with me. However I have struggled with the concept of whittling down the 'useful' pile as I inherited a hefty streak of my father's 'it might come in useful one day, and when it does I'll have it' attitude. Unfortunately I didn't quite get the required bit to go with it that means that when that day comes around I'll know exactly where it is... so whilst yes technically it might well be useful one day, it doesn't figure that it will get used. And you know what? If you have less stuff it is much quicker to look in all the places it isn't before you find the one where it is! Beautiful on the other hand has generally been a bit easier. One clutter clearing book asked 'does it make your heart sing, or sink, when you come across it?' The idea being ditch the 'sink' stuff. And I'd got quite good at that bit. But what I hadn't got so good at was making the most of the stuff that makes my heart sing. A lot of it is still tucked away, in boxes, in cupboards etc.

I've kept telling myself over the years that I haven't had enough room to have x,y,z out and in use. If I had more space, or a whole flat to fill again then sure I'd use it. But if I'm thinking of continuing to live out of a small space then something needs to change. I need to wear those 'best clothes' more often if I'm to justify them having wardrobe room, I need to find a way to make a whole pile of stuff more useful in my life as life is now, not as it was a decade or more ago. And if it isn't currently useful then maybe it is time to let it go so it can be useful somewhere else. When the time comes that I do need a whatever again then I can take pleasure in choosing something both beautiful and useful that meets my new set of circumstances. Meanwhile I have a lovely cut crystal glass tumbler by my bed for when I take my tablets every night, not quite the expected nightcap it was intended for but it is getting used far more often this way.

I'm itching to get my hands on the last box (my blanket box) of stuff in storage and find out what else is in there that I could be using and appreciating now rather than 'saving for later'. Another way of looking at this whole thing is as a former colleague of mine said, 'I always burn those fancy candles and use the fancy soaps you get given, otherwise they just gather dust, and I hate dusting!' Indeed. Get the pleasure out of things now, don't make them a chore to deal with later.

Friday, September 04, 2015

If not us, then who?

When I was in my early 20s I attended the Quaker Meeting in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. At one point they had a series of people talking about particular times in their lives. How many of these there were I've no idea, I now only remember two of them: Grigor & Diana McClelland talking about their time in the Friends Ambulance Unit in WWII; and Curt Gardner's mother who I can picture perfectly but can't for the life of me remember the name of, who spoke of escaping from the Nazis in Germany and Poland with her two small boys who were 6 (Curt) and 3 at the time.

Both tales left a really strong impression on me, along with those I heard in later years from other Friends who had been the FAU or who had been Conscientious Objectors, although the passing of time had left me somewhat hazy on some of the details and whose story did what appear in. So it was with much delight that I found Curt's book God just is: Approaches to silent worship on sale at the bookstall at Summer Gathering which included in it his retelling of their wartime escape.

Curt's book was doubly welcome as not only had he been someone whose vocal ministry I'd always got a lot from, he was (and presumably still is!) one of those gentle souls in the world who just make you feel better for having known them. I was aware when I knew him that he was going through a difficult time in life, although I had no knowledge of the details then, so it was nice in a way to find out more albeit +20yrs later on the other side of the world via a book! Reading the book, which is partially autobiographical, helped me get to know much better someone who felt like an old friend. Also I knew I was needing some help with getting enough out of our local entirely silent Meetings for Worship where the only vocal ministry tended to come from our cat or the sharing of something from Advices & Queries as we settled. I do enjoy the occasional totally silent MfW but right now, to paraphrase a Friend from Edinburgh, my heart not so much yearns for silence but speech! Curt's book gave me some very timely back to basics advice, which is helping.

For various reasons it took me several months to get through the book, not because it isn't an easy read, far from it. But because I'd get so far then take a while to digest that, and try to use it before moving on. This meant that I got to 'Interlude 2' where he talks about the war just in the last few weeks. I'd read that bit at Summer Gathering when I first picked up the book, but reading it again against a backdrop of endless refugees desperately seeking asylum in Europe put it into new light.

A lot of the stories I had heard of Friends work in WWII had not so much been about field ambulance work, although there had been some of that too, but of the resettlement of refugees in camps and communities across Europe. People displaced by war. Not just those who had been interned in concentration camps, but those who like the Gardner's had had to hit the road in the hope of finding a safe place to be. People fleeing fighting and tyranny, exactly as we're seeing again today by the overcrowded boat-full.

I've always been really proud of the contributions Friends made at this time, and the Nobel Peace Prize they were given for their efforts recognized the importance of it too. I realize the world is a very different place than it was then, there are far more international aid agencies working in the field, along with various UN operations. But I keep coming back to the question what can we as Quakers do to help this time around? What more can I do?

I'm hoping to hear answers, rather than silence.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Plastic Free July 2015 +1

Okay, so it is September already... but as with last year I decided to keep two months worth of non-recyclable plastic so that there wasn't any temptation to put off finishing/opening a new packet until next week when the challenge was up etc.

Here is the sum total of July & August 2014...  and here is July & August 2015....

If anything there is more this year rather than less which is rather frustrating given that I feel as though this is something I have taken on fairly seriously over the last year and have been working towards a not so much plastic-free life as a much less plastic dependent one. However, there are many things in this year's pile that are the result of my downsizing; like a pile of Ara Reo dvds that weren't that great when I was studying it and I'm certainly not going to inflict them on anyone else, also the negative sleeves and slide box. There are the things from last month like my hairbrush etc that were the tail end of the replacement process and the things I just didn't even think about last year, like the clear plastic negative pockets on certain photograph print packets, and the clear plastic bit on the opening of a tissue box.

