Friday, 31 August 2012

Spoiled Rotten Part the third

Just when you thought Hogwarts was the coolest thing ever, we had another day on the magical holiday! On Sunday we spent the morning at the British library.  Why do more people not go there? They always have interesting events—for less that £10 a ticket—and they are a hop, skip and a jump away from Kings Cross station.

 Our morning was a panel discussion by 3 leading children’s authors and illustrators—Anthony Browne, Emily Gravett and Peter Sis (who had just won the Hans Christian Anderson medal the night before)

Anthony Browne-- Winner of two Kate Greenaway medals and was Children’s Laureate in 2009.  
My favourite is Gorilla where a young girl, obsessed by gorillas and often neglected by her father concocts a fantasy about a large gorilla who spends time with her the way she wishes her father would.

Emily Gravett whose first book Wolves won the Kate Greenaway medal is a favourite illustrator for us. 
For this book she put paper into  her rat cages and let then nibble, pee and poo all over them then carefully took them out and scanned them making for very realistic pages.

Peter Sis, one of our long time favourites who often illustrated for Cricket magazine and the New Yorker, has a wonderful surreal style. He has won numerous awards including three Caldecott Honor awards. He also has a fascinating picure book called The Wall about growing up in Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia.
'The Hobbit' Cover Art by Peter Sis - 377x600, 66kB

The talk was so interesting as each illustrator talked about one of their works and their illustration style and influences.

Then we were off to the pet shop (the very same pet shop we bought Tibia and Pippi for my 40th birthday) and came home with a new spider baby for clan. Spiderman has longed for this particular breed as she will have stunning colouration when she grows up. She's a brachypelma auratum(cousin to Pippi who is a brachypelma boehmei) commonly known as a Mexican flame knee due to the intense colouration on her knees --kinda like candy corns in that 3 shade effect. Our baby is about the size of a 10p (or a quarter to our American peeps) and is just developing her colours. here she is:
with her soon to be first meal


When she grows up she’ll look like this:
File:Brachypelma auratum kiel.png
See what I mean about the candy corn effect?

But what’s her name? Due to her Mexican heritage we have named her Frida Kahlo.


Can’t you see the resemblance?
So that was day three of the magical holiday. Stay tuned for day four!

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Spoiled Rotten part the second

On Saturday Spiderman surprised me with a tour of the Harry Potter Experience at the  Warner Brothers Studio!!! My work colleague Pauline went last year and said  it was amazing so we were keen to go. All pictures Courtesy of Warner Brothers Studio Tours London: The Making of Harry Potter.

It was all worked out with a coach to pick us up, drive us  to Watford and drop us off  at the door of the studio and then let us have 3 hours on the tour and then take us back to London. This made it so easy we could be relaxed and enjoy the tour. The only down side was we were on the coach with a typical a-hole American and his family. He was clearly rich judging by his mega expensive watch and brand name *everything* and all the posh gadgets his kids had. But he was the sort who thought being rich meant he should get more privileges than the rest of us and was forever  shouting at someone about his “rights” such as they were the last people to get on the coach and the best seats were taken. He got really shirty with the sweet lady tour guide about how they should get better seats because they had paid good money to go on this tour. Um…hello…we’ve paid good money to go on the tour as well. Then he started handing out sandwiches to his kids despite the clear “no food on the bus” policy because rules don’t apply to him, right?

look at all those hand made labels

But we got there and despite Mr Dickhead we had a smashing time! Just to see sets up close like Snape’s Potions classroom --and the effort that the props department went to in collecting all those old glass bottles and making all the labels by hand, distressing them to make them look old and sticking them on. That was the theme of most of it--the gorgeous props that were distressed and made to look hundreds of years old. There were these fantastic frescos in the great hall that had been distressed to make them look thousands of years old--so faint you could hardly see them. I’m not sure I ever saw them on the films. That was another theme--so many wonderful pieces of set dressing that were hardly noticeable in the films. Cabinets full of interesting gizmos and antique jars or brass doodads…just seen in passing in the film but really made the sets feel true to life. Like in Dumbledore’s office.
Professor Dumbledore’s office
all the books were phone books with a fake leather cover

Think of the Room of Requirement when Draco Malfoy was fixing up the vanishing cabinet--all those props--hundreds…thousands of props--so many seen and so many unseen. I thought it must have been amazing to be a set dresser on these films!

