Monday, 28 February 2011

They’re Grrrrreat!

Look! Just look at the useful tin for putting things in I picked up for £3 at a Charity Shop! I don’t even eat Frosties (Frosted Flakes to my American peeps) but I love Tony the Tiger because he was originally voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft.

And who is Thurl Ravenscroft, I hear you cry? And where can I get a cool name like that? Have you ever seen the film Dr Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas? Of course you have! And what is the best, most memorable bit? That’s right! The song!

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch.
You really are a heel.
You're as cuddly as a cactus,
You're as charming as an eel,
Mr. Grinch.
You're a bad banana with a greasy black peel.

You're a monster, Mr. Grinch.
Your heart's an empty hole.
Your brain is full of spiders.
You've got garlic in your soul, Mr Grinch.
I wouldn't touch you with a
Thirty-nine and a half foot pole.

You're a vile one, Mr. Grinch.
You have termites in your smile,
You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile,
Mr Grinch.
Given the choice between the two of you,
I'd take the seasick crocodile.
[ Lyrics from: ]
You're a foul one, Mr. Grinch.
You're a nasty wasty skunk.
Your heart is full of unwashed socks.
Your soul is full of gunk,
Mr Grinch.

The three best words that best describe you,
Are as follows, and I quote"

You're a rotter Mr Grinch
You're the king of sinful sots
Your hearts a dead tomato squashed with moldy purple spots
Mr Grinch

Your sole is a appalling dump heap
Overflowing with the most disgraceful
Assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable,
Mangled up in tangled up knots.

You nauseate me, Mr Grinch
With a noxious super nos
You're a crooked jerky jockey and,
You drive a crooked horse
Mr Grinch!

You're a 3 Decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich
With arsenic sauce!

That’s right, folks--Thurl Ravenscroft is the man with the memorable voice who made that song famous (and made the show a success) and do wanna know what? They accidentally left his name off the credits. GASP! I know. When Theodore Geisel (the real name of Dr Seuss) realized, he phoned him up and apologised and promised that it would be rectified. Well, he lied. How do I know this? Because I wrote to Thurl and told him what a big fan I was and how my students LOVED the film and thought the song was the best part and we were so sorry his name got left off the credits and we wanted him to know that WE knew it was him. I got a very nice letter back saying “Tell them I STILL get no credit!” and that’s how I know. So there.  Sadly, he died of cancer in 2005, but I will always treasure my letter.

That particular class was very empathetic and supportive of their peers. At every opportunity they would leap out of their chairs and shout “You’re Grrrrreat!” if anyone who struggled with learning had a successful moment. We called that “Giving them a Thurl.” He liked that and thought it was nice. I was very lucky to get such a personalized letter back from him--but that’s what we do. We write to people we admire-- write sincerely and personally-- and more times than not we have been rewarded with a generous reply. Sending a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope doesn’t hurt either. Many celebrities are grateful because they are not as rich as people assume they are. They are just working people like you and me. At least the ones we write to are.

So what will I store in my useful tin for putting things in? No idea. But whatever it is, it’ll be grrrrreat!

Friday, 25 February 2011

The Riddle of the Sphinx

A four syllable word is the answer you seek,
Playfully written by Heather the geek.

Thomas in his usual Eeyore-ish form
Takes no credit at all for this dreadful poem.

The first syllable is in city
Minus the y.
Stop looking so bored dear,
Please do not sigh.

The second is in bin but not in bun.
Stop rolling your eyes dear,
This is meant to be fun.

The third comes before the art of motorcycle maintenance.
I know it doesn’t scan,
But at least it makes sense.

The fourth is a boat
With a Union Jack sail.
Now can you guess what
Arrived in the mail?

The answer for viewers at home is:


That’s right, folks! Yesterday we received a certified letter from the Home Office. I was worried as we had already had one and it was kind of a disaster. Well I was the disaster. About a week ago we received a certified letter from the Home Office. It included all the documents we sent (current passports and marriage licence) plus a letter. I TRIED to read the letter, dear reader, really I did. But the letters squirmed on the page like snakes and reconfigured themselves into some other words--the words of my greatest fears and I read it all wrong. Or really just made shit up that wasn’t there. I implied a lot of subtext that was not there. I phoned Spiderman at work all in a panic--which made him panic--and brought to him the offending letter. When he read the letter-which somehow stayed a letter and didn’t reconfigure itself into lies--he gave me the stink eye for days because what I said it said and what it actually said were 2 separate things entirely. All they really were saying was “here are these documents, we don’t need them anymore. Could we have your expired passports and proof that you were born where you say you were (birth certificates)” Yeah, I didn’t get that meaning at all.

Luckily Spiderman was home to take this letter and open it and read it first because Lord knows what I would have made it say. But suffice it to say this one included our documents and had the glorious words:

I am pleased to say that the application has been successful and you will shortly receive a letter inviting you to attend a citizenship ceremony. When you attend a ceremony you will be presented with a certificate of British citizenship.

I would like to think that even I could not have misinterpreted the meaning of that. But let’s not hold our breath, shall we?

We are more thrilled than you can imagine and extremely relieved. It happened so quickly--we were told it would take between 4-6 months to process the paperwork and they did it all within a month. Hooray!

