Thursday, December 10, 2015

More signs of Christmas approaching :-)

Every year in the weeks before Christmas, members of my 'almost family' come to visit.  They're the people who used to run the holiday camp I attended as a child.  Back then they had three kids, now they have 11, and two of them have kids of their own now, too!

This year the Mum came, along with her two youngest and the daughter named after me.  All three of them played the harp for me while they were here :-)  The eldest child (who's 6 years younger than me) came as well, along with her own three kids.

It was so nice to see them all, and to hear how very well they're all doing :-)

The kids really enjoyed the board game I gave them: Labyrinth, a favourite from my time in Tahiti.

The girls brought me these awesome Santa sleighs that they'd learned how to make at Girls Brigade

Every year we also like to deliver small Christmas gifts to a few of the neighbours.  Usually we put together little bags of assorted home-made biscuits and sweets.  This year, to make things simpler, we'll be giving small Christmas cakes instead.

I had fun decorating each of them a bit differently.

Stacked in a basket ready for delivering on the weekend :-)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christmas is coming!

The bleeding heart vine I was given last Christmas is growing back after it's winter hibernation and even has it's first few flowers:


Our advent wreath is standing ready for us to light the first candle this evening:


And Martin got his first real sunburn of the season yesterday!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bike polo on TV3 news

The recent national bike polo championships featured on TV3 news last night.  You can see the clip here: see if you can spot Martin!  He's on at about 30 seconds in - leaning on the far wall of the court keeping track of timing and the score on a laptop.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Responding to the terrorist attacks in Paris

A friend posted on Facebook today:
The hard question is, if bombing them (etc) in retaliation isn't the answer, then what is?
Here's my response:
I think (recent) history makes it pretty clear that bombing will make things worse. Therefore, the least we can do is do nothing: at least that won't make stuff worse. It's not like we actually have to make an active response to everything that happens (or even that we do...), although doing nothing may not 'fly' very well politically in France right now.

In terms of things that would be actually positive, I think we need to show that we care about the people who are victims of the crazy wars going on in Yemen, Syria etc. at the moment.

At a political level, that means things like:
- spending money on feeding refugees in the countries around Syria (the World Food Programme has recently had to cut everyone's rations in recent weeks as governments - like ours - aren't giving them much money) and providing whatever else they need;
- actually allowing medical supplies in Yemen. There's a blockade of US and its allies (which is a bloc that has NZ's moral support, if not practical support in this case) so nothing can get in. At the same time that the Saudis are bombing the heck out of them. I heard a doctor speaking on the BBC about amputating kids limbs without anaesthetics.  It wasn't pretty.  He has to do that because our allies bombed those kids, then our other allies prevented the doctors having access to anaesthetics.

At a local level, that means things like:
- getting to know any obviously Muslim people that are in your daily lives (parents of kids at school, shopkeepers, whatever). As you get to know them, you'll probably start to care about them, and they'll realise that;
- resisting attempts to make Muslims unwelcome in your local community. To me a big one here is making sure Muslim women are welcome to wear the hijab in public places. If they're not, many devout Muslim women simply won't go to those places: to them, it'd feel just as immodest as being topless feels to your average Kiwi woman. Muslims need to know they're welcomed and part of the community in order to feel they have a stake in New Zealand.  Once they have such a stake, they're unlikely to want to destroy what's become their home.

I believe that ISIS has two recruitment strategies. One is 'if you don't join us, we'll kill you', but the other is 'look how much they (i.e. we) hate us (i.e. Muslim people) - you need to join us and destroy them before they destroy you'.

I don't have any bright ideas on how to combat the first, but the second would fall apart if the West actually showed they cared.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Commercial Fair Trade ice cream comes to New Zealand!

It's been kind of a fun challenge trying to figure out how to make fair trade cookies and cream ice cream, but I'm super-excited that I'm not going to have to any more!  According to the Herald, Ben and Jerry's is coming to Auckland in January :-)  They're a US chain that uses only fair trade bananas, cocoa, vanilla, sugar and coffee in all their ice cream.  I've never had their stuff, but it's apparently also super-yum :-)

Of course, I may still have to make my own fair trade jelly tip ice creams, as that's such a Kiwi flavour I don't know if they'd stock it, but it's still very exciting news!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cookies and cream ice cream

Martin's rather fond of cookies-and-cream ice cream, but we don't buy it because you can't get it fair trade.  The other day, I decided to see how hard it would be to make it.

I've always been put off, as it involves crushing oreo biscuits into vanilla ice cream: you can't get fair trade oreos, and surely they'd be hard to make?  The answer turns out to be 'not really'.  Especially as you're going to be crushing them anyway, so there's no need to stamp the dough out into circles or assemble them into sandwiches :-)

To be fair, Martin doesn't reckon the biscuits tasted much like oreos (I assembled one just for him), but the icecream worked out well all the same.

A slightly munted chocolate-dipped cookies and cream ice cream :-)
Recipe

Ingredients:

150g butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

75g butter, softened
4 tsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
pinch salt
2 cups icing sugar (may need up to 1/3 cup more)

2 litres vanilla icecream, softened (e.g. left for 30 min. at room temperature)


Cookies:

Combine the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until well incorporated, then mix in flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt with your hands.

Pop dough in a plastic bag and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

When the dough is chilled, preheat the oven to 170°C.  Line two baking trays with baking paper and set aside.

Divide dough in half.  Roll out one half at a time on a lightly floured surface to approx 2-3mm thick.  Transfer to baking tray (in pieces/sheets, just as it comes).

Put both trays in the oven and bake on fanbake for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Crumble into small pieces in a bowl with your hands (you shouldn't have any bits bigger than about 1cm across) and chill in freezer at least two hours.


Cookie filling:

Combine the butter, milk, vanilla and salt with 1/2 a cup of icing sugar and beat until combined.  Add the remaining icing sugar, approximately 1/2 cup at a time, until the filling comes together.  It should be quite stiff.

Spread thinly on a tray and chill in freezer.


Putting it together:

Cut filling into small squares with a sharp knife then transfer to a bowl with the cookie pieces.  Rub with your hands to distribute the filling evenly over the cookie pieces.  Mix as much of this as you want into the softened ice cream with a wooden spoon (probably around 3/4 of it) then chill in freezer at least 2 hours before serving - ideally leave overnight.

Sprinkle any remaining crushed biscuits onto other ice cream or just eat with a spoon :-)

Oreo recipe from here, and this recipe gave me an idea of what biscuit:ice cream ratio to start with.