There were also costumes to look at--there were 4 identical sets of clothes for Harry--each one more distressed than the last. The first one--spotless. The last one--tattered. There were interactive bits (which I love--I am a born lever puller) where you could make the items in The Burrow—home of the Weasleys  work by magic e.g. the iron to press the clothes, the knitting needles to make the jumper, the knife to cut carrots etc.  

There was also a very informative set of videos about the green screen technology and how it worked for things like flying on broomsticks, Quiddich, Hagrid’s flying motorbike etc. There was also a bit of green screen technology where you could ride on a broomstick and they would put in a sky behind you and make you look like you were flying--but it was getting late and we still had much to see. Besides it was expensive and I’ve already said how I feel about spending money on myself.
he wasn't really flying -it was all mechanical

You also got a cool tour of the creature shop and the out door sets like Diagon Alley.
there were railings so you couldn't peep into shop windows
 In the creature shop we were *thrilled* to see Aragog--Hagrid’s  giant pet spider. Interestingly, it was a true spider not a tarantula (true spider’s fangs work like pincers side-to-side but tarantula’s fangs work up-and-down. FACT) Plus it was clearly a male as it had swollen palps to carry his sperm in (but no tibial hooks to hold a female back when mating--but not all species have them)
we tell the girls if you eat up all your crickets you'll grow big and strong like Aragog

It was thrilling to see stuff you recognised and amazing to see stuff up close you never noticed in the film. It must have been a blast to work on the film.

Lastly we were perusing the gift shop (cue angelic music) and saw these gorgeous sterling silver spider earrings made by The Noble Collection. They are replicas of ones worn by Narcissa Malfoy.
Narcissa Malfoy Spider Earrings
aren't they beautiful?

Oh my heart ached when I saw them--they were classy and elegant, but also looked like spiders! But they were wicked expensive. I didn’t dare dream of getting them as I had just spent £80 on  Tallulah the uke the day before. Spiderman called over the sales girl and asked to open the case. I looked at them up close and he said:

Him: Would you wear them?

Me: Yes but…

Hime: Would you wear them?

Me: Yes, every day, but…

Him: Don’t make a man ask three times or he’ll change his mind.

 And with that he got in the queue and purchased them for me. I *never* wear expensive jewellery. We often joke that he better not ever waste money on a diamond ring or other nonsense. But these are stunning. While he was queuing, I was chatting up the salesgirl who had screamed just a little when she saw his spider belt buckle. Then another sales girl joined in and then another and they were asking spider questions and I was telling them about the girls. You could tell they thought we were weird but interesting.

 Then we hopped back on the coach--Mr Dickhead and family were seen to get on another one--I’m sure he wasn’t supposed to, but he probably argued his way onto it so we had a peaceful ride back.

 So that was Saturday of the magical holiday. Stay tuned for Sunday’s adventure which includes an eighth addition to the Spider clan.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Spoiled Rotten Part the first

Spiderman spoils me. That is all there is to it. He surprises me with little treats and big adventures. I am spoiled so rotten you can smell me across the ocean.

 I am funny about spending money on myself. I will buy something that is for the kitchen like a microplane grater—which really is for me as I am the one who is obsessed with lemon zest—but only after deliberating on it for ages and only after I got my job tutoring. The money I make from tutoring goes for buying things I’ve always wanted but can’t justify paying that much money for. The microplane grater costs £20. That seemed outrageous, but I used my tutoring money and I love it and use it every few days. But I find it really hard to spend on myself. I will let my underwear be falling into rags rather than pay £12.99 for a new bra. Again with tutoring money I bought some new bras but only when the others were hanging on by a thread. Literally.  I was *this* close from having my boob pop out in public.  I just never feel worthy enough to splash out on myself. That money could go for something we really need.

 I have no problem buying things for the two of US. Trips to plays or museums or holidays. We have spent hundreds of pounds on original artwork. But these are a joint purchase and bring us both joy. I just have a real difficult time spending on ME.

Spiderman understands this. So he often surprises me with things I would never allow myself to buy. He is a good man who loves me and helps me treat myself better. Thanks, oh best beloved.

