Sunday, 28 December 2008

It's reflection/resolution time again!

I've just had a look at what I wrote about resolutions and reflection last year. It was interesting. I had resolved to find out what to do about my blood pressure and how to lower it. Somewhat ironic, I suppose, since this year I ended up with elevated cholesterol and diabetes as well! So, just to recap, I'm recovering from cancer, I have slightly elevated blood pressure and cholesterol and, in September, I found out I was diabetic. On the plus side, my cholesterol is only .1 above normal, my blood sugar level is now under control and I have lost 11 kg since October.

Right, so my new resolution is to find out how to lower my blood pressure and how to keep all my other health issues under control. Let's hope that there aren't any more! I am resolved to keep eating properly (how does one define that!) and to exercise as much and more than I do already. I am also resolved (since I'm now a department head) to work hard at not getting stressed out at work!

Moving on from work and health, I am also resolved to continue to write. I had a look at what I had written about that and I have managed to do some of what I intended to do. I have started the book Emma and I were planning together. I have started to re-write my murder mystery and I have also started two other stories. Not bad but I still haven't finished anything! That is my resolution for this year. To finish some of these!

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Finally pictures of the kittens!

Finally I have some pictures of the kittens, who are fast becoming cats! On the left is Molly and on the right, Finnigan. We called the female Molly because at first she looked so small and fragile. Of course she has turned out to be quite the opposite. In fact, she has this rather strange way of climbing the wall and then doing a back flip, rather like Donald O'Connor in Singing in the Rain. Should we change her name to O'Connor? Time will tell.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

An interesting article

Though I haven't lived in Syria for years, we still have friends there, as do Naomi and Emma so I tend to pay attention to anything that comes my way about that country. To the right, is a link to an article from the Times about the wife of the president of Syria. She was brought up in the UK and has worked in international banking. By the sounds of it, she has shaken things up a bit there. There is more to that country than the American propaganda machine would have us believe! And considering the world we live in, it's important to have more than a one dimensional view of others.

Friday, 19 December 2008

We wish you a happy holiday!

Ah yes! We wish you a happy holiday in fear of offending you by mentioning Christmas! Yes, this is what happened and how pathetic that the teacher should have felt that she had to do that. Is it the anti-Christian climate at our school? I don't know but certainly many of us feel that it is alright to talk about any religious holiday as long as it is not Christian. The majority of our parents are Christian, and those who aren't offended.

Well, in the staff room there was an oasis of Christmas, complete with Christmas scene, Christmas music, Christmas goodies and a nativity scene. It was fun and frivolity for most of the day and many a Christmas greeting and card were exchanged.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The last day of school and where is Christmas?

Tomorrow is the last day of school before the holidays and there has been very little sign at school of the season. Alas! Anyone who read about last Christmas at my school will remember how trees and decorations popped up all over the campus. We had trees and decorations contributed by Harrod's in London. What fun it was and how festive we were. However, the head of school demanded that everything be disposed of the moment we all went off on holiday. Bah humbug!

On Wednesday, I put up my old Christmas tree (artificial of course) in the main staff room and put a sign on it, saying 'Decorate me!" I also put a box of decorations there since nothing may have happened otherwise. By 8:30 it was completely decorated and people had brought other decorations into the room. This morning more lights appeared and a CD player with a Christmas CD. I also sent out an email suggesting that we have goodies in the staff room on Friday and offered to bring orange juice and mince tarts. I wonder what will happen. I have high hopes since, at the last moment, the Christmas spirit seems to have make a recovery. The only dark cloud on the horizon is the junior choir, who will be singing 'We wish you a Merry Christmas' at the school assembly tomorrow without the word 'Christmas' in it. I'll report back on what that's like tomorrow.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The other stuff taken in hand.

It came to me the other evening that if I am paid £75 after taxes to be department head, and if I cost the value of my time at a minimum of £20 per hour, I should only be working for just under 4 hours per month. I've decided to throw in a little time for free and I will work 4 hours a month. That works out to one hour per week. I've already gone beyond the hour this week but I did just make the decision. I have also decided that I will not attend meetings that I am not directly involved with. The participants can send me minutes if they think that it's that important for me to know (though probably I will trash them). I am also going to encourage people to take responsibility for various aspects of their own work lives. When they ask me to decide about something, I'm going to say, "I think you can make that decision."

Monday, 8 December 2008

Christmas and other stuff!

I haven't made the banana chocolate breakfast bars yet but I think they might be a good Christmas gift. I haven't done much in the way of preparation for Christmas yet but I think that I will try and simplify things. Christmas dinner will consist of lots of ready prepared Marks and Spencer food. I've also ordered a turkey breast rolled, from the butcher. It should be a lot easier to cook than a full sized turkey and not take up as much space. I've done some Christmas cards but many may not make it there till afterwards. I don't think that I'll worry about that. I have the present situation under control. I think. Alas, I should have started sooner.

I have had the most stressful day today of this entire school year. I don't want to go through this again. It all comes from accepting the position of department head. Another 'alas'! This job pays me less than £80 a month extra and is taking up far too much of my time and energy. I haven't written much of anything in ages and am really suffering because of it. So, as of tomorrow I must do something. What, is the question!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Sunday, 30 November 2008

My Diet

And by that, I don't mean that I'm trying to loose weight. I am talking about my new way of eating for health and whatever else. It seems to be going well and I only have the occasional craving for something from my old diet. I'm going to try and put any new recipes I come up with in my other blog. In fact I recently found a recipe for hommus which doesn't use sesame seeds, which would make it less fattening. It uses roasted red peppers. Sounds great. I haven't tried it yet so I would like to hear some feedback.

(more later)

Friday, 28 November 2008

A Crazy Week at School

Yes, it has been a crazy week. One would have thought that things would have quieted down after the accreditation team left but our principals decided that, exhausted as we were, we still had a meeting left in us. I don't mind the occasional meeting if it is carried out efficiently and productively. This one wasn't and why would I have expected it to be so. There were 25 minutes of information at the beginning that could have been given in advance by email. Furthermore, if we had had more details on the other agenda items, we could have shortened the meeting even further. However, no matter what it was a waste of time since it was obvious that no one was listening to our input. Much better then that all of it had been an email and then no one would have been frustrated.

Many of us were ill, students and teachers alike. For the last three days, I have barely taught due to the most terrible of colds. Yesterday, I only had two students in my last period class. I had thought of staying home but if possible I like to keep sick days for stress relief.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Four hour work week

For some the economy is so dire that they will be lucky to work at all during this recession. However, for me The Four Hour Work Week is a rather inspirational book and website. The idea behind both is to do what it is you want to (which of course might be continuing to do what you are doing but if not...) and to have the income to allow you to do it. What I find particularly interesting are the author's ideas for streamlining your work life. So, for me, it has meant reducing the number of times I check my emails for a start. Each time you check email, it takes almost a minute to get back on track to what you were doing beforehand. Now I check twice a day and have an automated message that lets people know and encourages them to phone if their is an emergency.

I have also started to re-evaluate the role I have recently taken on, as department head for Modern Language at my school. (It is somewhat ironic that I found the website and book because of my interest in finding a more efficient way of teaching and/or learning a language.) I am now going to out source jobs to other members of the department, which should be theirs anyway. At my school, the administration always looks to the department head to make sure that everyone does their appointed task. I don't get paid enough to do this. If they don't do it they can explain that to the admin team. I've also decided that all meetings will be 20 minutes long. I will send the relevant information and I will just take questions at the meeting. All 'other business' must be submitted in advance or it will not discuss it. I probably won't be able to keep to 20 minutes but I will! I don't know how long I will last at this job but for the moment someone has to do it and no one else is up to it. And some could be quite dangerous.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

On being a grand-mother.

I really can't write all that much about the practicalities of being a grand-mother yet. I suppose the role is still to evolve. However, I can examine how I am feeling about the new role. I'm not sure. I'm so excited for Naomi and James. I'm in awe of the amazing job Naomi did in carrying through with her home, birthing pool delivery. Imagine having a baby who is over 11 pounds and being able to go through that without major pain killers and with little tearing. Naomi is amazing but so were the mid-wives by the sound of it and it is probably due to their expertise that all turned out so well. Noah is beautiful as are all babies to their family (but really, he is beautiful!). And that's where I am at the moment.

Emma has decided that I should be called Moogie, a nickname she gave me a few years ago. (A prize to those who know the origin...and no that doesn't include you, Mary Jane!) Cliff likes 'pops'. I think Andy Hardy (another prize for anyone who remembers who that is) used to call his father that, but the name also has an honorable television and film history. So, we have new names, an evolving role and lots of photographs. Life goes on in Surrey as it did before but the birth has thrown another element into the question of where do I go from here.

Monday, 17 November 2008

A new Member of the Family!