This all stems from being spoiled in 1990. As exchange students from sheltered Louisiana we were thrust into London headfirst and we were given an unquenchable desire--a thirst for more. More art, history, theatre, lectures--intellectual stimulation that Louisiana could not provide. In London there is always something going on. Sure, we tried to recapture that feeling back in Louisiana when our exchange semester was over. We drove to New Orleans, Texas, Mississippi to see art exhibitions. We attended as many local plays as we could. But it wasn’t enough. We needed more. If you wait until you are older, more financially secure, retired or whatever--it may be too late to live your dream. My dad had so many plans for travel and adventure after his retirement  and died at the age of 56--having only managed a few of the journeys he dreamed of. We did not want that to happen to us.

Yesterday, we took the train into London and went to the British Library to see a small, but very beautiful display about Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner which included original handwritten manuscripts and several different illustrated versions of the text. We also took in an interesting exhibit about how the English language developed and saw a Middle English manuscript which is the first written recorded use of the word fart. Can you beat that?

 Then we strolled, nipping into bookshops and occasional cafes until we came to the Courtauld Gallery. We weren’t even planning on going there, but we saw a poster advertising an exhibit called Life, Legend and Landscape: Victorian Drawings and Watercolours  and we thought “Why not?” so we popped in to see it as well as their permanent collection. Very nice--the exhibit had a Millais, Rossetti and a Landseer just to name a few of our favourite artists.

Then we ambled our way to the National Theatre for a lecture on the history of Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s book through all the film variations and how they differ. Fascinating stuff. 

Then it was back home by train and we were home and snug in our beds by 10:00pm.

This is why we are here. Thank you LC/MC Overseas program for awakening in us the desire, thank you Home Office for granting us citizenship and most of all--thank you God for all the blessings that you bestow on us.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Making it (doo doo doo)

No, this is not a crap song from the 70s by the Dr Pepper guy who went on to be a werewolf in London. Its a Craft Tutorial! How to decorate a box with ordinary cheap household stuff and make it look amazing like it is posh antique that has been in your family for generations. OK, maybe not THAT amazing, but it still turns out really cool and looks neater than you think it will considering the ingredients. Why am I decorating box you ask? Well, remember when I was planting mud in trees (sorry, other way round but it felt like that) and I collected all those rocks for my storytelling? No? Then go back here and refresh your memory.   
Anyway, I need a nifty box to keep them in that will also be a useful and beautiful prop for the story. Why should you decorate a box? I dunno, but when you see it youll want to make one too.

You need:
A cardboard box (duh!) I bought one of those heavy duty cardboard ones at Hobby Craft (thanks to Iain and Rachel for bringing me there) but I suppose any old sturdy brown box will do.
Some masking tape
Plain old brown shoe polish (the kind that comes in a pot not the sponge on kind)
I bought mine for 50p.

Thats it! Seriously, thats it.

What to do:
Tear uneven pieces of masking tape and layer it over the box covering all surfaces. It is okey-dokey if the tape overlaps. In fact, please overlap because that creates interesting shadow effects, but more about that later. The main thing is to cover it completely with different sized and shaped pieces. It will look better if the edges are raggedy rather than straight so try to get all sides of the tape ragged as you layer. Also make sure it is all pressed down well--no bits of edges poking up.

Here is a picture showing the whole box covered with tape.

 Here is a close up of the lid where you can hopefully see the puzzle effect made by overlapping tape.

Then take some shoe polish on a cloth and rub some into the tape. Isnt that amazing? I bet you didnt think it would do that! But the polish stains it a nice antique brown and the edges of the tape get darker giving it that Bonanza burned map effect. Coat the whole thing with shoe polish and then wipe off any excess with another cloth. Let dry and apply another coat. Wipe off excess and let it dry.  Keep going until it is as dark as you want it or you keel over from the smell of the shoe polish (which was a bit wiffy, but faded as it dried.) 

Here is the lid half done so you can see the effect. Very groovy.

   A word of caution: Dont try to do too much at once. The tape really starts to pull the skin on the pads of your fingers after a while (especially if you are a sensitive flower like me and adhesives bother you.) By the end it felt like my fingerprints had been pulled off which would be swell if I was master criminal embarking on a life of crime. However, I am not therefore it was all a bit ouchie boo-boo so please do take care. Dont come crying to me if your fingers bleed all over your lovely box. I did warn you.

Here is the finished box. Isnt it lovely? It almost seems a shame to fill it with rocks. I am so glad to have finally gotten to use this idea. You see, I am craft hoarder. I find craft ideas and I save them in a folder labelled CRAFT IDEAS I CANT WAIT TO USE (seriously, I have a labelled folder that is crammed with ideas.) I found this idea in some craft magazine 5-6 years  ago and have just been waiting for the right moment to try it out. I was a bit nervous it wouldnt work, I mean--masking tape and shoe polish? Spiderman was his usual sceptical self but in the end even he had to admit it looked pretty fantastic.

So go and make a useful box for putting things in today and impress your friends.  

