Stand Together, Every Day

It has been a difficult few days for all of us here in Christchurch. Shock. Horror. Sadness. Fear. Anger. We have been through so many emotions, it’s hard to know what we are feeling at any given moment.

But one emotion has come to the fore—love. 

Even before we understood the full scope of the horror unleashed in our midst, ordinary people were mobilising to help. Within hours, there were community Facebook groups organising walking buddies and rides for those who felt unsafe on the streets. Other pages were organising meals for the families of victims. Donations poured in on multiple Give-a-little pages (when I went to one of them to donate, less than 48 hours after the attack, the total was already well over $3 million). The NZ Red Cross quickly announced they had plenty of blood after being inundated with donors. People from all over the city left flowers at the police cordons outside the mosques.

Everywhere, people stood together in love.

It’s something Christchurch is good at. We’ve had a lot of practice coming together in the face of adversity in recent years.

It’s tempting to focus on this outpouring of support, to acknowledge the love, and reject the attacker as the enemy. It’s tempting to look at the last three days and pat ourselves on the back for how we’ve responded.

But no matter how good we are at standing together in adversity, the fact is, we’re not good at standing together in the normal times.

We still speak of the Muslim community as though it is separate from the rest of the community. And it is. We need to ask ourselves why. What unacknowledged biases keep us apart? What unacknowledged prejudice prevents us from reaching out to one another in friendship in the good times? Why do we use our differences as an excuse to stay separate, rather than as an encouragement to enrich our lives by learning from one another?

Facing these questions may be uncomfortable—the answers will reveal things we may not want to acknowledge about ourselves—but we must confront them. The man who attacked on Friday may not have been a New Zealander, but there is no question the same attitudes are present here. They are fed by our separateness, fed by our unwillingness to stand up against the little things—the racist comments, the perpetuated stereotypes, the marginalisation of those who may look different to ourselves. These little actions nurture hate. Only by vocally and visibly standing together in the good times can we prevent this from happening again.

Today, wherever you are in the world, step out of your comfort zone. Reach out to someone different from you—make a new acquaintance, a new friend. Shut down an off-colour joke. Push back against a racist comment. Show your love. 

Kia kaha katoa.

Stay strong. Stand together, every day.

Knickers for Posterity

I visited the Otago Museum a few days ago. Among the many artefacts on display, two in particular caught my eye.

The first was a jar of elastic, saved for reuse and donated to the museum by one Jane Barker-Eames. I immediately thought of my grandmother. Every day for at least fifty years, she’s had the paper delivered to her doorstep. Every day she’s taken the rubber band off the rolled-up paper and carefully saved it. By my calculations, that’s over 18,250 rubber bands, dutifully saved for reuse. No doubt many of those rubber bands went on to perform useful tasks elsewhere, but they added up, filling multiple coffee cans (reused, of course), and forming small drifts in kitchen drawers. 

When Grandma recently moved into a rest home, my mother threw away her large rubber band stash (don’t tell Grandma!).

I suspect Jane Barker-Eames was the daughter of a Mrs. Barker, careful re-user of elastic, and that at some point, she faced my own mother’s conundrum—what do do with Mum’s stuff?

Maybe she didn’t even know that jar of elastics was there, tucked inside a sagging cardboard box in the attic along with a dozen empty thread spools, a moth-eaten sweater, and a small tin of safety pins—the entirety of Mum’s estate was packed off to the Otago Museum. Maybe they could figure out what to do with it.

And upon passing through the museum’s doors, Mum’s stuff was instantly elevated from rubbish to artefact, never to be used again.

I think Mrs. Barker would be disappointed her elastic stash wasn’t used in a new pair of knickers.

And speaking of knickers, the second item that caught my eye was a scrap of woven textile identified as a loincloth. It made me think about the pair of underwear I recently tossed out—the elastic had failed and they no longer stayed up (Where was Mrs. Barker’s elastic when I needed it?). I wondered if the loincloth in the museum had been similarly discarded at the end of its useful life. Little could its wearer have imagined that their dirty old knickers would someday sit enshrined in glass to be ogled at by thousands of people, most of whom would be mortified to have their own underwear similarly on display.

It made me wonder if, someday, my underwear might be displayed alongside Mrs. Barker’s jar of elastic as a lesson in frugal living—for want of a piece of used elastic, this poor 21st-century woman went bare-bottomed. Mrs. Barker, on the other hand, always kept her knickers firmly in place.

Hang on to your elastic, ladies.

Pity the One Percent

I enjoy springtime for its warmer temperatures, flowers and the opportunity to get outdoors more frequently. But it’s the bump in our standard of living that I enjoy most.

Garden excess comes early, in the form of artichokes and asparagus. Add in some home grown oyster mushrooms, spinach, leeks and herbs, and I begin to feel like we have unlimited wealth. Like we’re in the ‘one percent’.

Except, I doubt the one percent gets vegetables as fresh as ours.

And I expect they don’t have the pleasure of strolling among head-high artichoke plants, breathing in their earthy scent and picking twice as many as they need, because, well, why not?

And I know they don’t enjoy passing their excess vegetables on to the neighbours, spreading and sharing riches that cannot be saved, banked, or invested.

So I feel sorry for them, in springtime; they are so poor, and I am a queen.

