Tag Archives: family

Rise up children and be free

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How to make yourself very, very unpopular!  Years ago I discovered that in the tug of war between the rights of women and the needs of children it can be dangerous to take sides. I gave up writing supportive articles about feminism, since there were already plenty of them, and started to defend the rights of children. It seemed to me then that children’s well – being was in danger of being forgotten in the rush for rights for women in this country.

To my amazement, the very active feminists around me ostracised me – crossed the road rather than acknowledge me if I met them in the street, and carried on a sustained campaign over the years of hostile letters about me and my articles in the local press. Many years later one of the most prominent and talented of these women, by then a mother herself, wrote a book on mothering in which she vindicated my stand, saying I was the only woman in NZ who had stood up for motherhood.

I say this as I gear myself up for what could well be an infuriated response to this blog by people who feel passionately about the rights of women. Because now I’m bothered about motherhood. It’s a fact of life that when women become mothers they have to give up lots of rights – the right to a night of unbroken sleep, the right to go to the loo without an audience, the right to have an un-interrupted conversation with a friend… the list of lost freedoms is a long one. But we all know that babies and children must come first.

So it bothers me to read that women are artificially having babies into their fifties and sixties, or when they don’t have a partner to support them and their child. I know from experience how hard it is to be a single mother, and to try to be both mother and father. And I feel sad for children who lose their elderly mothers to illness or old age before they are even adults. Children are stuck with what sometimes seem to me to be selfish choices and I don’t feel that all women have the right to have a child, if the child’s quality of life is at risk.

But even worse, is to read that in the US, Canada, Australia and Germany, women are not just being being sent on active service, but now to fight as front line soldiers. An enraged man wrote a blog that this was ridiculous as women were not physically strong enough to do what has to be done in the front line and under fire, he felt that men were being endangered, and he’s probably right.

But what bothers me is that many women serving now are also mothers, with their husbands also serving. Surely we all know now that parting a baby or a young child from their parents breaks the bonds of trust. Abandonment sets them up for all sorts of emotional problems and relationship difficulties both in childhood and in later life. And most people now too, surely know that this is one of the traumas that propels hurting teenagers into drugs and alcohol dependency, pregnancies and violence, and too often, broken relationships, marriages and unskilled parenting?

And if the mother is killed on active service – where does this leave the child, growing up feeling that his or her mother chose her career and the thrill of fighting over the commitment of mothering? Do the temporary caregivers love the child, and are they happy to discover that now it’s a lifetime commitment? If it’s elderly grandparents, were they looking forward to a peaceful retirement, or maybe coping with ill health?

For older children the parting from their mothers is just as traumatic. It more than bothers me to think of a child having to say goodbye to their mother, living with care-givers who may or may not love him or her, and going to school every day, either longing for a letter or text from their mother, or wondering if this is the day they’re going to hear that their mother has been wounded or killed.

I was six and a half when my mother walked out of my life forever, and I know how it feels for those children. The trauma was so great that I was forty five and on a personal growth course before I could bring myself to mention my mother again. What anger and grief vulnerable, broken-hearted little boys and traumatised little girls will grow up with, feeling rejected by a mother who left them behind. Little boys rarely receive again that tenderness and gentleness that a mother can give her son, and little girls are lucky if they find a loving stepmother who doesn’t prefer her own children.

We read of worrying numbers of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq committing suicide, and the veterans who come home so deeply traumatized by their experiences that they never recover. Some become violent – thirty per cent of returning British soldiers are involved in violence on their return – others are so deeply depressed that they are unable to work, and unable to sustain their relationships.  How will it be for children if their mothers, as well as their fathers, come home in this state? Or so badly wounded that they can’t care for their children?

I wonder if when the policymakers, finding they were running out of men to send on active service, thought – ah, we can send women, and they will approve because they’ll feel they’re now truly equal, and we’ll get some brownie points – I wonder if they ever thought about the children, and the huge social problems they are cooking up for the future? Have they planned any safeguards for the innocent traumatised  children of traumatised parents?

Did they ever stop to consider that children do have rights, even if they’ve never been spelt out?  Though there is no mention of the rights of a child in the Bill of Rights, at least the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says specifically in Article 25 that: “mothers and children are entitled to special care and assistance… and should enjoy… social protection.”  Mothers should be exempt from any service which takes them away from their children, or which infringes on the child’s right to be loved and to feel safe. And for this reason, it bothers me that we imprison mothers… the long term damage to children when parted from their mothers is incalculable.

A boy who’d been adopted at birth, endured a cruel childhood and been returned to the welfare agencies at twelve, bewildered and maimed, was in our car going on an outing, when my little ones began singing a song they’d learned at school, with a haunting tune. The words were “Rise up children and be free… free your brothers, free your sisters, rise up children and be free…”  Sing it again, the boy cried, with a catch in his voice. I realised the words felt like hope for him.

