Worth thinking about…

This was on the wonderful John Gray’s blog “Going Gently”. It really spoke to me:

 

Advice we could all do with taking to heart, I feel.

Advertisements

A soggy weekend in central France

It started off promisingly warm! Mr FD worked really hard on Friday in the courtyard and on the balcony, clearing pots, and sorting out the rubbish. That was A Good Thing, as I’m terrible at throwing stuff out. That old, cracked pot? It was a present from “some child at school” (but I can’t remember which child) That broken strawberry planter? It has a “rustic charm” (really?!) Those plastic pots? I could use them to plant seeds. (But I never plant seeds!!) Mr FD just took them down to the tip.

In the afternoon, I got involved in the planting  – though even that small amount of effort wore me out. I’m not sure if the fatigue is a side effect of the treatment, or due to the fact I’ve done even less exercise than usual (which is quite difficult!) and am therefore very unfit! Most probably, it’s a mixture of the two. Anyway, the balcony is now a much more pleasant place to sit. We’ve put a trellis at one end to stop Jasper eating/ scratching up/ using as a litter tray the tomato and pepper plants, and it all looks quite lovely. I’d take a photo to show you, but it’s piddling down and it wouldn’t look very attractive.

This is a picture of the balcony from a couple of years back, looking a mess!

and here it is looking slightly less-of-a-mess (again, from a different year). Note the pigeon spikes to discourage Cats from digging!!

and the courtyard.

Saturday dawned sunnily too. Which boded well for the barbecue in Clermont. Our church has been hosting Juniors Across Europe, This is an annual event for 10-13 year olds from the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, giving these young people an opportunity to meet anglophone children their own age from other churches and other countries. It is described as “A youth weekend which includes adventures, activities, thought provoking discussions, food, and so much more.” The aim being to develop relationships between churches and to be encouraged in faith and learn more about Christ… with lots of fun thrown in.

Here’s a map showing all the Episcopal churches/missions in Europe

The barbecue was to be the last hurrah of the event, and I’d persuaded Friend Cathy and Mr FD to come. I’d promised to make a dessert and a salad, so I baked my sponge, and prepped the salad on Saturday morning. The sponge was Delia’s all-in-one sponge cake, which always works for me, although this time it sank in the middle as I opened the oven at a critical moment. No matter, layered with jam, the dip filled with chopped strawberries, and served with squirty cream, no-one seemed to mind. During the day, the sky clouded over, and Mr FD started declaring doom and disaster (well, quite a lot of rain). Finally, he cried off, but Cathy & I went.

The location was the retreat centre where the kids had been staying – there was a huge covered verandah with magnificent views over Clermont Ferrand, which were very dramatic this evening, with iron-grey clouds, and a mist of rain that was swirling around, but not actually falling on us. We were able to cook and eat in relative comfort, under the shelter of the verandah, but it grew colder and colder. Finally, at about 8.30, the rain reached us, the temperature plummeted and we decided to go home. But it had been good to support the event. Although the food tasted of nothing, I did still quite enjoy it, as I chose things with texture to compliment each other.

On Sunday we awoke to rain. Steady, very wet rain. I’d committed myself to exhibiting at the little art show taking place at the Artisanat. I think the plan was to be outside under gazebos, but there was no way I could do that. Most of the artists who were working were painting actual views, so they were outside, but as I was just zentangling I installed myself at the back of the small craft shop and drew.

These photos were taken on Saturday by the secretary of the Artisanat:

Here is one of the paintings

This is the view that someone else painted of the ancient Chateau gateway…

..and here he is, painting it. The girl in the sundress and hat would have been extremely chilly, had she actually existed!

I was there all day, but didn’t do very much – a bit of chatting, giving some advice to a lady who was visiting London in a few weeks, but that’s all. However, I was accosted by a woman who obviously knew me, and whose face I recognised, but I had NO IDEA who she was. She talked, and talked and I understood the gist, finally working out that she was from the Eglise Reformée that I used to attend. At the end she asked to be remembered to a mutual friend – but I can’t do that, as I still have no idea of her name!! I sold one picture and a couple of cards, for the grand total of 13€ – I won’t be going on a world tour with that, but that wasn’t the point really. Rather like going to the barbecue, I was there to show my face, and to support the event. Which I did.