Actually I'm quite annoyed about the tissue box - I'd gone well over a year without buying any tissues at all as handkerchiefs had been sufficient now I wasn't getting endless snottery colds from the children at kindergarten. But then in the last week of me saving my plastic I caught the worst cold I've had in years and a whole box of tissues got used up in a matter of days (and I'm halfway through the next one!). Bah humbug. That also accounts for a sudden increase in the number of tablet strips which had been well down on last year.

But over all I'm hopeful that this time next year the pile will be smaller, or at least will be made up of mostly 'historical' stuff being cleared out rather than newly bought. In fact to make myself feel better about it all here is the stuff sorted into new stuff from July & August, and old stuff that got emptied/used up/chucked out. But whilst it might soothe my ego a bit, it doesn't take away from the fact that it is all still ending up in landfill, whether that is now rather than 15yrs ago or in two months time is neither here nor there (although I suppose literally it does change which side of the world the landfill is in some cases! Aroha mai, Aotearoa...)

What else to focus on reducing/eliminating next over the coming year though? That in many ways is the hardest challenge as I've changed all the easy things already! I'm sure I'll continue to get plenty of inspiration though via the Plastic Free July community and their Facebook page. It is good to be challenged as generally I've had a fairly easy run when it comes to keeping my carbon footprint lower than average. When you start it off as a life long vegetarian who doesn't drive/run a car and thus who uses a lot of public transport, lives in shared housing, likes to grow veggies, is used to frugal living and has been recycling for decades etc you get something of a head start over most folk! I don't feel like I've had to make many difficult changes at all. All those years of hearing 'Turn the lights off if you aren't using them. It's like Piccadilly Circus around here!' as a child/teenager obviously had some long term impact, if not quite the immediate one that was desired at the time!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

compromise and consultation

It is very satisfying seeing the pile of empty packets piling up as the negatives get sorted and filed. Well mostly. I'm beginning to wish I hadn't decided to keep August's non-recyclable plastic waste as well though! There is a sizeable bundle of those pocketed sheets negatives sometimes came back from the developers in. Part of me breathes a sigh of relief when I come across one of those as there is far less chance that the contents will have somehow got mixed up with a different film, but once the negs have been transferred to a filing page it is with something of a harrumph that the same frustration saving item is consigned to the box of plastic.

There is also a broken slides box in that collection now too, and I'm very aware that the pages I'm transferring things into have yet more plastic as part of them. But what are the alternatives? At least digital photography means the amount of plastic being used in this way has been drastically reduced, but I'm sure there are other environmental impacts just as great, they are just less in our faces. This article about the need for legislation to reduce the amount of plastic was both reassuring (I'm not the only one struggling with plastic!) and saddening. I hate that I'm adding to the landfill by clearing out, but again it is that clash of priorities - having less stuff vs the problems of throwing stuff away!

I'd called in at the local photography shop to ask if she could check with their suppliers if they still stocked such things as new pages or folders for them to go in. She rang back to say the bloke had laughed and said they'd gone out with the Dark Ages and the best thing to do was scan the negatives and put them on cds/usb sticks - a service they offered. That's all very well I pointed out, but I still have to organize them first to decide what is worth saving in that manner! Also how long will cds and usb sticks work for? Having just found a stack of 3" disks I'm realizing that whilst I have an external disk drive (somewhere...) I don't know that I have any programmes that would be able to open any of the files any more! Technologically obsolete already. At least negatives can still be turned into prints.

I've got one more pack of filing pages via TradeMe and found a supply in the UK so there is hope of eventually completing the mission. Simply transferring the negs into pages is one thing, filing them in a sensible order however is a whole different ball game! It has been great though as putting out requests for help on Facebook to identify at least what year things were held in has resulted in some collective reminiscing and conversation that probably otherwise wouldn't have happened. I'm still somewhat taken aback by the disagreement over which decade something was in though rather than which of two years in the early '90s, that I really didn't expect. And I thought I was the one having memory problems!

I dare say I'll need to pick a few more brains over the coming months as I sort out the rest. I'm just hoping that the various Pardshaw events have other things on the films as trying to decide which event of those was which is pretty tricky as you can't even always tell if it was Easter or Pre-Christmas from the number of layers we're wearing! Plus certain jumpers are almost as ubiquitous as Ken's Summer Gathering one, albeit usually more tasteful and timeless... The fact that digital photographs are automatically dated is something I'm appreciating more and more as I work through these, although the chances of me having done the equivalent of writing the names on the back of photos are even slimmer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

revisiting faith

This is the piece I mentioned that I found the other day. It was probably written late 2004 or earlyish 2005. After that point I had received the email signed off 'May you be bathed in the blood of the Lamb of God', and somehow I can't imagine having neglected to mention that! Being of the slightly squeamish persuasion it still seems like a dubious proposition and I have yet to come to terms with the concept, no matter how well it has been explained to me theologically. Maybe being a life long vegetarian has something to account for my reaction to it?! Anyway, here is what I wrote whenever it was....

"But what is faith? What do we mean by it?" was the question someone raised recently in the 'Hearts and Minds Prepared' study group I'm in at my local Meeting.

It has been rattling round my head ever since (well maybe resonating - there's not much room in there at present to rattle). It reminds me of a story I heard a good few years ago now, whether an urban myth or true I've now forgotten, but it has stayed with me. A guy is sitting his Higher English exam (Scottish examination taken at 16yrs) and got to the essay question "What is courage?" His answer was simply "This is courage." end of essay. He got an A grade. Apparently a bright student anyway he could've conceivably done well enough on the other questions, but you are left wondering...

