Sunday, 30 June 2013

Unexpected guests at Wimbledon

I teach First day school at Meeting for Worship which is Quaker speak for Sunday school at church. Early Quakers did not use the days of the week or months of the year because of their Pagan origins, preferring to say “First day” for Sunday and so on and “First month” for January etc. On the gravestones outside the Meeting House it tells you in this old fashioned language about the death date of the person buried underneath.  Just a bit of Quaker history for all those who don’t know. Back to the story.

 
Our class consists of four children whose identities I will protect because of their tender ages. We have (from oldest to youngest, although interestingly not tallest to smallest) C (aged 5), K (aged 4), A (aged 4) and I (aged 2).

 

Every week we choose someone in the congregation to write a little note to either wish them good health if they are ill or old or just say something we appreciate about them. I write the messages and the children draw some pictures and we deliver them after everyone shakes hands to say  Meeting has ended.

 

Today K and A made pictures for Nell who is 91. C asked to make a card for her elderly neighbour who recently had to go to hospital by ambulance. Because C is 5 years old she can write so with a bit of help she wrote a short letter to her neighbour who has heart trouble so there were lots of pictures of hearts with X’s in them for kisses to make her heart better. I wrote to Chris who spent  Saturday at Wimbledon. He was very keen because it was about tennis.

 

He drew carefully lots of (what looked like to us) big scribbles, with a zigzag in the middle. At the bottom there were a few circle shapes and one circle with a hotdog next to it.  He was very proud of it.

 After meeting he gave his picture to Chris and this was the conversation that ensued:

 

Chris: Thank you for the picture.

I: Dat’s a picture of nennis.

Chris: Oh that’s a picture of tennis.

I: (pointing to circle) Dat’s a nennis ball.

Chris: Oh yes, a tennis ball.

I: (pointing to circle with a hotdog) Dat’s a nennis wacket.

Chris: Oh of course a tennis racket.

I: (pointing to hotdog) Dat’s the handle.

Chris: Yes I can see that.

I: (pointing to zigzag) Dat’s a cwocodile.

 
We fell about laughing because you don’t often see one of those at Wimbledon. Or do you? Spiderman suggested maybe the crocodiles are there to steal all the strawberries.  

 
It was good fun and it is wonderful to hear the laughter of children’s voices in Meeting again. It just goes to show that little hearts can be filled with big love.

 
And cwocodiles.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Purple (potato) eater

I found these purple potatoes at Sainsbury --aren’t they gorgeous?


The packaging said they had higher levels of vitamin C and I can well believe it. I think they’d be a great way to get kids to eat their food. It certainly got me eating it. They had a sweeter, earthier flavour that was delicious. To be healthy we are told to “eat the rainbow”--this sure would help.

 
I made Peruvian purple potato soup from the cookbook Appetite for Reduction.


 

It tasted lovely and was the colour of amethyst!  It was like eating soup made in the Gillikin part of Oz (the northern country where everything is purple. Just like Munchkinland to the east is blue, Winkie country to the west is yellow and Quadling country down south is red)

 
We roasted the ones that didn’t go in the soup a few days later with some sweet potato and the colours of pink and purple together were very pleasing to the eye (and the mouth!)

 
When I brought leftovers to work, several people said the colour put them off, but not me.

 
Would you eat purple potatoes?

Monday, 24 June 2013

Don’t miss it pizza

Sometimes people ask me what I miss when it comes to food. They think being a vegan is a sad, deprived life where I suffer constantly thinking about all the things I CAN’T eat. Well, I CAN eat anything, but because I choose compassion as my guiding force I WON’T eat certain things if they cause animals to suffer.

 
But as I’ve said before, what makes animal products taste good? It is not the flesh itself, but the spices and sauces we slather on. Why not eat just the spices and sauces and save a life?

 
Last week I had a down and dirty, obsessive craving for sausage pizza. So I had one. On Friday I made up a batch of this excellent gluten free vegan sausage made from black eyed peas and mushrooms and all the smoky spices. http://theveeword.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/gluten-free-spicy-italian-sausage-part.html    On Saturday I made us a pizza.

