Monday, November 07, 2016

to have and have not

A f/Friend shared this article on Facebook earlier this week. In it a piece written by a medical student who had experimented with living on $3.30 a day for 200 days is critiqued. His argument was that as he had thrived on this it shows how all the other factors of poverty must have a bigger effect on health outcomes than poor diet.

His argument sounds fairly reasonable until you factor in that he had weekends 'off', and stuck it out for 200 days out of +20yrs. Real poverty doesn't take weekends off, and the health impacts are generally due to accumulation over years not 200 days, unless one is only 200 days old. Anyway, the other article says lots of this better than I can.

I've lived on or below the official poverty line for a hefty chunk of my life. However I come from a middle class background where there has been enough money to house us well throughout my childhood no matter how low our family income might have been at times. Whenever I've found myself facing homelessness (3 times!) I've had friends with good incomes who have provided me with a home. I've lived off a very low disposable income since coming to Aotearoa NZ but there has always been someone else paying the bulk of the bills. Yes I have eating healthily off a low income down pat which proves it can be done, but I have the cashflow ability to buy in bulk, I never have to sacrifice buying food to replace a broken washing machine, buy school shoes, or fix a car. Also the only times in life that I've been turned down for jobs through prejudice has been when I was considered 'over qualified', rather than from having the wrong address, skin colour etc. Yes I know what it is like to have too much month at the end of the money, and have lived off frozen spinach, tinned tomatoes and bread from the half price bakery for several weeks waiting for the next grant cheque, but I've never actually gone hungry.

I think for some people doing the living off $3 a day or whatever experiment is quite an eye-opener and can teach them a very different perspective on life they might otherwise have been oblivious to. But they are usually still doing that in the comfort of their own home, with their bills paid, a job to go to etc etc etc. To really 'get it' you need to factor in more than just one aspect of your day. 
I'm always impressed though with the will power of those who've done the living off x amount a day, or refugee rations for a week/month in aid of Oxfam etc to raise awareness/funds. It's not something I ever intend to try given my health, and it would take a lot of planning not to end up with other food in the house/garden going to waste because you weren't eating anything but the rations etc, which does seem rather pointless. After all I'm pretty sure those for whom it is a daily reality wouldn't appreciate perfectly good food being wasted on their behalf. 

The difference between living in poverty and living below the poverty line can be huge and I am grateful for the skills I've learned as a result of the latter, and the fact that I've had the privilege in life not to fall into the former. Being part of inter-generational poverty, growing up with poor nutrition through lack of funds and/or education, living off cheap takeaways as there isn't enough money for power bills this month is the reality for some. Living in poverty is often more expensive than simply being poor, you can't take advantage of supermarket specials as you have no spare cash to buy anything not desperately needed this week, you end up paying far more for power etc to get the fixed installments so you can budget (or worse have to have pay a $500 bond to get those fixed installments! I was horrified to discover this when sorting out our neighbours affairs earlier this year) and so the list goes on. So yes providing good healthy food for the children of these families will go a long way to improving their outcome, no matter how cheaply someone else in better circumstances can feed themselves. There has recently been a swell of enthusiasm locally to get some fruit trees planted around town on public land and I really hope we can make it happen to improve access to free healthy kai here as there are plenty who need it. Now we just have to kick up a noisy fuss about the new food regulations which are making it difficult for small scale growers who sell off their surplus at the market to help make ends meet... there's always something to make life harder when you're struggling already.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Be careful what you wish for... might just happen!

A saying that I've found there to be a lot of truth in over the years, and usually it presents something quite different to deal with than what was first envisioned.

I've joined a couple more Facebook groups recently partly for work, and partly for my own benefit, one of which is Zero Waste in NZ! Basically it's for folk who are on the same waste reduction, simpler living journey as myself. Although some would say it's a harder way making a lot of stuff yourself rather than simpler, but personally I'd rather spend an extra hour in the kitchen than trekking to and round the supermarket, not to mention walking home again laden down with stuff.

Recently someone posted a question about food storage that resulted in a flurry of photos of people's pantries full of jars, tins and baskets. It has to be said there was a lot of pantry envy going on in the group! I find it hard to envision what a pantry would look like with only my dietary requirements in it given that hasn't happened for over a decade, and I've gone gluten free since then, not to mention having relocated to the opposite side of the globe which does rather tend to redefine 'local products'. But I guess if 'my' stuff were all together in a cupboard rather than squeezed in and around everything else in our kitchen, it probably wouldn't look that different from those I was oohing and ahhing over. Anyway, I was particularly admiring some large glass jars someone had and I was thinking they would be great for my oats and my 'porridge' mix (which these days looks more like muesli, but it still gets soaked overnight and cooked up in the morning). But I'm trying to avoid buying anything brand new and large jars don't often show up at the market or in op/charity shops. Some re-jigging freed up a large tin to use for my mix, but not before I'd been eyeing up the jars I get my milk in as a possibility.

But the milk jars get cycled round between the farm, drop-off point and me so the only way they'd become available would be if I stopped getting the milk. Whilst I've been wondering for some months if I could manage without milk without reverting to buying imported tetrapacks of soy/rice/almond milk, I kept putting that decision in the too hard basket. But now the new dairy regs are about to kick in at the end of the month the farm milk is no longer available as the tests the Ministry requires are exorbitantly expensive. So, I now have two large jars! (the 3rd is still at the farm, some you win, some you lose). One is already full of rolled oats, the other is awaiting a decision as the tin is working out quite well.

So I got my large jars that I wanted, and I didn't have to buy them new, but now I have to figure out what to do about milk... I've enough milk either fresh or frozen to last a couple of weeks yet at least, so there's no rush. But I've got a bowl of almonds soaking which I'll then freeze so when I do run out I have no excuse and can whizz up some almond milk as and when I need it, as remembering to soak the almonds in advance has been my stumbling block in the past. And of course I can get Trade Aid organic coconut milk (which is rather nice) at the healthfood shop, but it's hardly local, and neither are the almonds, but I can buy organic almonds loose using my cloth produce bags rather than in plastic. It's all an ever changing juggling act of priorities....

I'm sure I can cope without yoghurt on my porridge, especially as I'm making sauerkraut again as our garden has gone into cabbage patch overdrive, so I can get a daily dose of probiotics at lunchtime instead. Although I could make yoghurt with coconut milk if I really wanted to. It probably means making more oatcakes or seed crackers and fewer pikelets again, but that's no big deal, and as Gill pointed out many moons ago you can make pikelets with water!

So after pondering what I should challenge myself to tackle next in terms of lowering my footprint on the earth it turns out the decision has been made for me. And I think that's probably enough to be getting my head round for now.

Friday, October 28, 2016

getting radical

When I was discussing Plastic Free July with a f/Friend who was also doing the challenge this year she said how when she couldn't avoid non-recyclable plastic for some reason she was aiming to write to the company in question and ask them to do something about it.

It says a lot about who we both are as a person that her first reaction was to engage in direct dialogue and try to bring about change, where as I've been boycotting Nestlé for over 30 years and have never told them, and they probably didn't notice any resulting dip in sales either. However I have told a lot of other people about what I'm doing over the years, and I know some others have followed suit as a result. I also hadn't contacted any companies about their plastic use until recently.

Inspired (and a little shamed) by Jane's example I contacted a toilet paper company who used to sell their products wrapped in paper, but now use plastic. Their response by email was they had to stop using paper for hygiene reasons (?????) but the weblink they gave instead makes more sense. However although compostable it is still plastic and perpetuates the need for oil extraction. I was well impressed with Sally's solution to avoiding plastic wrapped loo roll by using a box of tissues, presumably one without the annoying plastic film insert where you pull the tissues out from, when doing a sponsored month without plastic in aid of Ocean Cleanup with her friend Sarah.

Having got that emailed response made me feel a bit braver, and I've just posted back to the University of Auckland the plastic wrapper from around their alumni magazine with a request to go on their email circulation list instead, and a suggestion that they come up with an alternative wrapper, especially as the insert with the magazine was imploring us to change the world for all our futures! They were after scholarship funding rather than suggestions that they divest from fossil fuels and avoid plastic, but never mind! I don't expect a reply however.

