Author Archives: lorikeetlady

About lorikeetlady

I am about to begin a new life living in Brisbane Australia after having lived in London and Los Angeles for nearly 5 years and am beginning to wonder how to develop this next step in my personal and professional life. The positive aspects are being closer to some members of our large extended family and many of our friends although we are leaving just as many in the UK. Thank goodness for phones and the internet.

Father’s Day can be any day we wish it to be.

The first year of Fatherhood

Father’s Day in Australia really isn’t a big deal in our house. Of course I’ll have my father to lunch if he isn’t playing bridge or lunching with his mates. Generally our children might phone in to say hi, but if they don’t, their father isn’t going to be cast into the doldrums feeling neglected. He believes he did the best he could at the time and there is no point in agonising over what cannot be changed. As he says, there are 365 days of the year on which to talk to each other and show you care. 

I, like other women I know, have played father to my children. Whether it was because of long hours at work, divorce, or death there have been many times when I have had to play the traditional role of father as well as mother. 

I have kicked the football, thrown the cricket ball, discussed dating and sex education and offered the ‘don’t drink and drive’ advice often to a withering scowl. I have learnt to communicate in grunts and lived with nocturnal teenagers. 

My husband was in the reverse situation of playing mother to three boys and a girl. He is the first to admit that he isn’t the most demonstrative, read that as ‘hugging’, type of man, but he can cook a mean brownie to take to the school rugby and is prepared to defend his daughter’s honour, even when she doesn’t want him to. 

It doesn’t matter whether you are a father or mother, being a parent is equal parts fun, hard work, lonely, terrifying and exhilarating. You will never stop being a parent no matter how old you grow as my Grandmother told me when she was 100 years old and still worrying about her girls. 

I trained as a midwife and thought I was prepared for motherhood, but nothing prepares you for that gut wrenchingly complicated feeling when you hold your baby for the first time. As their stepfather says, ‘If you thought too deeply about fatherhood, you mightn’t do it.’

Fatherhood: the trick is to enjoy it.

As a father (and mother) I accept that we are to blame as we started it all. Yes, I realise that you blame me for your separation anxiety dating from your birth when you were forced to leave the home that you and your mother shared but you had to make room for the others. When you left home we suffered a terrible emptiness that only gets filled when we talk with you. 

This is our father’s day message to you, our children. You are the most awesome, overwhelmingly frustrating and challenging thing we do in our lives and you changed us and our lives from the moment you arrived. I have adored being a mother and a father. However, there are some points that I hadn’t anticipated including:

Never having a moment of privacy again and no, you cannot always cross swords with me when I am having a pee! 

If you want to share my bath you had better stop complaining that Chanel No 5 is too girlie. There is a perfectly good shower over there that you can have on your own.

Our dog appreciates the delicious well-balanced meal I cook every evening even if you don’t so if you don’t like what I’ve cooked, help yourself to cereal and milk.

No, I don’t eat cold toast because the butter doesn’t melt; my toast, like all my food is always cold by the time I have cut yours up.

Experiencing that feeling of rejection when even at 4 years old you let me know that you prefer your friends to my company.

Being chased around the house, wearing a hat made from newspaper and shouting Ninja at the top of my voice, but why do I always have to be the baddie?

Never catching a fish off the beach again because I am untangling someone else’s line.

Feeling utterly desperate when you are lying in a hospital bed running a fever.

Being appalled at my wish for you to grow up so that we can talk and joke as adults.

Knowing where to find a hairdresser when the home dye job turns green.

Wishing you hadn’t grown up because you are drinking too much of my whiskey and champagne.

Being impressed when you turn up with a replacement bottle.

Being furious that you don’t share my opinion but delighted that you have an opinion.

Being asked for advice on their complicated love life and realising that they and you are the same – human and frail.

In my mind father’s day is just another day to talk with each other, toasting our strengths and our peculiarities.

Fatherhood: don’t take yourself too seriously.

Spring Cleaning a Life – Decluttering Mum’s Wardrobe

It was the ant world that pushed me into cleaning out or more precisely ‘decluttering’ my father’s wardrobe. Those pernicious insects propelled me into doing what 18 months ago grief couldn’t. With repulsion, I watched ants scurrying along shelves and up the walls of the walk-in robe that Dad had once shared with our mother. Following their trail, we discovered nests under books, boxes of old mobile phones, in the crevices of Mum’s ski boots and probably a lot of other places we didn’t look. 

