Family Cloths

We got about four inches of snow here last night. When I went to open the door this morning for the dog I discovered a snow drift blocking the door!

I grabbed the broom and swept the area clean in a few minutes however!

After reading posts for several months I have decided to try Family cloths, where you use cloth instead of bathroom tissue. I was not sure if I would like it so I just placed a small covered bucket of sanitizer (actually bleach water) beside the commode and used washcloths instead of toilet paper whenever I have urinated.

It actually isn't that bad.

I haven't attempted to use the cloth for #2 yet but I frequently think of dear Father and his "special cloth" he used and reused just for this purpose his whole life. He would wet the cloth in the sink before use then wash it out by hand and leave it to dry for the next time. I'm thinking that if I create a gentle liquid to dampen the cloths I could just toss them into the sanitizer bucket for the wash without harm.

To wash the cloths I plan to dump the sanitizer bucket in the washer, completely spin out the liquid then pre-wash them before adding my other towels to the mix. That would give them a good initial spin to get rid of the majority of yuck and a good wash to eliminate most if not all of the rest of it before combining it with the rest of my whites. Heavy bleach and a vinegar rinse should kill any and all germs that may be on them. I tried cloth diapers in the past - surely this won't be much different?

The reason I started seriously considering family cloths was a blow to my frugal soul. While out of town not too long ago the thermostat died and the pipes froze and broke. Sixteen rolls of bathroom tissue were saturated and had to be tossed. Over a third of a box of bathroom tissue gone to the trash because of a little water!

If I used cloth I could have simply washed them and all would have been well.

I hated throwing away that much bathroom tissue. I hate throwing away that much of anything, period--especially without getting any benefit from the use!

I have read a lot of blogs where people are using cut-up tee shirts, flannel and all other types of fabric for the family cloth. I'm just going to use white washcloths instead of doing all of that. My reasons being that wash cloths can be used for so many different things and are easily added to my kitchen towel stash when they become too worn for the bathroom. This will save me time and effort because I will not be using a special towel I can store all of the clean cloths in a single pile. This will also help to camouflage the family cloth in the event of company.

I got scolded for making my own laundry soap by one friend, saying that if I was so poor and needed laundry detergent they would be happy to buy me some! I am routinely pressured to purchase things like televisions and cable subscriptions--even a couch--that we don't want or need. At this point I really don't want to listen to the poverty comments, and would just like to live my simple life in peace.

I will quietly use my family cloths and let my friends and neighbors continue to spend their money on stuff they use once and throw away.

Health Notes - a personal journey

This is to log the extraordinary journey of health reform I have been making in recent times. If reading about the ailments of others is tedious, skip this one! I hesitated about posting it because it seems rather personal, but as the issues touched upon here affect a great many people, I thought it might be useful reading for some who may be struggling with the same challenges as I had.

Here follows an inventory of the problems I had, the action I have been taking, and the results I have experienced.

Anxiety and depression – everyone knows what those are; no need for complex explanations! The effect in my life has been to create a more and more limited sphere of possibility, with a morbid dread of offending people and an unwillingness to socialize. By temperament I seek quietness and seclusion, and that’s a necessary discipline for writing anyway; but with anxiety and depression it’s as though I find myself suddenly tipped over from what is the range of emotions naturally belonging to my own temperament into a seized-up state of mind, feeling both paranoid and terrified a lot of the time, and having nothing to offer but negativity and criticism.

Fibromyalgia – this is one of those ‘the doctor has drawn a blank in attempting to diagnose you but recognizes that your body is filled with pain’ conditions. What I had was inflammation pain in my legs, and more recently my hands and arms. Sometimes I also had joint pain in my hands, elbows and neck. The inflammation pain in my legs got unbearable when I went to bed at night; and more and more frequently I was relying on painkillers to get to sleep. If anything then woke me (and I sleep very lightly), I just had to live with the pain and could not easily get back to sleep or stay asleep. I had every test the doctor could run, and fibromyalgia was what she came up with. I also had problems with my feet: when I had been sitting or lying down for a while, when I had to stand and start walking, they were very painful and tingling, so that I could walk only very slowly and it was hard to put weight on them; this being most pronounced first thing in the morning.
When I consulted the doctor about this because the pain became exhausting and overwhelming, she investigated thoroughly, but could suggest only fibromyalgia or possibly hormone related difficulties: she said I was 'profoundly menopausal'. I took for some months the lowest possible does of HRT, and it did alleviate the pain tremendously: but I also gained a stone in weight and, as the medication accumulated in my system I began to notice a psychological effect - as though the drug itself had a personality overlaid upon mine. I didn't like this, so stopped those meds, and in due course the original problems returned.

Fluid retention – I had this in both ankles permanently.

Tonsils – I was worried about this as I thought it might need surgery. My left tonsil was much enlarged so that I felt as though I had a lump in my throat all the time, food kept getting trapped in it, and I had a bad-smelling exudates and lumps of stuff in my tonsil. Both tonsils had what appeared to be a number of cysts.

Acid reflux – this was a constant problem. I had to sleep propped up in bed, and every time I bent down I had this searing pain in my gullet, and often when I wasn’t bending down, just anyway there’d be this intense burning pain all the way up my gullet.

Weariness – I felt absolutely exhausted a lot of the time.

EMS – the link here is to a very sceptical Wikipedia article. I have chosen that one rather than a more sympathetic one, to make clear that I do understand many people dismiss this as fanciful. It’s not. I am one of those people who stop watches and who is very sensitive to radiational fields. The other night, awake at 3am and not at all sleepy, but not wanting to disturb my husband, I felt lonely. I cupped my hand around his elbow without actually touching it, so I wouldn’t disturb him but could plug in to his force field. I could feel the power of his electromagnetic energy travelling through my hand up my arm to a few inches above my elbow. If I have to speak on a cell-phone for more than a very few minutes, it sends intense pain along my jaw. If I use a cordless phone the energy is very intense and uncomfortable where I hold it to the side of my face. If I have my laptop actually resting on my lap it causes intense pains in my legs. When my daughters were children, I had to stop giving one of them a goodbye kiss when she left for school in the morning, because we would both get electric shocks. When I get out of a car, I have to shut the door by pushing the window, or I will get an electric shock. When we had a microwave oven, once the food had cooked, when I opened the door and reached in I could feel the intense tingling of the energy in my hand.

