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.

Monday, March 21, 2016

degrees of connection

A while ago (ie when I started writing this post!) Jo shared on Facebook a link to a BBC R4 programme 'Six degrees of connection' which set out to explore the 'six degrees of separation' theory of Stanley Milgram. In sharing it Jo commented on how it quickly drops to 3 or 4 degrees once you add Quakers in to the mix. Not surprising that this is her view given that whilst not a Quaker herself we have discovered two more random connections to each other through Quakers in addition to Eleanor whose wedding we met at! (Graham through their work, and Sally as their husbands had been at uni together - bizarrely figured out when they were each sharing wedding photos on Facebook!)

After listening to the radio show I thought about how I'd go about reaching Helouise and whether the theory of adding Quakers would help here. Well Chris used to work for the Oban Times and so she's bound to know someone on Coll, and as the guy there said with such a small population on the island you get to know most folk. So yes, much quicker than six!

It was interesting what the programme was saying about turning the concept on its head and seeing it as degrees of connection rather than separation, and how it is that the random folk in your life outside of the circles of people in your life who are all likely to know all the same other people that makes these connections possible. This is how Quakers get to short circuit the system! As a faith community we are both the circle of people who all know each other and the random people in strange places. Even if some Quaker isn't involved with anything beyond their own Meeting, someone in that Meeting will be, and they'll know people who have been involved at a national and/or international level even if they themselves haven't. And whilst we're so often accused, in Britain and Aotearoa NZ at least, of being white middle class and lacking in diversity as a church, we do tend to gravitate to the careers that involve a lot of other people - teaching, social work, health work etc, and we often tend to be involved in other community groups. So to know one Quaker in a town gives you a pretty high chance of having immediate links to half the local community. Then of course you get those individuals who have lived in more than one country, been an active Quaker in each, involved on the international Quaker scene for many years, and have +1,000 Facebook f/Friends (and no I wasn't actually meaning me!). It doesn't take many folk like that to get you links all around the world! Especially if they've also been involved with ecumenical and/or interfaith work.

It's not just knowing/having met a lot of people though that makes the Quaker network shrink the world, it's knowing enough about the people to know who all else they might know. Like knowing Chris used to work for the Oban Times for example. My first thought when thinking how I'd trace Helouise was of Christine who sadly wouldn't be any help these days as she died last year, but her ecumenical contacts would've been what I would've hoped to have drawn on had there been no suitable Quaker in the area; my second thought was Bron who is involved with the Gaelic choir community, but then when trying to think who I knew who lived or had lived in the area I realized that Chris was my best bet. There may be Quakers on Coll, I've no idea these days as my Scottish Book of Members & Attenders is well out of date, but taking away that point of commonality I still had three points of difference, to pursue. Which backs up the programme's theory that it is through those who move in different circles from ourselves that enable the connections.

For me Facebook is invaluable in terms of knowing about people's lives beyond the short space of time where we overlap kanoi ki te kanoi, face to face. And not just their lives but some of the other lives that overlap with their as others comment on posts etc. Another way to short-circuit the 6 degrees! In the programme they had to use phonecalls (the original experiments had used letters/packages) rather than the internet to actually make the contacts, but for many of us so much of our lives is connected to social media that knowing who to call is as a result of that online exposure. Whilst I know and keep in touch with many people around the world I wouldn't have a clue what the phone number is for most of them, I'd need to Facebook or email them to find out! Would that count as cheating?!

As it happens, Eleanor, who I know Jo through, and her family are also emigrating to Aotearoa NZ soon (which I'm very excited about!). Like me she'll arrive with several long standing Quaker connections here already under her belt and I'm sure it won't be long before they too are finding out what an incredibly small country this is in terms of connectivity, and that actually whilst it might be a very long flight to get here, it really is a small world too.