The perfect treat for a lazy sunny afternoon!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Kākā Cam

In recent weeks I've been greatly enjoying watching kākā cam: a live stream of a kākā nest.  It's a project of Wellington City Council - one of a 'halo' of nesting boxes they've set up around Zealandia.


When Sarah first introduced it to me a couple of weeks ago, the chicks were just (highly active) balls of fluff.  Now their wings seem to be almost fully fledged and they have distinct parrot beaks.  They keep trying to flex their wings and to (presumably) sharpen their beaks on the wooden walls of the nest, although their main activities continue to be standing on each other and wrestling :-)  Yesterday I noticed their mum grooming them for the first time, and she seems to be spending much greater periods away from the nest now than she used to.  They're not changing so much day-to-day as they were earlier, but I'm still finding it fascinating.  I've never been able to watch a nest like this before and I'm loving it!

PS It seems to use very little bandwidth, so you can leave it on for long periods of time without chewing through your monthly allowance :-)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Human selfishness/sinfulness

Update: a video of me sharing this story at my church is now available here.

Recently, a friend came over for a cuppa.  There'd been a story in the news about some restaurant owners who'd been paying their staff well under minimum wage and making them work huge numbers of hours per week.

My friend was flabbergasted by the situation.  She kept saying she couldn't understand it, and struggled to understand 'man's inhumanity to man'.

Her reaction surprised me: it didn't seem that difficult to understand.  To me, it was yet another example of the selfishness that runs deep in all of us.

I felt I didn't respond to her comments very well at the time: I kept on referring to other 'distant' situations so kept the focus on 'those terrible people', rather than on how we all do this kind of thing.  But I kept thinking about it and came to feel that God wanted me to raise it again with her and tell her how I saw the situation.  I've been praying for some years that my friend will come to follow Jesus, but one of the main barriers to her doing so seems to be that she doesn't realise she needs him.  She doesn't lie and steal etc., so she doesn't see herself as having anything she needs to be 'saved' from.

I thought I'd have to store these ideas up for a while (I'm not having visitors at the moment as part of my current resting regime), but then I realised I'd actually be seeing her twice this weekend!  Martin's away on respite at the moment and this friend will be bringing me my breakfast twice while he's gone.

So, yesterday, I spent a lot of time thinking through what I wanted to say to her.  What I came up with is basically this:

I've been thinking a lot recently about the story you were talking about with the restaurant owners who were paying their staff next to nothing.  You seemed to find it really hard to understand how they could do that, but it didn't seem that strange to me.  You see, it seemed that they were doing something not that different from what I do far too often.

They were basically being selfish.  Getting all the money they could by paying as little as they thought they could get away with.  I haven't done that exactly, but I do other things that are just as selfish.

For example, the other week someone wanted to spend some time with me.  It turned out that they wanted to spend most of that time complaining to me about a situation they're finding really frustrating.  I didn't really want to listen to that, so I kept saying to them "you just need to do xyz" and then changing the subject.  It wasn't until quite a bit later that I realised what I was doing was being selfish.  I was telling myself that I was helping them, but really I was shutting them up because I didn't want to listen to them.

Maybe those restaurant people were even doing something like that: it's obvious to us that they were being selfish, but they could even have been telling themselves they were helping their staff (like I told myself I was helping my friend) - after all, they were giving them a job, helping them to be in NZ etc.

And that selfishness is what I think Jesus came to save us from: from doing what works for us and not thinking (or caring) about what happens to other people.

He doesn't get rid of that tendency all at once: I've been a Christian for ages and I still have it!  But, bit by bit, he roots it out.  I can see in myself that it's getting less over time - although in some ways it feels like it's getting worse, too, because I'm more aware of it!  And one day it'll all be gone and I'll be who I was made to be :-)

So this morning, after my friend had brought me my breakfast, I asked her if she had time for a chat.  She brought a cuppa and sat with me and I said what I'd prepared.  It went remarkably naturally, and she was interested in what I had to say.  We carried on talking for another 20 minutes or so, and she and I both came back to the ideas I'd raised several times.

I certainly haven't convinced her that she's a sinner in need of saving (that's God's job, anyway!) but I felt she heard and understood what I had to say and was interested in my perspective :-)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Christmas presents done!

I can't quite believe it!

I set myself a target of finishing our Christmas presents and Christmas letter two months before my brother and family arrive, in order to give myself a good opportunity to rest.  It didn't really feel possible, but I found a bunch of ways to simplify what I normally do and gave it my best shot.  And now, right on target, all the presents (except for perishable food ones) are not only done, but wrapped!  I doubt the Christmas letter will be finished by the end of today, but I've still done much better than I really believed possible :-)

Yay!

Heather with Christmas and October-December birthday presents

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Kelly Tarlton's

On Tuesday we visited Kelly Tarlton's.  It's been in the planning for around a year, and we were delighted to finally make it reality!  My recent cold and ear troubles meant I wasn't as well-rested beforehand as would have been ideal, but we managed to spend around four hours there (including lunch and two substantial rest breaks) and got around the whole display.  It was great!  Very tired now, though :-(


A very happy Heather viewing the sharks in the main tunnel
You can see more photos from our visit on flickr, here.  Click on each photo for a description of what's going on.  Make sure you mute your computer's audio before viewing either of the videos: our camera adds horrid sounds to all videos...

The next two months are now blocked out for resting: my brother and his family will be visiting in December/January, as will Martin's Thai sister and her husband.  No more fun outings till they arrive, and no more seeing my friends till well after they've gone.  It was great we got to sneak this in first :-)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Confronted by the things I've lost

The other day we drove to my parents' place (about 25 minutes across town) to stay with my parents for a week over my birthday.  As we went along the motorway, I became more and more sad.  Seeing people briskly going about their business, seeing how expansive the world was, confronted me and filled me with sadness.  I can't interact with that big world: it's too fast and too overwhelming to me.  But once upon a time I was part of it.  Mostly, I manage to kind of forget that it exists.  Seeing it yesterday (and perhaps seeing it when I'm run down, dealing with a cold and perforated eardrum) somehow made me have to face that it's still there but it's no longer something I can be part of.

I think I mostly manage to 'pass' as normal.  I've constructed my life such that, when people see me, I have enough energy to interact with them.  I think few people realise how little energy I have.  I've filled my life with fun things and useful work - so I guess it takes a bit of looking to notice how small my life is, and how little I actually accomplish.