I hope and I wish that mothers could rise up to protect their children, and refuse to be parted from them. Surely all mothers would support them? Yes, women have a voice – but do mothers and children? And is there any good reason why children should be emotionally damaged at home while their mothers are in a foreign country learning how to kill in wars that nobody wants?

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

People are coming tomorrow to inspect the old chap’s collection of Japanese antiques. I’ll have to give them morning coffee and something to nibble. I thought of hot scones, but can’t be bothered juggling with the butter and the strawberry jam and the whipped cream, butter knives and napkins. A cake seems a bit grand, and actually too much trouble for a business encounter, so I’ve decided on flapjacks – nice and chewy, comforting and sustaining.

Melt six oz of butter and stir in six oz of brown sugar, a pinch of salt and eight oz of rolled oats. Mix them thoroughly and press into a well greased tin. Smooth the mix with a knife and bake for about thirty five minutes in a moderate oven. When cooked and golden brown, cut into squares in the tin, and leave in the tin until quite cold. I like a quite thick flapjack, so they are moist and chewy, so I put this amount in a smallish tin. I often double the amounts, and I usually use half sugar to half golden syrup for a stickier flapjack.

It’s easy because you don’t have to worry about it rising, and it doesn’t go stale either.

Food for Thought

Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement you can completely change your life.

Don Miguel Ruiz Mexican teacher and shaman

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Filed under army, babies, british soldiers, cookery/recipes, family, great days, life and death, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, womens issues

Abortion is Hundreds of Shades of Grey

Abortion is not a cut and dried, black and white issue, which is how it seems to be being debated in the US. It’s hundreds of shades of grey. It’s about more than religion and women’s rights. It’s about a baby’s right to happiness.

When does an unwanted child become a happy child? Does a woman already worn out with childbearing, want another baby when she already has a houseful, courtesy of a husband? Does a thirteen year old, raped and pregnant, really want that child? Does she know how to be a mother? Does she or her family want a child who is bearing half the genes of the rapist?

Does a solo mother who made a mistake, and trying to make ends meet, really want to carry another child and bring it up, when she can’t afford the ones she already has? Does the college student, pregnant after an encounter in which the boy has disappeared in panic, really want a child who is going to blight her chances in college, and who she can’t afford?

Unwanted babies rarely become happy children. In Sweden where they’ve had a liberal policy for years, they carried out a study on the children whose mothers were refused abortion. They started the study with the children who had actually survived to their fifth birthday! The findings were heart-breaking. Most of these children did badly at school, had a range of emotional and physical problems, found it hard to make friends, and when it came to military service, most of them were rejected because they weren’t physically fit enough.

Which tells us about the lot of unwanted children. Worse still, the latest research has shown that if a mother is depressed in pregnancy – and carrying an unwanted child would surely make you depressed – it damages the development of the baby’s emotional centres of the brain, which in follow-up  studies showed that these babies were depressed for most of their lives, and prone to depressive illnesses.

Brain research has also shown us that when a baby is loved, and his or her mother spends time cuddling, talking, singing, playing, making eye contact – feel-good hormones feed into the connections of the brain in which emotional development takes place. When a baby is deprived of these’ hormones of loving connection’, as they’re called, and left to cry, feeling unloved and alone, then cortisone builds up in the brain, damaging the emotional centres. Child psychologists are now sheeting back most childhood problems like AHD, depression, anti –social behaviour, anxiety, panic attacks, to the first months of the child’s life when she was deprived of the emotional food for the brain that makes a happy child.

Obviously not all unwanted children end up as delinquent, but there are many more child suicides than we hear of – of children as young as eight or ten – there are many unhappy depressed children who grow into unhappy miserable adults, who make unhappy miserable parents, and there are also children who overcome the handicaps of their parenting and past, and grow into decent kind, even enlightened adults who have much to give the world.

It’s easy to recognise an unwanted child. They often have bad posture, they often look anxiously sideways, as though ready for the harsh word or even blow. They are always gauging the atmosphere – are the adults ok, or is it a bad day? They find it hard to look you in the eye, because they have no trust.  They have lots of accidents, sometimes caused by the adults, sometimes because accident-prone children have emotional problems… and this is just a short list of how to recognise unhappy children..

So before trying to make hard and fast rules which control women’s sexuality, perhaps we should be looking with real insight and compassion into the needs of children.

If the people – usually men- who advocate that all women should bear all babies, are they also offering support, both emotional, material, and financial to help women to bring up these unwanted babies? But how do you make a woman want a baby, if she doesn’t want the child of her rapist? I can’t imagine what it must be like to carry a child you don’t want, it was tough enough being pregnant with children I did want.