In many ways for me you could substitute 'faith' for 'courage' - sure you could write a three page essay on it in an exam, many have written doctorates and literature about it. But in the end it boils down to simply having the courage to believe that there is something out there to have faith in, and trusting that whatever it is will be there to sustain, support and guide us.

"Greetings in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!" A year ago had I opened an email that started like that I'd've hit delete without reading any further, assuming it was yet another 'we have lots of money to get our of the country' bid to get you to participate in money laundering (does anyone actually fall for these?). But now I always read to at least the next line. Okay so there are still the chancers our there, but there are also genuine WGYF emails sending Minutes, references and applications from the more christocentric and evangelical branches of Quakers. At first I found the language awkward, it isn't that which 'speaks to my condition' and culturally (in Britain) tends to be associated with the kind of religious fundamentalists who come knocking on your door claiming you'll go to hell if you don't see it their way (as my idea of heaven is a place without religious fundamentalism of any strain we'll all be happy!). Or it is associated with centuries of hypocrisy and abuse of power by the mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches. In fact I'd add 'spiritual abuse' to that too - so many Quakers by convincement in Europe (and the Meetings elsewhere around the world that have stemmed from Friends emigrating over the last 100 years or so rather than evangelical missionary work) are 'refugees' from mainstream Christian churches. Some lost, some convinced that there must be something less hypocritical, but others with gaping raw wounds on a spiritual level, some also the victims of literal abuse at the hands of the churches - both physical and sexual. Our newspapers are seldom without the latest scandal of this nature as adults and children manage to find a voice to speak out about the atrocities they suffered at boarding schools and care homes. Films such as Rabbit-Proof Fence and Magdelene Sisters haven't exactly covered the church in glory either. Oh and just don't get me started on the patrification of religion and the Spanish Inquisition! On top of that our mainstream Christian Churches have a long history of dissent, of claiming each other to be the devil's work yet all purporting to worship the same God, the same Christ, to love thy neighbour and thine enemies.

In this respect not much has changed since the days of George Fox. The Christian church in Britain is facing a crisis, attendance is falling, church buildings are expensive to maintain and with smaller and smaller congregations to support them more and more are being sold off and turned into flats, pubs, warehouses and art centres etc. Some churches merge and become more ecumenical, but others maintain their line that 'they are right and the others are wrong' and risk dying out because of their intransigence and the obvious dichotomy between the biblical words quoted from the pulpit and their actions. People are questioning the Churches, questioning the version of Christianity that is being offered. Yet with the Dead Sea Scrolls, the emergence in popularity of the Apocrypha based books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail and the recent Da Vinci Code kind of retelling, many are starting to realize that christianity and Christianity are two very different things, and that the christian message is one that can speak to them and be meaningful in modern society.

For me a major revelation over the last year is getting my head around the idea that on the whole many evangelical Friends fall into my definition of christianity, not Christianity. Sure there are a few things that I have great difficulty with regarding the deification of Christ and some statements which look to me like creeds. [note from 2015: I can't help but wonder - what would George Fox say?!] I've started to reclaim the language I'd written off as meaningless to me. Okay so I'm still not going to open an email with 'Greetings in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ....' as that simply isn't how I see Jesus, but words like blessings and God are creeping in in a way I'd never have considered before, and they feel right. I've come to realize that it's Christianity [note from 2015: I've since heard it described as Churchianity] I've rejected, not christianity, and that whilst the concept of god is far more important to me than Jesus (who I see as a prophet, and a damned good one at that) I'm now more inclined to listen for the christian message when I hear words that used to set off alarm bells for me.

For those living thousands of miles away from the centuries of abuse done in the name of Christianity I can understand why Britain must seem like a Godforsaken country. Or rather a a God-rejecting one, as I doubt if we're forsaken. But we are also an increasingly multi-ethnic society, people are no longer needing to travel halfway around the world to visit synagogues, mosques and Buddhist temples. The wisdom of other religions is around us and just down the road. We are finding that they too have their fundamentalists and skeletons in the closet along with the Christian churches. But their underlying messages are remarkably familiar. There are far more options when seeking a faith that fits than there used to be, and hopefully this means fewer 'lost souls' unable to find what they are looking for.

There was a bit more of the original piece but it was getting waffley and tangential, even by my standards! In many ways it is strange now reading it - I've become more of a Kiwi than I had thought. I certainly don't feel as though I can speak for how Britain is now. I'd like to think Pope Francis is having a positive impact on the general perception of the Catholic Church and Christianity in general. Although from the number of memes on Facebook pointing out the discrepancy between the status quo view of a (quote) Christian country Government/mass media and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth on certain issues, there are plenty still wearing blinkers that can't see their own hypocrisy.

Like a good number of my peers I've started to appreciate the huge difference between faith and religion. You don't have to subscribe to a particular religion to have faith. As Thomas Owen stated in his message given at the World Conference of Friends in Kenya 2012 'I don't believe that God invented religion to reach humankind. I believe that humankind invented religion to reach God.' It is possible to have a faith in God (or whatever...), something to believe in, without the formal trappings of religion, but religion provides a framework to support us in our reaching out and trying to make sense of it all.

I suspect many have religion but lack any real faith - they go through the comforting familiar motions each Sunday but apply very little of what they hear to the rest of the week. Not long ago I finished David Copperfield, and I saw Mr Micawber's enduring faith that 'something would turn up' despite all evidence to the contrary and multiple setbacks, to be a depth of faith few of us have. He got his reward in the promised land, albeit of Australia rather than any afterlife! I'm pretty sure Dickens was quite intentional in this portrayal. I know at times my faith in 'something turning up' wavers at times, no matter how much I know it to be true. Those are the times when having the religious framework of Quakerism really helps keep me focused.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

looking forward, looking back

A week tomorrow I set off towards a WGYF+10 reunion in the Kahuterawa Valley near Palmerston North. The event was originally planned for June, but due to clashing diary dates it got rescheduled for August which proved to be a Good Thing as the original date saw much of that region under floodwater, the silt from which is causing major problems and it will take years for the Whanganui & Manawatu River regions to fully recover. The new date also happens to be bang on the actual anniversary of the event which was 16-24th August 2005!