 All Saturday during the day I kept finding myself smiling inwardly or giggling as I pictured how good the pizza was going to taste. Spiderman finally stopped asking me. He would just say, “Thinking about the pizza again, huh?” and I would grin like a possum and bob up and down like a cork (my usual indicators of extreme joy).

 
I caramelised an onion and a pepper and browned the sausage whilst I made the crust. I topped it with tomato sauce with a few Tablespoons smoky BBQ sauce stirred in. I spooned on the onion, pepper and sausage and drizzled with tangy vegan cheddar cheese made from cashews and  nutritional yeast.


 Doesn’t that look amazing?

 Here it is up close.


 It was, without a doubt, the best pizza I’ve had in a long time. We used the new pizza pan since the old pan is behind the digital radio to give us better reception. It was smoky, spicy, tangy and crispy.

 We had enough sausages left to make another dish the next day and then I froze one for when the next sausage pizza craving comes over me again. 

 
I called it Don’t miss it pizza because that is what it is.

 I don’t miss sausage and cheese  because I know they cause suffering.

 I sometimes miss the tastes of those animal parts, but I don’t have to miss the flavour because I can make a delicious, healthy, vegan, gluten free substitutes.

 I don’t miss it at all.   

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Little Poem, who made thee?

Check your facts was one of the three rules my father said to me every day when I was growing up, sandwiched between know that I love you and stand up for what you believe in. My beloved husband and partner in crime hereafter refered to as The Amazing Spiderman has been doing a bit of research on what happens when you take something you read on the internet as gospel without checking your facts.

There is poem, found in countless online lesson plans for teachers, used in countless schools which claims to be written by that old master William Blake. It is in fact written by contemporary author Nancy Willard in her Newberry award winning book A Visit to William Blake's Inn.

The Amazing Spiderman with his spidey sense and excellent reference librarian skills has uncovered this fact and was featured in the news today.
 
** School librarian finds fake Blake **
A school librarian has discovered that a poem widely attributed to William Blake, including in official reading lists, was not really written by him.
< http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/news/education-22971225 >

I am so proud of him I could burst! He's been fielding calls from the media all day (a rather shy and retiring flower, is my Spiderman) so that hasn't been easy. But I am so pleased for him.

You can see his blog here to read the whole tale. http://thelibraryspider.blogspot.co.uk/

happy reading...oh and check your facts!

edited to add: The next day he had a small one paragraph article in the Telegraph (which always makes me think of that sexist joke--How do you spread the news? Telephone, Telegraph, tell a woman) and a longer one in the Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/school-librarian-puts-the-world-straight-on-fake-william-blake-poem-8667575.html

I love how they said that he "modestly refused to answer and queries"--I told you he was shy!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Copycat

Do you ever dream about food? Im talking about food you ate more than a decade ago? Maybe its just me.

 Recently, I had a dream about a sandwich that we used to buy in Louisiana at Quiznos (which for some reason that was no doubt hilarious at the time we used to call Kinkos) before our eyes were opened to compassionate eating.
 
 It consisted of the following:

 Parmesan rosemary bread

Melted mozzarella and cheddar cheese

Thinly sliced angus beef

Caramelised onion and mushrooms

Honey bourbon mustard

Grille sauce which was, as I recall like a cross between BBQ and teriyaki

 
It was amazing. But my favourite bits by far were the caramelised onions and mushrooms in that boozy, sticky sauce. In 2002 when I because a vegetarian we went back and after some wrangling with the young confused  cashier I managed to get the sandwich without the meat--just the cheese, onions and mushrooms and sauce and it was *just* as good.

 
These days our eyes are completely open and we dont consume meat or cheese or honey. Sadly, my digestive track doesnt fancy wheat either so I was a bit stuck for ideas to recreate it. Until I found this at Sainsbury.


It was boozy from the Jack Daniels,  sticky sweet with orange juice and raisin puree and tangy from tamarind paste--plus it was labelled suitable for vegans and celiacs! I knew what I had to do.

 I make caramelised onion and mushroom all the time so that was no problem. Letting them simmer in the BBQ sauce after they had turned all lovely and golden brown would be a piece of cake.


I make an excellent cheese sauce that has the sharpness of cheddar made from cashews and nutritional yeast and mustard. That sorted the melted cheese bit.