These nests were all new since the February, nearly 2 years ago, when we had started to clean out the wardrobe after Mum’s unexpected death. Back then, my sisters were wandering around the house, dealing with their sorrow and needing to be kept occupied so Dad gently suggested they clean out Mum’s side of the wardrobe. It was only a few days after she had died and so, while I wrote a draft Eulogy, they sorted the clothes into three piles: ditch; give away and keep. It was a time to remember our mother and the occasions on which she had worn these clothes. It was also a way of dealing with saying goodbye.

My daughters were slightly disconcerted at the speed with which their aunts made these decisions. They kept dragging clothes from the pile and hiding them in a cedar chest for us to go through later. 

Although she loved fashion, Mum wasn’t a slave to it but her clothes were an integral part of her personality and she bought well. Tall and slim, she wore her clothes with a touch of elegance and style. Mum had an innate sense of what would look good on her and rarely bought something that she later regretted. Growing up, we girls often raided her wardrobe searching for something different to wear. 

Sensibly, my sisters realised that not all the clothes should be removed immediately as this would have left a very empty wardrobe for Dad to look at each time he got changed. Looking around the wardrobe as he and I tracked the ants I realised what a sense of Mum’s presence these clothes still carried. The fabrics have absorbed her smell and her perfumes.

The magic of cloth has the memory of the wearer

Her blouses evoked the shape of her body as they hung from the soft padded coat hangers that she used. It is the magic of cloth that it has a memory and I could still see the creases at the elbow of the shirt that Mum had hung up to wear a second time. If I was considering a memento mori it would be one of my mother’s silk shirts that have started to fray at the edges and seams. I feel like that myself some days. 

Decluttering the wardrobe,

We looked at her shoes, none of which either I or my sisters and our children could fit. Mum had long slim feet and was justly proud of them. Now after a hot humid summer, mildew was forming on some of the shoes that hadn’t been worn for months.

I’ll share this task with you I said to Dad as I climbed a small step ladder to inspect the top shelf. This was where suitcases, carryon bags, satchels, pillows, rugs, etc had been placed. There were three carry-on bags and three large suitcases. I handed the first down to him which was light then reached for the second one, an early Samsonite, well-made but now superseded in design and materials. This needs to go I suggested pulling it off the shelf. Feeling the difference in the weight even he agreed that it might be surplus to requirements. Suitcases also have changed. Mum’s father had given her a crocodile skin suitcase when she first travelled to England in 1955 and she had kept it. It is a beautifully crafted piece of luggage and I cannot throw it out, despite knowing that none of us will use it when travelling. It is now the happy depository of our Christmas decorations.

‘At 94, I think it is ambitious to plan decluttering each year.’

 ‘We should declutter your shelves every couple of years,’ I suggested, looking at the wardrobe.

‘At 94, I think that’s a little ambitious,’ he responded.

The lower shelves were a clutter of half-read books, old and unused out of date diaries, wrapping paper and ribbons, and boxes. Boxes of old mobile phones both Mum’s and Dad’s dating back to their first Nokias. The backing on the old clamshell phone had melted the sides together. ‘I am keeping them just in case,’ Dad protested as I tossed them into the bin.

I gave him a scathing look. ‘Dad, you use a phone on which you can facetime my sisters and our children who are all interstate or overseas.’ Why do you want to go back to the dark age?’  I could feel my Mother whispering in my ear pointing out that she was not the hoarder in the household. ‘Keep going.’ I could hear her urging me. 

We paused for a coffee then I departed with bags of lovely shoes and shirts for our local charity. Later that evening I found Dad distributing his clothes on the now empty racks. ‘I have found shirts I had forgotten I had,’ he said, proudly pointing to his shirts all hanging off quaint padded clothes hangers. ‘You know, I think your mother used to buy me a shirt whenever she bought her herself an expensive outfit as I have shirts I haven’t worn in years.’

Some of us just cannot see a clean empty shelf or space without filling it. Dad was always being accused of covering every horizontal surface in their home and I think Mum was justified as the next day, I caught him tying a rope around a wheeled pot plant stand on which he had precariously balanced a carton of wine. He declined my offer to help as he said it was the last carton from under the couches in the study where they had been stored for the past year. 

