Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Jennifer Scott and the ten-item wardrobe - mostly a ladies' post

After some of our comments on the previous post, I thought I’d like to say a bit more about how valuable I’ve found Jennifer Scott’s blog, videos and books.

Her TED talk on the ten-item wardrobe has been key, for me. I looked at capsule wardrobes for ages, but couldn't get it figured out somehow. But it's all fallen into place for me since I saw that - I'm not quite sure why. Now I can operate on a really small minimum of clothes without feeling I'm missing anything. I whittled it right down, and then a bit more.

Maria, who used to read on here, once made the wise suggestion of keeping a quarantine box, so if I change my mind I could retrieve things rather than having to buy again.

I do that, and have found it very successful. If, over time, I keep retrieving an item, wearing it for a morning, then remembering why I thought it wasn’t working in the first place, I  move it on (laundered of course) because by that stage I’ve got it firmly fixed in my mind why it doesn’t work, and I won’t replace it.

I think part of what has worked is the idea of a wardrobe with ten hangers in it.  My hangers are large and strong and have clips on the cross bar, so I can put a whole outfit on them – a skirt, blouse and cardigan. That helped me to think in outfits, and also limited me to thirty garments rather than ten, which felt easier to begin with.

Another contributing factor is that I’ve aged a lot in the last couple of years, and the tops I used to wear don’t suit me so well. Plus my size tends to fluctuate, so I had to work out how to address that: loose lagenlook linen dresses in the summer; in the winter stretchy straight skirts, shirts two sizes up tucked in, and a cardigan or waistcoat and jacket. If you aren’t sure what ‘lagenlook’ dresses are like, search ‘lagenlook’ on eBay/Google/Pinterest – very helpful solution for less than perfect figures and for women who like modest clothes but are not over-keen on the Little-House-On-The-Prairie look.

It’s well cold here in England at the moment, so I’m still in my winter wardrobe.

This is what I wear, from the base layer out! Full briefs, because they are practical and comfortable and I can’t see the point of briefs that cover only half my ample posterior. What they call a ‘comfort bra’ – ie a sort of stretchy crop top thing – because I have become very suspicious of the idea of tight corsetry around the bust; what about all those lymph nodes etc? What I wear is not very Trinny-and-Susannah, but I’m not all that enthusiastic about the Headlamps-Full-On look anyway, so hey. I wear a vest (underwear not waistcoat) if it’s cold.

Then in winter I wear merino tights. I am ashamed of the amount of money I’ve spent at Marks and Spencer buying tights in synthetic yarn, that all work downwards so the crotch is uncomfortably low. No thanks. Merino (also Marks and Spencer) stays put, is not scratchy, is warm but not hot. I like it. On my feet I wear ankle boots, flat walking shoes, or Vivobarefoot running shoes (depends where I’m going). I like the advice I read somewhere that you should be able to walk, run and dance in every pair of shoes you own. Not hobble please!!  In summer I wear leggings and sandals. I have to keep my legs covered because I have cankles and awful varicose veins.

Summertime I wear scoop-neck tees under a sleeveless linen lagenlook dress, with a loose linen jacket over the top if it’s chilly.  Winter, it’s skirt, blouse and cardi.

My summer colours are mainly grey, white and blue. My winter colours are brown, green and grey. I have three cheery scarves and some fingerless mittens. If it’s windy and freezing and I need a hat, I fold one of the scarves and wear it as a headscarf.

Until recently I had some trousers, but I found them difficult to manage. Fine when just washed, baggy in no time. And then that verse by Noel Coward kept nagging away in my head:

Go clad your lower limbs with pants; 
Yours are the limbs, my sweeting. 
You look divine as you advance – 
Have you seen yourself retreating?

Once the thought’s in your head . . .

But I kept one pair (winter) and have some to wear with/under a dress (summer).

I wear a little blusher and lipstick, and I always wear earrings.

Oh – I have two pairs of PJs and a dressing gown (a warm winter one and a light summer one) and bedsocks. And I have a set of funeral/formal ceremony clothes (black jumper/pinafore-dress and shirt, black cardi, with black tights and black flat shoes winter or summer).

That’s it.

Here’s my winter wardrobe.

