Trade School, slow living, Japanese Pizza and serendipity

I was invited to Trade School

Trade School Dudley is hosted by CoLab at Gather Cafe in Dudley. To learn about Slow Living.

Now I realise that for many readers none of the above will make any sense. Indulge me for a while and all will be clear.

To attend is free as in there is no monetary charge. Instead I was asked to bring a present for the teacher. AKA a small barter item. This is the list of items we could choose to bring.

A cotton hanky
A napkin
A packet of lentils (any kind)
A tasty vegetarian recipe without cheese
An A5 notebook
An offer to teach a Trade School class yourself
Vegetable seeds

I took a recipe for Okonomiyaki or Japanese pizza. The recipe, and the reasons why I chose it are at the end of this post. Trust me, it all comes together in the end.

On the road to Gather and Slow Living

Yes, I know, for all the people still working for the man, who thinks/has been brainwashed to believe everything has a price, this is possibly getting a tad uncomfortable. Good. I like uncomfortable. Makes you think. Makes you question. We have forgotten how to do that.

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And so it was that I got up and out earlier that usual and on the bus to Dudley. I sat and stared despite the bus having wifi (slow living tick) and once at Gather cafe, found a comfy sofa and got me some coffee. Gather is a CIC or Community Interest Company. It hosts all kinds of things including a repair cafe and #GatherSunday and has a pay it forward board aka Suspended Coffees. This enables them to ensure the homeless and others in times of need get a hot drink. My kind of place.

But back to Slow Living.

Lorna, who was leading the group, got us all to introduce ourselves by telling each other what our favourite cake is (one someone else bakes) and one thing we are grateful for. More of that later. It turns out to be a day of serendipity for me.

cake - Trade School, slow living, Japanese Pizza and serendipity

Lorna had found a book (it found her) called Destination Simple by Brooke McAlary – and wanted to share some of the things she had benefitted from by reading it.

More about Brooke can be found here at Slow your Home.

Of course, us sharing what we were grateful for that day, was all part of the journey to Destination Simple.

The link above takes you to the PDF version of the book, so you can read more there. I guess what I want to reflect on here is what I got from the Trade School class.

The importance of being busy

Is a smokescreen. A badge of honour we bestow on ourselves because busy means important, valued, needed. To keep up with our colleagues who are also ‘busy’.

How often, when you ask how someone is, do they reply ‘busy?  Because unbusy is lazy? What if we don’t need to be busy and still get everything done? What if you only had three THREE things on your To Do list?

Make it a ritual

Brooke is clear about this, and has suggestions on how to change by introducing rituals. What I interpret from this is that it is all about putting your well being first. Doesn’t that sound like a sensible thing to do? With all the other things you have to do, at work at home, we often put our needs last. (Do you sit down last to dinner, once everyone else has been served? If there is only one slice of bread, who gets the morning toast?)

We can single task

Surely multitasking is so much more productive. That what we all have be led to believe. Juggling tasks, get two things done in the space of what one would take. What if you immersed yourself fully into one task for a few minutes each day?

In the book there are a number of examples of this and exercises so I won’t repeat them here. At first it would be easy to say that we are so busy I don’t have time to do this. The thing is you already have to do this task so why not immerse yourself in it? For example the washing up, your hands are wet so you can’t check Whatsapp. Instead, concentrate on the colours in the bubbles, the warm water and the smell of the soap? Which neatly leads to


Yeah, yeah, yeah I know. That old chestnut. So here’s the thing. I felt like that. And I will let you into a little secret, sometimes when I am over thinking my thoughts scroll like a timeline on Facebook. In life as on my laptop I have numerous tabs open. 19 currently on my laptop. More than that in my brain. And I complain that my laptop is running slow. So what is operating like that doing to my brain?


You know when you go to a cafe and there is no wi fi and you say WTF? What if you thought,’ Yay, no wifi’ and people watched? Read a book? Did some knitting? Talked to the person you were with? Strike up a conversation with a stranger. You can have some amazing conversations with strangers in cafes. And you might make a difference to someone’s day.

Why unplug?

The phone thing

Do you ever go out to dinner with friends or family and they all have their phones on the table? Why not suggest phone stacking? First one to use the phone pays the bill.

I often see people on their phone whilst making transactions at the bank, the ATM and the supermarket or getting on the bus. Carrying on their conversation with the person on the other end whilst making no eye contact with the cashier or the bus driver? I see this all the time. How important is that call? Compared to making a cash transaction? IMHO it is not just stupid, but rude too. And they are not in the moment. Mind always elsewhere.

Personal space and security

A few days ago I was in a shop and a young woman was on her phone, while she was browsing items, picking them up and looking at them while chatting away. Both the shop manager and I could hear every word of her conversation. We gathered that this was a contact via a dating site, and we heard some personal details. The manager said to me afterwards that this happens all the time and some of the stuff he hears is what most of us would consider confidential. I overheard another person on the bus give her bank details, address and date of birth over the phone. All the passengers could hear this.

