Mint Choc-Chip Mylkshake.

Husband loves all the Summer smoothies and milkshakes that the coffee shops bring out at this time of year, but we’re looking for vegan (and, preferably, lower-calorie and healthier) alternatives this Summer. So I’m making a start with a home-made version of Costa’s Mint Choc Chip Frostino.

  • 2 bananas
  • 150ml plant milk (I used oat)
  • A few mint leaves (or some mint flavoring, but fresh mint tastes really good. We grow some on the windowsill; it’s easy to keep, and you can make fresh mint tea from it too)
  • Drop or two of vanilla (optional)
  • Some vegan chocolate chips or chopped chocolate – something like 15-20g?

Chop the bananas into fairly fine slices and freeze (I leave them overnight). Once frozen, put them in a blender with the milk, mint leaves and vanilla (if using) and blend until you have a thick, smooth milkshake. You’ll need a reasonably good blender for this, the kind that can crush ice. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips.

This makes one large or two more sensibly-sized milkshakes. Naturally, it does have something of a banana flavor alongside the mint and the chocolate. We quite like it and it’s not overpowering, but you could always replace the bananas with a big scoop of vanilla ice-cream if you prefer.

June Angel Prayer.

June is here, and May is over for another year.

Thank you, Angel Ambiel, for guiding us through the past month.

Now we greet you, Angel Muriel, guardian of June. We thank you for watching over us this month.

Please help us to have peace in our hearts, to support one another, and to enjoy the time we have with our families and friends.

Thank you, Angel Muriel.

Why Sainsbury’s Abandonment of Fairtrade is Not Okay.

So Sainsbury’s are planning to move some of their teas – their own brand Red Label, Gold Label, extra strong and green – from being Fairtrade certified to being a part of the Sainsbury’s Foundation Fairly Traded range. It sounds like a minor thing. Why am I writing a blog about something like that?

Because this is not a minor thing.

It *looks* like nothing’s really changing except the little icon they’ll print on the packaging – it’s still all fair ‘n’ ethical, right? But what the Sainsbury’s Foundation proposes is not comparable to the Fairtrade standards – in fact, the Fairtrade Foundation, having consulted with tea farmers in Africa, have decided not to be a partner of the Sainsbury’s Foundation.

This is not the Fairtrade Foundation throwing a strop (after all, Sainsbury’s did ask them to be a partner of the Sainsbury’s Foundation). Having looked into the new proposals, they’re just not happy with them and aren’t willing to compromise their standards. One big problem that the tea farmers were unhappy about is the fact that they will no longer have control over all the money they earn.

Under Fairtrade principles, communities earn a Fairtrade Premium – a sum of money (that they have earned by producing and selling things, not a charitable donation) on top of the minimum Fairtrade price, that gets spent by the community for the good of the community – it’s for stuff like sending children to school, investing in business equipment or training, improving local sanitation, and all that sort of thing.

Under the Sainsbury’s Foundation, this money will be hoarded by a a board of people in London – far, far removed from the realities of daily life in the farming communities of Africa – and communities will have to jump through hoops to access their own money, with this London-based board of suits determining what they may spent their money on, or even if they may have access to *their own money* at all.

Would you be cool if a chunk of your wages was kept from you by some random people you’d never met, with no clue about your needs or your life, who then told you what you were allowed to spend it on or simply not let you access it at all? No, me either.

This is just a move to disempower farming communities, placing layers of bureaucracy between them and their own money (I can’t say often enough how this money actually belongs to the farming communities who grew and harvested a bunch of tea in order to earn it). It’s not right for Sainsbury’s to keep hold of any part of their supplier’s wages, and it’s also not acceptable for them to try to control the growth and development of entire communities by doing so. A retailer should not have that much social control over an entire community. Call me paranoid if you like, but the more I think about it, the more I see the potential for some really sinister social engineering.

Fairtrade is *proven*. They’ve been going for twenty years and that’s plenty of time to get data together to prove weather your policies work or not. I’m not saying that innovative new ideas should never be trialed, but not without the willing consent of the producers (please remember that Sainsbury’s producers are not happy about these changes, especially the lack of access to part of their wages) and not without the clear understanding that it’s a trail to see if improvement can be made, and that if it’s not successful then proven methods will be returned to. This is not what the Sainsbury’s Foundation is doing at all. In fact, they have made it clear that this ‘small’ change (is any change that affects 229,224 people really small?) is just the thin end of the wedge – they hope to eventually extend this scheme to other products.