‘You can’t have drunk it all so where are the rest of the cartons,’ I asked watching him shuffle down the hallway tugging his wine behind him. 

I should have known. The once empty wardrobe shelves are now crammed with boxes of old files and cartons of wine. There was even a bottle opener. ‘Your mother loved her glass of wine and was happy to have a drink anywhere, anytime,’ Dad chuckled. ‘Do you think she’d approve?’ 

Decluttering the wardrobe?

I have a feeling that it wasn’t thunder I heard overhead, but my mother stamping her feet, cross that she hadn’t thought of having a drink in her walk-in robe before he did.

 

The Covid-19 lockdown continues…

Life in the Craig household continues as normal even though I miss the opportunity to go out for a picnic or have friends over for a meal. Chatting by video just isn’t quite the same as being with each other. We walk, read and play games, and listen to podcasts. I can tolerate this isolation but refuse to consider living in a world where isolating the over 70 year olds might become the norm; that is not a life it is a jail term!

Perhaps Covid-19 is good preparation either for retirement or for learning how to live with one’s chosen partner. Andy and I have been without full time work now for a few years so we have finally adjusted to a lifestyle where we don’t tread on each other’s toes or run out of conversation. We have started playing games after dinner, including scrabble and backgammon, and my 93 year old father is secretly hoping that we will start playing bridge together.

Colin the Cat has taken to hiding from us under the bedcovers, scunging up the sheets but at least he doesn’t have to tolerate his humans being at home so much. He appears at dinner time when he supplements his dinner with moth entrée as we have been inundated with moths, large and small, ugly and questionably beautiful.  

Andy said he grew up calling these moths Widow’s moths because of the sharp v that their wings form when closed, but I think they are called Swift’s moths and there seem to be many variations. They divebomb our salads, splash down in our wine and singe their wings on the candles!   Even the local newspaper is reporting these irritating invaders. I have to cover my glass of water on the bedside table otherwise I get a mouthful of moth in the middle of the night. 

No-one really knows why they have arrived although it may have something to do with the long period of drought then rain.  ‘Blame it on climate change’ – seems to have disappeared from the newspapers lately. I think originally there were too many larvae hatching into caterpillars which devoured my rocket, then they hatched into heaps of moths and there were insufficient parasitoid wasps to eat the moth larvae but there are a lot of bean bugs destroying the snake bean harvest. The grandsons and I have been chanting: Four green caterpillars sitting on a plate, out came the secateurs and then there were eight!’ 

I am torn between loving my other invader, the Swallow Tail butterfly and tolerating the caterpillars.  It was fun watching a male butterfly dance and flutter its wings, casting its pheromone love dust towards the female who had perched on a particularly vicious thorny rose stem.

 I watched her perch gently between the thorns and wondered about the many times marriage is expressed as being a bed of roses with the occasional thorn (or nail as Bon Jovi sings) thrown in. Roses were on my brain as I had just listened to a podcast about the poem Le Roman de la Rose where a knight breaches the castle of jealousy and finds the rose.

So my garden has been an utter disaster this year other than the lime tree which as usual is producing far too many fruit for us to consume. I have been pruning it vigorously, even though it isn’t that time of the year to do so and after making two batches of lime marmalade, salted limes and limeade, I gathered the crop into small parcels and walked up and down my street handing them out to the neighbours. I even put a large collection at the front gate and asked passers by to help themselves which has removed some but only some of the surplus.

Pasta Frittata

This is a delicious light lunch dish, quick and easy to make.

So here we are practising Social Isolation in Brisbane. I am used to my own company having moved to cities where I knew no-one but at least there I could get out and chat with the shop keeper. Working from home, my mobile phone can remain silent for days other than my children speaking to me but when you know you are constrained it feels different.

The best way not to feel overwhelmed by the situation is to keep busy so I have decided to look on this time as an opportunity to do all the jobs that I have been too busy to do and complete all the craft projects that sit half-done in the spare room. It is also an opportunity to cook for the three members of this household.

I cleaned out my food storage cupboard, which was incredibly satisfying but made me realise that I don’t need to stockpile food as I already have a lot of pulses and nuts and flours.

After watching me, my father, who lives on his own at 93, decided he needed to do this. I cook for him each evening and we haven’t really gone through his food cupboard since Mum died last year. What a treasure trove of baking goods we found including 3 packets of cocoa and lots of icing sugar. Mum loved cooking cakes for the grandchildren. Dad was a little puzzled as to what he was going to use these for until I explained that they were for decorating cakes.