I've got a box of things that I've been putting together ready to take with me - various photos, cards and reports, plus a pile of FWCC stuff as the reunion is also partially preparation for those heading to Peru in January. I've also got a bundle of things I'm gifting on as part of my decluttering/downsizing, plus a patchwork quilt to deliver.

There have been a number of elements surrounding this event that have held a certain symmetry with those of 10yrs ago. The new dates mean Fran can no longer be with us for the reunion as she's relocated back to the UK (for now!) and as she said, the whole WGYF planning and happening was whilst she was transitioning between the UK and Aotearoa in the opposite direction. Charlotte, Jonathan and Thomas had all been at the 2004 FWCC Triennial with me in Auckland, and Charlotte and Thomas will now be heading for Peru. And once again I'm in major clear-out mode, although this time with no intention of moving anywhere in a hurry, let alone emigrate! I'm sure as the weekend progresses next week we'll find more such connections.

Today's major mission was sorting through a pile of paperwork and filing. Originally I just started to look for something (which I've yet to find!) but the task took on a life of it's own. It was rather therapeutic to consign a huge amount of paper to the recycling, fire and printer pile. That which ended up on the fire was a collection of UK official paperwork that had long since passed it's 7 year 'keep until' date. Another step of my transition from one side of the world to the other. So after investing in a new concertina file I have now managed to reduce the amount of space such paperwork takes up quite considerably.

Towards the end of the pile of paperwork I was working through I found a piece I'd written, possibly for our GM or MM newsletter, but I can't remember writing it let alone why! It had been written at some point during my time as the WGYF administrator, so it felt timely to rediscover it. So I can recycle the paper version I'll type it up as a post (Tomorrow? Too near bedtime to start that now!). It was good to get a reminder of that part of my spiritual journey as it is all too easy to remember the practical challenges of making such an event happen, whereas which parts of my spiritual life link to that event rather than anything in the subsequent decade I find a little harder to untangle now. Maybe I should re-read the first few months of this blog to remind myself of the impact, although I suspect more posts will be about the practicalities of emigrating!

Another reminder of what feels like a past life was a page I'd written up for a 'getting to know you' session at Summer Gathering - what isn't obvious is whether that's NYFSG (these days Summer Shindig) or Summer Gathering here as 'SG' could mean either! Reading through the games and ideas there are things I'd totally forgotten about - I haven't played 'Radio Cars' in years! Thankfully the notes are detailed enough to remind me how to play them all too, much better than a list I came across in one other clearout some years back that was just several columns of game names but with no explanations. Having said I'll help organize JYF Camp next year it is good resource to find - now to find somewhere to keep it where I'll be able to locate it again in time... such facilitation and planning is an area in life I feel decidedly rusty in. Yet a decade ago Ruth, Susie and I planned an entire Link Group w/e in 20 minutes! I found the cd I'd done for them for the Friday night epilogue a few days ago, I'm planning to recycle that one at Summer Gathering here after Christmas! I hadn't got to that Glasgow w/e due to WGYF commitments, so it feels right to be planning to reuse it in this time of remembering a decade ago.

Given the general inter-connectedness of all things Quaker, I suppose it is unsurprising to be coming across so many links, both tangible and otherwise, between life now and ten years ago. I think of the people who were such an enormous part of my life back then, and where they are now. Mary (from Australia) is even back in Edinburgh for the Festival! Bar some long standing couples, none of us are living in each others inboxes and daily lives in quite the same way as we were in the run up to WGYF. Many of those people I haven't seen since, which feels way too long. But an email I got this morning from Katy (who I've known since my early days as a YF in the UK, but who also lives here) summed up what I know to be true of those connections too: Whenever I catch up with you, and other friends, like this, I ask myself why it doesn't happen more often! But perhaps it doesn't really need to: we pick up from where we left off, however long the gap. 

The same is also true for those I'll see next weekend, and whether it is less than 8 weeks or over 8 years (the two extremes!) since I last saw them, I know I can look forward to a weekend of deep sharing, love, laughter and f/Friendship that I'll treasure and carry with me for years more to come.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

filling in the gaps

Today I discovered why my filing of negatives had appeared to start at a really random point in time. It seems that it wasn't 15yrs ago when I started this mission, but more like 24! I'd started with the latest film and worked backwards. So when I picked up the gauntlet 11yrs later I'd simply carried on where I'd left off!

It made me laugh to discover this, it all makes perfect sense now. Of course I started a really detailed filing system when I was in the middle of writing my dissertation - you couldn't get much more worthy in terms of procrastination, and far more satisfying than housework. It is also typical of me that I shoved something in a cupboard for years and then started it up again. It was around that same time that I finally finished a patchwork project that I'd had since secondary school. That now forms part of a cushion on the previously mentioned captain's chair! Thankfully my patchworking has never since been consigned to the 'pending...' pile for years on end.

One of today's bonus discoveries was the negative of a photo I took of my Grandad a few months before he died. I haven't had a copy of it for many, many years having given it to someone (Mum? Granny?) thinking I'd get a reprint done and then of course not getting around to it before the negative got buried too deep in the box to easily find. So finally I can fill the gap in my photo album and Granny will no longer be on that page on her own! Another loose end tied up. Plus I've found the negatives of the elusive JYM '88 photos that I'm really hoping are in the blanket box...

