Saturday, 15 February 2020


In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown makes the very good point that "priorities" is a misnomer. It's in the nature of the thing that you can have only one priority — that's what a priority is; the one most important thing.

Out of the complexity of life, I find it hard to sift my priority.

I've taken quite some time puzzling over this in respect of what I eat.

Several different factors matter very much to me.

My health is important. I am no big fan of prescription medication and will avoid the need for it if I can — and nutrition is a strong driver when it comes to health profile.
Recently I read David Perlmutter's book Grain Brain, which is certainly enough to stop and make one think. Perlmutter explains, in careful detail, how refined sugars and modern strains of wheat underlie many of the ills of contemporary society — diabetes, gout, cancer, Alzheimers, obesity, depression and heart disease, as well as other chronic degenerative conditions and ailments like fibromyalgia. All of them arise from inflammation fuelled by carbohydrate. The remedy — ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting — brings about weight loss and increased energy, and resolves pain. 
Others working in this field — Nora Gedgaudas, for example — strongly contend that the structure of dairy foods (the proteins, if I've remembered correctly) make them almost as problematic as gluten; she recommends most people avoid dairy.

For the most part of last year, I followed a keto diet, and it did me some good. It took down my fibromyalgia, initially, though this did return as a stress response even on a keto diet. I lost a lost of weight and gained energy during the year, and my dentist was delighted with my teeth. It wasn't unmitigated benefit, though. On a keto diet your body doesn't hang on to water. My eyes and skin became very dry, and my sleep very disturbed as I woke up two or three times every night needing to visit the bathroom. My gut, on the other hand, slowed to a standstill, and this became an abiding problem. In addition, socialising was in effect impossible without wheat, sugar, dairy or any other food with a significant carbohydrate content. It's something of a desert island diet, in my opinion.

Part of keto diet is eating meat that has itself had a low grain intake — pasture-for-life. It is obtainable by mail order in the UK where I live. Wild fish is also on the menu, and poultry; for preference game birds because they have had a natural life and diet.

Apart from abstaining from dairy, which I never managed for more than a few days at a time, I stuck doggedly to this for most of a year because I am horrified by the idea of Alzheimers, cancer and the ravages of diabetes. In the end, I am ashamed to admit, it was not any health disadvantage that caused me to cave in, but because I missed treats and outings. Going out to a cafĂ© is one of the things I can afford to do. Joining in with family and church meals and snacks was something I missed. I really, really missed having porridge (oatmeal) for breakfast. I also felt dubious about the increased profile of meat in my diet — so much death — and the high quality food was rather expensive. To qualify for free postage on orders of meat mean placing a very large/expensive order each time.

Then there was the problem of packaging. It's hard to get meat and dairy products by mail order without a significant amount of packaging, much of it plastic. 

Meat consumption per se need not be an environmental problem. Pasture-for-life animals, on an organic farm with hedgerows providing a home for wildlife, are actually part of the solution. But trucking lamb chops from Yorkshire to Sussex, packed in plastic bags, is not.

I thought back to the 1960s and 1970s, before the astronomical rise of packaging, to consider how we managed our food. I read about the way people living more simply and in harmony with the earth managed their food. It seemed to me that seasonal fruit and vegetables, plus a modest helping of animal products, was key to it all. We used to get a loaf of bread three times a week from the village shop. We had a sack of potatoes from my uncle's farm. We ate the sheep we raised in our very large garden. We ate the tomatoes from our greenhouse, eggs from our hens, fruit from our orchard and vegetables (mostly pole beans and courgettes/zucchini) from our vegetable patch.  We needed to buy only things like flour, butter, tea, coffee and oats. None of us were fat. None of my family got cancer or diabetes or gout or dementia.

So, in thinking about diet, it seemed to me I needed to change my priority. The keto food had a cast-iron scientific argument underpinning it, but sent my budget and social life and personal happiness out of whack. Plus it relied on practices that aren't earth-friendly (plastic packaging, higher food miles, and animal products).

