Monday, 31 December 2012

... to Say Goodbye to 2012, Hello to 2013

Italian art on ms Volendam by Gilbert Lebigre
Janus, after whom January is named, was the Roman god of two faces. One face looked back at the past and the other turned towards the future. He was the patron of endings and beginnings, the opener and closer of gates.
    We've come to the end of 2012 and now we wonder what 2013 will bring us. I'm not much of a one for making New Year resolutions. I prefer to take each day as it comes, to not look too far into the future. I've experienced instances, through illness and accident, when my life was changed in a heartbeat and no amount of forward planning or sticking to resolutions or timetables would have altered the outcomes. From those times on, for me, thinking about the future has seemed much less important than being fully involved in the present.
   So what will I do today? I want to take time to sit quietly and reflect on the parts of my life that mean the most to me - family, friends, creativity, travel, the beauty in nature. I want to think about the lessons I learned in 2012. The most powerful of those was the grace I felt when, in one particular situation,  I let go of anger and practised compassion.
   What will you do to start the new year? What does 2013 have in store for you?
 

Saturday, 22 December 2012

More Advent Activities and Happy Christmas

Counting Down to Christmas
I seem to be super-organised this year and haven't felt the usual pressure that seems to mount day by day in the lead-up to Christmas. I've been able to relax and enjoy the Advent activities of week three.
Here's what we've been doing:

  1. Eat marshmallow Santas! Almost as good as Easter eggs!
  2. Mulled wine and Christmas mince pies: More food - do you sense a theme here?! I make the mulled wine from a recipe published in 1901 and it's delicious.
  3. Send Christmas emails: For some people I send Christmas cards by snail mail; for others I send e-cards. I use this website for the cards - by sending a (free) card you support various charities with donations from the website's advertisers.
  4. Remember our first Christmas meal together:  It was Ernest Hemingway who said, "Memory is never true." How right he was! Pete thought our first Christmas was when we went to a Regional Park beach and shared our picnic under the pohutukawa trees with a park ranger. I thought it was when we walked into the city centre from my apartment and bought hamburgers from the pie cart! Who was right? Me!
  5. Have a fun day out together: We've put this on hold till after Christmas hoping the weather will improve.
  6. Donate 'treat' food to the food bank: Instead of the boring old pasta and pasta sauce I donate each week, I put in bags of gold wrapped chocolate 'coins'.
  7. Watch a Christmas movie: We tried, we really tried, but the DVD I got from the library was so dire that after half an hour we switched it off and went for a walk instead. Probably better for us after all the marshmallows and Christmas treats!
Which leaves me with one pleasant task - to thank you for the lovely comments, emails and cards I've had about this blog and to wish you all

                     A Very Merry Christmas

See you again next year!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

... Be Very Downton Abbey




Edwardian Yule Pastries
I'm feeling very Downton Abbey today. I was reading some of the research I'd done on the Edwardian Era and came across a Christmas recipe from a women's magazine, 'The Delineator', dated December 1901. It is for Yule Pastries, the early 20th century version of Christmas Mince Pies.
  I can make those, I thought, imagining the scene in the kitchen at Downton Abbey with Daisy helping the cook prepare all the festive food.
  The fruit mince was easy to make; chopped up raisins, glace peel, glace pineapple and figs boiled for five minutes in orange and lemon juice and a little sugar.
   Once that cooled, I rolled out the sweet short pastry. I cheated here - mine was store-bought, definitely not home-made. I used a small espresso cup size saucer to cut it into rounds, piled some of the fruit mince on & folded the pastry over so they were shaped like Cornish pasties.
   20 minutes in a hot oven and they were done. It took me longer to clean the sticky, floury pastry board and saucepan and bench and hands and cupboard door handles! 
   Not sure if they'd pass muster with the Lords and Ladies, but they taste delicious!

Friday, 14 December 2012

Advent Activities - Week 2

                                                             Week 2 of Advent


Here's what we've been up to this week, doing a 'Christmassy' activity each day. 
  1. Wrap the presents:  I love giving presents!
  2. Bake Christmas goodies: I tried out some new festive recipes this year - cranberry truffles, Christmas muffins and gingernuts.
  3. Donate a toy to put under the community Christmas tree:  Pete built a dolls house for this appeal.
  4. Invite the neighbours over:  It's nice to get together before people go away on holiday.
  5. Put up the fairy lights outside: That was Pete's job. I don't 'do' ladders & heights!
  6. Listen to Christmas carols:  I love the 'Little Drummer Boy' and 'O Come, All Ye Faithful'. Anything except 'Frosty the Snowman'!
  7. Drive to see the Christmas lights: The American custom of decorating the outside of your house and your garden with extravagant displays of Christmas themed lights (think illuminated Santa and his reindeer on the roof, and that's just a start!) has caught on here in New Zealand. So after a picnic dinner at the beach and a walk along the shore, we drove around the town looking at the lights.
I hope you've had a good week and have been able to spend time enjoying the lead-up to Christmas.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