After that I had to go out to feed the Poor Cats – oh, it was wet!! The poor things were shivering and trying to hide in different, vaguely dry places. I put as many plates of food under shelter as I could, but I knew that within minutes some of the bowls would be swimming in water. At least I was able to give them some good solid nourishment, as I’d brought home a bagfull of over cooked beef burgers and some leftover chicken legs from the barbecue. Mixed with three tins of cat food, lots of cat-biscuits, and some slightly-out-of-date creme fraiche I felt they had a good meal. But it was so sad to see these poor, wet kitties, looking so miserable. I hope they all went into the shed afterwards and curled up in the duvets and blankets that are in there. We don’t really know how popular the shed is with the Poor Cats – we know Red and Bonnie used to curl up together in there, snuffling together, before they died, as we’d open up the shed and find therm there. We also know Binkie goes in, as does Cloud,  as when we open up, there’s a streak of panicked pussycat fleeing the scene, but other than those, we’re not sure. Still, cats aren’t stupid: they should be able to find a dry-ish nook or cranny to hide in – and we’ve provided the shed, a kennel and three little cat houses filled with straw. If they choose not to use them, there’s not much we can do.

I got home to Mr FD’s pulled pork, sweet potato chips and asparagus. It was, I’m sure, very nice…

Today is another rainy day. Quite chilly too. I will continue with a zentangle commission and also (maybe) make a “Just Because” card for a friend. I need to go to the pharmacy to stock up on the drugs for this round of chemo, but after Thursday it will be five down, one to go.

On 7th June it will be my last chemo! HUZZAH!!! And (hopefully) about three or four weeks after that, I may start getting some tastebuds coming back…and hair…and eyelashes!!! Believe me, you don’t realise how important eyelashes are until you don’t have them!

That may be so – but I couldn’t taste it!

(Not that I’d be licking a cat to find out…even in revenge for Bib, who comes inthe middle of the night, and licks my bald head. I can promise you, a cat’s tongue on a sensitive scalp is Not At All Comfortable!)

 

Book Review: The Beekeeper’s Promise (*****)

I am a 10 Book Reviewer on Net Galley!

And here’s another one. I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review.

THE BEEKEEPER’S PROMISE

by Fiona Valpy

I was intruiged by the blurb on Net Galley:

Heartbroken and hoping for a new start, Abi Howes takes a summer job in rural France at the Château Bellevue. The old château echoes with voices from the past, and soon Abi finds herself drawn to one remarkable woman’s story, a story that could change the course of her summer—and her life.

In 1938, Eliane Martin tends beehives in the garden of the beautiful Château Bellevue. In its shadow she meets Mathieu Dubosq and falls in love for the first time, daring to hope that a happy future awaits. But France’s eastern border is darkening under the clouds of war, and history has other plans for Eliane…

When she is separated from Mathieu in the chaos of German occupation, Eliane makes the dangerous decision to join the Resistance and fight for France’s liberty. But with no end to the war in sight, her loyalty to Mathieu is severely tested.

It definitely sounded like my kind of book – I am always interested to read about ordinary people during World War II, often contemplating what would I have done, had I been in the situation? Of course, being set in France there was an added interest for me, as I live in France, although not in the area in which the story is based.

I have to say, I loved it! I finished it in about three days, as I found it difficult to put down – in fact, I was reading until half past midnight last night, because I wanted (and didn’t want!) to finish it. It is well written; perhaps not with the same lyrical prose as Patrick Gale (another of my five star authors) but there were certainly enough beautifully written passages to make me pause to enjoy reading them. The author writes with a real sense of place (Roxana Nastase please take note!) and she made me believe that such a place as Coulliac exists; I could imagine the village, the chateau, the moulin. She obviously loves France, and this shines through her writing.

The characters too were believable – perhaps some of the German soldiers were a little too nice, but there must have been many decent people in the army, who despised what they were being ordered to do, so presumably there were officers who were sympathetic towards the French people. I also liked the fact that these weren’t great heroic Resistance fighters, but ordinary people doing their little bit towards the opposition of their invaders. I liked both main characters very much, and I had no real preference towards the present day story, or the wartime narrative. Both were sympathetically written, and I very much liked the thread of bees that ran through the story. I find bees a very attractive creature.

gratuitous picture of bee and sunflower

While I had a reasonably good idea of how the story was going to end, and how the two narratives would be drawn together, there was enough suspense to keep it interesting.

All in all, I would thoroughly recommend this book, and, like the other reviewers on Net Galley, I give it five stars. I would be interested in reading other books by the same author.

*****

Sorry there’s been a lot of book reviews at the moment: I suppose I’m getting in all my reading while I have the desire to read. When I’m in recovery mode from chemo, I don’t feel like reading, so there’s about 7 – 10 days when I don’t read, giving me another 10 days to catch up! And, with Net Galley there’s always a constant supply of free reading material! What’s not to like!? The only obligation is to write a review, but that’s not a great burden: after all, it gives me the subject for a blog post!!