We also found the stash of pasta that my nephew had left behind when he moved to Amsterdam. My sister cooks a lot of pasta for her husband and sons but I don’t. Since my children moved out of home, Andy and I eat salads and meat. We don’t need bulk as our lives are more sedentary and we are vain enough to want to fit in the same sized jeans we wore when we were forty.

So now I am pulling out my pasta recipes and here is the first recipe. Andy calls it Wheelie Bin Frittata as it has everything and anything in i but I refuse to label it that, so Pasta Frittata it is.

It is a fabulous way to clean out the leftovers that are hiding in the fridge – those scraps of cheese that no-one wants to eat, a few pieces of roasted potato and pumpkin, last night’s tomato and capsicum salad, even the last of the ham bone. The trick is to chop the ingredients fairly small because if the chunks are large, when the cooked frittata is cut it tends to fall apart more easily.

Ingredients

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon unsalted butter or oil

150 – 250 g meat – (1 cup) cooked chicken, prosciutto, chorizo, chopped ham or bacon

¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped finely

¼ capsicum, chopped finely

4 large eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons freshly chopped herbs – oregano, parsley, or basil

1 cup coarsely grated cheese – any sort or a mixture of cheeses such as Parmesan, Pecorino, or Romano.

250g (1 cup) cooked pasta, chopped

Additional flavouring suggestions:

Cumin adds a beautiful aroma and a subtle flavour to eggs and potatoes, 

Add left over vegetables such as roasted, carrots, potatoes and zucchini, asparagus etc.

Sauté the onion over a gentle heat until lightly coloured. Remove from the heat and put into a large bowl. Add the meat, the cheese, the herbs and other ingredients such as oven-roasted tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms or capsicum, and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. 

Add the pasta and combine well. Lightly beat the eggs together then add to the mixture. Stir well to combine. 

Heavily butter a sauté pan and warm over a gentle heat. Pour mixture into pan and spread evenly. Place over moderate heat and cook for about 3 minutes. If your heat is uneven rotate the pan so that ¼ of the frittata is sitting over the heat and cook for 2-3 minutes per rotation, continue to rotate the pan until all quarters are cooked.  

Remove from the heat, and slide the frittata onto a dish then invert back onto the pan. Cook this side as you did with the previous side or if it is in an oven proof pan, place under a hot grill and cook the frittata for about 10 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before tipping it out onto a serving dish. 

It is delicious either cool or room temperature with a salad for lunch. Serves about 6 depending upon size. I can’t give you a photo of the whole frittata as it was eaten by the hords before I could get my camera ready.

Nasturtium delight

Nasturtium – Tropaeolum majus

I have often taken the nasturtium for granted as I see them scrambling across the rocks in nearby gardens and tumbling down neglected embankments. They are the seeds you give a child when learning about gardens knowing they will sprout quickly and flower well. Once you have planted a nasturtium in your garden you will find it popping up in the most unlikely places in neglected pockets and it loves poor soil. Just add water and it will grow. No wonder the nasturtium managed to travel around the world. Originating in Central and South America then across the Atlantic with the Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 16thCentury the nasturtium quickly invaded the gardens of Europe and England where it was used to treat scurvy, then back across the Atlantic to the United States where it was grown in the vegetable garden of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. In a letter, he mentions using the nasturtiums in his salads. 

I have been trying to remember the botanical names of plants but as I was not a student of Latin I resort to visuals to remind me and I bless the imagination of the Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus who selected the Greek word tropaion from which the English word trophy stems, because he thought the rounded leaves resembled shields and the curved shape of the flower that of the helmets worn by Trojan warriors. These battle trophies were hung on a pole by the victorious Roman soldiers. The common name of nasturtium was given in recognition of the ‘nose-twisting’ flavour of the mustard seed oils that the plant contains. 

Although they aren’t a showy plant as compared to many, the nasturtium has been popular with many painters and artists including Clarice Cliff who adorned her fabulous ceramics with brightly coloured nasturtiums. I wonder how many generations of children have pored over Cicely Mary Barker’s Alphabet Flower Fairy series in which the ‘N’ Fairy is a boy sitting in a nasturtium lower cap using a leaf for an umbrella and shoes adorned with nasturtium seeds. Cressida Campbell an Australian artist has used the nasturtium with its curving trailing lines in her beautiful wood blocks.