This all just feels like such a big step backwards for fair trading between ‘developed’ and ‘undeveloped’ countries. A huge supplier like Sainsbury’s backing out of Fairtrade is just…I can’t believe them. If this issue strikes a chord with you, it would be really awesome if you could write to Sainsbury’s about it so that they know customers aren’t happy and won’t be buying their ‘fair trade’ products.

Further reading;

http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/Media-Centre/News/May-2017/Open-letter-to-Sainsburys-from-Fairtrade-producers

http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/Media-Centre/News/May-2017/Statement-on-Fairtrade-withdrawal-from-Sainsbury-partnership

http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/Media-Centre/Blog/2017/May/FAQs-about-Sainsburys-Foundation-and-Fairtrade

http://www.traidcraft.co.uk/blog-entry/traidcraft-statement-on-sainsburys-announcement-of-a-pilot-fairly-traded-tea-programme

http://www.isealalliance.org/online-community/news/iseal-statement-on-sainsbury%E2%80%99s-sustainability-standards-programme

Fairtrade pic

Why I Identify as Male.

Even though it may not be 100% accurate lol.

The first time I can recall feeling unhappy with my social gender role, I’d have been about seven. My little sister had just begun school at the same primary as me, and I wanted to be her big brother really badly. In my seven-year-old mind, molded largely by children’s books about happy siblings going on adventures together, big brothers were there to protect their younger siblings, and – though she may well not believe this – I felt strongly protective of Sister (probably too protective, actually – I got really sad when she made friends of her own and wanted to go play with them instead of hanging around being ‘protected’ by me. But that’s a whole other problem). I felt like big sisters weren’t supposed to be like that, and I felt really awkward and confused about the whole thing.

That was an entirely social thing. I don’t think I felt any kind of physical gender dysphoria at that time in my life – in fact, I’m not sure I actually knew the difference between girls and boys at that point, except ‘grown ladies have boobies’. Now, as an adult, I can easily see that I’m not obliged to follow old-fashioned gender models from 80s children’s books. But at the time, the ‘big sibling identity crisis’ was a big deal for me. It started off a problem that I could never quite escape from.

By the time I was ten, I was making lists of reasons why it’s better to be a girl. I can’t help but feel like people who actually are female don’t need to try so hard to convince themselves…I made several of these lists, but I never really felt happy with the idea. Then, when I was about thirteen, I saw a news report about a young trans man.

I knew, immediately, that I was like that too. But by that point in my life, I had a lot of other problems going on.

I began to experience suicidal depression when I was eleven. My anxiety got to the point where I was struggling to go to school, but all the professionals my parents tried to get help from just said I was faking it to get out of lessons. I began to get extreme highs and lows of mood. I started harming myself when I was twelve, and was using a razor blade to cut myself with almost daily by the time I found out there was this thing called ‘being transgender’.

I did not need another socially unacceptable problem.

So I talked myself out of it; I told myself that if this was true then I would have been *absolutely certain* from a really young age, the way the guy on T.V. had been. I’d have screamed blue murder about being made to wear dresses and begged to have my hair cut short. This couldn’t be me. I wasn’t like this.

I pulled myself into all kinds of different shapes over the years. I told myself that outward appearances were completely irrelevant, that I voluntarily wore make-up and therefore must be a girl, that women could do whatever they wanted these days so why did it matter, that I was making things up, that I was crazy, that I just needed to stop thinking about it.

Things really came to a head when I was…what, sixteen? Just turned seventeen? I can remember it as clear as day; I was standing in line in the corridor at college, waiting for a creative writing class to start. I had my hair cut into a bob, long nails and a woolen mini-dress. I felt like I had a flashing neon sign over my head saying ‘female’, and I just couldn’t stand it for one second longer. I don’t know how I didn’t disintegrate there and then. As it was, I stood there like everything was fine, went to class…and started a really, really strict diet. The kind of ‘diet’ where you end up on a drip in hospital being weighed and having your pulse taken twice a day.

