Wednesday, January 28, 2015

rain at last!

It's raining!!!! There are two reasons why this has caused great excitement in our house in the last 24hrs. Firstly we've been desperately needing it for weeks: the ground was parched and cracked, the veg garden was suffering, the fire risk has been extreme and the farmers around here were getting anxious. The second reason is we have two new rainwater tanks - 2,000 litres capacity collecting off one side of the garage roof. With what has fallen in the last 24hrs we've already got about 100lt in there which is pretty good going for mostly fairly light rain.

I emptied the kitchen scraps bucket on to the compost heap this afternoon and went to wash the bucket out from the hosepipe when I realised I could use collected rainwater instead, much better to be chucking the swilled out contents on to the garden without the added extras of chlorine and whatever else goes into our tap water to make it taste so disgusting before it is filtered! It'll probably be a while before we have enough in the tanks to run a hose off it, but even just to be able to fill up a watering can or bucket is great.

It's just a small step towards improving our footprint on the earth, We've got re-purposed sorbitol tanks set up, they're sitting on some old concrete fence posts laid down on the bare earth. A few fixings and a short length of alkathene pipe and hey presto! Jess had fun with the gold spraypaint sealing all the joints in the galvanised cages the tanks sit in so hopefully it should last a good few years. What's more Oscar traded a supply of firewood sustainably cut from their land (mostly storm-fall plus thinnings) in exchange for the tanks so we supported alternative economies, re-purposed materials and reduced our tap water consumption all in one project! That's pretty good I reckon. A shame Phyllis had to wait 30yrs to get the rainwater tanks she wanted but at least it has happened whilst she's still living here.

Now to figure out if we can squeeze another tank or two in somewhere to collect the water off the other side of the garage, or the house...

Oscar with Chris & Jess moving the tanks into position 
All in place and waiting for rain to fall...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

what canst thou say, and do?

Somehow I managed to find myself on an email list this week to whom a discussion document was circulated by the Futures Committee (a national Quaker committee looking at issues around global change etc and what we can do about it). It was addressing issues around climate change and what we as Quakers were called to do collectively and individually.

 "Can we work together to develop ways in which we can cope with this daunting challenge and bring it on board as a part of our everyday life? Can we develop ways of expression that makes the story accessible to our community, even to the extent of changing our priorities and world view? Can we develop ways of taking the message outside the Quaker community and help other organisations to “break the silence” in such a way that it enables them to address their challenges more effectively?"

And if Quakers can't stand up, speak out and take action on this who will???

So here's my tuppenceworth for now.... For many years I've been slowly chipping away at 'bad' habits, rethinking my consumption patterns, decluttering so I need less space, taking part in 'Plastic free July', weighing up the pros and cons of various travel options etc etc. It is, as the document says, a daunting challenge, as nothing is ever straightforward. We've reached the point now where the carbon footprint of keeping the internet functioning internationally is becoming significant, so skyping instead of flying somewhere isn't necessarily always the answer! This doesn't mean we shouldn't be trying to work towards zero carbon travel, or finding more sustainable means to keep the worlds' servers cool, or that we should all just jump on a plane anyway regardless. It's about weighing up the pros and cons and each doing the best we can. And that is where the importance of support comes in and sharing different ideas and experiences.

One of the choices I have control over again in my life is food shopping. For several years I wasn't the one doing the shopping so I had less say in the matter, but over the last four years that ball has been back in my court again. Eleanor's recent post covers some of the dilemmas and thought processes that I've worked through over the years. I have to say simply cutting out a lot of processed/pre-packaged food from my life makes supermarket shopping much quicker again! Luckily my life is such that I have the luxury of time to cook all my meals from scratch and I don't have to convince anyone else to change their habits to match.

A couple of years ago I switched to buying organic raw milk from Rainbow Falls Farm over near Kerikeri. It gets delivered to local drop off points, ours is the health food shop, in glass jars which are returned each week and reused. I could get non-organic raw milk more locally (fewer food miles) but I'd have to collect it from the farm which is way further than I could get to under my own steam, so I'd need a lift in someone's car... I decided to get raw milk as unlike pasteurised it doesn't make me sick (literally if I consume enough!), and it replaced the soy or rice milk I'd been buying. Pricewise it was comparable with what I was already paying per litre even though compared to ordinary milk it is more expensive. The soy/rice milk came from Australia (more food-miles) in tetrapaks (not recyclable locally). I had to balance that against the down sides of dairy farming, even organically, and the ethics around animal farming. Oh and the fact that medically adults simply don't need to consume the liquid intended for baby cows, and indeed there are plenty good reasons for not doing so! 

