Friday, 27 March 2015

Curses, foiled again

I had another very successful interview. Upon entering the room I was congratulated on being short listed as there were 45 applications for the job. That of all the applications mine was the most interesting. They were so looking forward to meeting me. The air was electric as we talked and I was radiating love and kindness and positive energy. The panel kept saying what a pleasure, a genuine pleasure, it was to meet me. I was told the headteacher would be phoning late afternoon with the results.

The headteacher didn't phone until nearly 8pm. She sounded sad and weary. Almost tearful. She said they had been so looking foward to meeting me. That my application had stood out like a beacon from the others. That in all her years of being a headteacher, she had NEVER had such glowing references. They were so keen to meet me  and I did not disappoint. She used the phrase "we were fascinated by you" at least five times and the phrase "we were simply captivated" twice.

I didn't get the job. 

She explained ever so regretfully that the position was foundation/key stage one (ages 3-6) and my experience was with key stage 2 (ages 7-11) and they had someone who was not nearly as dynamic as me, but who had many years experience at that level and they felt they had to go with them. The reason she was phoning so late was they had been trying find a way to hire me as well. She was heartbroken as they were all so impressed, but I just didn't have enough experience with that age group.


She asked me was I working and I said no and she exclaimed "how are you not working? You NEED to be in a school!" She asked if I had registed with an agency I said yes but that it hadn't brought me any work and she told me the name of the agency they use and suggested I register with them and so they might be able to use me here and there for supply work. She also asked if I would be interested in coming to do some storytelling or storytelling workshops at the school. I said yes and after the Easter holidays maybe we can work something out. And while the offer of some volunteer storytelling work is great, it does not solve our financial issues or pay the £5 for the bus to get to the school.

I am beyond disapointed. How does this keep happening???? They think I am wonderful and then don't hire me!!! This is the third time I have had feedback like this after an interview. Both this one and my last school interview could not believe someone hadn't snapped me up already.
Yes, I am wondering that as well. Despite many things being so good in our lives this is the one area (and it is a big area) that I feel really disapointed with. I do not understand if I am so good, why no one will hire me. Everyone seems so reluctant and apologetic when they have to tell me no which should make it feel better. 

Somehow it doesn't.
I had a pretty rough night. Some tears, some wallowing in self pity and general grumpiness. Some ranting and railing and talking bollocks.  But it is a good sign that despite the fact that they cannot seem to hire me they liked me. they really liked me. (to quote Sally Field in her Oscar speech) because it means that if something DOES come up they will keep me in mind.

I am counting my blessings every minute of the day and that seems to soothe the pain in my heart.

I am loved by so many people. Even our friends Constantine who sells the Big Issue (a magazine that homeless or vulnerably housed people can sell to make money. It is not a charity--they buy the magazine for one price and sell for a higher price) is rooting for me. When I bought my magazine today he told me that a lady was handing out cards advertising a tutoring agency in town and he got one for me. So this afternoon I have sent them an email and a CV describing my skills, experience and availability so fingers crossed. I worked for a year at  a similar placed called Sylvan Learning Centre in Louisiana and really enjoyed it.

I have a roof over my head and food on my table. I have friends from near and far who are dear to me. We have more friends from England coming to visit at Easter. I am loved. I can be disappointed and still appreciate  those things.

In the scheme of things I am really blessed.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Peachy Tea, tee hee

Holy Moly I have discovered Raspberry Peach Tea.




 For years I was a tea deny-er. I pretended like tea drinking didn’t exist. To me, it tasted of grass--you might as well pull some grass and mud from your back garden and add some water from the hose and drink it.

It might make it taste better.

I grew up in the Land of Ice Tea and then moved to the Land of Hot Tea.

I still never understood the appeal.

Until I discovered fruit tea.

Oh fruit tea, you are a joy to me. Tee hee, tee hee.

My poetry may be cringe-worthy but my point it, fruit tea rocks. I am normally a red fruit tea drinker (some combination of raspberry, strawberry some other kind of berry) because it tastes good hot or cold. Especially with a squeeze of lemon.