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

And Justice For All

The last of the Quaker Testimonies is the one dealing with Justice, Equality and Community. Quakers really do believe in “that of God in everyone” or to put it another way “that of Good in everyone.” I know what you are thinking--what about Hitler? Or Pol Pot? Or George W Bush? But hear me out. If everyone--and I mean everyone--is made in the image of God and filled with both Light and Darkness then consider the words of George Fox, founder of the Quakers.

I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. And in that I saw the infinite love of God.

There is an ocean of light and love in us all, but some of us choose to dive back into the murky depths of the ocean of darkness and death, but there is always light and love inside, even if it is buried and forgotten.

Quakers recognize the equal worth and unique nature of every person. Quakers were one of the earliest advocates for women’s rights as well as the abolition of slavery. This means working to change the systems that cause injustice. This is one of the reasons we have pressed on towards citizenship-we will be granted the right to vote and voting is one way to change the system. But not the only way. 

Quaker Advices and Queries 34-35:

34: Remember your responsibilities as a citizen for the conduct of local, national, and international affairs. Do not shrink from the time and effort your involvement may demand.
35: Respect the laws of the state but let your first loyalty be to God's purposes. If you feel impelled by strong conviction to break the law, search your conscience deeply. Ask your meeting for the prayerful support which will give you strength as a right way becomes clear.

Many Quakers have become involved in the protest at Faslane  involving the Trident Nuclear Submarines. We sent delegates to go for a protest a few years ago and I felt called to go, but knew I could not. If we had been arrested I could have been deported. Citizenship would mean I would only get arrested, should God call me to do something I believe is right.

Quakers also work with people who are suffering from injustice such as prisoners and asylum seekers. I have a pen pal on death row in Texas. Because I believe in the words of Sister Helen Prejean—No one is as bad as the worst thing they’ve ever done. I was profoundly moved when I heard her speak in London a few years ago at a Human Rights conference and have come to treasure my friendship with my pen pal. He may have made a bad choice (a very bad choice) but I believe he is a good person and I am not ashamed to call him my friend.   

Quaker Advices and Queries 32-33:

32: Bring into God's light those emotions, attitudes and prejudices in yourself which lie at the root of destructive conflict, acknowledging your need for forgiveness and grace. In what ways are you involved in the work of reconciliation between individuals, groups and nations?
33: Are you alert to practices here and throughout the world which discriminate against people on the basis of who or what they are or because of their beliefs? Bear witness to the humanity of all people, including those who break society's conventions or its laws. Try to discern new growing points in social and economic life. Seek to understand the causes of injustice, social unrest and fear. Are you working to bring about a just and compassionate society which allows everyone to develop their capacities and fosters the desire to serve?

   Many of the causes of injustice are on our doorstep. Cheap clothing that comes from sweat shop labour. Cheap meat that comes from intense factory farming. Cheap labour that comes from asylum seekers that we exploit.

Many Quakers are involved in peace keeping and negotiations between warring countries. Our Meeting House has sponsored and raised money for South East Asia Peace Projects for 2 years. How can we do the same in our own communities or our homes?

Being a Quaker means that I am constantly on the lookout for ways to make the world a better place. Every day I pray the prayer of St Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Saturday, 19 February 2011


One year ago today my dear young friend Tasnim died after a 2 years fight with cancer. She was in year 6 at my school the first year I was there and I worked with her often, helping her edit her work and increase her vocabulary. She was an avid reader and wanted to do well in school and was such a joy to work with. She went on to secondary school and I forgot about her as I was busy helping other young people. But then we got word that there was a lump on her collar bone and they were running tests. It turned out to be bone cancer. She had it removed and they started treatment and I sent her a card that sparked off a renewal to our friendship. She was no longer a pupil, but grew into a dear friend. We wrote often and after a year her mother gave me her mobile phone number and we began to talk once a week. I made a few visits to her house when she was feeling well and we made cards together. Tasnim, even in her great weakness from the drugs remained a crafty person. Her eyes could no longer focus and read and so I sent her CDs from audio library so she could still have access to books. We talked openly and honestly about illness and death--something she had not been able to do with her own family. But after 2 years of fighting, the cancer spread and she could no longer go on. She held on many months longer than she probably needed to because her mother was so devastated and was begging her not to go.  She was 15 years old when she died. It was very hard because I had come to love her as a sister. But I know she put more into those last few years that some people do in a lifetime.

Tasnim, I remember and I miss you.

22 years ago, back in 1989 on the 20th of February,  Spiderman and I had our first date. We were supposed to go out to dinner and then to the Homecoming Game, but over dinner we discovered that neither of us liked basketball all that much and so we decided to skip the game. we went back to our dorm rooms, took off our fancy clothes and put on some warm, practical clothes then grabbed a blanket and some bread and went out to the lake to feed the ducks. We spent a long time huddled up together under the blanket feeding the ducks under the midnight  sky and talking. So much nicer than sitting through a basketball game.

Then a year later in 1990 we found ourselves as exchange students in England--a place we fell in love with and vowed to come back to someday. And here we are. On the 20th of February 21 years ago, Spiderman asked me to marry him and he's been stuck with me ever since.

Spiderman, I remember. And I love you.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

I wonder how much smarter I'd be....