But, I like some yoghurt on my porridge, it is one of the few ways I consume probiotics (although Marion would argue that the quantity in yoghurt is negligible I reckon it is still better than none!), and the paneer I occasionally make tends to get used instead of tofu which whilst I can buy Kiwi made (and from a company that pays a Living Wage!), the beans still come from Australia.

One alternative is make my own almond milk which I have also done, especially over the winter when the cows are dried off, but generally almonds aren't grown commercially in this country so they too are shipped in from who knows where and I can't really afford large quantities of organic nuts, so who knows what nasties are involved in their growing?

Another alternative is use coconut cream, and water it down for using as milk. Yes I can get organic, but organic or not it is still in tins (recyclable at least) or in tetrapaks, still comes from the South Pacific if not further afield, and those food-miles have crept right back up again...

So, as with Penn and his sword, for now I'm sticking with my one litre of organic raw milk a week as long as I can! 

I came across another interesting dilemma recently, it was an infographic (which of course I now can't find, but this is similar) about the environmental cost of alternatives to plastic bags. Basically cane, and for us here harakeke (flax), baskets are best. If locally sourced, sustainably harvested, and handmade they come up trumps in terms of mileage, water usage, and production/wages/working conditions are hopefully at least liveable with, given that handcrafts are seldom lucrative sources of income! Cotton/calico bags often come at a higher ethical price than you'd expect - producing cotton involves a lot of water, and cotton often comes from factories paying very low wages and with poor working conditions etc...

That made me think about my main hobby of sewing, as I tend to use mostly cotton fabric. For a many years I've tried to use what I have rather than buy material specially for a project, but that has primarily been for financial and space reasons - I have a lot of material! It isn't that I buy a lot, it often gets given to me, plus there are old clothes, linens etc that can be re-purposed but meanwhile take up room in my cupboard/under the bed, which kind of goes against the whole not collecting 'stuff' idea! So when no matter how much I tried the different options on hand and there still really wasn't anything suitable in my stash for my current project, I headed to the market and bought a second hand duvet cover (for a whopping $3!) which I unpicked to use for the extra material I needed. Re-purposing something already out there rather than buying new. Another ongoing project is making a ragrug doormat out of old t-shirts, leggings etc and some long since inherited fabric of a similar ilk. My challenge for that is not to buy anything at all for it. I might need to start putting the word out though if I'm to find any brighter colours for it!

A lot of the changes I, and many others, are consciously making in our lives harkens back to the way our grandparents' generation lived. But for us it is through choice, rather than necessity. Sure I could buy imported fruit and vegetables to ensure I had the same variety available to me year round, but actually I'd rather just eat fresh tomatoes from our garden in the summer and autumn that taste like tomatoes than eat the watery alternatives the rest of the year. Here in the Far North the growing season is year round so I could have lettuce every day of the year (if we water it through the summer!) if I really wanted to, but we still have seasons where some stuff grows better than others and I like that changing variety. I'm sure I'll be sick of beans soon, but that's okay, I'll have plenty of months without them before long! Yes I could have half a dozen scooshy bottles of assorted cleaning fluids in the cupboard, but you know what? I'm discovering that there's precious little you can't get clean without some combination of white or cider vinegar, baking soda, washing soda, salt and lemon juice.

There are some good local websites for Kiwis also working towards a more sustainable life, whether for economic or sustainability reasons, a couple I keep track of are Wendyl Nissen's (whose book A Home Companion I really enjoyed and I use her recipes for cleaning/toiletries regularly) and Lyn Webster's 'Pig tits and parlsey sauce' - she's also written a similar book. Lyn moved up here not that long back, hopefully our paths will cross at some point!

None of us are wanting to sound sanctimonious or self-righteous about the changes we have made. As Ben Pink Dandelion said in his 2014 Swarthmore Lecture giving up the Bentley can be a challenge, especially these days when our lives are no longer under the scrutiny of Elders making sure we're being 'proper' Quakers living out our Testimonies! (He wasn't joking by the way, he really did have an old Bentley!). Both Britain YM and the YM of Aotearoa New Zealand have made a commitment of working towards sustainability and included it among out Testimonies. Australia YM calls it 'Earthcare'. Whatever we call it, it is becoming an increasingly important part of our Quaker journeys, and as with any other aspect of spiritual journeys they aren't all the same; they twist and turn around each other, often covering some of the same ground but in a different order (or direction!). Sharing our journeys towards a more sustainable life, as with sharing our understandings of god, the inner light, what we do in the silence of Meeting for Worship etc adds different perspectives, strengthens and enriches our collected witness; and helps us get to know each other better in that which is more mundane as well as eternal.

