Friday, 22 April 2011


Further on 'Walking Into Simplicity' in a day or two - for the moment I seem to have walked so far into it I had a bit of trouble getting back out and onto the computer!

But friends, I had to show you this!

My daughter Grace (Buzzfloyd online), mother of the Wretched Wretch, found the MamAmor dolls, and oh they are so beautiful, delightful - such a wonderful idea.   Of the ones for sale at the moment my favourite's Agnes.  Which one do you like best?

They are for exploring the experience of giving birth, breastfeeding, carrying and loving and caring for babies.  They are big enough to be used in group work - women's groups, children's groups, schools, all sorts - as well as suitable for individual children, who clearly love and relate to them amazingly (see the photos on the website).

It is just such a joy to see something so positive and life-affirming, beautifully and mindfully made.  And I love to see artefacts individually designed and made by creative people in their own homes rather than mass-produced factory products.

God bless MamAmor, may that business prosper and flourish!

Web address:

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Walking into Simplicity 2

This is a picture of my father four years ago at his 80th birthday celebration.

He was a remarkable, unusual man, very intelligent, very private and shy.  He had to be free and was incapable of confinement to others’ agendas.  He didn’t like being  interfered with in any way – had some spectacular crises of illness at various stages in his life because he couldn’t countenance the idea of submitting himself to medical investigation at an earlier stage.   He always cut his own hair, and hated going to the dentist – when one of his teeth fell out he super-glued it to its neighbour; served him well for several years.

He was the soul of kindness but very inaccessible as a person – so I had very little to do with him through my life, but felt his love and concern emanating vaguely my way as from some desert island none of us could reach.

He travelled the world through his working life (he had an extraordinary gift for languages and was fluent in several), and was rarely at home and never for very long.  When he retired and had to live permanently at home with my mother, he moved out into a cottage of his own.  They stayed married, and spoke on the phone several times a day, went on holiday together and did lots of things together – he just wanted to live by himself; and he wanted to live simply.  I felt very at home in his cottage, which was comfortable but plain and unpretentious.  The heart of his home was his little dog, whom he loved, and the birds (and inadvertently, the rats) he fed every day in the garden.

Just over a year ago he died – quickly, neatly, suddenly, without fuss and with no preceding illness, just as he would have wished.  My mother and I found him dead in his cottage the morning after his death when we called by to visit him.

To me and my sister he left his estate: his cottage in the quiet English countryside, and a modest amount of savings.  My sister loved him very much and wanted to keep the cottage that had been his home, so she threw all she had at buying out my share; and his money was divided between us.

This has been a wonderful gift, and a key element in our household’s journey into simplicity.  The money from the sale of his cottage is in the bank ready (it is the exact amount we need) to pay off our mortgage on the house as soon as we can do so without penalty this summer (to do so before would cost more than waiting).  Having mortgage-free accommodation is the crucial thing that allows us to choose our occupation.  It allows me to work as a writer, Hebe as a letter-cutter, the Badger to work as a publisher only because he loves his job not because he is shackled to it, allows Fi the freedom to explore and travel and do a myriad different jobs and keep us all afloat at home in between time, and means that Alice’s bread-and-butter job at the library while she does the things that really speak to her soul – making stained glass windows, writing, textile crafts etc – is something she could walk away from and explore new possibilities if she chose.

The money from the cottage allowed us to pay off the mortgage, and this in turn allowed us to sell the small house we owned, that Hebe, Alice and Fi lived in before we all moved in together, to Grace and Clay and the Wretched Wretch at a price affordable to them on husband’s salary only – a vitally important thing, because it allows Grace to be a stay-at-home mother, and will in turn allow her to home-school the Wretched Wretch (hooray!)

So, a bit like Jesus’s picture of the seed that falls into the ground and dies and yields a rich harvest, in his death my father passed on to us the gift of the freedom he loved – freedom not to accept the ways of the world and the agendas of mainstream society.  It was a wonderful thing he did for us.

I should say as well that the little house Grace and Clay and the Wretched Wretch now live in was bought from money my mother gave us.  She was also a stay-at-home mother, raising sheep and organic fruit and vegetables, working every hour of the day, investing every bit of money that came her way into our home, so that gradually, buying shrewdly, buying low and selling high, she acquired two or three houses.  As she downsized and sold them off, she shared the proceeds with me and my sister.  Her gifts and my father’s legacy have given us both freedom and security – they have been Christ’s Good Shepherd to us whom they loved, allowing us to go out and find pasture, to come in and find rest.