Walk like an Egyptian

One of my great pleasures, and a way I can while away many a long hour, is browsing other people’s blogs. There are many I enjoy reading, even if I don’t often comment on them. Some are people who live in France, others have commented on my blog, others are from people living a very different lifestyle to mine, some are people walking their Christian pilgrimage, others are of different or no faith. Some I visit regularly, others I only pop into occasionally.

One blog I enjoy from time to time is Multicoloured Madnesswritten by a Christian mum, who homeschools her children, and has a husband with MS. I’m not sure where in the UK they live, but I enjoy reading what the family gets up to.  The tag-line is “Faith, Family, Food, Fun” – which just about sums up the content, recounting the gentle rhythms of life in this family.

In one post recently, San writes about some of the things her daughter has been doing as part of her homeschooling project on Ancient Egypt. One of these was making an Egyptian death mask.

This reminded me of when I was teaching Year 5s and we too were studying the Ancient Egyptians. We too made death masks. Nowadays, it’s possible to buy plastic or polystyrene white masks at a reasonable price, which can be painted quite easily, but my colleague and I were working on a limited budget, some 20 years ago. We could have gone with moulding papier maché, but that takes forever to dry, and it often seemed to go mouldy. So we decided to use plaster of paris infused bandages, which dried relatively quickly.

Having received permission from parents,  we set to work over a period of a few weeks’ art lessons. We explained to the children that  their faces would be greased with vaseline, to stop the mask from sticking, and then the teacher would layer the bandages over their face; of course, tempted though we might have been, we would not block up the nostrils, so they would be able to breathe. They would have to sit very still for ten minutes, while the plaster set, and then the mask would be removed. Then they could design the head-dress, the collar, and the “beard” which would then be placed around their own, individual death mask, which had been spray painted gold. All very exciting.

This school in Essex has obviously had the same idea

“Now, don’t worry,” we said to the children. “You’ll be able to breathe at all times. You’re in no danger. But you must sit very still for about 10 minutes, and you mustn’t try to talk, because that will crack the plaster of Paris. However, if it is really, truly too scary for you, and you are starting to panic, then wave your arms in the air and we’ll remove the mask immediately.”

Everyone agreed that this signal was only in an emergency, and the messy job of plastering over faces commenced. It was a bit like a production line: one child smeared vaseline over another child’s face, I layered the bandages over the face, they child waited for 10/15 minutes, my colleague removed the mask, and meanwhile the other children worked on their collars/head dresses, cutting out and sticking shiny paper for jewels and so forth. Everything was going well, with no incidents, until suddenly we heard frantic squeaking and a boy – who we shall name Gary (because that was his name) – started waving his arms manically. PANIC STATIONS!

I rushed over to him, and ripped the barely set mask from his face, ruining all the careful smoothing of bandages.

“Gosh,” he said, with a big grin, “I was getting a bit hot in there. It’s OK now though.”

I looked at the ruined mess of bandages and plaster, and refrained from screaming. Just. Tempting though it was to hand him the mess and say “That’s your mask” I think we did (finally) allow him to have another go, but we made him wait till the end, and told him that we would ignore any hand waving!!

Ah, happy days….

******

As a side note, Gary was the same child who, on a visit to the Cotswold Wildlife Park, came rushing over to me.

“Miss! Miss!” he yelled, “The llama just spat at me!”

I paused, not quite knowing what to say. But Gary continued: “It’s okay though. I just spat back!”

 

 

Book Review: McNamara series Set 1 (* if I’m feeling generous)

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review.

It’s not often I abandon a book, especially one where I feel under some obligation, as I do here. As I was sent this free of charge, I should uphold my side of the bargain. However, almost from the beginning I struggled with this book, for a variety of reasons.

The main reason I found this book difficult to read is that, quite honestly, it isn’t very well written. The characters are wooden, badly described, and unbelievable. They don’t speak with any conviction, or natural speech patterns – for example, when McNamara arrives at the crime scene, one junior police officer says to another: Look out, he’s mad, Jo. Look at his gait. Something’s got under his hat. We’re in trouble, listen to me. You know how volatile he is and anything could happen when he’s like that” If you try reading that aloud, it doesn’t trip neatly off the tongue, which makes me feel nobody would actually say that.