I'm already one box down, admittedly it's the smallest one, but it feels like a good start. There's something very satisfying about finally seeing a project through to completion (albeit that happy state is still a long way off!). I'm quite enjoying the elements of detective work involved in reuniting strips that had been taken out of their packet to get reprints done, back with the rest of the set they belong with. It is something of an eye opener to contemplate how much money I have spent on film and processing over the years too! That's probably responsible for a hefty chunk of my student overdraft and visa card being maxed out by the time I graduated.Thankfully most of the travel expenses to the various Quaker gatherings many of the photos are of were covered, otherwise I would've been living off lentils and bread from the half price bakery around the corner... oh wait, I already did.

So, after more years than I'd been alive when I started this, I'm reconstructing about a 23yr section of my life, give or take a film reel or two. Trying to put things back into chronological order (if anyone has suggestions as to how to date several entire films worth of photos of the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens, with no recognizable people in to assist in this matter, they would be gratefully received!). You know life would be so much easier if I could settle for being either extremely organized or haphazard (but usually with a system of sorts - like a box, or four, with negatives in... in no particular order), but I never seem to be able to stick with just one. Not only is this project cataloging a substantial chunk of my life, but the entire endeavour reflects me in other ways too: as a person, a photographer, a documenter of events, and no doubt other things I'm too tired to think of right now. It does make me wonder if in years to come when someone comes across the end result (assuming I ever finish it!) what assumptions they would then make about me - I don't for a moment expect that to be accurate!

Monday, August 03, 2015

negatives into positives

At the weekend we got rid of a chest of drawers from my room, and I collected the three remaining boxes from the shed at Pukepoto. This does not mean all my stuff is now here, not by a long chalk. There's a blanket box crammed full of goodness knows what (although I'm hoping I know what some if it is, as if it isn't in there I've lost it!), there's also my cabinet and captain's chair, not to mention three bookcases full of books! But getting those last three boxes here feels like a fairly major landmark.

It's just as well I haven't got the cabinet here yet as I'm using the extra floor space to help sort things out. I did an initial sort through on Sunday, taking out some boxes of stuff here too and resorting it so like is now with like. In the middle of all this I joined in with MM via skype whilst surrounded by piles of stuff, hopefully no-one was looking too closely at the state of my room! I did manage to hide most of what was immediately next to me as I was handsewing the binding on a quilt and it handily covered it over.

So now I have a box of letters, a box of diaries/journals along with artwork and school work, plus a box of the soft toys mostly made by my Aunty Lilian that I still can't quite bear to part with plus a few other childhood treasures, now all shoved under the bed. They'll get revisited some day, but today is not that day...

What this day has been about is photographs. Or to be more precise negatives, plus a box of slides. Once upon a time, many years ago, in a fit of organisation I bought a folder and a few packs of pages to hold negatives, plus some to hold slides. I did manage to make a decent start on the negatives, but as I was doing the job properly and filling in the index pages with a description of every single frame I'd unsurprisingly shelved that task to be completed 'later'. About 15yrs later as it happens! One huge advantage I have now over then is that I no longer take film photographs so the task has a very definite end point to it at some stage, much less daunting than trying to embark on the task at the height of my film usage!

So now I have my slides all archived - I'd forgotten I'd even taken some of them as slides, I'd only remembered about my QYP '87 set. Turns out I have some of East Lothian, Glen Esk, St Andrews and a christening too! I've made a start on the negatives, but once I'm through the ones already sorted into some semblance of order it could be a slow process. But given how many boxes I have full of negatives I'm determined to make some serious inroads on the task so it all takes up less space.

It's amazing really just how many of the pictures I can recognize from a quick glimpse at a strip of negatives held up to the window. They hold a lot of memories. Revisiting them in this way is an interesting process; there isn't time to dwell on anything as each memory that comes up is quickly replaced by those associated with the next strip. It is all there: the good, the bad and the ugly... which does make me think how different my digital archive is in that I delete a lot of the blurry photos etc, and tend to thin out the multiple images once I've decided which of the (insert excessive number here) that I took of the same thing that I'm going to keep. But also it is far easier to delete images that don't have good memories attached to them when they aren't physically attached to others you do want to keep! In many cases the prints have long since gone of the 'bad' photos, but they still remain in the negatives. I guess like life you don't have to take those memories out and dwell on them regularly, but they still make up part of your life, and who you are. You can't cut them out!

So far the less than cheerful memories brought back are those that time has healed, as I'm working through the earliest part of my collection (I'm not entirely sure why I started with the year I did 15yrs ago, rather than at the beginning. Maybe the earlier negatives were 'in a box somewhere' at that stage!). It will be interesting to see how other years, times and places feel when I get to them. Useful too in terms of being something of a timeline checklist which fits in with the counselling sessions I go to.

For now the negatives are just getting labelled generally on the sheets they are in, maybe one day I'll get round to completing the detailed catalogue pages, but somehow I doubt I'll ever be that stuck for something to do! When I get bored of this task I'll switch back to photobooks for a while, but hopefully first I'll have at least one less box of negatives to store. And instead of all those boxes filling me with guilt and frustration each time I come across them (you have no idea how long it took me to find the negatives for the missing photos out of one album recently! But having finally found them I still haven't got the reprints done... hey ho), I'll have a wonderfully organised archive, and that has to be good for the soul as well. One day... but that day is not this day either, as now it is most definitely time for bed.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Plastic Free July, almost gone...

There are only a few hours left of July 2015 and I'm looking at my wee 'dilemma bag' and comparing it to the photo of this time last year.... So have I done any better? Well, yes and no! The amount of stuff looks much the same, but there are differences.