Working my way through the Radical Spirituality course has made me think about the whole simple living and the 'Wear it as long as thou canst' advice and whether I'd got again to the point where I needed to have a rethink about challenging myself to go a step further in this direction. As my income has increased a little over the last year I've been able to buy more bulk bin items at the healthfood shop rather than wholesalers which has meant being able to use my cloth bags rather than bring home yet more large snaplock bags, but as with boycotting Nestlé it probably doesn't change much (if anything) in the greater scheme of things unless I speak up more about what I'm doing and why.

Anyway, I recently got an email from a researcher at Massey University who I've met a couple of times before (a former research assistant of hers is a f/Friend of mine - you've got to love the small world of Quakerdom!), and Corrina is wanting to do some more interviews up here about the way people live out their environmental awareness and I'm on her list! Having seen the sheet of questions she'll be asking it feels a bit daunting, but I've got until early January to have my head around my answers, so you may find a few blog posts popping up along the way as I get to grips with them...

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Ages ago I signed myself up to do the Future Learn online course 'Radical Spirituality: the early history of the Quakers' which Ben Pink Dandelion is leading in conjunction with Lancaster Uni & Woodbrooke. It starts on 3rd Oct, so there's still time to sign up, and it's free!

It is an opportunity to explore the early days of Quakerism and the happenings of 1652. But I think what excites me more is the opportunity to be part of an international study group that includes Friends I've known from all the MMs I've been part of in my life and from many events I've been at around the world. There are also a lot of interested others who aren't Quakers (yet?) who have signed up from an interest in history, the area, or religion, and a large number of genealogists who have found Quaker ancestors in their family tree and want to know more.

As you can choose to 'follow' others on the course has they chip in (or not) to the online discussions you can create something akin to your own study group. Sadly I live too far away from the Friends at Mt Eden meeting who are planning to meet up kanoi ki te kanoi (face to face) to work through it, but as it is an online course that shouldn't matter.

I was fortunate to learn a lot of the history around 1652 on the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage in 1987. Thirty two of us from the USA and Europe spent four weeks together and our first week week was based in Yealand Conyers in the heart of  the '1652 Country'. We were privileged then to meet Elfrida Vipont Foulds, and Duncan and Katharine Woods, although it was some years before it really sunk in how much of a privilege that had been. But being able to tell numerous small children decades later that I'd once met the lady who wrote 'The Elephant and the Bad Baby' wasn't quite how I ever envisioned that event being most often recalled! Her storytelling about George Fox was as compelling as the elephant going rumpeta rumpeta rumpeta down the road and the bad baby never once saying please, has been for generations. Ben PD has a lot to live up to! Luckily for him, and why I signed up in the first place, my memory of the facts is now a little hazy, and I also really enjoy his style of presenting/writing. So I'm really looking forward to this new international 'pilgrimage' with f/Friends old and new.

I'll be down in Wellington catching up with f/Friends and whānau when the course starts, so it'll take me a few days to catch up when I get home. But being kanoi ki te kanoi with one lot of Friends is a pretty good reason for not being virtually present with another. No matter how good virtual connections may be they cannot fully replicate the experience of being and sharing together.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

same journey, many paths

Many have returned home from Yearly Meeting enthused and invigorated by the move to spend the coming months focusing on Spiritual Nurture and Outreach. We have much to offer that is different from other churches. Rather than having a set creed we see ourselves as on a journey, seeking as did those early Friends, a spiritual path, together. But that doesn't mean it is the same path for all—often it feels more like a scribble than a linear progression. With the nurturing fellowship of other Friends to hold us in the Light as we worship together we find our way forward.

Our social testimonies’ was a common response when Friends were asked what is it they want people to associate with the word Quaker. One of those testimonies is sustainability. As with our faith, our journeys vary considerably, we have no creed here either.

That we need to act is not in doubt, and we need to act to the best of our abilities, in whatever form that may take. For some that may be avoiding non-recyclable plastics or air travel, only buying secondhand clothes or locally sourced food.

There is no one size fits all answer, what is important is that we are on the journey, supporting each other and celebrating our progress as we work together towards a common goal.

In this time of spiritual nurture, I hope we can remember the words of Isaac Penington: Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.”

Editorial for Aotearoa New Zealand Friends Newsletter, Sept 2016

I normally have to have my arm twisted rather hard to write the editorial for the Newsletter, but this time I volunteered. I was getting rather fed up of the tone of various articles we'd received over the last year or so that were busy telling Friends what they 'ought' to be doing to tackle climate change. Maybe it is because of the work I'd been doing getting unrealistic/irrational 'oughts' out of my own life that it hit a nerve so strongly, but also if there's one thing that has been guaranteed to put my back up for decades it is being told how I 'should' live my life.

I obviously wasn't alone in feeling somewhat put out either, and to me there's something very wrong when Friends feel vilified for not buying in to someone else's pet 'cure' when it is glaringly obvious that there isn't a magical panacea that will solve all the problems and each of the solutions creates or exacerbates other issues which may in some cases prove to be more problematic down the line.

If we required all our members (and presumably attenders too) to adhere to every one of the 'solutions' put forward we might as well give up now on restructuring our Yearly Meeting as there'll be no-one left. Not even the most ardent campaigners, as none of them can incorporate all of the lifestyle 'requirements' being pedaled, well not and continue to live comfortable lives connected to the rest of the outside world and I've yet to see any evidence of anyone giving that up to such an extent. 

I'm pretty sure we don't want to revert to the days when Friends got disowned for breaking certain expectations, and we'd be hard pushed to find anyone with enough moral high ground to stand on to enforce such if we did. There are enough things in the world aimed at guilt tripping us into striving for unachievable, and often undesirable 'ideals', most of which are fairly superficial in the greater scheme of things. Dealing with climate change is a much bigger issue than fashion, body shape, the latest game craze etc, so don't put people off engaging with doing what they can by setting it out in the same way as a list of things the cool kids are doing and if you don't you are substandard, lacking, or unworthy... 

Surely it would be better to foster a supportive environment where folk feel encouraged to question, query and explore the issues and possible solutions together. We can share stories of our successes, and failures, in a way that inspires others to follow and try to reduce their own environmental impact, rather than leave them feeling inadequate and chastised. Make it manageable, like the 'Less Stuff' Facebook group I'm in that encourages people to tackle the clutter in their lives 5 things, and/or 5 minutes at a time. Lisa has a great website with all the prompts and worksheets on, but it is being part of a sharing virtual community that is willing to be vulnerable and share our 'before' photos as well as our 'after' ones, and acknowledge to ourselves and remind each other that we each have different factors limiting our capacities to be 'perfect' (whatever that might be!) that keeps many of us chipping away at the task. As someone said recently it's nice to have the warmth and support of the group when no-one around them would appreciate their efforts!

In the Quaker Lecture at Yearly Meeting this year Marion Hobbs spoke of wanting to start a blog for sharing the successful peacebuilding stories as so often what we hear about are the conflicts rather than the solutions. We need that encouragement that things are possible to keep going, we need to feel it is achievable, it is within our grasp and capacity to create change. We can all keep chipping away at things in our own lives even if we can't all stop international conflicts, but we need to feel empowered to do what we can, not criticized for the things we aren't doing. 

So please do continue to share your ideas, your challenges, your journeys, I've learned so much from reading many a blog post and journal article. But please remember to be mindful that the journeys of others may take a different route, and that is okay. I'm sure several of those whose articles have caused hurt would be mortified to know that was the case, and I'm certainly not accusing them of doing it deliberately. Meanwhile I'll keep trying to cut back on the plastic in my life and try not to feel uncomfortably guilty when I get on a plane from Auckland to Wellington to save myself 11hrs of road travel on top of around 8hrs I'll have already done to get to the airport.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

happiness is....

... a new rotary cutter blade!

It's amazing how much easier cutting patchwork pieces is with a sharp blade. But each time the blade gets nicked, and/or starts to dull I end up persevering with it long past the point that makes sense. Especially when I still have a spare in the cupboard!

Getting hold of replacement blades hasn't always been easy though I have to say. When I first emigrated here I discovered that the brand I have wasn't available here, and the nearest equivalent had a different shaped hole in the middle so couldn't be substituted. So I eeked out the blades I had with me for as long as possible and stocked up on return trips to the UK. Finding new ones is now much easier, not only can you buy just about anything online these days, but the brand I have is now imported. Sure I can't get the ones I want here in Kaitaia, but I go to the main cities often enough to be able to stock up if I don't want to pay postage (and it gives me a good excuse to visit the quilting shops!). But still that mentality of having to make do with a dull blade is a hard one to break (it never once occurred to me to buy another rotary cutter of the brand that was readily available!).