I re-thought things on the basis of low packaging. I could get fruit and vegetables and bread without packaging. I think if I pluck up courage I could negotiate with a butcher or fishmonger to weigh meat/fish into my own containers. There is a dairy that will deliver milk in glass bottles to my doorstep. I think some brands of butter are still sold wrapped in paper. The types of yogurt I actually enjoy are (sadly) available only in plastic tubs; I'd have to give that up. We have a couple of refill stores recently opened where I live, for simple household chemicals (washing up liquid, soap powder etc) and dry goods like oats and nuts. They also sell shampoo bars without packaging, jars/refills of tooth powder and bamboo toothbrushes.

There are a couple of downsides to this. One is that the organic versions available are expensive — not in comparison to costing the earth, I realise, but I have a limited budget even when high quality food is my priority, as it always has been. In the cheaper stores (supermarkets and market stalls) it is possible to get unwrapped fruit and veggies, but the unwrapped ones aren't organic — and, as we know, pesticides are no friend to bees, water courses or human health.

In addition to all this (I hope you aren't getting bored), it will be apparent to you, I think, that such pathways are very time and energy hungry. It takes thought. It means searching out diverse sources. This last year, because of a combination of the stress of traffic conditions in our urban location, diminishing income as I get older, and a desire to make some positive contribution to solving global warming, I made the decision to go car-less once more. My husband still owns and drives a car and I do accept lifts with him to places where, and at times when, he is making a car journey anyway (so, I went with him down to the town centre for unpackaged beetroot when he went to the doctor's surgery today), but I am trying to live much more locally and on foot — and to buy food produced locally with consequently low food miles; no more pole beans from Kenya and raspberries from Peru in the middle of winter. Passing through the world on foot actually works well with going from shop to shop — bread from the baker, lentils from the refill store, grapes from the greengrocer, fish from the where the boats come in — car use tends towards one-stop supermarket shopping. But the small and diverse way of getting groceries takes time and attention; it is more complicated.

As I sifted through for a priority — thinking about health of my own body, health of the land, economic prosperity for small local farms and businesses (another aspect under consideration), packaging, organic farming, levels of animal products versus vegetable products, levels and types of carbohydrates, risks involved in eating modern wheat, the importance of walking and travelling by public transport, thinking globally and acting locally, growing my own food and acting in favour of pollinators and wildlife — at times I have felt I was drowning in a maelstrom of considerations too numerous to weave into any coherent pattern.

Yet again, one more time, the familiar priority rises shining to the surface: the importance of living simply. It is the only hope I have of drawing all this complexity made up of so many elements into something workable. An essential component of this simplicity is relinquishment. I have a low income, on purpose, for a number of reasons — for a humble and lowly life inspired by St Francis; in support of my pacifist principles because if I earn above the tax threshold I support international government violence; because I want to support and grow the grace/gift economy not the reign of Mammon; because I want space, solitude and time to think and dream, rather that offering up all my hours to economic productivity; because I reserve the right to say "no" when I am asked to act against my principles; because I am getting old and tired. I think I have to accept that if I am to live within my small budget, then I cannot tick all the boxes in respect of my food choices. I can't afford massive boxes of organic meat, or to eat all organic vegetables, or to ignore the wild and homegrown fruits that are, frankly, palatable only with the addition of sugar (eg blackcurrants from the garden), or else themselves already have a high sugar content (eg apples and pears from our garden).

On the altar in my room where His Nibs and His Mother reign supreme, I've put a plastic pot to remind myself that recently someone found, on a beach, a yogurt pot from the 1970s. 

I have to accept responsibility into my daily practice for making some inroads into the horrific levels of plastic waste generation. My one life makes very little difference, I do realise, but what minuscule contribution comes from me should at least be positive.

About the keto, I do feel rather ashamed — a failure. There came a point when porridge with brown sugar, a bread roll with my salad, and a piece of cake sometimes, took priority over the scientific evidence of a wise path for maintaining my health into old age. It is true I don't use cocaine or drink vodka or eat gateaux at midnight; but I still don't feel proud of my keto failure. I sleep better, and I enjoy my food again, but I feel I may be laying the foundations for ill health in old age, and that'll be my fault entirely.  

It's difficult, isn't it — teasing out the pathway of priority?

Friday, 7 February 2020

Vic's forest home

This last couple of days I took the train along the south coast to visit my daughter Fiona. We had just the best time together, and I had the delight of getting to know two of her friends, who are just lovely.

I took some photos so you could meet one of them.

This is the forest near where Fi lives. 

