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.