community · Ecological concern

Loving and living local

At the start of this year when reading Free by Mark and Lisa Sandrette, I wrote a list of my five personal values: local, community, social justice, growth and creativity. This exercise turned out to be pivotal when, a few months later, I came to make a decision about whether or not to pursue a potential new job; a role which would have fitted with four of these values but was most definitely not ‘local’. I realised then just how highly I hold this value; local does not mean less.

It may be laziness but I just like having everything near each other! I hated the daily commute when I had a job 30 miles away from my home and conversely love my current 10 minute cycle from my front door to the office car park. (Thank you Mr P for rescuing my bike this week when I lost the key to the lock!)

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

It’s important to me to be part of a church in the community where I live as well as being involved in the community itself in some way. I am blessed in being part of a church family which loves our community and have the privilege of being involved in the local community association.

I’m now learning to appreciate my local environment. I have recently discovered, through reading Matthew Oates’ The Pursuit of Butterflies, the Welsh word ‘cynefin’ meaning ‘homepatch’ or ‘heartland’. My current home hasn’t been my home for very long and so I don’t know if the natural world here will ever make my heart sing in the same way revisiting the countryside of my childhood does. But maybe. If I watch and wonder and love and live with the eyes of a child, then as seasons pass, I will be able to say this locale too is the land of my heart.

David Lindo, The Urban Birder, writes about the importance of the naturalists’ ‘local patch’. The ever-generous Mr P presented me with a surprise gift recently of a colourful weighty tome all about butterflies in Hertfordshire and Middlesex – our local patch. There is so much for me to discover and enjoy without having to travel too far.

This week I enjoyed a nature walk with a friend in a nearby nature reserve – a short walk down the road from where I live. The term ‘nature reserve’ may conjure up inaccurate pictures in your mind as this particular site is fairly small and was developed from a site of redundant allotments. Yet, it’s a area near where I live full of wildlife. My friend and I enjoyed watching:

  • A common frog in the pond
  • Dragonflies
  • A red admiral
  • Many speckled woods
  • Beetles (which require further research in my Collins Gem Insects book)
  • Squirrels
  • A robin
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Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

[Note 1: Small Boy was at school and Little Miss was with us but fast asleep. I doubt we would have seen all the above otherwise!]

[Note 2: We also saw a black cat.]

I have a nature notebook in which I am jotting down different wildlife I see each day to help me build an appreciative picture of what is in my ‘homepatch’ and maybe over time to note any changes. I have frequently spotted a red kite flying overhead and spotted a fox twice late at night in the same place.

The Urban Birder’s catchphrase is ‘look up’ but I think mine is just ‘look!’

Ecological concern · Ethical living

What’s on my plate?

I have some exciting news! Family Pilgrim now has an allotment!

We put our name on the waiting list earlier this year and I emailed last month during National Allotment Week to cheekily ask if we had progressed up the list – and we had! We saw it for the first time last week and now have the key. Small Boy, Little Miss and I visited this afternoon with Grand-père and Grandma. It’s a beautiful site although our plot needs some work. We saw a speckled wood butterfly this afternoon and there was a lovely chorus of bird song on our initial visit. We are reading, researching, planning and plotting – hopefully next summer we will have grown some of our own food!

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I’ve just finished reading Wilding by Isabella Tree (such a great name) about Knepp – a place I’d like to visit soon. She writes that 97% of wildflower meadows in Britain have been lost since the Second World War. This is one of those sticky stats that I can’t shake off. It saddens me to think that the countryside my children are experiencing is so different from that which my grandparents grew up in.

I’m looking to buy items produced from alternatives to intensive agriculture (one of the reasons why we have the depletion of wildflower meadows and therefore fewer species of bird, flower and insect) and appreciating our ‘from farm to fork’ food from Church Farm even more. I’ve started looking at Dove’s Farm products and reading about their farming methods.

