Wednesday, 1 May 2013

... to Celebrate May Day

May Day at a Munich beer garden
In New Zealand, the first day of May comes and goes without any fanfare.  But I am in Germany now and finding that May Day is a cause for celebration.
It's been a very long, hard winter in Europe. Now spring flowers are bursting into vibrant blooms, the blossom trees are laden and the trees have bright, light green leaves.
May Day is a holiday and has traditions to celebrate this burst of new life - music, meeting with friends, drinking and picnicking outdoors.
We joined hundreds of others in the park and at the beer garden. There was an 'oompah' band playing, the food stalls were busy selling huge pretzels, pork knuckles and many types of sausages and little children were queueing up for a turn on the carousel.
Another tradition is dancing round the maypole. There was a maypole at the beer garden, but no one was dancing round it. I  think they were all too busy eating, drinking and enjoying the company of family and friends.
It's been a lovely day.
The 'oompah' brass band in traditional Bavarian costume

Friday, 19 April 2013

... to Leave Ordinary Life Behind

There is something magical about stepping on board a plane or ship. There is the realisation that a whole wide world is out there, away from your normal life,  just waiting to be explored. 

If you can travel with that attitude you can deal with the queues, the delays,    the cramped airline seats, even (and I hope it doesn't happen) the lost luggage!

For me travel is the excitement of seeing new places, or even seeing familiar ones from a different viewpoint; hearing other languages; observing people; learning about different cultures and customs; interacting with others in ways that enrich my life.

And taking lots of photos and keeping a journal so that when I return to my ordinary life, I can see and read about my travels and relive them over and over.

It can take courage to leave the familiar behind, to cast off from your home, routines, family and friends. 

You need to travel with an open mind and generous heart; to not expect a life that mirrors your everyday existence; to leave behind the props and habits that have anchored you in your ordinary life; to be prepared to embrace the unfamiliar and learn from it. 

Then you can truly say that you 'crossed the ocean and lost sight of the shore.'

Bon voyage!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

... to Think About Travel

Travel Inspires the Mind
Several years ago I compiled a book of travel quotations for Reed Publishing called 'Wish You Were Here'. It was a joyful task - reading widely to find comments that famous people had made about travelling. Some of the things they said made me laugh out loud; some made me roll my eyes in disbelief; some made me think, Oh, that's just what happened to me.'
  I've chosen a selection of my favourites to share with you. I hope you like them.

  • When you go on a vacation to forget everything, you generally find when you open your bag at the hotel, you have. (Anon)
  • Thanks to the big jets you can have your breakfast in London, lunch in New York, dinner in Los Angeles - and all of this while your luggage is on its way to Buenos Aires. (Derek Nimmo)
  • Only fools want to travel all the time; sensible men want to arrive. (Prince Metternich)
  • 'Sip and buzz on by,' as the flower said to the honeybee, which is not bad advice for the traveller either.' (Ivor Herbert)
  • There's nothing wrong with guided tours if you regard them as a good way to get around and don't pay any attention to what the guide is saying. (Robert Allen)
  • The summer tourist soon finds that the cheaper rooms in the beach hotel overlook the ocean - completely. (Herbert Prochnow)
  • Standing among savage scenery, the hotel offers stupendous revelations. There is a French widow in every bedroom, affording delightful prospects. (Gerard Hoffnung, quoting a Tyrolean landlord)
I'll finish with some good travel advice from a camping ground proprietor in Switzerland: 
   Do not depose your litter. To abuse the showers is punishable. Between 23.00 -06.00 hours everyone should keep calme.
   I guess that means you can go hysterical the rest of the time! 

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

... to Trust

I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time planning this trip to Europe, to the point that I think I have over-planned. A little voice in my head keeps thinking of situations - What if...? or What if...? so I have imagined scenarios for the good and the bad and how I would deal with them.
  Which means I have probably been worrying about things that may never happen and I have been living in the future rather than the 'now'.
  So today I decided to let all that 'What if?' thinking go and just trust that everything will work out and all the arrangements will go smoothly.
  Maybe I'll sleep better tonight!

Monday, 1 April 2013

... Using Summer Produce: Oven-dry Tomatoes

Home-grown Tomatoes
This seemingly endless summer has been tough on farmers and produce growers. But winemakers are expecting an excellent vintage from this year's grapes, and home gardeners are thrilled with their tomato crops. All that sunshine has made the grapes and tomatoes sweet and delicious.
  I'm growing Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes and a miniature acid-free Italian type. We've eaten them almost every day for months; raw in salads, roasted, chopped up for guacamole, in tarts and cooked in olive oil with garlic and parsley for pasta sauce. We are almost all-tomatoed out! And still the plants keep producing!
  So I decided to oven-dry some and see what they were like. Here's what I did. You don't need to be precise about quantities.

