Friday 31 May 2019

The Farmer, The Fox, The Chicken And The Cabbage

This popular maths puzzle appears in many forms [see here] It is a fox or a wolf, a chicken, duck or goat, a cabbage, bag of grain or sack or beans. But the premise is the same - the farmer only has a small boat, and has to figure out how to get everything safely across the river.
Although it was a Bank Holiday on Monday, Bob decided against taking a full day off, for various reasons.
He did take me out [to the Hospital so we could visit sick church members together!] and he did buy me an ice cream when the van came up our road in the afternoon. So I am not complaining.
But in Tuesday we did take some time out. We went over to IKEA for breakfast. There were a couple of small things needed for Cornerstones, so we planned an early start, full breakfast [with Family Card Discount and free coffees] then back home by lunchtime.
These things never turn out as you expect...
A while ago we realised we would need to replace the Cornerstones sofa sometime soon - and we wanted a sofa bed in order to accommodate overnight visitors. We'd been looking around - and found The One. It ticked all the boxes [size, style and price] but as I'm not teaching at the minute, we decided to defer the purchase for a while.
But as we strolled round the store on Tuesday, and sat on the sofa again just to reassure ourselves about it, I spotted a yellow ticket. Oh no!!
We found a very helpful assistant. Yes, that style was being discontinued in July. Yes they did have the one we wanted in the warehouse... frantic mental arithmetic, could we juggle things and get it now? [it was actually a little cheaper than when we'd seen it last year]
The assistant said she was really surprised, it had been selling really well and was very popular. OK, we will buy it now, we said. Do you need to arrange delivery, it will be 3 -5 days? No, we have a big car, said Bob confidently. In his defence, the Skoda will seat 7 adults comfortably [he took six deacons in it last autumn to a church event!]
We went down to Collections, and by the time we arrived, they had the three boxes, plus bag of cushions, on a trolley, ready and waiting. We wheeled the trolley to the carpark.
This is when we discovered 3 IKEA boxes is not equivalent to 7 adults. The first box went in. But the next box [same size] would not go above it or beside it. The thinner but longer box went in [after reclining the passenger seat] and the bag of cushions. But one box stayed on the trolley. We tried again - every permutation, all the doors open to allow every possible manoeuvre...
On the roof? I suggested. No! said Bob, we don't have the roof bars[currently at a friend's house and he is in Austria for a week] So as the farmer, fox, chicken and cabbage could not all travel together, I was left to guard the final box while Bob returned to Ferndown, unloaded everything and came back again.
I tried to be cheerful - but I had no book, and no knitting to occupy myself. I sent Steph a message about my plight, and referred to the old maths puzzle, saying I'd been left behind like the old chicken. Quick as a flash came her reply, witty as ever. "Eat the cabbage!"
I wheeled the trolley back to the Collection Point. The assistants were puzzled, they had not that long ago waved us goodbye. "Don't laugh" I said "But you see..." They put the trolley in the back area, and said it would be safe there till I collected it later.
I went up to the restaurant and had a cup of coffee and almond cake [better than uncooked cabbage]
Bob's round trip took about 1¾hours. 
He found me in the restaurant and we went and collected some lunch. Halfway through lunch, he suddenly said "Erm, where's the big box?" "Oh, I left it out in the car park on the trolley" I said nonchalantly "I figured it was too big and heavy to get nicked"  [then I 'fessed up, and said it was safe in the care of Lizzie downstairs]
Now of course, we have to work out how and when to get three large boxes [and a bag of cushions] to Norfolk. I suspect it will be a slow process, one box at a time on our next few visits...