Weight issues - I was three stones overweight.

So I did a number of things to tackle these problems.

We acquired WiiFit, which is immensely helpful: good for weight loss, good for mood, addresses the weariness, creates alertness, energy and wellbeing. That was an excellent move.

I got a laptop table, and stopped working with my computer on my lap. That stopped the pains that came from working with the laptop actually on me. I can still feel the energy in my hands while I am using the keyboard but, so far at least, that is not a big problem.

I read what Christiane Northrup (and here)had to say about soft tissue pain, and concluded it came from too much sugar in my system. My whole adult life I have used refined carbohydrates as self-medication to combat tiredness, lift depression and create artificial cheerfulness. Every time I ate most days would include some thing with sugar in it. I took this in but didn’t do anything about it. I have read about the connection between sugar and emotional instability, but my physical addiction to sugar caused me to believe that without it I would be depressed and unable to cope – I had underestimated the extent to which the sugar caused the troughs corresponding to the peaks in the first place. I think I underestimated this in part because the sugar hit comes right after eating it, whereas the crash is at some remove in time so less obviously associated: I formed the impression that the trough was my normal state and the peak was the alleviation (rescue) conferred by the sugar; whereas in fact they were both sugar-related but it was hard to tell that because I ate sugar all the time. Most people do, even the ones that don’t think so. Cold meats are usually bathed in sugar, pickles, sauces, most processed foods, breakfast cereals – nearly everything most people in the Western world eat has added sugar. So if you ask people if they eat a lot of sugar they think they don’t, because they only count things like chocolate bars and sugar in their tea. They don’t realise that the cold chicken they bought at the supermarket had been bathed in sugar, or the packet of wholemeal ‘health’ cereal they ate had added sugar.

I found by experimenting and observing that oily food, spicy food and acidic food were causing the acid reflux pain. For some time I had not been able to eat citrus fruits, because they gave me such terrible pain and made my tongue swell.

I started to feel very worried about my tonsils, knowing what a horrendous operation a tonsillectomy is for an adult; yet reading around suggested that chronically enlarged tonsils should be removed. This actually proved to be the turning point. Very anxious and afraid, I did a lot of reading about tonsilloliths and tonsil enlargement and exudates, and came across one author who said this is a dietary problem and the cause is dairy intolerance. She said if all dairy was eliminated permanently from the diet, the problem would simply go away and not come back. I followed her advice, and it proved correct.

Having stopped eating ALL foods containing dairy, and being uneasy about eating meat (because of environmental issues and compassion issues), I decided to try being vegan (a familiar road for me that I had walked a little way on previous occasions).

Then I began to read about macrobiotics (also familiar, but seemed like too complicated a path before now).

I read that the nightshade family of plants (that includes tomato and potato) contains alkaloids that may contribute to joint pain.

So just a few weeks ago at the beginning of 2010, I began (experimentally and ineptly) following a macrobiotic diet.

Already: –

Almost all the inflammation pain in my body has gone – joints and soft tissue.
I no longer suffer from acid reflux. On the couple of occasions I have eaten off-limits food, the pain returned.

When I go to bed at night I no longer have to sleep propped up for the acid reflux and with my feet propped up to alleviate the pain in my legs. My body feels just comfortable and normal and relaxed.

I have lost about 8lbs (2.5 stones still to go!).

The joint pain in my hands, shoulder and neck has gone.

The oedema in my ankles is minimal now.

The problem with my feet when I go from lying/sitting to standing/walking has diminished to the extent that it is no longer a problem.

I have lost the weariness but without becoming all hyped up. I have settled to a state of mind which is more peaceful, more relaxed, less volatile, more positive and more sociable.

My tonsils have gone down to the extent they are no longer problematic, and the tonsilloliths are being slowly eliminated.

I feel well, move more easily, feel calm, and have no pain anywhere. I sleep peacefully and comfortably.

It is my intention to stick to this diet for the rest of my life.

Our Lady of the Far Horizon

When the way is long
When we doubt our resources
When we need to make a move
When the path is lonely
When our vision falters
When night closes around us
When the next step becomes necessary
When we confess we have got completely lost
When we forget where we were going anyway
When we get side-tracked and distracted
Our Lady of the Far Horizon, please pray for us.

Our Lady of the Great Big Cloths

When we have lost our identity
When we are dominated by others
When we are constrained by religion
When we are second-class citizens
When we are invisible
When we are controlled by violence
When we cannot move freely
Our Lady of the Great Big Cloths, please pray for us.

Shopping and Simplicity

When I go shopping, I see lots of people with shopping carts overflowing with stuff. I see myself several years ago, or actually not too long ago shopping at Sam's Club.

Then I look into my cart. I had a 10-pack of Ivory soap, a gallon of milk, a plastic washtub, some drain cleaner and a bag of Timothy for the guinea pigs. I had picked up some mushrooms and some chocolate but put them back after some thought.

I really didn't need the washtub, but the metal bowl I use to rinse my dishes in wasn't very satisfying when the time comes to rinse larger items.

I found myself wandering the aisles just looking at the choices. Retractable clothes lines for seven dollars each when a 99-cent piece of cord would suffice. Chunks of wood packaged to stuff in your closet - when the spruce tree you had for Christmas could have been cut up and used to scent your closet just as well.

Boxes made out of fabric covered cardboard--the type of craft I've tinkered with since I was a kid--but my boxes said Eggs on the side!

I could go on but there is no real point.

I felt like an outsider watching a strange ritual today as I wandered around the store. I passed people debating on clothes and cleaning supplies alike, cringing because I feel like I'm carrying a deep dark secret.