... to be Grateful

Published by Conari Press
I've been reading this book Attitudes of Gratitude  by M. J. Ryan and it has made me more mindful of my responses and reactions to people and events in my life. It's certainly helped with thinking about the good things, focussing on what's right and how giving a 'thank you' and a smile can brighten someone's day, including my own.
  Today I'd been at the supermarket at an extremely busy time. People were blocking the aisles with their trolleys; others were standing talking holding up the flow of traffic; a couple of the items I specially wanted were out of stock. By the time I was halfway round the store I was in a bad mood, tired, grumpy and just wanting to get out of there. 
 Then when I got near the checkouts I found I was third in the queue so had to wait quite a time to get my groceries processed and packed. There was a lot of impatient eye-rolling and finger tapping going on, I can tell you! 
  I eventually sat down a few minutes ago with a cup of coffee to read this book and lo and behold! the author was talking about being stuck in a queue, and so on. 
  'She's writing about me!' I thought. 'That's exactly what it was like today for me!' 
  I had to laugh.
  But the author didn't get grumpy & stressed with having to wait as I did. She thought about the experience as being grateful for the chance to slow down from all the rushing around she'd been doing. I'll have to try it!
  So next time you see a woman with a huge smile on her face as she pushes her trolley through a crowded supermarket and then waits a long time in a line - it might be me!
  

Friday, 7 December 2012

Advent Calendar Activities - Week 1

Week One of Advent
Every morning when we wake up we're full of anticipation, wondering what activity we'll be doing from the Advent Calendar. You see, apart from Day 1, I shuffled up the little cards that go in the Advent envelopes, so it really is a 'lucky dip' surprise each day. Pete looks forward to reading out the day's card as much as I do. We're like a couple of big kids!
   So here's what we've been doing each day this week, the first seven days of Advent.

  1. Decorate the Christmas tree: I love doing this! It's a red and white decorating theme this year and I've hand-stitched almost all the decorations out of felt.
  2. Do a random act of kindness: Mine was at the supermarket, Pete's was at a music event.
  3. Make a wish upon a star together: It was rainy and cloudy and we couldn't see the stars! I was in a silly mood (blame it on the season!) so I got the star from the top of the Christmas tree and held it up! And I didn't stop at one wish - I snuck in a couple of others as well.
  4. Make the Christmas cake: The house smelt lovely all day.
  5. Send the Christmas cards: I got the ones for people overseas written and posted.
  6. Read a Christmas book: 'Chicken Soup for the Soul - Christmas' had some very touching tales and I enjoyed reading about the customs from Edwardian times in 'The Country Diary Christmas Book' by Sue Hollis.
  7. Make a donation to a charity: We gave money to the local branch of a national organisation. I hope that it benefits their work in our area.
Now I wonder what tomorrow will bring!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

... to Slow Down

A Dublin Bay Rose
Take the time today to slow down. 
  "But how can I slow down?" I know you're thinking. "It's nearly the end of the year. There's so much I have to get done before Christmas. I have to do this, this and this for work. Then there's the Christmas shopping and I haven't even thought about what we'll have for Christmas dinner. I don't have time to slow down."
  But when you're overstretched like this, and feeling pressured, and your 'To Do' list is growing by the minute, that is exactly the time you need to slow down.
  So rest for a few moments, clear your mind and focus on this rose that is growing over our cottage door. Imagine its sweet perfume. You know the old saying: 
     Take time to stand and stare. Take time to smell the roses.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

...to Make an Advent Calendar

Scrapbook Paper and Christmas Stickers for an Advent Calendar
Remember the joy when you were a child each morning in December when you opened that day on the Advent Calendar? I vividly recall one shaped as a house that had little numbered doors to open. Underneath each cardboard flap was a picture of a toy - a different one for each day.
  Nowadays commercial Advent Calendars seem to be Disney-themed and have chocolates enclosed. And all, homemade or store bought, seem to be for children.
  But, bah, humbug! Why should kids have all the fun and anticipation of a treat? So I decided to make one for Pete and me, to make each December day special. All I needed were some scrapbook papers, some Christmas stickers, a glue stick, scissors and a pen. Easy!
Advent Calendar Envelopes
Here are some of the envelopes I made. They're simply papers cut to a uniform size, folded in half then the sides are glued, leaving the top open. The fun part was choosing the stickers and numbers.

Advent Activities
Then I dreamed up special activities we could do together to get into the spirit of the season. Some are things we can do just for us; there are also things we can do for others. I wrote each on a little card and slipped them into the envelopes.
  Now we're all ready to hang the Advent Calendar from the mantelpiece before we go to bed on November 30th. Let the season of peace, joy and festive cheer commence!
   