Once I started looking seriously at the nasturtiums growing around my neighbourhood I realised that the flowers come in lovely shades of orange, lemon, yellow, salmon and red that contrast against the bright lime green leaves. There are also variegated leaves and dark green almost black leaves that I am on the search for. It is easy to understand their attraction to Monet who planted them at Giverny where they spilled out across the pathways in his garden. I now have them spilling out over the top of my pots and popping up all over the place. 

Fortunately, the root system is shallow making them easy to remove as the plant self-seeds easily. It is a fast grower and a very energetic territorial creeper that doesn’t stick to boundaries or fences and I am sure that if I stood still it would cover me. I now have blue plumbago invaded by a yellow flower, and a lemony yellow variety taking over the iris bed. I have draped it up and around a couple of stakes and it is now flowering happily in competition with the tomato bushes that stand beside it. This also takes the pressure off the white gerbera that were being smothered by the profusion of saucer shaped leaves on the stalks which were acting as a living mulch and covering up everything that stood in its path. As I pull it out, I smell the distinctive sweet honey aroma tinged with the spice from the mustard oils. 

It is suggested they are a good plant for companion planting with roses and vegetables possibly because of their spicy oils which are said to repel aphids however, looking at the number of aphids on my rose stalks I am not sure I could grow sufficient nasturtiums to deter these voracious insects.

They don’t seem to have too many pests although I have seen the White Cabbage butterfly hovering around and did spy a beautiful green caterpillar on one leaf.

On the plus side the flowers do attract hoverflies and bees so I hope someone nearby is producing nasturtium flavoured honey. 

They are also a very useful edible plant with the seeds, the leaves and the flowers all being used in my kitchen. I am lucky to garden in the sub-tropics where the nasturtium flowers prolifically even in winter. The leaves and flowers are a rich source of nutrients including Vitamin C and natural antibiotics. I have used the flowers to add gorgeous colour to a simple green salad, the petals have a gentle buttery flavour. 

I have stuffed the flowers and small leaves with goats’ cheese mixed with fresh herbs for a delicious hors d’oeuvre and I am going to collect the seeds which can be pickled in vinegar and substituted for capers.

Once you start looking there are lots of recipes that use nasturtiums including in sauces, pesto and in muffins as well as in beauty products including Hair Tonics. This ordinary fragile plant has opened up an entirely new world for me. 

Remembrance Day – to forget would unravel our culture

The centenary of Armistice Day has prompted me to think about the symbols we use to remember those who fought and died in the service of their country. I have waited in the hushed silence before a dawn service at Villers-Bretonneux with thousands of others and it is a memorable gathering. I prefer visiting these cemeteries without the huge crowd, sometimes with my husband or daughter, treading softly so as not to disturb the resting souls, reading the ages of those who did not return, experiencing the feelings of being a mother, daughter, sister, and wife of a military person. I don’t want to touch these stones fearing I would release a barrage of ghosts.

The Cross of Sacrifice at Lutwyche cemetery, Brisbane

It is a sobering moment to walk along the lines of pale gravestones in the Commonwealth War Grave cemeteries in France reading the names, standing back to look at the rows set in lawn with narrow flower beds, usually with a cross erected nearby and in the larger ones a Stone of Remembrance. I feel shivers threading through my body reacting to the pleas from those hoping not to be forgotten.

Australian War Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux 

I am not religious and don’t practice a faith. My father, probably because he felt obliged, would drag my reluctant self and sisters, dressed in beautiful dresses and flower adorned hats, to Sunday morning mass and I can remember glaring at the image of Jesus hanging in pain and agony from the cross. Even as a child, I puzzled over why a faith which was supposed to inspire should choose a symbol of torture and pain. Surely there must be a better symbol for a faith?

Yet I am always moved by the dignity of the Cross of Sacrifice that stands in many War Grave cemeteries. I have found two crosses in Brisbane, one in the Toowong cemetery and the other in the Lutwyche cemetery. I started thinking about this cross with its simple design and the symbolism associated with it. After all a cross is simple isn’t it; two lines at right angles to each other.  Not this cross. The warp and weft of history and design that entwine the Cross are like ultrafine silk sending me as a time traveller ballooning across the aeons to Ancient Greece whose builders used entasis, the Greek rule of optical correction. The Parthenon is best known for this but it is speculated that earlier civilizations knew the effect of entasis when building the ziggurats in Mesopotamia and the Egyptians when building the pyramids. It is a curious link as Australian troops have fought in these regions.