Here are the first photographs of the new addition to our family:

Four generations! GB (my mother), me, Naomi and Noah Thomas!
Naomi, Noah and I!
Cliff and Noah.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Waiting for a baby to appear

Naomi went off to see the midwife yesterday (she is one week overdue) and was told that she is at 1cm. Not much yet but they did some sort of procedure, described as tickling the uterus. Naomi assured me that it was nothing like tickling! In 80% of cases this usually starts labour off but as my mother pointed out, how many would have started anyway. We shall see! Cliff, Emma and I are off to Swansea on Saturday, hoping that there will be a baby to see but if not, I'm sure that Naomi will appreciate the distraction! I have bought 200 daffodil and tulip bulbs and will spend part of Saturday afternoon planting them in the front garden.

For those who are waiting with bated with breath for me to write more about the books I read during the retreat. Sorry but I've been so busy with reports and much nonsense at school that I don't have the energy, mental that is, to think about them. That has to change since by blood sugar is fluctuating despite the fact that I'm eating basically the same things. I thought I would do this as en experiment to see the environmental factor as well as the food factors involved in this situation. I'm sure I don't have enough data yet but I think I am seeing a trend. Well, that's all for now. More news should a baby appear!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Well, and now back to the books!

As I was saying a few posts ago, I came across two books during my week off, one called Finding Sanctuary and the other, the Four Hour Work Week. I said that there were similarities between them which might seem odd since one is about monastic steps for everyday life, and the other about escaping the 9-5 world. However, both have in common a philosophy for simplifying our lifestyles in order to decrease stress and get greater satisfaction from our lives.

When Cliff and I first went to Othona it was to get away from it all with a vague nod to spirituality. We were both very stressed out. It was very easy to blame it on our jobs and the lifestyle here in southern England but in Finding Sanctuary, Abbot Jamison asks the question, 'Why have you allowed yourself to get into this state.' It's very easy to dismiss that question. How could it be me? I don't want to live like this. Then again, I do and did have choices and I can find another way to live and yes, I suppose after much denial, I have to admit that I got in this mess all by myself!

(To be continued!)

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Three Cheers

Three cheers! Tonight, I finally hit 4.3 on my blood sugar level. Nothing else to say really. I do intend to write more about the two books that I read over my break. I'll also write about my two new cats!

Friday, 31 October 2008

Two Books that have prompted me to changes

I suppose that it is rare that a book changes your life. It is more likely that you were ready for the change and the book just gave you a little push. In the last two weeks, I have had two pushes from books I have read. In a way the two books are similar. The first I discovered at Othona during our 5 day visit this week. I was in the library trying to avoid writing, when my attention was caught by Finding Sanctuary: monastic steps for everyday life by Abbot Christopher Jamison. A few years ago there was TV series in the UK which followed 5 men who entered Worth Abbey for 40 days and 40 nights of living the monastic life. I never watched it but I heard good things about it and I have always been interested to know more. Worth Abbey is Benedictine and about three years ago I followed a bible study book about the rule of St. Benedict. So, I imagine that I was predisposed to be interested in this book. I won't go into the details today of how it affected me but I will say that it has given me pause to reflect on the stresses of life and how to obtain real sanctuary from them.
The second book is called 'The Four Hour Work Week' by Timothy Ferriss. If you had the chance to look at the YouTube video of the interview with a banker (from the Southbank Show) in a previous post, you might also have followed the link to the blog where I found it. Timothy Ferriss is the author of this blog which I initially looked at because he had some interesting things to say about learning language. As it turns out, he has interesting things to say about a lot of other subjects as well.
What do these two books have in common for me? Ah well, more of that tomorrow!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

The Credit Crunch

I found a very interesting blog today while looking for information on deconstructing language to help students have a better understanding of how a language works. It's called and on it I discovered this video about the credit crunch. It's interesting that this skit from the Southbank Show should have been recorded over 6 months ago! Funny and worrying at the same time!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

To a baby shower and back

It's heartening to know that in our increasingly anti-child world of the United Kingdom, women continue to gather together to give each other support at one of the most wondrous but equally anxiety creating moments of our lives. I've just come home from Wales where I went to shower for Naomi (our oldest daughter who is about to have a baby). I don't think showers are all that common in this country (or in Wales either) but as with other things North American they are increasing in popularity.

A year ago I might have said that a 'shower' had out lived its origins in the wilderness, pioneer days of the United States and Canada. The west has become so materially wealthy that you might think twice about passing on used baby clothes, equipment or toys. In fact, a friend of mine and his partner had twins about two years ago. When she was given second hand toys, she sent them to Oxfam. In the present economic climate, that might not have happened. People are again seeing the value in sharing, re-using and making do. I don't know whether nor not people will see this as a positive thing or just as a blip in life. However, there will be those who realize the importance of reducing our impact on the world. We don't need to be greedy. Happiness only comes from possessions when our lives are otherwise empty. That doesn't mean that we should live totally without in order to find fulfillment but we can find a sustainable balance.

How off track I have gone from the shower! It was fun to be there with several new mothers, three who might one day become mothers and three who were now grandmothers (or about to I don't know if 'fun' is the right word but it will do for now. We shared food, played a few games (part of the bonding process, I suppose) and talked about having babies through the ages! Naomi now has some tips, which she will probably forget and have to be reminded of later, and some lovely presents. She is also probably beginning to realize that for the next little while, the baby will be the star attraction in her life.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Some things are hard to give up!

I don't eat biscuits anymore. Actually, I didn't eat that many before but it was nice to have one of an evening with a cup of tea! Last night I came home from work and made myself a cup of tea. I was suddenly overcome by the overwhelming desire to have a biscuit. I thought, why not have one? It would just be one and I have been a very good girl! No, stop, I thought, as I started to open the package. You're not even hungry! And think what you'd be putting into your body! Do you really want to do this. Well, actually I did but I also realized that what I missed most about biscuits was their flavour! Perhaps, I thought, you could just smell one of the biscuits and then lick it. Disgusted with myself, I put the package back in the cupboard, took my tea in hand and left that evil place. Sigh!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

42 Days: What can you do in 6 weeks!

In the UK, the government has been trying to bring in a new law that allows the police to hold people up to 42 days without charge. This law is meant to target 'terrorists' but one of the fears is that it could be used in other situations. Furthermore, how easy it would be to say that someone is a terrorist and abuse the legislation. Already Gordon Brown has shown that he is willing to do so, by using a law meant to target terrorists, to seize Icelandic property when one of their banks failed and affected many UK investors.

Philip Pullman, a well-known British writer, wrote a piece in the Guardian yesterday asking why 42 days. Why does it take the police so long to question someone and build a case?

If Mozart can write three symphonies in 42 days, why are the police so slow?

Why 42 days? What they mean is six weeks, of course. Six weeks! Six weeks in prison without being charged! Anything could happen in six weeks. Wars have lasted less than six weeks. In six weeks, Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic and discovered the New World. Six weeks was enough time for Mozart to write three of his greatest symphonies. William Faulkner took six whole weeks to write his novel As I Lay Dying; John le Carré wrote The Spy Who Came In From the Cold in five. In six weeks, on average, each of the 2,710 Liberty ships were built in the United States during the second world war to supplement the Allied merchant fleets. Robert Louis Stevenson took three days to write Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but six weeks to revise and polish it. In six weeks the Wright brothers' mechanic, Charlie Taylor, built from scratch the light and powerful engine that powered their first flight. In one month in 1819 the poet Keats wrote his Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode on Melancholy, and Ode on Indolence.
(by Philip Pullman, Guardian October 14, 2008)

If you would like to read the rest, just follow this link:

Are you as amazed as I am that so much has been accomplished by some people in just 42 days? It makes me wonder what I could do, if I set my mind to it. How much time we obviously waste! Could I finish my novel in the next 6 weeks? I think that I could. Do I want to do whatever it would take to do so? I'm not sure. How interesting though to set a period of time in which to get something done and strive to reach that goal. I'm sure that none of the above set out to take a particular period of time to do what they did. I'm going to have to consider this. I'll get back to you.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

An Update

I thought that perhaps I should let you know what has been happening with me since I last wrote. Last week, I really felt my life getting out of control and Friday the third, I gave myself a good talking to and now things are much better. I have sorted out my diet. Well, at least I think I have! And now that I don't have to take my blood sugar level every day, I'm calmer when things go wrong. Initially, I couldn't get enough blood out of my fingers to test and was pricking myself 4 or 5 times and getting quite panicky. Once the doctor decided that I only had to do it a few times before my next appointment, I found I was able to do the test with less difficulty.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008


I forgot to mention yesterday that I went to the dentist and it was suggested that if I didn't massage my gums more thoroughly with my tooth brush, my teeth would fall out.

I'm considering heading north, finding an ice flow and drifting off into the arctic night.

Well, probably not! It's my birthday this weekend and I'm hoping for great presents (so no pressure family members when you read this). I also have a few books that I want to read and I just bought Michel Thomas's Italian course so unless I take my I-pod with me, the ice flow is out for the time being.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Still annoyed!