 However, my favourite discount supermarket Lidl had some Raspberry Peach Tea on offer on the weekend. Normally you get a box of 40 teabags for 88p but they were on sale for half price --40 teabags for 44p!!!!!!!!!!!!! That’s practically 1p a teabag.

So I made a pot of tea and fell in *love*

Oh this tea is amazing--it tastes naturally sweet and is so fragrant it is like the nectar of the Gods. It contains “peach juice granules” which give it a thick, syrupy peach flavor.

Reader, I went back the next day and bought a second box before the sale ended.

I really like Lidl, their prices are low but their quality is high. You often get more but pay less. Tesco sells fruit tea bags as well for about the same price--less than £1 but you only get 20 teabags. Lidl’s produce is fresh and delicious and inexpensive and they never air freight. Sure they may have less on offer because they are not bringing in mange tout from Africa or whatever, but the stuff they do have in stock tends to be more seasonal.

So if you have a Lidl near you go and buy the Raspberry Peach tea and drink it and sigh with pleasure.


Monday, 23 March 2015

Sneaky Pizza

I love to sneak healthy stuff into my food. Does that even make sense? We already eat an incredibly healthy diet--a whole food diet, a real food diet, a vegan diet--but there is always room for a bit of extra nutrition. Mission nutrition means that we add an extra dose of healthy to our already healthy diet. So if you are out there and wish you could add a bit more of the good stuff into your diet (or need to sneak some vegetables into your picky eating  toddler or spouse’s food) then this is the pizza crust for you.

You heard me…pizza crust just got healthier.

 In the Spider household, we are pizza fiends. Ever since I bought that cookbook by Julie Hasson called Vegan Pizza we regularly have pizza. Mmm…pizza. As I have a wheat intolerance I chose it’s lower in gluten cousin spelt flour for our flour of choice and saved my gluten free flours for other baking treats. We choose wholemeal spelt because it happened to be cheaper and is definitely healthier than plain ole white spelt (or any white flour for that matter) but for this recipe regular wholemeal wheat flour would work.

 I got the idea from this blog: (Never) Homemaker.  They use pureed veg as part of the liquid substitute in their crust. They started off with canned pumpkin puree which I am sure was dynamite but we can’t find pumpkin puree in a tin other than Libby’s brand which is owned by Nestle (Or Nasty as I like to call them. Go here if you want to read about the questionable ethics of Nestle Yeah, I know you could gut a pumpkin and roast it or steam it or whatever but who has that kind of time? I wanted something quick. Bish, bash, bosh. Done.

This recipe calls for pureed chickpeas and carrots as part of your liquid substitution. So you get a protein and veg boost in your crust. Also it has the added bonus of making the crust moist and chewy as opposed to heavy and dry as wholemeal baking can sometimes be.

First open a tin of chickpeas and a tin of carrots and drain them and rinse well. Again if you have the time you could steam your own carrots but I am going for quickness and cheapness. A tin of East End chickpeas sells for about 37p and a tin of carrots about 19p.

Then blend them all in a food processor. If you are like me and your food processor died and went to Silicone Heaven, they puree up very well using an immersion blender and some ingenuity. Now you have a beautiful orange puree. Next divide in half. Did I forget to mention that the puree makes enough for four pizzas???? Their recipe said it made two 1 cup portions. My tin of carrots is a little small so it makes two ¾ cup portions. Whatever. Still works. Save one half for this batch and then store the other half in the fridge if planning to make more pizzas in a few days or do like I do and freeze the other half. Then defrost overnight in the fridge and take it out a few hours before you want it to come to room temperature. Easy peasy. 

Their directions were more standard where you mix the yeast with the water and let it froth and then mix it into your flour.

I do it the lazy way and it has never failed me. Three cheers for the lazy way! 