And of course a mother carrying an unwanted child is going to feel hostile and resentful, unless the miracle of bonding occurs at birth. But as any farmer will tell you, that vital connection, which ensures the life of his lambs or calves, can easily be broken.

The magic hormones that flow through the body of a woman during pregnancy and afterwards, that ensure the safe and happy birth of a baby, don’t operate automatically in all circumstances – women’s emotions are also part of the equation – they are not  child bearing machines any more than an animal is.

So to impose on all women, regardless of their age or circumstances or beliefs, a one size fits all rule is not only an infringement of women’s rights and their ability to conduct their own life, but also complete insensitivity to the needs of a baby, and complete ignorance about the miracle of birth, life and the growth of the human spirit .

If the no- abortion rule is applied to women, I feel that a compulsory sterilisation or vasectomy programme should also apply to any man who begets an unwanted child. This would probably solve the problem satisfactorily. Women would know that they were not being unfairly discriminated against if men were also subject to the same draconian principles being  promised to women, and men would know that they had to be responsible for their actions too.

If this meant a shortage of children with so many men unable to have children, then the unwanted children could be adopted into homes where a child was really, truly, wanted. Imagine a world where all children were happy – now that’s a vision to aim for – both in the US and all over the world.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I was desperate for some chocolate the other day, and only had dark chocolate in the house which doesn’t do it for me. So I decided to make a chocolate cake. By the time it was cooked and iced several hours later, the craving had left me, but we were also left with a lovely chocolate almond cake!

I melted four ounces of butter with four ounces of black chocolate and left it to cool. In a large bowl whisk four eggs with six ounces of castor sugar until thick and white – it does take a bit of time. When they’re ready, fold in the chocolate mixture in several batches, alternating with six ounces of ground almonds. Add a teasp of vanilla, and pour into a greased tin lined with greaseproof paper.

Bake for about three-quarters of an hour at 200 degrees or just under. The cake should be slightly undercooked, and should be left to cool and shrink a little in the pan.

When it’s ready to turn out, let it cool completely before icing it. I use three ounces of butter to about eight ounce of icing sugar, and a few teasp of water or freshly squeezed orange juice, and whisk them altogether, adding a bit more liquid if I need it. It’s an incredibly rich cake, and though it’s delicious the first day, I think it improves with keeping -if you can!

Food for Thought

It is harder for us today to feel near to God among the streets and houses of the city than it is for country folk. For them the harvested fields bathed in the autumn mists speak of God and his goodness far more vividly than any human lips.

Albert Schwietzer  1875 – 1965   Humanitarian, medical missionary,  Doctor of Theology, Doctor of Music, Nobel prize-winner and philosopher.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under babies, cookery/recipes, family, food, great days, happiness, life and death, love, philosophy, politics, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Happy Accidents and Meaningful Coincidences

That’s a longer way of saying serendipity and synchronicity – both events being a part of this weekend.

It started rather well, in a delicious new restaurant on Auckland Harbour’s edge, at a birthday party for a very old friend. Gathered together for her seventieth birthday were old school friends, bridesmaids, long-standing friends like me, and of course family and children and grandchildren gathered in from around the globe.

I sat with two other old friends, by the windows which flowed straight out onto the concourse where people dis-embarked from the ferries from the islands and from the harbour crossings, so that we felt part of the stream of this life too.

As I was telling the girls (a euphemism) about an amazing story of a springer spaniel who roamed Dartmoor with a bottle of milk in his mouth to feed the various orphaned lambs, another ferry docked. Pictures of this mothering spaniel showed her as a brown and white one. And as I described her, a couple walked past from the ferry, being towed along by a brown and white springer spaniel, a breed rarely seen here!

Well, one synchronicity down! The friend I was talking to always says you’re on track when synchronicities happen in your life, so I felt a great sense of well-being at this little flag from the universe, telling me, I assumed, that I’d got it all together for the moment, at any rate…

Serendipity, the happy accident next day wasn’t quite an accident, but an unexpected joy. My busy busy daughter rang to say they were coming up to do some housekeeping on their holiday house next door, and they’d come and have dinner with us. I had no fatted calf to kill, but a deep frozen organic corn fed chicken to defrost seemed a good substitute.

More serendipity, she came over and spent the afternoon with me too. Our conversations are a series of interruptions: “did you see ‘ – yes, but what did you think he? – well, he should have – yes, but when he – I suppose so, but she shouldn’t have- well, wouldn’t you – true. What about? Yes, I thought so too -you should have heard – really, did he refuse – no, when he offered – he didn’t! I thought – I know, so did I….”

Neither my husband, or her husband, have any idea what we’re talking about, but we know exactly. The only confusion was at the dinner table when she referred to “her ex,” and I thought she meant the long ago ex-husband of a friend, whereas she was referring to a recent ex-boyfriend. That snafoo ironed out, we were off again.

