Thursday, 23 August 2012

Grey is okay applied judiciously

Everyone’s reading 50 Shades of Grey it seems (and no, sorry, I didn’t give you a live link to Amazon there); but not me.

I like sex.  In private, with my husband.  I am happy for you if you like sex too – in private, in the context of your own permanent, stable and faithful intimate relationships.


I don’t want to see explicit sex on TV, or read about it in novels, and any comedian waxing lyrical upon the subject of orgasms, masturbation or coming home drunk and full of hope that his wife will be keen to avail him of his conjugal rights, simply short-circuits the evening because I leave the room or turn the telly off.

Just saying.

Why?  Because my youngest daughter put me onto this wonderful YouTube video by Ellen DeGeneres.  This friend speaks my mind!  “Don’t eat the pancakes.” Quite so.


365 366 Day 235 - 237
Wednesday August 22nd - Friday August 24th  

Three breakfast bar stools, rendered unnecessary when we ripped out the breakfast bar (moment of silence for internal resounding cheer).

365 366 Day 234 – Tuesday August 21st   

Sometimes giving things away is absolutely fab.  I Freecycled this fishing chair, and received the following email from the lady who collected it:
"Thank you very much for the fishing chair you have made our young son very happy as he has just started to go fishing with his Dad and he now has his own chair to sit on He’s actually having his lunch on it now. Nicky".
Well, ain't that just the best?

365 366 Day 233 – Monday August 20th 

This is known as a companion set.  Some companion, eh?

365 366 Day 232 – Sunday August 19th 

Oh, Lordy.  Lost count of how many of these I've given away.

365 366 Day 231 – Saturday August 18th 

In this book I wrote down everything I know about how to make life work well.  I'm solvent, I'm happy, I do the work I love, my family love me and I love them, I find life entirely fulfilling and a constant source of wonder.  Some people think I'm just lucky.  Or you could read this book.  I had some review copies and I bought some too.  I gave them away.  I hope they made a difference.

365 366 Day 230 – Friday August 17th 

A belt.  I don't like it.  That's why I gave it away.  Plus, my waist relates better to elastic. 

Thursday, 16 August 2012


Over at the Innermost House blog just now, a conversation about fear of destitution is developing.

Mulling this over while eating breakfast, a forgotten conversation returned to my mind that made me first smile then laugh.

It happened at the time our lives were falling apart.  I had a friend who was facing serious difficulties in her own life, and I suspected her situation would be making her feel frightened and lonely.  In trouble, nothing is more welcome than a fellow-traveller.  Knowing this, I shared with her the story of my own circumstances, which were dire.

None of my social interactions in life so far had prepared me for her reaction.  My friend is an Ashanti woman, passionate, deep-feeling.  She heard my tale with close attention, listening rigidly, then flung herself on the floor and began beating it with her fist, moaning “Jesus...Jesus...Jesus... !!!”

Gosh, I thought; finally here’s somebody who appreciates exactly how I feel!  I have to say no one else in Bromley reacted quite like that.

Anyway, after a bit she got up and sat back on her sofa.  She fixed me intently with her piercing gaze, and said slowly and emphatically (can you do an Ashanti accent? I underlined where the foot fell in her words):
My mother said to me – ‘If you rely on a man for your meal ticket, you and your children will go hungry!”

This was kinda memorable.

On Innermost House the name of Peace Pilgrim has been mentioned in the comments, as an example of someone who walked without fear, in vulnerability and with no possessions, as Jesus did.

Yes, she did.  I know that, and this inspires me and give me hope.  Peace Pilgrim is a guiding star.  If you don't know who she is you can check her out in the side-bar here, in the section of links to people who live without money.

But I also have more than one friend who liked to live free as a bird, spent their inheritance when they had it, and faced old age in a rented home with a dwindling income and no plan B.

Simplicity is the way to go, and God provides with blessings and miracles in abundance.  Life is sweet.  But friends, do what you can to watch your back.

I'm, away from keyboard for a few days now, so my apologies and don't panic if your comments remain in purdah until Tuesday.


365 366 Day 229 – Thursday August 16th 
(if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

This was a beautiful, snuggly cloak made of micro-fleece, therefore light as a feather as well as ultra-groovy and warm.  It had a long pointy hood and a celtic-y clasp and was altogether beautiful.  However, though I accept that my get-up in general terms bears a strong resemblance to a mediaeval peasant crossed with a Hutterite, I find that the practical reality is that I need my arms free, even on a cold day, as there are things to carry and work to be done.  Life is hard enough without adding to the struggle by wrapping it in swathes of fabric.