Oven-dried Tomatoes

As many ripe tomatoes (smaller are better than bigger ones) as will fit, halved, on a wire rack
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
a good sprinkling of fresh thyme (less if you're using dried thyme) or mixed herbs
olive oil

  1. Halve the tomatoes & place cut side down on a wire rack to drain. I use the cake cooling rack I have for baking.
  2. Leave for about 1/2 an hour.
  3. Turn tomatoes cut side up.
  4. Mix the sugar, salt and herbs together and sprinkle over tomatoes.
  5. Stand the wire rack on a baking tray and bake for several hours at 50 degrees centigrade.
You'll know when the tomatoes are done as they will be shriveled up and almost dry to touch. You want them with a leathery, not crisp, texture.
Layer into sterilized jars and fill with olive oil till the tomatoes are covered.

We really liked these. They give bursts of sweet, concentrated tomato flavour in dishes. Another recipe to add to my tomato repertoire.

Friday, 29 March 2013

... for Easter Greetings

My first attempt at Hot Cross buns
Celebrating Easter this weekend, visiting with friends and baking hot cross buns. I used the recipe from the latest edition of the Australian Women's Weekly magazine. I was really pleased with the way the buns turned out, very tasty and light, but I must say my skills at piping the crosses left a lot to be desired! Maybe I need to practise a bit before next Easter.
  Easter is traditionally a celebration of new life and our family had a wonderful new life to celebrate this week - the birth of my daughter and son-in-law's first child, a girl called Carys, a Welsh name meaning 'Beloved'. 
  So whether Easter for you means chocolate eggs, fluffy bunnies and chicks, hot cross buns or Simnel cakes, or you remember the reason for the season, I hope you have a safe and happy long weekend.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

... to Have Fun With 'Giggle' Translate!

I have spent many happy hours lately planning our trip to Europe. And part of the fun has been reading the translations into English of websites in other languages. In fact I have renamed 'Google Translate' as 'Giggle Translate'.
  The flowery English hypes up the hotels and locations into flights of fantasy. Sometimes the translations are completely impenetrable; sometimes they are laugh-out-loud hilarious. Here are some examples to bring a smile to your day. See if you can guess what they're about!

  1. 'The innumerable traditional settlements outspread all over the impeccable natural scenery in combination with the unique mentality of the hospitable inhabitants compose the unparalleled amalgam of excellence.' 
  2.  'Watch your next 3 ride options to a selected compound will always find on my path.'
  3.  'The area has limited traffic, you can still get under the Hotel to download the pack, then it will be our care to send fighters to the plate for the transition took place.'  
  4. 'To tinker the canopy for the bedtime story is the purest breeze.'
  5. '... to feel smitten by the exquisiteness of this metropolis.'

 And the answers are....
  1. A region in Crete
  2. Booking a ticket on German rail
  3. Arranging valet parking at an Italian hotel
  4. In the catalogue for the children's section of a German department store
  5. A town in Italy
I  love it!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

... to Save Money

An Easy Way to Save Money
This is going to be an exciting year for us - a new grandchild and a big trip - so I have been on a 'spend less, save more' kick for quite a while!
  I thought I'd pass on this easy, blindingly simple, painless way of saving money that has worked for us.
                      Never Spend a $5 Note

  Every time I get given a $5 note in change I tuck it into the back of my wallet, then when I get home, transfer it to this jar.
  At the end of each month, I bank what's in the jar. The $5 notes have added up to amounts that have been surprising!
  If you're saving up for something special, why not try this idea. It really is that simple!

Monday, 4 March 2013

... to Learn Something New

At the End of the Day

 'Make every day a school day,' says my friend Sue. 
  And she's right. In this wide, wonderful world there are so many fascinating people, plants, and animals; words, ideas, and plans; structures, inventions and technologies; books, movies, art and music to discover. So much to keep you excited about learning!
 At the end of each day I like to spend a few minutes reflecting on what has happened over the intervening hours and what new things I have learnt. 
 And today, while reading a gardening book, I came across a word, a lovely word, I hadn't heard of before.  Miz-maze.
 A miz-maze is a labyrinth made out of turf. Or a state of confusion! Which led me to look on websites about labyrinths and Iron Age forts and the difference between a maze and a labyrinth (labyrinths have a continuous path and no dead ends) and Druids and centuries old school traditions in Winchester and ... in fact I was in a virtual Google miz-maze.
 You can tell I love research, can't you? What new thing did you learn today?