Sunday, 25 November 2012

... for What's Important in Life

Reminders of the Important Things in Life
I've just spent some time browsing Pinterest (how I love that site!) and came across this beautiful idea that fits perfectly with the theme of my blog.
  It's a project by Issa Sarsa and you can find the details, the free printies and how to instructions on her website here
  By putting your hand in the jar and pulling out a pebble, you'll be reminded of the important things in life that are good for your soul. I'll definitely be making this!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

... to Practise Perseverance


Laings Beach, New Zealand

I love quotations! On the day my daughter was born I started writing in a beautiful, cloth-bound journal the quotes that resonated with me or made me laugh or were relevant at certain times over the years. It is a chart of my life, my most treasured possession; the one thing I own that I'd save if the house was on fire.
  But I don't put quotes only in the journal. I also stick them on the refrigerator door.
There is one there at the moment, a saying by the Dalai Lama:
                                    
                         Never Give Up

And there is a Japanese proverb on the fridge door too:

             Fall down seven times; get up eight

I thought of those wise words on the weekend, when I saw them being practised. You see, we went away with friends to a beach house and on the last day we witnessed an amazing sight. Hundreds of gannets flew over the bay.
  Usually gannets work in pairs, patrolling the skies up and down the beach, looking for fish. But hundreds arrived and the sky was white with them. While at a great height, they'd fold their wings tightly against their bodies, and plummet headlong into the sea. Sometimes they'd surface with a fish in their beaks; more often than not they wouldn't catch one. 
  But the thing that impressed me the most was that those birds persevered. Again and again they flew up high then plunged down, splashing into the water; not for ten minutes or half an hour, but for literally hours on end. We sat and watched them, spell-bound, as they put on a show of such persistent effort, the like of which I hadn't seen before. 
   The gannets didn't give up. They persevered. It was a lesson well-learnt for me, one I'll remember when the going gets tough.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

... for Someone Who Stands Out From the Crowd

Sculpture of Ceramic Sheep by Gregor Kregar at Brick Bay Sculpture Trail 

What makes someone stand out from the crowd for you? Is it their dress or their voice; their appearance or their attitude; their talents or their personality?
  And who did you immediately think of when you read my question?
  I visited an old lady today who now lives in a rest home. She used to be my neighbour and when we moved to the area, she welcomed us and became a good friend, even though there is over 30 years difference in our ages.
  When I looked around the lounge room of the old folks' home, at the elderly residents asleep in their chairs, or resting quietly, I thought that each one of them will have stood out from the crowd, in their own way, for someone. 
  And that made me think of them, not as 'old people', but as individuals, with their stories and hopes and dreams and challenges - all the things that make them, and each of us, stand out from the crowd.  
  

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

...to Clear Out Possessions

Do we really need all our 'things'?
In the pursuit of a simpler life we have long had a rule in our house - if one thing comes in, one thing goes out. This usually applies to pieces of furniture and clothes. The local charity shops have benefited each time I've bought a new dress or top because I take my older ones to them.
   I have been inspired lately by this website - 365: A Daily Creativity Journal. People do all sorts of projects, completing and recording one task each day for a year. It might be making a piece of art, or taking a photograph, or building something or even, as one couple are doing, de-cluttering their house, one cupboard or one box at a time.
   That got me thinking and I started looking in our cupboards. I like to think I've got possessions pared down pretty much. I'm finding the older I get, the less I need to 'possess' things.
   But I do have a lot of craft materials and books and my husband has zillions of CDs. So we've had a great sort-out of those. Each time I picked up a 'thing' I'd think - Do I really need it? How long since I've used/looked at it? Can I live without it in my life?
   And most times the answers were no, I don't need it and yes, I can live without it.
   So we're taking those 'things' to a car-boot sale on Saturday morning and hopefully some other people will get pleasure from the bits and pieces we no longer need.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

... Relive a Childhood Memory


Our grand daughter, who is twelve, rang to ask for help with a homework question - what job should she do when she leaves school? She is horse-mad so she'd sorted some occupational choices which featured her equine friends; a horse trainer, a horse dentist, a farrier, among others.
   That question made me laugh as it brought back a vivid memory for me. I was twelve too, about to start high school and our class was given a questionnaire which asked, 'What do you want to be when you leave school?'
   'How dumb,' I remember thinking, 'asking that of kids our age. We don't have to decide for years yet.'
   So I wrote down 'lion tamer'! 

