Monthly Archives: December 2012

Awards Are Awesome…And…

I have mixed feelings about all awards, not just bloggers awards.,

We’ve just had the New Year Queen’s Honours list announced in this country, and as usual the people who’ve had successful careers – many of them having made pots of money – have had the top honours and titles. At the bottom of the list were the people who deserved the top awards – people who’d loved and fostered 150 children, someone who’d worked teaching oldies how to keep fit for 57 years, a solitary SPCA worker, who’d rescued countless animals…

When it comes to bloggers awards my feelings are mixed too… not, I hasten to say, because the wrong people get them! But when I was ten my father sent me to a convent school. The nuns were mostly French and Belgian, but the bane of my life was not a nun, but a bigoted Irish maths teacher – the only person there who was not a nun.

She made up for it by being far more religious than the rest of them put together, so that even in the middle of long division she’d stop us all to stand up and recite the Angelus. Everyone loved it, because we stopped doing maths for about five minutes!

I had three strikes against me as far as she was concerned. I was hopeless at maths. I wasn’t a Catholic  – and secretly refused to pray as she instructed,  for my non-Catholic parents – I just didn’t believe they were going to end up in hell and pits of flame.

The third strike and final nail in my coffin came in the middle of a maths lesson when I became so angry at hearing history being twisted, and how beastly we Protestants had been to the “puir” Catholics like Guy Fawkes who’d tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament, and other famous plotters, that I rebelled.

I stood up to answer back with Bloody Mary’s burnings, the Borgia Pope’s poisonings and the Spanish Inquisition’s torturing and burning. (Thanks to my grandmother’s book shelves I had all the information at my finger-tips.)

I got no further than the Inquisition, because she clapped her hands against her ears and cried out in her thick Irish brogue to the rest of the class: “Oh what a pack of Protestant lies!”

No-one spoke to me for a long time after that. The worst thing was the regular and ritual public humiliation of being picked for teams of rounders and netball. The nuns would choose two girls to pick their teams. One by one the team leaders pointed to their best friends, their next best friends, the people who weren’t any good at games, and finally I was left – to tag onto one or other team. Always last to be chosen – if you could call it that – the most unpopular girl in the class.

This preamble is actually about Awards!

I was bowled over by the generosity of Stephanie at http://kokopellibeefreeblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/27/acknowledging-the-acknowledgement/ and oawritingspoemspaintings   who each gave me an award on my first day back at the office – I mean blogging! I love reading about people’s awards, and learning things about them, and reading the blogs that they nominate.

I totally get what a great idea it is, what a gift it feels to those who receive the awards, and what a gift too to the blogging world, as we are given the opportunity to explore new blogs we otherwise wouldn’t have come across.

Like everyone else, I’m always tickled pink when someone thinks of me too, and it’s always rather moving to read what others have to say about one’s blogs. The generous recognition from fellow writers, and from what feels like family is very precious.

But when it comes to dealing with awards, my heart sinks, and I feel overwhelmed. I’m so kack-handed that my computer skills are zilch, and I simply can’t work out how to deal with the technical side of it all.

But the real nub of the matter, is that I flinch from trying to pick just a handful of deserving blogs from all the lovely blogs I read. I hate to think of people feeling they’ve been left out of the netball team, or left at the end of the queue… whenever I give a child a birthday present I give all the other children a present too.

I know we’re all adults, and presumably well-adjusted, integrated ones! But I simply don’t want to choose between blogs – some of which I read for their spiritual content and profundity, some for their humour and wit, some to live vicariously and savour life on the farm, or in the country, or exploring churches, or growing and cooking food, some for their glorious photography, or poetry, some for their quirkiness, intelligence or thoughtfulness, others for information I’d hate to miss, and others to share their insights, challenges and be awed by their courage.

Some I follow just because the personality of the writers is so gentle, good and sincere, that the world feels a better place for knowing that they exist. Each blog has its own perfume, and each one is so unique. In fact, I love you all!

So since I don’t want to fulfil the conditions of the awards, it’s not fair to accept them either.  So I must say thank you, but no thank you, for all the reasons above.

And as I step back from the awards, I want to thank the many generous and wonderful bloggers who have gifted me not just with awards, but with kindness and friendship and encouragement… if I start to name you, I will be doing what I dread, I might leave someone out! So congratulations to you all, my wonderful blogging family, and a happy new year of living, writing and blogging!