 We just came back from 4 fabulous days in London. Spiderman found us a little "studio flat" hotel room to rent with a kitchen for less than a regular hotel would cost a night. It was out in Earl’s Court—right on the line between zone one and two and it was charming. Slightly run down (but no more than the place we live in now) and it was being renovated. Our room was freshly painted, had a comfortable bed, a kitchen about the size of the one we have now and one of those fabulous showers with the wide head that feels like rain. The one thing it seemed to be lacking was kitchen equipment. I had meticulously planned our meals to be cheap and easy and spelt pasta had featured on the menu twice. There was only one pot—a tiny pot (like the size you would heat the sauce in not cook the pasta) and we had a momentary panic. There were also only plates and no bowls. Goodbye cereal. But we asked the incredibly nice man who said he would try to find some somewhere else in the hotel (robbing Peter to pay Paul) but we made a plan that we could eat rice if need be as rice would cook in the small pot even if pasta would not. But the nice chap came through and when we came home we had a larger pot and two bowls.
same logo-new address 88 Cheshire Street E2 6EH
Friday night we took the train about 12 stops out to a shop called The Duke of Uke.
It was a dream come true for me! Spiderman encouraged me to get an upgraded ukulele as I practice every day and get such enjoyment out of playing. I’ve been playing for a year and I really am improving. I may never be a rock Goddess, but I am fairly competent. Ruth, my first ukulele was a very inexpensive royal blue uke. She cost less than the digital tuner I bought to go with her! Ruth was really made for children or just mucking about. She is fun but doesn’t have great tone and is plastic-y with a bit of wood. I spoke to the nice man working there about upgrading to a better but not top of the range uke—they could go up to several hundred pounds—yikes! Made my heart pound just thinking of spending that much but I settled on a Lanikai LU21 soprano ukulele that cost £80. I would never have spent that much on myself without the encouragement of Spiderman saying that he thought I was good enough. Thank you for your confidence in me.
I cannot believe the sound quality difference. She has such tone and resonance! She rings like a bell! Plucking her sounds like a dulcimer! She has this amazing voice. And so we have named her Tallulah—because being a uke you need a name with oo sound to go with it.

So that was just the first day of our holiday. And it gets even better!  Spiderman surprised me on Saturday with a journey to a magical place! Stay tuned tomorrow for day two!



Saturday, 18 August 2012

Lucky Number Seven

As I wrote yesterday, I have always loved them and they have always loved me. I realised I had never made a proper introduction on the blog of all of girls (collectively known as the Spiderbabes) so here it is.

 Arachnophobes look away now. You might want to have a cup of camomile tea and then a lie down. The rest of you, how can you not see God’s handiwork in all this?

Here they are from largest to smallest.

1) Lily Rose (Lasiodora parahybana) who is enormous—with leg span bigger than a CD--about the size of small plate or a man's hand. She is a salmon pink bird eater--the third largest type of spider in the world. the biggest spider in the world is the Goliath bird eater and is as big as a dinner plate. She likes to climb the walls and sit mid-wall in the corner of her tank. She also used to do this thing where she would hang upside down from the metal grate on the lid until she broke off a fang pulling that little stunt. Luckily, it grew back after moulting. She is named after the John Singer Sargent painting Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose.
this is a few years old--she's bigger now

close up of fangs--ouch!

2) Blanche Dubois (Acanthoscurria geniculata )who has stripy white legs and is a Brazilian white knee. She likes to sit on top of her green plants in her tank. She also likes to dump out her water dish and sit in it. She keeps her legs tucked up most of the time, but when she stretches out she looks like Cyd Cherise. She was fairly nervous when we brought her home and kicked her irritating hairs up whenever you took the lid off her tank so we named her after the skittish southern heroine from Tennessee William's play A Streetcar named Desire.
taken by our friend Simon with his super camera

3) Rossetti  (Grammostola rosea), who is a Chilean rose. She loves to dig and has been known to dig everything up in her tank and then put it some place else. We have no idea why. Maybe it is the spider equivalent of re-arranging your furniture. She is named after Christina Rossetti and her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti--two of my favourite Victorian (eccentric) poets and painters.
she filled up the log and webbed the tree down flat

4) Tibia (Ephebopus murinus )who looks like someone painted bones on her body like a skeleton--people call her a skeleton spider. Tibia is very shy and hides a lot so the photo is the day we brought her home and were trying to get our out of her travel box and into her new tank. Tibs was named because the tibia is a bone in the human body as well as the fact that I played the character of Tibia the skeleton who was the servant to the Wicked Witch of the West in a production of The Wizard of Oz in 1987.
she hid for ages, but now she comes out to play

5) Pirouette (avicularia avicularia)  who is a Peruvian pink toe is our only arboreal spider which means she is a tree climber and not a ground dweller. She had tree branches to climb on and she likes to make a hammock out of webbing between the branches! She has tiny pink toes that look like ballet slippers (which is why we named her Pirouette)
hanging out upside down. Can you see her pink toes?