I've read a few articles and listened to an essential oils conference podcast recently that have mentioned inherited emotional DNA, and how emotional trauma is passed on down generations who can find themselves with a seemingly irrational fear of something, or habits like hoarding. The expression 'the fruit never falls far from the tree' has long been used to describe such hereditary traits that science is only just starting to be able to explain. The endless debate of nature vs nurture has developed an additional twist. Is my squeezing every last drop of usefulness out of something even to my own disadvantage due to my many experiences of living within a tight budget? or some deeper ancestral experience of living with a scarcity of resources? With Scottish and Yorkshire ancestry (amongst others) it is perhaps unsurprising that there might be an element of 'short arms and deep pockets' in me; but perhaps those traits are due in turn not to simply being 'tight wi' tha brass' but from a past of shortage, after all both populations are also known for their friendliness and looking after their own which doesn't really stack up with the image of being penny pinching.

A friend of mine has recently been posting on Facebook about her DNA test results which include all manner of health indicators, and as I type my Mum is waiting to get her DNA results which hopefully will tell us more than we already know about our ancestry. So it probably isn't surprising that my mind managed to make the jump between dull blades and DNA! But it also fits in with some work I've been doing on counteracting thinking errors (primarily shoulds/oughts and mind reading!), and this too was echoed in another of the conference podcasts I listened to, often the ability to name an issue goes a long way to being able to deal with it. It is much easier to break a habit that appears to make no sense when you can identify why you do it that way in the first place, once you've identified the thinking error/issue behind it you can start finding a positive way forward instead.

So when my currently nice sharp rotary cutter blade starts to dull I need to remember to tell myself it's more important to change to a sharp one that won't stress me out when trying to use it, rather than dwell on that fact that I didn't used to be able to get a new one easily and so I ought to 'make it last'! Now if I could just get a round blade sharpened I'd be even happier....

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

a story of life

Well after 5 years and almost 4 months the last of my stuff made it's way from Pukepoto to Kaitaia. I now have my captain's chair in my room, and additionally I now have a new (to me) cabinet that has a drop down cupboard door that acts as a desk. So now when I'm working from home I'm no longer either sitting on my bed or the sofa with my laptop on one of those bed trays that one of Phyllis' sons made for a school project around 50 years ago! Not that I have any plans to relinquish the tray, it's still going to be very handy, but ergonomically it isn't a cunning plan for lengthy use.

It was a bit strange really to bring away that last bit of my stuff, I lived there for four years and a month - so less time than I've been here, yet somehow it feels like it was way longer. Probably as so many big changes went on in my life there. I went from being on a visitor visa, to a student one, to a working towards full registration one, to permanent residency. I bumped into someone I used to see quite often in the years I was living at Pukepoto in the Post Office yesterday, he was posting off new passports for visa stickers to be added and we commiserated over the hold and amount of funds the Immigration has (had for me now!) over our lives. Marking the passage of time by what visa I have held seems perfectly normal. Not that the last five years have been 'samey', I got my citizenship and Kiwi passport whilst living here after all!

I put this photo of the chair and 'desk' on Facebook earlier, quickly downloaded off the camera, with no edits. When I came to put it on here I was about to crop it down, then really took note as to what was around the edges; my 'Triennial mug' on the shelf behind the glass door which has been used for pens etc for probably as many years now as it was used as a mug; my rather faded Guatemalan patchwork bedspread bought in Flores the one time I got to go to visit one of our overseas projects when I worked for an international development charity; my old purple dressing gown which apart from being wonderfully warm and snuggley is a reminder of the importance of being able to wear what you choose (long story...); and the first patchwork quilt I ever made... my first ever patchwork project is the photo too - the cushion cover on the chair was made from a Liberty patchwork kit I got when I was about 11 or 12, it got completed about 10yrs later! So a snapshot not only of the present, but of many chunks of my past, and the journey that led to me being here with them, and once I'd thought about them that way I couldn't bring myself to crop them out.

All too often details round the edges get cut off to improve the aesthetics of a picture, but they can provide a supporting narrative which is easily lost. What to cut out and what to keep.... the decluttering dilemma in a nutshell! As a (very part time) genealogist the idea of keeping things for posterity that tells the story of a people has a huge pull, and very much shaped my hoarding years. But I've learned to let go of 'stuff'; photos of everyday life can tell a lot of a story, without having to keep boxes and boxes of stuff to prove it happened, although I'll certainly be hanging on to my multi-stickered passport for a few years yet! So I'm going to try to remember that when editing photos, sometimes historical value is more important than art! Now if only I could manage to combine the two more effectively...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Plastic Free July and all that

Whoa, where did August get to? I started this at the beginning of the month and figured I'd best get it finished before September got here!

Whilst this is the 3rd year I've done the Plastic Free July challenge, it is the first time I've known others doing it. I put posters up about it at the EcoCentre last year, but whilst various folk commented on it to me and said it was a good idea no-one said they would give it a go. However it turns out that several of them did, and this year they were willing to push it further within our local community.

Three times in July we've had stalls at the market, along with a bottle buy-back scheme with a grant from the Far North District Council where folk could get 10c refund for every clean, lidless, number 1 plastic (PET) bottle they brought along. We had $500 to give away, but it has taken all three market days plus some additional time at the EcoCentre to work through less than half of it. It takes time to bring about a change in people's habits, and whilst every weekend in July would've been better in terms of promoting the scheme it would've been much harder on our volunteers, especially as the first Saturday in July was a very cold and frosty morning! (yes, frosty. In Kaitaia, the so-called 'Winterless North'!). Momentum is building for a national container deposit scheme like they have in South Australia, so there is hope of bringing about change and getting more plastic, glass and aluminium recycled. But it would be better still if we didn't use so much plastic in the first place. We've had another 'buy-back' earlier this month and have got one last push this Saturday where we hope to hand out the rest

I was working at the EcoCentre the other day when a woman came in assuming we were the i-Site (Tourist Information Centre), this is far from unusual as they used to be in the building we use, but shifted almost 4yrs ago into Te Ahu when it was opened. But rather than head straight back out when I pointed her in the right direction to find them (all of 100m away, if that) she asked So what is this place then? I saw your 'say no to single use plastic' sign, it's something I know I need to do more about, but don't know where to start. Well about half an hour later she headed off with lots to think about and some ideas to bring about change in the flat she shares in Auckland. Like many people she knows the theory of what to do, but gets stuck on the practice. Habits, as I said, take time to change. I have always found it easiest to change one thing at a time, and once it becomes normal practice and you don't have to think about it any more then add in something new.

For me a simple step was always carry around with me a cloth shopping bag. I've added to that more recently by also having a wee pouch with some cotton bags that I get flour, grains etc in from the bulk bins at the health food shop, and some net bags for produce, or larger bulk bin items like nuts that are big enough not to work their way out of the mesh. They are always there, like my purse, my keys and (usually!) my phone. That way I don't have to think about it when I go shopping, and if I want to impulse shop after (or even at) work I don't find myself caught short needing to use plastic bags.

One of the questions our visitor asked was about plastic bin liners, how do you manage without them? Well in our kitchen we do use a plastic carrier bag as a bin liner, but we empty that into the rubbish sack in the garage and re-use the bag until it gets too torn. It doesn't get very dirty as we rinse any food containers out before putting them in there, and we compost, and wash then recycle far more than we throw away. We could of course not use a liner and wash the bin out more often, or make newspaper liners, but that is a step yet to be taken in this household. I explained that I stopped having a bin in every room, if you have to walk to a different room to dispose of your rubbish it is mentally easier to ensure you put it in the recycling or compost rather than landfill. I was asked about sanitary towels etc, what did I do about those? Well having used a menstrual cup for years until no longer required that hadn't been problem for me, and I now use homemade washable pantiliners daily as what remains of my menstrual cycle is minimal but highly irregular. But between us we figured out that a pile of paper bags in the bathroom, or even old newspaper, would mean there was something to put sanitary towels in before taking them to a central bin.