....if my brain space was not taken up by 80s song lyrics? Spiderman brought home a treat yesterday from the shops--Journey's Greatest Hits on CD. And do you know what? I could sing practically every song karaoke style--much to his annoyance. I'm sure if he thought I'd be serenading him with Open Arms whilst singing into a spoon instead of cooking he would have left it on the shelf.

The point is I have a good memory for lyrics. If my brain space wasn't given over to thousands of 80s pop tunes how much of a genius would I be?


Sorrow covered hands

Yesterday I went to school a different way than I normally do and as I was walking I could see on the ground ahead of me a rich carpet of colours. I could not tell what it was but the colours were magnificent--reds, golds, tawny browns, a bit of blue. As I got closer I realized it was a bird--a pheasant. A dead pheasant to be precise. He was not torn apart but but there was a bit of blood around his throat. He was lying right in the middle of the driveway to a car park and I stood there stunned for many minutes looking at his beauty and crying while people just walked on by. Some walked around him and made a noise in the back of their throat like they were disgusted that a dead animal should be in their path. Some just stepped over him as if he didn't exist. People in cars were craning their necks to see what was there, but no one did anything. I could not bear the thought of leaving him there--right in the entrance of the car park--where his magnificent form would be crunched under the wheel of so many cars. I pulled him by his wing (he was surprisingly heavy) to the sidewalk and tucked him away so that no one would kick him. Then I bent down and prayed for him and went to school. When I walked home he was still where I left him. If he is there today I will have to do something. I don't know what. But I cannot bear to think of leaving him there.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Awww..stop it, you’re making me blush

I prefer the natural look. Thats why I dont shave my body hair, I like the animalistic look of my body in its natural state. I have never really been one for tonnes of make-up. Except in the 8th grade where I thought it was a good idea to wear lots of navy blue eyeliner covered in sparkly peach eye shadow. My mum put a stop to that, thankfully. Back when we lived stateside you might say Shes tarted up like a French whore (no offence to the French) Over here in the UK if you wear lots of make-up you are called a slapper--because it looks like you slapped it on with a trowel, geddit?

However, in my natural state I am a bit pale. I like to cheat a bit and give myself that Oh dont you look healthy, have you just been on holiday glow without it looking like I was wearing anything at all. For years I swore by Bonne Bell blushing gel. It came in a wee squeezy tube and looked bright red but went on your skin a nice rosy hue. Didnt all American girls of the 80s go through a Bonne Bell faze? They had all these funky flavoured lip glosses called Lip Smackers that came 3 to a tube. Remember that, do you? Me too. And while I had buckets full of the lippy, the blushing gel was where my heart belonged. After a while (like after I was married) you couldnt find any Bonne Bell for love nor money. I guess all the teenage girls from the 80s grew up and went on to proper make-up from Clinique or Estee Lauder, but not me.  And I have always looked for a comparable substitute. There is Benetint--that costs the same as a down payment on a small house (ok, maybe not that much, but like £21). The ingredients are oh so simple—water, rosewater, glycerine, Quaternium-15  and CARMINE. For those of you who dont know carmine aka. cochineal its made from crushed up bugs. And I sure as hell wouldnt want that on my face (or anywhere else) even if I wasnt a vegan. But look out! Carmine/cochineal is everywhere. Where you least expect it--like grapefruit juice. If your grapefruit juice is not a natural brownish pink but rather a bright, dare I say fluorescent colour, I call carmine. Check the label and see if Im wrong.

 So for years I have looked for one to buy that didnt contain ingredients I avoid.  You probably think I spend my life reading labels. Well I do. But there are good reasons for that. Food wise, I dont want to ingest any animal products--animals do not need to suffer and die for my plate. But there are lots of scary ingredients out there and so label reading is one of my hobbies.

Anyway, I have longed for a gel blush that would replicate those heady teenage years. I have some non coal tar make up pigments made from mica and iron oxides from a cosmetic making company just waiting to be used. I had made a cream blush by mixing pigment with a bit of unfragranced non petroleum based lotion. It was ok. A bit thick and didnt blend well, but it was better than nothing. What I really needed was some aloe vera gel. But would you believe that EVERY tube I ever picked up was full of  crazy shit like 75 ingredients including propylene glycol and every kind of paraben preservative. Some even had SLS, for Friths sake. Why does your aloe vera need to be foamy?

Last week I found a tube of aloe vera gel from Holland and Barrett that contained 6 ingredients. Everything a-ok. The only small disappointment was that it contained sodium hydroxide which is lye. Lye features in real soap but KY Jelly also contains lye and you put that up your fanny, so it cant be all that bad. 
So I have made a batch of red gel in a wee pot and have been test driving it for the last 7 days. It is JUST like my old Bonne Bell and all week long people have commented on how healthy I looked--how radiant--like Id just finished having a brisk walk by the windswept seaside or been up to married things. So, yeah. Id say complete success.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Nasties and Where to Find Them

I spent possibly up to 10% of my life reading labels. Sad but true. Being a vegan means constant vigilance (to quote Mad Eye Moody) because the product that was animal free the last time you bought it may not be so now. This refers back to the Waitrose onion bhajis and pakora incident a few years back where they changed the recipe and added yoghurt. But for the most part if you eat whole foods like beans, grains, fruits and veggies you’ll be ok.