I decided to forgo the beef bit--but maybe the next time I get some tempeh Ill try it. But as I recalled from all those years ago--it was just as good without the meat.

 

Now the bread might be an issue. I found a couple recipes on line for gluten free garlic rosemary yeast bread and thought Id try one. Well, lets just say the attempt was a bit like eating the sole of your shoe. Being gluten free it flattened down and was hard as rock--it is difficult to get gluten free bread to rise and it spreads as it bakes unless you have something to keep it in the right shape. I put the bread out for the birds and tried again with my tried and true recipe for buns that uses soya yoghurt and baking powder that gives them a nice sourdough flavour. I added garlic and rosemary and some nutritional yeast for that cheesy flavour. I baked them in Yorkshire pudding tins so they keep their shape. I had wanted long, slipper shaped bread to match the original, but hey ho. My little round buns will do nicely, thank you very much.


 

 Since I had also made a batch of bean and buckwheat smoky bacon strips recently I decided to fry up a few to put on the sandwich. Heres the recipe in case you were wondering. http://spidergrrlvstheworld.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/are-you-achin-yup-yup-for-some-bacon.html


 

So here's the finished concoction.


I served it with oven chips.


 

It was really tasty--maybe not exactly like the one at Quiznos --but hey, its been more than 10 years since Ive had one, so who knows. It had all the flavours I was looking for--pungent (rosemary), boozy, sweet and tangy (JD BBQ sauce) sharp and creamy (cashew cheese), smoky (bean and buckwheat bacon). It was also *extremely* messy. Not the sort to eat in front of company, if ya know what I mean.

 
Spiderman and I have both found we dont really miss eating animals because often those bits were fairly flavourless and it was sauces and marinades that made them taste great. Why not just eat the sauces and marinades and save lives--an animals life and your own. Eating animals and their high fat secretions have been shown time and again to contribute to diseases like obesity,  heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some cancers--just to name a few. If you dont believe me--read The China Study.

 
I had lots of fun recreating this sammich from memory. Bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

 

  

Monday, 10 June 2013

How will they wipe their bum now?

Have you read about this? The government in Venezuela has declared a state of emergency  because they are running out of toilet paper. Theyve had to pay money to ship in 36 million loo rolls because of panic buying and people hoarding the few rolls of lavatory paper that are still available. There is even an app that if you sign up for that will alert the user to the nearest shop currently stocking toilet paper so they can rush and go buy some before everyone else does then sell them (illegally) for high prices.

 Is there anyone else who sees a problem with this?  I already have issues with toilet paper. Thats a huge amount of trees (often virgin timber in the case of companies like Kimberly Clark) that is heavily bleached with harsh (and potentially toxic) chemicals to make it whiter than white that we just use once and throw away. Thats flushing away money and the environment. Literally.

 
Those who read the blog know I have been personally paper product free for about 2 years. We dont use paper towels or napkins in the kitchen--we use washable cloth ones. We dont use boxes of tissues for the snuffles--I use a handkerchief  just like my dear old dad. I don’t use cotton balls, I use washable squares of fleece.  Before the horrible hysterectomy I used washable cloth menstrual pads. Lastly, I dont use toilet paper unless I am out in a public lav or on holiday. Spiderman still does and thats ok with me. And even if it wasnt Id still do it I hear his voice echo in my head. Thats fine. He can do his thing as long as I can do mine.

 
Yes, I use what is known in crunchy granola circles as family cloth. It is not nearly as freaky as it sounds. If you want to read about it go here and read this post:


 
I find cloth to be so much more comfortable for wiping --cloth is softer than the softest paper and lacks those annoying balls of lint that get stuck to your naughty bits like when you use paper. I find it more hygienic as you rinse really well with warm water (many Asian cultures have done this for centuries) so there is nothing to wipe away. You wash and reuse them just like cloth nappies (diapers to my American peeps). I dont see what the big deal is. If you are sceptical then just try it for urine. You will be *shocked* at how much toilet paper you are using and how long a roll lasts after you convert to cloth.

 
I worry about countries like Venezuela who would spend huge amounts of money to import something to wipe peoples bums with. What about poverty? What about hunger? What about education? Surely these issues are a better way of investing money?