Here are the cheery scarves. 

The empty shelf above is where I keep my PJs, but one set is in the wash and I’m wearing the other right now. The small flat box on that shelf has my beeswax candles in – protects them from bright light and makes the clothes smell nice.

See the two big boxes under the wardrobe? One has all my shoes (I have big feet!) the other has my summer clothes.

This has all come together so brilliantly; I am delighted. The need to live with very few possessions is of great importance to me. Partly because of our slightly complex living arrangements – if I needed a large room to accommodate my belongings, the whole set-up would come unstitched. It’s also because, as a result of a series of big life events that made it essential I could manage in a tiny space with almost no storage, I gave up insisting on owning things and having the consequent space to put them in. I came to see that the possibilities open out in proportion to how few things I own. But, like other readers here, I do value books, so thank goodness for Kindle, eh?

Monday, 15 February 2016

I know, I know. This is not a very inspiring picture, but it’s my best offering instead of a selfie, after I got put off them by realizing pictures of me were all over the internet like a virulent rash. It’s a picture of what I’m looking at instead of a picture of me. So it has my eyes in it, if you see what I mean.

Ooh, yes – and – now this is worth commenting on – see that houki hanging on the door? That Japanese brush?

I started searching around for a soft brush to sweep out my room with in the mornings when I get up – but something beautiful, none of your nylon bristles and bright blue handle nonsense. Oh. Apologies if yours is like that and you like it. Never mind – moving on.

My searches eventually took me to this website. Oh, my. Take your time there. Look at all the pages. Made me want to throw everything in our house out and start again, sourcing our entire household implementary from that shop alone. However, as things stood, realistically, I didn’t even have the dosh for one brush – I mean, £85 ?!?  So, hey.

Undeterred, I continued to search, and eventually found a little houki straight outa Japan, meant for entrance ways and porches – so, pretty much intended for the size my room is, then. For a fiver. £5. ($7.50ish) And there it now hangs on my door. Bamboo handle, soft bristles from some kind of Japanese plants. Absolutely perfect in every way. Result! If curious, search on "japanese brush houki" – just "houki" leaves you lost in a gargantuan array of manga characters.

But that’s not what I meant to say. Had a difficult few days. Health trouble, people trouble, anxiety trouble – yawnworthiness in abundance. Not so much Te Deum as tedium. Life writ large, in my terms – so life writ medium in anyone else’s. Medium tedium, that's been me. Tired. Cross. Defeated. 

And what did I notice? It made me want to go shopping!!!

First, I wanted to buy clothes. Now, it has taken me much effort and application to get my wardrobe down to this.

A triumph, I can tell you – because what you see there does for every eventuality my life contains – meetings, preachings, walkings, gardenings, slouching-aboutings, visitings, cookings, houseworkings – everything I need to do.

So when I found myself Wistfully Wandering eBaywards (aye – deliver us from eBay!) I thought – woah – what? Don’t buy anything more for mercy’s sake – you only just weeded out what you had before. So I didn’t.

And then – weirder still – I took it into my head to buy a bed.

This – hang on, let me take a pic – this is where I sleep. 

It’s where I’m sitting right now. Very comfy. What’s wrong with that? Nothing. “Step away from your shopping habit!” says I firmly unto myself. And, on second thoughts, “What’s the matter?”

And I realized what it was. Trying to assuage the difficulties of things I cannot change by changing what I can even though I don’t need or want to. Trying to make myself more – more effective, powerful or something – by purchases. The endless game of acquiring and ditching. Purse-bulimia.

And this made me look harder at the real sore points – the things I really do want to change.

So – ha! Minimalism strikes again. It is good medicine. Or I think so, anyway. Takes me right out of distraction and into reality. Gandhi would approve, I think. And the Buddha. And Jesus.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The living spring

Be kind to yourself, my darling.

Can you see, in your mind’s eye, a steep hillside, the middle reaches of a mountain, clad with trees in young green leaf?

From the good earth bubbles forth a spring of clear, sparkling water – so clear that sunlight makes rainbows in it.