Apart from nattering, we played around on Trademe, and I ended up thinking it would be worthwhile getting rid of my ancient and uncomfortable ladder back dining chairs, and exchanging them for some comfortable modern ladder back chairs. That decided, we began to mull over the attractive dining table that came with them, and with a bit of prodding from her like: “well, I’d want my room to work, rather than look charming”, I decided to sell the elegant round table in the window, move my present dining table there to use as a desk, and paint the incoming dining table white to match everything else.

We clicked the Buy Now button, and now I’m shuddering at the huge upheaval of moving every stick of furniture and every piece of china, heaps of books, side tables with books and lamps and knick-knacks piled on them, a heavy antique bench and all the chairs, in order to get one table out, and another in!

My husband emerged from his study to find us up to our ears in re-organisation. Refreshed and invigorated! My daughter went off next door to tidy up for dinner, while I basted the chicken and made the cream, garlic and mushroom sauce instead of gravy. Dinner was good, chicken perfectly cooked, the stuffing divine, and minted new potatoes, the first spring asparagus, paired with roasted pumpkin and parsnips, meant that I had two very satisfied men at the table.

Come the pudding, my daughter had said she’d do it, so she arrived with the first strawberries of the season, whipped cream, sweet grapes, and a moist lemon cake from our favourite bakery – the only cake, we both agree, that we’d ever buy.

And then occurred one of those moments that I treasure – complicit laughter with my daughter. The old chap complimented her on the lemon cake, asking if she’d made it, and jokingly she replied yes, thinking he’d know she hadn’t. But his response showed us he believed her. Eugenie and I then went into over-drive at his expense.

We gave them clues, but they didn’t catch on. I said conversationally to her that I always found that the base of cardboard and silver paper made a difference to the texture when baking, to which she added her own refinement, while we laughed ourselves silly, developing the theme to heights of ridiculous nonsense , and the hapless men had no idea what was so funny. Trivial, silly, but oh the joy of laughing with the ones you love.

Serendipity indeed, and I still feel warm with it a day later as I tell you this. So a happy week to you all, too. Musical tables begins three days from now, when the carrier has fitted them into his schedule. Think of me with compassion.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The stuffing for the chicken is easy but delicious, quite unlike those awful packets and the sort in basted chickens from the supermarket. It doesn’t go into a hard ball, but is moist and melting.

It must be good quality bread. I always use stale sour dough bread, but a friend made a lovely stuffing once with very grainy whole meal bread and apricots. But I love the classic sage and onion.

So grate two to three cups of stale sour dough into a bowl. Chop very finely and fry a large onion.  Chop half a dozen mushrooms finely, and add to the  onion when it’s nearly cooked, plus a big knob of butter. Meanwhile chop a handful of fresh sage leaves and plenty of fresh parsley. I also add a generous sprinkling of dried sage, to give it a bit of extra kick. Add salt and pepper and enough cold water to make it moist enough to push inside the chicken cavity. And that’s it.

Food for Thought

A loving person lives in a loving world. A hostile person lives in a hostile world. Everyone you meet is your mirror.

Ken Keyes Jr  1921 – 1995  Personal growth author and lecturer

 

 

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Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, family, food, great days, humour, life/style, love, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life

Happiness is Our Birthright

I was sitting in my favourite coffee place perversely enjoying a cup of hot chocolate when a young man walked in, carrying his year old baby girl.

As he waited in the queue I saw him drop a kiss on the baby’s head, and I thought to myself, she’s going to be alright. I’d just finished writing a story for a parenting magazine, about bringing up emotionally stable children. I’d turned it round to write a headline, happy children become stable and intelligent people.

Because it’s easy for parents to think they have to be perfect, I made the point that it’s loving parents who take the time to listen and to remember the golden rule about doing to others as you wish to be done to you, who make the difference…

We all want to be comforted when we’re miserable, to be heard when we say something, to enjoy the company of those we love, to have enough to eat and drink and get enough sleep – which is exactly what babies need – they are people too!

But the really important thing for people to know is that cuddling is the answer to all the ills of mankind! Modern research has shown that when babies are happy, talked, too, sung too, cuddled, included, 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 concerned with regulating emotions. The simple things that loving parents do with their babies, help them to become a considerate, loving and confident people from the very beginning.

This nourishment for the emotional centres of the growing brains makes children feel secure and happy, and means they tend to be more independent, confident, more resilient, empathetic and caring. Children 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 in-appropriate behaviours 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.

This is other side of the coin – the research which has shown what most mothers instinctively know, that it’s bad for babies to be left to cry. Imagine being tiny and helpless, unable to move or speak, with crying our only way to get attention when we’re hungry, frightened, lonely or whatever, and we can begin to imagine the panic and powerlessness of a baby left to cry. And if we knew that the person we relied on was there, but ignoring us, we’d feel even more abandoned and hopeless. We’d learn that we can’t trust the people we love and need.

