Monthly Archives: August 2013

Time for a tea-break

100_0266I have kept my blogging vows: to write regularly, for better or worse – (you be the judge),   for richer for poorer – (mostly poorer), in sickness – (sometimes) and in health, till circumstances do us part.

But recently I’ve let the other half of my blogging commitment slip – the agreement to read and follow and like and comment. Circumstances have been squeezing me, so that I’ve been lagging guiltily behind on this part of the blogging commitment.

So, it feels like time for a tea-break. Thanks to Clanmother recommending the fascinating book: ‘For all the Tea in China’, after reading my blog on tea – I now know I couldn’t make a healthier choice. Apparently wherever tea drinking caught on, those societies became healthier- they were boiling their water for the tea, and didn’t have to slake their thirst with polluted water, beer or wine.

So they remained sober, and sustained by calories in the cheap sugar from the Colonies, and protein in the milk for their tea! It’s even suggested that tea-drinking societies like the British were fifty years ahead in the Industrial Revolution because the workers were kept alert over their machines, having tea-breaks instead of becoming drowsy or sozzled with another sip of wine or beer. (Over dinner last night, a friend described Italian workers falling off the scaffolding after another sip of wine in the blazing heat as they toiled over Brunelleschi’s Dome – he had wine diluted with water brought up to them to save them the long journey up and down !)

So  here’s to: ‘ the cup that cheers but doth not in-ebriate!’  Lapsang Souchong of course !

The circle of friendship in our blogging world never fails to amaze me and move me, and though technology is what has brought us together, in the end, it’s the written word that’s made it possible. As a writer, I treasure the words of Carl Sagan who said that: ”Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, bringing together people who never knew each other, citizens of different epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

For me, it seems that blogging has become the book of life for many of us, the magic of the written word bringing us together in time and space, and showing us how connected we all are. These connections are ties that won’t be broken, even when circumstances, in my case, have dictated a tea-break.

So though this is a break, it is not an ending, and I send to all my dear friends and fellow bloggers, the (Good) witches blessing:

Merry meet, and merry part, and merry meet again!

Food for Thought

Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.                             Virginia Woolf 1882 -1941  Great English novelist

 

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A is for Dictionary

100_0360There was a framed photograph of me as a toddler on the wall, which just showed my head, with a mop of dark hair, dark eyes, and my neck fading away into nothing. When I was between two and three years old I used to gaze up at it and study it, and wonder when my arms and legs and the rest of me grew.

We lived in a tiny cottage on a farm in deepest Dorset countryside, far away from the bombs. I stood in the soft summer night and watched overloaded hay-wains swaying and creaking down the narrow lane past our cottage, pulled by huge, tired dray horses. Stray wisps of hay were straggled horizontally as the load brushed against the high hawthorn and hazel hedgerows. I could smell the fragrance of the hay, the warm sweet smell of the horses, the honeysuckle in the hedge and the scent of yellow gorse flowers.

On our way to the village shop we passed over an ancient stone bridge. I used to push my head between the balusters encrusted with lichen to watch the emerald green weed rippling in the clear water, until I realised my mother was far ahead with the push chair and I rushed panic-stricken after her. I dreaded going into the shop. Hanging from the ceiling was a flypaper covered in buzzing, screaming, struggling, dying flies. I felt frantic to get away from the noise and carnage.

In those halcyon days before I was four, our mother sang us to sleep in her beautiful voice with lullabies like: ‘Where the bee sucks there suck I, in a cowslip’s bell I lie, there I couch while owls do cry, and on a bat’s back I do fly,’ ‘One fine day,’ from Madame Butterfly, was another, and ‘Cherry ripe, cherry ripe’. The words, even to a small child, were as beautiful as the music.

In the same room as the picture of me sans arms and legs, was an enormous book. It got smaller as I got older.  It was so thick and heavy I couldn’t lift it back then, but it was irresistible. It was covered in maroon coloured morocco, and had fascinating black thumbnail places at the side, and in the front coloured pages with patches of colour, green and blue, and pink (the British Empire I learned later!) These pages I also discovered later, were called maps, and I learned too, that the book was Webster’s Dictionary.