365 366 Day 228 – Wednesday August 15th  

What time is it?  Who cares?   Well - I do have to catch a bus occasionally, but my cellphone has an alarm clock.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Speed and Light

Just recently – I’ve hunted around to find where I read it, but I’ve lost it now – I came across someone writing on a topic about which I feel very deeply; the need to create situations that will safeguard one’s aspirations. 

For some years now I have longed to live in a small hut with a fireplace, a standpipe for water, in the privacy of a glade in a wooded place – with hens in an orchard.  Partly I wanted this for the thing itself, and partly because it would take away the spiritual workout of being daily presented with the decisions to do things the easy way or the way of my aspirations.

Most of the time I give in and do things the easy way.  So, for example, I’ll have a few days of cooking over the fire, then a lot more days of saying “Oh, blow it!” and boiling the electric kettle.  I’ll have a few days of composting, then go back to the usual water closet because I can’t be bothered.

The fridge, the toaster, the washing machine – I use all these because they’re there and easy and that’s how my life’s set up; and it feels complicated and silly to behave as if those facilities aren’t there when they are.  But if I lived somewhere which didn’t have these conveniences, then life without them would be natural – not easy, but clear.  It would be made simpler by removing choice.

The hut in the woods scenario is in my aspirations but not my plans, if you see what I mean – I love living with my family, we are in the right house that God led us to, we are walking in the way that has opened to us, all is as it should be.  But I am slowly working on aligning my life with my hut-like aspirations while still living in a regular house in the town. 

In two respects I have been able to achieve the hut-in-the-woods and dispense with difficult choice.  One was last September I gave away my car.  I thought I would have to keep it to make life easier for my beautiful mama; but driving suddenly got too hard for me.  So I stopped. 
Not having a car has (of course) taken away the continual weighing of how much to use it, when to walk and when to drive, what limits to set on distances and possibilities.  Go to the farmers’ market in a little village twenty minutes’ drive away or the small local shop?  Drive down to the station to pick up someone tired after their journey home or let them walk?  Drive out to the woods for a walk, or be contented with the park?  The cost and challenges of travelling by public transport solve most of those dilemmas at a stroke.  
Life is slowed down because everything takes so much longer.  Take, for example, conducting funerals (one of the vocational things I do).  In a car, I set out twenty minutes before the service, take a half-hour service, and take ten minutes to drive home: one hour.   Without a car, I travel to the crematorium and back with the hearse.  I must be ready at the funeral parlour half an hour before the service is due to start, to travel with the team.  I must leave half an hour to walk from home to the funeral parlour.  At the end of the service, the funeral directors cannot leave until all the mourners have set off – which is often about fifteen or twenty minutes after they have all filed out (which also takes several minutes).  So I can expect the time a funeral takes to escalate from one hour to two or two-and-a-half.  
I’d like occasionally to worship with friends at a little village chapel twenty minutes’ drive away.  But to do that on public transport on a Sunday would mean setting out at nine o’clock and getting home about two or three o’clock in the afternoon (depending which bus I caught).  
Travel by foot and bus/train alters time scales dramatically, and significantly reduces what can realistically be attempted in a day.  It also reduces the amount of groceries it’s possible to carry home from the stores, which means more frequent trips – the whole rhythm and profile of daily life alters as soon as the car goes.  I really welcome this, because it makes me live like I want to live but would never choose to live all the while I have a car.  I love the slowness, the smallness, the enforced lowliness.

The second thing I did is about light.

The Badger and I lived in the Garret of this house – the large, airy, two-room attic at the top.  Now, the Badger is firmly wedded to electricity and does not share my hankerings for off-grid living one bit.  He also lives away mid-week and is home at weekends.  In a few years when he retires from his present work, he will bring home his possessions from his mid-week roost.  For these reasons and one or two others, I made a change.  Now the Garret is the Badger’s room – and when he is home, I share his bed at night, under the sky windows that look out on the moon and stars.  But in the week when he is away, and in the daytime when he’s home, I have my own room now.  I love it.  It’s small, built over the entrance-way of our home, a little room 7ft by 9ft.  It feels plain and frugal and quiet, very humble and peaceful.  The Badger took out the electric light for me.  This has served to protect my aspirations, because I cannot say “Oh blow it!” and switch on the light for the sake of making things easy.  I have a small LED camping light tucked away in case of emergency, and a clip-on booklight for if I can’t sleep; but I find I don’t need them – mind you, it’s summer; it might be different when the days are short.  I am used to the candle-light now.  It feels peaceful and calm.  I find I look forward to resting and thinking and letting the day end when I go to bed – because my eyesight is not good enough to read by candlelight; I have to wait for the day.  It reduces the hours in which I can write (or read) and increases the hours of thinking and praying.