Then of course the Badger has thrown all his resources and energy into the project, adding his savings and working hard to finance a considerable mortgage in the interim.

So our journey into simplicity has long taproots – it flowers out of the lives of parents who lived simply, frugally and thriftily, and have given us the gift of the opportunity to do the same.

But there was more.  In addition to the proceeds from his cottage, my father had his nest-egg of savings.  And this has allowed us to put photo-voltaic panels and tubes that harvest the sunshine to heat our water, on our roof.  They have just been installed, and the day they were connected we switched off the gas boiler that ran the central heating and hot water.  During daylight hours we now have electricity from the sun to fuel our household needs, and enough over to export a steady supply to the national grid.  We have enough hot water for the needs of five people – washing, washing up, washing clothes – all from the sun.

I always dreamed of having access to technology, but never imagined I would be able to generate the funds to do so.

Like my father, I do not fit in well to this world and its ways. I live an odd, shy, retired life, and have never been able to find my way in to any kind of belonging.  I communicate with the world through the books and blog I write, and have found that it’s best kept that way.  So I have never been wealthy; I cannot fit in to the employment structures well enough.  The idea of having solar panels on the roof seemed like a far-off dream that only rich people could have.

All my life I have tried to teach and tell people about caring for the earth and living naturally but, though people have listened to me courteously, the only converts I’ve made have been my own children!  Now, however, I don’t need to try to persuade.  They will buy the green electricity because we are exporting it from our own roof  :0D  Result!

So that’s another step we have made in the direction of simplicity – our washing machine, our computers, our iron, our water heater – the sun runs them now!
And somehow it’s all the more wonderful that this came to us through the mindfulness of my parents’ way of living.  They knew what to do with what they had and, when they passed the baton on to us, we knew what to do with it too.

It also pleases me that instead of waiting to inherit in their turn, because we all share and live together, it is possible for the generation of grandchildren and great-grandchildren to benefit simultaneously with the parents and grandparents – for my mother who was so generous to us benefits in her turn; this morning her bedsheets have been through our washing machine and are hanging out on the washing line in our garden to dry in the sun, for though her apartment has a beautiful view over farmland and woods it has no yard of its own for a washing line, and tumble driers have never been our way.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Walking Into Simplicity - steps in the right direction towards a plain and simple life.

“I’ve got the Wretched Wretch a farm for his birthday.”
“A farm? Geez, mum!  He’s only two!  No wonder we haven’t got any money!”

So went the conversation between me and my youngest daughter, which made me laugh.

But I thought I’d tell y’all about some of the steps we have made in our journey into simplicity (‘we’ as in our household, I mean, not the royal ‘we’!)
As this has involved a number of different things, I thought I’d post about it over a few days (though I’ll be at Spring Harvest in Minehead this next week, so there’ll be a space).

First off, I want to say, this is not me bragging ‘Look at us, we’re doing it right’ holier-than-thou kind of thing.  On this quest into simplicity I find I am continually learning, going one step back for every two steps forward, and having to compromise and wait and keep trying.

For example, there’s the matter of the car.  I’d set up everything to get myself car-free, got rid of the car, resolved never to have one again – and then my 83-year-old mother moved down to Sussex.  The town we live in, and the road we live in, are not her style at all – she would be miserable here; it’s quite a rough and ready kind of place, and my mother is a more refined kind of person.  She likes beautiful and elegant places, and country villages.  So she has moved to live in the ancient town of Battle, where the centrepiece is an abbey, still in good order and now a school, built in the eleventh century by William the Conqueror on the Pope’s orders because William and his men so badly mutilated King Harold’s slain body after the battle in 1066.
The snag with country village life is the public transport is a bit sparse.  At five miles distance along fast and narrow roads in hilly Sussex, getting to Battle on foot or by bike is not going to work.  There are trains, but it means walking 20 minutes to the station, waiting up to 40 minutes for a train, then a 10 minute journey, then another 20 minute walk from the station – and no trains through the night of course.  The buses go once an hour through the peak hours of the day.  At 83, my mother needs me to be able to go, and get there quickly, if she gets into difficulties.  She also needs me for outings into the country to garden centres and all the things that make her happy – because I want her to be happy in the last years of her life.