But there are other places in our lives that I am a voracious label reader. Ever since my teens I have been intensely worried about animal testing. I have always tried to buy, to the best of my knowledge, brands that were healthier and did not test on animals. I started noticing about 8-9 years ago that we both had lots of small niggling health issues. For Spiderman it was eczema and for me it was asthma--certain personal products we used caused us both to have a flair up. I started reading labels and discovered that half the time you can’t understand it anyway because it is all chemical gobbledy-gook. I started doing research as to what these polysyllable words meant and was deeply surprised. Even some “Health Food Shop” brands that didn’t test on animals were full of chemical nightmares. When I really started to look at what we used I was astounded at the chemical cocktail we were rubbing into our hair and skin on a daily basis. So now I have a small bunch of tried and true products that are as chemical free as they can be, don’t test on animals and contain no animal products.      

Things I avoid and why:
Petrochemicals. Anything that contains petroleum. Washing up liquid and liquid soaps are just some of the household products that contain it. Cosmetics and skin lotion are full of it. Baby oil is nothing but mineral oil. Ever read paraffinum liquidum on a label? Thats petroleum. Ever wonder why vaseline stinks like car exhaust? Its made from petroleum. Theres a clue in the name. Petroleum. The same stuff petrol is made from! The same fossil fuels that the world is whizzing through at an alarming rate to make more plastic, drive more cars, choke the planet to death with fumes --do you really want that on your skin??? No, me neither. And if you are still not convinced: mineral oil blocks your pores and does not let your skin breathe. It traps in toxins and hinders normal respiration by keeping oxygen out.

Paraben preservatives any product that contains water will eventually grow bacteria and therefore needs a preservative. Im not negating that. But parabens are oestrogen mimics that can really screw up your hormones and your body and can affect your reproductive organs. I read somewhere that a very large percent of women who had breast cancer had high levels of parabens in their breast tissue. Just saying. Another health issue is that parabens are absorbed directly into the blood stream rather than through the gastrointestinal tract. And there are multiple kinds--like methyl paraben and propyl paraben--but the clue is in the name. .Propyl paraben, has been shown to adversely affect male reproductive functions; at the daily intake level acceptable under EC law, it decreased sperm production. Avoid them at all costs.

Propylene Glycol is related to antifreeze. It appears in most shampoos and body washes because it is a wetting agent that opens your pores and lets the chemicals in. I am not a car and therefore do not need antifreeze.

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) is a detergent, that is found in approximately 90% of commercial shampoos, including "no more tears" baby shampoos as well as toothpastes, bubble baths and shower gel as well as industrial cleansing chemicals such as engine degreasers.
 It makes stuff foamy. Like really foamy, but in reality it is a caustic cleanser that can cause irritation to the scalp, eyes and skin. A report published in the Journal of The American College of Toxicology in 1983 showed that concentrations as low as 0.5% could cause irritation.  And concentrations of 10-30% caused
 Skin corrosion
 Severe irritation
It also goes onto state that SLS was also linked with:
 Eye irritations and deformities in children
 Hormone imbalance
 Protein denaturing (disturbs the protein structure in our cells)
According to the Women's Environmental Network there is some evidence to suggest reproductive effects and damage to liver, lungs & immune system.
Check your shampoo, body wash and toothpaste--do you really want to be rubbing that through your skin (the largest organ in the body?)

MEA and TEA Work as an emollient in skin softening lotions or as a humectant in other personal care products. These combine with other ingredients such and form carcinogens such as formaldehyde. Look at your shampoo bottle. I bet they are in there. Do you really want to wash carcinogens so close to your brain? Didnt think so.

 Coal tars are often used as a colouring agent but they are also a known carcinogen. Check your make up. Does it say something like Red # 40? Thats coal tar. Speaking of which, many brands of red lipstick have been found to be contaminated with lead. Considering that the average woman eats XX pounds of lipstick in her lifetime that doesn’t sound all that appetising. I’d like to order a plate of cancer please with a side of lead. Thank you very much.

Talc Talc is white and is mined from the earth. Talc deposits are often next to asbestos deposits underground. Asbestos is also white. Then it becomes a case of you got your talc in my asbestos and No you got your asbestos in my talc and no one wants that.

I have found that sometimes the simplest products are the best. We still buy shampoo--I buy Avalon Organics which is so mild it hardly foams because it doesn’t contain 27 industrial strength foaming agents. But don’t be fooled--lather does not equal clean. But I wash my face with sunflower oil and rosewater. I use coconut butter as a body lotion and as an ingredient in my deodorant called Goat-Be-Gone. We buy foam free fluoride free toothpaste. Because fluoride is a toxin that is a by product of the fertilizer industry. It is illegal to dump fluoride in rivers because it kills fish so why would I want that in my mouth?? But that’s for another post.

Look in your bathroom and see what dangers lurk there. What can you get rid of? I don’t think that’s what Emily Dickinson meant in her poem I Died For Beauty, do you?

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Like a Pig in Mud

I am describing the rest of the tree planting tale at the request of my dear old mum who laughed herself silly as I related it to her on the phone yesterday. We have the perfect arrangement--we talk on the phone while I am having lunch and she is having breakfast. The 6 hour time distance works like a dream.

