Endings, Beginnings

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 

James 2:14-16 (NRSVA)

This was part of my bible reading for yesterday, 31st December 2018. It was particularly striking for me because it seems to be the summation of what God has been speaking into the lives of my family and I.

I’m beginning 2019 with Veganuary, for a combination of reasons. Going vegan is the single best action I can make for the environment. Countless studies have shown this. Here’s a recent one. I also wrote a blog post about climate change a few years back.

Climate change affects the poorest most, so addressing my contribution to this is something I can do that is concrete. I also don’t want to be party to the treatment of animals that takes place on farms and in abbatoirs. It’s violent whichever way you look at it and I can’t reconcile the compassion that I have learned through following Jesus with violence in whatever form. I also have health problems and veganism has been demonstrated time and again as the antidote to so many health problems that for someone like me, I can’t not do it.

We’re also developing a proper financial system for our family so that we can be more responsible and more accountable with our money. Not that we’re exactly irresponsible, but we’re not as mindful of all our assets as we could be. Our income has dropped rapidly in the past few years so it was necessary and long overdue. It’ll mean focusing on the important things.

So I prayed about what should be my phrase or word for 2019 and came up with this:

KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Seems obvious, but Complex PTSD can make things feel overwhelmingly complicated, so this is a real blessing just on its own. Be blessed, friends, in 2019. Lay down your life for Him so that He can pick it up. Shalom.

Funky Granny Square Jacket

First post of The Un-paving Paradise Project, my newly-launched blog for more eco-friendly living.

The Un-paving Paradise Project

I made lots of presents last Christmas and gave them to friends and family. In January I took on the slightly more ambitious project of crocheting a jacket for our little Fluff. It is, at long last, finished. I made so many mistakes along the way that it’s a wonder it did get finished. I got fed up with it at one point and made a couple of other (smaller) things as gifts. Nonetheless, I have hidden or snipped off the unsightly ends and crocheted a border around all the edges. I then added some large mismatched buttons from my craft box to give it an extra little je ne sais quois.

CAM00179

CAM00178

The pattern came from Kitsch Bitsch and can be downloaded here for a small fee (I have no links to the site – it’s just a good pattern). I adapted it to make a jacket suitable for my…

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The Un-paving Paradise Project: February 2014

The Un-paving Paradise Project was what I came up with in response to completing an Open University course on Environment. I began the course knowing very little about Environmental issues, and thinking I was studying it only as part of a more general interest in International Development and a deep compassion for those in extreme poverty. I thought the two were mutually exclusive, or tentatively connected at best. I was wrong!

I learned that as the climate changes, it is the poorest who will suffer most. I learned that the consumerist goggles that I and most Westerners wear cause me to be part of a world system which systematically and cynically oppresses the poor while destroying the planet, with grave consequences for the future.

I learned that 80% of the UK’s carbon footprint is created by households. Ordinary people. You and me. I realised that we all have to take responsibility for our actions. As a Christian, the very first thing I did when making a commitment to follow Jesus was to ‘own up’, to take responsibility for my actions. Followers of Christ should be first in line to tackle environmental issues, not flagging up the rear!

“But how?!” I hear you cry, “I can hardly save the planet on my own, can I?”

Well, I follow a very helpful blog called Eco Thrifty Living, where an ordinary homemaker blogs about taking up ecologically-friendly, ethical and thrifty solutions to the problems listed above. She’s ahead of me in the steps she has taken, but that only makes it easier to follow. I can already see what has worked and what hasn’t, and also where things have taken a turn that was totally unexpected.

What have I done, so far? What does all this mean for the King family?

1. Use the slow cooker (to be fair, we already use the slow cooker because it is far less expensive than the hob or the oven).

2. Reduce:

I can’t say we don’t buy things with packaging, but where possible we’ll buy the largest option, which should in theory reduce overall packaging and thus not produce as many greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane). Buying more fresh, locally-sourced produce also reduces the greenhouse gas emissions that our family is responsible for. I also know that when we buy local sausages, they come from free range pigs and have travelled only a few miles to get from the farm to our house. This brings me onto my next point –

Methane: animals (especially cows) reared for their meat (or milk) produce a gas called methane. Methane is not produced in as great a quantity as carbon dioxide, but it is 22 times more potent as a greenhouse gas. So we have reduced the amount of meat that we consume, and are eating more meat-free meals. I think we can still improve on this. When we eventually buy a new house, I am looking forward to growing vegetables and fruit in our very own garden.