I’ve just tried oat milk as this is meant to be the most sustainable form of milk but I really didn’t like it! It didn’t work in coffee or my porridge. I will try and drink less milk but I won’t be buying oat milk again!


Our last camping trip of the summer was to the Yorkshire coast and we visited the Seafood Social – a social enterprise cafe serving local fish and chips in Scarborough Market. The food was delicious – best fish and chips I’ve had! It was a pleasure to support this project. I can recommend it if you’re ever in Scarborough!

 

community · Ecological concern · Ethical living

Family Foraging: Hedgerow Jam

Family Pilgrim has made Hedgerow Jam – and what a great team effort! Last week, Small Boy, Little Miss and I went blackberry picking; our local park has blackberry bushes so while the children slid, swung, and see-sawed, I foraged. Small Boy helped from time to time but Little Miss was more interested in eating the juicy berries – her little chin was stained pink by the end of the afternoon!

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After walking in the heat and humidity to another nearby play area while collecting (and eating!) more blackberries, we managed to gather just over 400g.

Using some unwanted jars from a friend and a recipe I’d found in Down to the River and Up to the Trees by Sue Belfrage – a book I’d borrowed from the children’s section of the library – we were all set! Waiting until the children were asleep, Mr Pilgrim and I heated the blackberries and an equal amount of sugar (with some water and pectin-providing lemon juice) and made jam! It didn’t take long and was surprisingly easy – even sterilising the jars was straightforward, we simply put them in the oven at gas mark 1.

Just need some homemade bread to spread it on now!

 

Ecological concern · Ethical living · Social justice

Holiday highs and lows

It’s a long, hot summer. Here are some collected thoughts about living justly in the holidays.

There’s been some holiday highs:

  • Camping – Family Pilgrim enjoyed a week camping in Dorset. I’ve loved our camping trips this year and am already thinking about next year’s. We live more simply (no screen time!) and love being outside. IMG_20180724_090346
  • Beautiful parts of the country – we haven’t travelled very far this holiday but we’ve enjoyed seeing beautiful parts of the English countryside.
  • Butterflies – I am becoming a big fan of butterflies and loved seeing them on the Dorset heath. I have also taken part in Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count at home in the garden (with the help of Small Boy). We only saw ‘cabbage’ whites and it was tricky to judge whether they were Large Whites or Small Whites.
  • Crochet water balloons – ‘Bathies’ as Little Miss has named them are small woolen items crocheted to look like a balloon. After seeing the campsite littered with balloon pieces from water balloons, I decided to try crochet water balloons. We had fun yesterday trying to ambush Mr Pilgrim.
  • Swimming in the sea – Swimming in the sea is one of my favourite activities. I learnt to swim in the sea as a child and I always feel refreshed, revived and restored after a dip. Thank you Grand-père for teaching me to swim – and to swim safely – in the sea. I have now discovered that it is a great way to have some peace!

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  • Making ice lollies – we now have an apparatus for making ice lollies which saves money and single-use plastic. I also gain Parent Points with the children – but lose Dentist Points.
  • Eating Mr Whippy ice creams – We ate a lot of ice creams on holiday and I always chose My Whippy ice creams. A tasty way to reduce single-use plastic! Confession: I let the children choose their own ice creams so not only did I buy treats in single-use plastic, they were also from Nestle (I’ve avoided Nestle since I was a teenager because of the Baby Milk Action boycott): Smarties Pop-Ups, Nobbly Bobbly ice cream and Rowntrees Fruit Pastilles lollies. I can’t bring myself to say no when they have set up their heart on a ‘rainbow’ lolly.
  • Suspended coffees – we had lunch in a community cafe in Dorset which operates a suspended coffee scheme. We paid for two extra coffees which will then be available to someone in need another day.
  • Cycling – Mr P and I hired a tandem and enjoyed exploring the Dorset countryside and the coast. IMG_20180727_104131

Holiday lows:

  • Climate change – I’m (mostly) enjoying the weather. It certainly made camping easier and more enjoyable! But I’m aware that the cause of this heat wave is climate change and I’m challenged to once again think about my carbon footprint and how to reduce it. It’s not a big thing but I have stopped listening to the radio all day. It’s a big step for me as it’s a sign I am becoming more comfortable with silence.
  • Holiday hunger – food banks are seeing a greater demand over the summer holidays and many are experiencing low stock and empty shelves. There are two food banks near me and I added a few extra items into the shopping to help re-stock their shelves.