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.

Psychologists 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.

All of which means: cuddling is good for babes, crying is bad for them – and the same applies to us all. If you’ve ever cried yourself to sleep from misery, and felt that awful depression when you wake up un-refreshed, you’ll know how it is for far too many babies – simply because their mothers don’t know.

If we saw a ten year old sitting and crying while we were chatting and having coffee, we’d ask her what the matter was. But if it’s a baby crying, too often we simply ignore him. So I make it my life’s work to admire people’s babies in the supermarket or elsewhere, and then say, you know the more you cuddle him, the happier and the cleverer he’ll be, and if they’re interested, explain. Often young mothers react with huge relief, as though they’ve been given permission to cuddle as much as they want. (They may also say what a boring old bat, when I’ve gone!)

Maybe we could change the world if we all cuddled our babies, and rushed to comfort a crying one. No more sad and miserable children getting punished for behaviour they don’t understand and then growing into depressed or angry adults, taking it out on the world which felt so harsh to them when they were babies. And we could probably all do with lots more hormones of loving connection ourselves, too.

And then maybe when we all have enough of them, Love will at last prevail.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Out for lunch today, so we just needed a light supper. Leeks are still cheap and plentiful, so leeks it was tonight. Take enough leeks for two – they vary in size so much, that it’s easier to estimate your own. Butter an ovenproof dish, split the leeks lengthways and lay them in the dish. Stir 300 grammes of freshly grated Parmesan cheese into 400 mls of thick cream. Pour this over the leeks and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for twenty minutes until the leeks are cooked and the cream is bubbling.

Meanwhile hard- boil an egg per person and chop them up. Scatter the eggs over the leeks, and cover with more grated parmesan. Put the dish back in the oven for about five  minutes until the cheese has melted, and then give it a quick grill to brown the top.

Serve with crusty bread and some salad.

 

Food for Thought

I am as young as the most beautiful wish in my heart, and as old as the unfulfilled longings in my life.                   Saying of the pygmy Kalahari Desert Bushmen

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Filed under babies, cookery/recipes, environment, family, food, life/style, love, philosophy, Thoughts on writing and life

Buying a New Car

My daughter has finally winkled me out of my ancient and large white car with the bribe of going halves on a new one. An irresistible offer! A nippy little silver job, easy to park, and flies like the swift it’s named after.

But first, there was the old car to dispose of. Cleaning it out was a bit like moving house. The glove box obviously, was a mess – old sunglasses, handbook, old warrant of fitness bills, old maps – out of date – and a heavy choke chain and lead for a big dog. The middle shelves gave up a hoard of tooth picks- the wooden sort and the plastic brushes with a plastic lid – peppermints, a box of matches, a pen, some packets of almonds for hungry emergencies, loose change for wind-screen washers at traffic lights, a couple of elastoplasts, a defunct key-ring and a lipstick. The compartment in the door had to be cleared of tissues – clean- a bottle of Yardley’s lavender water, peppermint wrappers and a small choke chain and small dog lead.

The back seat was divested of rug, a basket containing a bottle of water, a pair of gloves, a nearly empty bottle of Chanel No 5, and some empty egg boxes for re-cycling. The pocket in the back seat had another out- of- date book of maps and some dog biscuits. On the floor were a couple of shopping bags, and a large Tupperware box to be returned to a friend in the city when I was going her way. In the back window, two purple umbrellas, purple because they had a loop handle to go over the arm, and also dozens of spines instead of the usual five or six, to stop them blowing inside out. Purple because that was the only colour they had!

In the boot, a big towel for wiping wet rescued dogs, a child’s plastic beach bucket and a big bottle of water for thirsty dogs, a walking stick in case my husband forgets his, a picture and frame to be taken to have the glass repaired when I find a good picture framer, a bag of books to take to a hospice shop, and another bag with some of my own books as – just occasionally – people I meet ask to buy one.

I’ve got so much gear for dogs because if there is a lost dog within a hundred miles of me, it will eventually cross my path. In the past I’ve had a springer spaniel found in a forest, two over-sized muddy mongrels escaped from home, a lost retriever found on the road late at night, and stowed in the garage with a message left on the draining board for my husband – ‘Warning. Large dog in garage’. I’ve found a labrador puppy, whose teeth marks still deface the arm-rest in the front, and a Staffordshire bull terrier who leant gratefully against the back seat, knowing he was now safe; there was a huge shaggy German shepherd, and a little dog who I lured into the car by giving him my husband’s steak for dinner, and throwing a blanket over him as he ate. He turned out to be a well known local tramp, accurately named Scruffy. Then there were the sealyham and the scottie wandering down a country road late at night, two retriever puppies stranded on a busy city roundabout… and a litter of sheepdog puppies gambolling down another country road on a summer’s night on our way out to dinner…and these are just the ones I remember!