By the time I was actually getting help for anorexia, it had become a way to harm myself. But it definitely began because I just couldn’t stand those feminine curves any longer. One of my obsessions, right to the end, was getting my boobs as small as they’d possibly go. I did try to talk about gender with psychiatrists a couple of times, but they always steered away from the subject or asked questions I couldn’t answer (‘why do you feel that way?’ ‘Er…’cuz I do?’), so I quickly learnt to leave it alone.

Anorexia very almost killed me. I had a massive breakdown and it took a long, long time to recover. My body has never really recovered. I still sometimes have problems around food and weight, even now, at twenty nine. So for years I just didn’t have the spare mental space to deal with gender.

Then I met this woman – this massively butch lesbian, to be precise. He’s now my husband, in an odd but rather entertaining twist of fate. But you’ll notice how I said ‘lesbian’? Yeah, Husband actually prefers chicks. Awkward. So for a few years I went through my famous ‘prefect housewife phase’, where I wore cute little dresses, acquired two bags and a whole shoe-box worth of make-up and nail varnish, and learnt how to bake.

Ironically, Husband did not massively appreciate the ‘prefect housewife phase’ (well, except the baking). He likes kick-ass women with piercings and ink. And I couldn’t keep the act up anyway.

But by that point I’d spent nineteen years, beginning age seven, tearing my gender identity into shreds. I didn’t know what I was. I could ‘logic myself’ into knots. And I’d been raised as female, been treated as female all my life, lived as a woman for my entire lifetime…All my experiences were female ones, if that makes sense. That has to affect your sense of identity, doesn’t it? Plus, people talk about guys ‘getting in touch with their feminine side’, so…am I a ‘girly’ guy? Can you be a girly trans guy? Does that not just make you a cis woman? What even is gender, anyway? Is it relevant any more? Should it be? Should we ditch the concept altogether?

And then it dawned on me that the only thing I was actually struggling with was what label to stick on myself. I knew what I needed to change and what I was happy to leave as it is, I had a strong sense of my own identity (at last!), I knew what made me happy and what brought me down with regards to gender…I just didn’t know if my label should read ‘trans man’ or ‘non-binary’. That’s it. I was driving myself back to a life of bleak, suffocating depression and 3 am, guilt-ridden panic attacks…over that. 

So I’m going with he, him and male, because I feel comfortable with that. There’s no logical reason. If I went with them, they and non-binary, it wouldn’t make any difference to how I actually live day-to-day. I’d still be wearing the same clothes, asking for the same medical treatment from the gender clinic and generally being the exact same person, just with a different label.

Still wouldn’t know which bloody changing room I’m supposed to use, though.

gender pic

Maximus Elephant Poo Notebook.

Yes, really, elephant poo. I love when people read the back of these books, find out what they’re made from and then almost throw them back on the display in horror. I probably shouldn’t say that…but it is kinda funny.

They’re actually really nice – my parents gave me one for Christmas. I didn’t catch any diseases from it, and it doesn’t smell lol. It’s made with 75% elephant poo and 25% post consumer waste paper (recycling, yaaaay), and gets totally sterilized as it’s processed. The process is ecologically friendly as well (I swear I read that they boil the poo with some kind of leaf that totally sterilizes everything instead of using chemicals, but I can’t find that on their website so I may have imagined it. That would be a very strange thing to imagine, though).

If you’re still not convinced, then maybe the fact that Maximus has really gone out of it’s way to help rural communities in Sri Lanka will sway you. Instead of taking up the government benefits and concessions that would have come their way from setting up in an industrial zone, Maximus has brought jobs to remote areas – even though this makes the logistics and organisation of the business more difficult and expensive.

Also, they donate a percentage (no, I couldn’t find out exactly what percentage) of their profits to The Millennium Elephant Foundation, a charity which works to help captive elephants in Sri Lanka. Their website is http://millenniumelephantfoundation.com/

The books themselves are all hand-made and there are a lot of different colorful designs. As they’re made from, er, ‘all natural products’, the texture of the paper is somewhat variable. I feel like that could be a real bonus for artists – this paper would be really interesting to work with. You can also just use it to write in, though – I used mine as a journal. The only thing to watch out for is that if you sketch in pencil and then go over the top in ink, most of the ink will rub off when you rub out the pencil sketch.

