Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Separating thoughts from feelings

A while back my dad introduced me to the blog of Lynne Baab: a Presbyterian minister who, until recently, has been lecturing in pastoral theology at the University of Otago.  She's recently been running a series that I've found really, really helpful.

In it she shares how she's come to realise that negative thoughts she struggles with are often presentations of strong emotions she wasn't really aware she was feeling.  In the first post she describes what a difference learning to recognise and more appropriately respond to those emotions has made in her life.  She argues that doing so is
a Christian spiritual practice because it helps me bring my feelings into God’s presence, as modeled in the Psalms. It helps me love and serve God more fully because I am less distracted by negative thoughts and feelings.
I realised that I, too, often struggle with negative and disturbing thoughts (most commonly in the form of an emphatic conviction that I'm a bad person who deserves to have bad things happen to me), and that these, too, often arise out of feelings of fear, pain, resentment etc.  Would her discoveries help me, too, to love and serve God more fully?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

We could all sleep in one bathroom

I've recently read Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.  It's a true story following the lives of a number of people in Mumbai, India, who live in a slum near the international airport.  The title comes from the billboard at one edge of their slum, which promises 'Beautiful Forevers' to those passing through the airport.  There was much that was challenging in the book, but the thing that really got me was the size of the dwellings.

The main family we follow in the book live in a hut so small that several family members sleep outside every night.  There is simply not enough space on the floor for the whole family to lie down flat.

If you removed the bath from just one of our bathrooms, there would be plenty of space for all three people who live in my house to lie flat.  And that's just considering one of our bathrooms - we have a separate toilet, another bathroom, three double bedrooms, a separate kitchen and a large lounge/dining area as well!  No one in our house is going to be sleeping on the bathroom floor any time soon; let alone under the stars.

When brought up short by realities like this, I sometimes wonder if we should just give everything away.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Zero Carbon Act

I've recently been looking at the Zero Carbon Act prepared by Generation Zero, and I'm pretty excited by it.  They've drafted an Act of Parliament that, if adopted, would set in place plans to enable NZ to get to carbon neutrality by 2050.

I'm really pleased that someone is doing this work :-)  We see climate change as one of the biggest near-term threats to the flourishing of our global neighbours, so it's really exciting to see people doing solid work to try and prevent it.

They've basically taken an existing UK act of parliament (from 2008, no less!) and altered it a bit to take into consideration New Zealand's unusual carbon emissions profile.  Whilst for most countries the majority of greenhouse gas emissions are carbon dioxide itself, around half of ours come from the methane and nitrous oxide produced by the agricultural sector.  The different kinds of gases last in the atmosphere for differing lengths of time, so they propose a 'two baskets' approach where the long-lived ones have to be down to zero by 2050 but there is a bit more leeway on the short-lived ones.

The act would require the government to not only set legally binding greenhouse gas emission targets but to set 5-year 'pathways' for how to get there, plus there'd be a Commission to oversee the process.  It also requires the government to identify the challenges a changing climate will bring to New Zealand and figure out ways to adapt to them, and requires them to help our Pacific neighbours to do the same.

If you think that all sounds like a good idea, please 'sign' Generation Zero's petition here.  Your signature will enable Generation Zero to demonstrate that these ideas have popular support.  The petition will be presented to the new parliament after September's general election.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sustainable agriculture: eating the 'Third Plate'

Martin recently came across a fantastic interview about sustainable agriculture.  In it, chef Dan Barber talked about what he's come to call 'Third Plate' eating.  He thinks of what Americans have been eating since colonisation as the 'First Plate' - basically a large piece of meat with a few other things on the side.  More recently, he's seen the rise of the 'Second Plate' - the development, inspired by sustainability concerns, of swapping locally sourced and/or organic meats and vegetables for the conventionally grown ones.

Dan Barber was essentially serving 'Second Plate' food at his New York restaurant when a visit to the organic farm that grew his wheat radically changed his outlook.  He visited in the off-season and was startled to see the entire farm covered in unfamiliar crops: no wheat in sight.  What he was seeing were the cover crops, without which the land would be unable to produce wheat later in the year.  They were also mostly human-edible, but were all either sold for animal feed or ploughed under.  No one could be found to buy them as human food.