The A’s came straight after the maps, and there-in lay my downfall. I played for hours with this book, and inevitably, since the A’s came after the maps, they got a lot of wear. The pages became torn and dog-eared, wrinkled so as to be un-readable, crumpled, dirty, and scribbled on. Some pages of A’s disappeared altogether.

When my father came back from the war when I was nearly nine and re-claimed his dictionary along with his children, the dictionary became a source of anguish to us all. We were living at Belsen, and grim post-war Germany had no diversions like TV, cinema, or all the other entertainments we take for granted now. So everyone did the crossword, either from the Times or The Daily Telegraph, as it was called back then.

I think there must have been a sweepstake at the officers’ mess, because there was always great competition to get it finished first. If ever phone calls came from the mess – which was actually the Duke of Hanover’s palace – asking my parents – we lived in the Beast of Belsen’s former home  – to quiz me about Alice in Wonderland or The Wind in the Willows, that would set my stepmother off on a frenzied hunt for a previously unrecognised clue.

Then the agony began when my somewhat unknown father wanted to look up a word beginning with ‘A’. He’d pick up the now shrunken dictionary, and start leafing bitterly through those tattered first pages as I watched anxiously. Finally he’d give up in disgust, with the exclamation: “Bloody kids!” and I’d slink guiltily away. He never normally swore, so it seemed all the worse. As the years went by, he said it every time, and as I got older, I finally realised it was a joke, and was able to stop flinching.

I still can’t resist dictionaries, almanacs, encyclopaedias and the like. My step grandfather used to give the family a copy of wonderful Whitaker’s Almanack every year at Christmas, and even now if I see an old copy in a second hand book-shop I’ll buy it… and read up about the scientific discoveries for that year, symptoms of every disease, orders of precedence in the English peerage, major architectural triumphs for that year, politics in outer Mongolia and what the stars have to say – astronomy, not astrology – amongst other pieces of useless but fascinating information.

 Sadly, we gave away the thirty well loved and well travelled volumes of Encyclopaedia Brittanica last year to a boy’s school which needed some reference books. With all the glories of Google at our disposal, we never opened those heavy volumes with tiny print any more. I even bought my own thick copy of Webster’s years ago, but we never even use that now – the Concise Oxford is easier to handle, as well as Google.

All this came back to me as I tried to piece together a talk I’ve been asked to give about books to a local retired professionals club. I’ve dodged them for years, but have no more excuses left to fob them off with. So now I have to settle down to the hard work of talking, instead of the fun of writing – especially about books! How shall I start – “The A’s have it – dabbling in a dictionary – or what to give a three year old to read?”

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Gallivanta asked me what pink pudding is…since I gave this recipe over a year ago, I’ll repeat it now for others who’ve missed out on a real treat! I found it over forty years ago in an old Vogue Living, and it’s been a favourite ever since. All you need if half a pint of cream, the same amount of plain or strawberry/ raspberry yogurt, and a tin of boysenberries or raspberries.

Drain the juice from the berries. I don’t use frozen, as they get watery and spoil the dish. Whip the cream until thick, fold the yogurt and fruit in, add caster sugar to taste, and chill in the fridge. You can melt some marshmallows in some of the fruit juice to make a firmer pudding, but we like all natural ingredients. Serve in a big glass dish with a rose in the middle or in individual glass dishes with a tiny hearts-ease flower to pretty it. Good shortbread is nice served with it.

Food for Thought

If souls were compared to moving vehicles, an unforgiving soul could be seen as a dump truck with tin cans dragging off the backside. Clatter, clatter, clang, clang!! If you listen you can hear them coming.               from ‘Love Without End. Jesus Speaks’, by Glenda Green

 

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We’re all born brainy !

100_0108When Catherine Windsor aka Kate Middleton drove away from hospital the other week with her day old baby she did an interesting thing. She waved to the ecstatic crowds with her left hand, but her right hand was resting gently on the baby’s stomach as he lay in his car seat for the first time in his short life. She was so tuned in to her baby that she knew instinctively not to let go physical contact with him, but to re-assure him with her touch. It was rather beautiful, and I wished that all babies could have had that gentle bonding with their parents, meaning I wished that all babies could be secure and happy!

I find it incredible that we all, from day one, possess nearly all the neurons in the brain that we will ever have – nerve cells to you and me – even though most are not yet connected in networks. And this connecting process is so rapid in the first year, that by twelve months, the baby’s brain is close to the adult brain. Sound, sight, touch, taste and smell are the senses through which from birth to one year we learn about the world, usually through playing.