Having someone else to problem-solve our dilemmas with is why forums such as the Plastic Free July Facebook page come in to their own, even better are local support groups. That is why we held a 'Plastic Free Lunch' at the end of July at the EcoCentre. Those who could/remembered brought along their 'dilemma bags' the single use plastic they hadn't managed to avoid and it was interesting even with a relatively small sample how much difference there was in content. Having a group together meant we solved a couple of 'where can you buy ...... in a non-plastic container?' queries, and we came up with a way to repurpose something which was actioned as soon as we tidied up. But the discussion, and my reflections on looking at what was in the JYF Camp 'dilemma bag', brought up the question as to when certain packaging had changed. Having swapped countries and moved from cities to a small town it's hard for me to say on some things, especially ones I don't generally shop for. In Wellington you could get loo roll wrapped in paper, but shipped over from Australia, whereas the Kiwi made stuff was in plastic..., up here I've generally not been the one shopping for it so couldn't say when paper wrapped loo roll ceased to be available. Same with cheese, I don't know when it ceased to be available cut off the block and only came shrink wrapped up here as it isn't something I eat let alone buy. I'm guessing thought that such availability locally predates my arrival in the country. Someone is going to ask our local butcher if they'll let them use their own containers for meat, not much help to me, but good for the community in general if they will. The lunch itself was delivered plastic free, the soup arrived in the pan it had been cooked in (and then reheated on our woodstove! Oh how wonderfully warm it gets in there now), the bread bought from the market came in a paper bag, and the home made flapjack arrived in a tin. It's making the small habitual steps like using a tin rather than a plate with clingfilm/glad wrap/saran wrap over it that can build up and shift your use of plastic without it being a major upheaval in life.

When I was at JYF Camp one of the other leaders said how he struggled to understand people getting rid of perfectly good plastic things that still had life in them, and he saw that as creating more waste not less and he couldn't see the point. Well yes if they are throwing those things out it is counterproductive, but mostly they get rehomed/recycled. I've been slowly swapping my assorted plastic kitchen containers for glass or ceramic ones, as I've found the less plastic I have the easier it is to be strong willed not to let new plastic in to the house. In clearing out a neighbour's kitchen recently I had the opportunity to have first pick of the stuff she had, and several things I put to one side only to return them to the 'getting rid of' boxes as they were plastic. They were all 'it would be nice to have...' items rather than essentials, so I could wait until I found a metal/glass/wooden one etc. There was of course also the 'yes it would be nice to have but where the heck would I put it?' factor. Whilst we've cleared a lot of stuff out over the years I've been living here there is still a distinct lack of spare space in the house, mainly due to having gained two part time residents!

So with July over for this year we're now starting to plan ahead at the EcoCentre for next year, where is our 'plastic free' campaign going to take us next? All kinds of ideas are buzzing around, but like with implementing change in our own homes we need to do this at an incremental level that is sustainable, we want to bring people with us on this journey, not scare them off.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

embracing all comers

We have an attender to our Quaker Worship Group who started off more as an accidental participant, but has become quite the regular. She often arrives a little late and comes in telling us all about what's going on even if we've already settled into silence. But with a little encouragement she soon quietens down and joins the circle.

We're a quiet lot mostly, not given to vocal ministry beyond reading something out of Advices and Queries as we reach towards a gathered silence. So often our Friend's pronouncements, and mutterings if the seating isn't quite to her satisfaction, is as close to ministry as we get. We do miss her when she doesn't join us.

Today though rather than being late she was chastising us for taking far too long over our cups of tea after our shared meal, one by one she approached us and tried to persuade us to head through to the lounge. Never having been much for one to one communication with most members of the group this was quite a step for her, and shows how comfortable she must feel as part of the group these days.

Gradually we took the hint and settled down in our circle, not quite in the seating arrangement she would have liked, and there were some pointed looks cast in my direction. I was not in the 'right' chair. But I explained if I sat in the more comfortable chair I might fall asleep! So she finally accepted that I was not going to move.

She then jumped up into my lap, and started to purr.

It really wasn't the right chair though, so after 5 minutes she found a chair of her own and settled down to enjoy the silence.

We had a wonderfully gathered meeting.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

exploring possibilities

When we were planning the programme for the Junior Young Friends Camp we found ourselves inundated with offers from Friends to lead sessions to the extent that we found ourselves turning down and restricting offers. That was certainly one of the plus points of planning a camp to overlap with Yearly Meeting, there were so many Friends on hand who wouldn't usually all be in the same locale. But we also had lots of interest and support from Friends on Waiheke Island where we were to spend the first 5 days and as it turns out we could probably have filled our programme with them alone, which is encouraging for future years planning!

At our Monthly Meeting Residential Gathering at the end of April I got a very enthusiastic invitation from Ian for the JYFs to visit the Eco Village on Waiheke where he lived and get a guided tour. Well I wasn't sure what the JYFs (aged 13-16) would think of the idea but I was certainly interested! And thankfully the rest of the planning team figured it was worth going too.

I must admit I was a little apprehensive as to how it would go. I hoped Ian's passion would be contagious and that the JYFs would at least humour someone old enough to be their granddad and wouldn't find it boooooooooring.... They were pretty quiet when those showing their homes and explaining how they were built etc asked them questions, so it was hard to know how much they were engaging with what they were seeing. But then around a corner they spotted the house built into the hillside, 'a hobbit house'! It was like opening the flood gates; they were a babbling brook of ideas and dreams cascading in all directions. By the time we got back to Friends House they had planned 'Quobbiton' where they'd all live together in a variety of earth houses all off grid, using electric vehicles, and bringing up their children in a rural idyll; which whilst owing a lot to Awaawaroa Village in design and setting would definitely have a decent internet connection and be within mobile phone signal! And I have to say I'm with them on that caveat. Also my personal vision of such a community would have it a lot closer to public transport, shops and services.

I was impressed, once again, with what is possible with earth houses. The possibilities for individual design and artistry combined with ages old techniques which have withstood the tests of time really appeals. There's a very homely feel to the spaces they enclose that must speak to some ancestral memory. I was horrified to learn though of the new building code restrictions which mean if building large enough to need planning permission you can no longer re-use old joinery such as window casements. Given the vast amount of such building material available for re-use in this country from Christchurch it seems a criminal waste of resources. But with a land built house of 10 square meters or less (ie not needing planning permission) the loo has to be in a separate building or accessed from outside if attached, and I have to say as a regular nocturnal visitor to the facilities that severely limits their appeal for me, but I guess I could get used to a night-time commode.

A question I would've loved to have asked but didn't being mindful of the fact that we were there for the JYFs benefit rather than the adults, was how did those living in that remote valley with a very labour intensive lifestyle plan to manage if life found them without the physical ability to cope with what was needful to keep everything running effectively let alone efficiently. As someone with varying health and ability to manage our 1/4 acre section I have found out more than once that weeds are no respecter of energy limitations, and cooking your food from scratch is all very well when fit and healthy, but it is quite another matter when you're only up to foraging for instant sustenance rather than starting from raw ingredients. They said themselves it isn't a lifestyle that often appeals to young adults, so can they find enough folk whose situation is perhaps like mine (minus their own chronic health issues!) who can be the live-in help? I'm figuring most conventional home helps would baulk at getting to some of the locations (even now travel time is paid) let alone dealing with composting toilets in outbuildings and working within the ecological footprint of their clients in a manner that sustains the buildings rather than destroys their wonderful finishes.

Maybe in another twenty years there'll be an accessible corner or Quobbiton where I can park up my tiny house; be surrounded by young families, with an earth-built community space where we can all get together. I'd get to allo(grand)parent the children and there'd be folk there to chop wood for me and help with the heavier gardening tasks. Sounds pretty good I reckon. Now if we can just find that miraculous middle-of-nowhere-yet-close-to-town site we'll be sweet...

Thursday, July 21, 2016

being there when it matters

Today a group of us gathered together at the local care home to remember one of our neighbours. She had decided she didn't want a funeral but was happy for us to do something later to remember her, so that's what we did.

She knew she was dying, and I suspect she'd guessed long before the doctors did, but I don't think any of us were prepared for how quickly she'd go in the end. Somewhat unexpectedly Phyllis and I found ourselves nominated as 'next of kin' in her last few weeks and were left with all that goes with that responsibility. Her social worker is tying up a lot of the loose ends now, but we still have stuff in our garage and decisions to make. I suppose I should be grateful for the opportunity to have a 'practice run' at this task when dealing with someone I hadn't been all that close to until the last few weeks. For a number of reasons there wasn't anyone else so I just did it; there but for the grace of god go I after all. One day someone most likely not related will need to do the same for me, call it paying it forward or something.