Like a lot of modern people, my mother is used to adapting circumstances to fit the thing she would like to do, rather than fitting what she would like to do to what circumstances offer – and this is a key factor in the difference between car culture and public transport/walking culture.  Those of us who walk or bus learn to choose the best veggies our greengrocer has to offer.  Those of us with cars maybe drive out to the farmers’ market where the real best veggies can be found.

When we re-fitted our bathroom this year, I asked Joe our builder: “Just get us white tiles and a white bath and basin and toilet, Joe – something basic that doesn’t cost much, whatever you think best.”   I had no plans to go anywhere to a bathroom store.
But when my mother re-fitted the bathroom on moving into her new apartment, she wanted to go to several different industrial estates and stores to see what tiles and bathroom fittings were on offer, to compare them and make an informed choice.   She’s that kind of person, and she gets immensely frustrated and stressed and eventually miserable and defeated if she can’t put her plans into action.

Looking after the people God gave me to care for is one of the things right at the top of the list of what I was sent to earth to do.  And I find it such a wonderful, precious privilege to have in my hands the chance to make people happy.  What an amazing thing to be able to do!  To make someone happy!  I love it!  I am determined that, as far as it lies with me to do so, I want to see to it that my mother’s old age is happy.
So it became very clear to me that my dream of having a car-free life will have to be put on hold for a few years.  Once she is no longer with us, the car can go again.  Meanwhile, being a car owner (though expensive) is no hardship.  It makes many things easier, and driving along the Sussex lanes is a joy.

So that was one of the steps toward simplicity that went awry.  We have tried to preserve as much faithfulness to the simple carpenter of Nazareth in our choices as we can.  The car is small and economical and basic, with no gadgets.  It is shared between all of us here, and while the Badger is away in Oxford through the working week, it is the only car this household has.  And we try to remember not to just drive everywhere, but walk and go by train or bus as well.

We don’t live our dream all the time and often, as with the car, it’s two steps forward one step back.  But we are making slow progress.

One of our simplicity initiatives I am pleased about is the whole matter of birthday and Christmas gifts.
We are a big family.  Five of us live in this household, then the Badger has two adult daughters who both have men of their own.  Then there’s Rosie (my eldest daughter) and Jon just 10 minutes walk along the road, and Grace and Clay and the Wretched Wretch (my grandson) 10 minutes walk in the other direction. Then there are the Old Ones – parents-in-law from my first marriage, and my mother.  And of course my sister, and her sons and their partners . . . and our friends . . .

Christmas can turn into an awful present orgy.

We have lived a long time in an age of mass-production now, and we have also seen what problems arise when things accumulate.  No-one in our family really wants or needs any more hats, bags, scarves, earrings, perfume etc, etc.   Book and CDs are usually welcome – ah, but which ones?

We eventually realised, having pussy-footed around the subject for fear of hurting anyone’s feelings, that we were spending too much money buying things nobody needed, wanted, or knew what to do with.

I took note of Ann Voskamp’s creative solutions of celebrating Christmas without gifts (can't find the post on her blog now, but this gives a good general idea), but felt the way that was right for her family was not quite the right fit for ours.
Then we hit on a workable compromise.  Each person would receive a birthday or Christmas gift, from all of us.  The gift might be a parcel of several small things, or one big thing – my mother had a little bag of prettily wrapped items that different ones of us had chosen, each of which would have looked pitiful on its own but together made a good present; my son-in-law had a ticket to a special concert that we all chipped in the money to buy.

That way, we keep down the expenditure and stop special occasions descending into consumer-fests but without the stark austerity of no gifts at all.  And, we try to include items home-made with love – the socks our Alice knits are always received as a special treasure, and my friend Julie Faraway has just sent a wonderful collection of beautiful yarn from her daughter’s amazing yarn workshop.  So socks are in the offing!

Thus it came about that I found a toy farm and purchased it ready for the Wretched Wretch’s birthday in May, populated with a number of beautiful Schleich animals – which can be got on eBay with great economy.  He will receive it as his birthday gift from our whole household.  I hope it is special enough that it will not feel disappointing, and I hope it keeps things simple enough that he does not end up with the materialistic overwhelm associated with a glut of presents.

This is one small step we have taken towards simplicity.  As always, when I write it down it doesn’t sound like much at all, but it’s surprising how long it has taken us to journey towards it, and how much careful thought has gone towards putting it in place.