Sunday, February 22, 2015

simply complex

Over the last few weeks I've been compiling and editing Documents in Advance for our Yearly Meeting - 88 pages of contributions from Monthly Meetings, various committees and other bodies we work with/help fund. Basically it is the national Quaker annual report prior to our AGM (Yearly Meeting) which is in May.

It has been an interesting process. As with anything to do with organizing Quakers it has been an exercise akin to herding cats. As a teenager I first heard the joke if you ask 10 Quakers what Quakers believe you'll get a dozen answers and a list of books to read as long as your arm, well I'm thinking there should be a similar one about collecting statistics. Compiling what I still think of as the Tabular Statement but here is simply 'Yearly Meeting Statistics' was enlightening. I had no idea there were so many ways in which to give the information requested in a completely different order from the questions asked, and ways to re-interpret the question to make extracting the desired information a challenge! Then of course there are the occasions when the maths simply doesn't hold water (3+2 does not equal 4, especially when you are counting children!), or people you know exist simply don't appear in the count - do you add them in, knowing they are there, or stick to the numbers you were given even though they don't match reality as you know it to be? Which of these options shows integrity and truthfulness?! How many times do you go back to a Worship Group to query the same piece of information when each new answer just leaves you more confused than you were to start with?! Oh and what actually counts as a Meeting for Worship for Business? I suspect the answer being sought was how many times did you hold Monthly Meeting, but that wasn't the question asked and it was interpreted in several different ways.

Aside from the above complications and some interesting interpretations of deadlines that required a lot of last minute re-formatting of pages (repeatedly...) it has been a privilege to be part of the process. I'm looking forward to the next step of White Pages, which records the responses and questions from Friends and (hopefully!) the answers from the relevant post holders and committees.

I'm anticipating having to answer a few queries myself, even though as secretarial assistant I don't have a report in there myself. Docs in Advance will look a little different this year. It is a little longer than normal this year, partly that is due to some extra material and some lengthier than usual reports, not to mention the fact that everything bar one set of accounts turned up in time (ish...) to make it in rather than having to appear later in White Papers. But partly it is due to using a different typeface - Calibre takes up a little more space than Times New Roman, but it is a much easier font for those with dyslexia to read. And when faced with 88 A4 pages of type to read and make comments on, you don't want to have to battle against the font to make sense of it all.

Also this year it is 'perfect bound' ie with a glued spine rather than stapled. Apparently the cost is much the same, but the process of perfect binding is quicker (just as well as the printer stuffed up and forgot that the date for collection was rather critical!), and at 88 pages it was too thick for their stapling machine anyway. And on top of that (!) rather than a plain coloured card cover it will be a printed colour. We have had this before mind, although when Linley & Claire thought using the Chiefs colours in stripes was a good idea the year YM was being held in the Waikato region there were many comments about the 'German flag' on the cover, and they weren't all complimentary by a long chalk! Instead the 2Es have gone for a 'radical feminist purple' as their swan song as co-clerks. We'll see how well that goes down... But not only is the cover printed in colour rather than just black ink on coloured card, it is going to be matt laminated too. I think I must've been the first person the printers had ever come across who asked if it couldn't be plain instead, even though they were offering laminated for the same price! Quaker simplicity, especially when you're trying to uphold a commitment to reducing reliance on oil based products, can't half be complicated at times. At least it is matt laminating, a glossy cover would've been well beyond the pale.

So whilst I await the next lot of contributions for White Papers I've to design a form to (hopefully...) simplify the collection of statistics for next year. If nothing else they'll get given the same set of boxes to fill in as makes up the table; if it weren't unquakerly to do so though I'd bet you anything they'll still come back completed with multiple interpretations of the questions asked! It's all very well being a religion that attracts those who have a tendency towards questioning conformity, but there are times when it would be nice if we could manage to do everything the same way.

Monday, February 16, 2015

herbs and spices of life

I now have a jam jar full of coriander seeds stripped off plants from our garden and a handful thrown back on the ground in the hopes that some at least will elude the snails and grow. Just to be sure in the meantime though I have bought some seedlings from the market which have just got big enough to plant out. Snails seem to adore coriander, which is a shame as I do too and whilst I'm happy to share, the snails will just scoff the lot of the seedlings which seems a bit unfair if you ask me. I must remember to harvest plenty of leaves this next time around and freeze them to see me through the winter. Whilst I'm all for cooking with seasonal vegetables having coriander available for curries does improve what you can do with what is around!