Love your Library

I’ve blogged in the past about how much I appreciate libraries, but it bears repeating. I can’t deny I prefer writing in my lovely office, but modern libraries are beautifully set up for those who need to work away from the office, with power points, standing desks, and quiet spaces. I’ve spent the past two days in the public library. My word count is down, compared to working at home, but I’ve enjoyed the people watching.

One of my key observations from the past two days is how the library is a safe space in the middle of the city. A fellow at the table next to me spent an hour working on a jigsaw puzzle while his computer and phone sat unattended and unobserved on the other side of the room. Parents of toddlers calmly browse the shelves while their little ones scamper around happily out of sight. Those same toddlers swagger through the library to visit their favourite books, posters, and egg chairs as though they’re in their own living room. When their parents eventually look up and find their children gone, they don’t panic, but casually stroll after them, stopping now and again to check out an interesting book on the way. After three o’clock, kids of all ages descend upon the library to read, hang out, and play games until their parents are able to pick them up. The implicit assumption is that everyone in the library is kind, helpful, and honest. I’m sure that’s not entirely true, but the expectation is so high, I think anyone who tried to behave in a socially unacceptable way would be instantly frog-marched out of the library by all the other visitors.

It’s good to have these spaces. It’s a reminder that we can create safe spaces, where strangers from all walks of life can mix and mingle over a shared love of books.

Slashing the Stash

It rained all weekend, so what was I to do but bake and sew for two days? It felt decadent, indulgent (though I did get my weekend chores done; I wasn’t a total slacker).

It was a rewarding weekend, too. My fabric stash has been getting out of control lately. I only buy fabric when I have a project in mind, but there’s always a little left over from any project, and it builds up. Not enough to make clothing for me or my now adult-sized kids, but enough for clothes for little kids and babies.

So this winter I’m on a mission to reduce the stash by making clothing to give to charity. On this chilly, wet weekend, I started in on my scraps of polar fleece. I made a whole raft of warm hats, and cut out the pieces for five little jackets (I need to get zips for the jackets before I can sew them). It was great fun turning all that ‘waste’ fabric into useful items.

Next weekend, I hope to start in on the knit fabric—I have patterns for baby t-shirts that’ll be perfect for using up those scraps. And then there’s the denim, cotton broadcloth, corduroy … so many fabrics, and so many creative possibilities, once you think small.

I managed to cut my polar fleece volume down by half—my stash reduced to pieces useful for my own clothes. If I can do the same with all my other fabrics, I’ll be thrilled. I get more space in my cupboard, I get to indulge in sewing I enjoy doing, and someone in need gets new clothes. It’s a win for everyone.

Home Fires Burning

Cat enjoying a good book by the fire.

I woke yesterday morning shivering under the summer quilt on the bed after a restless night listening to icy rain on the roof.

Time to switch to winter mode, I suppose.

I lit the first fire of the season.

It wasn’t long before the cat joined me by the fire. Then my daughter, then my husband, then my son…Nothing like a hearth to draw everyone together.

I think about the angst over today’s youth, separated from face-to-face interactions by their devices, and I think that perhaps what we all need are small, poorly insulated houses heated by inefficient wood burners. In a big, centrally heated house, it’s easy for everyone to retreat to their own rooms—shut the door, pull out the phone and troll the internet. But in our house, the only comfortable room in the winter is the 3×4 m living room. A teen who retreats to their room and shuts the door pretty quickly returns to warm up by the fire.

Yes, we may all sit here doing our own thing, but by gathering around the fire together, we share what we’re doing with each other. Someone might share a good line from the book they’re reading, or show a dumb cat video they thought was funny, or ask for help on a maths problem. Simply by virtue of proximity, we connect in other ways.

I will admit that on winter mornings, crawling out of a warm bed into the freezing air to light the fire, I dream of luxuries like heat pumps. And sometimes it would be really nice to have some space to myself, rather than do my knitting cheek-by-jowl with a teenager practicing a new juggling trick. But on the whole, I suspect the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. We humans are hardwired to sit around the fire talking to one another. Our ways of relating to one another, passing on wisdom and culture, and finding our place in a community evolved around the fire.

So, again this winter, I will keep the home fires burning.

Growing Gifts

The first neighbourly gift I was given when we moved into our house twelve and a half years ago was a handful of dried scarlet runner bean pods for seed. A couple of weeks ago, I harvested the twelfth batch of seed from the descendants of those first beans. The neighbour who gave me those beans has since moved away, and I haven’t seen her for years. But her gift still feeds us every year.

Another friend gave us a few raspberry canes about ten years ago. Those raspberries (and their descendant cuttings) now fill a thirty-metre long bed, and yield large quantities of fruit each summer.

A few years after the raspberries, my husband drove one of my son’s classmates and his dad to a school outing. In exchange, the dad gave us a couple of gooseberry plants. A few strategic cuttings, and we now pick almost more gooseberries than we know what to do with each year.

Around the same time, one of my husband’s colleagues was pulling out some artichoke plants, and asked if we wanted a few. I’ve divided those plants twice since then, and we now eat more artichokes than anyone should be allowed to.

For a gardener, these are the best gifts—divisions, cuttings, and seeds from cherished plants. They are gifts that may seem small at the time, but they grow every year.