In 1918 Sir Reginald Blomfield designed the Cross of Sacrifice and used entasis, to ensure the size was pleasing to the eye. The short cross arm is one third that of the shaft which tapers from the octagonal base. Set into the cross is a bronze long sword, shaft down. It is based on the Latin cross, used by Christianity as a symbol of sacrifice. The sword is an emblem of military honour, and is associated with the concept of strength and liberty. The shaft is pointing down indicating the battle is over. 

The two pieces of the cross are octagonal again providing links to many cultures in which the figure eight represented renewal and eternity. In early Persian gardens many fountains incorporated eight sides providing a link between the square earth and the round heaven as architecturally eight sides are required to link a dome representing Heaven to a square representing Earth. These shapes are often incorporated in church architecture both in the Christianity and Arabic world. I love these connections and think of them as those gossamer threads that are like the tiny money spider’s ballooning allow us to transcend cultures and religions.

Polygon Wood Cemetery

In cemeteries where there are over 40 graves you may also see the Stone of Remembrance designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. He also used entasis to ensure the stone would be pleasing to look at from any aspect. Neither the vertical or horizontal sides of the stone (3.5m long and 1.5m high) are straight. If these curved lines were extended they would create a circle over 549 m (1800 feet) in diameter. The stone, similar to a plain altar, which was traditionally used for sacrifice, worship or prayer, is placed on three shallow steps with the words, ‘Their Name Liveth For Evermore’   inscribed on the long surface.

On Remembrance Day, my husband will lay a wreath at Brisbane’s Cenotaph above Anzac Square and touch gently upon another poignant connection derived through the ages from the ancient Greek word, kenotaphion, through the Latin word cenotaphium,  to the French cénotaphe for empty tomb.

We owe it to the many millions who died and those who were injured to ensure theirs was no empty sacrifice.

You are never too old to learn a new skill

When do you get too old to learn a new skill? Never if you look at my parents generation who are playing bridge, mahjong, reading new books, golfing and taking up hobbies as well as exercising.

My grandmother when she was in her 80s, stopped cooking with her aluminium saucepans and refused to use deodorant that had aluminium as an ingredient. She was particularly insulted by our laughter when she told us that she was doing it to help prevent Alzheimer’s. Granny died when she was 104 and was alert almost to the end.

Now, my mother has returned from having a bone scan, jubilant that she doesn’t have dementia. Her bone density isn’t very good, but at least she doesn’t have Alzheimer’s. Judging from the number of days each week that she trots off to play bridge and have lunch with the girlfriends, there never was any doubt about her mental capability. However, both she and Dad are determined to slow the ageing process by all means possible.

Aged 92, my father is still playing golf three or four days a week and is irritated that 18 holes is almost too much for him. He comes back after a day on the course looking absolutely shattered. But as he says, ‘The alternative is to sit on the verandah and eat your mother’s cakes while watching the world go by.’

Mum’s hands aren’t strong enough at 87 years, to take up a new hobby such as quilting or knitting but she can still cook and her plan is to cook a new recipe every week. She says that deciding upon the recipe, shopping for the food and then preparing it fills in a lot of her spare time, that is if there is any after bridge, reading and lunches. She struggles to open the tops of jars and is tempted to ask the local shopkeeper to open the bottles of ingredients for her before she leaves the shop. Even the act of squeezing the petrol pump nozzle has become a challenge to her arthritic fingers. Dad complains his muscle strength isn’t what it used to be despite walking the dog and swinging a golf stick with a weight on it.

Keeping your body and mind does become more challenging as you lose muscle strength with age. You may be able to slow down the advance of Sarcopenia with exercise and diet but it eventually affects us all.  Mum says the latest topic around the bridge table isn’t which erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra the old fellas should take, it is all about super foods and which source of omega-3 and protein powder is the best one to buy. Whey protein smoothies are popular whilst others sprinkle it onto their yoghurt and muesli at breakfast.

These oldies enjoy life and seem to be determined to live forever and if they can’t slow the body down they will try to slow mental ageing down with Brain Training. However, I think my father’s latest challenge is one of the best.

