Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Life is fragile and precious

Cancer is a word that I had not used until around 6 years ago when my wife's mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. The weird thing was that as soon as I started to talk about it to people, suddenly, it was everywhere - everyone seemed to know someone who had had it or had succumbed to it.

She had surgery followed by radio therapy, and despite some complications, she progressed well. At each yearly checkup, we all anxiously awaited the results, and each time she got the all clear.

Then in 2009, she began to get pains in her back and hips. She said that in her heart, she knew it was cancer, but didn't say anything at the time to us. Several trips to the hospital, tests and scans later, it was confirmed that the cancer had spread to her bones, with a spot detected on her lungs and liver.

A regime of chemotherapy ensued and the prognosis was not too bad. We had to accept the she would never be cured, but the doctors were confident that they could keep things in remission for a reasonable length of time.

The chemo seemed to work and as her hair grew back, so did her confidence. At times, you forgot how ill she had been and although the realisation that the cancer is still there never goes away, there began to be more good times than bad - holidays were planned and thoughts turned from now to the future.

A couple of weeks ago, she had a really sore throat and catarrh that just wouldn't shift. She choked when she tried to eat, but we thought it was just a throat infection. Her doctor was concerned that the problem wasn't going away, and given her history, suggested a prompt consultation with an E.N.T. specialist.

The ENT appointment was today. The preliminary diagnosis is that it's a nerve problem - something is stopping one side of the throat working properly. There is a possibility that it's due to the cancer - they can't be sure until a full scan has been completed.

So we sit here in our world that has been turned upside down. We live in hope that its not due to the cancer, or if it is, then it's something can be sorted out. But we also face the possibility that it is serious.

It's so hard to watch, not only Debs mum having to face this news, but her husband, my wife and other family and friends trying to take it all in. Life is put on hold.

Monday, 24 January 2011

What's important?

Somedays, you have to say bollocks to Twitter, Facebook and Email.
Somedays, you need to kick yourself and say 'so what'?
Somedays, you just need to look at the trees, or a sunset.
Somedays, you are reminded of who you really are.

Yesterday, it would have been my mum's birthday. She died, quite suddenly, 7 years ago. 

I need to talk to her, there are things I need to say. I'm sure there are things she needs to say to me.

Down to earth with a bang.

Tomorrow? Back to Twitter, Facebook, Email and all that crap. Keep on smiling.

Monday, 10 January 2011

My wooden bowl

In my last blog entry, I mentioned Robin Wood and the porringer bowl that I bought from him. Well, here's a photo of it in all it's glory.

Actually, this is bowl number 1 which split (just after I took this photo) - the problem in working with natural materials is that there are sometimes defects which don't manifest themselves immediately. Anyway, Robin was really good and sent me a replacement, which I've now had and used for over 2 years and is in excellent condition.

I love to use this bowl. The texture and feel is wonderful, as are the ergonomics. I hold the bowl with my left hand cupping it and with my thumb resting on one of the wings for stability.

With this type of bowl, the wide rim is of course turned complete and the unwanted sections are hand axed off afterwards.

In the YouTube video below, you can see Robin starting with a log and ending up with a bowl, completely made by human power!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

How to Make a Wooden Spoon

Following on from my previous post about 'green woodworking', one of the assistants on the course I went on was a guy called 'Barn'. Now, renamed 'Barn the Spoon', he has apparently been walking around the UK, making wooden spoons in return for food and shelter.

Robin Wood (honestly, that's his name) had him stay for a while in October and blogged about it here, here and here. In fact, whilst I'm mentioning Robin, he has a whole website category on spoon carving which you can check out here. I actually have a bowl made by Robin which was a birthday present from my wife a few years ago - the style is called a 'porringer' - I'll put some images on the blog soon - it's a gorgeous bowl to eat from!

Anyway, back to Barn the Spoon - I found a series of 4 videos with him demonstrating how to carve a spoon from a freshly cut branch. Apparently, when he's not being filmed and explaining everything, he can complete a spoon in around 14 minutes.