6) Pippi Longstocking  (Brachypelma boehmei) who is a Mexican flame leg. She is the tiniest one we have, but she is growing really quickly. She was as big as a quarter when we brought her home and now she's about as big as a cookie. The picture shows her with one of her old skins. When spiders need to grow they shed their skin like a snake does (it is called moulting) and they split their old skin and leave it behind and come out a bit bigger. Having red hair, what else could be call her but Pippi?

Anyway, we went to the Koi Pet place in Henlow yesterday with the express purpose of buying some crickets and maybe some new upgraded tanks for some of the other girls and somehow came home with a spider. My mother has this same illness, but with dogs. But like I say to her—“can all your pets fit on one set of bookshelves? I think not.”

So introducing  the newest member of our house hold….number 7) Polychrome. She is named after a character from the Oz books who was the daughter of the rainbow and often danced off the rainbow and was left on dry land until the next rain. She was a beautiful, multi coloured creature—which is perfect as our new spider is an avicularia versicolor and will change colour  as she grows.  She is currently a beautiful blueish colour--the colour of a rain cloud (which, incidentally, is also the colour of Krishna) the colour of your favourite pair of old blue jeans.

She starts off the colour of a Munchkin
but as she grows up she will turn a bright reddish orange—the colour of a Quadling.

The Complete Encyclopaedia of Terrarium describes anavicularia versicolor as:
Black with a purple tinge and also has dark grey bristles on the legs. The charcoal grey legs are covered with reddish brown to purple bristles. There is a greenish mirror reflected pattern on the reddish brown abdomen.

Polychrome is just a wee baby --a month or maybe 2 months old judging from her size which is smaller than a 5p--about as big as your thumbnail. She’s so tiny she lives in a Dixie cup with a lid for the moment. We have to keep her cup quite moist as she has not  yet developed an exoskeleton impervious to water loss.  Her species hails from Martinique, but she was responsibly captive bred. 

We don’t know much about her personality, except that like her sister species Pirouette (avicularia avicularia) she is arboreal and likes to climb. She’s so tiny we’re still working on getting a good picture of her--our zoom lens won’t zoom in enough just yet. Here is a shot of me holding her Dixie cup.
she's so tiny you'd think the fairy's made her

Spiders when they are young moult about every 3 months and as they grow up moult about every 6 months. Then they get a bit older and moult about once a year. But a spider doesn't become a sexually mature adult able to mate (make or have babies) until the age of 3 or 4 years old. We know for sure Lily Rose and Blanche are girls as we know how old they were when we got them because we got them from a lady who no longer care for them and she had raised them from a baby. We are pretty sure Rossetti is a girl as we think she is about 3 years old. Tibia is showing signs of being a boy--her bottom is really small no matter how much she eats--but she might turn out to be a girl. we don't know. Pirouette and Pippi and Polychrome are way too young to know. They could all be boys! But for now we will call them all girls. If one if them really is a boy we will know when they make their adult moult because they will come out with hooks on their front legs and little pouches that look like boxing gloves to store their sperm in. Like this:

we hope they will all be girls because female tarantulas can live 10-20 years but male spiders tend to die about a year of becoming an adult.

That’s the girls. All seven of them. Lucky seven. Until we bring home number eight.

Friday, 17 August 2012

The wisdom of Grandmother Spider

I’ve been thinking about things that make me happy--things that make me…me. Spiders definitely fall into that category.  I have 2 tattoos of spiders--one small on my scapula and one large on my bicep. They remind me to be creative and persistent in all my endeavours. Here’s a piece I wrote for Quakerview when we first moved to Hitchin that tells about my lifelong love for eight legged creatures. 

People often ask me why I am so interested in spiders. The truth is, from my childhood spiders were always interested in me. Everywhere I would go they would drop down on their silken draglines in front of my face to say hello or alight gently on my shoulder. Many people recoil in horror when I say that, but I felt that it meant that I was receiving a special blessing from God.  I was a sickly child, allergic to all sorts of conventional pets, so I often sought out the unusual animals to be interested in. Or in the case of spiders, they sought me out. I became known as the spider girl at school because I would thrash anyone who dared squash a spider and was often called to remove one safely from a classroom.

When I was in year four, a kindly science professor  who taught at the university with my father gave me a dead tarantula in a jar of formaldehyde as a Christmas gift. It was truly the best childhood gift I ever received and I kept that spider on a lace doily in a place of honour for 16 years until finally it fell apart. When I met Spiderman he had a pet tarantula named Shirley MacLaine (from a cartoon where a spider said “I think I was Shirley MacLaine in a former life”) and I knew we were soul mates and  destined to be married! I had never met anyone who cared about these creatures the way that I did.