Yes, I am still annoyed that my body doesn't seem to be working in my best interests these days. Emma says that at least I don't have cancer again but sometimes that isn't enough. Today I went for my visit to the nurse to learn about my diet changes and how to test my blood sugar. It's easy enough to do and the prick doesn't really hurt but it's that moment just before the prick that I find almost unbearable. You can't help but wonder, 'will this be the time that it does hurt?' I wonder if my blood pressure goes up in that instant? (Ah, blood pressure. Just another of my problems!) It would be difficult for me to check both at the same time so I probably won't find out, and the nurse would think it a bit odd for me to ask such a thing.

So besides having to pee into a bottle tomorrow, take pills morning and night, keep track of my blood sugar level and everything I eat, I'm just fine and dandy. Well, actually, yes I am and I am grateful.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Evie returns

Two years ago when my cancer treatment began, I started to write a murder mystery blog novel. The heroine name was Evie MacIntyre. I wrote about 15,000 words and then stopped. I've always wanted to get back to Evie but in a different format. I think that I may have found a way back into the story. The first person narrative didn't work or I couldn't make it work. I've now come up with a new beginning and I will try and rework what I have. Of course this doesn't mean that I've abandoned the other stories I'm working on. This weekend I'm going to continue on with my garden story (for those who know what I'm talking about). I am on chapter 7 and determined to finish by Christmas.

On another note, I was diagnosed with diabetes this week. I had my cancer check up two weeks ago and the blood tests indicated that I had a very high blood sugar level. I'm on pills now and visit the dietitian next week to discuss diet and to learn how to take my blood sugar level. I'm not looking forward to this but at least I don't have cancer back.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

My Body is falling apart and I'm very annoyed!

My body is falling apart and I'm really annoyed. (I had to repeat that since you need to know just how annoyed I am!) Last Tuesday I went for my six monthly cancer check up. This Tuesday, I know that I don't have any new signs of cancer but I am diabetic. I am very annoyed! I exercise, I eat well, I don't smoke or drink. I have none of the symptoms of diabetes but that doesn't matter. I have extremely high blood sugar level. Tomorrow I'm off to the doctor to find out exactly where we go from here. I suppose that until I hear what he has to say, I should put this out of my mind. I am upset though, and it's not because I might be diabetic. I just feel that my body is letting me down. Actually, it's not that. I feel that it has betrayed me. Silly, of course but there you go!

In the next two weeks, I have to discuss my goals for the year with our new principal. I don't have any problem with this. I have goals. One relates to surviving the new principal's regime intact. Perhaps, I shouldn't share that one with her. Another is to finally finish my novel - well at least one of them! I'm not sure whether that one is for her either. Last year, one of my goals was to try and get the greatest amount of performance related pay for the least amount of work. A few of us shared that goal. In fact, we turned it into a competition. I shouldn't share that with her either. So, what should I have as my public goals?

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Good weather at last!

Good weather has returned to the United Kingdom (well most of it!) for the time being. For a second day I have awoken to the sun streaming through the window. As you probably realized, this is the weekend, since on weekdays I awaken before the sun is up . It was such a surprise yesterday that I almost squandered the day. I found myself so used to doing in door activities that initially I fell into my usual routines. However, good weather is no time to sort out your cupboards or clean the house! I will admit to doing the laundry because no self respecting 'house wife' (and I use that term very loosely!) would pass up a day to dry clothes outside! I went for some short forays into the outside world and then retired to the garden in the afternoon to dig and cut and rake!

Today is equally as beautiful! Michael (Emma's partner) is playing cricket on the green nearby this afternoon and so Cliff and I shall gather up our living room furniture (more about that later!) and spend our afternoon drinking tea, nibbling on sandwiches and drawing on our meagre understanding of the 'laws' of cricket. But who cares whether or not one understands when the weather is beautiful and you are participating in a centuries' old game.

This morning we may go over to Wisley, the RHS garden about 15 miles from here. It is wonderful, and much more than just a garden. I have a membership with the RHS which allows us to go in free and also gives me a subscription to their equally wonderful magazine. When I was having radiotherapy, G.B. and I used to stop there regularly on the way home. It holds a special place in my heart!

Someone asked how I found out about Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. As is often the case with the new writers I discover, I usually read about them in the Guardian or Observer, or hear about them on a Radio 4 programme. Since she is a woman writer, it might have been on Women's Hour. Then again, it could have been on either Front Row, or Open Book. However it was, I highly recommend her. I've just started another of her books, The Priory.

Now to explain the meaning of 'I shall gather up our living room furniture'. Back in July the owners of our house shipped some of their furniture back to the United States. That shipment included everything in our living room. We ordered our new sofa in mid-July and it should arrive within the next two weeks (fingers crossed!). In the meanwhile, we are using two deck chairs and an adirondack chair. It works but I find myself longing for a sofa to lie out on!

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Sorry that it's been so long!

Finally I am back after far too long a time. School is well underway and I'm already thoroughly exhausted. To be expected, I suppose. I have a good group of students and I think that we shall have an interesting journey this year. Some are struggling against the journey and others are obviously looking forward to it. Not much changes from year to year.

If I only had teaching to contend with, school would be wonderful. Unfortunately, our administration has its own little journey planned for us and I'm not sure that it will be as fulfilling an experience as our students may have. More on this as the road map unfurls. (Goodness, am I sounding like the American administration?) I've never been one for maps anyway. I believe in heading in the general direction and enjoying whatever comes my way.

My writing is at a stand still at the moment. I have lost heart, that seems my only explanation. I have the time but not the inclination. It could be that school starting has sapped all my creativity. This weekend, we will finally be on our own with nowhere to go and no one coming to see us. I will sort our my work area and see if I can kick start myself. I think that writing in this blog each day would also help. So, here I go again.

I have discovered a new writer, Winifred Watson. At the moment I'm reading Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, a charming, funny, 1938 novel that has recently been turned into a film. So many books are published each year that many are simply forgotten as the years go by. And who can read all the books that come out. I almost think that publishers should stop publishing for a year so we could spend time rediscovering lost novels, like those of Winifred Watson.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Family Reunions

The weekend just gone was a long weekend (or Bank Holiday weekend as they are called in the U.K.). Cliff and I went up to visit my mother in her new flat in Norfolk. It was the first time since she moved in that we had been there and I must admit that I had been feeling somewhat guilty about it.

The weather was quite good. One always starts off that way in any discussion of activity here. More than likely - especially this summer, and last, alas - it will rain, or look like rain, or begin to rain and stop after a few drops. Everything you think of doing revolves around the weather. Will we be able to drive, have a picnic, or go for a walk? And if not, what will we do instead! In our case, the weather was quite good - meaning that rain threatened and we had a few drops but that was it! If we had planned outside activities we would have been able to do them. But no, it's all starting to come back to me now. It did rain but not enough to spoil anything and so my subconscious has decided that it didn't rain. I went for a walk around the centre of Thetford (my mother's new village/town) and then through a friend's garden. How funny that I didn't remember the rain.

What does this have to do with reunions, you may well ask? My sister was visiting my mother and I hadn't seen her for at least 2 years. Also my niece, Lily, came down from Norwich to see us all and finally on the Sunday, my brother Peter turned up. It wasn't a big reunion, as you can see. However, it was probably a manageable size for us.

More on my mother's flat for anyone who's interested. For many reasons, she has decided to move back to the UK where she had lived in the late 70's and 80's. She seems to be ideally located in Thetford. She lived there for a number of years and still has friends, she is not far from my brother and his family in Norwich and she can get down to us by bus, which takes her into Heathrow. Thetford was not a very pretty town, the last time I spent any time there. However, it has greatly improved over the years. It also has a multicultural feel to it with Portuguese, Polish and Lithuanian shops and restaurants.

For our American friends, Thetford was the birth place of Thomas Payne, the author of the Rights of Man. Apparently, next year is an anniversary, the 200th anniversary of his death. What a funny thing to celebrate! However, I'm sure that Thetford will make something of it and welcome hoards of American tourists.

I haven't really said all that much about family reunions. Mine doesn't have them very often. How about the rest of you? Are they good things? Are families best remembered rather than experienced? I suppose it depends on the family at a particular point in time. I did find mine somewhat insightful. I have discovered that one of my siblings may feel jealous of the others and so calls mum, 'my mum'. I will have to think about that for a while.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Hard getting back into the routine

I'm having a hard time getting back into my old routine. Going back to school is a real killer physically. I feel as if I want to take a nap every few hours and of course I can't do that. I'm sure that I'll get the hang of it sooner or later. I'm also having a problem getting back into writing. I stopped in New York and on the Queen Mary, other than sketching out some ideas. Emma and I worked on our joint novel and got the basic plot line down along with the major characters. However, my novel (6 chapters already written) didn't progress at all. In part the problem is a dearth of ideas for the second half. I know how it ends but not how I get there. Whenever I stop writing for a while, the same thing happens. I dry up. the more I write the more ideas I have and the more I can write so obviously I just have to start writing again, no matter what it is. I'll try to get back to 1000 words a day. When I write at that level I seem to be at most productive and creative. Now to find the time when I'm not tired!