 
Maybe Im just talking out of my ass.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Cue the circus music

I have just gotten my tenth tattoo which should qualify me as a permanent member of Barnum and Bailey if I didnt boycott circuses because of their cruelty to animals.

 
For the last 13 years, since I was thirty years old, I have gotten tattoos with spiritual or historical significance to my life. My life is inked on my body like a roadmap. You can read my history by looking at my skin.

 
I have been thinking for a while about this design. I wanted this design somewhere on my skin because of the breadth of its meaning. The symbol I chose is a triskellion.

 
It is a symbol used by the ancient Celts to represent the three sacred realms--the Land--the Sea--and the Sky. I liked that because I like to think of the natural world, Gods world, as sacred. I am a huge environmentalist and recycling makes me giddy with joy.

 
It was adopted by early Christians as a symbol for the Trinity. I liked that as well because my spiritual life is really important to me and I wanted a constant reminder to stay focussed on God, which will help me stay focussed on Good.

 
Because a triskellion is in 3 parts I thought of all the wonderful things that come in threes.

 
The Past--the Present--the Future

Faith--Hope--Charity

The Heart--the Brain--the Body

(to quote from School House Rocks Three Is A Magic Number)

 
Of course, how could I forget Douglas Adams Life--the Universe--and Everything.

 
But I still wasnt convinced. I was waiting for a sign that this was right symbol for me--after all it is forever. Then it came.

 
I was reading an interesting novel called PopCo by Scarlett Thomas. Spoiler alert--look away now if you dont want to know the plot.

 
Its about a woman who works for a major toy manufacturer who is recruited into a counter organisation that doesnt officially exist that tries to bring down evil, unethical corporations from the inside. She is on the verge of quitting because of the pressure to lie to people, particularly children, and convince them to buy their products--toys produced in sweatshops by children--when she is recruited. Every major corporation has a counter organisation inside who do their job badly to secretly stop you from buying their unethical product.  Ever see an ad campaign and you think, What the hell were they thinking? I would never buy that now. Thats the counter organisation at work. Same for adverts where you cant figure out what they are selling.

 
Anyway--nearly everyone in the organisation is vegan (because it really is the most ethical choice when it comes to the environment, countering world hunger as well as the only choice for compassionate eating. Everything else-- even free range this happy that-- ends in suffering and death). The organisation has three mottos:

Do no harm.

Stop others doing harm.

Do what you can.

This was the sign I was waiting for. That is who I want to be. I want to be the joyful vegan who spreads compassion and kindness and love. This is why I went to the March Against the Badger Cull last week.   This was it.

 
So I stopped by local Tattoo Shop and made an appointment with Tom the quiet man Johnson my beloved tattoo artist who has done my last two tattoos. Im really pleased with the results and it is healing nicely. I like that it is on my left hand--where I can see it every time I reach for anything (Im a leftie) and be reminded of the Christ of Compassion whose life I try to emulate. 

 
Wanna see it? Take a squinty. If you look carefully you can see I’m wearing my Spiderman shirt. Thanks Mum!


 

I love that it is a revolving shape--it never ends--it turns like the wheel of the year. I love that it has meaning for me and will always keep me close to the one who fills the Darkness with Light. 

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Compassionate Clichés

I find that my life is ordered by my convictions as a vegan. I think, in many ways, we start off extremely compassionate as children and as we grow older some of that drifts away. It is easy to fall into the mainstream traps of eating food that can be cheaply purchased from supermarkets without a thought as to where that food comes from. When I really opened my eyes to how animals are treated, how they suffer before they die to produce food for my plate, I found I could no longer eat and enjoy them. When I discovered that conditions for dairy cows and laying hens were equally painful, perhaps even more so, I stopped eating dairy and eggs.

 
My desire to show respect, compassion, empathy and kindness to all living creatures really blossomed out of that. I had always been worried about human rights, but had not seen animals in the same light. I now strongly feel that the best way to serve God is to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves, who have no voice but ours. My circle of compassion encompasses the whole of creation.

