books · Christian · Ecological concern · Ethical living · nature · Social justice

Christmas is coming

We’ve had Halloween and Bonfire Night and so thoughts now turn to Christmas. But…before Christmas, there is Advent.

Advent – a season of expectation and preparation. I think it’s one of my favourite times of year. Maybe because I am a person who loves to prepare and who loves the joy of anticipation. Advent is rich in symbolism and grounds us in God at a time when the voices of commercialism are at their loudest.

Here are my ideas for celebrating Advent this year:

Reverse Advent Calendar – the Mini-Ps are going to make a ‘reverse Advent calendar’ for our local foodbank. Together we will choose items to buy and then take them up to church each week and place them in the foodbank collection box. We will also read It’s a No Money Day by Kate Milner – a beautiful, tender, heart-warming and gentle book that explains what foodbanks do.

Last year, we coloured pictures from a Jesse Tree book which worked better than expected! The children really enjoyed the colouring and this year, I plan to have an actual branch to stick the pictures onto!

I have also bought an Advent candle to light each day. Hopefully, this will be more suitable than my solar-powered fairy lights which were a feeble addition to our street’s Christmas decorations! There just wasn’t enough sun to charge them so they were very dim. However, they worked very well in the summer months when we were camping!

Mr P and I both have Advent books to read: I shall be reading Freedom is Coming by Nick Baines and Mr P, Advent for Everyone by Tom Wright (one of his favourite authors).

I also want to try some of the activities in Wild Advent, such as making jar-jar lanterns, looking at the stars, and making a nativity scene out of leaves, stick and moss.

Sometimes I think I must come across very serious, worthy and austere. Don’t worry – there is a lot of fun, joy and laughter here.

The Mini-Ps have Lego Advent calendars from Grandma and I expect I shall be helping to create Star Wars vehicles out of Lego at 6am!

From Advent Sunday, I also allow myself to wear my Christmas tree and my Christmas pudding hats. I am also planning an Advent hairstyle!

Christian · Ecological concern · Ethical living · nature

Holiday Adventures Part 2

We’ve just returned from another week’s holiday in our caravan, this time in East Anglia staying on the Suffolk coast.

Jupiter and Saturn were visible to the naked eye, delighting Small Boy who loves learning about the planets.

A kingfisher was spotted on one of our boat trips on the Norfolk Broads – my first ever! We also saw common blue butterflies (another first), grey seals, a marsh harrier and reed buntings.

The kingfisher prompted me to find the sonnet As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Gerald Manley Hopkins and to re-read the kingfisher acrostic poem in the beautiful Lost Words books with poems by Robert Macfarlane and illustrations by Jackie Morris.

 As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; 
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells. 

We particularly enjoyed Ross’s Wildlife Boat at Horsey Mere which had a little fore cabin so the children had a secret place to hide, play with toy birds and look out of circular windows at passing boats and birds.

Another highlight was RSPB Minsmere – we visited three times, there was so much to explore! We loved the pond-dipping activity, the woodland dens and the Wild Library.  (The cafe provided a variety of vegan dishes and was making a concerted effort to reduce plastic.)

There are so many beautiful parts of the UK with many still to discover!  

It’s now the end of (meteorological) summer and the start of the new school year. I’ve been feeling down as life returns to routine and rotas, to desks and tables, homework and uniforms.

I remembered that I love autumn (the children want to make conker caterpillars!) and that life outside doesn’t have to stop. The allotment is calling!

1 September is not only the start of autumn, it is also the start of the liturgical season of Creationtide.

Creator of Life, The Earth is full of Your creatures, and by Your wisdom you made them all. During this Season of Creation, open our eyes to see the precious diversity that is all around us. Enlighten our minds to appreciate the delicate balance maintained by each creature. Inspire us to conserve the precious habitats that nurture this web of life.

(Extract from the Season of Creation 2019 prayer)

camping · Ecological concern · Ethical living · nature

Holiday Adventures

Last summer, we enjoyed holidays in Trailey, our retro trailer tent. We loved our nights under canvas but it was clear that a trailer tent wasn’t the best option for our family. Too tricky to turn from a trailer into a tent, we needed something that was more straightforward. While pondering the different options, someone asked us if we wanted to buy their caravan!