But it was hard to sit there with her in her final day holding her hand and basically waiting for her to die. Just before I got there a dose of some sedative had been given to relax her as she had been very anxious and agitated. Slowly her laboured and uneven breathing became less tortured and her body relaxed a little, but she was still fighting every breath and it was hard to know if she was fighting to keep breathing, or fighting against her body, willing it to just stop and be done with it. She was ready to go, had accepted that and oh how I wish that sedative could've been bumped up enough to end things more quickly. I kept thinking how we'd think it cruel not to put down an animal in the same circumstances, and how important animals had been in the life of the woman slowly dying before me.

I'd been thinking I was holding things together pretty well until one of the staff came in after her shift finished to say goodbye, 'I'll see you again' she said as she bent to kiss her forehead, then looked at me with tears in her eyes and we both knew it was highly unlikely to happen in this world. Then another one coming on shift came in and stood next to me as we watched those tortured breaths gradually ease, she put her arm over my shoulders and gave me a hug and I almost bawled my eyes out. I wasn't so much grieving for my loss, but for the circumstances that brought us together in that way. Our neighbour had always come across as a cheerful friendly person and yet I had come to realize in those last few weeks how difficult her life had been and how little I had actually known her. I felt sorry for not having made more effort to get to know her better over the last five years.

Phyllis then joined me for some of the time and we sat together watching those uneven breaths, wondering if each pause was the last. I was so grateful for the company. It was a very special time sharing the vigil, talking to each other and to our friend, hoping that somehow she was aware of our presence and took comfort from it.

Over three hours passed as I sat there until I reached the point where I knew I too had to go home. Much as I wanted to be with her to the end I knew that in 38hrs I was heading off to JYF Camp and needed to have heart and mind prepared for that, not to mention finish packing and complete a report for work I'd abandoned to sit with her when Switzer home had rung me that afternoon.

I don't know how the staff at Switzer home, and other such places, go through the process of death and dying on a regular basis. I know from working in day care for the elderly that it is hard not to get emotionally attached to those you look after, but we were generally spared dealing with the actual dying process even if we did have what we called 'season tickets for the crematorium'. Knowing that at least one of the staff cared enough to shed tears over someone they'd most likely known less than a week was reassuring, and was what enabled me to feel that I could head home when I did. I knew my friend, as I now thought of her rather than simply my neighbour, was in good hands and with kind hearts. They too were stepping up and being there when it mattered, that they were being paid for it was irrelevant. I'd be an emotional wreck before the week was out in that job, they're welcome to it.

The call came from the undertakers the next morning to let us know she'd died in the night and was now with them. It was a relief to know that it was over for her, and also that I wasn't about to go away feeling like I was abandoning her. In many ways I took her with me, not only in my thoughts but in the assorted kitchen things from her house that I took for JYF Camp, from a stack of tea towels to bolster supplies at Friends House Waiheke to open packets of herbs and spices etc that couldn't go to the foodbank and would save me buying a packet for the sake of the couple of teaspoonfuls needed; all packed into her very useful shopping trolleybag.

Whilst we were at Yearly Meeting towards the end of JYF Camp I was sitting with a f/Friend who had heard that someone associated with Friends but that she didn't know had just been involved in a fatal car crash; the partner of this woman had been killed and she was in hospital near where they and my f/Friend lived. I was asked if I thought she should visit or would that be intrusive? She'd like to help but didn't know if it was appropriate. So I told her about the last few weeks and how I'd ended up with the 'next of kin' role simply because I was who was there and available. I'd come to the conclusion that actually knowing someone well previously didn't matter, it was being there when needed that did, as no-one should have to go through such things alone. So the hospital visit was planned.

I hadn't expected to be able to share my learning from my experience so soon, and I felt that it was no coincidence that had led the two of us to squeeze in behind the bookstall table to grab a comfy seat, but a case of what I've heard call 'godincidence'. Despite the surrealness of finding myself literally going through everything in a house I'd only been inside once in 5yrs until a few weeks ago it somehow felt right, that it was meant to be. It felt spirit led, and so I simply didn't question the whys and wherefores or where I'd find the energy, I just figured it would all pan out and it did.

It felt strange to come home from JYF Camp and see someone else now living in the unit I was in and out of like a yo-yo for the couple of weeks or so before I went away. But the whole experience has helped me meet a couple more neighbours I didn't previously know, and strengthen connections with others. That feels appropriate, as having lost the person who somehow made the street feel like a community we're all going to have to step up and look out for each other a bit more.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Plastic Free July - round three....

Plastic Free July is well under way but time for blogging has been non-existent this month until now. For me PFJ started three years ago and the only thing different about the other months is I don't save the bits I can't avoid to keep track of them all, although I do try to notice the things that crop up most often in order to figure out a longer term plan to avoid them.

I'm better organised now for a, well I'd like to say plastic free lifestyle, but that still seems impossible, and not necessarily practical nor desirable given how much I rely on computers etc in my life. I've just got home from being the cook/camp parent at our Junior Young Friends Camp, and trying to carry the kaupapa of PFJ with me through that event was certainly a challenge. It meant that I travelled down to Waiheke Island with a LOT more stuff than I'd normally take. Partly this was due to having been clearing out a neighbour's house and thus kitchen cupboards after she went into hospital/care/funeral parlour in rapid succession (the main reason why everything non-essential went out the window this month). Unopened packets etc could go to the foodbank but not started ones, so I turned up at camp with some of the 'shopping' done already. I also turned up with an apron, waxed food wraps, various tubs (full of aforementioned 'shopping' for travel, but packed to use for leftovers/storage once there), fly nets to cast over prepared food sitting waiting, net bags for buying fruit & veg, a skooshy bottle for diy surface cleaner, a shopping trolley and several cloth shopping bags. Oh and an easy-yo maker! Yes buying packets of easy-yo means adding to the non-recyclable plastic rather than reducing it, but it also makes a big difference to the budget and you have to pick your battles...

Due to having to reorganize the timetable at short notice Peter and I whisked up a fill-in session one day where I explained to them the PFJ journey I was on, and then as I disappeared back into the kitchen to get lunch ready Peter got them thinking about how things were in their own homes/lives and what they might be able to change. How much that session will influence their thinking and actions over the coming years remains to be seen, given the amount of junk food they stocked up on for an all-nighter on the last night suggests that they aren't quite ready to embrace it fully yet, but I was asked for the flapjack recipe I'd used as apparently it tasted better than the bought bars and those were nearly all 'just air' in the packets anyway. Every step counts though, and I can hardly expect a bunch of teenagers to rush to embrace something that has taken me until my mid 40s to be proactive about!

One huge bonus of thinking in terms of PFJ when planning the menus and doing the shopping for JYF Camp was that I ended up feeding them for around $10 per day in the end (allowing for the free food that I took and was donated by local Friends), which was way under budget. I didn't take a photo of the non-recyclable plastic laid out, but this is the sum total of non-recyclable plastic created by the kitchen over 5 days of camp on Waiheke (the mug is there for scale!) Most of it is cheese wrappers and easy-yo packets...

....and there wasn't much to add to that from the couple of days we had at Mt Eden, leastways not from the food I provided - the sushi in plastic cartons with soy sauce sachets we got for lunch at St Cuthbert's when we joined Yearly Meeting was something of a fly in the ointment. Two f/Friends at YM also doing the PFJ challenge very diligently kept their cartons to take home for their dilemma bags, but I decided a mental note of it would suffice. Unfortunately unlike in Kaitaia plastic bags can't be recycled in Auckland, so the unused breadbags etc that I'd been saving for the packed lunches on the last day did make up a breadbags worth of additional landfill. I did consider bringing them home to recycle but my luggage was already stuffed full of leftover ingredients I bought off the Camp. By that point I was so tired I totally forgot to take a photo of the bag collection.

Like the fairly self-sufficient lifestyle we saw at the Eco Village of Awa Awa Roa, cooking almost everything from scratch is very labour intensive, but it is also very rewarding. It took me working full time in the kitchen plus several hours of help a day to keep an average of 22 people fed throughout the days we were on Waiheke. It's certainly not something I could do for longer stretches of time, and I did decided to pass when given the opportunity to do it all again next year. But I'm really glad I did it. Not only did I prove to myself that I could, in terms of energy as well as keeping the kaupapa going, but also providing food that was close enough to my usual diet not to matter in addition to keeping a bunch of hungry teens satisfied. Plus I proved that one can provide such food on a low budget. Admittedly using the local wholesalers for dried fruit, nusts/seeds and pulses made a big difference and buying in bulk is tricky for those on a limited income each week, but it isn't impossible.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

All welcome?