 
I became a vegetarian in 2002 and a vegan in 2005 and have modified my eating and clothing habits accordingly. For example, in addition to not eating animals I don’t want to wear leather, fur, silk, down or wool because they contribute to suffering. I have recently begun to feel a concern about the way we talk about animals in our speech. It is amazing how many times animals appear in clichés or proverbs in our every-day language. Once this was pointed out to me I was shocked at how many I could think of.  Many of them actively encourage violence against animals and those which don’t still reflect the views that it is acceptable for animals to be used and exploited for our gain.

 
I have been listening to podcasts and reading books by vegan activist and author Colleen Patrick-Goudreau which challenged me to start to think about my language and expressions that I used which showed animals in a less compassionate light. Her challenge was to think of what the cliché or proverb meant and come up with a compassionate alternative. She said that it may take a while for the expression to feel natural, but the more we speak in a respectful and empathetic way the more doors we open to speak to others about living a compassionate lifestyle. Will you take the challenge with me?

 
Here are some common expressions. How can you improve them?

 
To kill two birds with one stone.

This expression dates back to Ovid who lived from 43BCE-17CE. It simply means to achieve two objectives with a single effort. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau suggests the alternative phrase Chop two carrots with one knife but I think I prefer Feed two birds with one loaf.

 
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

This proverb was mentioned in 1546 in a book entitled A Guide To All Proverbs and refers to the use of falcons to aid in hunting prey for humans. It means that it is better to have a small actual advantage than the chance for a greater advantage. Joanne Stepaniak, author of the cookbooks Vegan Vittles and The Un-Cheese Cookbook, suggests A berry in the hand is worth two in the bush.

 
Eat crow.

I heard this expression all my life when someone was ashamed and showing humility for being wrong. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau suggests the simple substitution of Eat humble pie which I rather like because no crows were harmed in the making of the pie.

 
It’s no use flogging a dead horse.

The origin of this phrase is British and comes from politician John Bright as he tried rouse parliament out of apathy and into action in 1867. I believe what he actually said was that It was like trying to flog a dead horse to make it pull the cart. The compassionate clichés recommended by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau are It’s no use watering a dead flower or It’s no use washing a clean shirt.

 
Don’t put the cart before the horse.

This was recorded by George Putnam in 1580 in his book The Art of English Poetry and means don’t try to reverse the accepted order of things because it won‘t work. Two compassionate clichés are suggested by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and they are Don’t slice the bread before it’s baked and my favourite Don’t put your socks on before your shoes.

 
There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

This expression always horrified me particularly as my mother used to say “Skin the cat” every time she pulled my shirt over my head as she helped me undress when I was a small child. Since there are so many different ways of doing the same thing why not just say There’s more than one way to peel a potato or something like that. 

 
This is only a small sampling of the animal related clichés that we use in our every day speech. I challenge you to be aware of what you are saying, and if it does not reflect the values with which you live your life then come up with a non violent one that does.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Compassionate living

This phrase has been on my lately, especially since we marched against the badger cull.

What does it mean to live compassionately? How can I be a joyful vegan and shine the Light of God in everything I say and do? How can I show compassion for every living creature on the planet--humans and animals?

I think living joyfully, living vibrantly, living compassionately are the best arguments to convince others to come over to your way of thinking. Preaching at people, scaring them using fear tactics, speaking unkindly about certain types of God’s creatures only serves to alienate people.

Making racist generalizations about people of other faiths is a problem currently in the news here due to the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby by the hand of a Muslim fundamentalist extremist. The rise in Islamophobia is hard to bear. I worry for the families I know in the Muslim community. I don’t want to see them abused or tarred with the same brush as this extremist who murdered Lee Rigby. The same way I don’t want people to think I am the same kind of Christian who attends Westboro Baptist church and pickets gay funerals shouting abuse. A fundamentalist is a fundamentalist no matter whose side they are on. If they preach hate then I guarantee that goes against the principals of their faith. Most people don’t know that the word Islam actually means Peace. I have sent word to our local Mosque through one of my students to let them know that not everyone hates them--that we are appalled at the behaviour of anyone, but particularly Christians who take part in the racist abuse--just like the Muslim community is appalled by the man who murdered Lee Rigby. That is not what our faiths are supposed to be. 