The few people I have told about this - most think I'm crazy. I told one friend about making laundry soap and was scolded for not telling him I needed money to buy laundry detergent.

I feel lonely as a result of my frugality. Friends shake their heads because I sold my queen-sized bed when I moved here and now sleep on a small cot in an even smaller room. Instead of a couch we have a rattan loveseat--the dog is the only one who uses it so why waste money on a couch?

Somehow it is all okay however. I am marching to the beat of my own personal drummer. I am not going to give in like I have in the past and follow my spendthrift friends.

I hope not, anyway.

Busy Day

Today I stirred up the batch of liquid laundry soap I started yesterday and added more water. This bucket is pretty close to five gallon size, so when I dilute this in a 50:50 solution for the final product I should get close to 10 gallons from the mix. This batch of liquid is thicker than my last batch, I'm guessing cause this time I used Ivory soap instead of the Dial I had on hand for my last batch of liquid. Reminder: always use Ivory when you are making a mild laundry soap. The rest is just detergent.

I have also started an experiment: to make hand and dishwashing liquid. I grated a bar of Ivory to melt in water, stirring in a spoon of washing soda to soften the water and help with grease. This was poured into a gallon container and labeled. I plan to try it when I do dishes shortly. I am in hopes this mixture will not only do well for dishes but for those foaming hand soap containers as well--but I just filled them up today so it will be a while before I can test that theory. I also have a bit of antibacterial hand soap left that I need to use up.

Since I am down to 4 bars of cured Ivory soap I purchased a 10-pack at Wal Mart for $4.19. I unwrapped the bars, noticing as I did that the paper wrapping seems a touch thinner than what was on my last batch. They were definitely fresh, for the wax paper wrapping was almost damp and stuck to the bars in some places. I put some of the new bars in my sock holder and my pant basket to perfume them a bit with the curing soap. It will take a while for those bars to cure well and until then I have the four bars to use.

I also purchased a box of Arm And Hammer Washing Soda at the local Kroger. Price for a 3.5 pound box was $2.99. It is so nice to be near a big city! Last year when I started making laundry soap I had to go all over in the tiny town I was in and ended up paying nine dollars for swimming pool ph-increaser (sodium carbonate, a.k.a. washing soda). This greatly reduces the expense of the cleaners I make, though I must admit that 2 pound container of washing soda is still going strong. I want to take a picture of the box for an article I plan to write, and also wanted to vote with my money for the store to keep stocking that item.

I made a roast tonight with a piece of beef that had been marked down, adding a can of cream of mushroom soup (purchased last summer on sale), some vegetables, and a package of onion soup mix I got at one of those salvage groceries that sell damaged goods and stuff. It was soo good!

Anyhow, time to wash dishes and test out this liquid soap.

Our Lady of the Small Window

When we have lost hope
When there are no opportunities for us
When there is no escape
When life closes in around us
When we are imprisoned
When we long to be free
Our Lady of the Small Window, please pray for us

New Year's Update

It has been a while since I posted last but I feel that it is important to share my progress.

I have greatly simplified the amount and number of cleaning supplies I purchase over this last year. I would purchase items like laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, window cleaner, all-purpose cleaners, floor cleaners, etc. in bulk from places like Sam's Club.

It has been about a year since I purchased most of those items. I now make my own laundry detergent (I have tried both the powder and liquid recipes--I prefer the liquid). I still have some of the last container of commercial laundry detergent I purchased but I rarely use it these days.

Instead of all-purpose cleaners I now use Fels Naptha soap, borax, vinegar and bleach depending upon the cleaning job. That switch alone saved me a ton of money!

I still buy dishwashing liquid by the gallon, and it costs a little over $4 a gallon these days at Sam's Club. I'm thinking of trying to make my own however. A gallon lasts a long time but if I can make a gallon for a dollar or less that is a $3 savings. In this economy that is a lot.

I still have a bunch of the fabric softener I purchased some time in late 2008. I have discovered that we just don't need it. On whites I use vinegar in the rinse and on colors I use less than half of what the manufacturer recommends when I do use it. In the summer when it is pretty I hang my clothes outside to dry and on those days I use nothing but vinegar in the rinse if I even use that.

I am still working on that big gallon jug of window cleaner I purchased back in 2008. It gets used when I clean a mirror on occasion but for cleaning all of my windows and stuff I now do what the professional window cleaners do: I mix up a bucket of warm water with a small squirt of dishwashing liquid in it. I scrub the windows with a rag or the foam part of my squeegee, then squeegee it off, using a towel to dry the squeegee. Mirrors are treated like a "Karate Kid" movie--wax on with a wet towel, wax off with the dry. They shine when I'm done!

I bought a big box of paper towels last spring, and still have most of it left. I keep them out for messes that would stain my cloth towels, but I have surprised myself at how little we have used this past year. We were using them as napkins until my daughter Katie pointed out that it would "save more trees" if we just used our old kitchen towels for napkins instead. She was more excited about that idea than I was, but I fell in line pretty quick I guess. We used to go through two boxes of paper towels a year, so that is a significant decrease.

We still use bathroom tissue however. I have read lots of blogs and accounts of family cloths but we have yet to jump on the bandwagon. Katie was willing to try it but so far this mom has been reluctant. Maybe this year I'll try it if I can find a small covered bucket for soaking them in--our bathroom is kinda small so whatever storage container we come up with will have to fit in the small area between commode and vanity. Unfortunately 16 rolls of tissue were destroyed when the pipes froze and broke this winter--I wasn't home at the time and the thermostat decided to die. Not kewel. I hated tossing all of that tissue! If we had been using family cloths I could have just tossed them in the washer!

Has anyone out there tried family cloths? If so please leave me a comment or something. I would love to hear your experiences!

I actually do more laundry now than I used to, the result of using more cloth. Not too much, about a load a week if that. I keep a covered bucket filled with sanitizer water (bleach water honestly--in a restaurant you called it sanitizer and paid a fortune for it however) into which the towels are placed after each use. Dishcloths and cleaning cloths are only used once before being placed in the water to soak. Towels may get recycled once or twice before getting tossed in.