We spent just over a week in our home-on-wheels in the Lake District recently and I finally achieved my freshwater swim that I wanted to do in 2018! With Swim the Lakes, I swam to Peel Island (the Wild Cat Island) of Swallows and Amazons fame. Wearing a hired wet suit, the water wasn’t cold at all. I am a slow and steady swimmer and I enjoyed a peaceful, almost solo, swim back from the island enjoying the tranquility and views. Being welcomed back to the shore by my small applauding fan club was very precious!

Wild Cat Island (Peel Island)

Family Pilgrim also climbed a fell – just a little one that I found on this website. Little Miss (who is almost three) was in the ‘pack-pack’ and Small Boy was like a mountain goat in his new walking boots! We were excited to see a new butterfly – the dark green frittillary.

Dark Green Frittillary

The next day Mr P and Small Boy climbed the Old Man of Coniston. I was a very proud Mummy!

Small Boy’s favourite activity was learning to skim stones on Coniston Water – a reminder that the simplest and cheapest activities are often the best!

allotment · Ecological concern · Ethical living · nature

Butterfly wings and other things

We made butterfly and moth wings at the weekend! Inspired by Wildlife Explorers, the children’s RSPB magazine, we cut, stuck and painted. I’m particularly proud of Small Boy’s cinnabar moths – a beautiful butterfly-like moth which flies during the day. Look out for its crimson wings in grassy areas. We also made ‘moth cakes’ (our new name for butterfly cakes!) with fair trade sugar and wildlife-friendly flour.

In other news:

Karma Cola – I’ve enjoyed my first fair trade cola drink, Karma Cola, made from the cola nut grown in the Gola Rainforest in Sierra Leone (and available from the vegan cafe near my office) in a beautiful glass bottle.

Woodmansterne have started producing greetings cards without a plastic wrap! I like sending (and receiving!) cards and I’m trying to find a more sustainable way of doing this. I have a plan to make some…

Tearfund are running a ‘rubbish campaign‘ asking Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever to take responsibility for their plastic waste in poorer countries. You can sign the petition here and discover tips on reducing your own plastic waste here.

Fast fashion has been in the news recently as the government has rejected the recommendations in the Environmental Audit Committee’s Fixing Fashion: Clothing consumption and sustainability report. I’m continuing to buy clothes in charity shops (including some interestingly-patterned – some may say ‘garish’! – pieces) and supplementing with items from ethical companies, such as Howies, People Tree and Rapanui (including one of their new circular economy t-shirts).

In the garden: sparrows, a crow, magpies, pigeons, starlings and blue tits. I saw a goldfinch not too far from home.

At the allotment: carrots, onions, potatoes and courgettes are all growing well. Mr Pilgrim is getting to know our allotment neighbours and we gained some bolted chard to eat and some sweet pepper seedlings to plant. We found lots of ants carrying their eggs on our last visit and Small Boy now wants an ant farm!

What am I reading? The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane and Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah

30 Days Wild · Ecological concern · Ethical living · nature

30 Days Wild 2019

Today is the first day of 30 Days Wild organised by The Wildlife Trusts. We’ve done this for the last two years and it’s definitely helped our lives become wilder!

You can read about 2017’s adventures here and last year’s here!

If you want to take part, visit 30 Days Wild to sign up and receive a pack. Although the pack really is not necessary! It helps with ideas but there’s also an app with suggestions. The idea is to do something ‘wild’ each day in June – in the past we have with child-like fascination marvelled at snails, observed ants and studied flowers.

Our activity for today was finding some flowers (I think my neighbour would call them weeds!) in the garden and putting them in a flower press.

I don’t have plans for the rest of the month except for one – I want to get outside during my lunch break!

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Christian · Ecological concern · Ethical living · Social justice

Extinction Rebellion

This is Just Reflections first ever interview! I’ve tracked down someone who took part in the Extinction Rebellion protests and asked him a few questions as I wanted to find out more (it wasn’t that hard as he sits next to me at work).

Dido: Thank you for agreeing to this! Can you explain why you took part in the Extinction Rebellion protests? 