The author spends three paragraphs (three!!) describing the weather, in great detail, which actually has no bearing on the plot. I frankly don’t care that the weather in Edinburgh has been unseasonably warm, but the nights are getting cooler, although people are not yet “piling a lot of clothes on” they will be doing so in a couple of weeks. SO WHAT?!

In one scene, where there are just two people, C.I. McNamara and Bryony, the love interest, the author seems to struggle to find ways to describe who is doing which action. In my opinion, I would have generally stuck with he/she/ Bryony / McNamara or relied onthe intelligence of the reader to work out who was doing what. But instead, we have “the C.I.”/”the man” / “the lass” – all of which seemed clumsy and unnecessary. In a fairly intimate scene, the use of “the man” (when we know who “the man” is) seems really strange.

There are also some very odd turns of phrase which really annoyed me:

When describing the arrival of McNamara at the crime scene: “He was far from his usual slightly grumpy mood, which seemed like a sunshine now” (what?!)

The young policewoman wonders if her boss had been with somebody special:  He wouldn’t have cared a fig if he had been on a regular date” (there seems to be an obsession with dried fruit here!)

The grumpy McNamara says to a young woman: “You’ll have to wait for him for a while, if you sat your cap for him” (Bad grammar, incorrect vocabulary, and incorrect phrasal verb. Plus, who speaks like that nowadays?!)

I also feel that we came into this story, which I understand is the first of the series, in the middle of the narrative. It refers to characters (such as Mrs Somebody “the old bat next door”) already met and events that happened previously, which left me very confused. I realise that it’s necessary to have a back story, but it needs to be introduced in a way that is much more subtle, and doesn’t leave the reader frustrated.

In the notes about the author, she apparently fell in love with Scotland which is why she set her stories in Edinburgh. In which case, it might make sense to use Scottish, or at least British, words. “Parking lot”? I don’t think so. There were other American expressions used which jarred. Throwing in the odd “lass” does not convince me that this is set anywhere specific. The phrase “she lived…in the village situated in the north of Edinburgh” tells me that little, or no research has been done. A hint for the author: read the Rebus series if you want to know how to write with a sense of place. You can tell that Ian Rankin knows his city like the back of his hand.

I finally (and literally!) tossed my Kindle from me in disgust when I came across another sentence that made no sense to me. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back: “Each house sported three floors and each floor accommodated one flat, which left people wonder if the flats were spacious enough.” WHAT?!

In the end, I don’t know if this book is badly written or badly edited. Whichever it is, by the end of Chapter 5 I was so infuriated that I stopped reading. One star. Avoid like the plague.

Some people have got no taste…

In fact, for me, that baby foods taste of nothing…

It’s an odd sensation,eating food that looks delicious, has a faint (but tempting) aroma, and yet tastes of zilch. Nada. Nuttin’ at all.

For the first couple of days after this happened I went off the idea of eating. I existed on porridge and bread (not so good for the bowels!) but Mr FD and I decided that this was no good. Different sites gave different advice, but many said to try strong flavours, such as curry, chilli and so on. However, although I couldn’t really taste these flavours, they still burned my mouth, which is quite sensitive. I’m lucky enough not to have developed ulcers (yet!) but strong flavours hurt – including mint. I find that toothpaste is too strong a mintiness, so I only have a tiny smear. And extra-strong mints have me whimpering “the pain…the pain…”

Working on the fact that I was enjoying a warm hard-boiled-egg sandwich for lunch, with iceberg lettuce and a few crisps, we thought that a way I might – at least partially – enjoy food was if we worked on a variety of textures and sensations. The sandwich was giving me warm/cold, plus crisp/soft/crunchy. A chocolate chip cookie gave an interesting mix of crunchy plus melty (and a tiny hint of chocolate at the very end).

Mr FD’s chilli was a success on Saturday, with the softness which didn’t hurt, a tiny edge of chilli (just enough!), the different textures of beans, mince, rice and so on. Yesterday he made this salmon-and-asparagus-pastafrom my newest “go to” site for recipes

Oh, it looked lovely! It smelt delicious! It tasted of – nothing! BUT at least it had an interesting mix of textures and mouth-feel: soft salmon, slippery pasta, crunchy asparagus. Happily, it also includes 2 of my 5-a-day (which I’m not keeping to, by any means!)

We’ve planned a vegetable/chicken stir fry tonight – carrot, beansprouts, mushrooms, cabbage, noodles – these will all help make it a bit more interesting to eat. And, if it’s a particularly “umami” sauce, I may get a slight taste of that too.