I do have an electric socket.  There are two, but I blocked one up.  Just one left, for my laptop, and for charging my cellphone.

Incidentally, I love having a room of my own.  I have this odd thing that unless I can see all the things that belong to me grouped together, I don’t know who I am.  When my things are mixed up with another person’s things I fragment.  In my little room, I can look at the things that are mine, and I know myself.  Next time I post, I’ll show you my room and the things in it.  And then maybe you also will know who I am.

P.S.  I just measured my room.  It's actually 9' x 6'8"


365 366 Day 227 – Tuesday August 14th  

A radiant fire.  This went to my beautiful mama when her heater packed up in the cold weather early in the year.  We had it 'in case' before that, but as we have a woodstove, an open fire, hot water bottles, thick woollies, socks hats and mittens, and the option of turning on the central heating for an hour or two if it's really cold, we seemed to have all eventualities covered.

365 366 Day 226 – Monday August 13th  

A mini-oven.  We got this when we had no kitchen for a couple of months.  Then we had a kitchen again.  This all took place within this 366 year.  So first this was acquired on a one-thing-in-two-things-out basis, then it itself was dispensed with, having become superfluous.  

365 366 Day 225 – Sunday August 12th  

Yet another table lamp.  We do seem to have had a lot of these!

365 366 Day 224 – Saturday August 11th  

A useful box thing that came out of an old piece of furniture.  I can't remember what we did with this at all.

Monday, 6 August 2012

About categories and solutions.

The principles and criteria by which I live my life don’t seem to fit obvious categories.

There are homesteading people.  They own/rent/work on substantial areas of land, keeping animals and growing crops.  They dry and can or bottle fruit, salt beans, and have a goal of a high level of self-sufficiency.

There are solitaries and hermits. Some of them live in woods or desert caves and forage or scavenge.  Some live in regular houses but keep a discipline of solitude for prayer.  Some live in simple shacks with minimalist utilities provision, and maybe have a wholefood lorry drop off provisions, and tend a vegetable garden.  They often dress a bit funny – with a kind of wild, John-the-Baptist trend in hair-do-s and attire.  Their clothes may be handmade or acquired by scavenging, but often with a highly-developed aesthetic sense.  Their lives are poetic and romantic, though their skills are practical and they are capable and tough.

There are groups like the Amish.  When I say ‘like’, you might think “Who is like the Amish?” but I am including here folks like the Old Order River Brethren and the Old Order Mennonites, plus some Hutterite and ex-Hutterite communities.  These opt for varying levels of simplicity and community, but what they have in common is celebration of marriage and family, emphasis on community, living in close relationship with the earth/the land, interest in home-made and hand-made, modest old-fashioned styles of dress and Protestant interpretations of the Bible as a basis for establishing the principles of daily life.

There are contemplative monastic communities (the more active ones that run institutions are so far removed from my own areas of interest that I do not go to them to learn).  These have a commitment to celibacy, simplicity and prayer.  They usually wear some variation of medieval dress.  They value kindness and speaking softly, but can be very strict and stern – very direct – with each other; this is also true of the Amish type groups.  It’s to do with holding each other to account and cultivating humility.

There are straightforward poor people who make do and mend and buy what’s cheap.  They glean, scavenge and forage from necessity.  They walk or go by public transport because they can’t afford a car.  They are frugal with utilities to keep their bills down.  They do have some things like a fridge or a telly, but not very up-to-date or sophisticated versions – they tend to have the basic minimum to allow them to have a bit of fun while spending the least possible money.  They are often very fat or very thin.

I am not in any of those categories, but I am very interested in all of them, because I can learn from them all.

There are normal people too, who drive cars and dry their clothes in tumble-driers and enjoy parties, but I must admit I have not been examining that category very closely.

The parameters of my life and objectives are these:

I love my family and like to live closely with them.

I am married.

I love the Earth and wish to cherish not damage her.

I love trees and water and sky and all living creatures; but I don’t necessarily enjoy their proximity.  I don’t want to actually live in a tree or camp in grass under the sky, or share my living space with beetles and rats.

I love simplicity.

I love Jesus.

I wish to live as plainly and frugally as I can.

I like wearing full skirts and modest tops in quiet, unpatterned colours.  I feel more comfortable with my head covered than not, most of the time; though sometimes I just need to feel the wind in my hair.

I love firelight, candlelight, starlight, moonlight, sunlight and light on water.

