Caught Up (kinda!)

Do you know, I’m not sure how helpful it is for me, or for anyone else, to read about how I failed at completing 40 Acts this year, so I think I’m going to stop blogging about what I haven’t done, but rather briefly think about what I have done. If anyone wants to follow 40 Acts, the blog is here so you can read it for yourself.

For ACT 13 I posted some Ninja notes through random post boxes, some with Bible verses, others with encouraging sayings

For ACT 15 I tried to pray whenever I felt prompted…which wasn’t very often, I must admit!!

For ACT 16 I promised our neighbours, who are facing the closure oftheir restaurant, that we would support them in their takeaway business. So far, that’s meant three pizzas and two slices of gorgeous Chocolate-Apricot gateau! Not exactly a hardship! We are also committed to shopping locally – partly through necessity, but also to support small businesses through this difficult time.

For ACT 18 we are driving much less…!!! (Though not necessarily by choice) Isn’t it amazing how Venice is so clean when the everyday traffic stops

 

For ACT 23 I am trying hard not to moan through this confinement period: we know it is for the good of our health, and the good of others’; we have work to do and so can earn money; we are able to go out for a short walk in the beautiful countryside round here (1 km from our homes, no more than 1 hour, go alone); there are supplies in the local supermarket & other shops. We are lucky. I know there are people confined in small appartments with children, trying to work, or unable to work, worried about where money is going to come from…so definitely NO COMPLAINING!!1

For ACT 24 I’m telling you about LEND WITH CARE which is, in my opinion a great charity to support. Now I give a £15 voucher to any young couple I know getting married (!) so they can choose who to support on a new venture, as they start on their new life together. And it’s the gift that keeps giving: as you are paid back, you can lend to another entrepreneur. With an outlay of my initial £15 I think I have supported 4 or 5 people starting new businesses.

There! I’ve caught up in a more positive way!!

LUNCH TIME!!

I’ve got three lessons this afternoon, and quite honestly I’d rather just have a nap…

40 ACTS :: 5&6

Hey ho! I seem to be writing about the Acts in pairs…and I’m not doing very well with them either. I like the prompts I’m being given, but this year I’m not feeling the same excitement about fulfilling the challenges. Perhaps it’s because they seem very familiar after a few years of following 40 Acts, and so there’s not the same anticipation.

But then, sometimes this Christian life is just a bit of a slog: it’s pulling up your Big Girls’ Knickers and getting on with it. Not every day is going to be shiny and happy and full of the Joys of Spring. It’s just Doing It.

ACT 5: Shop Double

Instead of trolley dashing through the aisles to get your supermarket shop done as quickly as possible, consider shopping for someone else too. Offering to get supplies for a friend whose car is off the road, or for someone you know who is unwell or elderly, could be an absolute life-line. As the slogan says, every little helps.

Green: Pop a few extra items into your trolley for others or to add to the charity box on your way out.

Amber: Phone or call in on an elderly or unwell friend, neighbour or family member and ask if you can do their shopping along with yours.

Red: Bless someone by not only collecting their shopping for them but paying for it as well.

“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” (Hebrews 6:10 NIV)

It is the annual Restos du Coeur collection this coming Friday – collecting at the big supermarkets for the local food banks. I’m afraid I have ducked out of helping with the collection, as the Church slot is early evening, and I used the excuse of living an hours drive away. Yes, I know it was an excuse, and yes, I know I should have volunteered…But I didn’t.

But I am going to call in at the supermarket on my way home and buy some items to go to the collection point. So yesterday’s Green task is being postponed until Friday…

Act 6: Best Day…

Lewis Carroll first coined the phrase ‘unbirthday’. Why wait until it’s someone’s official special day? Make plans to spoil someone, either spontaneously today or in the near future. Surprise them if you know that’s what they like, or pre-warn them if that would make it easier for them to accept your invitation.

Green: Send someone a message to let them know you’re thinking of them.

Amber: Offer to babysit for a couple who don’t manage to get out much. Tell them to be as late back as they like!

Red: Casually ask the person you have in mind what their idea of a special day would be, then do your best to create it for them – even if it’s not your thing.