 Sneaky Pizza crust

 3 cups wholemeal flour (or 3 and ¼ cups if using wholemeal spelt)

1 packet instant yeast

1 heaping teaspoon sugar

1 tsp (sea) salt

¾ to 1 cup sneaky orange puree

1 and ¼ cups (plus a bit more?) quite hand hot tap water (about 110 degrees)  

Put your flour in a bowl. I don’t even bother to sift. Lazy way strikes again.

Sprinkle over the sugar salt and yeast but don’t stir it yet.

Mix the orange puree in a pyrex cup or small bowl and add your hot tap water. I let my tap water get as hot as it gets for this. About 110 to 120 degrees. I checked it obsessively with a thermometer the first few times but now just let my tap water get hot.

Mix the wet into the dry and stir until combined (you may have to add a few more slops of hot water) and then knead a bit with your hands--maybe 5-10 scrunches. Then cover the bowl with Clingfilm and let it rise for 3 hours or so in a warm place. We pop it on a small heat mat made for the spiders.

Then when it has risen, divide in two (I weigh it but you can just eyeball it.) Then you can roll one out now and make the pizza or do as I do and wrap in Clingfilm (re-use the Clingfilm that you used to cover the bowl for one of them) and then pop in a ziplock bag and into the freezer. Defrost in the fridge overnight before you want it and then on the counter for a few hours before the meal.

 To bake:

Preheat oven to 250C/500F

Roll out the dough and bake for 5 minutes then add half a cup of sauce and toppings of your choice and bake for another 10-12 minutes. Then let it rest for 5 minutes (if you can stand it) and slice and eat.

Literally it is that easy.

Here’s one I made earlier:

It has a smoky cream sauce made from cashews, nutritional yeast, liquid smoke and *love* plus caramelised onions and mushrooms and chestnuts. I got a load of chestnuts for pennies around Christmas time and we are still reaping the benefits. I only used half the pack so we will have chestnut risotto soon to use up the rest. Two meals from one packet--bonus!

This crust is delicious and healthy with the wholemeal flour, chickpeas and carrots.

Go and make it now, dude!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Go Go Gola

I think we all know by now I am not a fashion queen. I don’t give a fig about brand named clothing and I wouldn’t recognise a pair of Jimmy Choo’s if someone kicked me up the arse whilst wearing them.

I am more about comfort the older I get. Living in the UK for the last eleven years without a car we have done a lot of walking. You need good supportive comfortable shoes to do that. I pretty much live in trainers (or sneakers for those in the northern part of the US and tennis shoes for those in south--I called them that all my life despite never once playing tennis in them) and a dress making me look a bit like those Pentecostal girls of the 80s or a business woman power walking to work except I don’t bring a change of shoes.

Trainers give me better support than “cute” shoes which tend to have the cumulative effect of making my heels hurt which makes my ankle twinge which in turn bothers my knee which then puts my hip out of joint and finally misaligns my coccyx and I am all out of whack.

About the second or third week after we arrived it was raining rather heavily (no surprise there, it is Wales after all) and I discovered that my trainers had a hole in them letting in copious amounts of water and drenching my sock and making me all squelch-y. Not nice.

But what to do? We found a local sport shop that was going out of business and I found a pair of £40 trainers for half price. £20 seemed like an excellent bargain especially for brand named shoes even if I had never heard of the brand.

I didn’t choose them because of the name. I chose them because they were black, not made of leather and came in my size and were £20. The brand was called Gola Active --ever heard of it? No me neither. But wearing them was a revelation.
Gola Active Buranga Women's Toning Trainers - Size 6.

Gola are great. I cannot say how much I love them. They are super comfortable and supportive. They are made of breathable synthetic fabric. They have these “balance domes” (a bit like Sketchers) to create slight instability which stimulates key muscles and can result in the following benefits:

*overall improved health and well being

* stronger leg and gluteal muscles

*reduced pressure on joints

*improved blood circulation

*enhanced core strength

*a strengthened back

I bloody love them. I love them so much when my black pair that I have faithfully worn every day for the past six months --walking 2-5 miles a day in them--finally developed a small hole that was letting water in I wanted to get another pair of Gola Active. I have never been brand loyal but I wanted to replace like for like.