Monday, 18 August 2008

Monday morning

This will be the first week of our school year. The students don't start until Thursday and it will be interesting to see how many families have come back from holidays so early. I am looking forward to my classes starting. However, I'm not as certain that the out of class life of our secondary school will be as satisfying.

I must admit to being a bit off kilter since coming back from the states. I can't settle to anything and feel depressed because I'm not getting anywhere with anything. It's just a matter of starting, I suppose. I haven't written anything since before the trip! This is not good for me. Tonight, I'll start back!

Friday, 15 August 2008

I'm back

It's been a long time since I last wrote here. I was off in Dorset at the end of July and then from August 3rd till August 12 Emma and I were first in New York and then on the Queen Mary 2 sailing back to Southampton. I might have felt badly about spending most of my time away from Egham if it hadn't been for the dodgy weather this summer. It seems to have been good weather for the garden, if not for people on holiday. I'm still trying to sort out in my mind what to write about my comings and goings so I will write more about them later.

I started back to work on Wednesday. Our high school principal for the last three years has stepped down and for the last three days we have had an introduction to our new one. So far, it is neither a happy introduction, nor a very comfortable fit. It will interesting to see who survives and in what condition!

Monday, 21 July 2008

Am I an ostrich?

Sunday, I was reading the Observer, when I discovered myself shuddering at the title of an article and quickly moving on to another, less disturbing one. I skipped right over the disappearance of honey bees and onto something which I don't even remember now. However, the bees are haunting me. I know that I should read about them but I'm worried about what I'll find. More importantly, I know that I will end up feeling even more impotent than I do now. I can't do anything about their disappearance so should I let it prey on my mind nonetheless? Perhaps, if I knew the facts, I could spread the word to others who might be able to help. The paper is sitting in the corner of the room and will go into my recycling box tomorrow. It keeps niggling at me.

So, what do we do about all the information we receive from various media. I have taken to listening to World Service news before I get up to find out what is happening in the world. Then I either ignore TV and radio or watch a video. Thus, I find that I'm much happier going into the day, not knowing about the nose dive of the economy or any other particularly depressing revelation about society in general. Is this a cop out? Should I take my head out of the ground or does a sensible restriction of input from media help to keep me on an even keel. something to contemplate as I work in my garden today.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Back from a very nice place

When I say that I'm back from a very nice place, I mean both in a physical sense and an emotional and spiritual one. Cliff and I went to Othona for a week's break immediately after school finished. What a great way to come down form the stress of the last term of school, and most especially the last three weeks. For me, the time there has allowed me to recharge my batteries and to find my direction for the next month or so (and perhaps longer!).

I managed some time on my writing as well. As there was no Internet connection (except in a small corner of the quiet room) all of my writing was focused on my novel. I started by rereading the first 5 and a half chapters. I hadn't worked on the novel for about three weeks and so I had lost track of the characters. I wrote the rest of the chapter 5 and I'm into chapter 6. Now I'm started again, I must make sure that I keep up the momentum because I would like to finish my first draft by the end of my holidays.

I had forgotten what it was like to be somewhere where there is very little noise. For the majority of the time, you couldn't hear the traffic from the road, there were no radios, television sets or CD players available except for special occasions, though we could have had a radio or CD player in our room if we had wanted to. The house was often completely silent. When there was noise, it was often the sound of voices involved in talk or discussion. There were also some who sang. I have come to realize how important silence (or an environment with less noise) is. Often times, I leave the radio or television on to have some noise in the background. I wonder why I do that when I feel so much better without it. I suppose it's a habit, one I would like to break.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Gardening in a small area

I'm not sure how small my front garden is but it is quite small. Unfortunately, it is the only area on my lot that gets lots of sunshine. That makes it the only place to grow vegetables in the summer. At some point before we moved here, someone graveled the entire area and so it it just easily to garden in pots. It does present certain problems, one being that the pots can dry out quite quickly. This summer that could make things difficult because we are going to be away a lot. Next week we go back to Othona for 8 days, in mid-July we are off to the American Association of Teachers of French convention in Liège, and then at the end of July we are back at Othona, this time with Naomi and James (oldest daughter and son-in-law). Luckily, I have someone to check and water but it's never the same as you being there.
(Back to the garden) All seems well at the moment. The tomatoes are covered in flowers, the green beans are climbing and blooming, and flowers appeared on the courgettes (zucchini) today. I may have a pumpkin out there masquerading as a courgettes. We'll have to wait and see. I also have herbs - marjoram, parsley, chives, mint, and rosemary.
At the back of the house, the apple tree seems to be producing a bumper crop, as does the grape vine. Our grapes are never very big but they do ripen and they are lovely to eat. I won't count my crops till they actually present themselves but I must admit that I have been thinking of apple and blackberry pies as I pass the blackberry bushes just up the road. It's wonderful to be able to get such a wonderful crop for nothing, just by wondering the lanes with your container picking what you find in the hedgerows.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Bored, bored, bored! And fed up!

Do I need to write more? School is nearly over and I must admit that I have completely lost interest. As a matter of fact, so have my students. We are all holding on by the skin of our teeth. (Have you ever written something and suddenly wondered what in heaven's name it means. What does it mean when I say 'by the skin of my teeth'. Now can you see how easily distracted I am. I go off on a tangent with no encouragement necessary. I was tempted to write 'at the drop of a hat' but was worried where that might take me. If any one knows what 'by the skin of your teeth' really means I would like to know.) I have to give exams and my students have to write them but neither they nor I have much interest in the process. I want to say, 'let's forget the exams and watch a French movie' but I know that my department head and principal wouldn't take kindly to that. Exams really are meaningless. I can't remember the last time a student surprised me on an exam by getting a much higher grade than I expected. Generally, they disappoint you but really is that much of a surprise. They are studying for countless other exams, not having enough sleep and as they are writing yours, they are thinking about the next one. I can tell you the level of each of my students (as can any teacher) so why bother to put us all through it at the end of the year. All of this bores me. Rigid, in fact!

I meant to talk about a book I was reading. I came to my laptop with that in mind. It's called Netherland and it's by Joseph O'Neill. I read about it first in the Guardian. They talk of it as a novel that will change the American novel. And it's about cricket and 9/11 and the immigrant experience and a marriage. I got it today and so far, I'm impressed. I'm also ready to visit the cricket club of the book, Staten Island Cricket Club. More to come on the book as I continue to read.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

More on Rain

If you have read the comment on yesterday's posting, you'll see one made by Mary Jane, who lives in Reno. She reminded me that rain can be positive and I have to agree, though reluctantly. I remember what it was like in Cyprus when, after 4 or 5 months, we had the first rain of the winter. It was an uplifting, enlivening event. Though I have never seen it, when it rains in the desert, the world comes alive. However, the unrelenting rain and heavy, rain burdened skies of the last few days have not been at all uplifting, at least not for me. And I'm still left with the vision of Heathcliff in Tenerife.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

I'm so fed up with the rain but then again who isn't!

I suppose that the title of this blog says it all. It has been raining since Sunday and I think that it also rained last week. Not that it matters, since the rain seems endless and it could have been raining for months for all I know! I think that it might be my fault. In novels (not any that I would write) sometimes nature reflects the feelings of a main character. If my life were a novel, then that would explain the rain. Then again, I've often thought that if the weather improved in some of those novels perhaps the lives of the heroes and heroines would too. How cold, wet and depressing was Wuthering Heights but if they had lived in the tropics or even southern Europe, how different their lives would have been. You can't brood when the sun is shining, at least not for long.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008


There is something wonderful about this new art installation in London, though perhaps art installation is not quite the right description of it. It's called a telectroscope and has a look of some magical invention from Jules Verne. People in London and New York can look in their ends of this telescope like apparatus and see the people at the other end. I think we should have these all over the world. Perhaps they might bring about a greater closeness between people. I don't know whether it would increase our understanding of each other but we might see that the people in the other city aren't much different than we are.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Ah, the weather!

It's a three day weekend and one always hopes for good weather, even for a few of those precious days off. Saturday was quite nice and I spent it up in London with Emma wandering around Southbank and attending an interesting performance of A Good Soul of Szechuan. I also managed some work on my garden, both in the morning and once we got home. Sunday dawned gray and rainy so we decided to go to the movies, Indiana Jones. It was good and a great way to spend a wet Sunday morning. The rain stopped in the afternoon, and though it was was changeable and the wind was quite strong, we managed a short walk and an ice cream by the river Thames. Today, it couldn't be worse. It has rained continually and there are severe weather warnings out for rain. Up to 3 inches. Ouch! I lost all of my lupin spikes over night and they are now sitting in a vase on my dining room table. Alas! I'm so glad that I took a photograph on Saturday morning. I don't want to be one of the people who moan and groan about the weekend weather on Tuesday morning so I think that I'll either go to the movies this afternoon or choose to enjoy doing the jobs around the house that I have left undone!