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  • Period poverty – I’ve been wondering about young women experiencing period poverty over the school summer holidays. What do they do if they have been reliant on the Red Box Project in the school? I know that many of the schemes are working with youth organisations who are seeing young people over the summer. Again, I bought a packet of sanitary towels (since I converted to the Mooncup and CSP, I never them buy them for me now) and dropped them off at my nearest collection point.
  • Loneliness – I was delighted to discover that one of the local churches decided to run its usual toddler group (expanded for older children) last week. It can be hard for parents and children when usual activities and groups pause over the summer. A morning spent making junk models and chatting to others can make a big difference to someone’s week.
  • People sleeping rough – I try to avoid buying water in plastic bottles but sometimes it’s the best thing to do. Please consider giving some bottled water to someone sleeping on the streets. This hot weather is very dangerous for people without shade, without sun cream and without access to water.

As the holidays continue, I am going to look for ways to love more and to act justly.

Christian · community

Walking

The first time I walked down our road, it was not our road. I was praying for a new congregation my church were starting in the community.

A few weeks’ later, I walked down our road for the second time. As Mr Pilgrim and I left a church meeting explaining the vision behind this new congregation, I said ‘let’s be part of it’.

So even though we lived in a different part of town, we joined this new congregation never thinking that this would be for the long-term.

A year later and heavily pregnant, I walked down our road in the dark November rain. It was still not yet ‘our road’ but almost. We were about to buy what is now our house but I was having doubts. Wanting to hear from God and hoping for a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ from him, I walked the streets and prayed. For the first time, I felt a glimpse of God’s love for our community and that love has became my love. I never heard that ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

We moved in and I walked. Walked in the rain. Walked in the sunshine. Walked to help my baby sleep. Walked to get out of the house.

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Photo by Paul Dufour on Unsplash

Two years later, weighed down with fears and pregnant with Little Miss, I walked in the balmy heat of late summer. Walking to manage my gestational diabetes, the aroma of the lavender in people’s front gardens lifted my despondent spirit.

And today I walked. The houses are no longer houses, they are the homes of people I know. The school isn’t just a school, it’s our community.  I walked past places we know and are known: the post office, the pre-school, the churches, the Red Box collection point and the Green. I saw love, community and beauty.

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As I walked today, I remembered the first time I walked on this road. I remembered walking while pregnant in the winter rain and then in the summer sun, and I give thanks for God’s faithfulness and goodness.

books

So many books, so little time…

It’s often not a good sign when I have too many books on the go. It can mean I’m not focused and my mind is rushing around. But sometimes it’s just because I can’t resist another book. I keep saying no more until I’ve finished the pile by the side of my bed!

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This is what I’ve just read, am reading and am about to read.

No More Friendly Fire (bought from Eden)

This short book was written by the leaders of my church, Wellspring Church, Watford and I had the privilege of hearing some of the chapters delivered as talks a couple of years ago. One of which even influenced Little Miss’s name!

I wish I’d read this book years ago! I grew up in a church where women weren’t allowed to preach or have formal leadership roles. My confidence was so low that I just accepted this view. And accepted it for many years. Internalised misogyny.

But then – and this was partly as a result of hearing Helen herself preach – I realised that there was a different view. I read and studied such books as Why Not Women?, Discovering Biblical Equality, Women in the Church and Jesus Feminist, and I have been encouraged in my own spiritual gifts and have grown and flourished.