But where to get them? The shop where we bought the original pair had long since gone out of business. We didn’t have £40 to pay for a full price pair so what could I do?

I did a tentative amazon search and lo and behold--I found a company selling them for £8.50 a pair. £8.50 plus £3.50 shipping making a total of £12 a pair. They only had sizes three and four left and luckily I am a size four and so I did a little happy dance. They only came in graphite and coral as opposed to black and pink but hey-ho. For that price for the brand I wanted I was not going to quibble. They only had two left in stock so we decided to buy them both and put one away for when these wear out. So for less than £24 I got two pairs of shoes. Woohoo!!!
Image result for amazon uk gola active buranga
The black ones still have some wear in them and I am working on a way to plug up the small hole with superglue or some such and turn them into my muddy shoes--shoes for hikes or woodsy walks where you wouldn’t want to get your good shoes all mucky. It won’t matter if they have a big glob of glue plugging up a hole as they are for messy outdoor fun.

But the grey ones can be my every day ones. 

I bought the first pair impulsively but returned with purpose for the second (and third) pairs. Gola is a British company and having looked at their website I really appreciate their values. I will Go Go Gola as long as they make shoes.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Postal dragons

Did you know that Royal Mail employs dragons? At least in Wales they do. Dragons are everywhere here in Cymru. We are a nation of dragons. FACT. There is even one that lives on a roundabout in town.

But how do I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Royal Mail employs dragons? Because they keep eating my bloody letters, that’s how.

Twice since we moved we have a letter delivered in a plastic bag with the message:


Our Sincere Apologies

We are very sorry that this item has reached you in this condition. 

Exhibit A:


This is a letter from my young pen pal Lois that arrived partially eaten. Luckily, I could still read her message.

The next one was not so lucky.

Exhibit B:

 This was actually a thank you card that I sent to a friend in England that arrived back to me mangled, scrunched with a huge chunk bitten off. It came back to me via the return address because the address it was meant to be delivered to was devoured and could not be read.

What other explanation could there be but dragons?

So Royal Mail, if you are reading this--get your bloody dragons under control please!!!!!

Friday, 13 March 2015

Really and truly?

Have you ever read something and thought, "Is this for real?"

Something that seems so dated and backwards--you can't decide if it is a parody or truthful. There was a document roaming the internet a few years back that was supposed to be a Victorian sex manual giving advice to the wife ("Give little, give seldom and above all give grudgingly") which I believe was proven to be a fake. Read the whole text here:

Recently my Mum sent me this: Advice from a 1949 Singer Sewing Manual.
Velvet d'Amour Official Fan Page's photo.

Is it true? Is it real? I can't be sure. Possibly as it is 1949. What do you think?

What I can say is that the following pictures are REAL. How can I say it with such confidence? Because they happened to me. Yes, when I was in the sixth grade I went to Christian Charm School. To be fair, I was sort of tricked into it. My glamorous aunt invited me to come and spend a week with her in Texas and go to a week long workshop to teach you about hair and make-up. Or so she said. It turned out to be a workshop about hair and make-up and Jesus and how to attract a HUSBAND.

Seriously. I was eleven years old. I didn't want a boyfriend at that age let alone be thinking ahead to a husband. Yuck.....seriously boys still had cooties  for me at this age.

Here are some pages from Emily Hunter's Christian Charm Course.
I failed on the walk gracefully bit as I tended to do a lot of hopping and twirling when I walk. Actually I still hop and twirl quite a bit. I do not glide smoothly as the instructions above told me to. As Spiderman says, "People walk. Daleks glide" and I can safely say I am not a emotionless killing machine from outer space.  And as for the pretty sitting posture--it makes me feet go to sleep.

I think this page says it all. How feminine are you?

I was constantly being told off for laughing too loudly and for boisterous rowdiness. We were encouraged to hide our intellect and mould our opinions to the man in our life because no man wants a wife that is smarter than he is. Because I could not seem to supress any of the above behaviours I was actually told by the pastor in a fatherly voice, "If you continue on in this manner then no man is ever going to marry you."