I spin them out and wash them in hot water with my laundry detergent (actually soap is the technical term) and more bleach. Occasionally I treat them with Iron Out to keep them really white, but mostly I use bleach and a few drops of blueing. Some of these towels are close to three years old and still pretty darn white, but you can tell a few stains on the older ones from the days before I used the sanitizer bucket. I was using a bleach pen on the spots but then decided I wasn't going to stress over it--it's cheaper that way!

I no longer buy sponges, but I do keep one of those plastic netting scratchie thingys around. I also keep miracle erasers, but they get used less and less. Stainless steel pads were purchased once last year in a small box of 6. I've maybe used half of the box. I keep the pad in the freezer to prevent it from rusting after use.

We greatly reduced our use of liquid hand soap last year by purchasing two little bottles of foaming hand wash, one each for the kitchen and bath. Once the wash ran out I poured a small bit from our gallon jug of hand soap in the bottom, added water and shook. We had about a half-gallon of liquid hand soap when I started that late last spring and there is maybe two inches left in the jug now. Katie loves the foaming soap and washes her hands more now, for which I'm grateful. I switch between the hand soap and a good ole' fashioned bar of Ivory.

We no longer even look at the body wash section. I buy Ivory soap in the 10-packs and place the scraps in a piece of netting that Katie uses when she wants to get all lathery. She says she likes it cause it floats, while I like it cause it's the closest to natural soap one can buy these days in your local Wally World.

As my ancestors did, I use Ivory soap for almost everything these days. I use it in my laundry detergent recipes as well as for basic cleaning of whatever needs to be cleaned. I've done some research and it is the exact same thing as Ivory flakes--and those flakes were used for everything from laundry to dishes to cleaning oriental rugs! All in all, for laundry detergent and everything I think we've maybe used a dozen bars or so, but that includes making up a couple batches of laundry soap for my sister in that estimate. I wish I could give a closer accounting. I'll try to keep up this year.

One thing I do so that the bars will last longer is unwrap them as soon as I get home so that they can dry and cure. They last a lot longer and grate so much better if you do that one little thing!

I keep Fels Naptha on hand for heavier cleaning. I have had this bar since last spring but it is getting time to purchase a replacement.

To freshen my carpets I regularly sprinkle borax on them. I brush it in with a broom and let it sit for a day or so (you can't notice if it is brushed in well) then vaccum. This not only seems to help freshen things but I understand it kills fleas and other insects when done regularly as well. It must do something, because when I moved to this place it was overran with fleas and other insects, and I haven't seen a bug in ages--but I use the borax regularly and treated with insecticide when I first moved in.

We still use toothpaste, but we use less on our brushes than we used to. Sometimes I get froggy and use baking soda to brush my teeth, but not very often at all. I have to be feeling really cheap to deal with the taste! I honestly cannot remember the last time we purchased toothpaste.. It was a big four or five pack from Sam's Club and there's still a full tube under the sink!

Mouthwash is still used regularly here. When I was a kid Dad would make up salt water for a mouth rinse but Katie likes the taste of the store-bought stuff. I may make a small bottle of salt water and try weaning her from the other one day.

One thing I am trying this year even makes me shake my head. It's the "no poo" experiment going around on the Internet. You know, the one where people stop putting shampoo on their hair. I'm still growing my mop back out from shaving it when my cousin had brain surgery in late June last year so I figured whattheheck! It's going to look rough regardless so why not go whole hog?

It has been seven days exactly since I last used shampoo on my head. Sunday I used baking soda/acv on it--I was amazed at the gunk that rinsed out of what I thought was a clean head of hair! The water in my sink literally looked like someone's bubble bath, and I used no soap, I promise!

Since then the only thing I've done is a bit of dry shampoo with a sprinkle of corn starch when it felt a little greasy last night (didn't look greasy at all, however). My super-short hair is definitely light and fluffy so far into the game!

I don't know how long I will last with this experiment, so if I write next week that I quit don't flame me! I have a thing about being clean, so if I start feeling like my hair is not getting as clean as it should I'm going back to shampoo, ok?

I'm curious as to how this will turn out. My mother washed her hair once every week or so, and I've had older ones tell me that they only washed their hair once a month even in the summer! None of them mentioned their hair ever stinking, and from the blogs I've read no one has mentioned stinky hair other than a faint vinegar smell when they overdo it on the acv!

Let's see... we no longer own a television or stereo, we watch shows and listen to the radio via the Internet--our phone is a MagicJack and goes through the Internet as well! We do have a cell phone but it is prepaid and costs $25 every three months.

I think that about covers the efforts we made to simplify our lives last year. If I missed something let me know in the comments and I'll blog about it at a later date ok? Until then, I've got to get back to work.

Our Lady of the Pot-Hooks

When we are useful but lowly and unremarked
When we can do so much but nobody sees our value
When we are thrown to the bottom of the heap
When we are lost and forgotten in dark corners
When we are stuck in one place
When we are assigned tedious duties
When we carry precious burdens
When we have weighty responsibilities
Our Lady of the Pot-Hooks, please pray for us

MUG by Hebe Wilcock

Another bend in the road

The path I travel seems to loop round in a spiral.

Over and over the same ground I go, yet the way does progress and the ground my feet traverse is never exactly the same.

This week, back to oh-so-familiar themes of pruning out belongings, establishing priorities, simplifying, refining – all the usual things.

Some who read this blog will know what I’ve recently been up to, others won’t; so I’ll explain.

Badger and I have moved from our house in Aylesbury to Hastings on the south coast of England, where all my daughters live.

This has partly been just to be near the people we love (Badger’s daughter No 2 lives not far away from here as well), but is also part of the journey into simplicity.