Thursday 30 May 2019

Going Green

"Walking In The Woods" is a very trendy activity right now. Whether you are indulging in the Japanese practice of shirin-yoku [aka forest bathing], worshipping outdoors at a Forest Church, enjoying a peaceful day off with someone you love, or merely looking for the Gruffalo, forests are definitely the place to be right now.
Last week we could not decide whether to walk in the New Forest or walk along the sand by the sea - so we compromised with a visit to Upton Country Park at Poole. Time to walk in the gardens, to walk amongst the trees, and walk by the water.
We began by walking through the walled garden - this has such beautiful flowers- we saw lots of butterflies and bees. Bob took many photos on his camera, and I used my phone. But it was important to stop and appreciate the beauty, and not just take pictures.
Leaving the garden area we walked through the woods, stopping to smile at a little cherub cheekily nestling in the undergrowth.
As we moved away from the garden and house, there was less 'outside noise' - traffic, people etc - and more birdsong, insect buzz, and leaves rustling.
So peaceful.
A Japanese professor, author of a book on shirin-yoku has found that regularly immersing yourself in nature has both psychological and physiological benefits - healing for the body and mind.
Here are the trees as we got closer to the water's edge [Upton Lake is part of Poole Harbour]
We could look across the reeds to the water.
I took three photos and my phone kindly made them into a panorama shot!
The reeds waved in the gentle breeze, and we could hear birdsong [we think it was a Reed Warbler- but neither of us are very good at ornithology]
Bob took these two close-ups of the tree bark.
I was conscious of being very relaxed as we strolled in the sunshine, and I was glad of the opportunity to soak up more Vitamin D.
Don't you just love those mega-deckchairs! 
Back to the house. Imagine having that view of lawns and trees from your bedroom window!
There were lots of gardeners working very hard to maintain the grounds.
This Georgian Mansion [I really must move on from this period of history!] was built by the Spurrier Family - but then owned by the Doughtys. 
The Doughtys decreed that their island should be open to the residents of Hamworthy - and the whole coastal stretch has been declared an area of Special Scientifc Interest and given Ramsar Status. [clic on the link to find out more about this international body which works to protect wetlands and wildlife]
It is rumoured that there is a tunnel beneath the house, which leads all the way to the waters edge - and that in the 1960s, loot from the Great Train Robbery was hidden there!
It was a beautiful day, spent walking among the trees - certainly true refreshment for body, mind and spirit
When through the woods and forest glades I wander, and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees...and feel the gently breeze... then sings my soul, my Saviour God to thee "How Great Thou Art!"

Wednesday 29 May 2019

Such A Sweet Story

The young man in the centre of this photo is Javier Larragoiti. When he was 18 he began studying for a Chemical Engineering Degree in Mexico City. At the same time, his father was diagnosed with diabetes.
As you know, obesity rates are rising around the world - one in 7 people are obese and 10% of them have type 2 diabetes. Mexico has the second highest rate of obesity anywhere [after the USA].
The Mexican Government has put high taxes on sugary drinks in an attempt to curb this, and is enjoying moderate success.
But Javier's dad has a sweet tooth- he really struggled with sugar substitutes. He tried stevia, and sucralose, but ended up cheating on his diet. Javier decided that alongside his studies, he would use his skills in chemistry for a personal project, to try and help his dad.
He started looking at xylitol - this sugar substitute is often used in chewing gum, but it is more expensive to produce than many other substitutes. It is a sweet-tasting alcohol. In Finland it is made from wood, and often called birch-sugar/birkenzucher - but in America it is produced from sweetcorn.
Javier has spent 10 years developing a production method to extract xylitol from spent corn-cobs. Mexico has an annual 27.5 million tonne sweetcorn crop - and those leftover cobs are usually burned [adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere]
Javier applied for, and obtained, a grant from Chivas Venture. I mentioned them last month, in connection with two guys in Scotland who want to process waste coffee grounds.
Another byproduct of the corn industry is fructose - but although this helps boost the farmers' income, this is not so helpful to the consumers. It is a cheap glucose substitute, popular with food manufacturers.
“It’s kind of ironic,” Larragoiti says. “High fructose corn syrup is just a bomb of carbs and concentrated sugar that makes a high peak of insulin. It’s many times sweeter than regular glucose. Companies use and pay less and that’s the issue.” 
70% of the corn harvest ends up as waste, after the cobs are processed- so there is a lot to be disposed of. Some farmers in the US are working on making peat substitute, and super absorbent oil filters. But Javier's project has real potential to help world health, and the Chivas judges were pleased to award him a grant for his work. 
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is interested in this work too, as they seek to encourage a 'circular economy' for food.
And his Dad is thrilled- he says that he uses his son's product every day, and has stopped cheating on his diet!