We don't have many Meeting Houses in this country (eight according to our Yearly Meeting Documents in Advance), and I've not yet been to them all, but I'm reasonably sure all of them say 'All welcome' on their signs outside.

Yet I heard in the last week of someone who had grown up part of the Quaker whānau going Meeting recently and when being asked what he was doing these days basically got told 'you can't do that and be a Quaker'.

I remember some years back discovering that the only Quaker MP sitting in Westminster at the time was a member of the Conservative party. Not the most common political party of choice in the UK amongst Friends, but he wasn't asked to leave or be quiet about being a Quaker. I accepted that even though I might not agree with his politics, and wondered how on earth he balanced his political and religious beliefs, that he was entitled to them, and after all when asking George Fox about wearing a sword William Penn was told to 'wear it as long as thou canst'. In other words your conscience, that still small voice, that of god in you, will let you know when you can no longer maintain seemingly opposing stances and you will know which you have to follow.

If someone comes to one of our Meetings apparently holding values different to those commonly accepted by Quakers what is more likely to bring them round to our way of thinking; being told they can't do/be/believe something and be a Quaker, or being made to feel welcome? A better response would have been 'well you don't find many of those amongst Friends, but I'm glad you still felt that you could come to Meeting' or 'that's an interesting choice, what led you to choose that?' If we want people to reconsider their actions then surely in the quiet of Meeting and in the heart of our community is the best place for them to do so, and it is less likely to happen if they are made to feel unwelcome and unwanted. It can take a lot of courage and psyching yourself up to attend Meeting when you know that what you do is likely to be considered unpopular; to still go anyway because you need that space to worship among Friends is not a decision that will have been taken lightly. To answer honestly when asked 'what are you doing these days?' rather than give an effacing answer that will be more palatable takes courage and integrity.

It isn't a situation that only those with occupations generally perceived to be 'unquakerly' who experience this kind of response when they come to Meeting. I've regularly come across Young Friends who when making it to Meeting for Worship for the first time in ages are basically harangued for not coming more often and expected to explain the absence of others of their peer group. Do we expect any other age group to have to explain themselves if they erratically attend, and vouch for their peer group who they may not have seen in months, maybe even years? And then Friends wonder why our Young Friends don't come to Meeting more often.

If we're going to have signs up saying 'All Welcome' then we need to mean it and live it.

Monday, June 20, 2016

biting off a bigger challenge

If you've been following my blog for a while you'll know I've done the Plastic Free July challenge for the last couple of years. This year will have an added twist as I'm catering for our Junior Young Friends Camp for Quaker teenagers for a week during the month.

Can I produce food that will satisfy over a dozen potentially picky eaters on budget without amassing a huge pile of non-recyclable plastic? What's more can I do it in a kitchen I've never been in before, in a place where I don't know the shops?! Thankfully I have a wonderful local ally who is doing some research for me, and has promised to ring me from the kitchen of Friends House Waiheke so I can ask 'is there a....' to make sure I can round up in advance all the dishes and utensils I'll need etc for cooking from scratch on a bulk scale.

I did the catering for JYF Camp in 2006, and still have some of my recipe sheets from then with bulk quantities for baking scones and biscuits already worked out which will save me some time and mental energy. That time we were in Totaranui, Abel Tasman with no easy access to shops to top up if we ran out of anything, thankfully I won't have that challenge, but I won't have a nice big commercial kitchen this time - some you win, some you lose! The menu will be vegetarian, and a lot of it will be vegan and gluten free so that I don't end up cooking multiple versions of things. My main motivation for saying I'd do the cooking is because I wanted to try to keep what I ate as close to what I would usually to improve my chances of getting through the gathering with my insides happy. The other challenge will be getting enough sleep, but that isn't something I can do much about in advance!

As the years pass by the impact of plastic on our environment is becoming more and more evident. And as with many development 'solutions' the solutions often cause more problems themselves. Who would've thought when they came out that using microfibre cloths for cleaning which can reduce the chemicals being flushed down our drains, and wearing fleecy clothing made from recycled bottles would end up simply shifting the environmental pollution rather than getting rid of it?

It is becoming increasingly apparent that there is no such place as 'away' to throw anything, and whilst we grapple with ways to deal with 70 year's worth of debris that isn't going to biodegrade the challenge is not to add to the problem. But you have to pick your battles, or your priorities, otherwise we'd all get completely bogged down trying to get through even a single day without some detrimental effect on our environment. Where we live and what we do in life changes what is possible and most effective. The trick is in supporting each other in whatever we can do rather than being critical for what 'others' don't do. There is no one size fits all solution, and if the 'solutions' simply end up shifting the problem then it is probably better that we don't all try to solve it in the same manner anyway.

So I'll be doing my bit to keep the amount of non-recyclable plastic to a minimum at a vegetarian gathering that will bring Friends together from one end of these islands to the other (Kaitaia and Dunedin!). The aim of the event is to inspire our young people and help instill in them some of our Quaker values, hopefully 'let us try what Love can do' coming through loud and clear. And to those who want all Friends to stay at home and not fly anywhere, fine, you stay home and make your point. We'll get on with doing our bit the best way we can, together.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

doing what is needful

I found a wopse trying to hibernate in the firewood the other day (no idea which variety of wasp other than the stingy sort which probably means non-native). Unfortunately I found it the hard way as it was in the middle of a bundle of scraps at the bottom of the log bag that we bring firewood in from the woodshed, and I'd grabbed that handful to throw on the fire. I assumed at the time it had headed for a swift cremation along with the leaves and bits of bark, but when I later went to put a large log on the fire to bank it up overnight there was a rather dozy and somewhat crumpled specimen on it's back buzzing half-heartedly. This time it really did get toasted, me mitigating my sense of guilt against the knowledge that it was probably kinder to put it out of its misery.

I don't like wopses, especially not the imported sort that make short work of some of our more vulnerable native, and endemic, species. Luckily swift application of cream and taking an extra antihistamine meant I came off no worse from the rather closer than preferred encounter, I react badly to such stings and as it was the finger with Granny's wedding ring on that had been stung I wasn't about to risk it swelling up like a balloon (again...). But despite the damage they cause to endangered wildlife, and to me, it still goes against the grain to kill a wopse.

It's the same with snails. Finally I have conceded defeat and accepted that chemical warfare (aka slug bait) alone isn't going to be enough. It is the iron based sort, kind to birds and animals which at least reduces the chances of collateral damage. But given the snails at least seem to specialize in a high ropes course style negotiation of the garden without touching the ground where said bait lies, advanced tactics have become required if we're to feed ourselves rather than a rapidly multiplying snail population from the veg patch this winter. So tucked under the outdoor shelves with the empty plant pots and bits of concrete blocks left over from a long gone patio (where the sun room is), there is now an old jar with very strong brine in it and a growing population of dead snails.

What tipped the balance for me wasn't the loss of kale and sprouting broccoli, but the huge number of snails on the swan plants which are food for the monarch caterpillars. The caterpillars are struggling enough to survive as it is without such competition for food, so my extermination efforts stepped up a gear. I don't feel very comfortable about such genocide, but that's the thing with pacifistic tendencies, they aren't easy things to live with.

Ages ago a non-Quaker friend lent me Friendly Persuasion (1956 film version) to watch as she couldn't believe I'd never seen it, being me it sat on the shelf untouched until she asked for it back which prompted viewing that night! (I don't get round to watching films very often...). In case anyone else hasn't seen it I'll steer clear of any spoilers, but it tackles the challenges a Quaker community faces when the American Civil War reaches their doorstep. Sticking to your principles isn't easy at the best of times, and civil war doesn't really fall under that heading. Deciding whether to fight or not may be a far cry from deciding whether to kill a wopse or snail, but it all boils down to the same thing, as Jess Birdwell puts it, you do what you have to do, whatever that might be. A reminder about trusting your conscience, that still small voice.