I dislike powered machinery, speed, noise, and socialising.

I need solitude, but I live in a shared house and value very much the web of family life of which I am a part.

I spend hours every day thinking.  I pray, but not as much as I think.

I feel a call to share the Gospel of Jesus, which I do by writing, and from time to time by teaching and preaching and, I hope, occasionally by example.

I enjoy the contact with people who inspire me the internet offers.  I enjoy occasionally to watch a film or TV programme – for instance, there was a wonderful film about the life and dilemmas of David and Miriam Lapp, a Pennsylvanian Amish couple, shown on the BBC this last week.  But in general I am very suspicious of TV because it channels Mammon, and takes me by surprise with images of torture and explicit sex.  As I loathe torture with every fibre of my being and believe sex to be intensely private, I do not wish either to be sprung on me without warning in my living room.  I would be really cross if I opened the door of my room and found people torturing each other or having sex there.  So I am very wary of TV.

I have an ambition to live without the connections of wires and tubes that hook houses up to grids.  I would prefer to have the gas and electricity disconnected and to draw water from a standpipe.  In my case this is not practical because I share a house with four other people.

The balancing act of solitude yet community, off-grid yet on-grid, Earth-loving Gospel simplicity, is the opus magnum (is that the right phrase? I mean the main big thing I do) of my life.

I am quite practical – I can cook, sew, care for animals and children, I know about gardening and nutrition and basic herbal healthcare etc – but I am not skilled in the big disciplines like plumbing and general building, glazing and roofing, carpentry and blacksmithing, care of horses.  This doesn’t matter a lot since our garden is only about twenty foot wide and eighty foot long, and our house is a row-house in a town.  So I won’t be venturing into horses and buggies any time soon.  Sadly.

But I think a lot about how to blend together living without electricity and gas as much as possible, minimising TV, spending very little money, composting, walking lightly on the earth, avoiding car use, with fitting into family life in an urban street in a regular Victorian house that has all the usual mod cons, and earning my living.

In the next few posts I thought I might share with you some of the solutions I have found to the dilemmas my choices and preferences have presented.

Today I want to tell you about the cooking solution I’ve found.  I am quietly delighted with this.

I like to cook over an open fire, and not use the electric oven.  We have put solar panels on our roof, but I like as much of the electricity as possible to be fed into the national grid.  They pay us for 50% of what we generate however much we use, so if this were about money the trick would be to use as much electricity as possible and they’d still pay us the 50%.  But I am not interested in getting as much money as I can but in contributing as much as I can to the clean energy profile of England.  So I prefer to cook without using the electricity.  Besides which I like fires and I don’t like machines so in an ideal world I’d rather we had no regular electric oven at all.

Though I want to cook on the fire, I don’t want to do this in the garden.  Our house being a row house, we are overlooked by neighbours and I am a private kind of person so don’t wish to attract curiosity any more than to annoy them by wafts of smoke.  Also I’m quite indoorsy, not a Ray Mears type so, though I love the garden, on a cold or wet morning I’d rather be indoors.

I had a Storm Kettle, and found it very effective, but my difficulty was that one has to keep tending/feeding the fire or it goes out.  This makes it quite a challenge to do what I wanted – make tea and porridge for breakfast, because the porridge needs constant attention but so does the fire.  And the structure of the fire-basket made it not very effective to cook on indoors in our fireplace (a normal Victorian-style grate).

For cooking food I had a Whitstable Bucket – which was also very effective but used up a lot of charcoal/wood and could only be used outside. 

Another drawback is that I have limited storage space (I’ll show you that another day), so I needed very minimalist equipment.  A Kelly Kettle, a Whitstable bucket and a bag of charcoal cannot be described as minimalist.  They are appropriate for someone who has a little shed or outhouse.  I don’t.  That is to say, our house does have a garden shed, but that’s the Badger’s woodworking studio and garden store.

So though I had solutions that were good in themselves, they didn’t really fit what I wanted, which was to cook on a tiny stove, indoors or outdoors, using wood not gas or electricity, a good hot burn that didn’t need constant attention so I could cook my whole breakfast without hassle once the fire was alight.  The things I had took up a lot of space, and it took forever to make breakfast.  So I ended up not using them and resorting to the electric cooker and electric kettle which felt disappointing and frustrating.  

I thought about having a hut in the garden and living there, so I would be compelled to used the bush implements, but that seemed silly: I have a perfectly good room indoors, and enough of the Earth has been covered up with buildings already.  So I kept looking.

Friends, I have had success!

