Kiri and



June 2nd, 2024 (by Steve)

February half term arrived and with it the opportunity for another couple of nights of retreat. Now you might be getting the idea from our recent blog posts that retreating is the only thing that we tend to do, rather than any kind of advancing… but what is missing from the narrative is the very full life we live, that can only be fueled from a place of rest!

Kiri was still midway through a course at Westonbirt Arboretum, learning ancient skills of turning one birch tree into a variety of products. So the plan was for me to take the kids to Llantwit Major on the train with Kiri bringing the van to meet us there after her course. It’s such a picturesque train ride down the Severn estuary from Gloucester to Cardiff and the weather was glorious, promising beautiful views. Alas, the promise was not to be met, for as we arrived at the station our train had been cancelled! Turning to the kids I asked if they were ready for an adventure… and as they were, we sprinted for an alternative train that would take us down to Bristol Parkway where we could then get a train on to Bridgend and change there instead of Cardiff. Whilst prepared with lots of treats to make the train journey pass quickly, it was enough excitement just to look out of the window… and the kids enjoyed the view too!

Once in Llantwit, we got stuck into a Lego minifigures jigsaw and had some lunch before the youngsters headed down to the beach with grandparents. Meanwhile I wandered into the town centre to stock up on supplies for our short retreat, making the schoolboy error of forgetting about the existence of Farmers Pantry for meat. After some down time, Kiri turned up having made a small table by milling a length of birch, shaping it with a travisher, then working the legs into shape with a draw knife on a shave horse.

(Yes, I know in the second photo that’s not a table – this is Kiri on a sunnier day making a kuksa!)

We bade farewell to the kids (including a false start where we were called back for one more hug!) and then set out to Noddfa – our favourite little off-grid cabin in the woods. We passed through flooding on the way, glad of the extra ground clearance Penny (our van) had over Rosa (our car). I’ve been reading The Secret Garden with our eldest recently, which has a beautiful line about spring:

It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine, and things pushing up and working under the earth

Now February is a bit early for spring and it was more rain than sunshine, but the snowdrops in the woodland were an early promise of what was to come, as we pushed the wheelbarrow to the cabin. Very little had changed in the year since we were last there – a new container for muddy boots, new storage for wood and a few different decorations (including a wooden compass on the ceiling). But it still lives up to its name – a place of refuge – in our case a place of retreat.

With the fire lit and a simple dinner consumed, we managed just the one round of crib to accompany our beer before crashing out into bed shortly after 8pm.

When you’re in an offgrid cabin, the important questions in life come into sharp perspective. As we woke with the light (mirroring the rain which also started with the light) after 11 hours in bed, what should we prioritise – lighting the fire, or making coffee? The fire won and as we sat enjoying its warming flickering we had a leisurely coffee accompanied by a fried egg banjo and a constant stream of small birds taking advantage of the bird feeder outside the window. Retreat for us is about resting and intentionally taking time to step back and evaluate. The topic of conversation happened to be our finances; how can we be better stewards of what we have.

By the time we’d washed up, we couldn’t believe it was 1130. But that was OK. I’m a bit rubbish at not being productive, so it’s really good discipline for me to slow down and just be. However… we did want to do some exploring, so had a wet drive to get to Ewenni, where it was too wet to get out of Penny (ooh, that rhymes!). We sat outside the priory whilst the rain lashed the outside of our van and used the time to think about how we could ply-line her and make her into a practical coppice worker’s companion. It was clear after our chat that the rain wasn’t easing (indeed it was possibly worse?!), so we made the decision to brave it.

Ewenni Priory is a fascinating place – it’s a lovely little church with really beefy walls, serving as part of the fortifications of the grounds it’s part of. A lady inside chatted to us about the history of the Benedictine community there and how it was founded as an offshoot of an Abbey in Gloucester. Two of the striking architectural features were a leper window through which those outside the church could observe the services held by the monks, and a much newer glass screen with butterflies etched into – inspired by rare butterflies that had been found in nearby meadows. The acoustics were also stunning, but at the time of our visit consumed by the radio of the builders at work!

After such a strenuous morning(!) we were hungry, so aimed for Happy Days in Cowbridge that we’d missed on our previous jaunt to Noddfa. As with the cancelled train, our plan was foiled so we went on a soggy hunt for an alternative venue.