Last year the plastic windows in envelopes never even occurred to me as I wasn't tearing them out (which apparently improves the paper recycling process). I seem to get a ridiculous number of letters from WINZ etc and until my health improves to the point where I no longer need their financial assistance there isn't really a way around those.

I got a different flea treatment for the cat - more packaging at first glance but more months supply... the sort of thing that only evens up over a year rather than picking out a month or two.

Way fewer tablet packets etc. Yes!!! The plaster wrapper was annoying though.

The cassava crisps packet - yup, one last year, one this year! Hey ho... The green tea packet is one I bought a couple of years ago and has finally been finished. I'm trying now to keep tea one of the plastic free zones in my life, at least the teas I drink for pleasure anyway, there are medicinal ones I haven't found a way around as yet. I can get green tea in paper bags or tins and I grow most of my herbal teas now. The chocolate wrapper - that bar was a present and much enjoyed. But I don't buy the plastic wrapped ones for myself and am kicking myself for having bought a few to tuck into presents.

I still haven't solved the miso problem but have found some in a single plastic bag rather than double wrapped! The plastic tubs of it I've found have the recycling numbers on in Japanese so I've no idea whether they can be recycled here or not, so I've decided against buying them for now.

There are probably slightly fewer strips cut off the top of the giant snaplock bags the bulk foods come in from the wholesaler as I've been buying more things in the 3kg bags rather than 1kg. Every little helps and the costs are slightly lower per kg, although requiring a larger initial outlay. There are scraps of plastic bags that had been re-purposed into poi that I had made at Summer Gathering several years ago. As part of my decluttering mission I decided they'd hung around doing nothing for quite long enough and I've reclaimed the stuffing for future craft projects, however the outer layers were beyond being useful again. There is also a plastic cover that was around my latest photobook that I got done - again part of my decluttering!

Then there is the pile of stuff that whilst not single use can't be recycled, my hairbrush, travel toothbrush, an out of date Community Services card, a couple of dvds (again being disposed of as part of the declutter), a deodorant container and a tub I had reused but had then cracked and it isn't recyclable. The deodorant, hair and toothbrushes have all be replaced with non-plastic items. Well okay technically the bristles of both brushes are still plastic/nylon but the handles are bamboo and the bit holding the hair brush bristles is rubber.

This year I've been focusing more on getting rid of/using up things and replacing plastic items as there aren't that many single use plastic items that come in to my life on a regular basis that I can cut back on. I've noticed my shopping habits have really changed though over the last year, when in Wellington recently and going round shops with a far greater range of food than I can buy locally I found myself running my eyes over the shelves looking at first not so much as to what was in the packets etc but what they were made off, when I spotted something glass, paper or tin I then looked to see if it was anything I might need! When I was in our local butcher's shop yesterday with Jane I did the same looking over his shelves of Asian groceries and came away with a glass jar of pickled ginger. I'm a way off finishing the current jar (which is recyclable plastic) but I'd heard a rumour that John was moving down to Auckland and whilst hopefully another butcher will keep the shop open there is no guarantee they'd keep the Asian groceries side of things going. (I'm all for supporting local independent retailers selling local produce even if it is mostly stuff I don't eat myself!)

I'm slowly replacing plastic scoops and measuring spoons that I keep in various jars of dried goods that I use regularly by rummaging through the odds and ends boxes at op/charity shops. When in Auckland I managed to get a metal wide necked funnel for filling jars and a smaller one for bottles. I did also replace my potato shaped veg scrubbing brush, it is plastic but as the last one has lasted me over a decade I figured I could live with that! I've got to the point now where I only have 5 plastic storage tubs in the kitchen for flours and oats, everything else is in glass or ceramics. As they are BPA free, Kiwi made Sistema klip-it tubs they can stay, for now.

Out of curiosity I'll keep my 'dilemma bag' going through August as well as I did last year and see how the end results compare. But it won't stop there, I'll be working on this for the rest of the year that follows. It will be interesting to compare notes by the time July next year comes around and see what else has become 'the norm' and which are the new more challenging aspects. And by then there will no doubt be something else like the envelope windows that hadn't even dawned on me before! Maybe as well as my cloth bags for weighed goods at the healthfood shop I'll have finally got around to making some tulle bags for veggies as we've got a new greengrocers opening up in town tomorrow...

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


I've mentioned before my plan to downsize my stuff with the ultimate aim of fitting it all in my room (bar kitchen items) rather than a sizeable amount of it still being 8km away where I used to live, not to mention the stuff still in Scotland! The latter of which will just have to stay put for now, but the nearer stuff in theory at least is possible to get here, once there is space to put it in.

Slowly but surely I've been plodding away a box, drawer, shelf at a time. Some stuff has gone to op/charity shops, some has been gifted on or added to the EcoCentre Trading Table, some clothing simply reclassified as craft material. Granted reclassifying clothing doesn't get rid of it, yet, but it does take up far less room squashed in a bag of material rather than neatly folded up in a drawer or hung in the wardrobe!

I've finally reached the point where thanks to some hanging shelving I can now fit all my clothes in the wardrobe and get rid of a chest of drawers - they are going to a friend in need of furniture. So soon at last I'll be able to have my 'American Cabinet' here, rather than it sitting in the garage in Pukepoto.

It is a very well travelled piece of furniture. It was a wedding present for my grandparents, who were married in the States in 1930, hence it's name. It was a wireless cabinet, but at some point my Grandad removed the wireless and it took on life as a general cupboard. It always used to smell of Grandad's St Bruno tobacco, and as it was where the dominoes and playing cards were kept it was a cupboard I knew well as a child. They moved up and down England and Scotland with it, as I did I, and then finally it came here in 2007, two years after I did. Hopefully it has forgiven me the +2yrs it spent in storage as I got it refurbished once it had reached Auckland.