I don't want to belittle what I do.  I'm actually quite proud of how well we manage my illness - and deeply grateful to God for the grace he's given me to do that, and to the many people who help make it possible.  But that doesn't mean there aren't deep losses for which I sometimes profoundly grieve.

By far the greatest of these is children.  Perhaps we never could have had biological children anyway: I think one couple in six can't conceive without medical intervention, and a sizeable proportion of those can't conceive at all.  But we, even though we long for children, have put considerable effort into preventing conception.  My body almost certainly couldn't carry a child to term.  Even if I did manage to give birth to a viable child, that child would largely be cared for by others (after all, we can't even care for me without Martin working reduced hours) and that hardly seems fair to that child.

Now we will almost certainly never have biological children.  My specialist has told me that, should I get well enough for us to think about trying for a baby, we should wait six months to make sure the improvement is reasonably stable before starting.  I turn 39 tomorrow.  So that means, if I miraculously recovered tomorrow and we instantly conceived once we started trying, I would give birth at the age of 40 years and 3 months.  That's pretty old, and comes with a lot of risks.  If I did get better soon, I think it's unlikely we'd go down that route.  Adoption, though, is something I think it's likely we'd consider.

There are so many other losses, too.

One big one is human contact.  I love being with people, but I can handle only brief and infrequent visits these days.  I never ever see most my friends these days, and there's only a rare few I see more than once or twice a year.  I never go to church or concerts or the theatre or other places where there are lots of people around as they're too bright and noisy and have unpredictable things going on.

I miss understanding things.  I know I still pass as intelligent (mostly because people only see me in controlled environments) and, underneath, I still am.  But my brain works so slowly and I miss so much!  Whenever I'm telling Martin about a story or radio programme I've enjoyed, at some point I'll inevitably say "I didn't get this bit" or "I missed how that worked".  I wish I could follow all of what was going on - especially in live conversations.  I wish Martin didn't have to explain so many things to me after the fact.  Even more I wish that I had the strength to engage with people on difficult issues, as I feel I'd have a lot to give there.

I've lost much of my privacy and that illusion of independence so dear to us Westeners.  I can't do my own shopping, cook my own food or take myself to appointments.  In the evenings, I can't even go to the toilet or change into my pyjamas without assistance.  I'm grateful for the assistance I get, but sometimes I wish that half the women in our church hadn't seen me naked!

I'm sad I don't get to do big things that feel significant.  Everything I do has to be broken down into small steps, and for really big things that's just not practical.

I miss being spontaneous.  From my leisure activities to what I eat, everything is planned in advance and much follows strict formulas.  I appreciate these, as they enable me to actually have leisure activities, and the 'rules' by which I live keep me in much better health than I would be otherwise.  But they grate all the same.  So often I'd love to be able to keep doing something I was enjoying rather than go rest because time's up.  I'd love to be able to talk with people late into the night - or even into the afternoon after lunch ;-)  And I'd love to be able to just go for a bike ride or a walk to clear my head when being so cooped up was getting to me :-(

I miss being alone outside.  I miss seeing night-time.  I'm sad that I rarely see a big sky (not a big sky like you see in the country, although that would be nice - but just one like I saw from the motorway yesterday, when I wasn't boxed in by houses).  I miss gardening.  I miss playing my violin, and often think that we really should sell it so someone else can enjoy it, but I can't quite bear giving up on it yet.

I wish that I, like Martin, could have a quarterly respite from dealing with all of this!!

Don't get me wrong.  My life is good. I'm grateful for that (and very protective of the routines and patterns that make that possible!).  But everyone has things they're sad about and these are some of mine.  I don't want you to pity me.  I'm grateful if you enjoy my company and celebrate what I do achieve; I love it when you notice how God is shaping me through this and are excited by what He's teaching me.

But I do also want you to know that it's hard.  I live with an illness which has a high suicide rate and I'm more severely affected than most.  So give glory to God that I live a good life despite the odds, but know also that sometimes it's hard and sometimes I can get blindsided by something as simple as seeing the great big world outside.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Spring has sprung!

Our neighbour's kowhai in stunning bloom this morning :-)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Marriage in the context of 'calling'

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about the purpose of marriage.

New Zealand has recently allowed marriage between same-sex couples.  This has led to the national body of my Christian denomination, the Baptist Union, to establish a working party to determine whether or not Baptist pastors should be permitted to perform such marriages.  Our church has also been running a sermon series on relationships recently, with last Sunday's sermon being on marriage.

The debate I've heard has mainly centred on who Christians/churches believe should be permitted to marry.  However, a blog post by Tim Bulkeley made me think about the broader question of 'what is marriage for'.

Tim is an Old Testament theologian and former lecturer at Carey College, the institution that trains most Kiwi Baptist pastors.  His blog post explores his concern that we 'lack a theology of marriage and sex' and thus fall back to tradition when questions (such as the current ones on gay marriage) arise.

I don't feel equipped to contribute much to such a theology, but it's got me thinking.  I've decided that our current 'Christian' concept of marriage is deeply influenced by two strong threads we've adopted from our surrounding culture.

Firstly, I believe that the dominant Pakeha Kiwi culture is strongly hedonistic: many people live by 'if it feels good, do it'.  We've adopted this value in our concept of marriage: the purpose of marriage is seen as providing the various pleasures of marriage.  Whilst I'm sure marriage has always been enjoyable for many (and sex is certainly designed that way!) other cultures and eras haven't always seen this as its primary purpose: the focus has instead been on things like procreation or family advancement.

God desires good things for his children, so I'm sure that he desires people to enjoy being married (and I know that I do), but the primary goal of Christian life isn't having fun.  It's things like worshipping/enjoying God, getting to know him better, increasing the prevalence of his way of living (his 'Kingdom') in the world and so on.  So shouldn't the primary purpose of Christian marriage have something to do with those things?

Secondly, I see the dominant Pakeha Kiwi culture as deeply individualistic.  My school's motto was even Individuality with Responsibility.  I see this value in our common concept of marriage, too.  The small unit of a married couple, along with any children that may come, is encouraged to value itself very highly.  We seek what is best for ourselves, our spouse and our children and only then are willing to look beyond that unit to what is good for those around us.

And yet God calls us to love our neighbour as ourselves, so is it right to privilege the well-being of our spouse and children over that of other people?

I have come to see this as one of the great temptations of parenthood: to provide the best for your own children and so unwittingly hurt other children or people you simply haven't noticed.  Just one example.  It's back-to-school season in the Northern Hemisphere and a Canadian blogging friend was reflecting how it hurts her to see people spend thousands on their own kids at this time when so many other children are in dire need.

