Living takes up all my time

As I drove home this morning I wondered how often I had driven along that same country road with all its winds and curves and hills and one way bridges… ruminating about this, I went back randomly to my diary six years ago to see what has changed… this is what I found:

“ I had the house to myself today – the solitude I’ve always wanted. In his early diaries, Thomas Merton moaned on about not having solitude and silence. I know how he feels, but how could these things be missing in a Trappist monastery? And it’s a lot easier to be alone in a crowd surely, than one in a one-on-one relationship! Silence is easier than solitude. I never have the radio on, rarely the TV, and sometimes go for weeks without playing any music.

‘The days have seemed calm and beautiful. Ken Wilber’s understanding of how to ground the insights of the spiritual life, reminded me of Brother Laurence’s practise of the Presence of God.
It was reported of him that, ‘in the greatest hurry of business in the kitchen he still preserved his recollections and heavenly-mindedness. He was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its season, with an even uninterrupted composure and tranquillity of spirit…’  mindfulness then…

‘I had made a cake from a recipe on the last page of Nigella Lawson’s book ‘Feasts’. This was a funeral cake, but the beautiful loaf in its tin with a long sprig of rosemary for remembrance on top inspired me. It was absolutely delicious, and has entered my repertoire with a fanfare. So yesterday, I got up in good time to make another rosemary cake for morning tea with Kate and Jocelyn. This time I used twice the amount of cooked apple and lemon, more sugar and added vanilla.

‘It was a triumph. The big, tender, golden loaf with a sugary top, infused with the taste of lemon and rosemary, and with the rosemary sprig down the centre, was a culinary poem just to look at. It had a pure, classic feeling, qualities which can be applied to things other than music or sculpture! We all felt it was a work of art, which didn’t stop us devouring it in large moist chunks, and Jocelyn took the recipe.

‘ Both girls very pure, so we had apple tea instead of coffee, (I didn’t realise it was solid sugar) and we talked for hours, until nearly one o’ clock. Jocelyn brought a jar of her fig and ginger jam, Kate, a fragrant bouquet of herbs and pink and violet flowers. I had laid a table with a linen cloth with a heavy crochet lace border, and with the curving regency-style silver tea-pot, the bone china rosebud sprigged cups and saucers edged with gold, silver king’s pattern cake-knives, white lace and linen napkins, it looked like one of those romantic magazine photographs. I left it, cake, crumbs, rosemary sprigs and all, untouched all day long to savour.

Today, I fell off the wagon. Went shopping and doing errands in town, and I never seemed to get into my stride. Going into the spare bedroom to work out where I would start doing paint touch-ups, I found a book left there by the last occupant, Alexander McCall Smith’s, ‘The Sunday Philosophy Club’, which I read till I had finished. Charming, erudite and civilised – art, music, ethics – all merging seamlessly. But apart from meditating, I hadn’t been present all day, just for the sake of blobbing out with a book, going absent without leave as it were. So no mindfulness then…

Thank heavens for Rumi, who I turned to this morning and his wonderful:
Come, come, come, whoever you are! Wanderer,
Worshipper, lover of learning
This is not a caravan of despair.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve
Broken your vow a thousand times
Still and yet again

Driving home through the bay, I saw a mother duck shepherding her family of tiny brown fluffy babies along the footpath, while she calmly brought up the rear. There must have been at least a dozen, and one hadn’t managed to make it up onto the low step-up of the pavement, and was now trying to keep up, anxiously scurrying along in the gutter!

Cara (the cat) is still asleep on the unmade bed, a flat, black semi-circle. She slept all night stretched up against me, seeming to be purring every time I awoke. Maybe she was making amends for a dreadful incident last night in the cemetery. As I strolled towards the look-out where I habitually inspect the flat rock far below with waves splashing over it at high tide, a cock pheasant ran across and into the undergrowth on the edge of the cliff.

Cara was a long way behind, and hadn’t seen it, so I thought all was well. But when she reached me, she stood and sensed the area. She could have been a pointer, the way she sussed out the presence of the bird. Ignoring my peremptory calls, she purposefully plunged down the cliff. I attempted to grab her, but it was too dangerous. Occasionally, as I peered into the undergrowth, I would catch sight of her blackness skulking through the bushes. I went home with my arms full of pohutukawa twigs as usual, to use as firewood, and then came back in the hope of tracking her.

She turned out to be sitting behind a grave-stone, and when she attempted to escape me again I grabbed her by a foreleg, and carried her firmly home, where I made sure she stayed. I hope it’s not the breeding season. ‘

Reading this, I realised that much has changed in six years … though I still fall off the wagon regularly, but the beloved cat has gone to a soft cushion in the sky, I am now alone, and have also given up eating sugar… so fewer delicious cakes. But the rhythm of the seasons continues, the full moon still shines across the water as I stand at the cliff’s edge, the mother ducks are still moving majestically across the road shepherding their broods… some friends have moved on, new friends have changed my life in many ways, and life is often a baffling adventure.

But whatever hidden meaning there may be in it, I remember Montaigne’s words: “Alas, I have done nothing this day !”
“What? Have you not lived? It is not only the fundamental but the noblest of your occupations”. So be it. I live.