As I said before, we left the school with shiny happy faces and (mostly) our spare shoes and snacks. We went by coach (bus) and had a jolly 1 hour drive with everyone singing and laughing (and the occasional person vomiting in a sick bag.) We arrived with clean boots and clean hearts to do our bit for the environment. But then things got sticky.

The mud did, rather. Because of England’s glorious rain the mud was really--muddy. Not the sort that you just wipe your feet on the mat and it’ll all be fine, but the thick, gooey, sticky, clay like sort of mud that stuck tenaciously to our boots. And after digging a few trees everyone was ankle deep in mud. You could try scraping it off with the spade, but after a minute or two it was back, thicker than ever and now seemed to be glued to the bottom of your trouser leg. In order to see if the hole was deep enough you had to get down eye level with the hole to see if the roots of your tree would stick out--and if they did, bad luck to you, dig it deeper. This meant that soon knees and elbows and coats were soon covered with the brown sticky earth. Mine too. My coat looked like I had rolled in it--which I had not (Some of the earthier children did though) I did slip once and fall on my bum but so did many others so I didn’t feel too embarrassed. Many of us (particularly those with glasses) had mud on their face. The rain kept making my glasses slip down and every time I pushed them up I got mud on my nose.

About 10:30 we all stopped for a snack. We kindly asked the instructors where we could wash our hands and the reply was “Water? There’s no water out here, love. Tell them just to eat with dirty hands.” So all the training we drill into them about hand washing went out the window. We all had to eat with mud caked hands. Those with cereal bars fared better as you could hold a muddy hand on the wrapper, but those with fruit struggled. Have you ever tried to eat an apple without touching it?

At last it was time to go home. With no water to even wash hands we were a mess. The coach driver looked like steam was going to come out his ears. Every child who had brought a change of shoes had to balance perilously while taking off their muddy wellies and putting them in a plastic bag whilst trying to put on their clean and dry shoes whilst standing in the mud on the side of the road. So even our clean shoes got dirty quickly. Those who had forgotten theirs had to get on the bus, take them off and pass the shoes to me where I could stow them in the luggage compartment (the driver refused to let us bring them on board) and they had to go home in sock feet. The driver took one look at our grubby hands and shouted “Nobody touch nuffin!” to which one smartarse replied “Then how are we meant to do up our seatbelts, sir?”

It was off home we travelled, less laughter, same amount of vomiting in sick bags and smelling like the back end of a farm. We arrived back at school and the children with no shoes had to wait on the steps of the coach and point to the wellies that belong to them--which was a wee bit difficult as they were all the same forest green model from Shoe Zone. I had to at one point say “Emily which green ones are yours?” Blank expression. “The large, the medium or the small ones?” Blank expression. “ Right, these look like they’ll fit. Off the coach. Next!”

When I got home I looked like I had been mud wrestling. If I lived in the sort of house where you could take off your clothes outside, I would have. I ran in and popped everything in the wash and then went to work on cleaning my wellies. Easier said than done. I had cleverly brought some paper towels from school (we don’t use paper towels at home) and had wiped off as much of the exterior mud as I could manage. Then I figured I would just give them a rinse under the tap and it would all be over with. But no, no, no. This was not to be. This was the mud that stuck like glue and so I ended up naked in the tub trying to pry the mud from the deep grooves at the bottom of my wellies with an old toothbrush. In the end the wellies were clean, but I and the tub were not. I was covered head to toe with mud. As we don’t have a shower this was difficult to rise away but I finally managed to get myself and the tub reasonably clean. Whew, I thought to myself. But  clearly I spoke too soon. I turned to get my towel and noticed that everywhere was splattered in mud—the toilet, the walls and the sink. I dried off and went to scrubbing up everything—using enough towels to require a full load of laundry in the process.

Then I sat down for a snack and only then realized that the rocks were still in my rucksack. Sigh….And you may ask why I had a bunch of dirty great rocks in my backpack, but I assure you there is a reason. I am working on a storytelling for World Book Day—an Armenian version of Snow White called Nourie Hadig and one of the props needed is something called “the stone of patience” which is a stone that swells until it bursts when you tell it your troubles. Now I had racked my brains as to how I was going to come up with 3 similar rocks all in different sizes and one that could crack open. I had resigned myself to building them from paper mache when it suddenly hit me as I stood covered in mud at the tree farm. There were tones of rocks here—kids were always digging them up with their spades. So I began to look and as soon as children cottoned on to what I needed they kept bringing me rocks until I had a set of 3 including a large one that was in halves that came together perfectly. So I reluctantly got out the old toothbrush and scrubbed all the rocks in the in sink and they have come up a treat. Perfect for my storytelling. But now I had to clean the bloody sink again.

So that is the dirty tale of me and the mud. I am still finding places in the house that have splatters or dibbles of mud—including fingerprints on the fridge that I somehow missed the first few times round. But it was worth it—the trees we planted will be a beacon of hope for those kids. But if you were to ask me again to go out in the mud to plant trees, the answer would not be no. It would hell no.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

A Love for Trees

Yesterday I went on a trip with year 5 and 6 to a large field in St Albans where 500,000 trees are being planted over the next few weeks. All of the trees are being planted by school children which makes this a remarkable feat.