Tuesday 28 May 2019

Not 'Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells'

...but 'Despondent of Dorset' 
How is it that I woke up on Monday morning to find myself living in a place where my elected representatives in Westminster and Brussels are Christopher Chope and Anne Widdecombe? Two of my least favourite politicians. Nothing I can do, except keep plodding on, grateful there is more to life than Brexit. 
On Sunday we sang this hymn- one of my favourites, mainly for the words, but also the tune [Beethoven's 9th - used also for the EU anthem]

Be the God of all my Sundays, 
be the focus of my praise;
It is you I choose to honour 
on this special day of days.
God who made me, God who saved me, 
with your people I belong
As we come to hear you speaking 
and to join our hearts in song.

Be the God of all my Mondays: 
let my lifestyle make you known;
Give me courage in confession 
when for you I stand alone.
Be my God through work and leisure,
rest and travel, day and night;
Let me keep a clear awareness 
of a life lived in your sight.

Be the God I serve and worship 
day by day, throughout the week,
God whose flawless care sustains me,
God whose guiding word I seek.
Be my God through ev’ry moment, 
ev’ry circumstance I face,
God of life in its completeness, 
God of holy, daily grace

Singing this helps me refocus on What Really Matters. 
Plus the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord....plans to give you a hope and a future" 
[Which will be the theme of the (Women's) World Day of Prayer in 2022 - currently being planned by the national committee in London] 

Monday 27 May 2019

What Are We Eating Tonight?

For most of my adult life, I have made careful menu plans for the week. In the early days of marriage, when we were saving hard for college, then living on a very low income, this was as much about budgets as diets. 
When the girls came along and we were fitting in their after school activities and part-time jobs, evening meetings at church, and other stuff, it was really useful to have the list of meals pinned up in the kitchen. I am so grateful that everyone helped - either by setting the table, switching on the oven, getting things out of the freezer, preparing veg etc. [even as very young children, the girls prepared their school packed lunches each evening, and made a note when we were running low on anything] Thank you Bob, Liz, Steph for that help.
But I confess that in the last few years I have been much more relaxed about meal planning. I may buy a chicken, intending to have a roast on Sunday - and then to strip the carcase to get meat for other meals, and a batch of stock . But I won't be quite as specific as I used to about deciding the 'Dish of the Day' beforehand. Often I prepare and freeze meals so there is always something ready to thaw, or deliberately double portions and we have the same 'main' two days running, but with different accompaniments.
But to be honest, at the moment I just want to get a meal on the table which is easy to prepare, tasty to eat, and kind to the budget. 
I recently borrowed two library books for inspiration.
Rachel Allen's Easy Meals was great. I like RA's style of writing [and her TV shows] although she is developing a Nigella-type-grin when she is cooking! This book has 6 sections
Store Cupboard, DFast and Fabulous, 5 Ingredients or Less, One Pot, No Cook,Fuss Free Extras and Sides. These really are easy to produce, nourishing family meals. 99% of the time I am just cooking for two - but these are great dishes for couples, families, and guests.
I like the way she suggests variations on a theme, and whilst there is nothing particularly new, the instructions and accompanying photographs are an incentive to make something a little more exciting with the sausages and potatoes than just quotidian bangers and mash. *****
I plan to try her Quick Pepper & Pesto Focaccia  sometime soon. It is a cross between Italian olive oil bread and Irish Soda bread!
The 5 O'Clock Apron, by Claire Thomson is a very different kettle of fish. This is the first book by a chef from Bristol who is also a mum of 3 daughters.  This is aimed at busy Mums with hungry children - but definitely comes in the "World Cuisine" section. Claire grew up in Africa, has a Chinese stepmother, Scottish grandparents and a Kiwi husband - and has travelled all over the place. Lots of recipes with names I have never heard of - Kushari Rice from Egypt, Turlu Turlu from Turkey [it means hotchpotch and is similar to ratatouille] Spaetzle [a sort of pasta pushed through a potato ricer into boiling water] and Lahmacun [Turkish Pizza]
I have already tried one of her recipes- Pangrattato  aka Poor Man's Parmesan - which is a [non cheesy] way of using up breadcrumbs. 
This book is subtitled "Proper Food for Modern Families" - It is a fun read, but I am not sure it is a book I would use a lot. Maybe if it had been around 30 years ago... ****                            
Finally I must mention a blog I have been dipping into a lot recently.  Everyday Cooks by Susie Collings. I must thank my good friend Peter for telling me about this blog. Lots of everyday recipes which don't require complicated skills or obscure ingredients. Bright and cheerful, with a section on everyday tips and techniques.
Have you read any good cookbooks recently?