I think it is equally important to show compassion to animals--perhaps more so simply because animals cannot speak up for themselves. They have no voice but ours. Every living creature is beautifully and wonderfully made and blessed by God. We are driving wild animals to extinction by our greed and selfishness. By demanding cheap food we are forcing farmers to use the most heinous principles of agriculture to cram as many animals as we possibly can into the smallest of spaces, to use cruel ways of suppressing natural behaviours such as debeaking chickens with out anesthetic to stop them from pecking their neighbours, to making animals live in their own filth, in misery and fear until the day they are murdered.  We take away their children just so we can drink the milk that was intended for their young. I am certain God does not approve of factory farming.

The best way to show compassion for animals is to stop eating them and stop wearing them. It is the law of supply and demand--as long as there is a demand, farmers will continue to use barbaric ways of  “harvesting” as many animals as they can, treating them in a way that if it were being done to people we would call it a concentration camp, but as it is animals we call it a farm.

I also think it harms animals to think of them as “just animals” who somehow deserve less compassion because they are not human. Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows that companion animals have feelings and emotions. I know our cat Bucky grieved himself to death after the death of my father. Farm animals are the same way. They feel love for their offspring, just as we do. They feel pain and fear, just like we do. If we do not wish suffering for ourselves, why would we wish it on another living being? This goes for people as well as animals.

We are called to be stewards of this planet, to care and protect it and yet we burn old growth forests and poison the three sacred realms of the land, the sea and the sky with pollution. Our dependence on fossil fuels makes us dig so deeply it causes earthquakes just for a miniscule return of coal or oil.  Our circle of compassion needs to include ALL of creation--the people, the animals and the plants and trees.

I am currently reading a book called Twelve Steps to a  Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong. It opens with a description of the fact that every major world religion has a version of the golden rule. It is the basis of every faith.

In 2009 she helped to create a Charter of Compassion. Thousands of people from all over the world contributed to a draft charter on a multilingual website in Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish and English. Their comments were used to create the final draft by a group of notable individuals from six faith traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism) to help restore compassion to the heart of religious and moral life. The charter would counter the voice of extremism, intolerance and hatred. 

Here is the final version. It is talking about people, but I  truly believe this compassion needs to extend to all of God’s creatures and that includes our animal brethren.

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical, and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves.

Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equality and respect. 

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathetically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism or self interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others--even our enemies--is a denial of our common humanity.

We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women

Ÿ  To restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion
Ÿ  To return to the ancient principles that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hated, or disdain is illegitimate.
Ÿ  To ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures
Ÿ  To encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity
Ÿ  To cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings--even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries.

Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

Words to live by. May it be true of all of us. Amen. 

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Your cup shall never empty, for I will be your wine

Aren’t those lovely wedding vows? I can’t claim them as my own--all you geeks out there will know they come from the wonderful stop motion animated film The Corpse Bride.  That pretty much defines our relationship if the vows I think of as romantic come from a film with corpse in the title.

 
Today is our 21st wedding anniversary. It really does seem like it has gone by in the blink of an eye. What do they say? Time flies when you’re having fun. Or if you’re a frog Time’s fun when you’re having flies.  I mean--we have been living our dream in England for almost a decade now. How is that possible? It is 17 years since Spiderman was diagnosed with cancer and I was told he might not live to see our 5th wedding anniversary. I’m so thankful that never happened and we’ve had all these amazing years together.

 
So how did we celebrate? We always have a joke that he is going to buy me that diamond eternity band as a symbol of his devotion. There’s a radio advert for a local jewellery shop that says, “Whether you’re looking to spend £20 or £20,000, Gatwards has something for you.”  I would be seriously disappointed if he wasted money on a rock--especially with the ethics of blood diamonds today--the idea that I was wearing oppression and human suffering on my finger would make me unbearably sad. It’s a good thing he knows me so well.

 
We had agreed a few things together--trips to see the Propaganda exhibit and a journey out to the Watts Gallery in Guildford to see the Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale retrospective.  These little mini-vacations would be our gift to ourselves. But Spiderman loves to surprise--and he spoils me so rotten you can smell me all the way across the sea.