These two strands in our conception of marriage (hedonism and individualism) are probably at the root of of the Western world's astonishing divorce rate, from which the church has been only somewhat protected).  But they also lead, in my opinion, to one of the greatest temptations to sin that marriage presents: an over-inflated desire to protect those you love.

You see, in my experience, the life that God calls us to is not 'safe'.  God calls all Christians to worship him and to work with him to advance his Kingdom on Earth.  That can seriously get in the way of enjoying time with your spouse and family and showering them with the best of everything that is accessible to you!

But, if marriage isn't about enjoying its pleasures and seeking the best for yourself and your immediate family, what is it about?

Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship (of which Martin and I were a part whilst at university) has recently held its annual student leaders conference, Summit.  The plenary talks from the conference are up on Youtube.  I was deeply struck by the fourth talk by John Stackhouse on 'Why God didn't make you more beautiful than you are'.

In it, he spoke about how we each have a calling from God, and God will give us what we need for that calling.  Our relationships, amongst other things, will be guided by that calling.

It occurred to me that, for many callings, being married is helpful; for others it is not.

For most Christians (although, it seems, not for us), a significant part of their calling is bearing and raising children.  This is certainly most easily done in the context of marriage.  And a significant calling to hospitality, for example, is quite likely to go with a calling to marriage.

For me, being married has enabled me to fulfil my calling to reflect on life and faith and to encourage and mentor other women in following Christ.  Without significant support, I can't even take care of my basic needs.  Through marriage to a man who sees supporting me as a significant part of his own calling, I've been able to fulfil mine.

However, for some callings, marriage is distinctly unhelpful.  If your calling involves a highly peripatetic lifestyle (as was the case for the apostle Paul), that'll be easier to fulfil without a spouse and kids in tow.  If your calling is primarily to intercession, singleness again seems an advantage.  In common with others, I've found it's easier to find time to pray without a spouse around: I guess that's why monks and nuns are traditionally celibate :-)

So, alongside speaking in church about the joys of marriage (and the importance of protecting it by avoiding pornography etc.), I'd like us to speak about the work God calls us to, and about how some kinds of work are easier to carry out in the context of marriage and others in the context of singleness.

That framing returns the emphasis to the issues at the centre of Christian living and, as a bonus, doesn't exclude single people the way so much of discussion of Christian marriage tends to do :-)

PS I've really appreciated all of Prof. Stackhouse's talks from TSCF's Summit.  If you'd like to check them out yourself, here are links to talks 1, 2 and 3.  Prof. Stackhouse is a systematic theologian and church historian who has recently retired from Regent College and he was one of Martin's favourite lecturers during his studies there.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Supporting refugees ourselves

There's been a lot of calls recently for New Zealand to increase its refugee quota in response to the crisis in Syria.

I'm all for that, but I can understand the government getting antsy about the additional cost.  But what if we took on that cost ourselves?

In Canada, people can sponsor extra refugees in addition to the quota.  Refugees coming in this way don't have access to state benefits or housing for the first year: the sponsor(s) have to house them and pay their living expenses for that time.  Presumably the assumption is, after they've been around for a year, chances are they'll be in a fit state to provide for themselves and so will never have needed state assistance.

Someone has started a petition calling for a similar thing to be instituted here.  You can sign it here.

I think it's a really good idea.  I'm pretty sure my church, which has around 80 adult members, could pay the rent on a three-bedroom unit for a year, and could probably stump up $350 per week for living costs (which is what the government gives cash-in-hand for 'job-seeker support' for a family of 4) as well.  We could support an extra family of four, in addition to the 750 people the government supports.

I don't know what happens in Canada for health care or education for such people - if we had to pay international student fees for the kids and the full cost of any health care then I'm not sure we could manage it.  But if those were covered I think we could, and I think lots of other groups of people could, too!

If the idea appeals to you, too, then add your name to those calling for this to be possible.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Parliamentary inquiry into assisted dying

A couple of days ago on Radio New Zealand National I heard this interview with Simon O'Connor.  He's chairing a Parliamentary Select Committee which is canvassing public attitudes on medically assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or irreversible condition which makes life unbearable.

If you'd like your personal attitude to be included in the mix, you can make an online submission here.  Submissions are open until February 1st but, if you don't want to end up leaving it until it's too late, you might like to make a submission soon :-)  Also, they're hearing oral submissions as they go along, so if you want to make such a submission, you shouldn't have to wait too long for that after you put the written one in.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fair trade jelly tip icecreams :-)

Back before we stopped eating regular chocolate, I was rather fond of jelly tip ice creams.  Recently, I've begun to wonder if I could make my own.  It turned out to be pretty easy - and very yummy :-)  The only difference is that you can't make them popsicle-shaped: a home freezer doesn't get cold enough to make the icecream sufficiently rigid to get it out of the moulds, so my jelly-tips are squat and fat.



Jelly (based on this, and other internet sites I've lost track of)

1T raspberry jelly crystals (1 box is 95-100mL)
1T + 1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup boiling water

Dissolve jelly crystals and sugar in boiling water.  Make sure everything's fully dissolved - may need to microwave it to achieve this.  Pour into four 100-150mL disposable paper cups and freeze at least 3 hours.



Adding icecream (based on this)

Slightly soften approx 1.5C vanilla icecream and spoon into cups.  Add posicle sticks, teaspoons or sticks from iceblock molds and freeze overnight.



Chocolate coating (based on this)

Melt together 90g dark chocolate (we used milk chocolate, but I think dark would be nicer) and 60g refined coconut oil and mix well.


Cut cups open to remove the ice creams and dip them in the melted coating.  The topping will freeze in a few seconds.  This gives quite a thin coating of chocolate so do at least two coats.


Note that this makes about twice as much coating as you need: this means you have more depth, which makes it easier to coat the ice cream.  Put the remaining coating in a glass jar and use like 'magic shell' ice cream topping (will need to remelt in the microwave first).

Anna and I enjoying our jelly tip ice creams in yesterday's glorious spring sunshine :-)

These worked really well.  The only thing I'd do differently next time is use dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate.