I thought I’d try a different breakfast, and was really looking forward to this Bircher Meusli, that I made yesterday evening, from the same site:

I thought that there would be a variety of textures in this. When I looked at it, I couldn’t help but imagine the deliciousness of the berries, and honey, and creamy yoghurt…digging my spoon in, I took a big mouthful…and nearly gagged! The creaminess combined with the tastelessness just didn’t work! I’m determined to try it again, when I get my taste back, because I think it is probably very nice, but sans taste? – no, thank you! Back to banana sandwich, or honey-on-bread!

What is very bizarre though is the fact that I can still taste drinks – fainter than before, but I can still taste them. So I enjoy my apple juice/ orange & cranberry juice drinks – but I am right off coffee. Very bitter!! I am watering the juice down though, 75% water, 25% juice, which is better for me, but drinking about 2 litres a day. I know 500 ml of juice isn’t great, but I’m letting myself off that for the duration.

I’m slowly losing weight at the moment, mostly because snacks and alcohol hold little, or no, appeal! There’s no point having a biscuit with your mid-morning drink, if you can’t taste it! There’s no sense of “I like something sweet in the evening” if you can’t distinguish sweet from anything else! There’s no “Oh, I really enjoyed that, so even if I’m full I’ll have a bit more!” There’s no “Let’s have an apèro, and a few snacks and nibbles” when the drinks taste bitter, and the nibbles are crisp enough to hurt my mouth and taste of nothing! I’m down about 2 or 3 kg from my last weigh in, but I’m still way too heavy. So, I’m aware that when things are back to as normal as possible, things need to change…

Knowing that we need to up our vegetable intake, and reduce our red meat intake, I think this site will be useful. These are some of the recipes we’ll be trying:

There are lots, and lots, and LOTS of recipes. I also like the way you can see (on some ) how many portions of fruit/veg they provide. I’m also going to be going back to my copy of “River Cottage Veg Every Day”, which I used a lot when I first got it. Here is a link to my old blog pages, with the tag “River Cottage” should you be ionterested in finding out more. I’m enjoying Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s series on BBC1 at the moment “Britain’s Fat Fight”…

I also really, seriously, need to think about exercise. But that’s for another day…

But, over to you, dear ones: do you have any suggestions for meals which would tempt me on the texture front, and Mr FD on the taste front?

 

Book Review: Women of the Dunes (****)

I was sent a copy of this e-book, free of charge (yay!) by Net Galley, in return for an honest review.

WOMEN OF THE DUNES

by Sarah Maine

The “blurb” made this book sound quite intruiging: From the author of the acclaimed novels The House Between Tides and Beyond the Wild River, a rich, atmospheric tale set on the sea-lashed coast of west Scotland, in which the lives of a ninth-century Norsewoman, a nineteenth-century woman, and a twenty-first-century archeologist weave together after a body is discovered in the dunes.

Libby Snow has always felt the pull of Ullaness a lush Scottish island enshrouded in myth and deeply important to her family. Her great-great-grandmother Ellen was obsessed with the strange legend of Ulla, a Viking maiden who washed up on shore with the nearly lifeless body of her husband—and who inspired countless epic poems and the island’s name.

Central to the mystery is an ornate chalice and Libby, an archaeologist, finally has permission to excavate the site where Ulla is believed to have lived. But what Libby finds in the ancient dunes is a body from the Victorian era, clearly murdered…and potentially connected to Ellen.
What unfolds is an epic story that spans centuries, with Libby mining Ellen and Ulla’s stories for clues about the body, and in doing so, discovering the darker threads that bind all three women together across history.

Infused with Sarah Maine’s signature “meticulous research and descriptive passages of lush, beautiful landscapes” (Publishers Weekly), Women of the Dunes is a beautifully told and compelling mystery for fans of Kate Morton and Beatriz Williams.  

I really enjoyed the book, finding most of the characters interesting and engaging. The main story is woven around Libby and the family of landowners that are involved in her archaeological dig. She has familial links to the area, and as the story plays out we find out what exactly happened on the peninsular those hundreds of years ago. The interweaving of the three stories is well done, and although I found Ellen to be a slightly annoying character, not quite believing her obsession with the ancient legend, I found myself reluctant to put the book down – always a good sign.

I’m not sure I’d call it a “mystery” – with the legend of Ulla and her deadly entanglement with two brothers signalled from the beginning, it wasn’t hard to guess what had happened in the Victorian mystery part of the story. However, the story romped along at a good pace, and it was well-written. I’d certainly be happy top read other books by this author, and if I’d paid for this book, I wouldn’t be disappointed.

This merits a good, solid 4 stars. The date for publication of this novel is 24th July 2018