The now empty car needed a good vacuuming, getting pine cone crumbs off the back seat, when I couldn’t get mesh bags of them into the boot because I’d forgotten to empty it of some boxes my daughter had asked me to put in her garage, the odd mouldy chicken nugget retrieved from under the seat, the fossilised relic of a grandchild’s snack, and the general mess from carting bags of compost, potting mix, bark, plants and the rest.

I took the old car to a car wash and gave it the works, and then drove it to my daughter’s where the new car awaited me. By now I was beginning to feel a bit weepy, as though I was abandoning a beloved friend. It had carried me faithfully for over eleven years, done thousands of miles especially when I was doing a six hundred mile round trip once a week to see my grand-children. It had never let me down, and in turn I faithfully oiled and watered and serviced it. I thanked it each time it passed its six months warrant check, and felt grateful for its loyalty, reliability and dogged service.

I’ve laughed in it, and prayed in it, sung in it, meditated in it, cried in it, enjoyed friends in it, and carried my grandchildren in it- even my grand-daughter’s dollies propped up in the back seat when she wanted them to have some fresh air. I look back on moments like the one when the fourteen year old was asleep on the back seat, after we’d had a long adventurous day out together. As we returned to civilisation and approached the harbour bridge, I called out to him to sit up and put his seat belt on. “I’m too tired, Grannie”, he murmured from the depths of the seat. ” Well, I could be caught and fined by the traffic police you know”, I replied. “No, you won’t Grannie,” he answered, “they’ll just think you’re a dear old grannie, and let you off!”

And another child at four years old, sitting in the front seat going home after the weekend, looking wizened and sad in the middle of an asthma attack. He asked a question, and after I’d given him the answer, he looked grumpily at me with his big brown eyes, and said; “How come you know everything Grannie?”  I gulped, and then came up with the answer: “Because I’m so old”. This seemed to satisfy him!

So this car, a heap of metal, was much more than that to me. I loved it and it held so many memories. Martin Buber, the great Jewish teacher once wrote that: ’no encounter with a being or a thing lacks a hidden significance’. He said that: ’the people we live with or meet with, the animals that help us with our farmwork, the soil we till, the material we shape, the tools we use, they all contain a mysterious spiritual substance which depends on us for helping it towards its pure form, its perfection’. Recognising the part that this big heap of metal had played in my life – this old car which seemed to have its own personality –  and remembering Martin Buber’s words, made me feel less foolish at being so upset at saying goodbye to it.

I just hope its next owner loves it too.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The lemon chutney I made the other day is wonderful with cheese or cold meat, and also makes a lovely gift. At this time of year in New Zealand the trees are laden with citrus fruits, and it’s a particularly good year for lemons.

You need seven or eight  lemons –  the thin skinned sort. Cut them in eight wedges and pick out the pips. Put them in a bowl and sprinkle the lemon flesh with one and a half tablespoons of salt, and leave for two days. Put it all in a blender with 500grammes of raisins and four cloves of garlic, and blitz.  Tip the mixture into a large saucepan with two teaspoons of horseradish sauce, one teaspoon chilli powder, a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger, a cup and a half of cider, and 500grammes of brown sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer gently without a lid until thick. Pour into clean hot jars and seal. Yum!

Food for Thought

If it is to be, it is up to me.       Advice for life to his boys, by an anonymous English headmaster.

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Filed under animals/pets, cars, cookery/recipes, family, food, great days, humour, life/style, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life

Another Milestone

I’m not sure if I could choose, which is more satisfying- going to the henhouse to check for new laid eggs in the morning, or going to switch on my computer as soon as I’ve had my morning tea in bed, to check for new laid ‘likes ‘and comments.  (Not that I have hens these days)

When I wrote a roundup of my first month of blogging, I hadn’t begun to get beyond the frontiers of this new world I’m venturing into. Four weeks ago, all I knew was doing the writing, and seeing numbers and places and countries popping up on the charts in the morning. But now I’m beginning to get to know some of the inhabitants of this fascinating new world. I’m told that there are 156 million blogs!

And I’m always amazed that any of them make contact with me. For a start, I’m so technologically incompetent, that I haven’t worked out how to find other blogs, and I have no idea how people find mine. So it’s  a bit like someone hobbling along on one leg, I’ve had to try to find other people’s blogs by clicking on the bloggers on the sites that have contacted me. Sometimes I can find their sites, other times I’m baffled by comments like ‘This URL is illegal’ – I’m hoping to discover what my URL is one day.