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Matthew 22: 37–39 NIV)

Spoiling someone starts to sound expensive – and that worries me, as I am still trying to do these Acts on a budget (which sounds stupid after we’ve just bought a new car…but that was necessity rather than choice – and is, in fact, why I’m trying to do these Acts on a budget!!)

But the Green act isn’t expensive, in terms of money, at least. I haven’t seen our friend Monique for quite a while – she lost her husband just over a year ago, and found it a real struggle. We supported her through the first months, but then rather tailed off, I’m ashamed to admit.

I recently made some cards, so I shall write one to her, and drop it off as I leave for work, reminding her that we are thinking of her. I’ll also try to get across to see her at the weekend.

40 Acts :: 2&3

Oh, goodness! I’m already playing the “catch up” game, and we’re only on day 3!!

ACT 2: HANDS IN

It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get stuck into situations that need your help. Over-flowing bins? Empty toilet roll on the holder? Don’t think twice, just sort it. Easy fixes are good practice, but if the task takes you out of your comfort zone, even better.

Green: Do the washing up – even if it’s not your turn.

Amber: Whether it’s emptying the bins or cleaning the toilet, do that one job nobody likes.

Red: Offer to do some gardening for someone who’s been struggling to manage it or help declutter a room.

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.(Proverbs 11:25 NIV)

Last year, I was able to take the opportunity to wash up the cups at the language school where I work…since then, they’ve got a dishwasher, so there’s no washing up to be done! I did clear up a bit of debris left by the school children who are having an intensive course, but there wadn’t much else to be done…

I filled the staplers (yes, usually, if they’re empty I’ll tut and use a paper clip!!) as Claire complained that she’s the only one who does it! But it was hardly a difficult job.

And I tried to cheerfully put away the washing up that had been done at home, but not been put away. I’m not sure I quite managed the “cheerfully” part, but at least the only person I moaned to was God, and he can survive that!

But I think this act is certainly one of the ongoing ones – it’s not like tomorrow I’m going to walk past those things that need doing, because we’ve moved on to a different act! They’re still going to be there to do tomorrow…and the next day…And God will continue to remind us to do those things…

ACT 3: TREAT

If you’re in the blessed position to receive a salary, the few days between being paid and the bills going out offer a great opportunity to give a ‘payday treat’ to someone else. Instead of focusing on your needs and obligations, turn your attention to someone nearby. Not in work at the moment? Join in with friends and think home-spun.

I made a box and I can’t get rid of it!!!

Green: Take cakes or biscuits with you to share.

Amber: Suggest drinks or dinner after work to celebrate the end of the month.

Red: Think of someone who’s in need of a treat and get them something special or take them out to the cinema or for a meal.

“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.’”

(Mark 12:41-44 NIV)

This came a bit late for me to action today – an early start on Friday means I’ve left the house before the email pings into my inbox. I’ve only just read it (I have a break between lessons, giving me a chance to do some admin and write this blog post) so I think this act will be held over. I’m not working on Monday, so maybe I’ll make a cake or some biscuits then, to take into work, or over the weekend I’ll make something as a treat for someone…It’s not a difficult one.

The reflection (click on the link above to read it)  does link back to what I said on Wednesday however: I think for me the last part “when it is in your power to act” is important: I need to recognise that I can do more than I think I can (monetarily, as well as giving time or talents) I have a tendency to think “I can’t afford it” and to keep my hands in my pockets…but we probably CAN afford it.

This isn’t asking for an enormous outlay, but it is asking for something, but it’s a something I can afford. There’s a few families at church that are probably struggling more than I really know. Perhaps a MacDonald’s gift card would be a nice gift for one of them. While I don’t think that MacDonald’s is the healthiest of options, the kids would probably like it!! I don’t think I’m going to church this week, but I’ll try and sort it out for the following Sunday.

I’ll get my c-oat…

We’re not vegetarian here in Dormouse Towers, but we do eat vegetarian twice a week (or more, if I can squeeze it past Mr FD!)  and I try to get fish in the menu once a week.

This week our meals have been:

MONDAY: courgette tart, roasties and beans.