It is an awkward size and shape, and not the most practical piece of furniture, but no matter what else I might manage to part with in my mission to at least potentially fit into a Tiny House, the cabinet will hopefully manage to stay with me. In my various doodlings of possible floor plans there has always had to be a space for the cabinet along with the Captain's swivel chair, which is also still in Pukepoto. If I can fit other things in too then great, but currently the bottom line of downsizing definitely still includes both of those, I'm hanging on to them 'as long as (I) canst'!

I've now also completed my second photobook - this time my complete set of Yorkshire Friends Holiday School photos from 1986, '88 and '89. Of course now I need to figure out what to do with the photos! I've posted an appeal on the YFHS Facebook page and hopefully someone will want them - a set of the scans is already in the HS archives. I've been slowly re-homing some of my YFCC photos from '87 & '88 (as far as I've got so far!) sending wee bundles off with letters to F/Friends who are in them. It is nice to be writing real letters again, they were such a huge feature of my life back then that it seems appropriate. Tracking down postal addresses (preferably without asking the intended recipient) has been interesting though - I hadn't realized just how many people I don't even have an email address for these days, I always use Facebook to contact them!

So the next step is collect a couple more boxes along with the cabinet. You never know, I might actually manage to reach my goal before I have a deadline of having to move hanging over me! Yeah right...

Saturday, July 25, 2015


Today I came across this article about living with Fibromyalgia. It should be filed under 'Things I wish I'd known +25yrs ago.... ', oh and also things I wish my GP had known! Thankfully these days such things rarely get written off as 'Yuppie flu' and other dismissive names and are taken seriously, even if still not easily diagnosed.

Most of the time over the years it isn't the really severe stuff I have had to deal with, just lots of little things being out of kilter enough to make getting through the day (and night) harder work than it should be. It would've been reassuring to know that whilst not 'normal' by most standards, it at least had an explanation and I wasn't imagining things/cracking up/being pathetic etc. And I most certainly couldn't fix it all by 'pulling myself together'!

Understanding is usually what is needed rather than sympathy, but it is hard to get that when you can't explain what is wrong. It's hard enough to give yourself permission to be less than 100% when you do know why today your body just isn't going to cooperate, let alone for anyone else to. It might be okay tomorrow, but then again it might not. Frustrating at the best of times, and unsurprising that you can get labelled as 'just putting it on'.

Contrary to accepted wisdom when living with any disability, trying to push through it and 'not let it beat you' is usually asking for more trouble. Instead make the most of the good days, but Don't Over-Do It is a far better bet! Unfortunately what constitutes 'too much' can fluctuate wildly, and generally you only figure out how much it is once you've gone past it. I've decided that living life at 60% is far preferable to pushing for 100% and then crashing down to 10% as a result. If some days then work out at 80% then that's fantastic, but far better to plan for lower and occasionally surpass it than always feel as though you're failing to meet your targets. That doesn't do your morale or self-esteem any good whatsoever, and heaven knows we've enough challenges to those without imposing unnecessary extra burdens. Having said this, it is one thing to know this intellectually - living by it all the time can be another matter entirely! It is hard to remember to rest when you still have energy to do more, no matter how much you know you're just borrowing energy from a future day.

The more I learn about fibromyalgia, the more things make sense. It is so reassuring to know that other people have experienced their 'hair hurting', or getting pins and needles in the arm from holding up a book to read, or a dead leg from sitting on a hard surface for 10 minutes! None of which are the sort of thing you'd go to the GP over on their own (or we'd be there every week!), but they add up and affect your quality of life.

I love the Kiwi Facebook support group I've joined for the supportive community that readily chips in with 'Yes, me too!' whenever anyone asks 'Does anyone else get....' and shares experiences of various medical options and coping mechanisms etc. It makes such a difference to have people who understand what you're going through, but also understands that each of us has our own peculiar combination of symptoms and what works for one doesn't necessarily work for another. Anyone who tries telling someone that they can't possibly have/do/experience something with Fibro/CFS/ME etc is quickly shut down by the admins, that kind of comment isn't helpful, it isn't kind, and it certainly isn't necessary.

So, having got quite a bit ticked off my to do list today, and whilst someone else is cooking tea (yay!) I'm now going to relax, and read my book for a bit because I suspect I'm pretty close to having used up my spoons for the day, and it's only 5pm!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Plastic Free July - half way through

I've been away for the last 10 days and not been online much so this is a bit of a catch up...

I got to Day 6 of PFJ and was rather smuggly looking at the empty (plastic) bag that I had sitting in my room designated to hold what single use plastic I couldn't avoid this month. At the time I was tearing out the windows from envelopes so the paper could be better recycled, I was about to head to the bin with them when it sank in that the windows couldn't be recycled as part of the envelopes as they were plastic! D'oh.... So in the bag they went.

I was getting my stuff ready to go away and decided that 10 days of the travel toothbrush that I had been using was too long. It was an aeroplane freebie and for some reason the cover never stays on properly as a handle when using it. Whilst once or twice is okay for brushing my teeth with something I can barely grip I wasn't prepared to go that long, so finally my travel toothbrush got upgraded to a bamboo one too. I was about to chuck the old one and thought well it was hardly single use, but it can't be recycled so in the bag it went.

Similarly my old hairbrush went in, now finally replaced with a bamboo one even if I did have to grit my teeth and buy it in The Body Shop. Having boycotted them since L'Oreal bought them out that was a battle of ethics but it was the only place I could find a non-plastic handle. And then there's the deodorant casing - I've been using my homemade coconut oil & lavender hand cream for deodorant for a few weeks now and so far so good (it soaks into the skin quicker than my kawakawa balm, so it doesn't end up on my clothes), whether it will work through summer remains to be seen.