Hastings is an extraordinary place. It is characterized by poverty, eccentricity and beauty. A high ridge of land curves around it, and beyond that a hinterland of marsh. Its other boundary is the ocean. These geographical features separated it, making it the last place where a big firm would open a branch, and the first place where they would close it. So small family firms flourish here. It resists pretentiousness and luxury, but fosters creativity and imagination. Because of its poverty, only the shops that offer realistically priced goods tend to survive: so the town naturally attracts artists, pilgrims, healers, poets, musicians, philosophers and others who subsist on the margins of regular society. The people are in the main resourceful, tough and fairly unusual. It is a tolerant place, in a gritty sort of way. Shabby and weird pass unnoticed here. It has an unusually large amount of common land, so that the people who live here can share for free what is normally fenced and guarded as the possession of the rich. Fire festivals, the beach, wild hills and woods, terraces of tall thin houses clinging improbably to its steep hillsides, more trees than most towns – I love Hastings.

What we have done is to join forces with three of my daughters in a shared house. This is not them coming home to live with mother – it’s five adults each choosing to live on an equal basis; contributing according to means, supported according to need.

The choice has an element of financial common sense: one council tax, one TV licence, one lot of logs for the stove etc. To live together like this means we can each pursue our chosen path rather than having to give our lives away in exchange for money. We do all work to earn the money we need – but we do what we enjoy, and we protect the spaciousness that all makers need. I like it that there is sound financial reasoning motivating us: this gives what we are doing a practical, realistic character.

But it’s not all about money. We have come to believe that ours is an intentional family, not just an accidental family. In Richard Bach’s book The Reluctant Messiah, he writes ‘Not all members of one family grow up under the same roof'. Wise words. In our case though, we recognize a spiritual kinship as well as a blood relation, and feel that when we stay close to each other we can offer something deeper and more whole than when we are scattered.

So on November 16th 2009 the house was purchased, and Badger and I moved in. The house is shabby and a bit decrepit, though in the right location and basically sound. By early January, the rooms for the other three were ready. Snow held up their move by a few days, but by mid-January they were in.

So once more the process of sifting through possessions has begun: responsibly disposing of surplus – selling to second-hand dealers, and giving away to family and friends or through Freecycle.

As always, the first instinct is to keep the biggest and most; then reflection reminds us that the simplest and smallest is often a wiser, more comfortable and spacious way.

For example, we opted to keep our large larder fridge and separate under-counter freezer from Aylesbury, and our super-duper micro-wave/oven/grill. Time to reflect allowed us to notice that we don’t need the microwave at all (and most of us in this household are deeply suspicious of microwaving anyway, relieved to eliminate it); that living near the shops and bus routes as we do, there is little need to refrigerate a mountain of fresh produce; that running one cooling appliance instead of two is good news for the Earth and for our budget – so we have changed our minds and chosen instead the fridge-freezer from the house the other three lived in, and will sell the appliances that came with us from Aylesbury.
Some health problems I have been experiencing I recently tracked down to be a dairy allergy – and two of the other ladies of our household are quite badly dairy allergic; so we have opted for an almost-vegan household (with a small amount of fish on occasion). Knowing sugar was also a problem for me, I started to explore macrobiotics as a viable way, and my health has improved radically as a result.

Because we eat most main meals together, what we now have is a mainly-vegan-strongly-informed-by-macrobiotic-principles household. We are all feeling ever so much brighter and fitter as a result.

Macrobiotic food is beautifully simple (though mighty complex to learn and understand!!) and, without meat and dairy, frees up a lot of fridge and freezer space, so the downsizing from 2 appliances to 1 was very straight-forward.

It’s been a time of learning and releasing, with a multi-level sense of homecoming. This house feels more like home than anywhere I have ever lived. Living with or close to my family has healed the terrible sense of grief at being apart from them. The way I am eating and living from day-to day is bringing me home to myself; it feels peaceful and free.

In the set-up process, the sale of our home in Aylesbury and the sale of the other little house in Hastings allows us to effect necessary repairs and redecoration, and install a woodstove at the new house; and will also clear the mortgage, so that debt-bondage will be dissolved. That done, our entire housekeeping costs – food, household essential, utilities, Council Tax, TV licence, home insurances, logs for the woodstove; everything except transport and personal purchases – all amount to no more than £200.00 per person per month (US readers not that the cost of both food and accommodation is way higher this side of the pond). Until the little house is sold, we are each paying £250.00 a month, to cover the overheads there.

We chose the road we live in with great care. Badger needs a car for his work, and is a car-person anyway. The rest of us would prefer to be car–free (though we are grateful to have one car in the household for the extra possibilities it open up for us): so it was essential to live in the Silverhill area, because all the local bus routes cross in Silverhill, giving much better public transport access than from most locations apart from Hastings town centre. Our road is a quiet cul-de-sac, set back a little from the main road. Five minutes walk takes us to all the shops we need, yet the road is peaceful and sheltered from the sounds of traffic that are so loud just 200 yards away. Behind the house the hillside drops down into the park that runs down the centre of the town to the sea. When the original town of Hastings developed the addition of St Leonards-on-Sea, the rivers running down to the ocean made it impossible to build on the steep ravine of the Ghyll that runs down from the Ridge to the sea: so it was turned into a public gardens instead, Alexandra Park, now full of a variety of mature trees as well as a rose garden, a peace garden, a boating lake, 2 reservoirs, wild areas, a bowling green, a bandstand, a war memorial, and wide open grassy places for people to relax.

So it is that in our road backing onto the park, the fragrance of trees and plants fragrances the air: five minutes’ walk away, the air suffers from dust and traffic fumes; though all the Hastings air is cleansed and purified by the ocean.

We are about half-an-hour’s walk from the sea, and our other two family households are also just a short walk away.

In Silverhill (the area of Hastings and St Leonards where we live), are all the shops we need for everyday things. Down the hill in Hastings town centre is a wholefood co-operative that sells what our shops just nearby don’t stock.

We have no need of large superstores at all, and though the prices are higher in our small local shops, and we use the pricier ecological household cleaning agents, the simplicity of our diet is such that £300 a month is plenty to cover the food and household needs for all five of us.

