Friday, 25 September 2015

Groceries and such

Friday is our main grocery shopping day, and I felt pleased with this week’s version.

First thing I went out to the farmer’s market. It’s got quite thin really – the lady who sells eggs and chickens is no longer there, nor the lady who sells her own lamb, nor the lady who sells raw milk.

The only meat stall sold game (so, wild, which is okay) and free range chickens – but she didn’t know the suppliers and had no idea under what conditions the animals were kept. “Free range” has a very broad interpretation.

The veggie man was there – and he will just put the things straight in my basket – no bags, be they paper or plastic. So that was good news.

On the way home, I stopped at the farm shop, augmented the veggies I’d got from the farmers’ market, and bought some cream, butter and milk from what I hope are local farmers.

There’s a better farm shop at no greater distance, and the farmers’ market was a bit meh, so I’ll go to the other one next week. Still, we did manage to stock up on packaging-free veggies, the butter was wrapped in paper (no foil), and though the cream and milk came in plastic cartons, their labels were small and plain – so no dye-heavy brightly-coloured big labels.

Then in the afternoon we went out to Penhurst to take our spare vacuum cleaner for Storm who was short of one. We mentioned that we intended going blackberrying along the lane, and she said we could take some apples from her orchard too – which we gladly did.

It was a beautiful day, and we found plenty of berries – the last chance before the devil stamps on them at Michaelmas!

On the way home we stopped at the wholefood co-op to pick up ingredients for our next batch of Deliciously Ella super-bread – which is soooo good; we eat it every day. We needed brown rice flour, pumpkin seeds and almonds – the flour came in a paper bag like flour usually does, the seeds and nuts in plain cellophane packs – again, little or no dyes involved and only the bare minimum of packaging.

When we got home, all the laundry had dried in the sunshine – so grateful, because we’d washed lots as the Badger has been away in America. He hasn’t been home for a fortnight and had lots of shirts and socks and so on, to wash.

Then we walked along to the woods to get a bottle of spring water for our new Berkey filter – which is brilliant.
This has been a good anti-packaging day, then. Veggies, apples, blackberries and spring water, all without the abundant plastic cartons and bags that usually go with them – and the fruit and water were organic and free, too.

The other anti-packaging measure we’ve taken has been with washing stuff.

We changed over from regular toothbrushes to compostable ones made from bamboo – which are very successful and do the job nicely.

Then – do you know the company “Lush”? They are such good news; really good quality products packed with wondrously fragrant ingredients sourced in ways that bless the Earth.

They work hard at reducing packaging, and things like body lotion that has to be in tubs, they’ll take the tubs back to re-use or recycle. But a lot of their things come with no packaging at all. Shampoo bars and conditioner bars, for example – they are solid blocks you rub on your hair: no containers at all. And their Toothy Tabs, solid toothpaste tablets that dissolve in your mouth. My favourite is the one called “Breath of God”.

They do some bath stuff called “Fun”, that you can use as soap or bubble bath or whatever you like really, and some of its fragrances are not too floral, so can be used instead of washing up liquid for doing the dishes. Again, it comes in a block so no packaging is involved beyond a minimal cellophane wrap. This is very good news as our regular washing up liquid, though Earth-friendly (Ecover) does come in a very stout plastic bottle. I’m thinking the “Fun” will do for laundry too, at least for hand washing.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Water and packaging

In my simplicity adventures, at the moment I am focusing on water and packaging.

It is my dearest hope and desire that our present UK government administration will be ousted before they manage to fulfill their ambitions to abandon clean green energy plans, frack through our countryside and drinking aquifers, and build a massive new nuclear power station. May their plans come to nothing.

Government plans are entirely driven by demand, of course, so it seems to me that my responsibilities as a citizen include moving purposefully towards a life as much off-grid and as little damaging to the Earth as I can manage.

We have a lot of rain in England. But because our islands are so densely populated, in the towns our watertable is polluted, and people are advised against drinking from springs. And since the pigeons sitting on our roofs carry exciting diseases like meningitis, one cannot simple drink harvested roofwater.


There’s no reason at all why the harvested roofwater cannot fulfill all our other water requirements – washing ourselves and our utensils. We have about 600 litres worth of rain storage in our water butts, which should see us through all the stretches of time when rain falls. And in dry times, well we still do have mains supply.

Earth-closeting also reduces water use, not only saving gallons and gallons at home, but also saving the big nightmare of sewage treatment. Plus you get first-class free compost for the flowers and fruit trees. I mean, why wouldn’t you?