Thursday, 25 October 2012

... For Yourself

A Quiet Corner of the Garden
Life has been a bit hectic lately and I've been feeling as if I needed to stop and take some time out. So today I sat here, under the magnolia tree and read for a while. It was peaceful and so still that the sparrows came and fed from the bird feeder hanging on the other side of the tree, without minding my being so close to them. Half an hour of solitude, a good book and observing nature was just what I needed to recharge and start again.
   I hope you could find some peace in your day and some time to yourself.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

...to Look Beyond the Imperfections

I used pictures of plates by the Italian designer, Fornasetti
to make these collages

It's so easy to overlook the good things when you find yourself concentrating on the bad bits, isn't it? 
   I was reminded of this today when we were trawling second-hand and antique shops. I saw a particularly beautiful china jug that I loved and was on the point of buying - until I noticed it had a small chip on the rim. Even though it was barely noticeable, it spoilt the jug for me.
   And I remembered a day last week when, amongst all the great things that were happening in my life, one person spoke critically - and that was what I focussed on. Not all the positives; just that one negative comment that I replayed over and over in my mind.

   

So it's time, I've decided, to go back to the shop and buy the jug, to look beyond the imperfections, to accept that everything isn't always how we'd like it to be, and get on with enjoying the good things that are happening every day. Agreed?

Thursday, 11 October 2012

... to Reuse and Repurpose - Make a Lantern

Repurpose coffee jars as lanterns

I love Moccona coffee - mmmm! - and seem to have amassed a collection of the glass jars the coffee comes in. I use some in my pantry as storage jars, have given several away to a friend, and still have a pile in the cupboard.
   So today I had a play with some jars, some twine and cans of spray paint. I wound the twine around the clean, empty jars in a random pattern and then spray painted them. When the paint had dried, I peeled off the twine. I popped a tea-light candle in each and the jars were ready to use - as lanterns.
Wrap the jar in twine and spray-paint
   
Total time - 5 minutes. Total cost - about 20 cents. Total effect - very cool!
   I think I'll make wire holders for them and hang the lanterns in the trees around the garden at Christmas. They'll be so pretty!

Friday, 5 October 2012

... to See Life Differently

"The Eyes Have It" Wall in New Plymouth
 Going somewhere new and seeing different things always excites and inspires me. We are just home from a few days away in New Plymouth and Taranaki. It's not an area of New Zealand that we know so we explored some different highways and byways, checking out the surf beaches and the gardens of national significance as well as the attractions of New Plymouth city itself.
  It's a beautiful time of year to go exploring - the fields are very green and the trees are bursting with spring blossoms - cherry trees, azaleas and rhododendrons all in bloom.
  Travelling around Taranaki though made me feel quite sad as we passed through little towns with derelict buildings and boarded-up shops and no one around. It seems that when the dairy factories (the main employers) closed, the heart was ripped out of the towns and they have not recovered.
  It certainly made me return home and see my familiar surroundings with different eyes. Our country town is still bustling, although times are tough economically. And I appreciated our home and garden more too. 
  Those few days away have made me thankful for what we have and where we live. Sometimes you need to leave somewhere to 'find' it again.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

... for Your Heart's Home

I am reading the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, the poet's sister, and one sentence she wrote in May, 1800, has stayed in my mind. She is describing the area where they lived in England's Lake District, just as evening is falling.

Grassmere was very solemn in the last glimpse of twilight; it calls home the heart to quietness.

The beautiful rhythm of the words and the scene they evoke made me think - which place in the world calls to my heart to come home?

Kritsa in Crete, Greece
   And it is here, amid this un-prepossessing jumble of little cube houses tumbling down a mountainside, in the Greek village of Kritsa on Crete.
   I lived there for several months and most evenings, just on twilight, I would walk through the little alleyways of the village to the big church. It is sited on the edge of the hill, with a wonderful view looking down over the plains below and across to the mountains of eastern Crete and the Gulf of Mirabello.
   I would sit on a log beside the church and look and listen. Old men and women would be coming back to the village after the day working down in the gardens or olive groves. They'd be riding donkeys and leading a goat perhaps or a couple of sheep. In the distance I could hear the putt-putt of motor scooters and the laughs and shrieks of children playing in the alleys before bedtime.
   But if I listened more closely I would hear the little sounds - the tapping of the donkeys' hooves on cobblestones and the creak of their wooden saddles as they came up the track beside the church; the cooing of the white doves as they circled around the hillside before settling in the trees; the tap-tapping of the walking stick of the old lady who would sometimes come and sit with me.
   "Mazi, together," she would say, rubbing her forefingers against each other to denote companionship, before lapsing into silence.
   I know exactly what Dorothy Wordsworth meant - that place beside the big church on that hillside, in that village, on that island, called home my heart to quietness. And even though I now live on the other side of the world, it still does.
  Where does your heart call home?
 
 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

... to Cook with Seasonal Ingredients

Asparagus Tart - perfect for spring
There they were, lying in the vegetable shop, waiting for me - the first spears of spring asparagus. They are the taste sensation of the season to me. So this is what we're having for dinner tonight - Asparagus Tart with an avocado, feta and lettuce salad. 
   The recipe is my adaptation of one by Annie Bell, in the Meat Free Monday Cookbook published by Kyle Books.
    