No More Friendly Fire focuses on how men and women can – and should – work together and explores this through looking at biblical stories such as Deborah, Esther and Ruth. Helen and Tim don’t shy away from looking at some of the awkward and confusing passages in the Bible and also aren’t afraid to reveal their own vulnerabilities. It’s a short book and definitely worth reading!

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Phoebe by Paula Gooder (also from Eden)

This has been on my wish list for a while. It’s like a novel but not. In fact, Paula Gooder says it’s not a novel and it’s helpful to bear that in mind when reading as it does feel too didactic in parts. It’s based on a real life Christian woman called Phoebe who was a deacon in the early church. Other Christians mentioned in the New Testament make appearances too: Junia and Adronicus, Prisca and Aquila, even Peter. It’s an interesting approach, very easy to read and a great way to bring the early church to life.

In Pursuit of Butterflies (library)

Trying to identify butterflies is tricky when looking after two young children! Both butterflies and children move quickly and demand attention. There’s an abundance of cabbage whites and meadow browns (or are they gatekeepers?) and I was thrilled to watch a peacock earlier this week and may have spotted a red admiral this afternoon.

In Pursuit of Butterflies is evoking a longing to go ‘butterflying’ to discover some of the rarer butterflies. I can’t travel around the country in pursuit of butterflies or spend hours standing in a wood but I can experience some of the pleasure vicariously through this book by an erudite butterfly-obsessive.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (borrowed)

The rise of the far right has got me thinking and I decided I needed to read some Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and author who was executed in 1945 for his role in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Following a colleague’s advice, I’m going to start with Eric Metaxas’ biography: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

Time to stop writing and get back to reading!

Christian · Ecological concern

Transformed

I love finding out the word for ‘butterfly’ in different languages; I’ve discovered many of the words are beautiful and fun to say, such as papillon (French), mariposa (Spanish), farfelle (Italian – like the pasta), labalaba (Yoruba) and lolo (Malagasy). In other languages, the meaning of the word is evocative, such as the Danish word, sommerfugl (literally ‘summer bird’),  and the more down-to-earth Dutch word, boterschijte.

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One of my 18 Countryside Activities for 2018 was to learn to identify five new butterflies. So far this year, I’ve spotted and learnt:
And hopefully I will see a few more as the summer progresses.
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Small Boy loves Transformers (he has some of the toys as well as a DVD of the 1980s cartoons) and was delighted recently to have the opportunity to sleep in a ‘transforming’ sofa bed.

Last year, when chatting with my writer friend (and owner of the transforming sofa) about a section in her book, I was struck powerfully by her insight that the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly is irreversible. The butterfly does not – and cannot – go back to being a caterpillar. The butterfly is not like a Transformer, a sofa bed or our trailer tent. The transformation is permanent.

St Paul, in one of his letters to the church in Corinth, explains how: ‘If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!’.

When I chose to become a pilgrim, a spiritual transformation happened. I looked no different on the outside but I was a ‘new creation’ and could not go back to being a caterpillar even if I tried! And I tried.

As I continue on my journey of faith, I am able to accept as true both the immediate spiritual transformation that occurred (I am a new creation, irrevocably changed) and the slow (at times, painfully slow) gentle refashioning which is making me more like Christ himself.

I love the analogy of pilgrimage and this is something I am going to be exploring over the next couple of months. But every time I see a butterfly I am joyfully reminded of the great transformation that has already taken place in my life.

30 Days Wild · Ecological concern

My Wild Journey

Since reading Just Living last year, I have started a journey of discovering the beauty of the natural world – and the harm that we are causing it.

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The view from our nearest park

Last June, Small Boy, Little Miss and I took part in 30 Days Wild. I recently reread my blog post on it and was struck by how something that was on the periphery of my conscious thought has become a central part of who I am.