We think that where we ended up was called “Penny Farthing”, although with the typography on their logo, it could have been “Penny EarThing”… or maybe “Penny Earthling”???. As we ordered our jacket potato and soup, we overheard one of the staff calling out “did you check the ham situation?” and minds spiralled to visions of pigs running amok in the kitchen. However, lunch turned out to be rather uneventful with no porcine interruptions.

We returned to Noddfa via Waitrose (we go all posh when we go on retreat!) to pick up some food for dinner and as we wandered through the Coed Hills woodland, we contemplated the woodland at Bryn Gobaith that we’d visited in October. Might that play a part somewhere in our future? Lighting the fire with the waste product birch shavings of Kiri’s latest creation, we decided not to read anything into the “W” having fallen off the ceiling compass and instead settled into an afternoon of reading and resting.

The evening followed the same trajectory as the previous night – after a tomatoey chorizo one pan dinner, we had a couple of games of crib to accompany our wine and chocolate (Kiri won both… as well as the previous night’s game!) and then we were in bed by 9. And the following morning was much the same – fire + coffee + eggs = satisfaction. We’d even managed an extra hour in bed (12 hours!!!) and we mused over our breakfast that this short retreat time had mainly been about rest. The silence of the woodland was only punctuated by the chesty coughs from both of us and the flurry of small birds at the peanuts.

Wednesday also brought the start of Lent so we thought it appropriate to read together the account of the testing of Jesus in the wilderness before we returned to our wee ones via a different, non-flooded route. We observed a sparrowhawk in a neighbours garden before lunch, then had a soggy trip to the beach with the kids. Luckily Penny is made of strong stuff – with neither the reversing sensor of Rosa, nor the reversing routine we adopted with Bertha, as Kiri reversed Penny she declared “I can’t see the wall”, before the wall promptly making contact with Penny. A scratch. Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch – she’ll be fine!

Following the children stopping by the robot cow juice dispenser and the consuming of some leftover pancake batter, it was time to return home. Time to spring from our retreat and advance into Lent. A time of fasting and further reflection.

Posted in Lent, Life | 1 Comment »

How do you measure value?

April 3rd, 2014 (by Steve)

Forgive me for a moment as I digress from talking directly about our trip and instead focus on a subject that I’ve been learning about as we travel. Productivity. An output-based measure of value. It’s purely by chance that there’s a BBC news article today with the headline “Move over, GDP: How should you measure a country’s value?”

One of the questions that I’ve been pondering as we’ve travelled around, is “why are we doing this?”, often followed closely by “what am I hoping to achieve through this trip?”. In other words, what will our output be from the journey around Europe? I was part of the first year group to sit key stage 1 SATs at school (most of the class ended up in tears) and ever since then, I’ve learned that output is what counts. It’s coursework and exams that are marked at school. At work, there’s measurement against SMART objectives. I think that’s fair enough. Where I’m questioning my thinking is whether it’s a good measurement against my use of free time.

Steve enjoying the beach

I’ve never been one to sit in front of the TV for hours on end (well, maybe if I’ve got my laptop on my knee and I’m writing code); I’ve always had a project on the go and I get enjoyment through producing things, setting myself deadlines and benchmarks. The flip side of this is that I end up feeling guilty if I’m not in the process of producing something; am I wasting time? When travelling, there’s a lot of time spent covering ground, there’s a lot of time spent sightseeing or playing games or reading books. Productivity? Almost nil. And this is the place that I’m in when I ask myself why we’re travelling. I could be earning money to provide for my family… I could be producing code to help make some process somewhere more efficient… but I’m not. Does that mean that this lifestyle holds no value? That’s a silly question – I just have to reflect on how much we’ve learned and been inspired so far to see the value.

I’ve come to the realisation that I’ve got too much of a focus on productivity in my home life. Is it productive to play with my neice + nephew? Is it productive to go for a walk with my wife? Is it productive to sit on a hillside, marvelling at the beauty of the countryside? Is it productive to grapple with deep philosophical questions that have no answer? No, no, no, no. Yet each of those things are so precious (well, the last one may be a little self-indulgent). Maybe I haven’t got my priorities straight. There’s a story about two women called Martha and Mary that touches upon this subject, that I really could learn from.

So this Lent, rather than giving up something like chocolate (or plastic, as we did last year), I’m trying to shift my focus away from productivity and towards fruitfulness; where growth is the most important thing rather than output.