Martin suggested that, in the future, we could make jelly tip ice cream slices instead: a bit less fiddly and just as yummy :-)  Here's the recipe I'll use for my first go at that:
  1. Mix 1 box raspberry jelly crystals with 1/2 cup sugar and 1 1/2 cups boiling water.  Pour into flat tray (around 20cm x 30cm) and freeze at least 3 hours.  Should give a layer of jelly about 7-8mm thick.
  2. When set, soften 5-6 cups vanilla icecream and spread over jelly.  Freeze till firm (probably overnight).
  3. Melt together 250g dark chocolate and 165g refined coconut oil.  Pour around 1/3 evenly over ice cream and wait until fully set.
  4. Cut into bars, put on a tray chocolate-side down, spread remaining chocolate over exposed sides.
It'll make a lot of jelly tip slices, but would make a great party dessert!  Let me know if you try it :-)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Fair Trade White Chocolate - an update

Since my previous post on chocolate-making I've learned one important thing: whilst it's relatively easy to make nicely-flavoured white chocolate, nicely-textured white chocolate is much more complicated!

Commercial chocolate-making involves three further steps beyond a simple mixing of ingredients: refining, conching and tempering.  Since my previous post, I've been learning about the first of these.

'Refining' chocolate involves grinding the particles in the chocolate (including the fat globules) till they are so small that your tongue can't detect them.  Commercially, this is done using either roll refiners (forcing the chocolate up a series of stacked rollers not unlike the rollers in an old-fashioned wringer washing machine) or a ball mill.

On a domestic scale, the 'state of the art' solution is the Spectra 11 Melanger.  Investing in such an expensive piece of equipment seemed insane for my purposes, but it gave me a clue.  The Spectra 11 is a modified Indian wet grinder.  We already have an Indian wet grinder: a Sumeet.  It uses completely different technology, but is designed to do the same thing, so I thought I'd give it a go :-)

With a commercial refiner (or the Spectra 11), you typically leave the grinder to run for many hours - sometimes even days.  I didn't know how long I could leave the Sumeet running before it overheated but I knew that it had a reliable cut-out switch so I wasn't too worried.  I planted it in the sink (so it couldn't 'walk' anywhere), turned the tap away for safety, turned it on and quickly removed myself from the scene.  It's very loud!

Sumeet in the sink

After 30 minutes I noticed a slight change in the smell, even from two rooms away, so I quickly turned it off.  The chocolate appeared to have caramelised ever-so-slightly, but it was also much, much smoother.  Very promising :-)  I later ground it for two increments of 10 minutes, allowing it to cool significantly in between.  It was yet more smooth after this, but not by much.  In the future I intend to grind it in 10 minute increments and keep going until I decide it's good enough (or that I've had enough of the noise).

refined (and slightly caramelised) white chocolate

It seems that this grinder is much more vigorous than those normally used for chocolate.  This means it has more potential to burn the chocolate, but it seems it also means that it gets the job done much more quickly.

So, here's my recipe for 'refined' white chocolate.

Ingredients:

80g cocoa butter
80g milk powder
1/3 cup (80g) white sugar
seeds of 2/3 a vanilla bean (can probably use 1 1/3 tsp vanilla essence if you will later be adding liquid to the chocolate, e.g. if making ganache or mousse).


Mixing and refining:

1. Chop cocoa butter and melt in the microwave - takes 3-5 minutes.
2. Place Sumeet in the kitchen sink.  Fit one of the large jars with square blade.
3. Grind milk powder at least 20 seconds in Sumeet spice jar then transfer to large jar.
4. Grind sugar at least 20 seconds in Sumeet spice jar then transfer to large jar.
5. Pour cocoa butter into large jar.  Add vanilla.
6. Run on '1' for 10 minutes.
7. Leave to rest until close to room temperature again (approx 30 min.)
8. Run a further 10 minutes then rest again.  Continue until the chocolate is as smooth as you like it.  If you need to leave it for more than 30 minutes between grindings, transfer it to a shallow dish to cool.  When you return, break it into pieces, melt it in the microwave and continue.

Notes:
  1. Running the Sumeet on 1 draws around 500W, so every 10 min. uses 0.083kWhr.  That's much less energy than it takes to boil the jug for a cup of tea and only costs us just over 2c.  It was making so much noise I figured it must be using heaps of electricity but it's not.
  2. If you don't have access to a good grinder, use icing sugar for the sugar and full fat milk powder for the milk powder (both are 'softer').  Add the other ingredients to the cocoa butter very slowly, beating well as you go.  You will make a product that tastes good but it will have a somewhat gritty/dusty texture.
  3. Other gadgets you can use to refine your chocolate are:
Some people have also used juicers or food processors but they generally don't get things fine enough.


Next I need to learn to 'conch' the chocolate.  In milk and dark chocolate, this step eliminates some of the bitter flavours in the chocolate.  However, it's also the point at which you add an emulsifier, so it's still important for white chocolate.  Emulsifying the chocolate further improves the texture and also makes it easier to temper.

I'll be using soy lecithin, the emulsifier most commonly used in chocolate.  It comes in both powder and liquid forms.  I've decided to use liquid lecithin as I think that will mix in better, and I've decided to buy it in capsules (rather than as a bottle of oil) as I think that will probably keep better.  I'll initially add 1% soy lecithin (which means my one bottle of capsules would do 50 batches!) and generally follow this advice.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Splashes of colour :-)

It's bitterly cold in Auckland at the moment (it got down to 3 overnight last night) and, whilst today is brilliantly sunny, there've been a number of very grey days recently.

However, even on the greyest day, there are two splashes of colour in our garden that make me smile every day :-)

Firstly, the brilliant calendulas in the garden outside my bedroom window.  These were supposed to be a companion planting with our summer vegies, but they've waited until the last few weeks to flower.  There isn't much in the garden for them to attract beneficial insects to or lure bad insects from (I can't honestly remember which they were supposed to do), but their brilliant colour delights me!

The biggest calendula is a cascade of colour - the others just have one or two flowers each but even they stand out brilliantly on a grey day :-)

Secondly, our grapefruit has begun to fruit for the first time this year.  We've probably had about 10 grapefruit so far, and there's a few more to come.  They're yummy to eat, but also a delight to see, glowing brilliantly on their tree.

The tree was still in shadow when I took this picture, so you can't see them in their full glory, but hopefully this gives you some idea of how brilliantly yellow they are.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The cost of flying

Later this month, Martin's off to San Francisco for a work meeting.  This won't be featured in our calculations of our carbon footprints: if work incurs the financial cost of the trip, we figure they (and, ultimately, their customers) incur the carbon cost, too.