We also have various basils, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, lemon thyme, marjoram, lemon balm, chives, garlic, bay, lemon verbena, a couple of varieties of mint, chillies, comfrey, chamomile, curry plant, calendular, lavender, feverfew and lemongrass which along with the kawakawa makes for a goodly selection for cooking, remedies and herbal teas etc. But what has got me excited lately is discovering I can grow turmeric and ginger here too, thus supplementing my home grown spices as well as herbs! I've planted some turmeric and am hoping it copes with the fact that I chose the hottest and driest part of the year in which to do so. The first shoot has broken through the soil so I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I'll wait for spring to try ginger as I've read up on the best growing conditions and figure under the quince tree is probably my best bet, a space currently covered in trailing pumpkin plants and generally needs a bit more work. Not to mention that falling quinces wouldn't be too kind to young plants! Our quince tree has the bonus of passionfruit vine growing through it this year from NorthTec's horticulture dept next door. A vast improvement on the convovulous that we still haven't quite managed to eradicate from the fenceline between us.

We've also got a stevia plant, which I've dried some leaves from. It can be used as a sweetener, but I've yet to remember to use it as I don't often cook in a way that calls for any these days. I might be best making some extract by infusing it in vodka and then straining it - you only use a few drops at a time, so the alcohol being added to the food is minimal. However I think I'll need more leaves before I can give that a go.

Apparently tea bushes will grow around here, well they do up at Jane's in Diggers Valley anyway. I'm really tempted to have a go at growing it here even though she has promised us a 'picking'. Unfortunately I don't think I'll ever be able to grow my own cacoa, but otherwise I'm getting close to being self sufficient for things to make hot drinks from.

It's really satisfying being able to grow so much in our own garden. I'm getting better at drying, freezing and infusing herbs in oil for use through the winter too. Remembering to do this at a time when I don't actually need to do it to use them is something of a challenge at times, I'm much better at processing stuff for immediate use! But then isn't that like anything in life, it is far easier to deal with immediate needs than plan ahead for the what ifs and maybes, and it is only experience that can teach you what you should've done sooner!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

parallel universe lives

The sad news came via Facebook, another old f/Friend has died way too young. We hadn't seen each other in over twenty years, possibly as many as twenty five. But somehow those intervening years disappeared with the morning dew as I read the tributes flooding in. Names are popping up in the comments out of what yesterday could be described as the dim and distant past, but today feels like a few weeks ago.

Crispian was an hour older than my brother Jon. A very important hour apparently, well you'd think so the way it was rubbed in over the years! That connection Jon & Crispian shared by being birthday twins overflowed into me thinking of Crispian as 'my other little brother' ('little' becoming increasingly inaccurate in both cases as the years went by, but like that hour, you have to make the most of such tenuous things to keep the upper hand in sibling relationships, even acquired ones!).

When I saw the news I messaged Leo on Facebook to find out what had happened, and asked if he hadn't already if he could let Jon know as I knew Jon had abandoned Facebook (again...) and so wouldn't have seen the messages. As we were chatting Jon rang me on skype having already got Leo's text (which bless him he'd already thought to send), making sure I'd heard.

Both conversations reflected the same sentiment, it might have been years since we'd seen him, but we'd miss him still. Miss knowing he was out there, and that in the way of such things, the usual knowledge that our paths would cross again through happenstance if not intent was now gone. Our everyday lives would remain unchanged, and yet be different, be somewhat less for the loss. And the 24th October, the one day of the year we were all guaranteed to think of Crispian will never quite feel the same again.

Jon described it like being in some weird parallel universe, where everything was the same, yet something was missing. You couldn't see what it was, but you knew it wasn't there.

Living half a world away from the first 35yrs of my life, it is a feeling I'm more familiar with. I know that when I go back next there will be a number of faces I can't see again, not because of time and travel limitations, but because they simply aren't there any more. But on the other hand, there is a whole new generation born since I left who I've yet to meet, but more scarily there are those who have reached the age, or are older than I was when I last saw their parents.... it's that wibbly wobbly timey wimey thing again; on the one hand we're still not much older than 16 surely, yet on the other there are 18yr olds off to uni proving otherwise.

Several names I've spotted today were only a part of my life in my late teens, in fact if you added up the number of days we spent in the same place (Yorkshire Friends Holiday School and reunions) it's often less than a month, yet each of those few precious days counted for years in their own way, in that other parallel universe of life where time twists and stretches and does strange things. But as soon as I've seen the names, the memories have rolled by crystal clear.

Luckily Crispian was one of those I saw at other Quaker events too over the years, but even so those extra weekends probably don't add up to much in real-time. But there are many memories, of an increasingly scruffy and eccentric character, much loved by many, full of banter but also deep thoughts, seldom far from a guitar... Another who is in many of those same memories was also lost to us some years ago, as have been several other Holiday School faces from years past. I never really know quite what to believe about life after death (although I'm rather partial to Terry Pratchett's Discworld theory) but a part of me is really hoping Josh was there with guitars ready for Crispian's arrival, and that there's a wee Holiday School reunion going on somewhere with those from Heidi through to Crispian gathered together, probably with a few others from YFCC joining in too.