3. Reuse:

I am trying to reuse things wherever possible. No more of “I’ll just buy a new one”. I darned my first sock and repaired my husband’s sleeping bag where once we would have thrown these things away. I have made wool holders from toilet roll tubes and cleaning rags from old clothes instead of buying cloths from the supermarket. I’ve had a declutter of clothing – and much of it has gone to the charity shop, for someone else to reuse. At Christmas I bought remnants of fabric, in squares, which were used to wrap presents furoshiki style (you don’t need to buy special ‘furoshiki cloths’ – fabric remnants work just as well). These will be used every time there is a birthday, and have largely eliminated the need for wrapping paper. I also saved all the Christmas cards that were sent to us. Come November we’ll cut them up to make new cards.

Being a keen crocheter, I have saved scraps of wool. In time there will be enough to stuff a teddy or small crocheted doll. Also, and this is a heads up for any environmentally-friendly and money-minded ladies out there, I have used washable sanitary pads for the past two years. They go in with the rags, dishcloths and tea towels on a hot wash to kill any bacteria. They’re much more comfortable than scratchy, paper-based pads and they last for years (thus saving money). They come in different sizes to suit different needs. You can also buy menstrual ‘cups’, a reusable alternative to tampons. I tried the cup and it didn’t work for me, so I went back to just cloth pads. I haven’t looked back since! They’re so comfortable. You can buy them here: femininewear.co.uk

4. Recycle:

Our council already collects our recycling twice a month. I have made sure that anything able to be recycled goes in the recycling bin. I have also taken a few trips to the rubbish tip (to be recycled) to take things not collected. I think we can still improve in this area by buying things with less packaging in the first place – indeed by buying less in the first place, by not feeding our Westernised consumerist addiction. We use carrier bags instead of rubbish bags. I am not sure this is the best way to go on this either.

5. Buying local:

As I said above, we have been trying to buy less meat, and the meat that we do buy we have increasingly bought locally. We have also found local produce, honey and jam. Our local supermarket stocks fruit and vegetables labelled ‘British’ which should cut the miles travelled, but I am not sure that I know which are the best choices, in environmental terms, to make when buying fruit and vegetables. This is an area that needs more research. I look forward to having a little vegetable patch in the garden when we eventually find our new house.

6. Energy consumption:

We have not used the tumble dryer for nearly a year, BUT this has been because during the summer we have hung clothes on the washing line and in the winter we have had the space to hang them indoors. This is a really tricky one because not everyone has the space to dry things indoors. On the other hand, it has saved us money and electricity. We have low energy light bulbs throughout the house and leave nothing on standby (except the clock on the kitchen cooker and the internet router). I try to make sure that things are turned off when not in use and to make the most of energy where it is being used, such as if the oven is used I try to cook more than one thing in it. The dishwasher and washing machine both have ‘eco’ buttons (meaning they use less energy than a standard wash). I suppose to be more environmentally friendly one would get rid of both dishwasher and washing machine, but having a family and two children with weak bladders… that is not going to happen any time soon!

7. Water consumption:

Toilets have a plastic bottle placed in the cistern to reduce the capacity and thus use less water. Toilets also have dual flush systems, so you can choose a full flush or a reduced flush. We also have a rule (just for our household, not for guests, and I don’t do it if I know guests are coming) to not flush when it’s ‘number one’ but only when it’s ‘number two’. I do have to keep an eye on this, though, as if you leave it and leave it… well, let’s just say it’s probably not a good idea(!). I shower only every other day, using a sink of water for washing on in-between days. Also, when showering I use the ‘eco’ setting. It uses about 75% of the water of a normal flow.

8. DIY – make it yourself:

I have been making more and more things myself (or at least having a go). Food-wise we rarely buy cakes or crisps, instead the kids and I snack on fruit and veg. We also make popcorn and our latest experiments have been with sugar-free cakes (by which I don’t mean replacing sugar with artificial sweetener). I found a divine recipe for a lemon sultana cake here: www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes I make my own muesli and my no-sugar soya yoghurt is gobbled down. I make it at least twice a week. It is sometimes a tricky balance between eating healthily and eating in an environmentally-friendly way. The lemons in the cake, for instance, are hardly likely to be grown anywhere locally. Compromise is a key issue for a family, I reckon.