Together we have had a life filled with spiders. We have always considered it lucky to have spiders in our house so we never chase one away unless it is in danger of harming itself or us. However in all my years of spider watching, I have never encountered a poisonous one personally. There are 35, 000 known types of spiders in the world, but only 30 or so are dangerous. With these odds we have been blessed with spiders doing amazing things and have never been harmed. We once even parked our cars on the street for 6 months because a lovely orange and yellow garden spider had decided to build her web across our driveway and we couldnt bear to disturb her!

After Spiderman’s tarantula died we replaced her with a beautiful spider named Charlotte after the heroine in Charlottes Web. People often asked how did we handle her and not get bitten. Well, the answer to that is we never touched her. She brought us hours of pleasure just watching her sit still (which she could do for hours at a time) or spinning a web or eating a cricket. Many people were terrified because of her size, but it must be known that tarantulas are generally gentle giants. They only bite when provoked and their bite is akin to a bee sting. And left alone and respected, she never had a reason to defend herself.

After several years Charlotte went to that Big Web in the Sky. In the eight years we have been in England we have acquired a total of six tarantulas, all of different sizes, shapes and colours, but all with definite personalities.

Spiders play a role in many Native American mythologies. Both the Hopi and the Choctaw have a female spider figure in their creation stories. In one Hopi creation story, Grandmother Spider is the mother of all that shall come. She was given the task of moulding clay and later imbuing it with life. One of her many tasks is setting out the division of labour between males and females. For those on heroic quests, she provides food that is never used up, magic medicine to calm savage monsters, and magic feathers for protection. When necessary, Grandmother Spider becomes very small, riding on the ear of the seeker, ready to whisper important advice. A benevolent force, she reminds her people that "only those who forget why they came to this world will lose their way."

The Choctaw legend of Grandmother Spider is one of my favourites. The world began in darkness and all of the animals and humans gathered together to try to steal fire from the east to bring light into the world. Several animals boast that they are clever enough, but all fail at the task except for Grandmother Spider who has the foresight to make a clay pot in which  to carry the fire home. Upon her return she teaches the humans how to tend the fire and keep it going and about the art of pottery and clay. She also teaches them about weaving and spinning as she is an expert in these matters. Even today their weaving designs feature the pattern of  Grandmother Spider with two sets of legs up, two sets facing down and the fire on her back. It is from these legends that I draw my strength and claim the spider as a symbol of creativity and resourcefulness to aid me in my life journey. 

I find I am more in the presence of  the Light when I am with spiders. I believe in a Creator who has an imagination far beyond anything that I can understand. To create 35,000 different and unique species of a creature who is often ignored, feared and shunned is beyond my comprehension. If I were the Creator, I would have made five or six really good ones and then thought, Well, so few people will even care that I wont bother to make any more. Thank goodness I am not in charge!  My father in Heaven along with my mother the Earth have provided a world full of wonder and beauty. Even if others choose not to look for it.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Spidergrrl’s Beany Bar Yum Yum variations:

We make a version of this every week—or rather I make it and we gobble them up. They are a nice, filling and healthy snack to have on hand. Plus they are cheaper than prepacked stuff you can buy.  I like that with the basic recipe you can make 5 different kinds depending on whatever beans you have on hand. I’d like to develop a carrot cake version—but haven’t yet. I've had several requests for my bean bar recipes so here they all are. I make mine gluten free but if wheat is not an issue you can make them with regular flour.

Basic recipe:

Preheat your oven to 180C/ 350F

Grease a 9x12 pan—or something similar.

Mix the following dry ingredients in a bowl.

1 ½ cups wholemeal pastry flour, sifted (GF four works great here as well)

1/3- ½ cup sugar (I use a brown sugar stevia blend so I use ¼ cup to get the same sweetness as a half cup but with half the calories)

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp (smoked) sea salt

½ cup walnuts, broken up (optional)

¼ cup sunflower seeds (optional)

¼ cup chocolate chips

Zoosh the following ingredients in your blender until fully pureed

 1 ½ cups beans (one tin of beans, drained and well rinsed or cook your own like I do)

1 ½ cups water (scant)

¼ cup liquid sweetener (agave, maple syrup, golden syrup, honey if you swing that way)

6 medjool dates, pitted

1 tsp vanilla essence

2 TB flax meal (ground flax seeds)

1 TB vinegar

 Mix wet into dry, spread in pan and bake 14 minutes, then rotate pan to cook evenly and bake 14 more minutes. Let cool then slice 3x4 to make 12 bars. Store in the fridge in an airtight container.