Sunday 26 May 2019

Saying Sorry

Today is marked in Australia as "National Sorry Day". In the 1960s, many indigenous Australian children [Aborigines] were forcibly taken from the families and given up for adoption.
This was an awful thing  - but it took 30 years for a report [Bringing them home] to be published- exposing the evil things which were done in the name of 'child protection'.
Since the report was published, this day has been an annual opportunity for reconciliation, and meeting together of the different groups involved. A chance for working together, building stronger relationships, and other healing initiatives.
I do not know how it works - or what has happened to those children now they are grown up. Reading about it has made me think again about what it means to say "Sorry"
Often when I was teaching children and spotted one doing something they shouldn't, I would call their name across the classroom or playground. "Sorry Miss!" would come the response. They had no idea why I had called them, but figured they must be in the wrong, and if they said Sorry! fast enough, then they'd avert punishment or further problems.
Poor kids - that was the worst thing they could say, as it guaranteed they would get a five minute lecture on Mrs Almond's Rules For Saying Sorry which went something like this...

  1. Never say sorry! until you understand what you have actually done wrong
  2. Never say sorry! until you know exactly why the other person is upset
  3. Never say sorry! unless you truly mean it
  4. Never say sorry! unless you intend to not do this thing again
  5. Never say sorry! until you know what you can do to help put things right
  6. Never say sorry, but... You must not put conditions on your repentance. 
  7. Even if you've done wrong, and you do say sorry!, and really mean it, there is no guarantee that the other person will forgive you.**
to clarify
  1. don't use quick, general purpose apologies like a 'Get out of Jail Free' Card. They are meaningless
  2. was it your thoughtless or unkind words, your mean or careless actions, deliberate or accidental damage, forgetfulness - just how have you upset this person? You need to acknowledge your fault before you can feel sorry for it.
  3. insincere words mean nothing
  4. genuine repentance means planning to change your ways in future
  5. genuine repentance includes an attempt at the best reparation you can offer
  6. "I'm sorry I broke your possession, but it's your fault for leaving it there" isn't saying sorry at all, it is saying "It is your fault this happened, so I don't need to apologise"
  7. Not being forgiven is hard to live with 
I have been surprised, and encouraged, by the number of times I have said these things to children in the playground, and they have responded really positively. Even better, I've heard them explaining the rules to other children later. It really does help them build better relationships.
** except God - he will always forgive those who truly repent.

Saturday 25 May 2019

Still Running Stitch

Last autumn I renovated a quilt for my friend Dave. It was enormous fun to be involved in this restoration project.
Dave had been clearing his parent's home, after his Mum's death and helping his father downsize, prior to moving to a much smaller property here in Dorset.
His Dad is now happily settled and has made many new friends here. Derek is a retired CofE vicar and has a very positive attitude to life.
Last year he was quite ill, but has received excellent treatment from our local hospitals.
He is a runner - and every morning soon after 6am, he goes out for a run. Through this activity, he raises funds for Cancer Research. 
Being CofE, Derek worships at the parish church - but he comes along each Thursday to our OAP Lunch Club. He is on the extreme left of this photo. Last week he asked me if I could make him something on my "izzy-whizzy embroidery machine."
He wants people to know why he is running through Ferndown each morning - and hoped I could make him a patch to sew on his running vest.
He gave me a piece of paper with his chosen design sketched out on it. The machine was duly programmed and I made patches for back and front.
I gave up running some time ago, because of my dodgy knee - but I hope I am still as bright and active as Derek when I am 84!