One of the best things about DIY is getting the kids involved. My children (perhaps not Prince, but I think autism is a good enough excuse) are healthy and active and enjoy healthy food. Fluff, who is ten, can now bake a cake on her own. She even says she wants to be a baker when she grows up (that or an astronaut, or a deep sea diver!).

I made lots of Christmas presents for Christmas 2013. I made two pairs of slippers, two scarfs, a homemade hamper, a blanket, a pot holder, aftershave and scented drawer liners. To be honest, I started making these things as a way to keep myself from boredom during illness, so please don’t get the wrong idea. I did these things instead of all the things I’d normally be doing. I am getting better physically and still crocheting, but not as much as I was. I am currently making a granny square jacket for Fluff, and I have plans for a crocheted dress, a denim crocheted rag rug (made from old jeans) and another granny square jacket for Chip. I have my eye on some locally-produced wool in the local wool shop. I think it would be wonderful to make something useful with a genuinely local wool.

9. Transport:

We all have bikes and Frank has a trike. He has problems with balance so can’t ride a bicycle. He also can’t drive, so he has relished the freedom his tricycle has brought. We try to travel by public transport for long distances. I prefer the train for long distances anyway, and at the moment my health won’t let me drive too far. I tried to cycle to the shops last week, but ended up spending the next day in bed, so I shan’t be trying that again any time soon, but it’s good to know that when I am feeling better I can give it a go! My bicycle is 26 years old. Still works fine.

10. Buying Second-hand

Where I do buy something, I do try to see if I can get it second-hand. This way it falls under the ‘reuse’ category and is not responsible for as many greenhouse gas emissions, or unethical working conditions as part of the manufacturing. For example, the sprays used as pesticides on cotton can make the sprayer go blind. Many workers in clothing factories are working in conditions we in the West would find appalling. Is it right that we get to buy a jumper ‘cheap’ when it made someone go blind in the spraying or made someone work in conditions akin to slavery?

Does all this have a biblical context?

Yes.

How long will our land be dry,
    and the grass in every field be withered?
Animals and birds are dying
    because of the wickedness of our people,
    people who say, ‘God doesn’t see what we are doing.’

Jeremiah 12:4 (GNT)

Followers of Christ are supposed to be stewards of the earth, not exploiters, full of greed and motivated by money. ‘The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil’ (1 Timothy 6:10) well, we certainly see that in our world! The love of money and consumption even makes believers fall. It is such a subtle, omnipresent message, yet we are all drawn in by it. I love how The Message puts it:

“Shout! A full-throated shout!
    Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives…
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
    and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
    law-abiding, God-honouring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
    and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
    ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
    Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

“Well, here’s why:

“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
    You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
    You fast, but you swing a mean fist…

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts

…Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

“If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out…
…I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.”

extracts from Isaiah 58:1-12

If followers of Christ did these things, what a light we would be in the world. Come, Lord Jesus.

Un-Paving Paradise

A Nifty Thrifty, Eco-friendly, Ethical Christmas?

As regular readers know, I’m currently studying International Development. This has included a module on the Environment. I have been genuinely shocked to realise how much of my culture is driven by greed, and how this influences all of us until we don’t even realise that we ‘worship’ the great god of Consumerism. Maybe that’s where the prosperity gospel comes from? It replaces Christ with culture. Even those of us who don’t subscribe to a prosperity gospel often care more about ‘stuff’ than God.

 

So? I hear you ask. It’s no good just moaning about it! Well, as part of our response to this, the King family is experimenting. We’re going for an environmentally-friendly, ethical Christmas celebration, which I hope to blog about (health permitting). It is quite disgusting, when you think about it, that we celebrate the arrival of our Saviour with ‘things’ – and these are often ‘things’ we don’t need which rip off poor people and destroy the planet. 21st century western Christmas celebrations are not all twinkly and sparkly and bright. They’re a lie – a perversion. Literally. The birth of our Saviour, born into poverty, choosing to lead a life of poverty – is flipped upside down when we measure it in glitter and gluttony and a forest-worth of wrapping paper.

 

We’re not banning Father Christmas – I think that’s a step too far. The children all know it’s a special game that we play but, this year, each part of our Christmas will have been thought through, and lessons learned for next year. As part of my studies I have learned to question the origin of everything I buy:

How did it get here?