I’ve known that climate change is a big issue for a long time. When I was at school I used to make what I thought was a really clever joke telling people that they needed to switch off lights when they left a room if they didn’t want to drown. A joke is never really funny when you have to explain the punchline, which I always had to do – the electricity for the lights was generated from burning fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels increases C02 in the atmosphere, which increases the greenhouse effect, which will warm the planet enough to eventually melt the ice caps, causing sea levels to rise, resulting in massive flooding! 40 years later the joke still isn’t funny, but this time it’s because everyone knows about climate change but we still leave the lights on! 

Last year I went with a few friends (from a group we have at my Church called Just Living) to a Green Party meeting where someone read out a statement about Extinction Rebellion. It was the first time I had heard about them. The statement pointed out that all the talk we make about climate change doesn’t seem to make a difference to how people and the government act. Everyone knows about the problem but no-one seems to do anything about it. Now is the time for action – non-violent direct action. They drew parallels with the civil rights movement and talked about how we need to undertake acts of civil disobedience to force people and governments to act. There is a moral imperative to act in disobedience as the issue is so important to the survival not just of humanity, but to a lot of life on the planet. It was a powerful message, but I had reservations; were we really going to change people’s hearts and minds by blocking roads and annoying them? I cycled home pondering these things in my heart, but I didn’t actually do anything about it for quite a while.

Dido: Can you
describe the demonstrations? What did you do? 

I missed the bridge protests last year as I was visiting my son at university, but I went to the Blood of our Children demonstration in March this year. I was deeply touched by this protest which involved pouring litres and litres of fake blood on to the streets outside Downing Street to symbolise the catastrophe that awaits our children if we don’t act now on climate change. It was incredibly moving – the visceral sight of so much ‘blood’ flooding into the gutters, the poignancy of the funeral atmosphere, the powerful and profound speeches. Afterwards I walked down to the Tate to see the documentary photographs of Don McCullin. It was a really upsetting exhibition – image after image showing the terrible things that humans can do to each other. I couldn’t stop crying. And I kept thinking how important it was to stop climate change becoming the cause of more suffering. As the speeches at the demonstration pointed out, it will be the poor who will suffer first, millions of people. We can’t let that happen just to preserve our own comfortable lifestyles.

I also attended the recent protests in London around Easter. Once again I was more of a supporter than an active participant. I brought along my reservations and unease along with my support, thinking, “Well, I have to do something!” I went down to Waterloo Bridge with my daughter (taking photos for an A-level project) and as a small act of disobedience we added a couple of plants from our garden to the growing garden on the bridge. Fired up from the first day of protest I bought some spray chalk and was prepared to re-appropriate the congestion charge road markings at Marble Arch, transforming the two Capital Cs into a message about Climate Change or Cutting Carbon. But when I got there someone had beaten me to it! I got my money back on the spray paint. The next day with a pack of chalk sticks and the help of my son I did help to transform a BUS LANE marking on Waterloo Bridge into the message BUST PLANET. I was amazed that everyone who passed stopped to take a picture! We were only re-chalking someone else’s faded work, so couldn’t really take credit either as wits or true activists!

The atmosphere at the protests was amazing, it was like a week-long street party. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Rebels had all been asked to commit to a ‘no drugs or alcohol’ rule and I’m sure that helped. The few interactions with blocked drivers that I witnessed were firm but very polite.

On Easter Monday my wife and I were took part in a citizens’ assembly at Marble Arch, a kind of open democracy where small groups discuss their ideas and feed them into the decision-making process. Extinction Rebellion are advocating this as a way to involve everyone in coming up with ideas on how to tackle the climate emergency. Our Easter Monday discussion was just to decide on the direction of the protest after the first week.

Dido: Do you think
the protests have had an effect?