To make brownies:

Use black beans

Up the sugar to ¾ cup (or add some pure stevia to make up the sweetness)

Cut back flour to 1 ¼ cups and add ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Use balsamic vinegar

To make blondies:

Use white beans like haricot, navy or cannellini

Add 1 tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp allspice, ¼ tsp nutmeg to dry ingredients

 Use apple cider vinegar

To make duckflaps:

Use chickpeas

Cut back  flour to 1 cup and add ½ cup oats

Add ¼ cup dried cranberries to dry ingredients

Add 1 tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp allspice, ¼ tsp nutmeg to dry ingredients

Use apple cider vinegar

To make shut ups:

Use black eyed peas

Add ¼ cup desiccated coconut to dry ingredients

Add 1 tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp allspice, ¼ tsp nutmeg to dry ingredients

Use apple cider vinegar

To make gingerbread:

Use chickpeas or white beans

Add 1 tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp allspice, ¼ tsp nutmeg to dry ingredients

Use blackstrap molasses as your ¼ cup liquid sweetener

1 thumb sized piece of ginger peeled added into the blender

Use apple cider vinegar or lemon juice

Now go and make your own.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

We have this original sketch hanging on our wall of a scene from School House Rock. It’s from the American Rock series from the song Fireworks and features a Colonial man in powdered wig and knee breeches playing kiss chase with a woman in an apron and mob cap (who looks remarkably like me) --this was naming the 3 things the constitution guaranteed--Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. This picture is the Pursuit of Happiness bit. I like it because to me falling in love and having fun are things I rank highly on my happiness quotient.

 I am basically a happy person. There have been several times in my life where I have been under a dark cloud of depression and deeply unhappy with life, but with love and sometimes medication, I bounce back. Lately,  I have been thinking a lot about what makes me happy, what makes other people happy. I admit I was unhappy last year at work. My schedule was too frantic, I had some conflicts with the people that I worked with. But I worked to change that. This upcoming school year I have a much better schedule and I am really looking forward to working with my assigned teachers. My role as a teaching assistant is changing and instead of feeling a loss for the parts of my job that I really enjoyed that are falling away, I am trying to feel excited about the new and different parts, which will bring me satisfaction. I think schools as a whole are negative environments these days. I don’t know any one, who teaches anywhere, who doesn’t tell me about moaning and complaining and sniping in the staff room. Sometimes at work there feels as if there is no air as the oxygen seems to be sucked from the staff room like in a vacuum by people who seem to complain all the time. Last year, because I was feeling unhappy with my work, I joined in with the carping. Did joining in and being part of the cool kids make me feel better? Hells no. It made me feel worse. I realized that this is something that has happened to me over and over in my life--I stop being my authentic self and act like others and it doesn’t work. It is easier to join in and gossip and grouse then be left out. Or worse, say what I really want to say and get laughed at. But why would I want to join in with a bunch of Moaning Myrtles ?  So I decided that this next school year to work harder at Being myself. Even if that means spending my breaks listening to music on my iPod so I don't get drawn into the negativity of the staff room --keeping away from negative people helps me to be more myself and be happier.

I am reading a fascinating book that I waited for 3 months to get from the inner library loan at our local public library--there was a waiting list a mile long so it must be good, right?--called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Side note: I have always liked the name Gretchen because it sounds vaguely like kitchen. Unless you are really close to me, I probably have not expressed glee over a word and done my little happy dance when I say it. This is one of those idiosyncrasies I have tried all my life to hide from the general public, but have given up hiding in the goal of being myself. I was always embarrassed that a word could make me happy. Why be ashamed of that? That’s me. Words make me happy.

 In her book she traces a year long journey to decide what are the commandments that work for her to be happy. Her first one is Be Gretchen.  I like that it was her first idea too. But what does Be myself mean?

 These are just some of the things I do/have done that make me happy and are about me being me. I'm sure I will think of more later, but these instantly sprang to mind.

 Move to another country and have an adventure

Dress in an old fashioned way so I stop obsessing about my looks and start being more beautiful from the inside.

Live simply.