 The first surprise to arrive was a fantastic art print of the characters from Oz walking down the yellow brick road. It is by one of my favourite illustrators PJ Lynch who did a cracking Steadfast Tin Soldier and every time I look at When Jessie Came Across the Sea I weep. Spiderman had heard the PJ Lynch had done an illustration for OZ (sadly not a whole book) for some sort of promotion and he’s spent months trying to track one down with no success. So what does he do? Contact PJ Lynch directly and ask him if he has any lying about!! Mr Lynch kindly rummaged around his shed and found us a limited edition artist’s proof (1 of 10) that he signed and sold to us! We paid to have it beautifully framed and we are deciding where it goes in the art gallery of our lives.

 
Please excuse the pictures. It is hard to take pictures of something with glass in front of it. The print and the details are lush and gorgeous and so detailed and NONE of that shows up in my wonky photographs. But you’ll get the general idea and if you come to visit us, you can see it in person.


click on it to make it bigger

 Here is a bit up close where you can see Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion and if you look to the left you can see a sinister face in the tree --an homage to Arthur Rackham.

you can tell it's based on the book as she is wearing silver (not ruby) shoes

Secondly he surprised me with some liquor. This may surprise you as we probably seem like teetotalers.  We just don’t drink socially or excessively. We both enjoy a nip of brandy mixed with chocolate oat milk and some frozen cherries. We love that hazelnut liqueur in a monk shaped bottle called Frangelico mixed with chocolate oat milk. Hmmmm, I see a trend here and it involves chocolate oat milk. But I digress. Do you recall, oh best beloved, when we went to the groovy science gig at the British Library and drank a bespoke cocktail called Musty Books that tasted like old books smell? Well Spiderman surprised me with a bottle from Alchemist Dreams so I splurged a whole 99p on some fancy glasses from a charity shop so we could drink in style.


 

The stuff is gorgeous--19%ABV and a mix of elderberry, bergamot, vanilla and pine liqueur. Mixed with a bit of elderflower water it is heavenly. Like drinking your way through Dickens. Plus it comes in a beautiful, heavy glass bottle with a cork sealed with wax ( When you open the cork it makes a squee squee squee sound like a squirrel chattering followed by a POP! Like someone pulling a cork out of a squirrel’s butt. Spiderman made the comment that he wouldn’t know—he’s never put a cork up a squirrel’s butt before) which I plan to upcycle into something crafty so watch this space.

 
Lastly, as if all this weren’t enough, he phoned me on Monday to say he had found cheap tickets (£7.50 each) to go to a basement pub venue and hear a variety show of singers who are comedians or comedians who are singers--hard to tell which way round it goes--hosted by our favourite topical musical satirist Mitch Benn ad the Distractions! Jonny and the Baptists (another favourite) were going to be there and the special guest was another favourite Justin Edwards. It was fate! Also it was perfect to go to Tuesday night as I had Wednesday off work--we have a system where they won’t pay you for overtime but you can trade your overtime for a day off--and as I really don’t function well without 8-9 hours sleep it was perfect as I could rest in the next day instead of going to school with a crushing headache and risk snapping angrily at a child like some alligator with PMS.

 
We had a blast last night --the music was ace and the comedy really funny--and it ended with a rousing version of ABBA’s Super Trouper which made me want to jump out of my skin with happiness. It had two intervals and during the last one Mitch Benn did his amazing party trick of asking for items in the recent news and going off during the interval and writing a clever, topical satirical song. He’s the best! When we got home at midnight I was still buzzing with excitement!

 All in all, it has been a whirlwind of art, good food and music and I feel so happy I could do a Snoopy dance. You know the one I mean. We’ve done so many extraordinary things over the last week, but today will be an ordinary day. I’ll tidy the flat, we’ll meet up for some computer time at the library, we’ll pop to the shops to buy kale for the green smoothie then come home and I’ll cook us a nice dinner while we listen to the radio. Maybe we’ll watch a film or maybe we’ll just sit on the sofa and read. But whatever we do it will be just as wonderful as all the other adventures we’ve had because we’re together.

 In the words of country singer Don Williams:

 
You’re my bread when I’m hungry.

You’re my shelter from troubled winds.

You’re my anchor in life’s ocean,

But most of all

You’re my best friend.