Who made it?

Has it been used before/recycled?

How far has it travelled before I got it?

If it’s new, was the worker who made it paid properly?

Will you follow our story as we attempt our thrifty-eco-ethical Christmas?

 

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know” – William Wilberforce

I Was Questioned By The Police

Hilarious – hurrah for all things wool!

I’m sitting at Starbucks, which I rarely do. Its hard to knit there. I lot of people still find it weird for a man to be knitting in public. But, for us fellas that knit, its nothing short of ordinary. There are MANY people that see us, see what we’re doing and find themselves asking us lots of questions. And they have no problem stopping to ask questions while you’re in the middle of counting.

I’ve been asked on numerous occasion in email if I ever go out to knit with groups or have knitting friends. Sadly, I don’t. I’m too busy counting. I can’t lift my head from the stitches to hear what’s being said. I’m so focused. I’m there with the rows, both knit side and purl sides facing with the work, and the rest of the world falls away into….well, nothing.

So, I’m at said Starbucks working…

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Ethics vs Economics: Choosing free-range.

For us, it’s not just free-range, ethically-reared meat. I have learned over the years that there are other ethical choices that I can make. I’m not saying I always make the best choices, but I do try.

 

The thing that always bothered me, even when I was on a very tight budget, is fair trade. The conditions for workers when things aren’t fair trade are akin to slavery. I watched a documentary about a 10-year-old boy who was going blind through spraying tea plants with pesticides. He had to work because his family needed the money to survive, but he had no access to healthcare or education. He would have no childhood and would not be able to work in later life due to the chemicals in the spray. These kinds of workers are so poor, they have no choice but to continue to be ripped off by the tea buyers, who represent wealthy foreigners overseas. And who are those wealthy foreigners? Well, if your household income exceeds £23,000 a year, you’re in the world’s top 1% of earners. Even if your household income is less than that, you’re probably in the top 5%, or the top 10%. Wealth beyond imagining to that little boy and his family! I realised I was abundantly blessed, yet ripping off poor people? Wasn’t that a form of abuse? I know more than enough about abuse. Did I want to be the abuser? I just couldn’t do it. I realised I had a choice. We all have choices. They may appear innocuous, but isn’t that what bad things often look like? That’s just what abusers do to their victims – make it all seem like nothing. And that’s what the Deceiver does too – makes things seem like nothing, seem harmless, when they are actually actively causing harm.

 

What does the Bible say about exploitation?

“…on the day of your fasting you do as you please

and exploit all your workers…

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice 

   and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

    and break every yoke?”

Isaiah 58:3,6

 

Just off the top of my head, these are the things you can buy that are fair trade nowadays, many of which are found in your local supermarket:

 

Bananas

Coffee

Tea

Oranges

Grapes

Sugar

Clothes

Furniture

Rice

Rubber Gloves

Jewellery

Cocoa

Household items

Chocolate

 

It’s easy. Go on – the ‘burden is light’, just as He promised 😉

 

‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Matthew 11:29-30

 

Be blessed, friends.

Jack Monroe

So, I’ve caused a minor furore with my latest Guardian recipe by using free range sausages at £2.79 for
6. Not as big as the furore I caused by (quelle horreur!) using basic baked beans and rinsing the sauce off them to reveal little white haricot or cannelloni beans underneath (more on that later) but a furore all the same.
I hardly eat meat at all these days, maybe twice a week, and usually sausages or chicken. I tend to get my proteins from beans, pulses, fish and vegetables – I lead a pretty hectic, active lifestyle, and am a healthy size for my height with good general health, so I think I’m doing alright. I do a lot of research into nutrition, and have a permanent mental list of great sources of B vitamins, iron, protein and vitamin C – a lot of which are staples on my shopping…

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Tripling in foodbank usage sparks Trussell Trust to call for an inquiry. (Trussell Trust press release)

Foodbank usage has risen 300% over the last year. This is a very worrying situation for one of the world’s richest countries. It is even more worrying when senior government figures tell barefaced lies as to the reasons people turn to foodbanks, and the way that foodbanks work. I have been utterly shocked by the statements of such senior politicians as Edwina Currie, Lord Freud and Michael Gove. They have blatantly twisted the facts. They must be held to account.