At the spring is a channel of cut bamboo, fixed on a frame to make a spout for the gushing water. Below it is a small wooden platform where you can place a cup. A beautiful cup, the best work of a skilled potter, entirely unique. The water splashes joyfully, unstintingly in to the cup, the morning light striking rainbows from its flow.

It takes bare seconds for the cup to fill. And as long as it remains there below the spring, it fills and overflows all the time.

Jesus said, “Abide in my love”. He said: “You are clean because of the word I spoke to you. Abide in Me, and I in you.”

You can drink these holy words, if you are parched and thirsty, if you are tired.

The gushing water is constituted of loving-kindness – that’s how it is pure enough for rainbows. Loving-kindness is the purest, clearest thing life knows.

Be kind to yourself, my darling.

Let the fountain of life fill, refill, go on filling you, overflowing like laughter that bubbles up and cannot be resisted.

This is the living spring that bubbles up to eternal life for you, in you.

The cup, the spring, the healing leaves of the trees in the sunlight, the rainbows – they are all inside you.

Be kind to yourself, my darling.

Abide in love.

Curl into peace.

Be blessed.

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Beautiful Thread

The Beautiful Thread (vol. 8 in The Hawk and the Dove series), releases on the 19th of February (don’t buy it, Deb Sokell, I’ve got it on pre-order for you), along with the new edition of The Breath of Peace.

Some of you will have read The Breath of Peace in its original edition, but I thought you might like to read a snippet from The Beautiful Thread to see if you like it – so far it hasn’t got the usual ‘Look Inside’ thing available on Amazon, though I expect they’ll get round to it at some point. The Beautiful Thread is all about kindness as a central characteristic of Gospel living. In the story, Abbot John and his new cellarer Brother Cormac have to juggle the rigours of a bishop’s Visitation (like an official Church inspection) with the preparations for a large wedding taking place at St Alcuins – Brother Damian’s sister Hannah is marrying into an aristocratic family. They draft in William to help Cormac with the complexities of it all; unfortunately it turns out the bishop likes William no better than most people. And then there’s Brother Conradus’s mother Rose – who appears briefly in this extract:

The five visits to St Alcuins Florence Bonvallet had made in the course of the week, Abbot John had dodged and left her to his prior. Mostly he had been required to be with his Bishop Visitor.
Some of the time he had been struggling to cram in urgent correspondence and the preparation of homilies and Chapter addresses.
Late at night and early in the morning he had been approving, signing off and stamping with his seal, the prodigious accumulation of bills associated with the torrent of extra guests into the abbey. 
But on one occasion he had been guilty of catching sight of Florence as he came out of his house, and simply legging it as fast as he could in the other direction, pretending he hadn’t seen her.
 Today he felt he owed it as much to Father Francis as to the Bonvallets to accept some share of the responsibility himself, and offer her an hour of his time – or better still, half an hour.
Brother Martin told him she had gone to the refectory, to check on the condition of the tables and their cloths, to be sure the frater had no vermin, to determine the placing of those guests of sufficient status to be indoors and seated, to decide where to situate the harpist. She also found herself in two minds about the minstrels; the simplest thing would be to give them a spot outside; let the harpist entertain the people of refinement and substance, and everyone else could enjoy the juggling and acrobatics, the more boisterous music of dubious ballads about wedding nights, and the hurdy-gurdy. On the other hand, even her more elegant guests had a taste to be amused, so she acknowledged the existence of an argument to give them a brief spot in the refectory.
She asked the abbot his opinion on the matter, and he won himself the sourest look imaginable by enquiring what Hannah’s and Gervase’s preferences might be. And now she stood, regal and imposing, one hand on her hip and the other thoughtfully rubbing her chin, as her gaze swept the room, missing nothing. John noticed that someone had made a fine job of waxing the tabletops and buffing them to a glossy finish.
            ‘There’s a mouse!’ observed Lady Bonvallet, in cold disbelief. She looked at him accusingly. Earlier on in this acquaintanceship, the abbot had felt constrained to please her if he could, to offer their best and remedy any faults she detected. By this time, reduced to counting the days and heartily looking forward to the first sunrise of Hannah’s married life, he limited his efforts to remaining both patient and civil.
‘Aye,’ he said. ‘We do have mice. We keep a cat, but she misses some.’
‘Then get another one,’ she responded. The abbot’s jaw tightened, but he did not reply.
‘You know how I want the tables set out? The top table at the far end there, the others flanking the long walls – then the harpist at the bottom, there.’
‘Aye, I do. I believe you had a word with our fraterer, Brother Richard, on the matter. I’m not your man, really, Lady Bonvallet. It’s not I who will be arranging the furniture for your family wedding.’
Florence’s mouth compressed into a tight, twisted rune of displeasure. The abbot sounded distinctly unco-operative. She fixed him with a frosty look, and drew breath to speak, but the far door – that led most directly to the kitchen – opened, and in walked Rose, cheerful and pleasant.
‘Yes?’ Florence re-directed her attention to the interruption.
Rose, smiling, curtsied. ‘Good morrow, your Ladyship. My son told me you were here. We thought the wedding day might be such a press and bustle of people, and since we have some of the sweetmeats ready and two of the subtleties are complete, we wondered if you might like to be the first to have a quick peep.’
 Her eyes sparkled with fun. Though she spoke respectfully, she made the suggestion sound enticing and delightful. She put some of the magic back. Watching Florence’s face change, seeing it light with eagerness and interest, John felt ashamed. A lifetime dedicated to the pursuit of prayer and humility had evidently not taught him the sweetness of manner that seemed to come naturally to Rose.
‘May I have your permission, Father John,’ Rose then asked him, ‘to take Lady Bonvallet through the cloister to the kitchen? I know it is a liberty, not something for everyday. But I think it might mean a lot to her.’
Florence, who had taken a step forward, it never occurring to her to seek the abbot’s permission, paused and looked at him. She read effortlessly the softening of his face, the tenderness with which he regarded Rose and heard her request. She could see that whatever Rose asked, the answer was never going to be ‘no’ from Abbot John. Her eyebrows rose slightly in astonishment.
Intrigued, she watched as the whole demeanour of his body changed; the obstinate rigidity of a moment before melted away.
‘Conradus is with you?’ he ascertained. ‘Then, yes; certainly.’
Making a mental note to get Rose on her side about the mice, Florence followed this interesting and unexpected person into the kitchen to see what they had made. Not much about this wedding so far had made her happy; but she had to admit, the sweetmeats were the daintiest creations imaginable. They let her taste one of each kind, and she had to pronounce them delectable. The dragon’s head was ready, and they showed her how the body would be formed of artfully stacked shortbreads – ‘But they must be crisp and the butter quite fresh, your Ladyship, so we’ll be making them the day after tomorrow.’
Brother Conradus, bursting with pride, showed her the subtleties he had made – the chalice and paten on the altar with gilded glory raying at the back; and a crenelated abbey with open doors revealing a host of tiny pastry people. Florence peered closer. ‘How did you make their eyes?’
‘Poppy seeds, my lady,’ he said with a smile. Then, the question he could contain no longer: ‘Do . . . do you like them?’
Lady Florence Bonvallet looked at the short, plump brother with his ruddy cheeks and shining dark eyes (exactly like his mother), anxiously awaiting her verdict; and in spite of herself she couldn’t help smiling back. ‘I do,’ she said. ‘I think what you’ve made is magnificent. The best I’ve ever seen. It makes me feel better about the whole thing.’
As she escorted Florence away from the monastery kitchen, Rose asked her softly: ‘Forgive me if I am too forward, or if it’s a secret, your Ladyship; I’m just dying to know – what will you be wearing?’
As Florence described the embroidered linen lawn of her chemise and kerchief, the sumptuous green silk velvet cotehardie, with pearls and thread of gold adorning the sleeves, then the deep red surcote with the jeweled braid edging, Rose’s eyes grew round with delight. ‘And on your head, my lady? Oh yes, you said – a kerchief in linen lawn over your barbet! Oh, gracious goodness, you will be perfect! A queen! I shall be serving along with my son on the day, so I’ll be able to catch a glimpse. Oh, my! So exciting!’ She wisely omitted any enquiry about the attire of the bride.
Lady Bonvallet went home happy; curious about the abbot, too – evidently a man not immune to feminine charm, which she hadn’t expected.


I do hope you like it.