Live cheaply

Spend money on experiences and artwork not useless tat

Live without a telly

Live without a mobile phone

Don’t do Facebook or any other nonsense

Laugh and play every day --especially with Spiderman

Believe in God openly

Try to live so that animals, people and the environment are not exploited for my personal gain

Be a vegan

Enjoy cooking delicious, cruelty free food

Write because I need to get all the thoughts buzzing out of my head

Read every day

Read lots of children’s books

Play the ukulele  

Make stuff with my hands


Be organised (more on this one later) preferably in pretty containers with labels

Journal--every day 3 events that happened in the form of a haiku

Record  my spiritual journey by writing out significant texts and quotations by hand

Get tattoos for significant events in my life so I read my body like a map

Dance around and flap my hands like some sort of demented fruit bat when I am happy

 One of the ones that I have tempered, but am no longer going to do so (even when the people at work laugh at me and tell me to get a life)

. Express enthusiasm.

I am very passionate about things I love. I can be very intense about telling you something I found interesting. Many people look as though I am mental when I do that. At work, people have openly laughed when I said something about something I loved.  So I stopped.  But why should I stop? Because their lives are filled with binge drinking weekends and re-runs of Big Brother and I’m off in London going to a museum exhibit on dirt or a play about a woman artist imprisoned because her work depicts war, not as glorious but as horribly real--why is my weekend somehow stupider than theirs? Once in 1990, we were at this science experiment thing and this experiment was so amazing that the instructor said (in the sort of voice like he pitied Spiderman for being my keeper) “Gosh, you’re more enthusiastic that the kids I do this for.” He looked at me as if there was something *wrong* with being happy.

I will not hide my light under a bushel any longer. If I feel happy then I will express that happiness openly. Who cares if people laugh. I can laugh too, because I am happy.

I am sure more will come up to write about as I read more in the book.

I am a grudge holder (my granny once stole my play dough when I was 3 years old--I still remember the feeling as she decided to keep the blue kangaroo she made) and I tend to relive every bad thing as if it were happening again. These traits I would like to lessen to let other parts of me that are better shine forth.

Still working on that… 

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Scooby Snax

This is my favourite easy-to-mix, go to treat when I want something that is the perfect combination of sweet/ salty/ hard/ chewy/ spicy/ mild. It is high in protein so a little fills you up and keeps you full, it has a bit of sugar for energy and it tastes great.

 I named it after the special treat that Scooby Doo (and weirdly Shaggy) will eat when they are asked to do something brave but they would rather just be cowards and eat big sandwiches.

Spiderman doesn’t really eat it—I don’t know if it is too crunchy for him or if he is just not as obsessed with wasabi as I am—but hey, more for me. All for me, actually.
click to enlarge if you need to read labels

Scooby Snax


Wasabi peas

Roasted, salted edamame


Dark chocolate chips

That’s it. Just mix those together and you have it. For me it makes about 7 cups worth of snax.  Not rocket science, just yum in your tum. Now go and make some.


Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Tell me about the rabbits, George

As many of you know, I am part of an organisation called Lifelines that writes to prisoners on death row in the United States. My friend--and I do call him a friend--is in Texas. Of all the 50 states Texas executes more prisoners than the whole of the other US states combined. Many times DNA evidence has proved that they have executed the wrong person--sadly too late after the execution. There is an execution today in Texas of a man named Marvin Wilson who has been classified as mentally retarded.

 According to the Guardian:

 Wilson was interviewed for eight hours to test his IQ and his past school records that showed he had a reading and writing level of a seven-year-old. The young Wilson was placed in special education classes, where he was bullied by other kids who called him "stupid", "dummy" and "retarded".  He was deemed unable to manage his own money and was incapable of self-direction. He could not, for instance, cut the grass or use a ladder on his own, or dress himself properly with matching socks and buttoned up shirt. The tests gave Wilson an IQ score of 61 – putting him in the lowest percentile of the population.

In 2002, the US supreme court banned executions for all such prisoners under the Eighth Amendment of the constitution that prohibits excessive punishment. The 2002 ban, in Atkins v Virginia, is categorical: individuals with mental retardation cannot be put to death. The court allowed some discretion on the part of individual states to devise procedures for administering the injunction, but no right to ignore it.
Texas took that discretion to mean – wrongly in the view of many lawyers and mental health experts – that it could set its own definition of retardation.
Instead of a clinical or scientific approach, based on widely recognized tests set out by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Texas decided to go its own way.
The determinants were posited around the character Lennie Small in Steinbeck's 1937 novel Of Mice and Men.
"Most Texas citizens," the argument ran, "might agree that Steinbeck's Lennie should, by virtue of his lack of reasoning ability and adaptive skills, be exempt" from execution. By implication anyone less impaired than Steinbeck's fictional migrant ranch worker should have no constitutional protection.
"If Wilson is executed on Tuesday, Texas will be rendering the US supreme court's Eighth Amendment prohibition on the execution of mentally retarded prisoners a prohibition in name only," said Lee Kovarsky, Wilson's lawyer.
Experts in intellectual disability have warned that Texas's unique system for defining "retardation" puts at risk many people with learning difficulties who should be covered by the constitutional ban.
I am afraid that the execution will go ahead. Please pray for Marvin and his Lifelines pen pal Pamela. Let him feel the love of God as he faces his death alone and very probably feels afraid and confused. Let him know he is not alone. Hold him in the Light and know that there is “that of God in everyone” as the Quakers say.