He and I recently went shopping at Apple and he bought his first iPhone and replaced his very old laptop with an iMac. He is refusing to be overwhelmed and is already becoming more sanguine about using these new machines. There are lots of hiccups and he is often asking me what command he should use, but he is tackling a new operating system with determination. We sit together at his desk while I guide him, letting him use the mouse and keyboard, then he writes these instructions down in his notebook for future reference. He is familiar with internet banking, he scans rental property documents, books his travel online and has digital subscriptions to many magazines. He already has his Bridge notes on his iPad, now his bedtime reading includes manuals for using the Apple iPhone and iMac. Within 24-hours my sister had him on a WhatsApp group, exchanging text messages and photos with his children and grandchildren who are scattered around the world. He is set to become a role model in my son’s business as an example of how not to fear learning a new system. The great-grandchildren love it when he FaceTimes them.

As this inspirational couple say, at 87 and 92 years of age, Brain Training is probably all the training they can do.

Love your bookshops

 

It is a sad situation when a small group of individuals are so threatened by ideas they disagree with that they feel vindicated in ransacking a bookshop. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/aug/05/far-right-protesters-ransack-socialist-bookshop-bookmarks-in-london

Bookmarks

Bookmarks on Bloomsbury Street in central London is the UK’s largest socialist bookshop. Photograph: Dave Gilchrist

1933 the German Students Union participated in burning books deemed to be ‘unGerman’. Strange new ideas are like bullets peppering your self-righteous beliefs. You see this attitude creeping onto our campuses where ideas deemed antagonistic to current virtue signalling concepts are vigorously opposed.

It could be of course, that the intruders limit their reading to social media and therefore cannot articulate their ideas in any way but through force. It is easier to break a door than support an opinion through rhetoric and debate. No-one is forcing them to buy or read these books but where is their respect for the right of someone to have a differing point of view.

I love bookshops even more than food markets which is saying a lot for me. I cannot walk past a book shop without browsing the display in a window, or better still picking up and perusing from a pile of books lying in a box outside as one of our local second-hand bookshops does.

The temptation is not worth resisting and so I enter sure in the knowledge that I will find at least one book that I have been wanting to read or one that will make me desire it. Even before I read the titles, the smell of the paper gives me a buzz of excitement and the thought of what the pages can show me is so addictive that I can spend a couple of hours drifting along the shelves, pulling books in and out, calculating how many I can justify to myself that I will read in the near future. Yes, that does mean I have a pile of books on my to read/unread shelf but who cares because they are a promise of a future pleasure.

I get excited just looking at the piles of books that clutter the corridor of a bookshop, the books that other people have pushed in on top of the ordered shelves and those left in the wrong place. There is even the joy of finding comments written on the pages and occasionally a letter or photo used as a bookmark. My husband uses his old boarding passes so one day when he goes to the great bookshop in the sky, someone will travel the world on his books. We have a book of poetry where the owner has written her comments beside her favourite poems. It is a joy to read the thoughts of a woman clearly well read and insightful. I wish I could sit down with her over a glass of wine and talk about the world. 

Now I am enjoying the vicarious pleasure of introducing a grandchild to this rewarding hobby. I watch as his finger runs down the spines of the pile of second-hand Treehouse Series books, trying to remember which ones he already has. He is only 7 years old, but for the next two hours he sits, buried in the pages, bubbles of laughter erupting at the crazy ideas he is discovering on the pages, curling up in exquisite delight at the ridiculousness and taking pleasure in reading the story to me. This child will never be bored, never lonely and never threatened by ideas. This is an adventure for life.

I feel sorry for those vandals. They must have had a very boring and restrictive childhood.

It was well intentioned at the time…

I have just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s book, An Artist of the Floating World published in 1987 and it is as relevant today as then.

Integrity, a value which isn’t discussed very often these days is a thread that weaves through this story.  Masuji Ono, a retired artist, believes he is an honourable man who is challenged by the shifting values of the world he is now living in.

Having survived the Second World War in Japan, Ono takes the reader with him as he reminisces about his early life as an artist and the actions he took during his professional career. Slowly, falteringly as an older person might speak, we begin to understand his concern for his daughters and the impact his pre-war propaganda painting career could have on their future happiness. He remembers family, old friends and rivals, and explores past relationships secure in their values while trying to accommodate the rapidly changing attitudes of the post-war Japanese generation and their attraction to the Americanisation of their culture even to discussing Popeye with his grandson.