Not looking quite so empty now then, that bag... When I got back I also added in the accumulated packets and other bits and bobs I'd very diligently hung on to as I travelled. Not quite diligently enough though, when I was at the usual cafe stop on the bus home I was putting the packet the teabag was in in their rubbish when it dawned on me that it wasn't just paper, but plastic lined. Damn. So that means there should be two of those in there - one for each trip. Also on the way down I thought the long journey was the perfect time to consume a chocolate bar given to me, which despite being Whittaker's was in a plastic wrapper, grrr. I'd very conscientiously refilled my flask with green tea in Auckland at Joanne & Oscar's before they took me to the airport so I wouldn't have to drink black tea on the plane or get a plastic glass of water, but totally forgot about PFJ when they offered me a bag of cassava crisps! I refused the lollies later with some contrition.

So what else is in there: several blister packs from tablets (still can't avoid that one unfortunately - the one medication I have come off was the only one that came in a recyclable tub!); the packet and backing off a sticking plaster; the snipped off bits from cutting open a couple of plastic bags; a wee tub I'd reused (I think it had been a takeaway sauce pottle J&O had acquired) to put baking soda in for washing my hair whilst away but it had cracked and isn't recyclable; a bag that had had dried figs in bought before I made my cloth bags for bulk foods from the healthfood shop, and a packet that had genmai tea in it I'd bought a couple of years ago.

Overall though not a bad collection given the bulk of it in terms of weight is stuff I've replaced with non-plastic and don't intend to buy again if I can avoid it. It has certainly been a lot easier this time around as I've done a lot of the thinking and have got into the habit of deliberately avoiding more plastic year round. I have cloth bags for weigh-out goods, I have beeswax wraps instead of clingfilm/gladwrap, I have a metal travel flask as well as metal water bottle, I have a much better idea of what products can be bought in non-plastic packaging and a bunch of recipes I've got into the habit of making that cut out bought plastic wrapped foods such as crackers and snack bars etc.

Over recent months I've got a lot better at making sure all food plastic bags get washed out and put in the recycling - I might not be buying stuff packed like that but I'm not the only one doing shopping around here!

I've also been replacing and/or getting rid of various other plastic items in my life that don't need to be there. Anything still usable by someone else has been passed on, there's no point throwing away stuff that is still useful even if it is plastic! I'd just rather have alternatives around at home, it makes me more conscious of the plastic I do still use when it stands out more. Having a big clearout and reorganization of my clothes a few weeks back meant I could take all my plastic hangers to the SPCA shop for them to use!

I can't imagine ever getting to the point of no plastic in my life, but I can certainly reduce it towards essentials only where there isn't a viable alternative (technology for a start!).One thing I realized recently though is that whilst I've got pretty good at avoiding plastic for myself I need to be a bit more on to it when it comes to things I buy or use for others - it finally dawned on me that when I'm making Phyllis' meals I don't have to use the individually wrapped cheese slices just because she would, I can slice or grate the big block! So she's getting through far fewer of those these days which is a step in the right direction.

Now to see how well the rest of the month goes...

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

wibbley wobbley timey wimey stuff

How did it get to the be the end of June already??? The obvious answer is one day at a time, but I'm sure weeks disappear when I'm not looking these days. I'm not sure if it is yet another fibromyalgia quirk or simply old age, but my sense of time has never been quite so abysmal as it is at the moment. Not only has my 'within five minutes maximum' sense of clock time gone completely out the window, but I'm forever being caught out by things suddenly being next week (or worse, last week!) when I was quite sure they were ages away still.

Okay so my lousy track record of getting birthday presents to arrive on time does not back me up in terms of evidence of once having had a good sense of where I am in the month. But that hasn't been though lack of awareness of the impending birthdays arrival, just my inability to get things in the post at the right time. Just to prove how fickle life can be though I successfully got two birthday presents to arrive bang on time this year that have historically arrived late on a regular basis - but that was due to luck more than anything else!

I regularly find that things I thought were a couple of days or so ago were actually over a week ago, especially things like how long it was since I last took my turn in Lexulous games or when an email came in. I suppose it hasn't been helped by having had a few weeks a bit shorter on energy where the amount I can do in a day shrinks somewhat.

Given the lack of energy I've spent quite a bit of time over the last few weeks working my way through the Dr Who back catalogue (2005 onwards) whilst handquilting. It has been interesting pondering on the complexities of living through the same events as someone else but in a different order (as per the Doctor and River Song). I've also been following conversations in a Facebook support group about CFS/ME/Fibromyalgia etc about various symptoms people have had - many of us have the same diagnosis but experience symptoms in many different orders and combinations. It isn't a linear condition, it goes round and round, and up and down with no apparent reason. On the plus side it means that you won't necessarily get any worse than you have been before, but then again just because things are improving doesn't mean symptoms won't come back, or that something else won't turn up instead.

There is also the issue of trying to remember that whilst today might be a good day, making the most of it and running round doing all the things you can squeeze in whilst you have some energy isn't that great an idea as it'll most likely come back to haunt you. Possibly tomorrow, or the next day, or next week even. It's like the condition itself doesn't really have a grasp of how time works in the real world out there, and it too forgets that actually that 3hrs gardening wasn't yesterday after all but three days ago...

Ah well, even if I don't know if I'm coming or going some days at least I know I'm not alone with that, and there's usually someone online who's been there done that already to reassure anyone they aren't losing the plot. And I've still got several seasons of Dr Who to watch :)