Sunday, 27 February 2011

Going Barefoot

For the first time this year, I was out and about with bare toes in my Birkis today and yesterday.  A moment of silence for wild inner rejoicing.

I love to go barefoot.

Sturdy shoes cause me the same difficulties as wearing gloves.  In order to engage successfully with the world I have to be able to touch it, feel it.  Gloves and shoes remove the feedback that seems to me to be so vital for complete engagement.  Without my fingerpads and the soles of my feet, I can’t always tell what the world means.  I can’t bear wearing rubber gloves to carry out household tasks.  Up through my bare feet come the thoughts of the earth.  When it comes to worship, I’m right there with Moses – bare feet R us.

In former years, before hawking up germ-laden phlegm and spitting it onto the pavement came so ubiquitously back into fashion, I went most places most of the summer in bare feet.  My compromise, that takes me through from March to November, is Birkestock sandals for out and about, and bare feet in the house and garden.  I drive in bare feet too.  As I get into the car I take off my sandals and lift them in, placing them on the floor behind my seat.  As a result of this I have several times left a pair of Birkenstock sandals in a car park or at a roadside.  I only ever lost one pair permanently doing this.

In the same way as Plain speech can cause us to undergo a complete rethink of our habits of mind (as Karen Mercer thoughtfully reflected here on Quaker Quaker) so going barefoot can encourage us to look more deeply into the Way we walk, our relationship with the earth, and our self-understanding.  Walking barefoot becomes a metaphor as well as an actuality.

Walking barefoot requires a person to use the foot differently from walking in sturdy shoes.  In shoes, the heel goes down first, striking the ground firmly.  Because walking barefoot requires a certain caution or circumspection, the foot goes down foxfoot, with the emphasis on the ball of the foot and toes, not the heel.  Steps are shorter and lighter.  To practice, while shod, the barefoot walking mode, the thing to do is imagine going stealthily through a perilous situation where it is necessary to walk as softly, quietly and lightly as possible.  The foot acts differently.

There is in the world a whole army of people who prefer to go barefoot, whether walking in the ordinary way or running.  They see the need to protect their feet from infection and injury, but are reluctant to relinquish the sense of connection with the living Earth.  This website and this one give good information about the barefoot revolution.  Out of this passion barefoot shoes were born.

The Luna is a barefoot sandal – one can either purchase the necessary materials and make it oneself, or have a pair made up from a selection of options.  Barefoot runners say it is wonderful – feeling as though the feet had nothing on them at all.  The Luna is reminiscent of traditional sandals from places like India.  Following in the footsteps of Jesus, maybe.  Over time, Lunas mould to the wearer’s feet.  To me, there is something peculiarly beautiful about that.  Buddhapada or images of ascension or something.

Sockwa  make a high-top – inevitably of interest to any Plain dresser!  Though at present the high-top Playa is suited for soft ground, not daily wear on concrete surfaces; or so they say!  The Amphibian can go anywhere though.

Our Hebe is a convert to Terra Plana’s Vivo Barefoot range; they make some very stylish, pretty shoes.  There’s a lovely red one.  For those of us designed like marsupials with feet that go on forever, the Vivo Barefoot range is sadly too limited.  They go up only to size 42 – and recommend taking a size up from the wearer’s normal shoe size.

Soft Star, like Luna, are very precise in sizing, and will custom-make shoes, and they both go up to really big sizes anyway.

Probably the funkiest barefoot shoe of all time is the Vibram Fivefinger – aren’t they fab?

There is also a new shoe, the Stem shoe, coming out later this year, which looks really good.

Many of these shoes are vegan and employ recycled material, as well as manufacturing in situations and with techniques and materials as respectful of the human race and the rest of creation as possible.  These are responsible, comfortable footwear making us more aware and responsive and enhancing our health.  A good thing in the world.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Aha! Fab aprons!

Often on Facebook, when an apron pic comes along, a whole bunch of ladies want to know where either the apron or the pattern comes from.

Especially there's a kind of Amish apron that ladies have been very interested in.

The Scarlet Thread has some beautiful garments (I love her flannel nightdress with the graceful curve to the yoke), and she has some really nice aprons.  her calico apron with the criss-cross back is lovely - and it's a slip-on one, which is always a plus.

Her country apron is the same design as the Amish one people are always wanting to know how to source.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Book recommendations

Right now on UK eBay this book is up for auction at a reasonable price (they will ship to the States).

Long out of print, the only copy you can get on US Amazon at the moment is $37 - but thee knows how it is with out-of-print books, the pricing is very erratic, it'll be around at much less than that some other time.  And on UK Amazon, prices start at £2.99.