 Asparagus Tart

  • 2 bundles of asparagus
  • 4 small tomatoes, halved
  • 1 block of puff pastry
  • 150ml creme fraiche
  • 1/2 teaspoon of honey whole grain mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 egg yolk
  • milk to glaze pastry 
  1. Add asparagus to a pan of boiling water & boil 4 minutes. Drain. Run under cold water and drain again.
  2. Whisk together the creme fraiche, mustard, cheese & egg yolk till smooth.
  3. Roll out pastry to about 40 cm by 20 cm to cover tray.
  4. Smooth creme mixture over the pastry leaving a border of about 2 cm all around.
  5. Place asparagus spears and tomato halves in rows on top.
  6. Brush pastry edges with a little milk to glaze.
  7. Bake at 200 C for 30 minutes.
If you like asparagus, give this a try. It's delicious. Must go - time to eat!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

... to be creative

Paper, shell and mother-of-pearl buttons collage
Two days of sunshine last week saw me up early and at the beach, walking, walking, walking. How I love that! But this weekend is stormy and cold again, the perfect time to stay indoors and be creative. So, inspired by the beach, I made these collages.
  
When you have many childhood memories of the beach it becomes a part of you.

The quotation resonates with me. I grew up near Kohimarama Beach and looking back on my childhood, it seems as if every day was sunny and spent playing on the sand, swimming and collecting shells to make shell boxes. Oh, happy days!
Paper, real starfish and shell buttons collage

Sunday, 9 September 2012

... to Laugh Out Loud

A Macaque Monkey Laughing Out Loud!
How long is it since you've had a really good, hearty laugh? I don't mean a little giggle or a soft chuckle. I mean a long, loud, 'bringing tears to your eyes' laugh!
  According to research at the University of Oxford, laughing increases your threshold to pain. And not by just a little, by a significant amount. In their experiments, the researchers found that even 15 minutes of laughter triggers endorphins in the body to naturally relieve pain. So the more you laugh, the less you'll hurt. Sounds good to me!
 You may not be able to get to a live comedy performance but you could watch a funny TV show, or read some jokes, or share a humorous experience with a friend. Or tickle your own feet, like this monkey is doing! Or you could do what I've done. 
  I've set up a board on Pinterest called 'Can't Help Smiling' where I file funny pictures I've found. Every time I need a bit of a lift I look at it. It's guaranteed to make me laugh, give me a huge dose of that 'feel good' factor, and chase a bit of the pain away.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

... to Celebrate Spring

Bright  Flowers Bring the Spring Inside
The vibrant colours of the freezias add a glowing, bright spot to our conservatory as we celebrate spring. Their scent perfumes the room. Daffodils, irises and clematis are blooming in our garden. It's a wonderful time of the year, isn't it?


Kowhai in Flower


In the local park the bottlebrush flowers are attracting the tui and the kowhai trees are laden with their golden, furled flowers. And on the farms there are tiny lambs and wobbly-legged calves calling for their mothers.  
  There is a feeling of lightness in the air, despite the squally showers and still cold winds. Daylight saving and sunshine to look forward to, and the first asparagus of the season! I always appreciate that and plan a special meal around it to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

... to Grieve

Remember the Good Times
I know loss is part of life. I know that coming to terms with a loss can make us stronger, whether it is the loss of a family member or friend; the end of a marriage, a job or a love affair; the acceptance that physical restraints may change the way we imagined our life would be. I know we need time to grieve, to work through the stages of grief. I know all that.
   But some days it all seems to be so darn hard.
   Our dog died today. He'd been part of the family for 15 years. The house is going to seem very empty tonight.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

... to Find Your Place of Peace

Peace at the Beach
I have a lot on my mind at the moment and needed some time out. So I went to the beach. I always feel peaceful when I am by the sea. The gentle lapping of the waves, the salt air, the sand between my toes and the beauty of nature combine to soothe my soul.
   It was high tide, bright sunshine and no wind, such a change from the gusty, blustery, wet weather we have had for weeks. The beach was deserted apart from an old lady walking her dog and me.
  I sat right on the edge of the water, closed my eyes and took the time to reflect on the things I needed to do. Then I let those thoughts go and relaxed into a deeper place of peace.
 The feeling stayed with me all day and I returned home refreshed and clearer in my thinking.
 Where do you go to find your place of peace?
  

Thursday, 16 August 2012

... to Remember Someone Special

Sweet Violets
A dear friend visited today and brought me a posy of violets from her garden. As soon as I saw them and smelt their perfume I was reminded of my grandmother. For her birthday in August we would always give her a bunch of violets. She died over 30 years ago but seeing those delicate purple flowers brought back wonderful memories for me.
   Napoleon Bonaparte and his Empress loved violets too. When they married, Josephine's wedding dress was embroidered with the flower and on their wedding anniversaries he would present her with a bouquet of violets.
  Napoleon divorced Josephine but when he returned to France from exile, he went to Malmaison, Josephine's estate near Paris. She had died over a year before. Napoleon picked a violet flower from her garden and put it in a locket. He wore this on a chain around his neck until he died.
  Sweet sentiments such as this touch my heart.
   