I've been trying to create a blog about cooking and eating in hard times. Pru Leath, an excellent food writer here, was saying yesterday on a radio gardening programme that she was going to write that sort of cook book next so I think that perhaps I will the challenge in better hands and just continue with the occasional post here. I do go back and forth on this. What is the point of me writing, I think. (Do you remember the frequent examination of this question, you who read this blog now and then?) Today's answer is that I need to write. I could just have a journal but I don't think that I would keep it up in quite the same way. So, I continue!

Here's an interesting posting for any of those looking to make changes. Funnily enough, much of this seems reminiscent of the the 70's and 80's.

Eating Healthy for Less

by Meg McGowan

Keeping monthly expenses to a minimum allows me the flexibility to live with a writer’s unpredictable income. If the pen has not been as mighty as it might be, the one area of the budget that can always be squeezed is the food bill. Fortunately, eating cheaply and eating healthy have a lot in common. If the gourmet organic food trend has almost convinced you that only the wealthy can eat well or if you’ve come to accept your high grocery bill as better than a high medical bill, take heart. Here are my top twenty-five tips for eating healthy without eating up your retirement fund.

1. A plan is essential. Think in terms of creating new rituals and rhythms for your life rather than more schedules and routines. Take time to think about what you want to form the basis of your life and your menus. Eating healthy and eating cheaply rarely occur without some forethought.

2. Give some thought to why you want to make a change. If you are already eating well but you want to spend less money, ask yourself why. Of course most people would like to have more money left after paying bills, but why do YOU want more money? What will you spend it on? Define your goals, then make sure you follow through. If you want to eat better, being specific about your goals will help you formulate your plan. What is most important to you — buying more organic foods, less meat, food without preservatives, dairy products without hormones, eggs from uncaged hens, whole grains, more variety, less fat? Knowing what is most important to you establishes priorities, which creates a place to begin and forms criteria to help you make decisions.

3. Limit your repertoire. Variety may be the spice of life, but too much will give you indigestion. Most of us have kitchens filled with ingredients (especially spices) that we rarely use. One strategy is to collect about two weeks worth of recipes that meet your criteria for both cost and nutrition. Cycle through them, then begin again. Or designate each day of the week for focusing on a particular type of food: Monday, soup in cold months and salad in warm months; Tuesday, tofu; Wednesday, pasta; Thursday, eggs; Friday, pizza, Saturday, sandwiches; Sunday, beans and rice. Variety and flexibility are built in. Soup might be from a can, from a mix or from scratch depending what is on sale and what is in the cupboard. By beginning with just a couple recipes for each category, the system stays manageable.

4. Organize a food exchange. Convince a few friends to join you in an informal food tasting. When each of you cooks a favorite inexpensive, healthy meal, make a double batch. Divide the extra into sampler sizes for each participant. Everyone can take turns sampling and providing samples of new recipes without having to purchase all the ingredients, only to discover that half the family hates it.

5. Or swap complimentary foods. I have a friend who loves to make soup, but her husband rarely eats soup. I like the idea of making soup, but I rarely get further than imagining a robust pot simmering on my stove. Instead I make a variety of quick breads and trade my friend for soup. We both get homemade meals with less work and less cost.

6. Drink more water. Even if you drink bottled water, it is still the cheapest beverage available. By consuming the recommended eight glasses of water a day, you support all your body’s systems and reduce the number of more costly beverages you consume.

7. Eat less meat. Most Americans still eat too much meat relative to other components of their diets. Meat also takes the biggest bite out of the food budget. The answer seems almost too easy.

8. Grow your own herbs. A vegetable garden is also a good idea, but an herb garden is much less daunting. Herbs require little space or care, and once established, most provide a continuous harvest. Fresh herbs add a gourmet taste to any meal. They also provide nutrients. You can buy fresh herbs at the store, but for the price of a few sprigs you could buy the whole plant. Freeze or dry your harvest at the end of the season and you can use them all winter.

9. Good produce gone bad can make you feel as though you are throwing your money away (though, I hope, you are composting it!) Expand your selection of produce on hand and reduce waste by using high-quality frozen vegetables available in large polybag sizes. You can easily add a handful of frozen peas, carrots, and corn to a recipe, then reseal the bag and tuck it back in the freezer. Frozen veggies can augment rather than replace your fresh produce purchases.

10. Look for recipes that don’t have a lot of ingredients or that lend themselves easily to substitutions. You can always be creative and add herbs, spices, or vegetables that you have on hand.

11. Make meal preparation a family time. Meals prepared together nourish each person’s spirit as well as their bodies, and every step of preparation at home saves money at the grocery store. Avoiding convenience foods means food that is fresher and has fewer preservatives.

12. Decide where you can and cannot compromise. I stock up on regular name-brand spaghetti sauce when it’s on sale (preferably with coupons as well). Most of the sauces are preservative free and I can recognize all of the ingredients. I buy only organic milk and free-range eggs. Your priorities may be different but should be in line with your own values.

13. A diverse diet costs less at my local food co-op where I can choose from a wide selection of bulk pastas, grains, legumes and rice, without having to buy more than I need. Look for stores that also let you select only as much produce as you will use. Farmers markets are often a good source for finding flexible quantities at excellent prices.

14. Keep snacks simple. Healthier snacks tend to be cheaper snacks. Gourmet chips abound, and though they may be baked not fried none are as healthy as carrot sticks. Other choices that tend to be low in fat, calories and cost are seasonal fruits and vegetables, pretzels dipped in mustards, popcorn (the traditional evening snack served at the Heartland Spa), and graham crackers.

15. Make your own convenience foods. Blend your own spice mixes. Prepare an extra large batch of pancakes or waffles and freeze them between sheets of wax paper to pop in the toaster oven at breakfast time. Freeze chocolate chip cookie dough in pre-formed balls to bake later. Many of the mixes in Make a Mix Cookery and More Make-A-Mix Cookery (H.P. Books, 1978 and 1980) can be modified and prepared using high quality, organic ingredients while still saving you money.

16. Realize that if you can control costs on items you consume regularly, you will realize the greatest savings for the least amount of effort. You can purchase organically-grown coffee beans for far less than a barista-made beverage — even if you add organic, hormone-free half and half. The same is true for any snacks and meals consumed away from home. If you make and take your own, you control the quality and the price. And remember: one simple change that saves you a dollar each weekday adds up to over $250 per year.

17. Consider, however, that paying extra for the feeling that someone else is taking care of you may be meeting an emotional need. If this is the case, is there an alternative way to meet your needs? Can another family member start the coffee in the morning? Would a neighbor or co-worker be willing to bring you coffee in exchange for a small favor in return? An extra benefit of trading is a more genuine feeling of being nurtured.

18. Play the stock market. Stock up on non-perishable items you use regularly when they are on sale (Here’s where your plan comes in handy!). When prices rise, you can serve yourself a large share of savings.

19. If you are really ambitious, you can freeze fresh fruits and vegetables when they are at their peak and their prices are not. Berries are best frozen in a single layer on a cookie sheet, then bagged, so they are easily separated. Even if you are not too ambitious, you can freeze your leftover, slightly wilted vegetables for soups or stews. Fruits can be frozen and added to muffin, pancake or waffle batter.

20. Never go shopping without a list. If you don’t have a list, go home and put the tail ends of all of your frozen, polybagged vegetables together in a melange. Serve with your last piece of cheese grated over bread heels and toasted. Return to the store tomorrow when you have a list.

21. Never shop when you are hungry.

22. The more often you shop and the longer you are actually in the store, the more money you will spend. This is why preparation time saves you money. Not only are you able to think about what you want, away from the hypnotic hum of the merchandising machines, but you also spend less time in the store and need to make fewer return trips for forgotten items.

23. Put your intentions before you. If you are full of menu ideas while shopping but your follow through is less than stellar, jot a quick list of your plans as you unpack your groceries. Post the list in a prominent place in the kitchen.

24. Keep things simple, and begin with small bites. If you suddenly decide that you are going to cook only from scratch, it is likely that you will end up with a cupboard full of ingredients that will torment rather than tempt you and a huge bill for that most expensive eating option, take-out food.

25. Choose a starting point and begin. My personal touchstone is oatmeal for breakfast. It is where I began and what I return to if I feel I am losing my way. Oatmeal is easy, cheap, and good for me. It means I don’t have to think in the morning. I can eat it plain or dress it up with whatever is on hand or on sale. With that one piece in place, I start my day with a tangible affirmation of my resolve to eat healthy for less.

Whatever your first step, simply take it, now. If you wait until your plan is fine-tuned, you will lose your enthusiasm and become bogged down in details. When you move your household, you can’t wait until each picture is hung in the right spot to resume the business of your life in a new location. So it is with all change. Decisions are made, the framework is shifted, and small adjustments are made in all the days that follow.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

My Garden again!

A great recipe: ragù bolognese

Ragù Bolognese

Spaghetti Bolognese is a typical Britalian dish created bearing in mind the ethnic Italian origin but adapted to suit British taste. This dish doesn't exist in Italy - the original dish originates in Emilia Romagna and it's called tagliatelle alla Bolognese. The main difference is that flat ribboned pastas are used instead of spaghetti and the ragù sauce doesn't contain herbs at all.