I’ve enjoyed reading Robert Macfarlane and John Lewis-Sempel and have been influenced by their erudite, evocative and literary writings on Britain’s countryside.

But I had learned to see another wildness, to which I had once been blind: the wildness of natural life, the sheer force of ongoing organic existence, , vigorous and chaotic. This wildness was not about asperity, but about luxuriance, vitality, fun.

The weed thrusting through a crack in the pavement, the tree root impudently cracking a carapace of tarmac: these were wild signs, as much as the storm wave and the snowflake.

There was as much to be learned in an acre of woodland on a city’s fringe as on the shattered summit of Ben Hope: this was what Roger [his mentor and friend] had taught me – and what Lily [his young daughter] did not yet need to be taught.

It was something most people forgot as they grew into adults.‘ Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places, p.316

This ‘wildness of natural life’ – ties in so well with the ethos of 30 Days Wild. Last year, we spent two weeks in the Lakes during June with nature on our doorstep. I had been unsure how we would find 30 wild activities this year when at home in our post-war housing estate on the outskirts of the outskirts of London. But that’s the point of 30 Days Wild. It’s there. We just need to look.

Today we marvelled at a snail speedily slithering over our watering can – look carefully and you can see its poo!

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We watched one of the residents of our bug hotel, an ant, carry a small dead fly that had been caught in a web. One wing with its intricate lace pattern remained captured in the spider’s trap. Woodlice scurried away when we lifted up last year’s decaying leaves.

Yesterday, we walked, picking up litter on the way, to our nearest nature reserve – an area of wilderness reserved for bees, butterflies and brambles – and played with sticky goose grass.

June, and so our 30 Days Wild, did however begin on another Family Pilgrim camping trip. The campsite was on the edge of a wood and each morning a resident cuckoo would call for hours. I’d never heard a cuckoo before and couldn’t believe my ears at first. We made Stick Man out of sticks, wandered in the woods and when it rained and we sheltered inside, I drew a duck!

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Spot the Stick Men

I part-climbed a silver birch tree, walked barefoot on the grass and created daisy chains for the children. We found over 20 cabbage white caterpillars and pretended a tree (species unknown!) was a house.

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You might not want to take part in 30 Days Wild this year but maybe you could take a little bit of time to discover wildlife and wild places on your doorstep.

Ecological concern · Ethical living

A mole, badgers, ratty and a frog

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.

(The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham)

I’ve been spring cleaning this week which always reminds me of Mole. Small Boy was an enthusiastic but not very skilled helper! It’s been a long winter; I’ve been feeling a bit ‘bluh’ since Christmas. But now the colder weather has gone, pockets of colour are emerging in the garden and we can spend sunny afternoons outside.

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We made mud pies – one of the National Trust’s 50 Activities to do before you’re 11 and 3/4. This weekend we’re going to be doing more digging.

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Number 10 on my 18 Countryside Activities list for 2018 was ‘See a live badger’. I have wanted to see a live badger for many many years and now I have – nine in fact!

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Last year, we joined the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust and in February I discovered they had a bookable badger hide. Last night Mr P and I sat very still and very quietly behind a large glass window watching and waiting. First we saw two ducks, then two rats, then two rabbits…and then the main show began…one badger…followed by another…and then another. Nine in total. Beautiful creatures, eating noisily and oblivious to their audience.


Last summer, I described how in Ruth Valerio’s Just Living, there are seven themes of practical response with ecological concern the area where I had the most to grow. I re-read this blog post yesterday and was pleasantly surprised by how much I had grown.

And so to Ratty. Ratty in the Wind of the Willows is of course not a rat but a water vole. These are one of my favourite animals.

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Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash

I am discovering more about my local river, the River Colne, through the River Colne Catchment Action Network and Watford in the Water. I used to think it was a canal (!) but now I am enjoying discovering more about this small river so it was exciting to read this week that water voles have been spotted there.


No Toad to complete the Wind in the Willows cast list but we did see a local frog!

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