To be honest I didn’t expect too much from the recent protests. I still had my reservations on whether inconveniencing people helps to change their minds, especially stopping public transport. Also I wasn’t expecting a few thousand rebels to make much of an impact. I’d recently been on the anti-Brexit march where the streets of London were blocked by literally millions of people, in a procession stretching all the way from Marble Arch to Parliament Square, and that march was completely ignored by politicians. I suppose that’s the Extinction Rebellion’s point – direct action can make more impact than big marches. I think the protests resonated through strong imagery like the garden bridge, the pink boat in the middle of Oxford Circus and through the commitment of the thousand plus arrestees. The timing was perfect too, with David Attenborough’s TV programme, The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report, and Greta Thunberg’s visit all happening at the same time. So the issue of climate change really did come into the public’s attention – and Parliament’s attention. Parliament acknowledged the climate emergency, reacted positively to the idea of citizen’s assemblies, and even admitted in the last week that the Heathrow expansion needs to be looked at again in the light of climate change.

I don’t know if this will result in real political action, but I’m much more hopeful now.

Dido: You’ve already inspired me to swap to vegan pizza and vegan ice cream! (The Ben and Jerry’s cardboard-packaged, vegan, fair trade ice cream was very popular at dinner with Family Pilgrim!) What else can we do as individuals in the fight against global warming? 

Eat all the food that you buy (food waste is one of the major contributors to global warming – methane does more damage to the atmosphere than CO2,).

Eat less meat (none if you can)
From farm to fork, meat production emits way more damaging greenhouse gases – methane, CO2, and nitrous oxide – than a plant-based diet!

Eat less dairy (none if you can).

Drive less.

Don’t fly (greenhouse gases emitted higher up in atmosphere cause even more damage than if emitted on the ground).

Reduce your consumption
(of everything!)

And of course switch the lights off when you leave a room… it’s no joke! 

books · Christian · Ecological concern · Ethical living · Social justice

Inspirations

I’ve been inspired this week:

  • Inspired to pray by this video from Christians in Politics.
A video from Christians in Politics about Brexit
  • Inspired to take the train by Professor Kevin Anderson who appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme on 9 May. He last flew in 2004 and travelled to a conference in China by train – it took him 11 days. He believes we need to radically change how we live our lives if we are serious about climate change. Have a listen on BBC Sounds – it’s at 1hr 15mins.
  • Inspired to reduce meat and dairy. There is a growing awareness of the damage we are doing to the planet by eating meat and animal products and so when a new vegan cafe opened near my office this week, I was keen to visit. The chocolate brownie I ate yesterday was rich and chocolaty and I’m looking forward to trying the spinach filo pastry.
  • Inspired to pray (again!). I was given a copy of a little book called Five Ways to Pray for Your City. Using words from the Bible, it has short sections with ideas for prayers. Sometimes I find it hard to pray and a new tool can reinvigorate my prayers.
  • Inspired by Rachel Held Evans: #becauseofRHE was the hashtag on Twitter this week as people described how Rachel had inspired them in their faith. Heartbreakingly, Rachel passed away last weekend following a short illness, leaving behind her husband and two young children. I have cried – wept for her bereft family and friends and wept too as I remembered the impact of reading her book A Year of Biblical Womenhood. Writing about Junia, the concubine in Judges 19 and Huldah, she gave me a new perspective on myself and on the Bible. She gave me the the words Eshet Chayil – woman of valour. I will miss her writings and her wisdom.

allotment · Ecological concern · Ethical living · nature

Spring observations

60% of children have never seen a peacock butterfly*. Is this surprising?

I’m such a Proud Mummy; Small Boy and Little Miss have not only seen peacocks but can point them out on our ID sheet. They also like to pretend to be peacock butterflies! 

Yesterday, I spotted five different species of butterfly at our local nature reserve: brimstone, small white, small tortoiseshell, peacock and holly blue. Sadly, there was no sign of tadpoles in the pond where we’d seen frogspawn. Small Boy asked me what ate tadpoles. I had no idea but Google tells me dragonfly larvae, water boatmen, grass snakes, birds and hedgehogs eat 90% of frogspawn, tadpoles and froglets.

Mr Pilgrim and I enjoyed a early morning walk on Sunday morning in Christ Church Meadow in Oxford which was full of the colours of an English spring: yellow cowslips, purple snake’s head fritillaries and bluebells. Listening to birdsong and the cathedral bells, we saw swallows – or possibly house martins – engaging in avian aerobatics above the meadows.

Work is slowly and joyfully progressing on our allotment. We’ve enjoyed meeting more of our neighbours and we’ve done lots of digging!