God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees and in the flowers and clouds and stars.
Martin Luther

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t that keen about going at first. Don’t get me wrong, I love trees. I love what trees do for us. I have been known to spontaneously hug a tree that I find beautiful. However, I was told at very short notice that my services would be needed and besides it was cold. And wet-that ever constant dreary drizzle that is forever England. But seeing as I am the Eco Council sponsor and it wouldn’t do to see an adult with lacklustre enthusiasm so off we went with a cheerful enthusiasm. And I am so glad I did.

The trip was very well organised and we all got free fleecy hats from the Woodland Trust, so it can’t be all bad. The children were given clear instructions on how to dig their own holes, measure to see if their hole was deep enough and how to plant the sapling (really just a stick with feathery roots.) We also had to do the “tree dance” --a way of stomping the earth flat around the sapling followed by speaking to the tree up close. You were to say hello and give it a name just to give it a burst of CO2 for luck. At one point I was singing Heartbreak Hotel to a tree called Elvis. Thank you very much.

All in all we planted 555 trees with just 75 children. Thank goodness for the ever present drizzle because the ground was soft enough for small children to do most of the digging themselves. But on the other hand we were all FILTHY by the end. We were told to bring a change of shoes for the way home and several children (despite being reminded a dozen times and were not allowed out of the classroom without answering the question “Do you have your snack and spare shoes?”) FORGOT their shoes or their snack or the brains back in the school (every one of those children had answered YES to the question about snack and shoes) and had to go home barefoot because we were all ankle deep in sticky mud. But despite being covered in it, there was a real sense of achievement. We have planted trees that these children will be able to take their grandchildren to see. This wood will never be cut down for paper or lumber or to make houses. It is there to be a wood--a magical forest giving us oxygen and hope.

Men will become poor because they don’t have a love for trees….If you don’t love trees you don’t love God.
Nikephoros of Chios (1750-1821) A lack of Trees Brings Poverty

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Sweet Honesty

This is from some leaflet I picked up in 2002 from a Quaker Meeting House that I find really helpful when thinking about plain speaking.

Ask yourself:

Are honesty and integrity distinguishing characteristics of your speech?

Am I swift to hear and slow to speak, avoiding long heated debates?

Am I careful to say what I mean, avoiding sarcasm, excessive politeness and self aggrandizement designed to impress people?

Strike “I am starved” from your vocabulary. When you are hungry, say that you are hungry and save starvation for the real thing.  What other ways do you exaggerate in your speaking?

In what ways can you speak more directly?

Interesting to think about.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Truth, Justice and the (American) Way

Another of the Quaker Testimonies is the Testimony to Truth and Integrity. According to the leaflet Living What We Believe Quaker Testimonies: A way of living faithfully:

Quakers try to live according to the deepest truth we know, which we believe comes from God. This means speaking the truth to all, including people in positions of power. Integrity is the guiding principle we set for ourselves and expect in public life.

One of the distinctions that marked out early Quakers was their plain speaking. They believed, Let your yes be yes and your no be no”. There is a story about a little girl who visited a Quaker household. The child was offered a piece of cake and said no and so none was given. She was expecting the usual bit of role play where the hostess would say “Oh but you must, I insist” and then she could say, “Well, alright. Just a small piece then.”  She was perplexed and saddened until her mother explained that Quakers don’t believe in all that artificial nonsense--if you want it say yes, if you don’t say no.

This is a good lesson for us all. Especially me. Are you paying attention, Spidergrrl? Of course you are because you are typing the words. Duh. How many times have you said yes to something you did not want to do because you felt guilty? How many unpaid extra curricular activities can one Spidergrrl take on? Frankly, I’ve lost count. How many times have you said no to something you desperately wanted but thought it would reflect badly on you if you said yes. I find women at my school do this with food. If you want cake, have cake but don’t sit there miserable about it.

I was raised in a family where what you said was often not what you meant. There was lots of subtext you had to look for. Reading between, around, under and sometimes everywhere BUT the lines, if ya know what I mean. When I got married I found it really hard to communicate with Spiderman. I’d make some vague comment that to me spoke volumes but did not address the actual issue that I wanted. He’d never get it--even when I cried and beat him with a sledgehammer of hormones and angst. And then he’d say something and I’d say, “What do you mean by that?” and it turned out he meant exactly what the words said. Confusing, huh? How am I supposed to know if you spell it out in black and white and there is no subtext? Where’s the fun in that??

Quakers (and an exceedingly patient husband) have helped me to actually be more honest in my speech --both to myself and others. I see women at my school who talk about lying to their husbands about the cost of clothes and shoes. Hiding, even forging receipts How do you even do that?  Putting the most expensive item in the bag from the cheapest shop. This types of untruthful communication makes my childhood look like a walk in the park.

Quaker Advices and Queries 37 says:  

 Are you honest and truthful in all you say and do? Do you maintain strict integrity in business transactions and in your dealings with individuals and organisations? Do you use money and information entrusted to you with discretion and responsibility? Taking oaths implies a double standard of truth; in choosing to affirm instead, be aware of the claim to integrity that you are making.

This is one of the things that set early Quakers apart. They refused to take oaths. It implied a double standard--as if what I say normally can be full of lies, but now that I’m swearing on the Bible I will tell the truth. Shouldn’t we tell the truth at all times?