PS  There was a sequel to the story of the maths mistress. Thirteen years later, feeling like the cat’s whiskers in my expensive fitted green uniform, high heeled court shoes, and painted nails, fresh from London, I sashayed into the first school I’d been invited to speak at in my new job  on the Army Team of Lecturers. It was in remote country, and I was puzzled, because the children didn’t seem to be the right age group, and it was a shabby, run-down rather sad place. I wondered why I’d been invited.

The head mistress who greeted me and my film operator was a faded, vulnerable, and anxious middle-aged woman with an Irish brogue. I suddenly realised it was my old adversary, Miss Cummins. Intriguing as the coincidence seemed, I refrained from recognising her, and reminding her of her glory days in the upmarket school where we’d first met. The reversal in our fortunes seemed too painful to gloat over. I discovered that revenge was not sweet at all.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I know it’s politically incorrect to dislike lettuce, but so it is for me. I don’t mind iceberg lettuce, love cos lettuce in Caesar salad, but arugula and all the fancy fashionable green leaves leave me cold. Unfortunately arugula has 70 per cent more calcium than iceberg, 50 per cent more magnesium, 40 percent more beta-carotene and sixty per cent more vitamin C. And since I have a generous neighbour who gives me the overflow of arugula from her garden, I feel I should accept fresh organic nutritious food, and behave myself!

I’ve now found a way of enjoying it. After reading that soup is the most efficient way of absorbing nutrients, I’ve created what I call green soup. Take one chopped onion sauted in butter, or leave it out and just use a leek, plus a stick of celery, some broccoli if you have it, and a potato for thickening purposes – all chopped.

Gently fry them in butter or oil. Then add some chicken stock and simmer until soft. Wash and tear the lettuce leaves, and put this with plenty of parsley and celery leaves into the blender with a cup of milk. Whizz till they’re blended, then pour this bright green mix into the soup, whizz the whole lot, and re-heat. (I don’t use parsley stalks as they can taste bitter.)

Season with salt and pepper. I usually add nutmeg, and sometimes a taste of sugar makes a difference, especially if there’s lots of lettuce. I add and leave out all sorts of different green vegetables, including asparagus. It always tastes fresh and delicious, served hot or cold. Sometimes there’s more celery in it, sometimes more leeks, sometimes plenty of broccoli – they all work. This is more than enough for two.

Food for Thought

The final piece of reaching for authentic power is releasing your own to a higher form of wisdom.                                                                                                                                 Gary Zukav,  born 1942.  Author of ‘Dancing Wu Li Masters’ and ‘The Seat of The Soul’. Popular and regular guest on Oprah Winfrey’s show.

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Filed under army, bloggers, cookery/recipes, great days, history, life/style, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Return to the Joy of Blogging

Bloggers return – some of the balls I was juggling have now rolled down-hill metaphorically, others I’m still tossing in the air, and catching.

In spite of the wonderful messages received when I bowed out, I had begun to sink into a little pit of my own making in which it seemed arrogant to expect other bloggers to read my writings… in fact, I suddenly lost confidence in myself.

But as time has passed, to my amazement, people are still reading my blog, and clicking on likes and follows, and some blogger friends have sent messages of support and comfort, so I’ve taken the plunge again, and am returning to the joy of blogging.

I’ve comfortable now with the fact that this will only ever be a little boutique blog, as it were, and I will never again (I think) become hooked on the ups and downs of stats! So back to the joy of writing for its own sake and the fellowship of bloggers … who I’ve continued to read.

I’m sitting at my desk which is just by the French doors onto the veranda. When I look up, I see the turquoise sea framed by the red blossoms of the pohutakawa tree at this time of the year, and watch the fishing boats chug out to sea. The veranda itself is fringed with the fresh green leaves of white wisteria which grows around the outside. In spring the long white racemes perfume the veranda, and now, the scent of a datura at the bottom of the wilderness part of the garden, reaches my desk.

This long room stretches the width of the house, so that when I go to the other side of the house, and open the French doors at that end, the ravishing smell of the queen of the night pervades the front garden. Especially when it rains.

As I write, a shining cuckoo is singing its piercingly sweet song, and a thrush, now relieved of the cares of parenthood, and forsaking the empty nest in the honeysuckle by the garage door, is warbling joyfully somewhere near the oak tree. And the sound of water is the background to their song as waves break on the rocks below.

It’s that peaceful lull after all the hustle and business leading up to Christmas. The tail end of a cyclone has passed through, leaving us with drenched gardens – but clear bright skies and sparkling blue sea. The orcas I had seen came back and a pod of six, including two babies, took over the next bay, chasing a swimming dog, and going “ viral” as they say, all over the internet.