Monday, 13 August 2012

... to Read Something Heartwarming

Kylie Meets Rosie
I have a soft spot for donkeys. Ever since I was a little girl I had wanted one and that dream came true 18 years ago when we moved to a lifestyle block north of Auckland. Rosie was six months old when I bought her. She was fearless, feisty and funny, and best mates with our dog. The photo is of my daughter Kylie meeting Rosie for the first time.
   So it warmed my heart today to read an article in the Country Living magazine from December 2011. It was about donkeys in the village of Chalford in England.
   This historic village of stone houses, dry stone walls and narrow alleyways is built on a steep hill. The older residents were finding it difficult to get to the local shop. So in 2009, the community restarted an old Chalford tradition - using donkeys to deliver goods.
   Now villagers can phone their shopping list to the local store. Their grocery orders are loaded into the pannier baskets of the donkeys Teddy and Chester, who plod up the hills and along the alleys to deliver the provisions right to the people's front doors.
   How much nicer that must be than the way I shop, fighting the crowds at supermarket!
   

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

... to Look for Happy Omens

Double Rainbows Today
Not one, but two rainbows this afternoon! Can you see the second one, faintly at the left of the photo?
   Seeing them, I was reminded of the words of one of New Zealand's early pioneers. The Reverend Vicesimus Lush ( what a great name that is!), his wife, four children and their maid servant left England in 1850 to emigrate to this country. After a long, trying sea voyage he spotted the north coast of New Zealand - and a rainbow!
  In his journal, he records his excitement and delight:

 I beheld it under favourable circumstances and accompanied with what I took as a happy omen: ...  an exceeding brilliant rainbow arched the canopy of heaven and embraced the Island in its gigantic arc.

Imagine how pleased he would have been if he had seen today's double rainbow. An extra happy omen!

Friday, 3 August 2012

... to Be Surprised

The First  Iris Flower at Iris Cottage
The day I look forward to every year has arrived & it took me by surprise! You see, we live in Iris Cottage and every year since we have been here we have planted more and more iris bulbs. Each year I look forward to the first bloom as a ray of light and hope for spring in the midst of winter. 
  And today, when I went out to the letter box to collect the mail, I saw it - the first iris flower looking so beautiful under the trees in the front garden.
  Now I can't wait for all the other iris bulbs to bloom. More beauty to look forward to!

Monday, 30 July 2012

... to Help Others

Knit or Crochet for Charity
Connections between people build in many ways - personal friendships, relationships, people you know by sight, internet acquaintances, and communities of like-minded people with shared interests.
   I am one of over 3000 people in 35 countries round the globe who are connected, literally, by a thread. And that woollen or acrylic thread may be any one of any number of colours.
   You see, we all knit or crochet for the charity Knit a Square. All our threads form thousands of squares, 8 inches by 8 inches in size, which are posted to South Africa. And all these squares are sewn up by volunteers to make blankets in a kaleidoscope of colours and a riot of patterns for abandoned babies, orphans and other children in need.
   Knit-a-Square post photos on their website showing the children's delight when they are wrapped in their bright blankets, or wearing their beanies or holding their toys this worldwide community of knitters and people who crochet have made for them. Seeing the kids' smiles and knowing that they will be warm and have something special 'just for themselves' brightens my day too.
   You may not knit or crochet, or you might like to help a charity closer to home. So here's my challenge. What can you do to help others?
   

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

...to Do Something You Love

A Miniature House in 1:160 (N) Scale
I took the time today to do something I love - making miniatures. The sun was shining into the studio, the birds in the garden were singing and in that peaceful setting I quickly got 'in the zone'. I was oblivious to time passing and the problems of the world, completely focussed on making tiny things. 
  I made this little house from a kit set. It is part of a miniature village I am making. I particularly enjoy doing the landscaping, and aiming to make everything look as realistic as possible.
 The hour I spent immersed in my project was greatly enjoyable and satisfying. Creating something is a wonderful way of living in the moment. 

Thursday, 19 July 2012

... to See the Sunshine after Rain

A Camellia After the Rain
It's been raining this morning but when it stopped and the sun came out, I saw this camellia glowing in the light, bejewelled with raindrops. It made my heart lift! And I was reminded of the lyrics to a song by Mark Knopfler:

                         There will be laughter after pain,
                         There will be sunshine after rain,
                         These things have always been the same,
                         So why worry now?


That's a comforting thought as well.

Friday, 13 July 2012

... to Make Delicious Hot Chocolate

Thick Hot Chocolate Spanish-Style
Today is such a grey, bitterly cold winter's day that I've been sitting in front of the fire, reading a detective novel and sipping on hot chocolate. 
  This has to be the best hot chocolate (outside of Spain) that I have tasted. In Spain they make the drink so thick you can almost stand your spoon up in it. My recipe replicates that silky smooth consistency. 