Friday 24 May 2019

Spouses And Siblings

Two more photos from our weekend away
This is Louise and her husband Alisdair. When Bob went to be Pastor of the Baptist Church in Welling, Kent, back in 1986, Louise was still at school. Her family belonged to our church - her Mum Beryl was Church Secretary for a while, and her brother Stewart was one of the best babysitters Liz and Steph ever had. Louise then went off to Uni, and came back to be married at the church. That was 26 years ago. [I did confuse someone by saying "This is my friend Louise, Bob married her in 1993"]
Now Louise is training at Spurgeon's College [as Bob did] to become a Baptist Minister. It was so wonderful to catch up with them after such a long time.
It was especially lovely to hear Louise saying how special that time in the 80s was, as she grew up in Kent, and how much she learned when Bob was her minister. I pray that she too will be richly blessed as she prepares to follow this calling in her own life.
On our way home, we diverted to Northants to visit Bob's brother Frank & his wife Barbara. 
Bob's sister Denise and husband Kevin had been staying for the weekend.
I took this photo of Bob with his siblings and their spouses.
Emails, letters, phone calls, and Skype are great - but nothing beats a proper hug!
This time next week I will be packing for Norfolk - for a weekend with all my side of the family.Happy days!

Thursday 23 May 2019

Telford Travels

We had a brilliant time at the Baptist Assembly - but as is so often the case at Conferences, there is far more to do than there is time to do it all. So often there is a choice of seminars - and the two you would most like to do are running at the same time [Bob and I were at least able to split up then report back to each other]
The Telford International Centre was "a well appointed venue" as they say. Free Car Parking, accessible to those with mobility issues, and plenty of comfortable seating. Clean loos and a couple of food outlets on site added to the good experience.
But in the late afternoon, all delegates were asked to leave the TIC so that things could be cleared up and re-arranged - so we all went off to find food.
Having had an excellent breakfast with Pauline and James[thank you P&J], and generously sized hot meals at lunchtime we weren't particularly hungry. We bought some sandwiches, fruit and drinks in the shopping centre, then drove south towards Ironbridge.
We knew we couldn't see all the sights of the area [if I'd had a whole day I would have gone to Blist's Hill Museum, which I have always longed to visit...] But Ironbridge was a wise choice for our relatively limited time allocation.
We parked just beside the old Tollhouse, now a Museum, and went inside to check it out. I learned a lot.
Abraham Darby, the builder, was a Quaker. He believed in equality, so decreed the Toll was the same for everyone - Royalty or peasant, rich or poor. The bridge was on private land - and he charged all - whether they were soldiers were on or off duty, drivers of Mail Coaches - or the King of England!
It was a lovely afternoon, and we walked over the bridge in the sunshine towards 'Ironbridge' - the town which got its name from the location.
James had explained that the bridge was recently restored and repainted.
The old paint was removed, layer by layer, and the last layer was red. So they repainted in red "Just like it was when it was new". However, some folk maintain that the red is red lead, painted on each piece of iron after it was cast, to protect it from the elements before the whole bridge was assembled. The jury is out on this- but the bridge remains red [for the time being, anyway]
The other side of the bridge is the War Memorial, on the side of the gorge- and there is a fabulous bank of poppies and wildflowers. We sat on the bench, admiring the bridge and eating our food.
Halfway through our meal, things started to happen on the bridge.
A man came and started unrolling a huge banner which dangled over the edge and flapped in the breeze.
It was in support of Carl Ikeme, the Wolverhampton Wanderer's player currently in remission from leukemia. Carl has done an incredible amount of work, raising awareness, and raising money for research. The fans [Team Keme] are right behind him! Read the full story here 
The banner was there for just under twenty minutes, so people could take pictures, then it was whisked away again. It was fun to be there 'as it happened'! 
We walked back over the bridge and taking a few more pictures on the way. The bridge is an amazing feat of engineering, especially when you consider how long ago it was built - 240 years ago. The photo below is the one from the local paper- I watched the guy taking it!
We saw loads of cyclists - this is part of the Mercian Way - a brilliant cycle route running form Salisbury to Chester- part of it going right through Shropshire.
But it was 6.30, and we had to return for our evening session at TIC.
The Baptist Assembly was very good [2020's meetings are in Bournemouth - so no long journeys for us next year]
I definitely want to go back to this beautiful county sometime. Unfortunately we will need to find another good B&B as Pauline and James move to Dorset very soon!

Wednesday 22 May 2019

Never In A Month Of Sundaes!