On the edge of the forest, on private ground, her friend Vic has his home —

— where he lives with Kiera the dog.

This is Vic's home on the inside:

— with Vic in it making us a cup of tea.

His stove holds ashes from some very special places. I can't remember all the ones he said, but he has ashes from Vedic temples and Sioux sacred fires as well as his own fires. It's like a heart that holds the memory of sacred humanity.

Vic is a musician, and you can discover his work online here.  He writes here about the soul and pattern of the way he has chosen, and the music that inspires and expresses the life inside him. Here's one of his songs. He is one of those rare souls who is prepared to accept the discipline and put in the determination needed to live in the freedom of simplicity. It was a privilege to meet him.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

More pics from Nancy's place

Nancy sent me some more photos of her home, and I thought you'd love them as much as I do.

That stove and the brick wall behind it! It's so lovely! And your row of Really Useful mugs — fab! And look at that copper kettle on the hearth! Oh, your place is lovely, Nancy.

The fireplace is very much like the one in my friend Rebecca Sylvan's home, at Hopewell in New Jersey. Brought back happy memories.

May your home always be happy and blessed. 

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Nancy's place

I wonder if you also read the comments threads that develop from the posts on this blog. If not, I really do encourage you to do so. It's always a thrill for me to find someone's comment on any post, bringing a perspective I hadn't thought of, shining a new light on the topic of the post. And sometimes, of course, a person makes themselves known here for the first time — maybe someone who has been travelling along with us a long time but never before spoken up. That's always lovely, too.

Since I put my email address in the sidebar near the top of the page, more readers have been in touch whose comments didn't get through so they couldn't introduce themselves before. And an email can always be lengthier and more personal that a comment on a blog, so it's been a happy time of making new connections. Thank you for writing to me.

In the last few days I've met Nancy, who has known and loved my Hawk & Dove books, and is a particular friend of Father Peregrine — I think you'll remember him if you've read those stories. 

It was wonderful to meet Nancy — she has lived so many adventures (you can read about her life in her long and interesting comments on my previous post). She tried to attach some photos with her comments, but Google Blogger doesn't offer that facility, so Nancy took the trouble to email them to me instead.

Here's Nancy, with her husband:

They are missionaries, and they live in Poland.

What I specially wanted to show you is Nancy's home. 

When they moved to the village where they live now, they bought two old log cabins — one to live in and one for guests to stay over (if I've understood correctly) — and put them back together in their new location.

Some of you who read here, like me, prize the beauty of simplicity, and have a real love for small and simple dwellings. I think you will immediately fall in love with Nancy's kitchen-living-room:

Isn't that lovely? To me, it just says, "home". All by itself it's the definition of what home should be.

And here's Nancy's guest accommodation:

It has a living roof.

It's a good thing for Nancy I'm not a guest there — I'd never want to go home!

Anyway, I just wanted to share with you my instant response of "Oh, wow! Look! How gorgeous is that?" Because I thought you'd love Nancy's place as much as I do.

Thank you, Nancy, for sending the photos of your home. 

Sunday, 19 January 2020


Increasingly I'm having difficulty leaving a comment on other people's blogs. I can't always let you know, if I don't have your email address.

I can't comment on Beth's blog, or Lynda's, or San's or Kat's, or Rebecca's, or Mike's (and I'm so sorry you've been poorly Mike; hope you're on the mend). So far my comments have always gone through fine on Jen's and Nearly Martha's and (until today) Julie B's. Can't remember if my comments take okay on Daff's.

Equally, I often hear from you that your comments don't stick on my blog, too. Tony has trouble, Tonia's comments don't work here, and other people have said the same.

I did a Google search for answers, and one woman (also on Google Blogger, as I am) said she fixed the problem by going into her settings, to "Posts and Comments", in there to the Comment Location section, where she changed the comment location from "Embedded" to "Pop-up Window". 

I thought this might be worth a try. Mine was set to "Full Page", so I've changed it to "Pop Up Window". Let me know, if you can, how you get on with that. Better? Worse? Same? 

Of course if you can't leave a comment then you can't let me know. I may delete this info after a few days, but my email address is — so if you wanted to comment and never can, then let me know. Or if you wanted to get in touch with me but couldn't leave a comment to tell me so, make a note of that email address because I may delete this whole post shortly.