How did I survive this and grow up to be the relatively normal and sane person you see before you, I hear you cry? failing. I actually was the only one in the group who wasn't allowed to graduate. I got a certificate for participation but I wasn't allowed to walk across the stage and shake the pastor's hand. My aunt was mortified but my parents were *so* proud when I told them.

And I am happy to say the pastor was wrong. Spiderman and I just celebrated 26 years since our first date last month.

But how do these antiquated attitudes damage young girls? With all the stress on your outer appearance not inner beauty and hiding your light under a bushel I don't feel it really jives with the Bible's message.

This course is still being taught today--you can buy it on Amazon.

I had liberal parents who taught me to think for myself but what about all those young girls who don't have parents to protect them?

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Diolch Ffrindiau

This means thank you friends in Welsh. I have a lot to be thankful for. Every night when Spiderman and I bless our food we say:

We give thanks O Lord

For food when many walk in hunger,

For faith when many walk in fear,

For friends when many walk alone,

We give thanks to you O God and

May all that have life be delivered from suffering.


It is not really the way that Quakers tend to pray. Normally they hold a silent thought before a meal, but since we have been in Wales we have felt the need to do more--to acknowledge our blessings verbally.

We were blessed with a visit from friends this past weekend. I guess you could also say it was a visit from Friends as Friends (Of Truth) is another word for Quakers. When we arrived in Cymru six months ago, I had a bit of hard time adjusting. I was homesick and lonely and unemployed. I missed my church family and friends back in England. While things are considerably better now--I am still unemployed but I am not so homesick or lonely as I once was--it was with great excitement that some of our Quaker friends discussed the possibility of coming to Wales for a weekend.

It seemed like such a difficult thing to arrange--one of those ideas that sound good in theory but then when you look into the logistics of it couldn’t really be done. I tried not to get my hopes up and seem casual in our email exchanges but I know my heart was just wanting it so badly. I really miss these people--they were a huge part of my life both spiritual and social and I wanted to show them around our new town and new life in Cymru.

Well reader, it happened. They came.

Friday night Rachel and Lorna N arrived after five and half hours in the car. I couldn’t believe they were willing to drive that long just to see us. To be fair, the actual drive was more like four and half hours with two half an hour pit stops but still. That is a *long* way to come for the sake of friendship.

But they came anyway.

We went out for a delicious Chinese meal at Sai Wu, the restaurant owned by our friend Soong. They came back for the quick tour of our flat and for a slice of date cake and then back to their hotel to bed.

Saturday morning the weather was *perfect* --the daffodils were blooming, the sky was blue and the sun was shining and I was in my short red spring coat as opposed to my long pink winter coat. Hoorah!!! Spiderman gave us the day together because he knew I needed a visit more than he did. He got his visit later that night over dinner and conversation that lasted until nearly midnight.

We three ladies pottered around the many shops that Carmarthen has to offer. There are at least eight charity shops and several interesting independent retro crafty type places so we ambled about from around 10am to about 4pm (stopping in the middle for a cup of tea and sandwiches). We all had a nap and then they came over for dinner and we ate mushroom barley soup  and date cake and we talked and laughed and told stories and discussed politics and laughed some more. It was a truly uplifting experience.

We didn’t actually subject them to our blessing as that feels like a personal religious choice and we didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable but I did make them listen to a seasonal poem as we are counting our way towards the spring equinox on March the 20th. I have even decorated my seasonal tree in it’s spring attire.

The next day we met then at CafĂ© Nero for a cuppa before they got on the road. We were having such an interesting discussion about the American South (Last year Lorna took a trip to Nashville as well as further down south) that I think we didn’t want it to end. But they said goodbye and drove home and we walked home in the drizzle (I was back wearing my long pink winter coat again).