All the same, I was wondering what the carbon cost would be, so I plugged his flights into Atmosfair.  He'll be flying economy and one way he'll be on a 777-300ER and the other way on a 777-200ER.

I was genuinely shocked to find that the carbon emissions of these flights add up to a massive 8.8T of CO2e!  That's the same as the carbon emissions from every aspect of both our lifestyles over an entire year!!!!


In the context of Martin's work, I don't think these emissions are unreasonable.  Hapara make software that's used by vast numbers of students.  Their business does seem to require a remarkable number of flights between their Auckland and San Francisco offices but, even if 100 such flights are made per year, that's less than 1kg CO2e per student per year (assuming 1 million student users).  After all, over the course of a whole year that's the same as the emissions that same student would incur from a one-off 10km trip on the school bus.

However, this kind of trip is something plenty of people we know undertake for pleasure once every few years.  In that context, those emissions are astonishing: double everything else one of us incurs over the course of a whole year.

As an aside, Air New Zealand appears to use uncommonly greenhouse gas-intensive planes.  If Martin made the same trip using what an 'average' European airline would use for it (according to Atmosfair), the emissions would be only 5.4T CO2e, not 8.8.  Similarly, for the trip to Timaru discussed earlier, he'd have been looking at emissions of around 500kg CO2e, not the 680 it actually takes.


You could explain this for the long-haul flight by saying that maybe Atmosfair's data there isn't actually very good - after all, how many 12+ hour flights did they have in their European data set? - but after I saw it applied to the Timaru flights as well I've started to wonder if Air New Zealand is the problem.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Should our church pay staff at least the Living Wage?

Going through the budget prior to our church's recent AGM, I noticed that several of our staff didn't seem to have had a pay increase for some time.  As I was thinking about that, I also wondered whether they were receiving a 'living wage'.  After all, I know that churches sometimes skimp a bit on salaries so they can make more funds available to other aspects of their work and I didn't want us to be doing that.

I raised this with the elders and then ultimately Martin, on my behalf, raised it with the whole church at the AGM.  The church decided to appoint a working group to investigate this and bring a proposal to the church at next year's AGM.  To encourage the whole church engage in this discussion, I was asked to email the church with my thoughts on all this.  As this is something I've been thinking about a lot in recent years, I wanted to share it here, too.

Dear Church Family,

At the AGM, the church agreed to appoint a working group to look into our policies on staff salaries in relation to both the Living Wage and inflation-related increases. This was partly as a result of my raising these issues with the elders. In order to start a discussion on this within the church, here are my reasons for doing so.

The Church is the first-fruits of God's Kingdom. One day Jesus will reign here on Earth. Until that happens, I believe that one of our roles is to join with God in redeeming his world by creating 'islands' where things function somewhat like they will when Jesus rules in person. In Jesus' Kingdom, I believe that no one will be in material want: as we are told in Revelation, it's a world with no sickness or crying or pain. So, I don't think anyone employed by us should be in material want if we can avoid it, either.

Living Wage Movement Aotearoa New Zealand have calculated what it costs an 'average' household (2 parents, 2 kids) to live without material want in Auckland. For the family to be able to live in a house in the bottom quartile of the rental market and eat an adequate diet, and for the kids can go on school trips and buy simple presents so they can accept invites to birthday parties, while one adult works full-time and the other half-time, they calculated in 2013 that those adults need to be paid a minimum of $24.11 per hour. (You may also have heard the figure of $18.40 per hour - that's the 2013 national number.  It's higher in Auckland mostly because housing is so expensive here.)

I would like us to consider whether we should take this 'living wage' and treat it like the minimum wage: not that everyone should be paid the same, but that no one should be paid less than it. This isn't something we can impose on all of New Zealand, but it's something I'd like us to consider for the staff we employ ourselves: to think whether we need to take this step in order to communally live out what God's Kingdom may look like.

I would like us also to consider whether we need to have a policy on inflation-increasing wages. At the moment, inflation is running quite low (0.3% from June 2014 to June 2015). However, sometimes it's much higher than this.  If we don't increase peoples' wages when that happens, their effective income decreases over time as their expenses go up.  In order to keep our staff well-provided-for, I would like us to consider not only paying them a 'living wage' now, but also increasing (and decreasing?) those wages annually in line with inflation over the previous year. This would be independent of any actual pay rises we may wish to give them.

In this discussion, I'm primarily thinking of the staff we hire directly or contract regularly (i.e. the cleaner, office administrator, pastor and youth worker).  In the future, we may choose to widen the scope of our action to those whose services we contract for specific jobs (e.g. the people who repair our photocopier or make our billboards) or even to the people who produce the goods we consume (e.g. by purchasing fair trade tea and coffee).  But in the first instance, it made sense to me to consider the people over whose situations we have the most influence.

I understand that making these changes would cost us money that we currently don't have. However, there are many places in the Bible where God promises to honour those who give away more than they can afford in order to advance His Kingdom. Do we think paying our staff more would advance God's Kingdom? If so, are we willing to do so and rely on God to make up the shortfall somehow? To me, and maybe to you, such a change feels scary, but I think it is important to consider whether it is something God would like us to do.

Thank you for your consideration of these things.

In Christ,

--Heather :-)

So far it seems to have sparked a fair bit of interest (and more emails than I'd be able to deal with on an on-going basis!).  Some feedback has been negative, but that's only come from people who think I'm asking for everyone to be paid the same.  No one has yet objected on principle to the idea of choosing a salary floor higher than the legal minimum wage.

I don't know if I really want everyone to be paid at least the official living wage (after all, it's needs-based, and not everyone needs quite as much as it offers).  But I'm pleased that our church has now chosen to consider what we think is an appropriate remuneration policy, rather than simply following the market and the legal minima.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Climate change effects: vegan diet vs. flying

At a recent bike polo tournament, a vegan friend asked Martin if he was going to be going to the upcoming World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship in Timaru.  Martin replied that he wasn't because he didn't want to incur the carbon impact of flying.*  His friend said he should go vegan, then he could fly with a clear conscience as the climate impact of a vegan diet is so much less than that of an omnivorous one.

*We did look into him going there via. train, ferry and bus, but it would take 2-3 days each way and we decided that wasn't a good use of his leave!

I thought that couldn't be right.  However, after crunching numbers, I found it to be much closer than we'd expected.

Firstly, I calculated the kg CO2e from flying to Timaru using the atmosfair calculator.  This is the most sophisticated calculator I know: it allows you to choose which model of plane you are using for each leg of your journey, which can make a big difference to the amount of CO2e emitted per person.