TUESDAY: soufflés in a vegetable sauce.

WEDNESDAY: enhanced pizza and salad – this our Wednesday go-to meal now. I get in late, and Mr FD does the shopping after work, so it’s a nice quick meal.

THURSDAY: Aubergine and tomato gratin, with sausages.

FRIDAY: Tomato, spinach and feta pasta with garlic bread

SATURDAY: Salmon fish cakes, sweet potato chips, salad and HM tartare sauce

SUNDAY: Chicken Basque, rice, mushrooms & courgettes.

We’re not doing too badly, but certainly dairy plays quite a big part in our diet…cheese, yoghurt, milk in hot drinks, cereal (Mr FD’s breakfast) So when I read this article in the Guardian : Almonds are out, Dairy’s a disaster, so which milk should we choose? I decided that we should at least give Oat milk a try.

Yes, it is more expensive than dairy (1,50€ a litre, compared to 0,85€ ) but it’s not out of our price range. Mr FD had already had it on his cereal, after using it up after making a cake for a vegan friend, and he said it was okay, so I thought that if it worked for me in coffee, we would start using it for cooking and drinks (though Mr FD won’t countenance it in his tea! His breakfast tea is sacrosanct!) I like it. It’s creamy, a little sweet – but not too bad- but certainly usable.

We still have a long way to go, but at least we’re taking an oaty step in the right direction!

A little library.

It seems these little libraries are popping up all over, using all manner of inventive items to house the books:

     

We used to have one in the village which used an old stationery roundabout, with doors. A bit like this, but less new and clean and attractive

It wasn’t very well insulated, and the books quickly became damp and damaged. It certainly didn’t look very inviting. Sometime over the past year it disappeared.

Well, this morning I passed the place where it had been, to find a beautiful new display case, which is obviously well-constructed, and definitely weatherproof! It is a delight!

  

You can see that there are fixed chairs too, so should one be inclined to, one could sit in the sunshine and read one of the books. It’s not the most picturesque part of the village, but it’s not hideous!

As the sign on the side tells us:

Book Cabins made by the employees of the wood workshop of our Upcycling centre, using recycled/reused materials taken from our collections, and reintroduced into the cyclical economy. If you see what I mean!! Acora is a second hand centre, where they also repurpose old pieces of furniture.

Of course, all the books are French, but with tourists in mind (there’s a campsite in the village) I went home immediately and rooted out some of my English books which I added to the library. Hopefully some other people will add their foreign language books. I think these free libraries are a great idea. The New MrsM – whose blog I read – created one as one of her 40 Acts of Kindness a couple of Lents ago, and there’s one set up near Church (I popped a few English novels in there a couple of months ago)

Have you got a Little Library near you?

 

Complaining about plastic…

I didn’t hear back from M&S, after their anodyne answer (and my response to it!) Can anyone in the UK tell me if they know whether this promotion from M&S has been stopped/ has been successful? I would be interested to know.

On the subject of useless plastic, I bought a jar of instant coffee recently.

I took it off the shelf not really looking at it very closely. Until I got home: note the way the label goes right up to the top of the jar: it’s a plastic covering, which encases the entire jar in plastic. Encouraged by Kezzie, who is trying to persuade us all to think about our plastic use,  and taking on board her encouragement to think about the eight Rs for the environnment (one of her additions was: Research:  Not happy with something to do with waste?  Research a way to solve it! )

Well, I wrote to Carte Noir with the following:

Je m’excuse mon français, mais j’ai une question: en ces jours où nous essayons de réduire l’utilisation inutile de plastique POURQUOI Carte Noir Bio est-elle enveloppée dans une seule couche de plastique, qui ne peut pas être recyclée et est immédiatement jetée? C’est ironique que c’est bio café – essayer de consommer des choses qui sont bonnes pour notre santé tout en ajoutant à la montagne de plastique. Je suis desolé, mais je vais arreter d’acheter Carte Noir, jusqu’au vous arrêtez d’envelopper vos pots de café dans cet emballage en plastique inutile.