So when Spiderman and I (God willing) get our citizenship there is a nifty option for the swearing in ceremony. We could take an oath or say an affirmation. Hooray for an affirmation and may we get the chance to affirm our love for this country in a fancy-shmancy ceremony in the future.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

S.O.L.—Save Our Libraries

S.O.L. also stands for “Shit Out of Luck” which is what the libraries here will be if we don’t do something.

The government’s new spending cuts have reached libraries now. Many are being closed and others (like ours) are having their hours reduced. Currently our library is open 61 hours a  week but soon it will be down to just 37 hours a week—that’s a loss of 24 hours.

I think the library is the single most important building in a community. Books really do open up a magical world and they are free to take out. As many as you want—free. And access to CDs and DVDs and computers. And newspapers and help with homework assignments and research. For some people, someone to talk to. Some older people going to the library is part of their exercise and social interaction for the day. Same for homeless people. The library is warm and dry place to read and talk with people. There are kiddie programmes like the baby rhyme time that sets kids up for a life of reading and loving words or storytime that makes books exciting or summer reading programme that gets kids reading. Where will these people go without a library? And Mobile Library services are being cut. For people in rural areas this is their lifeline—the most exciting event of the week. What will they do without books?

When Spiderman and I moved to the UK 7 years ago we had NOTHING. We had what we could carry in 6 suitcases and that was it. We lived in an unfurnished flat with an air mattress. Then we bought a radio and used the box as a table. It was a real exciting day when it was your turn to eat off the box. The library was our lifeline. The first thing we did was get library cards. This gave us access to computers so we could email our families and friends and tell them we were happy. It gave us books. When your house is empty, books can sometimes be the only friend you have. I read voraciously (and still do) going at least once to twice a week to my local library. I am at the public library now writing this blog entry—having no internet at home means I depend on free computer time at the public library.

Today is a national day of protest against the 400 planned library closures. The Isle of Wight loses 9 out of 11 of their libraries. Barbaric.

What can you do to show your support to the library? If you do not take advantage of the amazing services they offer ask yourself—why not? Libraries need your support. Books need to be read. Lives need to be changed and access to books can do that.

What can you do to make a difference?

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Planet of 100 People

This comes from a book I checked out at the public library called Soulution by William Bloom. I forgot to see when it was published so a few statistics may be slightly out of date (this is the sort of thing my dad would have instantly known --how I wish he were here to tell me) but you can still get the feel for what it is trying to say.

The Planet of 100 People

If we could shrink the earth to a village with a population of precisely 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same, there would be:

57 Asians--21 Europeans--8 Africans--14 from the Western hemisphere (both North and South)

52 would be female--48 would be male

70 would be non white--30 would be white

70 would be non Christian--30 would be Christian

89 would be heterosexual--11 would be homosexual

6 would possess 59% of the entire worlds wealth and would be from the United States

80 would live in sub-standard housing

70 would be unable to read

50 would suffer from malnutrition

1 would have a college education

1 would own a computer

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation the you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.

If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep you are richer than 75% of the world.

If you have money in the bank, in your wallet and a spare change dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the worlds wealthy. 

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

100 Things Challenge

There is this challenge on to pare down your belongings to a specified number. It could be 100 or 50 or 42 for fans of Douglas Adams. Or it could be more if you have lots of stuff like my mum. I thought it was interesting and worth pondering to make you consider every item you own and ask yourself do you love it, I mean really love it or can it be taken to a charity shop/ sold on ebay/ freecycled? William Morris the great leader of the Arts and Crafts movement once famously said: Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

Why go through the challenge?
A few reasons:
1.   To help you declutter your home.
2.   To make you realize whats necessary, and what you love, and what you dont need.
3.   To free yourself of the burden of possessions.
4.   For fun. (Spiderman would say Hmph to this)
      5.   To force you to stick to the limit, even if you get new things.

It got me thinking about numbers and counting in the OCD way I like to do. How many of this, how many of that do we own, etc. It is driving Spiderman round the twist. The challenge has very vague and fluid rules (I suspect this is at the heart of what is annoying my beloved) in that you decide about how to count. If books are counted separately then we are definitely over 500 possessions, but if collections count as one then we are still okey-dokey. Look here for official guidelines:

Just on the thought of furniture:  Presently we own 17 pieces of furniture (sofa, table, chairs, 2 small tables, wardrobe, dresser, clothes rack, beds, desk and 2 sets of chest of drawers) but in the old country (back in Louisiana) we had 6 pieces of furniture just in the living room alone--and that included 3 decorative tables that were just used to pile junk on. We also currently own  9 sets of bookshelves, but to be fair one holds spiders, one holds cooking things like appliances and baking pans (my kitchen is teeny tiny) and 2 hold ongoing projects and craft materials. But that still leaves 5 holding books.

Think about what you have and what you need to be happy. Can you get by with less? Will you take the 100 Things Challenge?  We already are pretty low but I am examining every item and my heart to see if there is anything we can get rid of. Beautiful or useful, that is my mantra.

PS When Gandhi died, he had less than ten possessions including a watch, spectacles, sandals and eating bowl. Now that is simplicity!