The Air New Zealand website informed me that, to fly to Timaru from Auckland, you take an Airbus A320 to Wellington then a Beech 1900D on to Timaru.  Unfortunately, the Beech 1900D isn't listed in the calculator, so I chose a BAE Jetstream 41 as the nearest equivalent.  Inputting those planes into the calculator gave a round trip CO2e of 610kg.

440kg CO2e directly, 170kg CO2e from contrails and other effects.
Emissions from flying Auckland to Timaru return
How does this compare to the emissions Martin would save by going vegan?

The last time we audited the carbon emissions of our lifestyle (in 2012), we found that our diet is responsible for around 1020kg CO2e each.  I've now divided that into the portions from vegan foods and non-vegan foods (here): I found that almost exactly half of those emissions are from to non-vegan foods.

Obviously, if we went vegan, the emissions from the vegan portion of our diet would go up: all the calories and nutrients we currently get from meat, milk and eggs would have to come from somewhere else.  However, seeing as most of our lunches and dinners are vegan (if you don't count the ubiquitous fish sauce!), a good first approximation might be that going vegan might reduce the carbon emissions of our diet from around 1000kg CO2e to maybe something like 600kg CO2e.

That 400kg CO2e reduction wouldn't be enough to offset a flight to Timaru, but it was certainly more than I was expecting.

Still, if we were willing to go vegan in order to prevent those carbon emissions (something I don't want to do, but think may be at least worth considering in the light of these findings), I don't think it would be ethical to replace them with emissions elsewhere!  After all, currently Martin and I are each responsible for around 4.4T CO2e per year - nearly four times what the planet could absorb, were everyone to live like us.  We need to be looking for ways to reduce this number, not redistribute its sources.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Freedom for former prostitutes in Kolkatta

I've mentioned earlier the work of Freeset in Kolkatta, India, who provide work for women who've been trapped in the sex trade.  They were featured on National Radio a couple of days ago!  Listen here to a half-hour interview with one of their Kiwi staff :-)


They're currently fundraising to buy a new building in order to considerably expand both the scope and depth of their work.  If you haven't already donated, please consider doing so.  They'll be purchasing the building at the end of this month, using a mix of donated money and loans, but the more they are able to pay up-front the better for them.

(NB They don't seem to be doing updating the 'thermometer' on the donations page very often - I heard from one of their founders today that they've currently raised 50% of what they need, not the 40% it says on the thermometer).

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I did it!!!! Fair Trade white chocolate

Note: since I wrote this post I've learned more about making white chocolate.  See my update here.

As mentioned earlier, no one sells fair trade white chocolate in New Zealand.  Piko Wholefoods in Christchurch have, however, recently started selling fair trade cocoa butter.  My friend Anna bought some for me on a recent trip down there and on the weekend she came over to help me figure out how to turn it into white chocolate.

We didn't have a recipe to go on, so I decided to simply use 1:1:1 cocoa butter:milk powder:sugar - looking at the ingredients of Cadbury Dream white chocolate it seems that's more or less what they do.  The amount of vanilla was the same as what I used for the coconut butter white chocolate.

It worked really well!  It's not quite as smooth as the commercial stuff, but the flavour's pretty much perfect :-)  And, so long as you have a microwave and an electric spice grinder it's very easy to do.  It even works out at a similar price to non-fair trade white chocolate from the supermarket at around $1.60 per 100g.
 

Here's our recipe:

Ingredients:
  • 60g cocoa butter
  • 60g full-fat milk powder, ground at least 20 seconds in an electric spice grinder (if you don't do this your chocolate won't be really smooth, but if you beat really hard after step 2 it won't be too bad)
  • seeds of half a vanilla bean
  • 1/4 cup (60g) white sugar,  ground at least 20 seconds in an electric spice grinder (if can't do this, use sifted icing sugar and again beat really hard)

Method:

  1. Chop cocoa butter and melt in the microwave (takes 3-5 minutes).
  2. Mix in milk powder, then vanilla, then sugar.
  3. Pour into a silicone loaf tin or molds and put in the fridge or freezer to firm up.  If making a chocolate bar, mark into squares with a blunt knife after 30-40 minutes in the fridge or 10-15 minutes in the freezer.  Be sure not to cut too deep (like I did) or your block will break up!
Gives 180g.

Below are some photos of the process.

Cocoa butter.  I'd never seen it before and I was surprised how strongly (and yummily) it smells. I'm storing it in the fridge in a well-sealed container so it doesn't lose that scent over time.



Melted cocoa butter.  I was surprised how yellow it was.  (And no, the jug isn't clean - it was too much hassle to clean it properly between test batches...)

This is how thick the mixture was after mixing unground milk powder into the melted cocoa butter.

But this was how runny it got after beating.  You can mix it by hand - I was just using a machine because I had it available.  I did it by hand on an earlier batch and it worked fine.

However, if you add ground milk powder into the melted cocoa butter it's much, much runnier.  This photo was taken after simply mixing milk powder into melted cocoa butter - no beating involved

And it's still pretty runny after adding the vanilla and ground sugar.

I've now got a fair trade white chocolate that's plenty good enough for me.  All I need to do, now, is figure out how to make a decent nutella substitute and there won't be any non-fair trade cocoa products I actually want that I'll have to do without :-)  I do still have two outstanding questions about the process, though:
  1. Can I use vanilla essence?  I used actual vanilla in the recipe as people always fuss about chocolate seizing if you let any water near it, and I presume there's water (or alcohol, which is chemically very similar) in my essence.  However, I'm pretty clumsy so I've had a lot of experience exposing molten chocolate to water.  Generally nothing happens so I'm pretty skeptical about how readily seizing occurs.  Now that I'm confident of the process, I'll probably try a small batch with vanilla essence next time.
  2. Can I use skim milk powder?  We always stock skim milk powder as I use it to make yoghurt or custard once or twice a week, but we usually don't have the full-fat stuff.  Cadbury's white chocolate contained 'milk solids' rather than 'skim milk solids', so I decided to use whole milk powder first.  Again, now that I'm confident I have a recipe that works, next time I want to try a small batch with skim milk powder and see if that tastes OK.
Update: see discussion on these questions in the comments, below.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Is there any point limiting one's personal carbon footprint?