 
Happy anniversary Spiderman.

 PS I would like to also say happy anniversary to our friends Bart and Angie who got married on our first wedding anniversary--they’ll be celebrating their 20th -- happy anniversary guys!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

New neighbours

We’ve had some new neighbours move in recently.


 

We noticed their little door in our skirting board yesterday.


 

So being the friendly types that we are, we knocked on the wee door and introduced ourselves.


This is the home of Mr and Mrs Church Mouse. They were so friendly and completely gracious about the fact that they won’t find any cheese in our house due to the fact that we are vegans.  After some discussion we found that they shared our philosophy about money--it doesn’t buy happiness and what we have we need to share with those who really don’t have enough.  Like us, they live on a budget and value experiences over “keeping up with the Joneses.” I think they’ll make lovely neighbours, don’t you?

 
Isn’t that the sweetest thing? I saw this idea somewhere on the internet about putting a tiny door on your skirting board to make it look like fairies lived there. They suggested using a doll house door and sticking it on with that double stick foam you use in crafts. I was just a-waiting for someone with a car to take me to Hobby Craft in Stevenage to buy one when we saw this wee door for sale at the gift shop of the Watts Gallery in Guildford. We went there last week to see the Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale exhibit. I was so happy to be able to buy it from the Watts Gallery--they are a lovely, friendly museum and I want to support them in any way I can.

 
Today I had a look at the skirting boards to find the best place. I noticed that all our skirting boards are slightly the worse for wear--they all have scuff marks that won’t come off. They need to be repainted, but they are just skirting boards. I’d rather spend the money elsewhere.

 
I wiped them down and then applied the door with the double stick craft foam. I decided to add the 2 statues of mice Spiderman bought me for Christmas a few years ago in our under £5 challenge where the gift has to be second hand. How lucky that we actually have Mr and Mrs Church Mouse to go with the door!

 
Have you heard the expression as poor as a church mouse? Well, when we first moved to the UK with all our possessions in six suitcases and we lived in an unfurnished flat with an air mattress and a box  that the radio came in for a table, we called ourselves Mr and Mrs Church Mouse.  We were *that* poor, but also *that* happy. The name kind of stuck. Seven years ago we moved to a place called Church House and it seemed fitting that we were once again Mr and Mrs Church Mouse. We don’t make as much money as we used to when we lived in the US, but our standard of living is so much better here. We spend it on what matters--good food, art, entertainment such as going to the theatre, museums and lectures and helping out others when we can. Living without a car (or two!) and a big house and television and a mobile phone and the latest gadget mean we’ve got more money for what matters.

 So I think we’ll get along just find with our new neighbours.
 
Squeak!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Black and white

When I was growing up my father would take me in his arms every day and repeat these words:

Know that I love you
Check your facts
Stand up for what you believe in

We'll be in London today to march against the badger cull. You can read about it here: http://uk.news.yahoo.com/badger-culling-due-begin-amid-protests-053732987.html#sGg1Rm0

I feel it is important to stand up for those who have no voice--and animals have no voice but ours. Despite scientific evidence that shows that bovine TB is NOT caused by badgers but by unsanitary and overcrowded factory farms--which are really just animal factories, plus a vote in the house of commons of 147 to 25 AGAINST the cull and a petition with over 200,000 signatures, the government seems to be pushing ahead with the cull.

Brian May of Queen is leading the march where we will present the petition at the DEFRA headquarters.

May it help them change their minds.

Update article: http://uk.news.yahoo.com/guitarist-lead-badger-cull-rally-030737824.html#VnEHdLG

There were about 2000 people there, all decked out in black and white. It was a very moving experience to be with so many people of all ages who had compassion in their hearts. We had to change our route as the BNP were also marching today, but we were out there in the world trying to make it better.

Another article well worth reading about how they plan to go about the cull. http://uk.news.yahoo.com/badger-cull--cruelty-concerns-badgers-die-from-starvation-infection-brian-may-gloucestershire-somerset-june-1-defra-101554288.html#qlcPI26


If you are in the UK please write to your MP immediately as it is going before the House of Commons again on Wednesday the 5th of June. Please ask him or her to vote against the cull.