That eventually turned him into an ardent advocate for a much more sustainable 'Third Plate'.  On this new plate, instead of finding the same foods simply grown differently, you find food that is served in the kind of ratios you need to grow it in order to sustain productive land.  In his region, that means eating a lot of legumes and buckwheat in place of much of the more familiar meat and bread.  Listen to him expanding these ideas here.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Some surprising visitors

This afternoon I heard a bird fly past my window - it was loud and looked, from the corner of my eye, to be large.  I assumed it was a kereru that had been feasting on our guavas. and eagerly craned for a better look. To my surprise, I saw this on the neighbour's porch:


A pukeko!!  A pukeko had flown past my window!  We get them on the lawn sometimes, as we live near Te Auaunga/Oakley Creek, but a flying one is something new!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Moth orchid excitement!

Last October, I was given a moth orchid.  It was a gorgeous plant and I was delighted - but also a little daunted.  Orchids have a reputation for being fussy plants and I felt pretty sure I would kill it.  I had to keep reminding myself I was under no responsibility to keep it alive - I should just enjoy it for as long as I had it and leave it at that.

Moth orchid at the left - it's a truly stunning plant

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Your yoke is easy and your burden is light

As I mentioned earlier, it feels like there's a lot of big stuff going on around me right now.  I've just been doing my Lent reflection and I felt God guiding me into His truth as I prayed.  I'm writing down the chain of thoughts I had - as much to remind myself of them as anything.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hazelnut chocolate Easter eggs

No one seems to be selling fair trade Easter eggs in New Zealand this year, so last week my friend Anna and I again got together to make our own.  We use fair trade chocolate: this way we can be confident our Easter treats are a blessing not only to those who receive them but also to all those involved in their production :-)

Over the years we've developed a number of home-made Easter egg recipes.  We first learned how to make marshmallow chocolate Easter eggs.  Last year we added creme eggs to our repertoire: both classic creme eggs and vegan peppermint chocolate ones.  This year we made hazelnut chocolate Easter eggs: a milk chocolate shell filled with a paste that tastes a lot like the filling in Guylian seashell chocolates.  Click here to jump to the recipe.

Hazelnut chocolate Easter eggs

Monday, April 10, 2017

The violence inherent in the system

I've never been quite sure where I stand with respect to violence and the use of force.  Instinctively, I tend towards non-violence.  Yet I am aware that, regardless of what I my personal preferences, my whole way of life is daily supported by very serious state-sponsored violence.

I was reminded of this the other day as I listened to this excerpt from one of my favourite podcasts, This American Life.  It features US border guard Francisco Cantu reflecting on his experiences guarding the US Mexico border.  It's not pleasant listening, but I recommend it.  It's 26 minutes long.

In New Zealand, we're surrounded by ocean, not desert.  We're so far from the nearest neighbouring landmasses that the only practical way for a desperate person to come here is by air.  So, instead of border guards with guns, we use Advance Passenger Processing at foreign airports.  We carefully decide who it will be to our benefit to allow in and rigorously deny entry to all others.*  I don't know how often guns are used in this process, but I'm certain they're brought out whenever necessary.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Aquafaba for glazing pies

Today I discovered another use for aquafaba*: glazing pie pastry!  People use aquafaba as an egg or egg-white substitute in meringues, marshmallow, baking etc., so I thought it might work for glazing, too.  I'm really pleased with the result :-)

* the water in which chickpeas or other pulses have been cooked

Blackberry and apple pie for today's Sunday celebration.  The blackberries came from friends from church and the apples from our neighbours' tree.  We ate it with home-made yoghurt and it was delicious :-)

I simply brushed aquafaba over the top before baking and, as you can see, it came out a lovely golden colour.  Aquafaba is something we generate at least once a week, so I'll definitely be using it in the future: I'd much rather use something I'd otherwise throw away than use half an egg and be left wondering what to do with the rest!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