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.

Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg

A happy morning was spent in the warm sunshine with bubbles, bees, birds, butterflies and buns (hot cross!). Onion sets have been planted. The climbing frame is almost ready to be installed and I think that I have found a second-hand shed which we can collect in a few weeks’ time. We hope to plant some seeds over the Easter weekend.

I hope you are able to spend some time outside over this week – even if it’s just a few minutes – to look up and to listen.

*YouGov online survey 16th – 20th October 2015 commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts.

community · Ecological concern · Ethical living · nature

Searching for spring

Today we (mostly I!) tried Wild Lent’s ‘Searching for spring’ activity in the garden. Yellow, pink, indigo, violet and green – the garden is waking up.

Small Boy found a ladybird and took a photo.

Spot the ladybird!

I’ve enjoyed taking photos this month as winter ends and spring begins.

Inspired by another family’s bird feeders, Mr Pilgrim ordered a ‘gift box’ from the RSPB and fixed our bird table. We have already had visits from a blue tit as well as a pigeon and a magpie (but I discount those!)

We are slowly making progress on the allotment.

Our Christmas present from
Grand-père

Our carrot box from Grand-père is in place, we have chitted potatoes, bought seeds, and purchased a second-hand climbing frame from e-Bay!

We plan to turn the section of our garden where we grew courgettes last year into a wildflower area for bees and butterflies.


I’ve been eating oven-baked chilli and lime cashews with peanuts and roasted corn as as I write this! To celebrate Fair Trade Fortnight, I ordered some products from Liberation Nuts, a fair trade company I read about in the magazine from Shared Interest. They are very tasty!

I’m writing this in the afternoon as I’m turning the computer off in the evening as a way of fasting from electricity throughout Lent. But as I do this (and attempt some of the activities from Wild Lent), I will remember these words from a contributor to the Plastic Less Lent group on Facebook:

The falling short is part of it!! It wouldn’t be a Lenten activity, if, at the end of it ( and during) we weren’t made aware of how much we fall short. Easter brings a message of grace and forgiveness – whew! So, do what you can – it won’t ever be enough, but that’s ok.”

books · Christian · Ecological concern · Ethical living · mental health · nature · Uncategorized

A blue tit in the bird bath

Illness, an allergic reaction and stress meant our weekend didn’t go to plan. Yet, in the tiredness and tears, were some memorable moments of joy.

One of the reasons we bought our house (and not the one next door) is that the kitchen sink overlooks the garden. Washing dishes on Saturday morning, I caught sight of a blue tit splashing in our small bird bath.

We love blue tits in our house. Small Boy found me reading about birdsong and we discovered that blue tits tweet ‘see see choo choo’. We often pretend to be birds, bugs and sea creatures in our house and Small Boy enjoyed being a blue tit: ‘see see choo choo’.

(If you are interested in learning how to hide like an octopus, find food like a bee or hop like a frog, I recommend reading Howl Like a Wolf).

All four of us gathered by the windows and excitedly watched our garden guest bathe.

In the afternoon, we headed to our allotment. As we parked, we saw a small bird hopping on the grass (a red wing) and long-tailed tits were in the bare trees at the foot of our plot. Later, a robin drew near hoping for some worms (good news for us and the robin, Mr Pilgrim dug up lots!). Mr P threw one to the robin but the bird was too timid and the wise worm wriggled away. Probably for the best!

Little Miss got bored and kept declaring: ‘I want to go the library!’ Mr Pilgrim kept digging while the children enjoyed choosing books and I picked up my order of Fascism by Madeleine Allbright.

I’ve not seen any butterflies yet although there have been sightings on the Herts and Middlesex Butterfly Conservation website. I’m looking forward to seeing my first butterfly of 2019 and wondering what it will be.

My Valentine’s present was A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson – all about bumblebees. They are fascinating little creatures and it’s a delight to read Dave Goulson’s humorous yet scientific (he’s a professor of biology) prose.

Lent is approaching and I’ve bought Wild Lent (full of outside activities to help us encounter God through creation). I’m also thinking about taking up one of the Living Lent challenges, organised by the Joint Public Issues Team.