The same problem applies to being a writer as to being a preacher - one's critical faculty goes into over-drive when presented with other people's work.  Very rarely can I find a book that I can simply enjoy.  Many of the well-written ones are full of stuff I would rather not be reading.  A book, a film, a song - it has to edify my soul, or I lose interest in it.  Many of the ones that fulfil my criteria of edifying the soul are badly written.

But I do enjoy a good read, to lose myself in a story I can really enjoy.

Recently I have been groping back through my memory to books I read long since, and would like to find again.  I tracked down a few, and they have started arriving in the post.  As I read them, I'll let thee know which I thought were the really good ones.

Yesterday this book, Torrie by Annabel & Edgar Johnson arrived in the post.  I read it when I was fourteen (the same age as the girl in the book), and absolutely loved it.  I was intrigued to find out if forty years on it seemed as good.  I sat down and read it straight through.  I think it's brilliant.  It's well crafted - really well written - it celebrates goodness and it identifies and explores some of the less glamorous noble traits of character like steadiness, humility, dependability, modesty, honesty, fairness and kindness, and well as the more exciting ones like courage, self-sacrifice and adventurous spirit.

It also examines the theme of romantic love with a concern for that being love that will last forever, love that a person can trust.

Annabel & Edgar Johnson had this book published in 1960.  They married in 1949 and lived in New York for a while, then took to the open road, travelling the western states, hunting and fishing, camping and writing.

Torrie, set in 1846, is about a pioneer family who left St Louis for California, and tells the story of their wagon-train journey to get there.  You can always tell people who really spend a lot of time out of doors, because they write about the weather so much and in such vivid detail!

Reading this book made me feel happy, and it did my soul good, and it reminded me of things I want to be reminded of - like not following the opinion of the crowd, the value of a provident life, and holding firm to my purpose.

I very much recommend it.

I see that Annabel and Edgar Johnson have written other books too, all in the 1960s I think.  I'm going to try Wilderness Bride, The Black Symbol and The Golden Touch.  All of them are available second-hand on Amazon, and it's wise to check between US and UK Amazon for the best price - or just google the titles.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Just what you would expect in a strange, strange world.

Just the oddest thing happened to me yesterday.  I felt as though I’d been sorting out my clothes and discovered that Narnia really does begin at the back of the wardrobe.
Cast your mind back to my previous blog post, in which I said that I had just finished writing a very difficult passage of human interaction.

For the purposes of this blog post let’s call the characters involved in this Hugh and Eleanor, otherwise I won’t be able to blog this until 4 more books have been published and I want to tell you now, not in 2 years’ time.   And that’s strange enough by itself – giving fictional characters aliases to allow them to appear disguised in the real world!!

Well, Hugh and Eleanor have become very dear to me.  I believe this happens quite a lot with writers of fiction; the characters appear out of nowhere and seem to start telling their stories themselves.  All I have to do is take time out to really look and listen and concentrate, and their story kind of unfolds before the imagination, leaving only the task of actually writing it down.  In so doing, I come to love them dearly; they become as real to me as members of my family.  In fact, between writing novels, meeting people online and stranger-watching in the place where I live, what reality is becomes quite hard to define!

So Hugh and Eleanor fall in love, and through much adversity finally get to be together, only to find that in the daily domestic round living together is not as easy as they had expected.

The humungous row I had to write was Hugh and Eleanor struggling with remarkable lack of success to communicate effectively with one another.  But they do love each other dearly, and their path of love together forms a significant proportion of what the book I’m writing now is all about.

I finished wrestling with this difficult and demanding passage telling the tale of this couple in love on the evening of Valentine’s Day, and I read it to the Badger over the cusp of midnight into Valentine’s Day.  So somehow his and my love, and our stories, got twined together with Hugh and Eleanor’s love, and their story.  Their relationship is not a re-telling of, or even like, my relationship with the Badger, but it has certain ordinary human commonalities that he and I – and I hope all readers – can surely relate to.

So yesterday, Valentine’s Day, after the Badger and I had exchanged cards and a kiss, off he went to work and I went to check correspondence and opened my email.
I sat there stunned, rooted to the spot.

There, in my inbox, sat an email from Hugh and Eleanor, “With love on Valentine’s Day”.

How could this be?  I was actually quite frightened to open it, in case some weird hacker had somehow got into my life and knew what I had been writing!

Well, I did open it eventually, and it was a book promo from a writer whose work I have purchased in the past, whose first name happens to be Hugh, and who has formed a professional alliance with his wife, whose first name happens to be Eleanor, and they are marketing their work as a joint enterprise, using Valentine’s Day as a platform for their promotion.

But, cor!  What a weirdness in a world of weird!  I shall keep that email.  And I’m glad to know Hugh and Eleanor are watching me as closely as I am watching them!!

Monday, 14 February 2011

"Aha!" and "Phew!"