Ishiguro nudges the reader to consider their past lives through Ono’s thoughts and conversations including those on a compatriot’s suicide and of his turning in a pupil to the authorities for anti-war activities. In these days of virtue-signalling, you the reader are forced to consider your life and the decisions and actions you may have taken when viewed from the perspective of current values which have changed. It made me wonder how my life will be judged by the next generation who will not have the background knowledge to understand why I lived my life as I did.

My Sustainable Garden -Chickweed Pesto

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Tiny seedlings are starting to appear in our garden from plants that I let go to seed last year. The fun is in spotting these new plants growing in unexpected places and in being able to identify what they are. I know I have violas, sweet alyssum, petunias and begonias but I have also noticed another seedling spring up all over the garden. Web_chickweed-in-bricksThis last unknown is appearing in my hanging baskets, tumbling over my walls, and in between the pavers. Web_chickweed-basketInitially I nurtured it with water and seaweed emulsion only to have an explosion of growth suddenly start taking over the beds. Suspicion started to creep into my mind as nothing I have planted grows that quickly and I have now realised I am battling a worthy foe. Chickweed!

Web_chickweed-stalksI have been on my hands and knees reaching under the roses, through the hydrangea, around the olive trees and across the brick pavers removing this fragile but tenacious weed and throwing it into the bin. Fortunately it is relatively easy to pull out but little bits still litter the garden probably preparing to haunt me in another 12 months. I have been muttering to myself, asking where did it come from. As I have been growing my own mulch (which is another story) for the past 12 months I doubted that it was from the bag of sugar cane I had used 12 months ago. Web_chickweed_neighbourI didn’t remain in ignorance for long as crouching under the olives I glanced across my neighbour’s neglected backyard and saw a glorious carpet of light green starting right next to my fence. The ground is covered in a tangled mass of stalks, leaves and flowers.Now I had found my source; Stellaria media commonly known as chickweed, winter weed, bindweed, satin flower, satin-flower, starweed, starwort, stitchwort, tongue grass and white bird’s eye.

Web_chickweed-flowerI am trying to make my garden as sustainable as possible and I hate throwing plant material out but this weed had gone to seed and I am not going to put it into the compost bin. As I threw the fourth bag away I started to wonder if it was edible. The name surely has to be a clue; I mean chickweed? I grabbed a couple of handfuls and walked through the forest to see if my son’s chooks would eat it. No problems there and they are still alive as I write. Chickweed is easy to identify with its frill of fine hairs running up one side of its stalk, changing sides at a leaf juncture.

Web_chickweed-and-chookMy father, curious about my frenetic gardening activity, wandered down to see what I was doing. I explained that having identified that this weed was not toxic to humans I was going to put some in our salad. Curious to see what it tasted like he reached down and picked off a few leaves to nibble on.

‘Mum won’t forgive me if you die on my patch,’ I told him. ‘Hey, at 91 years old I have to die sometime,’ he said, munching like Peter Rabbit on the sprigs.
Chickweed is one of those super foods, rich in omega-6 fatty acids and saponins, high in vitamins A, C, D, and B as well as the minerals, calcium, zinc, potassium, manganese, silica, phosphorous, sodium and copper. Web_chickweed-in-mug2It now definitely has a place in my diet both in salads, as an infusion and in pesto. It is also said to be useful as a poultice or tincture for skin irritations and helpful in treating obesity not that this is a problem in our household. I am really quite excited about identifying this plant and am now keen to see what else I can use from my garden’s supply of edible weeds.Web_chickweed-pesto

The chickweed was starting to go to seed and forming stalks which might have made the pesto stringy so I pulled the leaves from the stalks. The pesto was delicious.

Chickweed Pesto

Ingredients:

2 cups chickweed leaves

1 large clove garlic, smashed

½ cup Parmesan, freshly grated

¼ – ½ cup nuts – pine nuts, macadamia or walnuts

½ cup virgin olive oil

¼ cup fresh basil leaves

salt and pepper

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Process:

In a food processor, pulse the chickweed and the basil leaves with the garlic until well broken down and blended, scraping down the sides to ensure even chopping. Add the Parmesan and pulse, then the nuts and pulse well. Slowly add the olive oil pulsing all the time. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on bruschetta, over pasta or as a dip with vegetables.

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