A different kind of Lent

We're nearing the end of the Christian season of Lent: the 40 days that lead up to Easter.  Over recent years, this is how I've generally come to observe this season:
  1. I restrict the variety of things I eat and drink.  This tends to feel both boring and constrained.  I then use those feelings as a prompt to turn to God and to remind myself that he is sufficient for me.
  2. I do some kind of extra Bible reading in the morning.  This year I've been working through Lynne Baab's reflections on the Psalms.
  3. I do an evening reflection (a kind of 'examen').
  4. In place of doing more interesting activities, I take time to list a bunch of things we no longer need on TradeMe.  The money this generates is passed on to Tranzsend for their annual 'prayer and self denial' appeal.  This year, in terms of 'not doing interesting activities', I felt it was particularly important not to write any research-heavy blog posts during Lent.  Posts like these ones take a huge amount of time and energy, and I feel/felt a strong need to take a break from that kind of work and turn my focus inward for a while.
  5. Celebrate God's goodness on Sundays by enjoying special food and doing fun things :-)
All this has added up to a season of self-examination which, whilst often not all that comfortable, has been a time of cleansing and growth.  It has become something I look forward to.

This year is different.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Fair trade jelly tip ice cream slice

Since Martin and I moved to only buying fairly traded cocoa products, I've gradually been figuring out how to make chocolatey treats that aren't commercially available fair trade.  A year or two back I figured out how to make jelly tip ice creams.  Recently I thought - why stop there?  With jelly tip ice creams you encounter the jelly first, then the ice cream: wouldn't it be yummier if you could enjoy jelly and ice cream together all the way down? The jelly tip ice cream slice was born :-)


A layer of raspberry jelly, topped with vanilla ice cream, cut into bars and smothered with chocolate.

Me and my friend Anna enjoying jelly tip slices after our recent trip to the beach.

Recipe

Monday, March 27, 2017

Neighbours Day 2017

Our street had a really good Neighbours Day celebration yesterday.  We got some council funding to help with costs, conditional on us writing a report on how things went.  Below is my report, along with some photos of the event.

 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A sashiko sunhat for me :-)

I realised a while back that my sunhat, whilst fun and very me, doesn't actually shield my face from the sun very well.


What to do?  I thought it'd be a fun challenge to try and make myself a new one from things I already had lying around the house.  It felt like it'd be a great use of  resources, too :-)



A swim at Pt. Chev.

On Monday, we went for a swim at Pt. Chev. beach with our good friend Anna.

We had the absolute perfect day for it - sunny and warm and still.  It was lovely going down the path to the water, with native trees arching above us.  It was glorious being in the water.  As ever, the other people there were friendly and encouraging: one lady sunbathing on the beach even said it'd "made her day" seeing the three of us swimming together.  After our swim we had ice creams whilst Anna waited for her bus :-)

Heather and Anna enjoying ice creams.
Martin and Heather enjoying ice creams.

   

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Shopping for human rights

Whenever we shop, we're buying things made by people.  Some of those people are treated well in the course of making our things; others are treated very badly.  The more people who buy things made by people with good jobs, the more good jobs there'll be.

How we buy creates the world in which our global neighbours live.

How can we buy things in a way that helps the poorest people in the world flourish? For Martin and I, we've decided to:
  1. Preferentially buy things produced by poor people.  People in places like New Zealand have lots of job opportunities but people in places like Bangladesh have very few.  If something we need is available from both rich and poor countries, we will buy the one produced in a poor country in order to give the job to the person most likely to be left destitute otherwise.
  2. Buy things produced under the best labour conditions available - even if they're bad.  Many things produced in poor countries are produced in terrible conditions.  We try to look first for things that are produced under independently-verified good labour conditions.  But if no one is producing the thing we need under good labour conditions, we would rather buy items produced under terrible conditions than items produced here in New Zealand.  The workers subjecting themselves to those terrible conditions have freely chosen to be there: I trust their judgement that any alternatives available to them are worse and I will not force them into those worse conditions by boycotting the ones they have chosen.  I write more about this here.
  3. Do not buy things produced by slaves.  The exception to point 2 is where some form of forced labour or coercion is involved.  Then the workers involved haven't chosen freely and may well have had better options if they hadn't been trafficked or indentured into their situation.  We will not support people who enslave others and, when we become aware of that happening, will preferentially buy things produced in rich countries if necessary.
Below is a printable summary of our buying policies (click here to download as a pdf), followed by more detail on the human rights issues involved in various categories goods we buy frequently and how we respond to them.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Upcoming opportunities to build community where you live