Meanwhile no doubt there'll be another reunion of many of those left behind, to mourn, but also celebrate, not just Crispian's life, but the intertwining of his with ours and ours with each others. Those connections that run deep and remain strong regardless of time, place and which layer of the universe we're in.

ps I was looking for photos to share, and the two that jumped out both turned out to have Eddie in too; another one long gone now, but far from forgotten.When I posted the first one on Facebook a while back Crispian's comment was "oh man - was just about to launch in with with 'you bastard....' but was stopped in my tracks by a flood of Eddie memories...." So I'm guessing he'll forgive me for sharing it again.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015


I'm sitting here listening to the rain (blessed rain!) and the thunder rolling around wondering if the power will stay on. This time though I've thought to have the laptop fully charged, as is my phone!

Last Sunday was a slightly different matter though. It was one of the usual planned power outages for line maintenance that we get here about once or twice a year. There is only one main power supply line to the Far North, although they are in the process of building a loop line round the East Coast. The construction and linking up of this being partly why the power outages are for so long and seem to come around more regularly than they used to. So at 8am prompt the power went off, to be reconnected just before 5pm.

After weeks and weeks of drought conditions the rainy weather finally had reached us a few days earlier and has hung around since. So on the one day in the summer when nice weather outside really would've been handy, it rained. Almost all day! Well we managed about 3/4hr in the garden in the afternoon before the light drizzle returned to big splodges of rain again. But nice as it would've been to be out there doing more the ground so desperately needed the water so we couldn't complain, and it was filling up our new water tanks nicely! Yes we could've carried on out there and just got wet as it was hardly cold, but unfortunately then your insect repellent gets washed off and oh boy are those mozzies loving the dampness...

Had we had power I would've been proofreading/editing articles for the Friends' Newsletter as it was our deadline day for contributions for the next issue. I would've been working on Documents in Advance had any new material come in (which it hadn't as it turns out, despite the Jan 25th deadline for much of it! Yep, herding cats again...), and I would've been joining in Monthly Meeting in Mt Eden (Auckland) via skype and no doubt doing some hand sewing throughout that. But no power so no internet, I hadn't remembered to charge up the laptop before the power went off, and thanks to the rain it was too dark for hand sewing without straining my eyesight.

Fortunately we'd organised to have Meeting for Worship here that morning, and the much appreciated return of the camping stove on it's usual long term loan after it's trip camping a couple of weeks ago meant we could even have a fresh cuppa rather than rely on thermos flasks! But even with chatting over a cuppa and munchies that only took up 2hrs of the day....

I had so many things I'd planned to do but didn't like more gardening, hand sewing and letter writing - the old fashioned pen and ink way! But somehow that didn't happen. A couple of hours got lost in books; I made a start on some cucumber pickle (then left it to sit overnight with salt on the veg drawing out the liquid, it turned out rather well if I do say so myself); I went through my wardrobe and ummed and ahhed over a few items that I hadn't worn in ages but that is because I haven't needed to look smart, and I guess I'd better assume that might need to happen again one day! I pulled out a couple of sleeveless tops I want to use to make a pattern from (a combination of the two styles) and got as far as putting them with the material and pattern-paper (aka lunchwrap!), but then got sidetracked trying things on, working out how much to shorten a dress I seldom wear to a tunic length, and making another cup of tea...

In short a day without power was easy enough to get through for me. It did make me reflect once again on how life would be oh so different without it either at all or on a rationed basis. When I spent the night at Edith's in Nairobi after the World Conference of Friends in 2012 the power went out about four or five times that evening, and that was considered normal. I guess you adapt. When so much of my life relies on having an internet connection to the rest of the country, and indeed the rest of the world, life would be radically different without a reliable power supply.

It was probably good to have a day where I had to take a good long break from the computer, although had I any say in the matter I wouldn't have picked that particular day! A gentle reminder to make sure I do so more often perhaps? Of course a fair amount of computer time is required every day at the moment, but as my hours at the keyboard increase I need to be mindful of work/life balance, especially when the distinction between 'work' and things done in my 'free time' gets a bit blurry. So for the next week or so I'm making a conscious effort to set time aside away from the computer each day to do something that I'm doing because I want to rather than because I have to! So whilst today's visit to WINZ doesn't count even though I was out of the house and away from the screen, going to Lorna's for the weekly mah jong session most certainly does. And the more of those things that don't require electrickery the better.