For drinking, we have several springs of lovely water in the woods near us. It tastes beautiful, but as we’re advised against drinking it, I’ve got one of these to run the water through first.

Until I got the Berkey filter, we were buying spring water to drink, and I feel bad about that – plastic bottles do not bless the Earth. And how can I ask God to bless the Earth if my own choices consistently undermine my prayers?

So that’s one regular packaging habit crossed off the list.

Our mail order packaging we either re-use for our own parcels (I never buy packaging for parcels I send out) or – in the case of cardboard and paper – use for kindling in the woodstove.
Food packaging is our worst thing. At present, we shop mostly in stores, but I’m planning to work on that. The wholefood co-op. The street market. The farmers’ market. They have paper bags.

I find the changing of habits – especially when not all of us in the household are following the same system – is the challenging part of all this. The strategies and solutions are easy-peasy, it’s the breaking old habits that’s hard.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Shipping Shopping

In our household most of us have very low incomes. We have enough to buy lovely things, but only if we shop with great care. One of our ruses is staying away from the high street – so we don’t get to see the things we live without perfectly happily until our gaze falls upon them in a shop and suddenly we know – gasp – life has been incomplete!!

Also, we want very particular things. Materials for safely hygenic earth closeting. Pure beeswax candles made with particular attention to the welfare of the bees. Live and unpasteurized sauerkraut. Body lotion with the medically active oleo-resins of frankincense in it, not just the essential oil. Modest dresses hand made in 100% natural fabric by people who work in their own homes not sweat shops. Shawls made from nettles. Ladies shoes in US size 12. That kind of thing. These, you do not find on the high street.

Hence, we do almost all our shopping online.

Also, some of us in our household work from home all the time and all of us some of the time. So there’s usually someone in. As we shop online, this is important because five of us live here, which means most days the postie brings us interesting parcels. It’s like Christmas all the time here – in fact more so than Christmas is because we don’t give Christmas present. All the delivery men and the posties know us and greet us like old friends. Some of our family work in office jobs, so get their parcels delivered to us because there’s always someone home here. We hardly ever go away (and never all of us at once) because who would feed the foxes and the crows if we weren’t here? Or the cats? So the delivery men bring the parcels for neighbours who are out to us, as well. “Do you mind if I – ” “No, go on – leave it in our porch.”

Something I love about this is when a parcel has a tracking facility. I love watching the thing I’m waiting for cross the world.

I’m waiting patiently right now for a dress from Kari Thorne. The last parcel I had from her, I looked up her address on the aerial satellite. Where she lives is all green  - trees and fields and a quiet road that stops at a small rectangle under the trees with Kari and her sewing machine in it. In Wisconsin.

I watched each day as the parcel went to Athens (Wisconsin), then left Athens for Oshkosh and went from there to Chicago, then left Chicago for Detroit, then – getting nearer now – to London.

That dress left London two days ago. London is two hours from where I live by train. I have visions of posties in the sorting office all trying on a modest dress …

Where? Where is it now? Soon …

Online shopping is fun.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Breakfast conversation

I do so love living in our household, and often have cause to reflect on what a privilege it is to keep daily company with people so interesting and alive.

Over breakfast this morning – with its usual strange ingredients of a kale shake, cider vinegar, spirulina and porridge – we were chatting about editorial comments encountered over the years. Along the hall, sitting close beside his friend the concrete bodhisattva, our jellicle cat Ted gravely listened and observed.

I got up to make a cup of tea, and in that moment became aware of a change in the weather – a restless stirring and overshadowing, a rising wind, as if rain might be on the way.

I said so.

“Yes,” said our Hebe: “that’s the barley-set winds.”

I said: “The what?”

“Today,” she explained, is St Matthew’s day, “when he shuts up the bees.”

“Who?” I asked. “St Matthew?”

Probably so, Hebe thought. She told us that the barley-set winds last for two to three days, and they bring the cold and the wet. From the 20th to the 23rd we shall have the barley-set winds. Then on the 23rd is the equinox (Mabon), and – all on the 28th – a lunar eclipse, a full moon and a super-moon.

So, she said, on the 28th we could expect to see gales, because the full moon strengthens the winds, and the super-moon reinforces that strengthening, as does the eclipse.