Food for Threadbare gourmets
Here’s that delicious cake by Nigella Lawson with my wild additions. (I belong to that abandoned school of thought that feels if one thing is delicious, twice as much must be twice as delicious ! I also subscribe to the Hebrew saying that we will be held accountable for all the permitted pleasures we failed to enjoy).

So, first you cook until soft a sliced eating apple with a teaspoon of caster sugar, zest and juice of half a lemon, a teaspoon of butter and a small sprig of fresh rosemary. Fish out the rosemary, leave the apple to cool, and then mash or blitz to a pulp. Line a one pound loaf tin with greased baking paper.

To the pulped apple add 225 grams melted butter, 150 grams of sugar, 3 large eggs and 300 grams of flour. I use self raising, and also double the apple mixture and add a scant teaspoon of vanilla. Mix it quickly to a smooth batter, and pour into the tin. Dredge the top generously with caster sugar, and then lay a long sprig of fresh rosemary down the middle of the cake top. The oil from the herb scents the cake deliciously as it cooks – oven 170C or 325 F, for approximately fifty minutes. Let it cool etc. before cutting and devouring with abandon!


Food for thought
The unexamined life is not worth living.     Socrates died 399 BC


Filed under animals/pets, birds, books, consciousness, cookery/recipes, culture, great days, happiness, life/style, literature, love, philosophy, spiritual, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised

29 responses to “Living takes up all my time

  1. Your journal writing is much like your blog writing, both exceptionally intelligent and descriptive. Wonderful reading. That cake sounds so delicious but I consume very small amounts of wheat and sugar myself these days so am thinking perhaps of adapting the cooked apple and rosemary with a bit of honey to a Spanish style almond meal torte that has vanilla in it… lovely thought anyway. At the moment my time is taken with living my life, too. In my head I am writing blog posts, but no time to realise them. Soon, though. x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your thoughtful appreciation, Ardys.. I like the sound of your adaptation of the cake… and will be trying it myself… I’ve never had the courage to experiment with stevia in baking… I think it would later the proportions….but honey is always lovely….


  2. What a lovely, thought provoking post! Love your vases too, they look so pretty with the roses~

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “What? Have you not lived? It is not only the fundamental but the noblest of your occupations”. So be it. I live. Sometimes that is how it has to be, and that’s okay. I am rarely alone in a physical sense. Most of my solitude is in my mind.


  4. Another beautiful and aromatic post, I could see that table laid and the cake and tea and friends as if it were in the present. Nothing wrong with being waylaid by a book and being love that Rumi guides you back.

    Thank you for taking us to meet your 6 year ago self Valerie! We recognise her immediately, even if much has changed.


  5. So nice to read what you say about silence and solitude. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one in the world with those values. I need to write you about
    ‘Soft cushion in the sky,’ and Bucks, but still a very painful subject.


  6. Oh Bruce, I fear from what you say that your heart is aching as mine did a few years ago. Write when you can. I care


  7. Wonderfully written. I’m struck how different people are in their needs. I have to have some kind of sound. I’d be lost without music. But I can’t handle a cacophony of noise which just overwhelms me.


  8. It hurts so very much to lose our fur children. They are so much a daily part of our lives, so much a part of our minds and ours souls…that when they depart…our heart goes with them.

    So, anyway, we are left to carry on. But each day is still a day and withing that day can be found small things that do bring scattered sunshine.

    Love you my Dear Friend!



    • Lovely to hear from you Linda… we agree on our furry babies, as on so many other things… I actually wrote my very first bog on the death of my little black darling….
      Much happening here, will be in touch again…with love, Valerie

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Beautiful Valerie, this post alone was a meditation of the living of life.


  10. Thank you so much Andrea, intelligent appreciation is so satisfying, and I value yours, Life is magic isn’t it? Valerie


  11. This is the first thing I read this morning with my coffee, it reminds me to appreciate the day ahead and not look backward. Your journals are a thoughtful introspection, much like your other writing they are lovely.


    • So sorry not to have replied before Val, especially as your comment gave me such deep pleasure.Thank you so much for your appreciation. It is so valuable to me, you are such a discerning reader – and writer.


  12. Patty B

    I always enjoy your posts. How often do we all say, “I have done nothing today” only to realize our day no matter what it holds it was a day well lived.


  13. Your posts are, for me, like breathing a sigh of relief or listening to the wind rustle leaves while lying in a hammock! Always so filled with sensory experiences. Thanks!


  14. We live. The pace varies. I like the pace you describe. Pity I have been prevented from keeping down to it recently.


  15. So good to hear from you.. I hope your pace slows down, I take it your pace is too hectic… bon chance !!!


  16. Lovely post, Valerie! I enjoy silence also, especially late at night when it seems almost mystical.


  17. How did I miss this? Perhaps because I too am busy living! I love that philosophy and isn’t it just precious that we do live? 🙂


    • Sally, what a lovely comment – very touched that you should have read an ‘oldie’ … though I love looking back on yours, especially the recipes !!!!
      Yes, living is lovely isn’t it… or as a fifteen year old grandson of a friend once put it – life is a gift….

      Liked by 1 person

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