Whenever I try to obey the instructions in order to make a comment, and type in the name that seems logical to me, it turns out to be verboten, and I get another stern slap over the wrist from the distant all-seeing Great God of Technology – “This name is not yours”. I cower and switch off in panic, hoping the God doesn’t know what my real name is – but if he does, I wish he’d tell me! I don’t know what a widget is, and I don’t know how to do all sorts of things that appear on my charts… my computer is basically a bully and refuses to divulge who my followers are. It lets me click on everything else but won’t let me see the one thing I’m longing to see. It just keeps repeating:  ‘error on the page’. So I’ll have to drive for half an hour into town with the lap-top, to have a session with the computer repair man.

I realise that experts reading this – if they can bear to get this far- are probably steaming with frustration at the amateurish ignorance of this age-challenged blogger – but que sera sera…

BUT, the big but, has been the unexpected fun and enjoyment of contacting other people out there. Wonderful people, like the man who’s given me the lowdown on wind farms, the mountaineer who shared glorious photos of Canadian mountains in  the pink light of dawn, the aunt raising money for her handicapped nephew and writing warm witty posts about the journey, the man setting sail for a new life in Sweden, the Russian historian, the wonderful Indian gourmet-cook, the men and women who care about grammar and punctuation and writing and literature,  and communicate their passion with wit and kindness. I’ve followed the couple in their travelling home, and seen their photographs of the battlefield at Gettyburg – the turning point of the American Civil War – and also envied them their freshly caught lunch by a Canadian lake. I’ve read about the site of the Battle of Naseby, the pivot of the English Civil War.

I’ve read about the plight of Chinese farmers – what a terrible life – and caught up on historical moments like the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and the day of the first landing on the moon. I’ve read some wonderful cookery columns, not just your elegant recipes, but lovely witty discussions about food, which is the real fun; and I’ve read and shared with friends the spiritual poetry of a man in Manipur, a place which I’d never even heard of before. I’ve enjoyed reading about the books that other bloggers have read, the funny encounters in an American supermarket, and the afternoon shopping in a little English town.

Above all, I’ve been enchanted by bloggers’ etiquette – the good manners, the acknowledgement of any comment or communication, the friendliness, the courtesy and the kindness of bloggers. They support each other, they click the ‘like’ button, they write friendly comments and they share their points of view with no aggro, just humour and patience. They ‘follow’ and they encourage. There’s no criticism or sniping, it’s a world of open mindedness and tolerance. Everyone’s point of view is accepted, and the amazing thing is, that so far everyone I’ve discovered, has written such sane and sensible, wise and informative viewpoints. What a world we would live in if everyone behaved like bloggers!

So now I’m proud to tell my friends that I have a new career as a blogger – I like the sound of it… it reminds me of old English bodgers, who went into the forest every day to chop and turn chair legs and stretchers. They were craftsmen who worked alone. I like to think that I too am a craftsman, working alone in my distant little fishing village in the Antipodes.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Several readers were so taken with the idea of enjoying greed, that I thought I’d share the ultimate in greed. Having nothing but pudding for lunch! When my children were home in the holidays we always had fun, and on this day we agreed that I’d bake them a Bombe Alaska so they knew just how delicious it was. And because it was so much effort we all agreed – three of us – that that would be all we’d eat for lunch.

Step one was to switch on the oven to heat up to really hot, and lay the kitchen table. We cut the base of a sponge cake to fit a baking tray, and soaked it in brandy. Then we piled on the fruit salad. Using some good vanilla ice-cream we covered   the fruit salad with great gobs of it, and when the fruit salad was completely covered in a thick layer of ice-cream, we put it in the deep freeze.

 For the meringue we needed four egg whites and two tablespoons of castor sugar for each egg white – eight tablespoons. This was whipped until the egg-whites stood in peaks and then the sugar added in three lots, beating till stiff each time. Once the meringue was ready, out came the base from the freezer, the meringue was smeared all over the ice-cream, and then the white tower went into the hot oven for three or four minutes until the meringue was browned.

The children were waiting expectantly at the table, each accompanied by their cavalier King Charles spaniel, and Sheba the afghan sitting underneath the table, when out came the glorious confection of sponge, brandy, fruit and ice cream, and lashings of meringue. There was no point in trying to save any because it wouldn’t keep! Delectable, delicious and disgustingly fattening!

Food for Thought

Walk on a rainbow trail; walk on a trail of song, and all about you will be beauty. There is a way out of every dark mist, over a rainbow trail.            Navajo Song

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Passion in Provence

Just back from seeing The Well-Digger’s Daughter for the second time, but not for the last time!

I see it’s called an art house film… so a film that has no violence or sex pictured in it, seems to be an art house film apparently. Good for art. So I didn’t feel like a voyeur having to watch heaving bottoms, and listen to other people’s orgasms, and I didn’t have to feel like an accomplice watching fighting, stabbings, shooting, and mayhem.