Genuine ragù Bolognese is a combination of at least two types of meat, like lean minced beef and pork, plus oil and butter, a little wine, an onion, plump ripe tomatoes and tomato paste.

25g (1oz) butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
250g (9oz) minced beef
250g (9oz) minced pork
6 tablespoons white wine
1kg (2lb) polpa di pomodoro (tomato pulp)
1 teaspoon concentrated tomato purée
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil and butter in a pan and fry the chopped onion. Then add the meat and fry until golden brown. Stir in the wine, tomato pulp and tomato purée. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover with a lid and leave to simmer for about 2 hours stirring from time to time.

Serve with freshly cooked tagliatelle and sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan, if desired, but purists like this dish without.

Old cook books may show the way

I decided last night to go through my bookshelves to see if there were any books I could find new homes for. In among my cookbooks I discovered 'Never too late' by Stella Atterbury. I collect interesting cook books that have a narrative to them. This one I found in the Oxfam shop in Egham. It was published in 1963. The author and her husband went down to the west country in the 50's when he retired and started a hotel and restaurant. Till then she had only cooked for her family. It has some interesting basic recipes interspersed among the narrative. I've decided to start going through it see what recipes might work in the context of the 21st century, especially with recession and harder times ahead. I don't know about other countries, but in the UK people seem to have forgotten to cook with a basic larder. They spend unnecessary amounts on expensive food and then, according to the press, throw a third of it away.

We have all sorts of cookbooks and television cooking shows here but nothing that shows people how to do things such as feed a family of 4 for 3 days on a large chicken. I was thinking that I might start a cooking blog just to pursue back to basics.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Adirondack chairs again!

Naomi wrote in a comment: So that's how you spell adirondak. Growing up I always thought they were chairs from Outer Rondak. I never could figure out where that was...."

My giggle for today!

Monday, 5 May 2008

The Chair in my garden

Is does look lovely in the garden, doesn't it? I've always wanted to have an Adirondack chair (in Canada they call them Muskoka chairs) but I've never had the money or been in the right place to get one. Last spring I saw some at RHS Wisley but they wanted £450 per chair. Admittedly they are made from cedar which doesn't need that much upkeep. However, I couldn't afford even one. So, when I went into the Futon Store in Staines yesterday and saw one and it was only £79, I bought two. I know it was extravagant even at that price, but it was now or never (at least that's how I felt). I am now the proud owner of two Adirondack chairs made in China of ash. It's not cedar and they weren't made in Canada but they will remind me of being at the cottage whenever I sit in them.

This summer our living room furniture is moving to Washington D.C. with the owners of our house. At that point, the chairs may come indoors to give us somewhere to sit until we decide what we want to buy. I'm looking forward to having them there as well.

The weather has been glorious today in our part of southern England. It might almost be Ontario in the summer (but not has hot!).

Finally some nice weather!

Tuesday, 22 April 2008


Naomi says that I didn't share the recipe for dumplings. I didn't actually make the dumpling recipe that went along with the beef and ale stew. It was a bit convoluted. Instead, I used the Edna Staebler recipe for fluffy dumplings and it is as follows:

Featherweight Dumplings

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
milk to make a thick dough

Sift the dry ingredients and add only enough milk to make a stiff dough - not at all runny. Drop tablespoons of the thick batter into boiling broth, cover tightly, cook gently, and don't lift the lid for 10 minutes. Then lift the lid and sigh with relief. The dumplings will be snowy white puffs.

Edna Staebler from Food that Really Schmecks

Friday, 18 April 2008

Another recipe: Palmiers

I had forgotten about this recipe until someone mentioned palmiers on the TES (Times Educational Suppliment) Forum. I made these for Christmas because I love the palmiers that you can buy at the patisserie Paul in London. I hope you like these.

Palmier Recipe
Ingredients: Makes 24

75 g/3 oz caster (superfine) sugar
225 g/8 oz puff pastry (paste), thawed if frozen
25 g/1 oz/2 tbsp butter, melted


Sprinkle the work surface with a little sugar. Roll out the pastry thinly to about 25 x 30 cm/10 x 12 in. Brush with a little melted butter and sprinkle liberally with sugar. Fold the long sides in so they nearly meet in the middle, then flip one folded side over the other. Wrap in clingfilm (plastic wrap) and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Using a sharp knife, cut into 24 slices and place on a wetted baking (cookie) sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7 for 10 minutes. Turn each palmier over and bake for a further 3-4 minutes until crisp and golden brown all over. Sprinkle immediately with more sugar and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight tin.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Witts End

Witt's End was the name that I had thought of giving to our house when we bought it. Alas, it seems that we will not be buying it for the foreseeable future. The value of property in the UK declined by 2.5% last month and the cost of mortgages is increasing despite the fact that the prime lending rate offered by the Bank of England is decreasing. It's obviously not a good time to buy, even if the bank would give us a mortgage.

There is a theme emerging in my life at the moment. First the bank thinks I'm too old to get a mortgage. Secondly, my dentist thinks that my teeth may fall out. Finally, a group of physicist at the new particle accelerator in Switzerland may create a black hole during one of their experiments. I asked Michael, my resident physicist, what would happen if they did. Apparently, the universe, as we know it, would end. Not slowly, but in an instant. I suppose that it would be a relief knowing that it would all be over before I even knew that it was happening. I like the idea that I wouldn't have to worry about it. No, "News at 6. Today in Switzerland a black hole was formed. We have 12 hours to the end of the world." Instantaneous is better.

It would certainly solve a lot of my problems. In fact, it would solve all of our problems. There's a lot to be said about that. No waiting for global warming to finish us off. A blink of the eye and nothing. Unless of course there is life after life. I don't mean to sound depressing. I don't find it depressing at all. Rather, I find it comforting and even uplifting. It's even given me a story idea.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Beef in Ale Stew

I cooked this recipe this weekend and it was wonderful. It calls for 1.5 k of beef and I found that was far more than you would need for 6 people. However, it does give you lots of lovely leftovers.


50 g butter
250g salt pork, pancetta or slab bacon, cut into 2.5cm cubes
500g white onions, peeled, halved and sliced
up to 50g plain (all purpose flour)
salt and ground black pepper
500ml good beef stock
2 bay leaves
a few parsley stalks

1. Heat the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat and brown the pancetta until the fat runs. Transfer to a casserole.

2. Reduce the heat to low and in the same pan gently fry the onions, stirring occasionally, until soft and starting to turn golden (about 15 minutes). Transfer to the casserole.

3. Toss the beef in seasoned four, shaking off any excess, and in the same pan brown the meat in batches. transfer it to the casserole when nicely coloured on all sides.

4. Pour some ale into the pan to deglaze, making sure you scrape up the tasty bits stuck to the bottom, then tip into the casserole. Pour the rest of the ale and stock over the meat, adding a little water if needed to cover the meat.

5. Add the herbs, tied into a bouquet garni, and season.

6. Bring to boil a boil, then simmer very gently, partially covered, for 2 and a half hours for chuck/stewing steak, three hours for shin, until the meat is really tender - do this on the stove or in a very low oven (120C/235F/gas mark 1/2).

7. Add hot water if the meat gets exposed and starts to dry out.

(If you want to cook dumplings, add them for the last 45 minutes.)

I'll post a recipe for dumplings tomorrow.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Winter returns!

This is what we woke up to this morning! What fun! It's now after two in the afternoon and most of it has disappeared! Alas!

Brownies again!

Why I've suddenly acquired such an interest in brownies, I'm not sure. It started with my local farm shop asking me what American brownies were really like. And here I am on my third recipe.

First a note on the second recipe. I didn't like the consistency of the previous recipe and so cooked it again last week using double the chocolate. In fact, I received a chocolate bar with my copy of the Guardian last Saturday - dark chocolate with orange and fig. I didn't think that I'd eat it so I used it in the brownies. So here is the recipe again with the changes:


4 oz of dark chocolate (flavored if you like)(in fact the whole bar if you want to)
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1. In small saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate with butter, remove from heat and add vanilla; set aside.

2. In mixing bowl, beat eggs lightly. Gradually beat in sugar. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt; stir into egg mixture. Stir in chocolate mixture, then nuts.

3. Spread in greased 8-inch (2L) square pan. Bake in 350F (180C) oven for about 25 minutes (brownies should appear slightly under-baked in center). cool; front if desired. Makes about 16 squares.

Another Brownie Recipe

Guiniess and Walnut chocolate Brownies

Makes 16


145 g plain flour
80g unsweetened cocoa, plus a little extra for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt
220g dark chocolate, around 70% broken into small pieces
90grams unsalted butter, cubed, plus a little extra for greasing
80grams light Muscovado sugar
80grams dark Muscovado sugar
4 eggs (at room temperature)
225ml bottled stout (IE. Guinness)
165g walnuts, in large pieces

1. Preheat oven to 170C (325F/gas mark 3) Grease a 23cm X 30cm X 5cm (9X12 inch) baking tin with a little butter, then dust with a little cocoa.