Jack Monroe

20131016-082130.jpg
Photo: The Guardian.
Over 350,000 people received three days’ emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks between April and September 2013, triple the numbers helped in the same period last year. The Trussell Trust says that UK hunger is getting worse and the charity is calling for an inquiry into the causes of UK food poverty and the consequent surge in foodbank usage.
Chris Mould, Executive Chairman of The Trussell Trust says: ‘We said in April that the increasing numbers of people turning to foodbanks should be a wake-up call to the nation, but there has been no policy response and the situation is getting worse. The level of food poverty in the UK is not acceptable. It’s scandalous and it is causing deep distress to thousands of people. The time has come for an official and in depth inquiry into the causes of food poverty and the consequent rise in…

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Things that Turn Me On

Pam Hogeweide, author of Unladylike, has written a blog post of all the things which get her heart racing. No, it’s nothing to do with sex, but those things which make those creative juices flow, the things which make your heart beat faster, that you feel passionate about. I was intrigued by Pam’s list and decided to make one of my own.

1) God.

2) My family. They’re great. It is my heart’s desire that my family’s faith deepens, and that my children are independent and secure, knowing they are loved for who they are as an individual and as children of God.

3) Talking about God.

4) The written word – I love literature, poetry, as well as certain blogs. I gobble up books like sweeties. My writing bug is fulfilled at the moment by my blog and my studies, but I do plan to write a book or two one day.

5) Studying – I am studying International Development and Statistics and I LOVE it. I go all wibbly over the Chinese economy or a nice graph. And I’m so proud of myself for having achieved what I have achieved. This will give me what I need to get a job in the development field, if that is God’s plan, and be well-equipped to tackle my other passion: the alleviation of poverty.

6) The sky. I love to look at the sky. It is constantly changing. I love to watch the sun rise, or the rain in the distance, or the wind blowing the clouds. There are layers upon layers of clouds in my view right now, moving very slowly. When I look at the sky I feel like I can b r e a t h e.

7) History documentaries. We don’t have a TV license so don’t watch ‘normal’ telly, but my husband and I both love a good history documentary. We were watching ‘The Tudor Feast’ last night on DVD. Geeks r us 😉

8) Humour, especially the Radio 4 kind. It keeps me sane 😉

9) My friends. I know how blessed I am to have the friends that I have and to know that they’re my brothers and sisters in Christ.

10) My extended family – I am so glad that I now have such a lovely extended family. My sister has just moved to New Zealand. I miss her :-/

11) Crochet… I have been going a little potty about wool lately. I love being creative in practical ways and crochet is both lovely to look at and eminently practical. I’ve so far made a blanket and am now making a jumper for Frank from pure, undyed English wool.

12) Cooking, nothing fancy. I have a budget cookery blog. I especially enjoy when my children choose to join in. My l’il Fluff is quite accomplished for a 10 year old!

13) FlyLady. She saved my life with her emails and continuous tips and helpful hints. I know she’s walked the dark road and pulled herself out, by grace, and now she helps people like me to follow and to learn. I can’t thank her enough!

14) I have just finished a course on the Environment, and having done so it would not be honest to miss out the fact that, after having learned what I have learned, I am a now a confirmed greenie, hence the undyed English wool and recent attempts at cycling instead of driving (for the first time in a quarter of a century and on the same bike).

15) A bargain! I like to spend money wisely. I’m an avid ebayer/second-hand shop stalker, and one of my favourite blogs is Miss Thrifty.

Well, that’s more than I planned to write. What about you?

“Calling your cuts a war, is an insult to my father, and to my brother, and the service they gave this country. This is not a war. It is a massacre.” Conservative Party address, Jack Monroe.

I would like to have been there to hear this speech.

Jack Monroe

The question we were asked to answer today, was “are food banks a sign of hope or failure?” I think we all know the answer to that – or at least we think we do. Here’s my story. You might think you know it already, but listen carefully. Here it is without any media spin, without any internet commenters, without any details carefully left out by left wing or right wing newspapers that don’t want to upset their readers.
I’m a girl called Jack. I’m 25 years old, and I was unemployed for 18 months and claiming benefits. However, I had my first job at the age of 14 or 15, working as a waitress in a local restaurant owned by a family friend, earning myself some pocket money on a Saturday and Sunday. Before that, I had spent weekends at my grandfathers guest houses, folding sheets and making tea…

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