Over the last week, as we begin to organize ourselves, sorting, pruning, winnowing, discarding, I have sensed the road looping round again. I know this territory so well: but it doesn’t just feel like the same old thing; it feels like real, satisfying progress.

"Creation" by Hebe Wilcock


I lost a friend this week. I didn't know her last name (and she probably didn't know mine), I never heard her voice or talked to her on the phone, and I never met her. I didn't even know what she looked like; all I had to go on was a snapshot taken of her when she was young. She taught, yet she was not a teacher. She lived alone, yet had a whole world full of followers and colleagues. She was dependably there at her computer every day, giving of herself, until one day the silence became unusual, then it became worrisome, then it became downright scary, and soon the world found out that AnnR had died.

This friendship I had with her was one of those unusual Internet relationships that flourish through chat rooms. In this case, it was on Internet boards catering to medical transcriptionists. AnnR was the name she went by. Everyone knew AnnR. Almost everybody had a question at one time or another about medical terminology or surgical instruments, or medications, or, in my case, ova and parasites. She had given an answer to someone else's question about ova and parasites, and I still did not understand the nuances. I sent Ann a message and she sent me a detailed answer which cleared up my confusion. She shared her medical knowledge thousands of times. She wouldn't just give you the answer - oh no. She gave you tools to find the answer, places to look, and if you found it, she was pleased. Then if you still needed more information, she was always willing to provide it. All these medical transcriptionists from all over the world knew AnnR, and every one of them probably hoped that she was at her computer when their question was urgent. She usually was.

In making thousands of posts, Ann stayed pretty much a private person. We knew she lived in Washington and loved the coastline. We knew she enjoyed growing tomatoes. We knew she had even gone to medical school for awhile, then decided to go another route in life instead. We knew she was smart, had a sense of humor, possessed a generosity of her time and knowledge, and did her best to stay out of the usual arguments and disagreements which inevitably arise on sites such as this. She wasn't there to argue - she was there to help.

And help she did. I can even remember my first question on MT Chat many years ago when I was a new MT, training on the job. I was trying to find something called a shovsteck sign. I asked my supervisor, the only other MT in my office at the time, and she didn't know either. I told her, "Hey, I know this place where you can go ask questions when you're stumped, and there are experienced MTs who might know the answer!" She said to try, so I went on-line and posted the question. A few minutes later I checked again, and Ann had responded and led me to the Chovstek sign. I was so happy that I didn't have to leave a blank. I told my supervisor, and, impressed, she said, "Hey, ask her if she wants a job!" That was my personal introduction to AnnR.

Through the years, I watched as she helped newbie MTs and veteran MTs alike. It got to where I perused the posts, not to ask anything, but thinking I might help someone like Ann had helped me. I was able to help occasionally, but mostly I enjoyed learning from others' questions and answers. Ann gave answers which sometimes shocked the reader - How ever did she know that? How indeed!

When other chat rooms spun off from MT Chat, Ann was a presence there, too. She seemed to be always around, and I just assumed she would be here forever. I think we all did.

Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.

- Chinese proverb

AnnR - the teacher who wasn't a teacher, but who affected patients' medical reports all over the globe. Her legacy lies in not just helping fill blanks, but in her ability to inspire other MTs to always strive to learn more - and to be as generous with the knowledge they obtain.

Goodbye, Ann. You were one of a kind.

By Christ's grace may I bring, for the Ark adrift on the death and uncertainty of the Flood, a sprig of hope.

Drawing by erm.... now... either Alice or Hebe Wilcock. I'll check!!

A Vow of the Quiet Way

In 1992, when I was at ordination school to be a minister of religion, I formulated into words the way I want to walk through this world. I had been doing much hard thinking about what was important to me, and finally got it together into a concise enough expression to be a vow.

It's a vow that has been observed more in the breaking than in the keeping, but even eighteen years on it still makes it to the file in my head marked "Heart's Desire".

Sometimes I get there, sometimes I don't: but this is what I want for my life, the path I want to walk.

Seer Ember’s vow.

I vow myself to building and extending the kingdom
of peace,
of ahimsa,
of shalom.

I will no more use things which have exploited
the beasts of earth or air or sea,
whether for food or clothing,
or utensils, or cleaning or fragrance;
though I will not refuse such things
when refusal would violate
the sacramental offering
of hospitality and kindness.

I will walk quietly
in reverence of God
and gentleness and respect towards earthlings.
I will learn to be still,
have patience, and listen,
to fast , to wait, to think.

I will refrain from
contempt, despising and betrayal of earthlings,
and bear faithful witness
to the work of the Spirit of God.

I will celebrate the being of the Earth
in all her forms of life,
and the glory of God in creation.

I will live simply and thriftily,
walking the way of freedom,
not obstructing the flow of the universe,
looking for the springs of grace
and the still green peace
at the heart of all turbulence.

I will learn the magic of gaps and spaces,
and do my best to be graceful,
looking up to God.

I will celebrate and respect my own being,
its dignity,
and holiness.

To this I vow and pledge myself.

Please give me the grace - your grace - to be faithful to my promise.
In the name of God – Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

Seer Ember, July 1992

"Binbag" by Alice Wilcock

Walking lightly keeping faith

This blog is called "Kindred of the Quiet Way": well, you know that. But the kindred, the kinship, is not only between human beings, but a kinship with every created being. To walk in the Quiet Way implies looking with a quiet eye, noticing the beauty, dignity and holiness of all creation.

The Bible story of Noah's Flood speaks of God making a covenant with all creatures after the flood subsides, and the Psalms tell of lions roaring in prayer to God, asking for their food for today, and tell of the young ravens calling to God for their food. It is not only human beings who lean upon Providence and walk in faith. Everything that lives sings along the silver threads of creation to the heartbeat of grace at its centre. All life is blessed - or so the Bible says.

And so bonds of kinship are the bones of the body of life, the framework upon which the web of life is woven.