The Maximus website is http://www.ecomaximus.com/max/ You can order notebooks and other elephant poo paper products (alliteration, everybody) at http://www.elecosy.com/

Fun With Gender.

Every pagan must have heard about the Divine Feminine; maybe because most of us were raised in patriarchal monotheistic faiths, and maybe because women have been repressed in this society for a very long time, finding the sacredness and power in femaleness has been very important. Some pagan traditions focus solely on the Goddess/es, and many women find the physical womanliness of their bodies is a link to the Divine Feminine, just as their ‘feminine qualities’ – creativity, a nurturing heart, receptivity – link them to the Goddess/es.

I don’t hear as much about the Divine Masculine; male Deities exist, clearly (I know some people do believe in just The Goddess, but the majority of us acknowledge the existence of Gods even if we prefer to worship only the Goddesses), but it’s a lot less common to hear people getting really enthusiastic about Divine Masculinity the way they do about The Sacred Feminine. I’ve yet to hear a man telling me about the way his physical maleness helps him to connect with the Divine Masculine. Maybe it’s because men are already ’empowered’ in our society, or maybe men and women relate to these things differently, or maybe it’s just that men never really needed to reclaim the idea of a Sacred Male (because monotheistic Deities tend to be viewed as male).

A lot of pagan faith seems highly gendered, when you start to think about it. We have a set of archetypes for women and another set for men. Sex – heterosexual sex – will be talked about as the union of opposites, cosmic balance. There is feminine energy or masculine energy, frith or boast. Every thing in the entire Universe, it seems, can be sorted into a blue box or a pink box. Which is why life gets really interesting when you don’t quite fit in either box.

Modern life in general is…tricky, if you don’t want to sit in just the blue or pink box. It’s also rough if you want to be in one box, but everyone else thinks you belong in the other box. What toilet do you use? What do you do about changing rooms? How on Earth do you tackle the swimming pool? And the pagan community doesn’t always know what to do with you, either. Like, can I join the Moon Group or not? But actually, the Sacred Third is…well, sacred. You won’t hear it talked about a great deal, but we’re here, we’re real, and we’re as sacred as ‘biological’ men or women.

I *wanted* my messed-up and confused gender identity to have no impact on my spirituality, but it just doesn’t work like that. Not for me, anyway. In fact, once I started to research, it seems to be integral to my calling. I’ve been a bit shy to talk about this before, but I’m called to what a lot of people nowadays are calling shamanism (since I’m talking about being ‘genderqueer’, I may as well talk about this as well). And, historically speaking, a lot of what we would call shamans had non-standard gender identities or sexual preferences. In some cultures, just being what we would call transgender would be enough for the tribe to declare you a shaman. When I got some help and began to learn what I needed to do with my life, the very first thing the Spirits made me sort out was what the heck my gender identity actually is. For whatever reason, I needed to acknowledge my true feelings and do something about them in the real world. I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with liminality; walking between worlds, realities…and genders.

Luckily for me, I’d been devoted to Loki for a while before I was made to sort out my own issues. This was fortunate because Loki is a shapeshifter (and I cannot tell you how jealous I am of this ability! If only…). Most people think of Him as male, and I’d guess that He is, at His core. But He can easily become, physically, a man or a woman. To the extent that He has gotten pregnant and had a baby at least once, and probably more than once. That’s…a pretty strong experience of femininity, isn’t it? So He helped me a great deal. I also learnt that many Deities – especially Tricksters – are a bit more fluid with Their gender than modern people think They ought to be. *That* is my connection to the Divine – in terms of gender, anyway – as well as a role model I can follow. I was also led, through ‘coincidence’, to a pagan author who helped me to learn about my place in the spiritual world, though I still have a lot of learning to do. Like, really…a lot of learning. But I understand now that there’s nothing wrong with me – I’m exactly the way I’m supposed to be, and being the way I am has value. I’m not just something that people should ‘be tolerant’ about, and I don’t need to be ‘fixed’ – I have a sacred role to fulfill, just like men, women, trans men and trans women do. I don’t think I could have come to this understanding in any other religion.

World Fair Trade Day!

Today is World Fair Trade Day! (Confession; I only found out about this yesterday.) To celebrate, I thought I’d use it as an excuse to buy a truckload of Fair Trade chocolate talk about Fair Trade.