This is pretty impressive stuff - watch and enjoy!

Barn the Spoon and How to Make A Wooden Spoon part 1
from Ed and Will on Vimeo.

Barn the Spoon, and How To Make A Wooden Spoon part 2
from Ed and Will on Vimeo.

Barn the Spoon, and How To Make A Wooden Spoon part 3
from Ed and Will on Vimeo.

Barn the Spoon, and How To Carve A Wooden Spoon part 4
from Ed and Will on Vimeo.

Green Woodworking

Green woodworking is a traditional way of working with wood that is unseasoned, ie in the green. The fact that the wood will shrink in a pre-determined way (and by a known amount) after the item has been made is used to the advantage of the overall piece. An example of this is when making a chair, the cross rails are pre-shrunk for 24 hours or so in a 'hot box' (ie so they won't shrink any further) and are then inserted in the legs.  As they legs dry, they will shrink and grip the cross rails, meaning that no glue or nails are needed.

Chairs and stools made from green wood are also immensely strong because the wood is not cut against it's grain which can expose weaknesses. The people who made the chairs in this way were called 'Bodgers'.

Mike Abbott, explaining safety procedures.

In September 2008, I was fortunate to spend a long weekend on an 'Introduction to Green Woodworking' course with Mike Abbott. It was a wonderful and inspirational experience, based in Brookhouse Wood, not far from Bromyard in Herefordshire. Part of the joy was simply being there, in the middle of a tranquil woodland, with no electricity or phones, living and working under a massive canvas sheet and with a couple of open fires on the go at all times.

Everyone mucking in to prepare dinner.

Toilet facilities were a palatial compost loo for your poo and a secluded strawbale to wee on. The shower was a trug bucket which you filled with warm water from the fire and hoisted up in the air. A hose pipe came out the bottom of the bucket and had a tap on the end to control the flow of water. It was an exhilarating experience showering in the open, although I was also nervous of running out of water mid-shower and having to walk back to the 'kitchen' for more.

One of the fires. This one fed the 'hot box'.

The working area contained several shave horses, foot-powered lathes, wooden blocks and a brilliant collection of tools, plus a selection of wood to choose to work from.

For my main project, I decided to make a small stool. It was amazing to start with a log - literally complete with bark etc and then to cleave it into four pieces, each of which would become a leg. Using initially an axe, and then a shave horse with a draw knife, the quadrants of wood were rounded off and suddenly transformed!
Stool legs, drilled and ready to accept cross rails.

In addition to the stool, I also made a candlestick and a babies rattle on the foot-powered lathe. The rattle is actually quite complex for a beginner because it has enclosed rings - Mike made one, then I tried. It was OK I guess! It is perhaps sad for me to say that one of the most satisfying things to feel and hear is  wood being cut perfectly with a chisel on a foot-powered lathe - mmmmm!

My rattle above, and how it should have looked below!
It was my first time on a pole lathe though.

On the last day, the stool was assembled (no glue or nails) and the final test was to put the stool on a branch of a tree and hang from it. Fortunately, it all stayed together! The finish it off, I used strips of Wych Elm Bark to weave the seat.

I had a utterly brilliant weekend - Mike and his assistants were great teachers, and the other course attendees were all fascinating people. We had great communal meals and a couple of drinks in the evenings too!

I came home with a massive smile on face, but smelt of sweat and woodsmoke! Oh the memories!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

When Ideology Meets Reality

I'm quite an idealistic person. 20+ years ago, I became a vegetarian - not just the sort of vegetarian who eschews meat, but an avid label reader who avoided all animal products like gelatine and cochineal (a red food colouring made from crushed beetles).

Although I kept my old leather walking boots until they fell apart, I didn't buy anything with leather, which was really cool when people used to question my ethics and say "I bet your shoes/belt etc are leather" - which they weren't. With that brick wall in their face, sensible people would shut up and accept me, others would harp on about the cries of the lettuce as it was violently ripped from the ground - 'gosh, I never heard that one before'.