Our lives are all different and what might be easy for one can be a huge challenge for another. What is important is doing what we can in our own lives, making the changes and the commitment to keep that a process rather than just recycling the milk bottles and considering that's the end of it. There's always something more that can be done... by sharing our stories hopefully we'll inspire each other and provide some moral support along the way, especially when it all starts to look 'too hard' to make any further progress.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

a patchwork life

Last summer I got given some patchwork fabric squares, fat quarters and eighths for Christmas/birthday presents. They sat in my cupboard all year as whilst I had some vague ideas I couldn't quite figure out what to do with them. As nothing immediately sprang to mind and given I was having a hard enough time keeping on top of the projects I already had to do I didn't exactly give the matter a lot of thought I have to admit.

Then as I started packing for Summer Gathering I realised that I could do with some hand sewing to take as I expected to spend a lot of time sitting quietly rather than rushing around being busy. I could've taken my rag rug project as Sue did, but it and the stuff I'm cutting up is a bit bulky and I was trying to pack light. Having seen the glorious technicolour of Sue's that she started at the previous Summer Gathering I'm rather relieved I left my rather dull looking version at home! The problem with using old clothes up for projects and trying to avoid buying anything for it is that you end up with the colours to use that you wear, which in my case meant a lot of black, brown, grey and dull greens with occasional brighter items thrown in. It's actually perfect for it's intended purpose which will be a doormat but that is somewhat beside the point. I did come home resolving to add brighter colours somehow!

Anyway having ditched the idea of taking the rug I needed something else so started looking again at the material I'd been gifted. I had some paper templates from an earlier piecing project so roughed up an idea for starting some stars within septagons and decided I'd figure out what to do with them later. Sometimes a project needs to just grow on it's own.

I thought I had taken far more templates than I'd need but I almost ran out by the end of the gathering and I had just short of 6 completed stars to bring home. I had a night in Auckland on the way back staying with old friends. Whilst dutifully admiring 7yr old Lucy's rotating disco lightbulb she'd saved up her pocket money to buy (it was pretty cool I have to admit, just not very good for reading by!) I caught sight of her patchwork duvet cover her mum had made. Of course! I'd been thinking I needed another duvet cover and the colours I had were perfect for my room - my friends know me well.

So I now have the beginnings of a plan and it is starting to come together. I'll need to get some extra fabric to make it work, but I'm still a way of reaching the stage where that is necessary, I can continue to work with what I've got. I started listening to Dune whilst I sew, so I've been working my way through my 100 Big Reads list at the same time - two birds with one stone!

On Facebook I saw a photo a friend had shared of a patchwork quilt she's started for her daughter and she mentioned the months of thinking, choosing and planning that had gone in to it. It made me reflect on this project's journey and I started seeing parallels between it and my life in general. When the 2Es (as our YM co-clerks are known) visited in February on their way to the Waitangi we discussed the plans for our YM venturing into the relatively uncharted waters of having a paid employee. Instead of having a secretary like Australia YM the plan was to start small and contract out various tasks. As my health was rapidly heading downhill at that stage and my confidence was going with it I couldn't see how it could be something I would be successful in applying for given the number of folk with far better DTP skills than me. However I chipped in with my experience of being a sole Quaker employee responsible to committees etc and how that had worked as they gathered information ready for our Yearly Meeting and the next stage of the process.

Since I was made redundant at the end of 2012 I'd been trying to figure out 'what next?' Yet other than being at home, taming the garden, doing more 'urban homesteading' and working towards a more sustainable life all I could come up with was working for Friends again. Which is a bit tricky in a Yearly Meeting that doesn't employ anyone! So I needed another idea, but none arrived however Phyllis did fall and need a hip replacement so I became a full time homebased carer for a while which did allow me to be at home, work on the garden etc etc etc. Be careful what you wish for! I wouldn't wish an emergency hip replacement on anyone.

After that I reluctantly did a bit more teaching even though I was fairly convinced it wasn't good for my health, and as if to prove a point that is when I really started to go downhill towards the end of 2013. Part of me wanted to hang on to the belief that the right job will turn up, but after a year and then some it was hard to keep that faith and financially it was becoming more of a challenge to hold out. So there I was with some concepts of what I wanted to do, but no ideas as to how to pull it together and make it happen. So like the fabric, the idea of working for Friends got stashed away for now, occasionally taken out and looked at with vague plans but nothing jumping out at me as the way forward.