These two things are not connected at all, except for inhabiting the same space of time.

This is Thing One.

I have always wondered – and asked several people – about the process of hair going grey.  I’ve been curious to know, does each hair have its own colour, so that if a hair is grey it will be grey all along its length, so the process of going grey happens through the gradual replacement of black/brown/blonde/red hair with grey/white? 

Or does a hair that is coloured at the tip change to grey at the root, so that it’s grey near the head and coloured at the end of its length?  I didn’t know, and nobody I’ve asked has ever been able to tell me – not even people with grey hair.

But now I know.

This year, my hair has advanced significantly in greyness.  It started a while ago, but gave the impression of merely being more blonde than brown.  That’s because there is a lot of red in my hair, and red keeps its colour longest.
But now it is going seriously grey, and it is also long, so it’s possible to see that the truth is a hair can be grey at the root and its original colour at the other end.

Like this. 

So, mystery solved.  How satisfying!

Now, Thing Two.

Today is such a peaceful, happy day.

When I write novels, I don’t start at the beginning and work through to the end.  I make them like a patchwork quilt.  I have a plan, a pattern, that will give shape and cohesion to the whole thing, but then I work on different sections as they present themselves to my imagination.  When one is complete I turn to God in prayer, asking for the next chunk to be downloaded, please.  Not that I claim my writing to come unsullied from the throne of grace, but it is indeed soaked in prayer before it unfolds on the page, not only by me but by the dear friends whose praying helps the story come to birth.

The novel I am writing at present explores themes of home and family, with a special focus of the way we communicate with one another.  It is about two-thirds written, but a big section was missing from Chapter One.

The reason it was missing is that it had to be a most humungous domestic row.  And I hate rows – or even arguments, or even a sense of tension and disharmony.

Much fiction – whether novels, film or television serials – depends on aggression and conflict for dynamic interest and strength.  ‘Dark’ is a very popular word in the world of fiction, and so is ‘adult’.  As though we were immature in some way of we wanted to write/read about the light, about purity and innocence.  In much fiction, innocence is there to be deflowered, love to go sour, friendships to be betrayed and marriages to be spiced up by an adultery.

But this is not what I personally am looking for in a story.  I like stories that will edify me and fill me with hope and faith, that will help me believe in life and in people – and in God.  I like stories that I can transplant into my imagination to make me a better wife and mother, a truer friend, a kinder neighbour.  I like stories that are about goodness and gentleness, about people who try hard – and succeed as a result.

And I don’t want to read graphic descriptions giving explicit detail of the physical events of sexual intercourse, or torture, or other physical close-up material.  In fact, in my own writing I have continually to resist the hankering of the wistful editor to have me tell the reader that a character has body odour or an overbite, greasy hair or a paunch or muscular arms or yellow teeth.  These physical details serve to attract or disgust, to allow the reader to measure the character against the yardstick of what the world calls success; and that isn’t why I’m writing.  In my stories, all the characters are good; that’s what I write about, human goodness – because I have an unshakeable belief that goodness is interesting, and reading about it has a positive effect on the human spirit.  

Occasionally I put in physical detail, and that is often with the intention of countering mainstream prejudice: so, for example, in my books all the fat people are either clever or pretty, and the hero is often unpopular, or disabled, or growing old.  I like to take the characters that are usually given stereotyped bit-parts, and put them centre-stage, and make them loveable and alive.

My stories are sometimes described as ‘slow-moving’.  If there is a Die Hard V, or an Apocalypse III, it won’t be written by me.  I write close observation of human character, relationship, behaviour and experience in the light of the transformative power of divine grace.

And I write about the effect on people when, in adversity, they meet the healing touch of gentleness, goodness and understanding.

So, you can imagine, I do not like writing a humungous row.

It took me ages to gear up to writing the one I just have – hatching it in my spirit felt almost like an illness.  It felt heavy and hard and grievous to bring forth.

Last night at last I wrote it.  I finished the chapter in which it is set – which deals with the misunderstanding, miscommunication and unintentional conflict that bedevil so many families and marriages.  The chapter is about 11,000 words long.  This is how I tested if it had come up good. I read it to the Badger when he came to bed at eleven o’clock, after watching a really interesting drama on TV.  This is a good test – to read a long piece to someone when they are sleepy and ready to doze off.  I finished reading to him at a quarter past midnight, and he was still wide-eyed and gripping the edge of the blanket, invaded by the dilemmas and adversities of my characters.  To be fair, midnight took us into Valentine’s Day, so he possibly thought it might be worth staying awake.  But even hopeful people can’t stay awake on purpose when it’s midnight and they’re bored.  So it came through good.  I got it right.