There are so many things in life where there are implications for life and death no matter what you choose, or not to do. What might be right for one cause, such as protecting our native and/or endangered species, can have fatal consequences for other creatures. The only good possum here is a dead one as they threaten the survival of huge swathes of our native ecosystem. So I'll keep up my my extermination of snails, bump off any more dozy wopses I find in the woodshed, and enjoy my possum & merino gloves as the weather gets colder... for as long as I can.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


After nine weeks we've finally got the phone and internet reconnected at the EcoCentre. It got disconnected in error by some other teleco inputting some code telling ours they were taking over the account when they weren't. It has been something of a nightmare to get sorted  - thankfully not by me after my experiences of having to do the same at home when it happened to us last year. Luckily ours got reconnected the same day; having an emergency call alarm running via the phone no doubt bumping us up the priority list.

Anyway the upshot of being offline at the EcoCentre has meant I've been doing all the emails for the EcoCentre and Kaitaia TimeBank plus maintaining both Facebook pages from home instead of during my hours at the EcoCentre, so my blog has been somewhat neglected of late. There's only so much time I can spend at a computer in one day and not get a stonking headache, even with my new progressive/varifocal glasses.

Putting in the extra hours has pushed me over my energy limits somewhat, especially as the weeks have included two weekends away from home doing Quaker things: our MM residential gathering in Kerikeri, and a weekend in Auckland attending a seminar on Eldership as well as taking part in various 3rd Sunday activities. It was well worth going to both though, as much to connect with people in 'real life' rather than via skype (my usual mode of attending MM) and other online means (how our Outreach Committee functions). However my 'fibro brain' has meant my forgettery has been working overtime and no matter how many reminders I've left myself in various places I've managed to miss the Online Meeting for Worship at Woodbrooke for the last few weeks (It's at 9.30am Weds and 1pm Fridays UK time - I try to get to the Weds one, the other being at midnight for us!). However I now have google calendar set up with a pop-up reminder ten minutes before it starts so at least if I'm on the computer already I've a hope of catching it from now on! Another way to connect with people, albeit remotely via the internet.

I'm looking forward to life resuming some sense of 'normality' again, and being able to feel like I'm keeping up with the world. I might even get past the end of January with the uploading of my photos on to Flickr before the end of this month, I've finished getting Summer Gathering on there and have almost got to the final leg of the journey home!

Now, I'd best go and have lunch before my afternoon shift at the EcoCentre starts, I'm quite looking forward to being able to get all those bits of paperwork that I need to print off for our annual accounts. Never thought I'd ever hear myself say that, it's amazing what a lack of connectivity can do to change ones perspective on life!

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Thanks to Facebook I heard this morning that Helen Steven has died. It is many years since I last saw Helen, but she has long been a huge inspiration to me and I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to meet her.

The first of those occasions was probably the most memorable. I was 16 years old and attending a Northern Friends Peace Board facilitators training day in Leeds, I think it was at Adel QMH. I'd been to Junior Yearly Meeting earlier that year and the session Marion McNaughton had led, and the Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA) workshop she ran with us, had made a huge impression on me, so I'd jumped at the chance of going to something else she was running. It was a bit scary though, I went on my own which required a bus, a train and then another bus in Leeds to get there. I wasn't to know then, but it was to be the first of many times I'd set off for a QMH I'd never been to before putting my faith in a hand drawn map on a photocopied bit of paper to ensure safe arrival. No Google maps, no smartphone apps (not that I have those now either mind), and only a supply of 10p coins for the phonebox to call for help if I got lost! It was also the first time I'd gone to something 'for grown-ups' rather than all age or aimed at teenagers.

I arrived at the QHM to find that there was at least someone from our MM whose face and name was familiar to me, even though I didn't really know them. Also there was another Young Friend, albeit a good number of years older than me, and Woody quickly took me under his wing for the day. So there I was, still a little nervous, but reassured some that it was okay to be there and those gathered either didn't think I was 'too young', or at least were kind enough not to say as much!

We settled down into worship to start the day. This at least was very familiar and I started to relax. As the silence gathered there was a creak as the door opened, and two women tiptoed in to join us. I expected they'd quietly take up a couple of the empty chairs in the circle and the silence would continue as with most Meetings for Worship. But no, Marion leapt up out of her chair, flung her arms wide open and cried out 'Helen! Ellen! But I thought you were in prison!' Their quick reply was they'd been released the day before and had got the train down from Scotland first thing in the morning.

After hugs had been exchanged they did indeed join the circle and the silence continued until its appointed time. After which explanations were made and the rest of us discovered that Helen & Ellen had been in prison for about a week I think, as a result of NVDA at Faslane, the nuclear submarine base in Scotland. (A place where Ellen was to later make international news as one of the Trident Ploughshares 3 who broke in to the base, boarded a submarine, damaged the computer control panels, throwing bits of it overboard, and then when still no-one had come to investigate rang to let the base know they were there, and then sat and ate their sandwiches whilst they awaited arrest. The ground breaking ruling by Sheriff Gimblett followed, being that they were preventing a greater crime and nuclear warheads had no place in Scotland. Sadly the warheads are still there)

It was a rather sobering reminder about the possible implications of taking part in NVDA. But the focus that day was more on facilitating groups within the peace network and we got stuck right in to the days programme. As the day passed I got to hear snippets from Helen in our small group discussions about her seemingly tireless campaigning for peace, and against Trident. As the years rolled on I learned much more, from her, from others speaking about her, and from reading her 2005 Swarthmore Lecture No Extraordinary Power. I remember her wonderful sense of humour, that twinkle in her laughing eyes, and the quiet confidence that seemed to flow out of her to embrace everyone else in the room. But most of all I will remember her has one of the first Friends I got to know who somehow seemed to embody speaking truth to power, walking cheerfully and letting her life speak. Quaker phrases that I was just starting to really understand were as applicable to people in my lifetime as they were to the historical Friends I'd learned about in Children's Meetings.

Helen was a remarkable woman, and her loss will be felt keenly by many. So many people I know, either amongst Quakers, or those who knew her through the Iona Community and/or Peace House in Dunblane, of my generation and younger, have spoken of her lovingly over the years. Whilst she probably wouldn't have thanked us for the analogy 30 years ago, I think she would've understood what we meant by the description of being everyone's Quaker granny. She had time for everyone, of all ages, and had the ability to help you see value in yourself and yet be very self depreciating about her own doings and made sure she didn't get stuck on any pedestals! Helen helped us believe we could make a difference, and in doing so she certainly made a difference to many lives. Sadly the peacework and campaigning Helen was renown for is still needed as much today as it was when I first met her, but I'm pretty sure her legacy will live on for many generations to come as those she inspired go on to inspire others.

Mā mua ka kite a muri
Mā muri ka ora a mua

Those who lead give sight to those who follow
Those who follow give life to those who lead

The Herald obituary refers to her imprisonment in Cornton Vale as happening in 1987, so it must've been a few months later than I remembered. But I'm pretty sure it was still before my first YFCC in February that year.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

How do I show up to serve?

Between my work at the EcoCentre and being on our MM Outreach Committee (Quakers) I've been rapidly coming to the conclusion in recent weeks that I need to do some serious upskilling in the field of online content and management. The idea of signing up for a year long course through the polytechnic felt more than a little bit daunting given I am still getting to grips with having upped my regular 'work' hours, paid and voluntary, so I decided to try some webinars as I really needed some input now rather than in a year or twos time when my health might be more conducive to study.

One was run by Tech Soup, a Kiwi organization that supports charities with technical services etc and was about website content - I had a meeting when it was broadcast so I've now got the recording and need to make time to go through it. The other was by Jill Winger, whose e-newsletter, blog and Facebook page The Prairie Homestead has become regular reading for me in recent years. She's been the inspiration for many of my ventures into Urban Homesteading even though she's rural based rather than urban. There's nothing like thinking that if a city girl gone bush can do it, so can I! Over the years she's become a professional blogger, as well as a homesteader, so she's now sharing her experience with other bloggers.

I'm not expecting to ever turn this blog into anything much more than it's current ramble through life, it's purpose has been primarily as a window into my life for whānau and f/Friends who are spread around the world; if others come across it and enjoy it then great, welcome on board, please excuse the mess.... But I've seen blogging be used as a great outreach tool, and I can see the potential for a blog being part of the revamped EcoCentre site when that happens (later this year funding applications willing...). And if the EcoCentre blog/website can help bring in some funds as well then that would be brilliant. So what had originally started off as idle curiosity some time back when Jill asked in one of her e-mailings if anyone would be interested in a webinar on blogging, suddenly became highly relevant and I was glad I'd put my hand up.