Instead I watched a story of life and death, love and birth, human pain and human greatness. It was set in the magic countryside of Provence, harsh, rocky, grey mountain ridges giving way to long stretches of olive groves, long avenues of ancient poplars, clear pebbly streams with dappled water beneath the branching pale green trees, and empty, dusty white roads. The well-digger’s farm house was the dream of most westerners, a weathered stone house with faded green shutters at each window, stone sinks and arched door-ways inside, pottery jugs and big old- fashioned soup plates for the cassoulet for dinner. Old barns, a stone parapeted well, and views over empty country-side completed the dream. Long shadows lay across green meadows, and grasses swayed in the evening breezes.

 It was that time before telephones, so children ran errands, and felt useful, people wrote letters which were kept and treasured, instead of e-mails quickly deleted, everyone walked miles for lack of public transport and was fit and healthy, while children got enough sleep every night without TV or computer games to keep them awake. It was that time before sprays and pesticides, wind farms and traffic fumes, tourists and agribusiness had changed the old ways, the old beauties, the centuries-old peace.

The music – some of it from old twenties and thirties recordings – pulled at the heart strings the way those wistful plangent sounds of old records always do. And the clothes! – old fashioned thirties summer dresses, elegant coats and hats and shoes. A green crocodile pochette that matched a shapely green coat… a clotted cream coloured cardigan edged with wine dark ribbon, matching the thin maroon stripe in the girl’s cream dress… the scalloped collar on a simple black dress, embroidered round the edge of the scallops in dull red and green.

But these were the delicious details. The people were the story -the well digger- implacable and generous, warm hearted and narrow minded, honest and angry all at the same time; the other father, weary, hen-pecked, dignified and distant; the possessive, petulant mother; the spoiled only son; the well-digger’s troubled, tragic daughter. The emotions of love and lust, anger and unrequited devotion, shame and guilt, grief and joy, swirled round these people as the Second World War broke out. And the birth of an unwanted baby brought together all these warring people and humbled their pride, softened their grief, opened their hearts, melted their anger, dissolved their arrogance and dispelled their petulance. 

There were some lovely lines. The rejected lover, prepared to marry the girl he loved, who was carrying another man’s child, is told by her angry, bitter father: “Felipe, you have no honour”, to which Felipe replies, “I have no honour, but I have plenty of love”. (How much pain and grief men’s honour has brought to women, and still does, as we read of so-called honour killings, and women strangled, stoned and even shot by machine gun, so as not to diminish this strange concept of murderous egotism, false pride, and cruelty wrongly named honour.)

When the possessive grandfather tries to claim authority over the baby, his new son-in law says, “He doesn’t belong to you. You belong to him.” And the other grandfather replies, “That’s right, the old can only serve the young”, like all grandparents, putty in the hands of his grandchild.

No doubt everyone who sees this film will understand it differently, depending on their age. But as a grandparent, it reminded me of the days when my grandchildren were small, and I discovered for the first time the bliss of giving unconditional love. The sort of love which accepts the loved one as a perfect and beautiful soul, knowing that all the foibles and  problems that parents see, don’t really exist; the sort of love that  knows with perfect certainty that their grand-children will grow up to be strong and good even if they don’t eat all their vegetables!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Padding is what families need in cold weather, and these two puddings fill the bill. They are hot plain puddings, but also delicious, and old-fashioned puddings are becoming fashionable again. They both need sultanas, washed and then soaked in boiling water to plump them up and make them juicy.

The first, batter pudding, needs the same ingredients as Yorkshire pudding, eight ounces of self raising flour, two eggs, and enough milk and a little water to mix to a pouring batter, plus a pinch of salt. Beat the eggs into the flour and salt, and add the liquid gradually. Leave in the fridge for half an hour. Heat a baking pan with a knob of fat until smoking, and pour in the batter, which you’ve just beaten again. Add the drained sultanas, and bake in a hot oven for an hour, or until risen and cooked. Serve immediately with knobs of butter and brown sugar sprinkled over. A hot and homely pudding.

Bread and butter pudding is the same. You need six slices of good bread – not white supermarket pap. Slice them, butter them and cut them into squares or triangles. Arrange them in a two pint pie dish. Sprinkle over the drained sultanas, and then beat three eggs with three to four ounces of sugar. Add the milk, and pour it over the bread. The pie dish should only be half full. Leave to soak for at least half an hour, before baking in a moderate oven (about 350degrees) for about an hour, or until the custard is set. Eat hot.

Food for Thought

Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity we shall harness the energies of love. Then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.

Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, 1881 – 1955.  Jesuit, philosopher, eminent palaeontologist and mystic, who was banned from teaching, preaching and writing by the Catholic church, his books denied publication, and his most important book, ‘The Phenomenon of Man’ only published after his death. He is still persona non grata with the church fifty three years after his death.

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