Hot Chocolate Spanish-Style



  • 2 cups low fat milk
  • 1/2 cup drinking chocolate
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornflour
  1. Put all in a microwave jug and whisk to combine. 
  2. Microwave on high 2 minutes, stir. 
  3. Microwave 2 minutes.

In fact, as I've been drinking this, I've been imagining myself back in Barcelona, sitting in the sun at a side-walk cafe in the Plaza Real, having hot chocolate and churros. Oh, to dream!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

...to be Open to Serendipity

Aah, serendipity - the act of finding something delightful by chance.
Looking for 'things' in clouds
Remember when you were a child and lay on your back on the grass, looking up at the clouds and trying to see shapes in them that reminded you of familiar things? Well, I was flicking through a Lonely Planet magazine this morning and found a page of photographs of clouds that looked like things - a shark, a rabbit, and a giant's face were some examples. 
 The photos were from a book put out by the Cloud Appreciation Society. Yes, there really is such a delightfully named organisation! They state that, "We believe clouds are for dreamers and their contemplation benefits the soul." I'd agree with that.
 The next magazine I looked at was Life and Leisure and there to my surprise, was an article about the Cloud Appreciation Society. Reading about it twice in an hour when I hadn't ever heard of it before! 
 I looked out the window at that moment and saw this fantastic cloud. Can you see the 'thing' in it? The dark horse galloping, tossing its head to the side.
  Aah, sweet serendipity!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

... to Look at Old Photographs

Old Photographs Bring Back Memories
I am fascinated by the link between photographs and memory. If we didn't have photos to remind us of people or places or events, would we remember them?
  I've been sitting in front of the fire and looking through a shoe box of old photographs from my early childhood.  Pulling out a handful of the small, deckle-edged, black and white pictures, spreading them out on the floor around me, and remembering funny stories I haven't thought of for many years.
  I was about four years old when this photo was taken. I remember I was at my grandmother's house. She dressed me up in her petticoat and pearls, and pinned a piece of gauzy material over my head as a veil. Voila - a beaming child bride!  
  The hour I've spent with this pile of old photos has been a great way to remember the lovely times of my childhood. It has been a true joy.

Friday, 29 June 2012

...to Shop Locally

Matakana Farmers Market
It was a cold, bleak morning today but we got out of bed earlier than usual and headed to our local farmers market. It was bustling with customers, stall holders, musicians and teenage girls who had set up a dog-minding service for shoppers. People clustered round the outdoor fireplaces, warming their hands on cups of free trade coffee and hot chocolate. 
  It was all good-spirited and friendly. Growers gave away free samples of their organic produce and were, as always, happy to chat to customers about the provenance of their food.
  It was hard to choose what to buy, there was such a range of delicious goodies. I filled my shopping bag with sour dough bread from the artisan baker, gouda cheese from a local cheesemaker, mustard and pickles from the home-produced condiments stalls, and lots of fresh vegetables that had been picked only last night. Oh, and a container of nuts and seeds, a bottle of macadamia nut oil, and a bottle of verjuice from a boutique vineyard.
  It felt good to come away from the farmers market knowing I had supported local producers, had bought organic vegetables, and had the makings of a fresh and healthy lunch. Yum!
   

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

... to Really Relax

I have been reading about 'moon gates', those circular doorways often found in Chinese gardens. As a garden art feature they are stunning. But they have a deeper meaning also. They symbolise passing from the hectic, everyday world into the peaceful surroundings of the garden.
  From busy-ness to tranquillity.
The Moon Gate at Sydney's Chinese Gardens
  So often we feel stretched like an elastic band because of all the demands on us - work, deadlines, family, pressures we put on ourselves. So often we are too busy to take the time to relax, even for five minutes.
  And I thought how it would be easy to 'build' a moon gate in your mind. When life was getting too frantic, you could visualise leaving behind the stresses and strains, stepping through the moon gate, and moving into a place of quiet and beauty.
  Somewhere you could really relax. Even if only for five minutes. Even if only long enough to take ten deep breaths, to feel refreshed, before you stepped back through the moon gate and into the real world.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

...to Feed the Birds

I get so much pleasure from watching the birds that visit our garden. And now it's winter I put out food for them each morning. It didn't take the mynahs and sparrows long to work out where and when to appear. They're waiting for me every day and if I'm a bit late appearing, they fly up close to the windows as if to hurry me up!


Ingredients for Birdseed Cakes
  I make birdseed 'cakes', a batch at a time and keep them in the fridge. They take five minutes to make, cost only a few cents, and are much appreciated by our hungry feathered friends.
  Here's what you need. You don't have to have exact measurements.