About 14 years ago, I got to know some people who were vegan - at that time, they were campaigning against the export of live calves from Coventry airport and I quickly made the connection with milk, calves and the live export, so I became vegan. Being vegan from a dietary point of view was fairly straightforward - yes the choices were more limited, but we (my wife became vegan at the same time, which helps) just got more imaginative with cooking.

Of course, being vegan is a lifestyle and much more than just food. Choosing to avoid, 'as far as possible' (the words of the vegan society) all animal products, means no wool and no silk. Again, it's fairly easy these days to buy clothes made from cotton or man-made fibres (in the early days, getting suits was a problem, but no so much these days).

So everything is fine isn't it? Well, no. Actually it's not.

You see, I'm also an environmentalist, interested in localism and look to the future (less oil available etc etc) and the problems that might bring. I have some lovely tops made from cotton, but most cotton is, I guess, now GM (genetically modified) and heavily sprayed with pesticides and insecticides - hardly sustainable. I have some great non-leather footwear, but it's made from oil-based man-made fibres which again is not sustainable. They might last well, although probably not as well as good pair of leather boots. Do you see the dilemma?

I have some nice 'hemp' garments, but generally speaking, they are very expensive (in monetary terms). The same goes for organic cotton or bamboo and so on. I'm not a 'fashionista', so I don't buy a lot of clothes which means I can afford to spend a little bit more than usual on the odd garment, but not everyone can and more often than not, the cheap, man-made fibre garments concern me in terms of sweat-shop production and so on.

Of course leather itself is not environmentally benign - the production (apart from the fact that it is/was the skin of a living animal) can involve various nasty chemicals in the tanning process, and again there are parts of the world where leather is produced that have less than ideal production and employment ethics.

Wool is another area where I can see both sides of the coin - on the one hand it goes against my vegan ethics of keeping/controlling animals for mans' use, where the animals are looked upon as just a commodity and I believe that around 40% of wool comes from slaughtered animals. Sheep, like goats, are also pretty destructive on the land where they are farmed. The other side is that it's a highly durable natural fibre that lasts well and in addition to use in clothes, can be made into house insulation and so on - so it can have some good environmental credentials.

Green woodworking course with Mike Abbot

Having said all the above, and as a vegan, I currently won't buy anything leather or wool (and family & friends know all this when it comes to birthdays etc!). I do have a pair of leather work gloves - a builder who did some work on the house left them behind, so rather than throw them away, I have used them on some tough jobs where non-leather probably would have been useless. I'm interested in green woodwork and if I pursued this, at some point I'd come across buying knives that come with leather sheaths, or leather straps that operate with pole lathes - what should I do?

I love the look and practicality of the leather pouches shown below. They are made by Ben Orford - a green woodworker who originally trained with Mike Abbott (Mike also taught me on my 'introduction green woodwork' course). They look durable, should last for years and really appeals to me, but it's leather and I'm a vegan, so I don't go there!

So what about the future? I believe in peak-oil (in fact, peak many things) which will force a new localism onto people and the economy. It will, in the not too distant future, become a lot more expensive to ship goods across the world, and the raw materials for what are currently 'cheap' items, will not be so cheap.

I know vegans (and many vegetarians) who will buy leather and wool and not feel bad about it (they somehow manage to block out the 'bad' bits). Equally, I know many vegans for whom the issue is very black and white - they will never be compromised into buying or wearing an animal product or by-product, at any cost, at any time.

Personally, I can see a time, when as an environmentalist, it would make more environmental sense to buy leather goods rather than synthetic 'leather-like', or maybe woollen socks rather than polyester. But the trouble is how I can reconcile that with my veganism? At the moment, I can't reconcile it, but in the future, I may be forced to change, ever so slightly.