TR: I apologize for my French, but I have a question: in these days when we are trying to reduce the unnecessary use of plastic WHY is Carte Noir Bio  wrapped in a single layer of plastic, which cannot be recycled and is immediately discarded? It’s ironic that it’s organic coffee – trying to consume things that are good for our health while adding to the plastic mountain. I’m sorry, but I’m going to stop buying Carte Noir, until you stop wrapping your coffee pots in this useless plastic packaging.

I quickly received the stock answer:
C’est avec attention que nous prenons connaissance de votre message et nous vous remercions de votre intérêt pour la marque Carte Noire.
Nous prenons compte de votre insatisfaction et la  faisons  remontée auprès des services concernés.

TR: We have carefully read your message and we thank you for your interest in the Carte Noire brand. We will take your complaint to the relevant department.

Who knows what will happen. But at least I made a noise about it.

Is Carte Noir coffee in the UK wrapped in this single use plastic too? If so, could you write to the Customer Services dept to complain? It certainly doesn’t need to be wrapped up like this – it’s still got its foil seal at the top of the jar, so it isn’t to keep the coffee fresh!

This is not just tat…

…it’s M&S tat.

I’m not joining in with no-plastic July, although I am starting to try to introduce small changes into our shopping habits, such as reusing plastic bags for fruit & veg, or using other plastic bags (like bread bags) or – when I remember them! – using muslin bags. But when I do have plastic I try to

1) recognise that it’s necessary

2) try to reuse in some way. (Though it was depressing when I asked the café to remove the straw from my drink – and they did. And put it straight in the bin! I hadn’t realised they would give me a straw (in a glass of iced water) so I didn’t think to say “No straw, thank you”)

When I read Ang’s blog post about Marks & Spencer introducing a promotion called “Little Shop”, I was more than a bit ticked off. Ang’s post explains it better than I can.

So I went onto their website, and after trying to find a comment form (they don’t make it very easy!) I finally found where I could email them. So I did:

Dear M&S
I would like to join in the chorus of voices that condemn your promotion “Little Shop…” In the midst of No-plastic July (when it is proving difficult to find things that don’t involve plastic in its packaging!) you start a promotion that introduces yet more unwanted and unnecessary plastic into the environment!

It doesn’t matter if this is proving to be a popular poromotion in-store – at some point, these plastic items will be thrown away. You say that they can be returned to be recycled – that’s something, but, realistically, how many people will bother to do this? When children have finished playing with these bits of plastic, they will – for the most part – just get dumped into landfill.

It doesn’t matter that those toys that are returned will get recycled into benches – it’s still plastic. Plastic that doesn’t decompose for hundreds of years. The plastic bench will, eventually, get thrown away, and won’t decompose…Just because it’s recycled plastic doesn’t mean that it magically decomposes when finished with!
This is an UNNECESSARY promotion – it does nothing (despite your claims) that those parents who care about such things can’t do already. It won’t encourage other parents to teach their children about sustainibility; it will just teach children to want more unnecessary tat.

I fear that, despite your claims about sustainibility and care for the environment, you are just doing your bit to add to the problem of the human race using and discarding our natural resources as if they were never-ending. I, for one, will not be buying from M&S until this horrid, unnecessary promotion is finished. And even then, I will be reconsidering whether M&S values are my values, and whether I wish to continue supporting your company.

They needn’t know that, as I live in France, I don’t shop in M&S very often anyway, and won’t be buying anything there before the promotion is finished! But even oif I did live in the UK, I would be thinking hard about supporting them.

How do you feel about this promotion? If you think it’s a poor idea I encourage you to contact M&S head office. When I get a reply I’ll update this post.

 

UPDATE: I received an email from M&S yesterday (Tuesday). Disappointingly bland, it must be said:

Hi Alison

I’m sorry to hear you are disappointed with the way we are branching the Little Shop Promotion. I appreciate you bringing this to our attention, thank you for letting us know.

We want as many of our customers as possible to collect all 25 Little Shop collectables and we’ll be running additional promotions and events to help them along the way. For example, we’re hosting over 70 swap events at our M&S Cafés across the country for customers who have duplicates or certain collectables missing.