I especially hold Pamela in the Light as well. I know sometime in the future I will be facing what she is facing—the death of a beloved friend. It is difficult to go into a friendship knowing the other person will eventually die, but when you write to someone on death row in Texas that is what happens. But I would not trade my friendship with him for anything.

May Marvin rest in peace and may Texas wake up in peace and change the way it sees prisoners.  

Friday, 3 August 2012

Life is made up of meetings and partings, that is the way of it

Quaker Advices and Queries 30 says:
Are you able to contemplate your death and the death of those closest to you? Accepting that fact of death, we are freed to live more fully. In bereavement, give yourself time to grieve. When others mourn, let your love embrace them. 

            Twenty years ago when we were first married, I used to follow Spiderman around the house saying ridiculous statements such as, Promise you wont die before me. I could not bear the thought of being without him. Spiderman, thankfully, had enough sense not to answer me. Four years later when he developed cancer I was sure this was some karmic punishment for demanding that he outlive me. After four months of chemotherapy I was told by our oncologist that he was not showing signs of improvement and so I should treat Christmas as if it were our last. By the grace of God the tumour began to shrink in January and he made a full recovery.  During the year he was critically  ill I developed an inner strength and coping mechanisms I did not know that I possessed . 

            Two years later, my beloved father was struck down with a rare type of brain tumour. It reduced a man with a genius level IQ to that of a toddler who needed help tying his shoes and had to be reminded to flush. He lived 18 months, 6 months longer than expected, and I was there for him in the end. I left work, moved home and cared for his physical needs. Now he was the baby and I the loving parent. The two weeks before his death remain burned into my brain. It was not a time of pain or distress, but a time of letting go, a time of ebbing away. I watched as he hung up the winter coat of life and waited to exhale in eternal spring. I was able to be strong for my mother because I had practiced dealing with death two years before. I am convinced to this day that one of the reasons that Spiderman had to endure cancer was so that I would not fall apart at the death of my father. Death was not some dark creature that stole his life, for he gave up each act of living freely when the time was right. First eating, then drinking, then waking and finally breathing. The night he died my mother and I sat by his side and sang to him every folk song we could think of and read to him and told him to let go. He died in my arms and I can honestly say, that the best two weeks of my life were caring for that man.

            A few years ago, my mother met a man called Jamie, a lovely man who made her laugh again. It is not good to be alone. She brought him to England to meet us and I liked him from the start. He was big, like an ole bear, with a beard you could lose a badger in and a generous heart. The moment I met him the words stepfather tumbled off my lips with ease. Despite only meeting twice, we kept up correspondence by email; he was forever sending me vegan recipes he found or free software that I might be able to use at school.

            A month ago he went to see his doctor and he was very suddenly diagnosed with skin cancer from one of his many moles. Tests quickly revealed it had metastasised to his lungs and his brain. I felt winded from the news and can only imagine what my mother felt. But she, having been through the experience before, drew strength from my father’s death just as I drew on my experience with Spiderman. One death prepares us for another. So now we watch as Jamie gives up the things he does not need. One needs to pack lightly for this journey. My mother phones me by the hour and I receive the calls late into the night and give her comfort. And so today, just as the sun was rising, Jamie drew his last breath and has entered into a state of peacefulness—one where there is no fear, no pain, no sorrow and no death. He has been healed, because he is free from the things that make us mortal.  

There is a line from a song in the musical Into the Woods that says,
            “Sometimes people leave you
            Halfway through the woods.
            Do not let it grieve you.
            No one leaves for good.
            You are not alone.
            No one is alone.”

            It has taken me many years to understand that when we have memory, when we have loved and been loved in return, we are never alone. My father and my stepfather will always be with me. I have been lucky to have had the gift of these two good men in my life.  I give thanks for their lives and for their peaceful deaths. May it be true for all of us.