I know, we are all busy. But really, can that call wait? Do you not know that the everyone can hear you? Why share with strangers personal information? Why not engage with people in the present?


And you may sleep better. No phones/gadgets after 9 pm. No phone in the bedroom. But wait I hear you say, my phone is my alarm clock.

Go buy an alarm clock.

Practice the ritual

Brooke gives some suggestions as to how you can make unplugging a ritual in her book, so if you think you could benefit from this, take a look at the exercise on this on page 17. It can be a simple as choosing not to use the wifi on the bus, to going for a walk in the park and leaving your phone at home.

Why not make a list of what you could do instead of checking Facebook and Twitter? Watching TV is not one of them….

Empty your mind

This is something I struggle with. My earlier confession of thinking in timelines…. probably a lot to do with this. I don’t sleep too well. As people who read my 4 am updates know. They too are insomniac and On. Their. Phones. To do this Brooke suggests the Brain Dump. Five to ten minutes of pen to paper, writing in no particular order (this is not a list) letting everything on your mind pour out onto the page. This ritual dovetails with the Three Things Ritual and the Gratitude Exercises she covers later in the book (and what I mentioned in this post earlier) because this brain dump will help you identify these.

Establish rhythms

During the session Lorna talked us through how we might establish a morning rhythm. Depending where we are in our life and how we choose to live it this can be different for us all. I certainly can remember frazzled school run mornings from when I had young children. And we have all overslept at some time (even insomniacs like me do sometimes). I think I have grown better at this as it has been less important to me to worry about being late. I am almost always on time, if not early for appointments, but I am guilty of trying to cram in too much in a small space of time. So for this reason I can see the benefit of this.

Practice rhythms

I think for some it will take more practice than others. what I love about this is that Brooke reminds you that you need to factor in ‘wiggle time’ and this is about how you do things not anyone else. Your best friend who is almost always perfectly made up at the school gates may add a lot more wiggle time than you do.

Again there is a useful exercise in the book on page 34 to work through, which we did in the Trade School Session. All of our lists were different, of course, because we lead different lives.

And I think this is part of the key. We are so conditioned as to what we think we SHOULD be doing that we lose sight of what we need and want to be doing. And this is what this exercise focuses on. Need and want, prioritising and planning.

I found this very useful and I urge you to do the exercise. I worked out for example that the 39 minutes that the washing machine was on was time to practice yoga every day. Something I constantly said I never had time for. Aha, I hear you say, isn’t that multitasking? Yes it is. However, once that washer is on I do not need to mindfully watch my clothes sloshing around. I can, however, practice mindful single tasking whilst pegging out the clothes. After my mindful yoga.

“Instead of starting your day by responding to the
stimulus around you, you’re proactively creating the
day you want to have. When you wake up and do the
most essential things first, you get a good start to your
day. Your mind is better focused on the rest of your
day’s tasks. And you’ll do a better job taking care of
the people you love most.”
Tsh Oxenreider — Simple Mom
Author of ‘One Bite at a Time’

The takeaway

I realised that I was do some of these things already. I have slowed down a lot in the past few years. My life in the last 3 years has changed completely and will continue to change.

Already a follower of The Minimalists and Courtney Carver, who feature in the book, I am way down the line with this. Of course there is a but. My life still does not look like I want it to. I am disatisfied and tired and grumpy. A lot.

What this session at Trade School did for me was give me another piece of the jigsaw. One I had been scrabbling around for in the box and couldn’t find. It was there after all. I just needed help to find it. And like a key, it unlocks another door. To find the life I need and want to live. I have spent too many years comparing my life with others. I only need to be the best I can be.

What changes have I made?

I took up knitting. Again. And I am making great progress this time. Why? Because when I do it it is all I do. I don’t do it while watching TV or reading and nor can I check out Twitter. I have to concentrate and count the stitches and on whether it is a knit or a purl row. I am in flow and meditative. Five to ten minutes a day I knit. All my thoughts are still, my brain can only concentrate on this and this alone.

The phone is not my alarm clock. If I wake at 4 am I work on emptying my mind and resting if not sleeping. And definitely not checking my phone to see who else is awake then.

What I have noticed

I already did the brain dump but used it as my to do list. I am going to gather them all (I have numerous to do lists) and introduce The Three Thing Ritual.

I am doing one thing at a time. I would watch the TV with my phone in my hand. I don’t now. I went out to dinner with the family and did not check my phone once. I have gone to bed earlier and slept better.

What changes will I make?

I am going to read the book all the way through and work through each exercise. I know that when I practice gratitude my mind is in a much better place. So that is a top priority for me.

Replace the word routine with the word rhythm. And work on establishing some. I am not working currently so it is all too easy for me to let the day drift without achieving something. Of course with slow living that is ok but not if you don’t have any food to make dinner. This way I can work on what I want to happen more (write, read, knit, essentially practice Hygge now winter is here) but do what needs to happen, (cook a meal, write CV, apply for jobs).