At M&S, we’re committed to reducing our use of plastic packaging and reusing or recycling any we do use. Our Little Shop collectables have all been designed to last and we’ve worked hard to ensure around a quarter of them are made from FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) certified card where possible. We’ve also ensured all single-use packaging is made from paper instead of plastic.

Little Shop is a free promotion for every £20 spent on food and drink in our stores. It’s designed to create excitement for families during the summer and helps children to learn a little bit more about food and where it comes from. However, there is no obligation for customers to collect Little Shop or take their redeemed collectable if they don’t wish to do so.

We really do monitor any feedback we receive very closely with the aim of improving, so thank you for sharing this with us.

Kind Regards

A. C.

Retail Customer Services

Quite frankly this response does not answer my questions, but what I dislike more is that it was so obviously a cut-and-paste job, with the first part (shown in italics) in a completely different font to the rest of the email! I don’t want to have more promotional bumpf thrown at me about swaps and so on. I don’t believe their promise that they moniotor all feedback, and I don’t like the construction of the first sentence. “to branch” is not a verb, and so M&S can’t be branching the promotion. Grrr.

 

40ACTS2019 :: 38 :: Behind bars

PROMPT: Behind bars for good reason or not, people in prison are often locked out of experiencing basic human kindnesses – the simple joys of community life. Today, offer generosity to people who might feel locked out from ever receiving it, and who might never be able to pay it back: prisoners, young offenders, young people in pupil referral units, and so on.

REFLECTION: Link here

ACTS: Green: Write a letter to a prisoner. Tell them you wanted to get in touch just to say that someone was thinking of them.

Amber: Send a gift to a prisoner, or help prisoners send a gift to their children.

Red: Visit a prisoner.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.’  (Hebrews 13:3 NIV)

I am not “dissing” the good people at 40 Acts here. I admire what they do, and really appreciate their commitment and their hard work. It cannot be easy to come up with 120 different acts, which have varying degrees of difficulty and commitment, and cost.

BUT…

I followed the link given on the email (but not the “blog” post on the 40 Acts page) to the Prison Fellowship website, thinking that I would be able to fulfil the Green option, by writing a letter to a prisoner. Just add it to the long list of other letters waiting to be written!!

But there isn’t an option there to write a letter: instead the organisation wants letter writers to commit to sending a monthly letter to a prisoner. I already know, from my aforementioned list, that I can’t commit to this; it’s a lot more than a “green” option! I could donate money – but we’ve already discussed this, haven’t we?! – so I’m left with a feeling of not-sure-what-I-can-do.

I’ve emailed Prison Fellowship with the following message:

I’m following 40 Acts, who have provided a link to your page. One of the “acts” is to write a letter to a prisoner. I see from the information here that you require (in my opinion quite rightly) a commitment to writing regularly. I can’t give this commitment; I know I would be unable to keep it up. Is there the option of writing a “one-off” letter, or is this not part of your work?

and I await a response. If the “one-off” option exists I will gladly take it. If it doesn’t, well…I’m less sure what I can do.

 

….PAWS FOR THOUGHT….

 

Aha! I know we have already had an Act focussing on writing to support persecuted Christians around the world, which I did, writing cards and short letters to several people in Cuba, but there are also Christians imprisoned for their faith. Inaddition, there are Prisoners of Conscience too. I explored the Amnesty International site, and they have a targeted letter writing campaign in November, but there may well be the option of writing to prisoners on a one-off basis there. More thought needed there.

I have also found a site called “Prisoner Alert – this site has details of many Christians who are imprisoned for their faith, and gives the opportunity to send letters.The letters all appear to be created using provided formulae (“Choose up to 12 phrases from the following list”) which means that the prisoner will receive the letter in his/her mother tongue.  Having constructed the letter, you then print it out with the address, so that you can then send it to the correct place. This makes it an easy “green”option, requiring only a little time commitment – and, of course, the postage costs!

Maybe it’s not quite what 40 Acts were thinking of, but it certainly fulfills the brief! I have no lessons this morning, so I’m going to print off three or four letters, add them to a card, and take them to the Post Office before I go to work this afternoon. If I get a positive reply from Prison Fellowship I will also write a letter to a prisoner in the UK.