Ironically being ill levelled out my finances as I started getting benefits to top up my small regular income. And by the time the fixed term job putting Documents in Advance together and other YM papers was advertised my health had improved enough to be able to apply in the hope that by the time it started I'd be properly up to it.

When the job started I just had to go for it and hope I could make it work. Luckily for me at the time (although possibly not for me in a fortnights time when the deadline rolls around!) not many contributions came in early so I had time to set up some systems and get my head around what needed done before actually having to do it.

It took several weeks to get the contract sorted, especially as one of the Monthly Meetings (mine as it happens!) decided to have a session considering guidelines for YM being an employer. So in the end my contract was signed with the caveat that this in no way was to be considered a template for future contracts without taking into consideration the current ongoing process of establishing best practice.

So we had the equivalent of the first strip of the quilt sorted out, what would happen next to be built up around it was very much still up in the air.

Whilst at Summer Gathering a group of us got together to consider how to go forward with a project that had been dormant for the last few years, but was still seen as an important part of our history as a community and there was a strong wish for it to continue. Could it be added to the secretarial role? someone asked, well not as it stands just now, but that doesn't mean it couldn't be in the future! Already Friends are starting to see ways of expanding the original role, extending the pattern yet within the existing colour scheme. What we're still waiting for is that collective lightbulb moment of seeing exactly what it is we need to be creating out of the bits and pieces we have to choose from.

It is going to be interesting to see how things develop this year, will the project get shelved after the first stage until the same time of year roles around again? Anyway whatever happens with the paid work at least I have some idea what I'm doing with my sewing for now! And having now finished Dune I wonder if I can tackle another book from the list whilst I'm at it?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Books 2014

For the last few years I've been keeping track of what books I've read throughout the year. This started off when I realised that since starting my Grad Dip in Early Childhood Education in early 2008 the only things I seemed to read were academic papers and children's picture books, followed by a binge of re-reading old favourites once I finished my studies.

The aim was to read 52 books in a year, it didn't matter whether they had a few hundred words or a couple of thousand pages, they all counted unless they were read ad infinitum to small children! I've also been challenging myself to read auto/biographies, more non-fiction (as long as it isn't a text book for the purposes of essay writing!) and genres that I generally don't read much of if any. I've been trying to read more new books than re-reads and explore new authors.

2014 certainly broke all records in terms of the number of books I got through, mainly because I spent the first half of the year not being able to do very much and listening to audio books became not just a coping mechanism but a survival tool. Reading has always been my way of coping so when migraines ruled that out there was mild panic until it dawned on me that the audio books I had didn't just have to be saved for travelling! I felt rather proud of myself that instead of going straight for the comfort 'reads' of Pern and Harry Potter books (yet again!) I continued my explorations of Valdemar through the centuries. 

In 2003 the BBC compiled the 100 Big Reads list; having realised at the time I'd read a goodly number of them I decided to work my way through the rest. However a couple of years later I emigrated here and threw myself into reading Kiwi novels in an attempt to absorb as many cultural reference points as I could in an easy way, and then of course I started studying. So another aspect of my reading challenge each year has been to tick a few more off that list - I've now read 68 of them and currently have two more in progress. Luckily Dawn is also trying to work her way through them all too so we're able to encourage each other along when faced with 2,000 pages of a literary 'classic' that is really hard to get to grips with!

I was more lenient on myself about re-reads last year, especially when I unwittingly skipped several books in the Liaden Universe series, of course re-reading the whole lot from the beginning (almost) in chronological order and slotting the missed volumes in was the obvious way to rectify that! I'm currently trying to convince myself that the new Outlander book warrants a re-read of the entire series too, but that is an entire shelf full of thick books! I might instead just re-read the one before it, we'll see... 

Whilst I haven't counted books read at work etc over the years I have counted the books I read to Seany whilst visiting them in Hokitika as all but one had 10 chapters and I certainly felt like I'd earned the right to include them!