Thank you to all dear friends who pray for me in my writing.  I cannot tell you what a difference it makes.  The task of writing the things of God in a way that will appeal to the imagination is ministry that sets up opposition, and I am constantly aware of the turbulence it creates.  But I think it is worthwhile.

There are still about 25,000 words to write of that book, but the really gritty, tough bits for me to write are mainly in place.  The rest is easier for me.

Today feels like a real chillout day – and the sun is shining, too.  In fact it’s like a foretaste of summer just now.  No doubt the harsher weather will be back before spring is fully here – but this day is beautiful.  

And I thank God. 

Sunday, 6 February 2011


The YouTube video I embedded on this blog yesterday was found and sent on to me by my daughter Fi, who is part of the household where I live.  She is becoming my in-house researcher.  This morning when I woke up - having held hands with my sweetie and chatted and prayed together and had our morning kiss, he went off to work out on the Wii Fit and take a shower, and I groped for my laptop to check out correspondence.
And there was this email from Fi (she has the room underneath ours but, hey, sometimes email is good...).  The subject line of her email was 'something to ponder', and she sent me this link, adding 'see what you think of this lady'.

It was the same yesterday when she sent me the Song Around the World video, saying she thought I might like it.  Like it?  Like it?  It blew my mind!  I watched it four times straight through, posted it everywhere and it totally transformed my day!

Same with this thing that she sent me today.  It's a 20 minute talk.  There is more wisdom in that 20 minutes than most of us could reach in 20 years.  I will download this.  I will watch it again.  I will remember it.  I will store it in my heart.

Basically, this video tells me what I need to know.  It is a gift of God to me, and an answer to prayer.  So I thought you might like to have the chance to share it too.

Here's the link:

Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability | Video on

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Stand By Me | Playing For Change | Song Around the World

I totally love this!  This is just the best!  Oh how tremendously utterly cool!  yeah! Go, those groovy music men!!

From the award-winning documentary, Playing For Change: Peace Through Music, a "song around the world" in which musicians in different countries add their part to a cover of Ben E.King's classic Stand By Me as it travels the globe. 

Friday, 4 February 2011

The Hardest Thing To do

Oh, wow!  I am so excited about this!  My favourite thing is writing fiction, and it is also fiendishly difficult, demanding and I am never really, really sure how good a job I have done.  Creating a novel asks of me all that I have and then some.

The trilogy I wrote that is now sold in one volume under the title of its first novel, The Hawk & the Dove, has been in print and selling steadily for 20 years.  I feel quite pleased about this.  So much so that I wrote to my publisher, Crossway, and asked them what they thought about adding another novel to the series, and they seemed keen, so I set to work.  Well, the tale grew in the telling, and I ended up with three more novels for them.  The first of the three new ones - therefore the fourth book in the Hawk & the Dove series - is called The Hardest Thing To Do, and it's just gone up on Amazon for pre-order, though it won't be out until July (don't you worry, I'll remind you!!).

Bringing these new books to birth has been a biiig deal.  I have relied on continual prayer support as I wrote them.  In crafting them I dug deep in my spirit and wrote about the life lessons and insights that the Lord has been teaching me over the last decade.  As I wrote them, I felt encouraged that I had tuned in to a depth of Holy Spirit, because every time I settled down to write, there was mayhem - big disruptions and family chaos and stuff I could not ignore and had to respond to.  But with the support of praying friends I kept going anyway, so that these things I really wanted to share could get written and you could read them and go on that journey with me.

The Hardest Thing To Do looks at human relationships, and explores the territory of forgiveness and trying to see things from the other person's point of view.

While I was writing it, in the evenings sometimes I read chunks to my family.  They all know the Hawk & the Dove series well.  My Badger, my husband now, was the original editor and publisher for that series, 20 years ago when we our lives were very different and we had no thought or expectation that one day we would be married.  And my daughters grew up reading the trilogy until it felt like the monks in it were part of our family (the tales are all set in a 14th century monastery).   They knew every character and every story in those original books.
And so it came about that when I started reading to them the new book, The Hardest Thing To Do,  I had this wonderful reaction from them.  It got to a certain point in the story and they began to shriek: "Oh no! It's not... is it?... it's... oh, no!  It's him !!!"    Heh heh heh.  How satisfying.  Him?  He's in the second book of the first trilogy, The Wounds of God, in the chapter called Who's The Fool Now?.  Yes, it's him, and he's back causing trouble.

The story takes us through Lent one year about a quarter of the way into the 14th century, at a Benedictine monastery on the North York Moors.  It's written like a journal or log, with an entry for every day of Lent from Ash Wednesday through to Easter Sunday, and it charts the gradual healing miracle of the compassion of Jesus shining through human frailty and human kindness.  I do hope you enjoy it when you get to read it in the summer  :0)

Writing this book has been a wonderful journey.   I am so excited to see it coming to fruition at last.