Because of this, time and again I am tugged back to the vegan way. I go along for a while, fall off the wagon because of my own indiscipline, and am drawn back irresistibly in time. This winter, discovering myself to be dairy-allergic feels like a blessing: finally, a definite non-negotiable imperative to give up dairy from my diet! Meat I knew I had to leave behind eventually: as Stephen Gaskin said: "Getting the world together has got to include dietary reform, and it means we're going to have to get into inexpensive stuff that doesn't have to be manufactured a lot, because lots of manufacturing costs lots of money. And you don't eat meat because if everybody eats meat, there's not enough food for everybody. But if everybody doesn't eat meat, there's enough food for everybody". Makes sense to me.

I felt okay-ish about eating fish - although it stll seemed a shame to take a beautiful creature, smack its head on a rock and eat it for supper, when soya beans would have done just as well. Also who wouldn't feel uneasy about the hinterland to our fish habits of great nets trawling the sea, of dead inedible creatures caught in their hundreds and thousands and flung back as incidental waste? I ate a crab last Saturday, and ever since I've flashed on images of the black beady eyes of a living crab, and wished I'd left it to run free.

So with all these thoughts in my head, and finding my feet tentatively on the vegan path again, I was running along the groove of thinking about responsible eating and our kinship with all creation.

From time to time in recent months I've paused perplexed over the whole issue of packaging. A tiny dessert, just a few mouthfuls, presented in a plastic container that will last Lord knows how long in the land-fill site. So I throw up my hands in frustration and distress and do - nothing!

What I hadn't done properly was the joined up thinking to make the link between packaging and keeping faith with the kindred of all creation. I mean, I knew about the grim collateral damage caused by our addiction to over-packaging: but like most people I get a bit swamped by issues to take on board, give up and stop thinking about it at all after a bit.

Then today on Jim Otterstrom's wonderful Earth Home Garden blog, I saw this YouTube film that stopped me in my tracks.

The information wasn't new: but the film said to me: "Well? Are you ever going to do anything about this?" I guess I know me well enough to accept that my response is never likely to be more than half-way there and approximate: but I realise that I have to order my priorities better: to buy veggies and bread and baked goods sold in paper bags not plastic; to buy pulses sold in cellophane bags: and to cut right back on all plastic packaging in all forms.

Oh, glory! This is so important, and feels so difficult!

All the way home

Today is a very special day for me.

I have five daughters, all born within six years. Bringing them up was definitely hard work – we were not rich, we lived in small houses, and our chosen way of life was not really mainstream. In the days when natural childbirth, continuum concept, compassionate farming, vegetarianism, home education, organic wholefood, Steiner education and alternative therapies were still all on the wild side of eccentric, that was the way we chose. Our next-door-but-one neighbours used to line up kitchen stools outside their back door for their grandchildren visiting on the weekend to watch the weird Wilcocks with our goats and chickens in the garden of our tiny Victorian terraced house in this funny old town by the sea.

Those years I had a long struggle with depression, and found being a young mother, in a town I knew not very well, incredibly hard and lonely. Babies seem to me both amazing and terrifying. Their buddha-nature shines so clear, their clarity, purity and immediacy are awe-inspiring: but they scream and they tire you out; they want more than you can understand, and sometimes you feel battered to exhaustion just keeping going.

Power and control have never greatly appealed to me, and what I most looked forward to was the time when their personalities, choices and self-power had fully unfurled, and they were in their mid-to-late teens – all still at home, but old enough for discussion and inspiration – old enough to be my teachers as I had once been theirs.

Then, ten years ago, just as we reached that stage, my life began to collapse. In the most dreadful circumstances my marriage to my children’s father ended, leaving me at my wits’ end with five daughters still only part-fledged, no job, no family home; just a two-roomed leased apartment.

That was a hard and frightening time. It was then that I chose the name ‘Ember’ for myself. I felt as though my soul had died, and I found myself responsible for the care and upkeep of a meaningless undead body. Ember; rake among the ashes, and underneath the drifting grey lies sometimes the surprise of a quiet red glow – the choice of name expressed a choice still to hope.

I married again, a dear and delightful man who lived in a tiny cottage in the country. I’d thought to encourage my girls to see that new beginnings could always be possible: but it was not a good choice. It was too soon, they were still shell-shocked, I spent most of my time in the car, flying around between that little cottage in the woods and my scattered family and the professional commitments I had begun to rebuild. That time was brief though, because my second husband died of a hideous and terrifying illness that blocked his windpipe and gullet as it inexorably progressed. We cared for him at home, and he died with dignity, beauty and peace, in the place he wanted to be. Then it was back to my tiny apartment, and throwing myself into working all hours to keep our fractured family trucking.

Then I married again, and of necessity moved right away from my dear family up to Aylesbury, for my husband’s work is Oxford-based. For three years we lived there – and made good friends, planted a garden.

But the splinter of grief lodged in the middle of my heart was always the disintegration of my family – and that the chance had been lost to be with them once they had grown up and developed their own ideas and way in the world.

My dear husband is a very, very good life partner. He sees and understands what matters to me. And so it came about that he was willing to change his work pattern to four days in the office, three at home, keeping a berth in Aylesbury but returning to Hastings for our home base.

We found this shabby old house, in need of much repair, but in the right place. A quiet road, looking out over trees, surrounded by birdsong and wild creatures, but only five minutes walk from the central bus stop to catch a ride to anywhere in our locality. A walk through the beautiful park with its majestic trees to chapel, to town, to my oldest daughter’s home. A walled garden (something I have always wanted).

And, best of all, making common cause in a shared household with three of my daughters, and the one who is married with a young child calling in several times a week.

Last night, after the upheaval of moving, then days of torrential rain that exposed all the leaks in our rickety old roof, then Christmas, then several days of snow – at last we had achieved the house move from their small shared home into this bigger house. Today, for the first time in a decade, we are back under one roof. Nothing ever stopped us being family – but today we are one household again. It has been a long, long journey; but at last we are home.

And I give thanks.

Hebe's Chant On Perception

I've posted this before in my blog on St Pixels, but it's so on-the-nail true and strikes me afresh each time I read it - so here it is again. May it bless you as it does me.