Consider offering a Trade School class.

Attend another Trade School class.

The serendipity bit

Because there always is.

Whenever you are with people who contribute more than they take, as is what happens at Gather, things happen.

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Not unexpectedly, as I used to work with Lorna many years ago, I knew someone else in the group that day. She happens to be a friend of someone else I used to work with, also many years ago. Not seen either of them for years, but in touch with one via Facebook, as you do… Anyways, I tell her about the downsizing and the decluttering and the travelling and plans to live in a warm place, and those are her plans too. Except she has already got a house in a warm place, Malta. In Marsaxlokk.

If there was any place I would choose to live in Malta it is here. And she said I could rent it from her anytime. This woman, I have not seen for over 12 years, said that.

Rewind to what I said I was grateful for that day. To see an old and valued work colleague and be able to catch up. Who knew? And because I like her and it was good to see her I will rebuild the contact. And hopefully meet at Gather again.

I will pay for my trade school lesson in another way too. By offering a session on decluttering and downsizing and Project 333. Not everyone wants to tread that path, but if they do, they will be there.

And there is more.

Of course there is. As a devotee of minimalism and Project 333 I have been following Courtney Carver for a while now. What I did not know that she has been a regular guest podcaster on Slow Your Home. I have been a big fan of The Minimalists for a couple of years. Yup, Brooke works with them too. All the stuff I have been babbling about for the last couple of years, Lorna has just stumbled upon. From a different direction. She had not planned to buy the book, but it found her. And you know I don’t believe in coincidence.

coincidence - Trade School, slow living, Japanese Pizza and serendipity

And while I have been in pursuit of my version of minimalism for a few years now, and stopped buying clothes for a year, there is still an element of dissatisfaction in my life. Perhaps what I discovered at Trade School today will address that. I am at a crossroads in my life. I have no direction. Today I felt I belonged at Gather.

The recipe

OKONIYAKI aka Japanese pancake.

3 cups/450g self raising flour

2 cups/50ml water

1 large carrot peeled and grated

1/2 firm whit cabbage, finely chopped

1/2 white onion finely chopped

3tbs olive oil

pinch salt to taste

no egg mayo to serve

sweet chilli sauce to serve

baby spinach leave and tomatoes to garnish

Mix the flour and water to make a smooth batter.

Add the vegetable, 1 tsp of oil and salt.

Combine and add water if necessary to keep mixture smooth.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and pour the batter into the pan. forming an even pancake across the bottom, at least 1cm thick, leaving enough room to flip later. Two or more medium pancakes are easier to cook than one large one.

Cook on low heat on one side till brown around 5 to 8 minutes then flip and cook the other side.

Once cooked, serve on a plate and dribble the mayo and chilli sauce.

Garnish with the spinach and tomato wedges.

From the Lentil as Anything cookbook

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Lentil as Anything

This is one of my favourite foods at Lentil. I order it everytime I go to St Kilda Lentil. I have very happy memories of volunteering there too. Their philosophy is so in step with what is happening at Gather and at CoLab and of course Trade School. And The Real Junk Food Project who I have also volunteered with.

We are Lentil as Anything.

At our core are our not-for-profit vegan and vegetarian restaurants, where guests contribute what they feel their meal and experience is worth, according to their own financial ability.

Lentil as Anything was established in 2000 and continues to support our community everyday by;

Caring for people: Providing a wholesome and nutritious meal where money is not a concern.

Promoting Multiculturalism: Fostering an environment of inclusion

Reforming Society: Acting on the structures of society to restore justice.

Extending and spreading it’s ethos and values: Hiring volunteers, the long-term unemployed and the marginalised.

Encouraging: Young people to be active citizens and get involved in community based initiatives

Lentil found me

I discovered Lentil as Anything in November 2011. I had at that time no real knowledge of food and its role in building community. I saw the cook book in a shop in St Kilda and that influenced where we ate that day. After eating I offered to volunteer there. And then once a week, me and the DH would spend a day, waiting tables and washing tables, in return for food. We felt like family. And everytime we go back to Melbourne this is where we eat out at most.

In 2013 I got a job working with a charity who run a foodbank. Angry that their is food poverty and food waste, I also volunteered with The Real Junk Food Project Birmingham. And here is another serendipity bit – the founder of TRJFP used to eat at Lentil as Anything in St Kilda. I always wonder if I once served him his food. Whilst representing foodbank at an event I met a young man who was passionate to fight food poverty and I signposted him to TRJFP Birmingham. He went on to become a co director and with his team grew the project to what it is now.

Why am I telling you this. Because if I had not seen that book, that this recipe comes from, none of this may have happened. And I don’t believe in coincidence. That book was meant to find me, just as the book, Destination Simple, was meant to find Lorna.

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