Posted in KIST 2EU, Lent | 7 Comments »

Unleash the plastic

April 13th, 2013 (by Steve)

So we got to the end of our Lenten plastic fast and here is the sum of the plastic we bought in the 40 days:


We then split the pile into the stuff that we can’t recycle (bottom left) and that which we can (bottom right). We think that it’s not bad going for 40 days, although as blogged about previously, we couldn’t survive without plastic totally for that time. In addition to our previously declared “failures” (where we’ve bought plastic), in the last couple of weeks we added:

  • A bag of cous cous – this was to accompany stuffed aubergines that we did when we had friends round, and we couldn’t find it anywhere without plastic packaging.
  • A bag of rice – as above, we were entertaining and had decided to do a vegetable curry…which you have to have rice to go with. Try as we might, the only rice without plastic packaging that we found was risotto rice.
  • More vegetable stickers – to our joy we discovered satsumas in cardboard packaging, so that reduced the number of stickers, but we still ended up with lots of pepper, apple and aubergine stickers!
  • Two bottles of Pepsi – now this one we’re really embarrassed about…we entirely forgot that we were doing the plastic fast until we came to recycling them after buying and consuming them!
  • Antibiotics – unavoidable really!

So two weeks have now passed since Easter and has our outlook on plastic changed in life? We’d like to say “yes”…but if we’re being honest, the convenience and cost of things in plastic mean that we’ve strayed a bit. Why would we buy individual peppers at 80p each when we could get a bag of 4 “basics” peppers for the equivalent of 37p each? We also immediately re-stocked the herbs and spices as well as buying a jar of peanut butter once we could buy plastic again (small pleasures!).

Where possible we still buy our vegetables loose – onions and carrots rolling about in the bottom of a basket aren’t any inconvenience for us. We’re determined to continue making our own bread – it may take a little longer, but it’s cheaper and you can’t beat the smell of fresh bread! We’ve also tried to keep the amount of meat that we eat low, as that previously was an area of our diet that generated lots of plastic.

All in all it’s been an interesting journey of awareness for us and we’d really recommend the experience to anyone else. Will we do the same again next Lent? Probably not…but we’ll try to do something equally as creative!

Posted in Lent | No Comments »

Good Friday? Not as good as Sunday

March 31st, 2013 (by Steve)

Easter is with us once again – a time of new life and a reminder of the world-changing events that happened a couple of millennia ago. As well as it meaning the end of the plastic fast for us (no, we haven’t gone on a binge yet and yes, we will blog about the final pile), it also meant reflecting on the story of the Passion. So how did we mark it?


On Good Friday we joined with several churches around Lambeth to sing “Amazing Grace” at Waterloo station. The idea was that the drumming and singing would come from nowhere, people would bring a bag of food for the new Waterloo Foodbank and then we would disperse back into the crowd following the singing. It kind of worked, and it was great to sing out about grace (the idea of receiving something that you really don’t deserve…in this case forgiveness for all the times we fall short in life) but there wasn’t much dispersal afterwards and I’m not sure people necessarily got the idea of what a flashmob is…but oh well!

The official video can be found here:

Following this, we headed to Trafalgar Square where a good friend was one of the actors in The Passion which had performances at 12 and 15:15. We’d underestimated how popular it would be and how large the crowds would be, so didn’t have the best vantage point, but we managed! The play was very moving, with some great acting which brought the whole story to life.


…and then onto today. The resurrection. A service at church filled with chocolate puns, but also the message that Jesus died to take the punishment for our wrongdoings away. I got to play the part of an angel at the tomb, asking the women why they searched for the living amongst the dead…and I even got a mini chocolate egg for my acting!

So Easter is over for another year, but the message remains at the heart of who we are.

Posted in Lent | No Comments »

Plastic fantastic?

March 18th, 2013 (by Steve)

We posted a few weeks ago that we had given up buying things in plastic for Lent…or at least that we were trying to. We’ve been saving any plastic packaging that we have used over the time, as it’s virtually impossible to not buy anything in plastic. Also, the aim is more to raise our awareness of how much plastic we get through, than trying to cut it out completely. Here is the pile as of today:


You’ll note that it’s considerably bigger than the pile that we had when we first blogged. So what have been our biggest “failures”?