In the lead-up to Christmas, everyone gets their lawns mowed, the wide grass verges by the road trimmed, and their gardens manicured. Then the tents and canopies start going up, and families arrive from all over the country, and camp on front lawns for Christmas.

Christmas – time in this country is hedgerows festooned with billowing banks of climbing pink roses which I think must be Dorothy Perkins. They grow wherever settlers farmed over a hundred years ago, and have scrambled along dusty lanes and country roads ever since.

Christmas here is also blue and white agapanthus which too, have spread along road sides, and gracefully adorn banks and garden entrances, even though this spectacular flower is now condemned as a noxious weed! They bloom at the same time as the pink roses and the red and orange flax flowers, from which the turquoise and black tuis suck nectar with their long beaks.

The red blossom of the pohutukawa tree, the New Zealand Christmas tree, and flaming orange cannas spreading alongside the blue agapanthus, are also part of the brightness and exuberance that is part of an Antipodean Christmas. No spare leafless trees, pale skies and frosty hillsides here. Instead it’s the peak of summer before the flowers wilt and the hills go brown in the blazing sunshine which always seems to arrive with Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, I drove through pouring rain to our nearest big village in search of a half bottle of rum, to make a coffee and rum sauce for the walnut- coffee meringue gateau. Through the wind-screen wipers I saw a dead bird on the road ahead. I picked out the speckled wing feathers and coral- red head of the bird, and recognised a banded rail. These are rare flightless native birds which live on an island sanctuary out to sea.

I had found a baby corpse on the road some years ago, and put it in the deep freeze, before contacting the Department of Conservation. They were rapt, came rushing out and dashed off with the pathetic little frozen body to put it on their map. They knew the birds had reached a spot on the mainland quite a way from here, but had no idea they might have spread to the mangrove swamps where I had found it.

The bird which I now wrapped in several plastic bags (thank you, maligned plastic bags!) was full grown, and heartbreakingly beautiful with its long pointed beak for digging into mud for food, delicate markings and elegant little legs and clawed feet. It spent Christmas Day and Boxing Day in the deep freeze, amongst frozen bread rolls and my husband’s emergency steak pies, and today I rang the department. Out they came again, and even remembered the last one I had delivered into their hands. Very satisfying to know that a rare breed seems to be multiplying nearby.

And now the New Year looms… I was rather sorry we survived the end of the world. I’d been looking forward to annihilation in a split second, and no more wars, no more cruelty to animals, children, women, men, or the planet! I had thought it would be great to have a fresh start somewhere down the track, and do it right next time – peace on earth – goodwill to all life, animal, vegetable and mineral, and all people whatever their colour, race, religion or sexual orientation.

It would also have been great in that distant future to acknowledge that there is only One Creator, whatever we choose to call him/her or it, Dieu, Yahweh, Allah, Lord Vishnu, Great Spirit, Gott, Divine Source, and therefore no need for religious wars, hostility, judgement or condemnation….  but it seems that we have to clean up our own act now, before we can have that peaceful future!

Maybe one way to start would be to take fourteen year old Minnie Haskin’s advice. George the Sixth, the Queen’s father, used these words to hearten the nation in his Christmas broadcast in 1940, when the islands of Britain stood alone against the terrifying brutality of Nazism.

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way.”

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Our plum tree is bowed under the weight of a lavish harvest of dark purple plums which are only so-so for eating raw, but delicious when cooked. Every-one who receives a basket of these fruits also gets the recipe I use – borrowed from Nigella Lawson.

To a kilo of plums – more or less, use 300 ml of red wine – more rather than less! Nigella says stone them – I don’t bother, the stones come out quite easily when cooked.

Put the plums in an oven proof dish. In a saucepan boil the wine with two bay leaves, half a teasp of ground cinnamon, two cloves, one star anise, and 200g of honey. Pour over the plums, seal with foil or a lid, and bake for an hour or longer at 160 degrees, until they’re tender. You can keep them in the fridge for three days, and you can freeze them.

Serve with crème fraiche, ice-cream, or custard. I also think they’d be good with rice pudding on a cold day.

The aromatic scent while they are cooking is so delectable that I’d love to catch it in a bottle and spray it regularly around the kitchen.

Food for Thought

A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.

Mark Twain   1835 – 1910  Great American writer, humorist, publisher of Ulysses Grant’s memoirs, friend of Helen Keller. Abolitionist and anti- segregationist, anti- vivisectionist, anti- imperialist, pro women’s rights.

Born when Halley’s Comet was closest to the earth, and died the day after its return seventy five years later..

He also said; ‘Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.’

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