Neighbours Day 2017 is coming up on the weekend of March 25/26. This is a great opportunity to get to know your neighbours and build community where you live.  You can sign up here to get emails with ideas of how to celebrate (the most recent newsletter for our region even told us how to apply for supermarket vouchers to help with associated costs!), or check out the official website here - it has a number of resources to help you get started.

Your celebration could be as simple as inviting your nearby neighbours over for a cuppa, or you could band together with other neighbours to organise a full-on street party!  You can see photos of Neighbours Day celebrations in our street from 2015 here.   We typically find people from about 1/3 of the houses in our street come along and we've made a number of friends through it.

Also, Tuesday week (the 28th) is Shrove Tuesday - the last day before Lent.  This is typically celebrated with the eating of pancakes 😅.  We had a couple of retired neighbours over for a pancake breakfast last year and hope to do the same this year.  It was good to spend time with them and also gave us an opportunity to talk about what Lent has come to mean to us.  You can get heaps of ideas for how to host a low-stress, community-building celebration on the Sacraparental blog here.

Friday, February 10, 2017

A week visiting my parents

Recently we spent a week at my parents' place.  It wasn't really a holiday, as Martin went to work every day as usual, but it was a great way to spend lots of good time with them.

Whilst we were there, I also spent a lot of time admiring their beautiful garden.

This hippeastrum had a beautiful scent that drifted metres beyond the plant!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

How to buy chocolate without supporting abuse of cocoa growers

I am extremely concerned about the high levels of abuse in the cocoa growing industry.  I am not willing to pay for people to be abused just so I can have a treat!
My bottom line is this.  If the workers who grew the cocoa for a particular chocolate brand didn't earn enough to feed themselves and send their children to school, or if they were subjected to serious abuse, then I won't buy that product.  As far as we are able, we are committed to living lives that allow our global neighbours to flourish.
How do I identify which chocolate is good to buy?  Below I state my minimum labour standards, discuss briefly how I assess common claims made by chocolate brands and why I love certification, and then expand on these at greater length.

Minimum labour standards


When I look to buy any chocolate/cocoa products I first examine whether the workers who grew the cocoa earned enough to live on and whether they were subject to:
  1. Slave labour;
  2. Child labour*;
  3. Unsafe use of agrochemicals.
* child labour doesn't include all work children do.  It refers to children doing work that takes them out of school or is harmful to their natural development (carrying overly heavy loads etc.).  If the children concerned aren't slaves, child labour can generally be prevented by paying the adults sufficient that they don't need the kids' labour to survive.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Okara for a speedy, no-fuss sourdough starter

I very much like sourdough bread and keep a stash of sourdough starter in the freezer.  However, reviving it is a delicate process and I'd love to be able to make sourdough bread without that fuss.

Recently, I've stumbled upon a way to do just that!

In order to reduce our impact on climate change, I've started making soy milk at least once a week: I drink it 'as is' in the summer and make it into pudding in the winter.  Every batch of soy milk generates a cup or so of 'okara' - the depleted soy beans.  It turns out that these ferment really easily.  Other people have taken advantage of this to speed up the fermentation of idli or just to make the okara more palatable.  I've recently realised I can use it to make a speedy sourdough starter!  I haven't found any internet references elsewhere describing how to do it, so here's my method.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Whangarei holiday Christmas/New Year 2016/17

A week or so before Christmas, Martin and I headed up to Whangarei to spend time with his parents.  We broke the journey resting for a few hours in Wellsford Library - the staff their were hugely generous, giving us a meeting room all to ourselves and generally being really helpful.

Dad's vege garden's doing really well

I got my daily 30+ minutes in the sun in the hammock chair straight outside the room we were using.  Martin got through a lot of reading and I made good progress on my current sewing project.