Thursday, 21 February 2013

... Be Grateful for Volunteers

for Volunteers
If you stop for a moment and think about the work volunteers do in your community, you'll realise just how many organisations and clubs and societies use volunteers in all sorts of ways.
  I am particularly thinking of some people in our little country town who have been heroes this week. You see, we are in drought conditions here, with no rain forecast and windy conditions. The countryside is scorched brown, there are water shortages and feed for the farm animals is scarce.
  Three days ago a scrub fire broke out on the shores of the harbour near here. It took hold in the night and swept through conservation land. Since then, many hectares have burnt. Helicopters with monsoon buckets were brought in to drop water on the flames. Fire fighters had been actively fighting the fire for two days, and once it was brought under control yesterday, they've been dampening down hotspots, dealing with flare-ups and keeping watch over the area. 
   The fire fighters in our town are all volunteers. When the emergency siren goes, they leave their jobs or homes, whatever time of the day or night, to rush to the fire station and go where needed - to a vehicle accident, to a medical emergency, to a fire.
  These last few days for them have been extra hot, stressful, tiring and dangerous. I am so grateful that we have such volunteers in our area.  

Sunday, 17 February 2013

... to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Port Albert on the Kaipara Harbour
I often go down to Port Albert to sit and read or write. I like being beside the water and it's not far from home. And there are huge flocks of birds there - oyster catchers and pied stilts especially which I like to observe. 
   This photo looks lovely, doesn't it? But it's not always so picturesque. When the tide is out, it looks like this:

Low tide at the wharf

And that's when I step out of my comfort zone. You see, I hate heights and the long wharf stands high above the mud flats at low tide. And I have this silly irrational fear that I'm going to have an Alice in Wonderland "Shrink me" type moment & fall through the gaps between the boards! Which was not helped by an official hazard sign on the shore stating the obvious - that you could fall off the wharf and drown!
  But today there were kingfishers at the end of the jetty, landing then flying and diving for fish, going round and round from the handrails to the water and back again. And I wanted to photograph them so, clutching the rail tightly and stepping ever so slowly, I made the long walk from the shore to the end of the wharf.
   By which time the kingfishers had seen me coming and abandoned the area completely!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

... for Words of Comfort

It has been a very sad three weeks with the death of a close friend. I have found it difficult to write while I grieve for her, and confront my own mortality. 
   Today I found a quotation, in the poem 'Auguries of Innocence' by William Blake, that, in a strange way, was oddly comforting.

    Man was made for joy and woe;
    And when this we rightly know
    Through the world we safely go.

I hope these words may be a comfort to you if you need them.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

... to Think How You Live Your Life

A Greek Sculpture from Chania, Crete
This week I have been reminded of a passage from the novel 'Zorba the Greek' by Nikos Kazantzakis.
  Zorba visits a little village and comes across an elderly man planting an almond tree. He wonders aloud why the man is bothering to do that when he is so old.
  The man turns to him and says, "My son, I carry on as if I should never die."
  And Zorba replies, "And I carry on as if I was going to die any minute."
   Which one of them was right?
   How do you live your life?

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

... to Appreciate Your Friends

An early twentieth century postcard
This postcard was sent by Beth to 'Dearest Edith' in September 1910. (The Rontgen Rays mentioned in the verse are the newly discovered X rays.) Beth is expressing her concern for her friend as she was when they last saw each other.
   'You did not seem to be so cheerful as before. I hope you are not worrying over anything, Dear, because I don't want you to.'
  Nowadays we are likely to make a phone call or send an email or put a message on Facebook. 
  Or perhaps you let the days and weeks slip by without making contact, assuming your friends will always be there and know that you appreciate them.
  How about taking the time today to make that call or send that email. Let each friend know how much she or he means to you. How each, in their own way, has added a glowing thread to your life.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

.. Life is Like Baking Cookies

Cookies = Life
I indulged in a spot of whimsical thinking today while I was baking chocolate chip cookies. And I came to the conclusion that daily life is like baking!

  • Some days all the ingredients blend perfectly and smoothly to produce an excellent result.
  • Some days you may be missing one ingredient so nothing turns out right.
  • Some days, no matter how hard you stir, the result will be uneven and full of lumps!
  • Some days the mixture may start out fine but crack or crumble at the end.
  • And some days, despite all your efforts, the mix will curdle!
So how has your day been today? Smooth, lumpy or turned to custard?!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

... to Find Your 'Treasure'

Wherever your treasure is...
... there will your heart be also

I seem to be in an introspective mood at the moment and this quotation really resonated with me. But I don't mean the 'X-marks-the-spot-buried-treasure' of pirates!
 My 'treasure' is the time I lived in Greece and this year I will be returning yet again to that country which captured my heart in so many ways years ago. That's very exciting!
 I made these little collages by tearing and pasting the entrance tickets to some of the Greek museums I have visited - the National Museum and the Acropolis Museum in Athens; Knossos, and the museums in Chania, Heraklion and Aghios Nikolaos in Crete. Each ticket features a picture of an archaeological treasure. 
 When I look at them, I am reminded of so many of the sights and sounds and smells of Greece: the blue of the sky against the white-washed houses; the braying of donkeys; the smell of bread baking in the brick oven. That's a good feeling, to be able to instantly recreate in your mind a place and time of great happiness.
 What is your passion? What do you think of when you read this quotation?