Oh the joys of caring and thinking too much!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

January No-Tox

One of the herbal blogs that I visit regularly is 'Whispering Earth'. An entry yesterday was interesting as it referred to a January 'no-tox' regime. I've never done a detox as such, they sound like hard work and the whole term has spawned an industry of hype and false-claims, however, a 'No-Tox' diet sounded good!

Flower offering at the Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire UK
In essence, Lucinda writes that although many people think about detoxing after the indulgences of Christmas, it's actually a bad time because we're still in winter and the body needs different food types at this time of year (heavier, winter foods that build us up and allow us to survive the cold!), so a 'fresh greens' diet would a) be hard to get locally/sustainably and b) quite stressful on the body.

Lucinda says that it's better to have a 'no-tox' diet, ie one that eliminates/reduces our intake of toxins and focusses on natural, whole and unprocessed foods.

What I found interesting was Lucinda expands the idea of what toxins are, to include things like a TV program that leaves us agitated, unhappy, or with violent mental images and so on.

Her blog entry goes on to suggest some techniques to support the body after the seasonal excesses, such as body brushing, body rub, gentle exercise, seaweeds and green foods and hot lemon water.

Take a look at the full article and see how 'no-tox' you can go in January!

Whispering Earth : As The Strings of the Lute - A January No-Tox.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Regrets of the Dying

Perhaps a little morbid, but when you read this article, you get a view of life that precious and full of wisdom, because when it comes to the end of your life, you can honestly look back at the important stuff. Let's take heed from this and concentrate on the stuff that matters.

Calendula flower at Springfield Sanctuary, Nr Stow on the Wold, UK

From http://www.inspirationandchai.com/Regrets-of-the-Dying.html
For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.
People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone's capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.
When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
2. I wish I didn't work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice.  They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Do you think in straight or curved lines?

Alan Watts explores his relationship with nature.

Although filmed in 1971, it's perhaps more relevant today than ever. Let's stop thinking in straight lines and boxes and look at nature.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

The beautiful art of Izumi Omori

When visiting Devon or Cornwall, we often explore art galleries and alternative shops for interesting cards and prints.

One artist whose work I've admired is Izumi Omori whose paintings have a magical quality and depth and is unlike anything I've seen before.
From her website: 
Izumi’s work features the magic of growth, the miracle of flowers and the life of the trees and hedgerows, alive with bees and insects. Her paintings shimmer with light and living energy, capturing transitory moments of many-layered life and growth in layers of paint and texture. They have both strength and delicacy; a blending of Cornish elements with Japanese style and sensitivity. Izumi’s paintings grow into existence by a process of building up and paring down, allowing the paint to speak and develop as it needs.
Izumi Omori explores her Japanese influences as she absorbs and explores the beauty of Cornwall. Born at the foot of Mt Fuji she has grown up with a love of the spectacular, that nature so willingly offers, Like the pure water of Shiyosenkyo a waterfall near her home town of Kofu, her passion to express the love of her surroundings run deep and vibrant in a enthusiastic colour of learning. 
Each painting is a journey, Sometimes she knows the path she travels and plans each step of it’s creation and sometimes likes to let the materials explode as she endeavours to take control of their ever defiant ways, she then leaves her painting as she reads the textures and reflects apon it’s creation and the influences that surround her, time has no passage as Izumi will only commit to put focus to her expressions, when she feels it is the right time and she understands what she what’s to translate, Izumi will sometimes build a painting to near completion only to tear it down and re-build it in to what it is she believes to be true, she has a great belief in evolution of art. She belives that art should penetrate more than just vision but should touch many other senses and if she can communicate this with her work she will have a found a true way to speak to all.
Please check out her website: http://www.izumiomori.co.uk/

A Secret of Zennor - Izumi Omori

Afternoon Enchantment - Izumi Omori

Bluebell Woods - Izumi Omori

Pass to the New Future - Izumi Omori

Zennor Moon - Izumi Omori


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