I was recently asked what I thought of this:
...if you share my desperation and terror about this crisis, the urgent desire to do something, then limiting your personal carbon footprint should be very far from your main concern.  Like, it’s great if you can bike to work, and you should keep it up (fresh air and exercise and all).  But I’d say the anti-environmentalists are right that such voluntary steps are luxuries of the privileged, and will accordingly never add up to a hill of beans.  Let me go further: even to conceptualize this problem in terms of personal virtue and blame seems to me like a tragic mistake, one on which the environmentalists and their opponents colluded.

I think it's a really important question, so I thought I'd post my response here.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Raising the refugee quota

Currently New Zealand accepts 750 'quota refugees' every year - a number that hasn't increased since 1987.  That puts us at 90th in the world (per capita) for accepting refugees.

I'm increasingly seeing calls to increase this number, but those calls are often met by concern.  People worry whether this will increase unemployment in New Zealand, whether this influx will dilute our culture and even whether such refugees will bring the conflict they're fleeing with them.

That got me thinking: what proportion of those we grant residency to are actually refugees?  And who are the other people we let in?

Using data from pages 6-8 of the pdf in this file from the immigration department's website, I generated the following graph:
Refugees/Humanitarian 3%; Family reasons 38%; PAC/Samoan Quota 3%; Skilled migrants/Talents/Employees 53%; Business/Investment 2%; Other 1%

It turns out that people granted residency for refugee/humanitarian reasons are a tiny proportion of the total. Surely too tiny to have much impact on our culture or our job-market!  If we're concerned about the impacts immigrants have on those things, quota refugees aren't the problem.

If we'd like to basically retain the status quo, why not reduce the number of skilled migrants we bring in, rather than keeping the refugee quota static?  We could double the number of people accepted on humanitarian grounds to 6% without changing the total number of migrants: just offset them by reducing the number of skilled people we take in from 53% to 50% of the total.  I suspect that would hardly make a difference to the job-market, whilst having a huge impact on some very desperate people.

That still leaves the concern of whether more refugees will bring more conflict with them.  That's an understandable fear, but I think a largely groundless one.  I haven't looked into it, but I've rarely heard of conflict being introduced into New Zealand by refugees, so any increase would likely leave it at a very low level.

Notes:
  1. You can see a spreadsheet with all the data used to generate the pie chart here.  The most processed data is at the top and as you go down you eventually reach the raw data.  Quite a few steps were involved in going from their numbers to my simple chart!
  2. The categories on the pie chart are my own.  There are a truly surprising number of categories under which residency can be granted.  I have grouped them into ones that seemed to have a similar rationale behind them.
  3. Refugee/humanitarian is broader than just quota refugees.  It also includes other categories that had 'refugee' in their title but didn't appear to be part of the quota, as well as the categories 'Victims of Domestic Violence' and 'Humanitarian'.
  4. Family reasons is mostly foreign spouses of NZ citizens/residents or their children or parents.  This doesn't include refugee family reunifications - they're in the refugee/humanitarian category.
  5. PAC/Samoan Quota is people from Tonga, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Samoa who can come in under quota schemes.
  6. Skilled migrants/Talents/Employees includes not just skilled migrants but also people who come in with 'talents' in sports or arts and culture (!) or as employees (presumably being relocated from overseas).

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ethnographic photography

A good friend, Chris Joll, is an anthropologist working with Sufi Muslims in south and central Thailand.  In recent years he's begun documenting his work with amazing photographs that are now able to be seen on his website.

Over the last couple of weeks I've been browsing through the thousands of images he's uploaded.  I highly recommend doing the same, but if you don't have the time, I've posted my favourites below.  Click on the images to view bigger versions on Chris's website.

Enjoy!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Fundraising to set women free from prostitution in Kolkata

Freeset is a fair trade business offering employment to women trapped in Kolkata's sex trade. Currently they make quality jute bags and organic cotton T-shirts, but their real business is freedom!  They dream of seeing the 10,000 sex workers in their neighbourhood having the choice to leave a profession few of them ever chose to enter.

Right now they have the opportunity to come a step closer to that dream.  A large building at the entrance to the red light district where they work has come on the market.  If they could buy this building it could house more businesses giving opportunities for women to leave the sex trade along with social services to support them in this transition.

Right now they are fundraising to buy this building: it costs around NZ$3 million and is due to be sold at the end of June 2015.  After the sale they will need an additional NZ$900,000 to renovate it and establish the social services in the building.  They expect the businesses in it to be self-supporting (as their existing sewing business is) but obviously the social services won't generate funds so need this financial support.

If you'd like to support this project, you can read more and make donations here.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Onion skin dyeing

I first come across the idea of dyeing fabric with onion skins in one of my childhood favourite books, The Endless Steppe: an account of the Siberian exile of the author and her parents during WWII.  One way in which they made their hut there more cheerful was to dye their kitchen curtains with onion skins.  Earlier this year I decided to have a go myself, following these excellent instructions.

Over several months Martin and Sarah saved onion skins for me in order to get enough to largely fill our big preserving pot.

Boiling the skins to make dye

Filtering the skins out of the dye.  This was the most physically challenging part for me as it was hard to hold the muslin bag open at the same time as pouring liquid from the huge pot.

Two tea towels in the rich orange dye.  Isn't it a gorgeous colour?

Tea towels after boiling.  You can see I lost most of the water which led to uneven dyeing.  If I do this again I'll add more water to the dye before boiling.

Rinsing the dye out of the fabric.  I think this was the second rinse and there was still plenty of colour.

Drying the tea towels (and the muslin bag I'd used to separate out the onion skins).

The finished tea towels, complete with embroidered borders.  They turned out a lot more brown than I'd expected.  The dye is a bit uneven, but I'm still pleased with them.

The back side of the tea towels.  You can see that the synthetic labels on the towels (at bottom right) took up much more dye than the cotton fabric!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

'10 years' house party

This month it's 10 years since we moved into our current house.  To celebrate, last Saturday we invited all the people we've got know in the street to come over for afternoon tea.  I was surprised to realise we knew well over 20 people.  In the end 15 were able to come.  People seemed to mix pretty well and a lot of people met people they didn't already know.

Tantrix (the game being played in the background) was very popular.

It worked well having me on the sofa.  I spent a lot of time just watching what was going on but also had a number of one-on-one conversations.

A few people spilled outside.

Both Martin and Sarah worked very hard making sure everyone was well fed and had someone to talk to.

I loved watching our next-door neighbour Paul (granddad to 12 kids) playing with little Josaiah.

It was a lovely day - I got a bit teary later, thinking about all the people who mean a lot to me who I wouldn't know if we hadn't come to live here!