From eighteen months to three years, when the brain is at its most active, children are like sponges, soaking up words, information and new skills. It’s amazing to me that between the ages of eighteen months and three, the toddler’s brain is twice as active as the adult brain.

And this is also when the structures of the brain that are sensitive to language and social-emotional responses develop, while motor development, or physical skills are developing at a rapid pace too.

When we actually look at what babies learn to do in those first few years of life, the range of skills, physical, mental and emotional is awe-inspiring. By the time children reach three to six years, they enter the fastest growth period for the frontal lobe networks, including emotional development, speed of processing, memory and problem solving. By six years, the brain is at ninety per cent of its adult weight.

And at the same time babies are learning how to be people! Modern research has shown that when babies are happy, talked to, sung to, cuddled, included, and have lots of eye contact, what are known in neuropsychology as the “ the hormones of loving connection” nourish the brain and stimulate the growth of connections in the regions of the brain to do with emotions. The simple things that loving parents do with their babies, help them to grow into considerate, loving and confident people from the very beginning.

This nourishment for the emotional centres of the growing brains makes babies feel secure and happy, and means they tend to be more independent, confident, more resilient, empathetic and caring. Babies who are comforted when they’re upset, grow up knowing that nothing is really a disaster, so they are the ones who don’t panic or go into despair when things go wrong.

Because they learned when they were little that everything passes, they can cope. Adults who didn’t get this sort of  supportive parenting tend to re-act to stress with behaviour like flying off the handle, losing their temper, blaming other people, or going into despair and depression -because they grew up with a lot of fear and no faith that life would support them.

Researchers now know that when a baby is left to cry, cortisol levels rise in the brain. If the baby is lovingly comforted after a stressful incident, the body absorbs the excess cortisol. But if the stress happens regularly the cortisol levels remain high and become toxic to the brain cells. Cortisol can cause damage to the emotional centres of the brain, and if this happens regularly children grow up prone to anxiety, anger and depression. The old advice to leave a baby to cry has meant many insecure and sad children, and sometimes, angry violent adults.

Enlightened child experts now feel that this deprivation of loving attention, comfort and understanding of a baby is responsible for many problems in older children – problems ranging from ADHD, depression, panic attacks, phobias, eating disorders, anxiety and substance abuse. So children and young adults with these problems are not innately troublesome or born with a pre-disposition to these problems. They simply didn’t get enough emotional food for the brain – those hormones of loving connection.

I researched this stuff for an article in a parenting magazine I write for. It blew me away to realise what intelligence and potential are already contained within those tiny wizened little day-old babies. It’s so easy to think that just because they can’t talk or communicate with us yet, that they don’t have the thoughts and feelings that research shows us they do. Maybe it’s we who need to work on our communication skills, rather than the babies, who seem to be doing huge amounts of unseen work and learning while we change their nappies and feed them and put them to sleep.

They are so hard-wired to learn and absorb and connect with our world, that as long as we cuddle and talk and sing to them, they seem to do most of the work themselves. Babies are such miracles of complexity and potential, and each single one, wherever it is born in the world, has all this potential and complexity. And yet at this moment we all know too, that only some babies will have the chance to become who they were born to be.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

When I want to spoil my grandchildren – and that is all the time – I make them their favourite pudding. For one it’s chocolate mousse, for another a family favourite we call pink pudding, and for everyone – a lemon meringue tart.

I usually make the pastry case ahead, so all there is to do later is to squeeze two lemons and make up their juice to half a pint with water. Use some of the liquid to mix with an ounce of cornflour, and boil the rest before stirring it on the cornflour mixture. In a pan, boil it for three minutes, then stir in an ounce of butter, an ounce of sugar and the grated rind from the two lemons. Cool slightly, add three egg yolks and pour this mixture into the tart case. Bake in a moderate oven for about 25 minutes or until set.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff, gently fold in three ounces of castor sugar, and pile onto the lemon tart. Dredge with castor sugar and return to a cool oven until the meringue is set and slightly browned.

 Food for thought

If you have not often felt the joy of doing a kind act, you have neglected much, and most of all yourself.   Anonymous

 

 

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