  • Cheese – you’ll note that cheese packets make up a large proportion of the pile. However, we’re also buying Boirsin (wrapped in foil and cardboard) and brie (wrapped in paper)
  • Cleaning stuff – our washing up liquid ran out, as did hair conditioner…we had no options but to buy replacements which come in plastic
  • Treats – we fancied a takeaway and went for pizza because that comes in cardboard…but the dips don’t! Also when we went to a recent gig (Kill It Kid at the Roundhouse – awesome!) our drinks were served in plastic pint glasses. We’ve also really struggled with chocolate biscuits – in the end we went for club biscuits as they have paper wrappers, but sadly the multipack packaging is plastic
  • Fruit and veg – in general we’re doing ok with this, with the main plastic usage being the stickers that come on individual items (such as dudhis), but we did cave when, for the second week in a row, there were no paper bags to put mushrooms in at Sainsburys. At work I’ve been re-using a little plastic pot at the salad bar for several weeks, but it finally got too many cracks in, so I’ve had to get a new one, and the old one has joined the pile

So those are the places where we’ve been unable to avoid plastic usage completely, but there have been changes to lifestyle. We’re now making our own bread the whole time; whilst the packet mix stuff comes entirely in paper, we have yet to get it to rise properly in our breadmaker, so we’re sticking to putting together the recipes ourselves. Coffee is being rationed as any replacement will have to come in some form of plastic, so we’re getting through more tea. We’ve been constantly on UHT milk now for several weeks, and we’ve had very little meat at all (I really miss sausages and mash!). Our herb and spice collection is also looking a little depleted as we can’t replace the jars once empty, due to the plastic lids. Pasta, rice and cous cous sadly only come in plastic (aside from Sainsburys basics lasagne sheets!), so this has possibly been our most radical shift in diet – we now rely more on potatoes as the source of carbs in our meals.

Overall we’re quite glad that we’ve only got 2 weeks to go, but I think that the awareness of our reliance on plastic will remain far beyond Easter.

Posted in Lent | No Comments »

Bye bye plastic?

February 24th, 2013 (by Steve)

Could you live without buying anything in plastic for a week? How about a fortnight? A month? The whole of Lent? Well, we’ve decided to take on the challenge, as we’ve realised that although we are able to recycle the vast majority of our waste, plastic makes up the biggest proportion of the stuff we’re unable to recycle.


So, where do we start? Well, the picture above shows where we’ve “failed” in the first couple of weeks. Technically we only started last Monday as we were on holiday until then. Our first challenge was stocking up a totally empty fridge at 6pm on a Monday! With no chance to go to a farmer’s market or grocer, Sainsbury’s was the only real option. Here are the challenges we faced:

  • Vegetables – we were mostly able to get “loose” veg, but it meant we missed out on a lot of Sainsbury’s basics stuff. We had to compromise with the loose peppers, aubergines and satsumas that all had barcoded plastic stickers on them and we were disappointed to find that the only cabbage available without any plastic was a plain white cabbage
  • Meat – it’s not that surprising that we were unable to find any fresh meat without plastic wrapping, so we decided to forgo meat completely as part of this shop (and we didn’t fancy Spam really) – instead we stocked up with plenty of tins of pulses and a couple of tuna to be our meat substitutes
  • Cheese – we crumbled. We do like our cheese. To buy cheese with no plastic would have required spending twice as much, so we decided to make an exception – once we’ve eaten the cheese, the wrapper will duly be added to the pile shown above
  • Milk – would you believe it – the only milk we could find in a tetrapak carton (yes, we know it contains polyethylene in small quantities…but at least it’s recyclable) without any trace of a plastic spout was UHT. Guess what type of milk we’re on for the next few weeks!
  • Bread – none of the bread or pitta in the supermarket came in a paper bag, so for this week we’ve used up what we have in the freezer and from now on we’ll be making our own bread (or going to a baker’s where they sell it in paper bags)
  • Carrier bags – this is such a schoolboy/schoolgirl error of which we’re very embarrassed and ashamed. Normally when we go shopping we take rucksacks to carry our stuff in and we collect Nectar points for bag re-use. Having just come back from holiday we kind of forgot, so we’ll hang our heads slightly, but at least we will re-use the ones that we were given on Monday

Since that shopping trip last Monday, we’ve bought a greetings card which had a clear plastic film (unnecessarily we think) and when we bought chips (and a pickled egg…for the first and last time!) from the chippy around the corner, they gave it to us in a plastic bag. Aside from that, we’re “clean”.

We’ll continue to update this blog with details of our plastic usage over the course of Lent, along with any challenges we’ve faced and good tips that we pick up for avoiding plastic usage! To be honest though, it can only get harder from now – to start with we can use up stuff we’ve got in the cupboards, but once we run out it’s going to start making a bigger impact on our lives.

Posted in Lent | 2 Comments »