Wild Stoves, who make (in some cases) and sell the most wonderful bushcraft gear, have come up with a woodgas stove (I got the pan as well that shows in the picture in this link, as the stove packs away into the pan for storage, and the pan is the perfect size for a modest amount of food).  I bought one from them mail-order, and it came very quickly, well-packed, with all instructions.  It's well-made and sturdy.

The firebowl of the woodgas stove has a double wall through which air is drawn, allowing the gases driven off the burning wood to combine with the hot air and combust.  So you get the flames from the wood burning, plus jets of flame from the emitted gases, resulting in a clean and smoke-free burn.  The charcoal left at the end can also be burned, so all the carbon content is used up in the fire, not wafted off into the atmosphere. 

Furthermore, though the woodgas stove will burn twigs and fircones and anything else you have to hand (we usually have lots – I take a wooding bag with me every time I go out), it can also be run on cat-litter – you know?  The sort made of little wooden pellets.  Now, nobody cuts down a tree to make cat-litter.  These pellets are made from the waste splinters and sawdust from the timber industry.  Therefore their use as fuel is very Earth-friendly.  A small normal bag of these pellets from a small normal pet shop cost me £2.75 ($4.30 - buying in bulk online would work cheaper of course, but storage space is an issue).  I used just about three or four handfuls from this in my woodgas stove this morning.  It lit with no trouble at all - I top-lit it with some torn-up cardboard packaging and a candle-stump - and I made a pan of porridge, boiled a kettle of water for our cups of tea, boiled another one to fill up the big thermos for hot drinks through the day, boiled an egg to set aside for my lunch, and heated another kettle of water for extra washing up water, with no re-fuelling necessary. 

On a cold morning (which this was not) I often want a little fire to sit by while I have breakfast.  In cold weather we light the woodstove in the afternoon, but feel it’s wasteful of wood to run it all day.  In chilly or dismal weather we sometimes light the open fire in the evening, and tend it carefully to minimise waste, as it’s far less frugal of wood than the woodstove.  Sometimes in the morning I burn our paper and card packaging and junk mail to give me a fire to sit by and just warm up the house.   This woodgas stove has the dual function of creating, with a very clean burn, a cosy fire to warm up the living room, and cooking breakfast (and lunch and – with the thermos – hot drinks for the whole day).

Here’s the kettle in our fireplace.  It was warm today, and I would have cooked outside, but our neighbours were getting up and had their windows open, so for privacy and to spare them any smoke (though that’s minimal with the woodgas stove) I chose to stay indoors.

And here’s my egg boiling.  The whole stove packs down into the little saucepan.  Both the saucepan and stove have their own drawstring bags for storage, so nothing gets dirty.

And just for fun, here’s my beautiful stone bowl and my rather garish silicon spoon (which allows me to eat silently).

There’s a video by Wild Stoves on YouTube that shows you how the woodgas stove works using the wood pellets, and another posted by a private individual, showing in detail how to use the woodgas stove with normal wood, also on YouTube here.  That second one is excellent, and is careful to show the burning jets of woodgas, but it is twelve minutes long.  Wild Stoves have a shorter general demonstration YouTube video here.


365 366 Day 219 – Monday August 6th 
(Day 219 of this)

 A small, useful, electric table lamp. What more can one say?  Apart from, obviously, "Bye-bye!"

365 366 Day 218 – Sunday August 5th 

We are in the happy position of having two grandsons - the Wretched Wretch who is three, and a cheerful accomplished being of one year old.  This creates its very own disposal system.  Just as the Wretched Wretch outgrows his toys, his step-relation is coming up ready for them.  Perfick.

365 366 Day 217 – Saturday August 4th 

Yes, coathangers.  From the days when I ironed clothes and therefore needed to store them in such a manner that they wouldn't get all crumply again.

365 366 Day 216 – Friday August 3rd 

 An elegant lady's scarf.  You no doubt instantly perceive the incongruency.

365 366 Day 215 – Thursday August 2nd 

 A smart cardigan.  My beautiful mama was chucking this out.  I had it for a while but was essentially not smart enough for it.
NB: In England, "smart" does not mean "clever".  Clearly no cardigan can be called clever.

365 366 Day 214 – Wednesday August 1st

A rather wonderful boiled wool jacket.  There was nothing wrong with this; I just forgot when I acquired it, at a knock-down price on eBay, that though I love bright red its vibes exhaust me so I never wear it. 

365 366 Day 213 – Tuesday July 31st

Lovely lute-backed chair we were given.  Couldn't resist it 'cause it was so pretty - but we ended up with more items than fitted comfortably into our available space.  A house, after all, is only a box.  It was gratefully received into a new home.