As I’ve mentioned before, I volunteer in a fair trade shop. I had my second review a few weeks ago, during which I needed to give a brief, simple explanation of what fair trade means – the sort of thing you’d say to a customer who asked. This was probably the biggest challenge of the meeting for me…As you may have noticed by now, I’m not too great at ‘brief and simple’. If a customer wants a 15-20 minute lecture on fair trade, then awesome. Otherwise, I’m struggling. However, my best super-simple explanation of fair trade is…

Fair trade is about making sure people are paid a fair, living wage for the work they do. Fair trading gives people the chance to lift themselves out of poverty and create a sustainable future for themselves, their families and, ultimately, their communities. 

(You will be unsurprised to hear that this is not what I actually said in my review. I don’t even remember what I said. I don’t want to know. I didn’t get fired, that’s all that matters…)

Although this explanation is technically correct, there’s *so much more* to fair trade. Fair trade looks especially to disadvantaged workers, to protect them and help them to improve their lives. It helps people to improve their skills and build their businesses, it looks to the rights of women and other marginalized groups, and it also encourages people to protect the environment. It has the power to completely transform people’s lives.

People often confuse fair trade with charity. I’m not anti-charity – I think there are times when charity is necessary and a force for good. But whole communities can’t be supported by charity indefinitely, and this is where Fair Trade comes in.

Fair trade is not charity, it’s fairness. Workers make a product and are paid a fair price for what they’ve done, instead of the lowest price huge corporations can possibly demand. The fair price for products is figured out by Flocert (http://www.flocert.net/fairtrade-services/). Being paid fairly allows people to make their own way out of poverty and create real livelihoods for themselves.

Many fair trade businesses sell hand-made products which keep traditional crafts alive and/or recycle trash (Mowgs baskets are a good example of a company that does both – see http://www.justfairtrade.com/mowgs-baskets-from/). A lot of companies also work with specific groups of marginalized and/or vulnerable people – women who have been trafficked into the sex industry, for example, or disabled people – to help them create new lives for themselves and their families. Sari Bari is a good example (https://saribari.com/).

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need fair trade…because all trade would automatically be fair. Until then, vote with your wallet for a fairer world 🙂

Conscious Chocolates Essential Orange 65%.

Healthy chocolate? Could it be? Well…Maybe! Conscious Chocolates are a company based in East Grinstead, West Sussex that make raw, organic, vegan chocolate bars that are also free from soya, gluten and refined sugar. They aim to use the purest, healthiest ingredients possible and have good information available on the health benefits of the ingredients they use (http://www.consciouschocolate.com/ingredients/).

Even better, they are a really ethical company. The cardboard packet that the chocolate comes in is compostable, the inks are water-based and the foil wrapping is recyclable. They aren’t Fair Trade certified, but that’s because not all the ingredients they use have Fair Trade certified suppliers. However, because of their emphasis on quality ingredients, all their ingredients command a premium cost anyway, and they’re confident that all their suppliers are being treated fairly. Read what they have to say about it at http://www.consciouschocolate.com/faqs/#fairtrade.

They even give to charity; on some of their products, 10% of the sale price is given to the Global White Lion Protection Trust, which works to protect white lions and help people to understand their cultural and spiritual importance. Find out more about this unusual charity at http://whitelions.org/

The Essential Orange flavor that I tried was different to other orange chocolates, because it contains tangerine oil as well as orange. I found that the tangerine gave it an extra lightness and freshness, which was really nice. It also has some cinnamon in it, so you can bet Husband and Loki are also fans. The texture of the bar wasn’t my favorite, but I’m new to raw chocolate, so maybe that’s normal? It wasn’t as smooth as regular chocolate. We also found that we needed to keep it in the fridge, because it’s very soft at room temperature (their website does say to keep it at 20 degrees c or less and away from strong odors. You can even put it in the freezer). I thought it was nice that the foil wrapper shared the story of the company instead of just being plain.

To find out more or shop for chocolate bars, visit their site at http://www.consciouschocolate.com/. They also have a blog with some really nice-looking recipies at http://www.consciouschocolate.com/blog/.