Last Friday, when we stopped at the Motorway Services en route to Telford, my phone buzzed with two pictures from Jon. The family were in Morrison's Supermarket, up in Norfolk and also having a coffee break. Rosie was clearly enjoying her treat
Little-Miss-Two-Spoons is shown here, tucking into the "Children's Sundae". Liz said "I didn't realise the Kid's Sundae would actually be the size of the kid!" I drank my coffee and read the paper. This headline caught my eye.

"I could give them advice on portion control" I thought. but then I read the article. It is about the fresh/deli counters, where items are weighed out individually for each customer.
"This new service aims to reduce the amount of food thrown away in customers’ homes – which amounts to £500-a-year – according to the government’s Food Waste Champion. Its fresh food counters means that customers shopping at Morrisons can purchase the exact amounts of food they need. Morrisons has listened to many customers who struggle to know how much food to buy."
This does seem like a good idea to me - if it is going to reduce food waste, then it is definitely to be encouraged. 
I doubt any of Rosie's Sundae got wasted- I imagine her parents helped out if there was any left!

Tuesday 21 May 2019

Tweet Of The Day

BBC Radio 4 fans will recognise the phrase Tweet Of The Day as a lovely little programme where a birdcall is broadcast and a story told. Recently Rosie & her parents went birdwatching up at Holkham on the North Norfolk Coast. Jon snapped this lovely picture of the two girls with their bins watching the birds. 
He posted it on twitter. At the weekend, the NNR [National Nature Reserve] which is part of the Holkham Estate tweeted about their special half term activity here. And they used Jon's picture!
More details about the event - the Bird box Trail - on the website here.
Very proud of my Twitter Famous family. 

Monday 20 May 2019

My Coronation Day

Today I am taking things very gently. I have an appointment with my dentist to have my crown fitted. Considering how much it costs, I am a little disappointed to report it is neither gold, nor jewel encrusted!
I'm not very good at the Dentists. I don't enjoy injections, and hate the drill. I usually close my eyes and recite hymns and Psalms and poetry in my head, to take my mind off what is going on in my mouth. 
In preparation for the crown, temporary work was done a fortnight ago on the offending molar. 
My dentist, a kind and capable woman, said I was not to chew food in that area, nor even brush the tooth. She mimed swishing mouthwash "for one whole minute" with my head tipped to one side. 
In the privacy of the bathroom, I have undergone facial contortions which make me look like a demented parrot.
And at mealtimes I find myself humming "Always chew on the right side of mouth..." I shall be glad when it's all sorted.

Sunday 19 May 2019

Good Advice For Families Everywhere

This popped up as one of my daily Bible verses this week. Wise words worth sharing!

Saturday 18 May 2019

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Some of my friends keep a journal, others write down three greatitudes each evening [a greatitude is a blessing for which they are grateful - the word is a hybrid of gratitude and beatitude. But I have no idea how to pronounce it]
I just write my blog - but there are so many things which have come out of this daily rambling which are definitely things for gratitude and cheerfulness...
Two weeks ago I blogged about the amazing South East Asia Collection in Norwich. Since then, two blogfriends have told me they were in Norwich, so took their spouses to find this place, and really enjoyed it. 
In January, when Bob said "We need to find two nights B&B in Telford, do you have any friends round there?" I immediately said Yes! - and so here we are, staying in a Methodist Manse for the Baptist Annual Meetings this weekend.
Last month,when I was beginning to feel better, and needing a project to occupy myself, Kezzie sent me some cosplay outfits to alter. I am so thrilled that she is pleased with them - and that they've even got the seal of approval from other Whovians. 
Kezzie is a longtime blogfriend  - and one day I hope we will get to meet in person.
That's just three things which instantly came to mind - I know if I sat down and considered it more, the list would be incredibly long. There are all the books I have read because of good reviews on other blogs, gifts and cards from friends all over the world, recipes I have found on other blogs which are now part of my regular repertoire...
I stopped putting a 'blogroll' in my sidebar, because so many people who were on it when I began in 2008 no longer write blogs, and others take 'sabbaticals'. But I do try to comment regularly on other blogs which I enjoy.
When the blog stops 'sparking joy' I shall stop writing it. But for now I'll keep going.