2. Sift the flour, cocoa and salt into a bowl. Melt the butter and chocolate in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Remove from the heat and tip the sugars over the top. Leave for two minutes, then stir.

3. Beat in the eggs one at a time until you have a glossy mixture.

4. Stir in the stout (Guinness), then fold in the flour, cocoa and two thirds of the walnuts until just combined - don't over mix.

5. Pour into the tin and sprinkle over the remaining walnuts.

6. Bake for 25 minutes until just set in the middle - a skewer should come out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it.

7. Leave cool in the tin for 30 minutes before cutting into squares.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The Dentist (now that's a title to put anyone off!)

I've just gotten back from the dentist! No fillings this time, nor teeth that need to be cut up before they are removed! Just a simple cleaning. Though, how can anything that involves someone with their hands in your mouth for half an hour, chipping away at your plaque, be simple. I was supposed to be there for an hour appointment but I knew that it would be more than I could cope with. So, just the bottom ones this time and another round to look forward to next week. There is nothing pleasant about this procedure and luckily, I have a hygienist who doesn't pretend that there is. I was going to say that there wasn't even any music playing but now that I think about it, perhaps there was. Barry Manilow and Lola keep going round in my head but it probably wasn't that.

Undergoing teeth cleaning can take on a surrealistic quality, rather like waiting for a bus in England or a ferry to the Greek islands. I also get the same feeling whenever I read the book of Revelations. I decided to try and think of something else. What? I have just written a new first chapter for my book and needed to re-write the 'romantic encounter' of the now second chapter. Yes, that would be my distraction. Wrong. How can anyone have romantic thoughts, even if they are just fiction with the noise of the cleaning tools boring through your head. I couldn't hear myself think, let alone conjure up romantic prose. Sam and Evie decided to skip the kiss and went their separate ways to anywhere quiet.

When my hygienist had finished, she asked me about flossing. Yes, I do it but apparently, you could drive a bus through the spaces between some of my teeth and I now have to use a bottle brush instead. No, of course it's not really a bottle brush. For one thing, my brushes are more expensive. I came out of there poorer, and feeling my age, or some older person's age which would be mine one day. As I walked home, I couldn't shake the picture of a woman, soon to loose her teeth, followed by her hair turning gray and falling out too. I have all ready experienced the joys of loosing my hair and it wasn't that bad. However, in the mood I was in, it was just another indignity to be faced, probably sooner rather than later. When you're 27, growing old is a long time away. When you're 57, it's a reality you will soon have to face. Or not! I choose the latter for the time being.

The Barry Manilow effect

This has given me a laugh and lifted my spirits. Transport providers in the UK are experimenting with Barry Manilow music to disperse groups of young people from platforms and outside stations. "They called her Lola..." It might have the same effect on me for that matter! The next question is, 'What would you use to disperse 'baby boomers'?' Any suggestions, please!

How a phone call messed up my day!

I know I shouldn't let such things upset me, but I received a phone call from someone who works for the bank I use. My husband and I are hoping to buy a house and are trying to sort out a mortgage. (Yes, yes, I know it's not a good time to buy but sometimes you still need to do these things even when the time isn't right!) We thought that everything was going ahead just fine, when I received this call at 8:45 in the morning from someone I could barely understand (for various reasons) saying that I needed to come up with 30,000 pounds more to put down on the house. I am still waiting to hear from my mortgage adviser about what is going on. It's just put me on edge. Yesterday, I washed the floors by hand to try and get over this feeling. Then I wrote 2000 words on my next chapter. I thought I was over it until I got up this morning and found myself waiting for the phone call (which didn't come yesterday). I'm also going to the dentist at 2:30 so that might be part of the problem. Alas!

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Books we have enjoyed

I really appreciated Donna Leon suggesting some authors that I might enjoy reading. I thought that I might do the same. As you may or may not know, I am a detective fiction fan. I want to amend that somewhat to say that I like books with mysteries, since not all of them include detectives, though I suppose that might not even be absolutely correct. If there is a mystery, there is a detective, whether that is their profession or not. Take Shadow of the Wind as an example. In that novel there is most definitely a mystery. A boy adopts a book from a secret library and then spends much of his life finding out what has happened to the author. The search frames his development and his future. I love that idea of adopting a book and ensuring that it does not cease to exist. In fact, I did the same in October when I came across a library in a Bridport church. I suppose it wasn't a library in the conventional sense, in that you could borrow books from it. It was rather a large, rambling collection of second handbooks which had almost taken over the church from the balconies to the basement. Cliff and I went in to have a cup of tea and look at a few books and were overwhelmed by the size. I bought a book with Shadow of the Wind in mind and it is now on my shelves...somewhere. I don't remember what it was called and shall have to look for it tomorrow and perhaps read it. I suppose that if no one reads a book then in a way it has ceased to exist. More tomorrow!

Monday, 31 March 2008

Back from London

I've been back from London for a few hours but I needed two naps to recover! My first port of call was the book shop to get a signed copy of Donna Leon's latest detective novel. It was a revelation and I will definitely go back. I arrived about 10 minutes before the signing was to start and decided to explore. On my way from floor to floor, I picked up two books, one that I had heard about somewhere and written about in my notebook (The Night Train to Lisbon) and the other a mystery, originally written in French and taking place at the turn of the century (19th to 20th that is). I can't remember its name. As I was wandering around, I started questioning my decision to come for this book signing. Why did I need an expensive hard cover book signed by the author? Would it really make any difference to my mother? So, by the time I had finished my travels, I had talked myself out of buying the book.

Then I came upon Donna Leon, down on the first floor. All the fans had been and gone and she was sitting by herself, other than two shop employees and her minder from the publishing company. Somehow, we started talking and she asked me what I was going to buy. As soon as she saw The Night Train to Lisbon, she apologized to one of the book store employees, and told me not to read it because it was so boring. As a group, we talked a bit about the author and whether or not he wrote in German or French. From there she went on to suggest some writers I might like. Finally, as an afterthought, I told her how much I enjoyed the descriptions of food in her novels. I have a recipe book coming out next year, she declared and then questioned the girl from the publishing company as to whether or not they were going to publish it. If not she said, it would be out in German or French, so that would be fine for me! I then went off and found a book by one of the authors she had suggested. The other author is out of print and so when I came home, I ordered one on Amazon. In the end I did buy a copy of the book to remind me of our conversation.

My next stop was to be the bakery. I didn't want to go by underground so I decided to walk. It wasn't a sunny day but it was warm. I walked and walked and walked and 40 minutes later I accidentally came across Elizabeth Street, home of my bakery. I'm not sure what I was expecting but it wasn't what I found. This bakery was rather like a very expensive dress shop which takes minimalism to the extreme. (I suppose they don't need many dresses since they're all so expensive and the customer wants to feel that they have something exclusive!) There were a few items on display in the window, but not the abundance one would expect from a bakery, trying to entice customers through the door. It was the same inside. I was met on entrance by a young woman who asked if she could help me so I told her about the biscuits I wanted, and then I choose a half loaf of sour dough bread (sold by the kilo). I took a quick look around but there was nothing that caught my interest. This is strange for a bakery! Next a young man came out from the back and sat down in front of a ledger. She told him what I had bought, he wrote down the figures and took my money. I said thank you and good bye and the young woman opened the door for me. I couldn't help but wonder if it was a front for something else but the bread is just too good for that! I don't think I'll be going back.
This was sent to me today by a friend who is now teaching in Japan. I thought it might be of interest.

Home from India

I always think how I can share my trips with friends and family. Seeing the captivating colors and characters compels me to write. India is truly color-filled. And more. It’s like traveling through the pages of the Bible, only with electricity - intermittent as it is. A dust devil of traffic coming and going, with a ceaseless cacophony of horns to fill any gaps tells it all.
After a few hours on the road, my urge to gasp at an on-coming semi, whilst passing a teetering camel cart, dodging a meandering sacred cow, circumventing a herd of goats, and avoiding tsunami of motor cycles and was transformed to a casual laugh. Eventually my nervous giggles found the company of a good, steady grin. Except around the numerous beggars.

The sheer direness of these conditions is tearful. No Western solution fits, though we are moved to try. It is humbling to feel such dignity and yet such distress. We took to feeding as many as we could, which delighted most with a bright smile. Others insisted on money. There are lots of scams and some beggars can behave badly. There is
no way to prepare for this calamity.

But many of the needy are resourceful. Such as the 7 year old who charcoaled a mustache over his lip while his little sister, tied to a strand of yarn, performed a back flip like a circus monkey on the median. The traffic is bungled at these intersections and makes for a captivating performance and enough time to pass on a few grateful rupees.
There are faded affects of the British rule along side ancient traditions, tea time being the most obvious bustle in the congested streets about mid day. And every village has a cricket pitch rotating patch-clad players to the fascination of passing shepherds.