  • dripping or lard
  • wild bird seed (from the supermarket or garden centre)
  • breadcrumbs
  • extras such as chopped peanuts, popcorn, raisins (whatever you have on hand)
  1. In a microwave safe jug, melt some lard.
  2. Stir in enough birdseed and extras to make a thick mixture.
  3. Spoon into patty pan tins or little plastic moulds and set in fridge.
  And that's all there is to it!  
  I got such a surprise today. Out on the lawn, pecking away, was a turtle dove! I've never seen one round here before. In fact I had to 'google images' it to check what it was. Now all I need is to find a partridge in the pear tree and I'll be really happy!
A Turtle Dove in our Garden
  

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

... to Celebrate the Winter Solstice

Keep Warm for Winter Solstice
Down here at the bottom of the world it is the Winter Solstice today. The sun is at its northernmost point, denoting the longest night and the shortest day. The day has been a mix of rain and sun - as I'm writing this a huge rainbow is arcing the sky.That's always a good omen, isn't it?
  I had thought we'd have friends around for a hearty dinner of roast pork, then spend the evening in front of the fire, playing Trivial Pursuit. But I'm afraid this unsettled weather has caught up with me and I have a bad cold. So the only celebrating I'll be doing tonight is sitting in front of the fire with a hot water bottle and a box of tissues!
  But that's OK. Because now we are on the halfway mark of the year, and it's all downhill to summer!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

...to Change a Routine

Today I decided to do something different. I would change my morning routine.
  My husband leaps out of bed in the early mornings, whistling and happy, ready to get stuck into a new day. I, on the other hand, am more inclined to snuggle down under the duvet and doze off again. Eventually I'll haul myself out of bed to make a cup of coffee but I don't want to speak to anyone until I'm fully awake.
  "You miss the best part of the day," he, the ex-farmer who has had years of early wake-up calls, is always telling me.
Winter's Early Morning Mist
  Today I got up soon after sunrise and went out onto the deck. This beautiful scene was my reward.
  
                  Don't let your habits become handcuffs  (E. Berg)


Perhaps I'll change other routines and see what surprises that will bring into my life. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

... to Click for Good

Donate rice to the World Food Programme by clicking your computer mouse
If you're like me, you'll spend time playing games on your computer - Freecell, Mahjong, Solitaire. I find it relaxing and a way of being 'in the moment'.
  Now I've found a new on-line 'game' that is just as relaxing but does good for others at the same time. Plus you learn something each time you play. So it has that 'feel good' factor and the satisfaction of knowing that you've helped someone and enriched your own life as well. All it takes is for you to click!
  It's a website called Free Rice, run by the World Food Programme. Each time you get a right answer to a question, you donate 10 grains of rice. Ten grains doesn't sound like much, but they soon add up into the thousands the more you play.
  You choose which subjects you want to play. My favourite is 'Famous Paintings' closely followed by 'English Vocabulary'. I learn something new each time as I progress through the levels.
  I thought I had a reasonable knowledge of world geography, that is until I tried playing the 'World Capitals' category. My stars, I hadn't heard of some of the countries let alone the capital cities! All those obscure African states which change their names every so often and the plethora of European ones that end in 'zistan' really confused me.
  Do you know which country has Bujumbura as its capital? Go to Free Rice to find out!

Monday, 11 June 2012

... to Celebrate Winter's Colours

The Colours of Winter
It's a bleak, grey day today. Even the wood pigeon in the guava tree has stopped his greedy eating and is sitting still with feathers puffed up, hoping for some sunshine, I expect.
  So to brighten the day I gathered these examples of cheerful winter colours. I brought them indoors and arranged them in a leaf-shaped bowl. The glowing orange of the persimmons, the sunny yellow of the lemons, and the red berries of the cotoneaster, make me smile each time I look at them!

Friday, 8 June 2012

... to Walk a Different Path



I've been thinking about where I walk every day - always through the park and then up to the shops, or round the block, or down to the main road and back up the walkway, or along the ridge road, or down the new road and back up the hill. 
  I like going through the park. There are often children on the playground,  families having picnics, kids testing their skill on the skateboard ramp, or people walking dogs. Sometimes I meet others I know to exchange hellos as we step aside to let each other pass on the narrow footpath.
  I like to see the changes in the park as the months go by and watch the birds and butterflies that swoop among the bushes and trees.
  Today, I headed off in a new direction, out into the countryside. The sun was casting low shadows across the hills, the wind was cold, but I delighted in the different view as I walked a different path. 

Thursday, 7 June 2012

... to Take Joy

'...within our reach is joy. Take Joy!'
It was very tempting today to wallow in misery. I had several reasons why I didn't feel like greeting the day with glee - cold weather, worry about my sick brother, being in a lot of pain. 
  But as I lay in bed, a quotation came to mind, written in 1513 by Fra Giovanni, an Italian artist .


The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take Joy!


And I realised that it was entirely up to me whether I had a gloomy day or a joyful one. So I got out of bed and I took joy. 
  How is your day going?