If you try this or other chocolates from Conscious Chocolates, let me know what you thought! 🙂

The Metaphysics of Faerie Trees

deadbutdreaming

‘Faerie Folks
Are in old oaks.’  Traditional proverb

In 1452, thirty-four French villagers were questioned by an ecclesiastical commission about a ‘faerie tree’ (arbor fatalism, gallide des fees) in Domrémy, as part of the process of overturning Joan of Arc’s conviction at the hands of the English/Burgundian Gestapo twenty years earlier. In the face of her inquisitors, Joan herself had offset her own belief in the faeries by apportioning it to her godmother, who had apparently seen the faeries gathering at the tree. And, even though the villagers were under no threat from the commission (quite the opposite in fact), none of the thirty-four interviewees would admit to a belief of the faeries, or that they had ever seen them at the tree. Instead, they informed the commissioners that “they had heard that in the old days faeries were said to have been seen there.” As the villagers…

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Honoring the Spirits of Buildings.

I’m petsitting for Parents and Sister this weekend. Cat Sister and Grumpy Tortoise are not particularly demanding charges however, so I’ve had some time to chill out and think about stuff. Change of scenery and all that.

One thing I’ve been thinking about recently is how to acknowledge the spirits of homes and buildings other than my own flat, and as I’m away from home right now it seems a good time to try and figure something out. Here alone, it’s all pretty straightforward; I can easily speak to and leave out small offerings for the spirits in the house and garden. Even when Parents and Sister are here…They’re used to me being a little weird by now. They just roll with it.

But what about when I visit other relatives, or when I’m at work? You might wanna argue that I should just go ahead and be completely overt about things, since animism is a valid spiritual worldview and I have as much right to practice it as any other person in this country has the right to pursue any other spiritual path. Maybe you’d be right. But life is complicated, people are different, and not everyone feels able to be that up-front.

I’m not willing to actually hide or lie about my beliefs, but I’m also not willing to rock up at a relative’s home and say “Hey! Whilst I’m here, I need to leave a plate of cookies that you’re not allowed to eat in your kitchen to feed spirits you don’t believe exist, and then bury them in your garden along with a portion of this nice dinner you’ve made for me, to feed more spirits that you don’t believe exist. OK?” I already have to tackle the whole vegan/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/mental health problems thing, and once I start hormone therapy I’m gonna have to tackle the transgender thing as well (people have been told, but no-one who doesn’t want to has had to confront it as reality yet. Most people have been *great*, and I’m really grateful for that. But some are persistently clinging to my old name, pronouns and stuff like that…and will quite possibly continue to do so once I have a beard and a tenor singing voice lol).

Anyway, I wanted to come up with some acceptable compromises, so that I can respect the spirits without people calling the local mental health team, or (more importantly) offending people in their own homes or workplaces.

I’m already saying a quiet hello to the spirits of the building I work in every time I go down to the basement level, which is where their presence seems to be the strongest. I will also quietly talk to them when I’m alone, to thank them for helping the business and things like that. I’ve considered asking permission to set up a small shrine for them somewhere out of the way in the basement storage room, but I dunno how well that would go down. In purely mundane, practical terms, someone may easily mistake it for stock and put bits of it out for sale. I also don’t know how comfortable other people would feel about having something like that in the building. When I asked, they said there was nothing they needed or wanted me to do – I kinda sense that they would like a spider-themed shrine in the basement and some kind of angel image/s in the staff room near the sink, but they get that I’m not in a position to do that for them.

As for the spirits of other people’s homes, I feel like the best way forward would be to quietly acknowledge them if I get a chance to do so (I could always pretend to need the loo or something) and be mindful of them during my stay – be a good guest and all that (which I’d try to be anyway, obviously).

Any place I’m staying alone or with just with close family – like the holiday we’re planning this Summer, for example – should be quite straightforward. The last time I took a holiday, my family and I stayed in a chalet. I burned a little incense cone every day and also made small food offerings, usually biscuits, which I left outdoors until the guy in the next chalet complained because his dog was eating them. I now also get that biscuits and chips aren’t the best thing for the local wildlife, so this year I’ll try things like fruit, salad and stuff that will drain away into the soil, like plant milk and fruit juice.

I’d be really interested in hearing how other animists tackle this problem, and what does and doesn’t work for you.