Holi is the Easter time holiday of recklessly splashing colors on mates and strangers. We broke curfew to join the ruckus and discover how Easter eggs experience the day. For days following our hands, hair, and shoes were stained the colors of jelly beans.
There are many religions in India. Temples, shrines, palaces, forts and deserted cities testify to a diversity of ideas over the centuries. Contrasts comprise the balance of daily ritual. Head coverings require a code to understand what sect is represented. Wound, tailed, capped or wrapped is part of the male regime.
Women wear head coverings similar to each other, brightly attired in both city and field. Whether harvesting grain, patting dung huts, or bathing in the Ganges, I saw beautiful saris worn. There are other styles of clothing for other religions too. I wonder how fashion would look in America if the Catholics, Jews, Baptists were to define their own garb. Who would get dibs on blue jeans?

I have returned from the land of turmeric-smelling camels and inlaid marble palaces; of fresh veg and spoiled water; of roadside bathing and curb side relieving; with Delhi in my belly and a flying carpet in my carry-on. Thank God and Allah and Shiva, et al.

Picts to follow. She promises with best of intentions…

Barbara Bertram

Off to London! If I'm lucky!

Yes, my wonderful two week holiday is allowing me time to go up to London. In fact, I think that I'll go twice. Once today (or tomorrow) and once on Friday. I don't like spending a lot of time up there because it exhausts me quiet quickly. This has always been the case, even before I had cancer. And the exhaustion is not just physical, but mental and emotional as well. So, long ago, I decided to choose one or two things to do and then come home. It's very tempting, especially since it costs so much to go on the train, to do as much as you can but I never find that very satisfying. Today, I'm hoping to go to a book signing (if the man who is going to value my house gets here before 10:30) and then to a French bakery.

First, the book signing! Donna Leon, who writes detective novels set in Venice, is at Hatchards today at 12:30. I have mentioned her writing a few times on this blog, especially in reference to her descriptions of food in Venice. I wouldn't normally go to a book signing. What do I have to say to Donna other than, 'Enjoyed your book'. However, I have difficulty finding birthday presents for my mother and I think that she would like a signed copy of Leon's latest.

The bakery is for me. I have been reading a cook book called 'Paris Sweets' by Dorie Greenspan. I recommend it if you enjoy baking pastries and desserts, or if you just enjoy reading cook books. This really is my kind of cook book - great recipes and a narrative that carries you through the pages. The very first recipe is for a biscuit called 'punition' (punishments)adapted from Boulangerie Poilâne. There is a Poilâne bakery in London I have discovered and I want to go and sample their wares!

So, here I sit waiting for the valuer and hoping that he shows up within the next hour! I need to catch the 11:23 at the latest in order to get there on time!

Sunday, 30 March 2008

More on the stew!

I was asked if the stew turned out well. Yes it did. I found some frozen turkey broth and bits of turkey in the freezer when I defrosted it. So it became the basis for the stew.

Defrosted Fridge Stew:

1 to 1 1/2 cups of chicken/turkey broth and bits of meat
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into cubes
1 small can of tomatoes
1 onion, finely chopped
1 leak
2-3 cloves of garlic
Make sure liquids cover the meat and vegetables and so add water if you don't have enough broth
salt, pepper and whatever other seasonings you like to taste

1. Peel and chop onion and then fry on low heat in butter (with a bit of olive oil to stop butter from burning. Add chopped garlic.

2. Slice leak into 1/2 inch pieces (make sure the leak is clean) and fry with onion and garlic.

3. Add cubed potatoes and sweat potato and continue to fry for 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Add liquids and seasonings.

5. Simmer till vegetables are cooked.

Enough for 2 and a bit left over for the next day's lunch.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Finished the fridge and onto cooking!

I'm still on the subject of defrosting (though thank goodness that is finished!) and cooking the items I took out of the fridge and freezer along with other items in the kitchen. The muffins turned out well. In fact, I put in a cup and a half of cranberry sauce and they turned out fine. I think they are probably more moist but that's just fine and at least I managed to use up both bottles.

Cliff and I have been waiting for the Oxford-Cambridge Boat race to begin. The coverage started at 4:00 and now it is 5:17 and they are just starting. How typical! I've grown bored and in a moment I'm off to start dinner using my refrigerator treasure. I'm going to make a chicken stew with carrots, a leek, some sweat potato, garlic, onion and anything else that turns up. I'll keep you posted on how it turns out.

Defrosting the Fridge! And cranberry muffins!

I never thought that I would again have a refrigerator that I would have to defrost. I remember having one many years ago as a student but since then I've either bought my own or rented somewhere that had one that didn't need defrosting. Why is this such a problem? I just don't like doing it and keep putting it off. Today I can't put if off another moment since I can no longer get anything past the wall of ice guarding the entrance to my tiny freezer compartment. In fact, I only just managed to get the food in it, out. (As a side bar for those who don't live in the UK, you need to know that there are still many people living with only an under-the-counter refrigerator that takes very little, especially in the freezer.) (Please don't chastise me for saying that when, yes I know, there are many people who live without clean water, let alone a frost-free refrigerator!)

I used to long for a North American refrigerator but I would need a much larger kitchen so for now I cope and for as long as possible ignore the tell tale signs of glaciation. Where is all this leading me? To recipes to use up some of the interesting items I have found lurking at the back. For example there are two partially used jars of cranberry sauce. One is definitely from this past Christmas. I'm not sure about the other. However, there isn't any mold so I'm going to bake something with them. I remember a recipe for muffins using left over sauce so here it is. It's especially good for the day after Christmas or Thanksgiving when you have so much left over sauce!

Cranberry Muffins

2 cups flour (8oz cups)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cranberry sauce
1/4 cup oil
1 cup cranberry sauce
1/4 cup oil
1 egg
1 cup milk

400F (200C) for 20 minutes

1. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.

2. Stir in the cranberry sauce. In another bowl, beat the oil and egg slightly.

3. Stir in the milk and pour into the flour mixture. Stir until just moistened.

4. Drop batter into well-buttered muffin tins - about 18 - and bake.

These are best eaten warm!

I have some frozen cranberries as well so I must go off and see what I can do with those.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Eating Brownies

I made the brownies this morning and discovered that I didn't have an 8 inch pan (I had a 9 inch). I used the 9 inch pan and reduced the cooking time but not enough, I think, because they were a little too dry for my taste. The next time I make them, I'll reduce the cooking time further and let you know how they turn out. Tomorrow I'm going to make the Nigella Lawson recipe. If you are interested in them, click on the link.

Thursday, 27 March 2008


I went into my local farm shop today. Have I mentioned the farm shop before? It's on one of the farms that was hit by foot and mouth last summer. I needed some fruit and veggies to last through to the weekend but I also wanted to take 4 banana muffins to Coral, the owner, who had kindly saved me a bunch of over ripe bananas (which of course I used to make the muffins). While I was there, I was asked about American brownies. What were they like? Were they like a chocolate sponge with chocolate chips? Well, no, I said, and promised to make them some for the weekend. I'm not sure why they are so interested. I wonder if they were thinking of selling some.

My favorite brownie recipe is Nigella Lawson's. However, it is very expensive to make. So, instead, I'm going to make one out of the Canadian Living Cookbook from years ago. I've never made it before so we will have to wait till tomorrow to find out what it's like!


2 oz of unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1. In small saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate with butter, remove from heat and add vanilla; set aside.

2. In mixing bowl, beat eggs lightly. Gradually beat in sugar. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt; stir into egg mixture. Stir in chocolate mixture, then nuts.

3. Spread in greased 8-inch (2L) square pan. Bake in 350F (180C) oven for about 25 minutes (brownies should appear slightly under-baked in center). cool; front if desired. Makes about 16 squares.


Cliff and I have just come back from our second visit to Othona down on the Dorset coast near Bridport. We first visited last October, and came home knowing that we had to go back. Did I talk about Othona back in October?

Our first encounter with Othona was back in the the early 90's. We were visiting my sister who lived in the Southend area at the time. We decided to go for a Sunday drive out to the Essex coast and ended up visiting a seventh century church, St. Peter's-on-the- Wall. After visiting the chapel, we walked along the beach and came upon the Bradwell Othona. We were invited in for tea and biscuits. I thought then that one day we would make it back there. We didn't but last September when I was looking for a retreat I did come across the Othona in Dorset at Burton Bradstock. If you're wondering, Othona is an open Christian community. At Burton Bradstock, they offer courses and retreats throughout the year. In October we went to the 'Teacher Chill Out' retreat. This last weekend we went to an Easter retreat.

So what's so special about Othona? I imagine that it is different for each person. For me, Othona provides the opportunity to be part of a community. This is so important. I hadn't realized how much I needed to be around people, to share meals, simple tasks, conversation and more. While at Othona, I'm also away from the distractions of life and can do whatever takes my fancy - meditating, reading, walking, writing, craft making. There's also the spiritual side of life and I don't want that to sound like an after thought. It's really the starting point of everything. I have needed to kick start my spiritual life and Othona has provided that initial spark. And finally, it's just a great place to be!