What really struck me in her webinar today were some of the questions she put out there as needing to be addressed when planning a blog:

Who am I?
Why do I want to blog?
What do I have to offer?
How do I show up to serve?
What is my message?
Who am I going to help?

As I hurriedly scrawled those down on the back of an envelope I thought they were pretty good life questions in general, let alone for blogging, even as a career! The last few years of my life have been a bit vague in those areas as I've transitioned from being an Early Childhood teacher, to someone who can barely stay awake all day, to someone doing a bit of this a bit of that and wondering where it is all heading... they would've been useful questions to have on hand sooner to help me focus on what I wanted to be doing.

As it happens things have been starting to crystallize and I'm quite happy with the way things are heading. I've had time to 'practice' being in the EcoCentre slowly picking up more and more of the admin and finance tasks. I've been quite clear about saying 'no' to tasks I haven't felt ready for, and those around me have known me when both well (relatively speaking!) and really sick, so if we ever do get the funding to pay me for the work I'm doing I know there won't be any unrealistic expectations and I'll have a supportive environment to work in (and even a warm one too this winter if we get resource consent for the woodstove!). Alongside that I'm enjoying the work putting together the Yearly Meeting documents (and yes it is much easier this year having done it before), and there might be other work of a similar ilk I can help the YM Clerk with.

Being realistic even if I had managed to get my head around those questions a year or so ago it would probably have been frustrating more than anything else as I wasn't up to doing much about it. So I guess as per usual the universe is unfolding as it should.

I hope as the years roll by I'll always be able to 'step out and take my dreams seriously' as Jill said, rather than listen to all the people who say take the safe conventional route. She's right in that the biggest hurdle is getting past the fear you'll fall on your face and they'll all say 'I told you so', but better to fall on your face having given it your best shot than never having tried. As I reminded a friend on Facebook recently who was being self-depreciating about her slow jog compared to other's rather more athletic approach to triathlon training, she's lapping everyone still sitting on the couch. She may come in last (but probably won't), but the most important thing is she's stepped up to the challenge. Especially as she wasn't a runner, cyclist nor swimmer before signing up!

I keep coming back to the question Jill threw in to the mix 'How do I show up to serve?' and a diagram the same triathlon heading friend shared on Facebook:

I'm not quite sure where I'd put myself on this diagram right now, but I'm aiming for the middle. Both how to get there and 'how do I show up' is one step at a time...

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


I've done a lot of decluttering over the last year or so, so I'm getting to the trickier stage where all the easy stuff has gone. However I was really pleased with myself today. I've been trying to reduce the amount of plastic in my life (check out 'Plastic Free July') and had been thinking earlier today about what plastic was left that could still be replaced. I came up with the plastic scoops in various flour/grain crocks in the kitchen. 

Then I thought back to last month, and on the way home from having a shared meal and Meeting for Worship at Helen & Keith's, Nancy and I had called in to the Bush Fairy Dairy in Peria, which is something of a local icon. I'd been hearing about it since I first moved up here, but this was the first time I'd ever been! They have an assortment of old china cups in their bulk bins rather than scoops - great thought I, I could get some wee coffee cups at the op shop! Oh but I'm trying not to bring in more clutter.... Hmmm...... then lightbulb moment! When going through my blanket box when I retrieved it from Pukepoto I came across a dolls china tea set I'd had since childhood, and I'd failed yet again to add it to the 'get rid of pile' and had put it back in the blanket box thinking this is silly, but I really can't bear to part with it. 

But the cups have now been washed up, the +30yr old newspaper it was wrapped in added to the fire basket, and I now have beautiful china cups to use instead of plastic scoops - even if they don't hold quite as much (about 1/3 cup) it doesn't really matter. The scoops can go, and the cups will now get used regularly. So now I feel much better about them sitting in a box for decades and surviving several rounds of major decluttering over the years, not to mention a trip half way around the world and several years in paid for storage!

The teapot lost it's glaze inside years back having got left with water in when it must've been cracked (I used to use it top up the water in an essential oils diffuser), so that never made it to Aotearoa NZ. But I still have the milk jug and saucers.... now I just need to figure out how to use those too.

Living lightly

Last weekend I spent mostly in the company of folk who are involved with our local EcoCentre, and/or have an interest in sustainability as we had a 'Living Lightly ~ Sustainable Lifestyle safari' today, as well as the usual Saturday morning coffee group that meets up. We had a couple from Palmerston North with us, one of whom Corrina is a researcher at Massey University and she'd come up to do some interviews with some people who had completed a sustainability survey and other folk who fit the category she was looking for. As I was suggesting several names across the country to her on Saturday I was reminded of a comment Sandy had made at Summer Gathering; she said when she started working in environmental activism (she works for ) she started coming across Quakers at every turn, she'd no idea so many were that active in the field before! So small wonder that I'd met Corrina before as a result of her having a Young Friend as a research assistant a few years back who'd been asked to find focus groups up and down the country! Yet another example of the connectivity of Quakers and the few degrees of separation between us.

There were other links between those of us who gathered together on Sunday, other than the obvious interest in sustainable lifestyles. Only about a third of us were part of Kaitāia TimeBank and/or Transition Towns Kaitāia and already involved with the EcoCentre. But being a small town/rural community there were many and varied ways in which most of us knew some of the others, even if only by sight. (We did have one couple though who had come up from Whāngārei just for our safari so there was a bit of added pressure on those of us who had planned the event for it to live up to expectations!) Connections between us were things like friends, relatives, genealogy, golf, work, neighbours etc. But here we all were with a shared interest in living more sustainably, not an aspect of our lives we'd necessarily all known about each other before.

We car pooled for the event where we visited four very different properties and approaches to 'living lightly' in the world. This not only improved our collective environmental footprint, but made parking easier at each place and added to the networking opportunities the day presented. Future shortcuts to finding the person/information we need perhaps?!

Having been hearing about the rammed earth houses in Ahipara for some time now it was great to finally get to see one of them and hear from Heeni about how they came to be built. The feel of a rammed earth floor was amazing, especially when there was a concrete floor in the kitchen and bathroom to compare it to - like walking on hard sand at the beach compared to a hard pavement. And that was with floor coverings down too rather than bare earth (although we did get to lift the corner of the mats up and try that too!) I found myself dithering over my Tiny House dream - up until now I'd been convinced that one on a trailer was the way forward for me so I could move it as well as myself over the years. But that floor felt so good... also I loved Jen's kitchen in her ferro-concrete 'sculpture' house, but that would be far easier to replicate either on or off a trailer. Although I again felt torn between my wish for simplicity and an uncluttered life, and my lifelong love for something that looks like it comes out of a children's picture book! I think somewhere there must be a happy medium between minimalism and organized chaos that works for me.

The afternoon had fewer revelations for me, I'm already familiar with Lyn's 'Pigtits and parsley sauce' website/book/facebook page, although I did pick up a couple of tips I'd hitherto missed. And the final property was where I used to live, so the only surprise was how much different the bottom of the vineyard looks now William has taken the vines out between the olive trees (which have superceded the vines as the main crop). I have to say the grounds are doing well out of his retirement!

I can't see me ever reaching 80% food self-sufficiency as Jen has, not on my own that's for sure, but living as part of a community swapping food surpluses to meet the needs I can't supply myself etc is certainly something I'd like to be do better at. I need to improve my gardening skills though to have much to offer other than quinces and Golden Queen peaches which we generally tend to have a glut of regardless of my efforts! Although we did get to the point of giving away broad beans by the bagful this year. We've got an EcoCentre project we're planning that I'll blog about some other time to encourage local food sourcing which I'm quite excited about which will help keep food miles down and encourage collaboration. It was quite funny seeing how many of us related to Jen's inspiration of growing up watching The Good Life (available to watch on YouTube I have just discovered!) and pouring over John Seymour's Self-Sufficiency book!

The main aspect of the day was coming away inspired, and determined to do more with our garden. I really need to start putting a bit more effort in in terms of educating myself rather than relying on my usual haphazard Darwinian approach - only the fittest survives out there! Once in the ground plants get little in the way of specific help and I've not been very good at planning where they get put in the first place, although I do use the companion planting book we've got to try to avoid the worst combinations.

We're planning to do another similar safari day, perhaps later in the year. I wonder what changes I'll have implemented here by then, and what ideas I'll've been able to draw on. It's good to know that I've got a good bunch of folk around to support me on this journey and that I've added a few more names to that list after this weekend.