Anyway, rather than waffle on any further, here is my list of books read/listened to in 2014:

* - I'm still reading it
italics - a re-read

January - March 2014
i. Being Salt and Light - 6th World Conference of Friends book (started last year)
ii. To Be Broken and Tender - Margery Post-Abbott (started last year)
iii. Middlemarch - George Elliott (started last year)
iv. White Gryphon (Valdemar: Mage Wars, #2) - Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon (audio book) (started last year)
1. Asterix and Obelix's Birthday: The Golden Book - Albert Uderzo
2. Silver Gryphon (Valdemar: Mage Wars, #3) - Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon (audio book)
3. Fortunately, the milk... - Neil Gaiman
4. Foundation (Valdemar: Collegium Chronicles, #1) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
5. Intrigues (Valdemar: Collegium Chronicles, #2) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
6. Changes (Valdemar: Collegium Chronicles, #3) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
7. Magic's Pawn (Valdemar: Last Herald-Mage, #1) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
8. Magic's Promise (Valdemar: Last Herald-Mage, #2) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
9. Magic's Price (Valdemar: Last Herald-Mage, #3) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
10. Brightly Burning (Valdemar) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
11. Exile's Honour (Valdemar: Heralds of Valdemar, #1) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
12. Exile's Valor (Valdemar: Heralds of Valdemar, #2) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
13. Take a Thief (Valdemar: Heralds of Valdemar, #3) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
14. Arrows of the Queen (Valdemar: Heralds of Valdemar, #4) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
15. Arrow's Flight (Valdemar: Heralds of Valdemar, #5) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
16. Arrow's Fall (Valdemar: Heralds of Valdemar, #6) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
17. Oathbound (Valdemar: Vows and Honor, #1) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
18. Oathbreakers (Valdemar: Vows and Honor, #2) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
19. * Oathblood (Valdemar: Vows and Honor, #3) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book – file incomplete)
20. Kerowyn's Tale: By the Sword (Valdemar) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
21. Winds of Fate (Valdemar: The Mage Winds, #1) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
22. Winds of Change (Valdemar: The Mage Winds, #2) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
23. Winds of Fury (Valdemar: The Mage Winds, #3) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
24. Storm Warning (Valdemar: The Mage Storms, #1) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
25. Storm Rising (Valdemar: The Mage Storms, #2) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
26. Storm Breaking (Valdemar: The Mage Storms, #3) - Mercedes Lackey (audio book)
27. Owlflight (Valdemar: Darian's Tale, #1) - Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon (audio book)
28. Owlsight (Valdemar: Darian's Tale, #2) - Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon (audio book)
29. Owlknight (Valdemar: Darian's Tale, #3) - Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon (audio book)
30. Swordspoint - Ellen Kushner (audio book)

April - June 2014
31. The Stonekeeper's Daughter - Linda McNabb
32. The Crystal Runners - Linda McNabb
33. The Last Summoner - Sherryl Jordan
34. Trickster's Choice - Tamora Pierce
35. Close Your Pretty Eyes - Sally Nicholls
36. Rowan of Rin - Emily Rodda
37. Mouse and Dragon - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
38. Winnie-the-Pooh in Scots - translated by James Robertson
39. Dragon Ship - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
40. Kitchen Organisation Made Easy - Sherrie Le Masurie
41. Unclutter Your Life! How to Tame Your Mess, Calm Your Life, Lighten Your Load - Jen Williams
42. The Courage to Change - Cary Bergeron
43. Crystal Soldier - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

July - September 2014
44. Crystal Dragon - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
45. Balance of Trade - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
46. Local Custom - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
47. Scout's Progress - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
48. Conflict of Honors - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
49. Trade Secret - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
50. Agent of Change - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
51. Carpe Diem - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
52. Plan B - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
53. Fledgeling - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
54. Saltation - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
55. I Dare - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
56. Ghost Ship - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
57. Dragon Ship - Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
58. The Trouble With God - David Boulton
59. South Coast (Shaman Tales 1) - Nathan Lowell (audio book)
60. * David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

October - December 2014
61. A Wrinkle In Time - Madeleine L'Engle
62. Slaves of Socoro (Brotherband book 4) - John Flannagan
63. Tagus the Horseman (Beast Quest 4) - Adam Blade, read to Seany
64. Nanook the Snow Monster (Beast Quest 5) - Adam Blade, read to Seany
65. Epos the Flame Bird (Beast Quest 6) - Adam Blade, read to Seany
66. Zepha the Monster Squid (Beast Quest 7) - Adam Blade, read to Seany
67. Claw the Giant Monkey (Beast Quest 8) - Adam Blade, read to Seany
68. The Dreamkeeper - Robert Ingpen, read to Seany
69. The Broken Bridge - Philip Pullman
70. Ravenwood - Nathan Lowell (audio book)
71. Finding Our Voice - Australian YFs, Backhouse Lecture 2010