But (she told us) the 29th, which is Michaelmas, is the day of prediction for the winds and weather of the next quarter. With the powerful moon effects of the 28th, it seems likely we shall be looking at a very blustery autumn taking us into the winter.

Having covered that, she went on to discuss with Alice about a source of incense sticks made with very high quality essential oils absolute. And after that the conversation went on to strategies for managing car driving in neurologically atypical people.

It makes me happy. I learn so much. I mean, “the barley-set winds” – who knew?

Tuesday, 15 September 2015


Today our family's beloved Granddad has gone to glory.

He leaves behind so many memories.

Headmaster at the Grove School in days when some of the pupils lived in grinding poverty. Children dismissed as delinquent, he understood, taking the trouble to know them. He knew that some who failed to hand in homework had no electricity at home except for a cable slung in through the window from a neighbour’s house.

His degree was in physics, and he ran maths lessons for children who got slung out of class. I remember him talking about one boy sent to him for misbehaving. This boy was hopeless at maths in school, but Granddad discovered the boy was saving to buy some boots, earning pocket money scoring for darts matches. Darts scoring is complex – there was nothing wrong with the boy’s arithmetic, he just needed a more imaginative approach from his school.

But then Granddad knew what it was to struggle, and to cope with adversity. His mum died when he was a little boy. Every morning his dad went out to work leaving him sitting in the greenhouse until it was time to go to school; and there he sat and waited for his dad to come home in the evening. After supper, he went to bed while his dad went down to the working men’s club. To understand him, you had to think of that child.

He grew up practical, self-reliant, and determined to establish a life of security. Doggedly, deflected by nothing, he watched over and protected those whom God gave into his care; his family. He was the most dependable man I have ever known. You could rely on him. Trustworthy, loyal, never judgmental. Cautious, discreet, observant. Private, independent, persevering. He was, to the core a northern man – a Yorkshireman.

His faith in Christ was steady as a rock; unswerving, unhesitating. But he thought deeply, and did not fear to question.

With his wry humour and pragmatic approach to life, he was not over-demonstrative; yet he loved deeply. He is one of very, very few people of whose love I have felt confident, always.

I shall remember him, forks stuck in the earth in three different locations in the flowerbeds, so that he could get a little gardening done when his grandchildren gave him five minutes peace.

I remember him sitting outside the tent at camp on a summer evening, a towel over his head to keep the midges away.

A lifelong Methodist, and a preacher since 1952, he nonetheless cheerfully abandoned his restraint around all things alcoholic when he took up making his own (delicious) wine.

I remember him making Margie’s wedding cake with Grandma – how they couldn’t agree on the sugarcraft flowers – but it turned out that was because they were each following a different picture in the recipe book.

I remember him saying of each child born, once she got to about three months, “Well, I think it’ll live.”

I remember him saying to me, “All right, lass?” There is nobody left to say that now. No one in the south calls me “lass”. I treasured it.

I remember him leading Boys Brigade Bible Class – and preaching on Parade Sunday about “Nothing”. “ ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Nothing!’ ‘What are you eating?’ ‘Nothing!’ What have you got in your hand there?’ ‘Nothing!’ ‘What did you just put in that desk?’ ‘Nothing!’” The kids loved him. Everybody loved him. His whole self preached the Gospel. But canny, reserved, watchful, loyal, he didn’t let that many close to him.

So many memories.

In these last months, weeks, days of his life, he has had to be very brave. He faced death quietly, uncomplainingly and with great dignity. He said he was comfortable, and peaceful. Grateful, appreciative, saying thank you for everything, accepting of what was happening to him: “It’s time to go home,” he said.

And in these last days, one morning when it was just him and me, I read him the words he loved from the epistle to the Romans, and the Shepherd psalm, and we said the Lord’s prayer together. Then I asked him if he wanted me to bless him on his way with the prayer for the dying; and yes, he wanted that. So I prayed this prayer for him:

“Go forth upon thy journey from this world,
O Christian soul,
in the peace of him in whom thou hast believed,
in the name of God the Father, who created thee,
in the name of Jesus Christ, who suffered for thee,
in the name of the Holy Spirit, who strengthened thee.
May angels and archangels,
And all the armies of the heavenly host,
Come to meet thee,
May Christ be thy Pilot and give thee safe crossing,
May all the saints of God welcome thee,
May thy portion be in gladness and in peace,
Thy dwelling in Paradise.
Go forth upon thy journey, O Christian soul.”

And he said, “Amen.”

Well done, thou good and faithful servant.