Seeing yourselfa chant on perception

When you see your face in the mirror,
Don’t be dissatisfied with what you see.
For your face is only one part of you.
There are parts of you that you cannot see.
There are parts of you that you will never know;
You cannot know how beautiful you are to others.

There is also a part of you
That others can never know;
The part of you that is only for you to see,
And it is beautiful in its mystery.

I believe there is a God,
And he knows all of you and me.
He knows the things that I cannot know –
The parts that only you can see.

But he also knows what I know,
And the parts you can never see,
God can see the whole of us –
Even that which is a mystery.

When you look at your face and your body,
Don’t be dissatisfied with what you see;
For beauty is not only in that which is visible,
But also in parts that are not seen.

And do not think that any part of you is ugly,
Even the inside part of you:
For part of the beauty that is you
Is when every part of you is together.

A body is far more beautiful alive than when it is dead;
But, when all is said and done,
We cannot know how beautiful we are
’Til we see what God sees.

And do not be afraid when you are changing –
Your face or the inside of you;
For that’s what it is to be alive.

If you ever feel misunderstood,
Ugly, or even invisible,
Know that, because I have seen you and known a part of you,
There is a part of you that is a part of me.

Can you see that we are a part of each other, then?
So what you see in the mirror is not all of you:
Don’t be trapped by feelings of inadequacy;
Let it be a mystery, and let it set you free.

So do not be unhappy with your body –
Love it, for it is part of your wholeness;
And if you cannot do that,
Love it because it is part of mine.

(Words of chant © Hebe Wilcock 2006)

The Happiness Quotient

My 6-1/2-year-old granddaughter Caroline is often saying witty things, and many times she has unknowingly given me perfect quotes for my blog. Recently she told me that every morning in her kindergarten class, the students sit in a circle and a designated child starts the go-round of “good mornings.” She said, for instance, one day if she were chosen to start, she would turn to her left and say, “Good morning, Josh,” and he would say, “Good morning, Caroline,” then Josh would turn to his left and say, “Good morning, Emily,” and Emily would say, “Good morning, Josh,” then turn to her left, and so on. In relating this ritual to me, Caroline said all was well and good, except one boy had to mess it up, because when his turn came, he said impatiently, “GOOD MORNING TO EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD!” With this, Caroline reported that she told him he couldn’t say something like that, because there people in the world for whom it was night, not morning.

Although this story reflects Caroline’s wonderful thinking pattern, I was intrigued by the boy who wanted to get it all over with at one time and wish everyone happiness. I remember as a child saying my bedtime prayers, and, growing tired of the litany of asking God to bless loved ones by name, would just say, “God bless everyone in the world. Amen.” I figured that covered it.

I’ve been considering the happiness of the world this week, as well as the happiness of those close to me. I have had two long long-distance phone calls with people I love who are hurting and frustrated because of things that have come up in their lives that they neither wanted nor deserved, but are having to deal with on a daily basis. My heart broke for them and I was overpowered with a helpless feeling as they described events and situations which made them angry, depressed, confused, and worried - and about which I could do nothing but listen empathetically.

Eugene V. Debs is given credit for saying, “As long as one man is in prison, I am not free,” to which one person commented it was “because of his emphasis on shared responsibility.” In the Journey to Simplicity, through trial and error, angst and forgiveness, introspection, and examination of my priorities, I have finally come to a state of relative contentment with my life. Everything seems to be going great - I love our little house together and our marriage. Our kids are grown, healthy, intelligent, capable. We have two healthy and precocious granddaughters and another precious but unknown-gender grandbaby on the way. We aren’t rich, and there are times I worry about finances to cover emergencies, but we have always been able to pay our bills on time. I love my job, I feel for the most part appreciated for what I do there, I enjoy the MT profession, and I am thankful for the good health insurance I receive from the hospital. I have generally come to terms with the aging process, and can still feel grateful that Ed and I are healthy enough to get out and shovel a foot of snow. I have people in my life who make me laugh (most appreciated!) and people who love me in spite of my flaws. Most days, I am surprisingly content and happy with my life.

And that’s the catch - because I don’t live on an island, in a cocoon, or anywhere else where I’m cut off from those I love who are hurting; indeed, I see daily on the news the people in the world whose lives are less than ideal, who are hungry, dying, separated from family, losing their children to starvation and disease and war. How do we find the balance between being happy while others are not? How do we reconcile our personal contentment with the daily frustrations of those we love?

I realize a lot of folks, when met with disaster, tragedy or sorrow, look up and say plaintively, “Why me???” But I’ll bet there are also folks (maybe even some in that same group) who, when blessed with health, security, and contentment, cry out, “Why me???” I don’t deserve to be this lucky/happy/healthy/satisfied, if how I’ve lived my life is a prerequisite for happiness. And my loved ones - these dear ones who have been two of the most caring people I know - are stuck in situations that sadden them on a daily basis. How can I be truly happy when others are hurting?

Ed’s favorite motto is “Life is not fair. Get over it.” From the Bible’s Job to Harold Kushner and his book Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, life’s inequities have confused human beings for a long time. Some folks explain it away by reincarnation, others “karma,” and others don’t even think about it. But today, I’m not concerned so much with why it happens. I’m more concerned with my reaction to when it happens. I have come to the realization that my happiness will always be tempered by the sadness that others are experiencing at the very same moment.

It is this balance I am seeking - the balance to enjoy my contentment at the same time I am grieving with others in their pain. It doesn’t help to say platitudes like “Pain just shows courage,” “This too shall pass,” “You’ll get your heavenly reward for the trials you’ve endured.” As Ed likes to say, “It’s hard to think about the beauty of the swamp when you’re up to your neck in alligators.”

Can we be truly happy when others are hurting? I don’t know. But I carry the sadness of these two loved ones in my heart every day as I appreciate my own life circumstances - and that’s just, as Walter Cronkite would say, the way it is.


I designate 10th October 2010 an official Day Of Laughter.