It was, without a doubt, one of the best weekends I’ve had. It reminds you that if you are truly friends then distance and time do not matter. You can pick up right where you left off. Just seeing them was gift enough but did I mention they also brought pressies?????

Seriously. Boxes and bags of goodies from Quaker Friends back in Hitchin. Knowing our finances are a wee bit on the tight side (we are, after all, Mr and Mrs Church Mouse) Friends sent expensive food treats like olive oil, cashew nuts, coconut milk and tamarind paste (can you say curry????) plus delicious but totally out of our price range maple syrup. Luxury!  They sent posh snacks like apricot chia bars, chocolate covered raspberries, dried apricots, mixed nuts and two (count ’em two) kinds of hand cooked crisps. Yeah…we’ve actually eaten most of the snack stuff already. Plus two varieties of herbal tea! 

There were also three (count ‘em three) jars of homemade jellies and jams. Yes please!!!!

There were fabric remnants from their fabric stashes that had long lain unused and were looking for someone to think of a use for them. Me! Pick me! I can use them! 

There were card making crafty bits like fancy paper and little wooden doodads which filled me with so many ideas I could hardly wait to make something.
There were also several craft kits and projects and game ideas --plastic fillable Easter eggs anyone??? Oh the fun we will have!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There were thoughtful cards from several of our friends back in England that I will treasure because of their kind messages.

 It would have been a perfect weekend with just their company but I gotta say…the pressies were really nice! Food and crafts and books! Oh, I forgot the  books!!

 Lorna found some a trilogy of interesting books all about Merlin the magician (who was born in a cave outside Carmarthen dontcha know!) in a charity shop and bought them for me. How kind.

It truly let me know how blessed we are--with good food, good friends and a shared faith that draws us together.

Diolch o galon! Heartfelt thanks!



Monday, 2 March 2015

And though she be but little, she is fierce

There is a sadness that has swept over us. There has been a death. Connie Douglas was the mother of a childhood pal, a favourite professor and a true friend to us. We were very close to her through our time at Louisiana College and remained friends after graduation. We have seen her several times since we moved to the UK as she loved travel as much as we did. In fact she is one of the main reasons we are here today, living our dream in the United Kingdom.


Dr D (as I always called her) was an English professor as well as one of the team who taught the values classes at LC. We were lucky enough to have her as our teacher for many classes and always greatly enjoyed our lessons and her enthusiasm for literature. She was teeny-tiny--I am actually taller than she was which says a lot--and she always wore high heels and I often wondered how in the world she managed. She was a firecracker--a ball of energy and ideas and she loved to laugh. She was a fierce woman with so much integrity in the face of adversity and I admired her courage greatly.


I can recall clearly the incident when we were reading Gulliver’s Travels and she bid us look at the first page. We looked. She said look again. We looked again. She said look harder. Finally, she read out loud the clever wordplay from the rogue that was Jonathan Swift which talked of his beloved old school master, Mister Bates. Now Mister Bates was a fine master, good old Master Bates.


Master Bates…masturbates.  Aha!


Finally we got it and as the light bulb flickered on above our heads we hooted with laughter. I have never forgotten that and I always make sure to point that out to anyone reading Gulliver’s Travels lest they miss it.   


It was also in her class that the unfortunate incident occurred whilst watching the film version of Wuthering Heights starring Laurence Oliver where Cathy says, “Oh Heathcliff! Gather up all the heather to fill my arms!” and I leapt up and shouted,








Like in that scene from When Harry Met Sally. I was *mortified* but Dr D told me later that she felt that way too so it made me feel so much better.


As Spiderman was an English education major and I was an English minor we had many classes with Dr D. I wrote some of best papers for her, her teaching inspired me to write and research  at a deeper level. But the best class we took from her was Shakespeare.


Why was that class the best? Because we took it in London in 1990. Spiderman and I were privileged to be a part of the Mary D. Bowman programme known as LC/MC Overseas where Louisiana College and Mississippi College spent a semester living and studying in London as well as travelling around Scotland and Wales over the Easter holidays. The programme was in its infancy and we were lucky enough to go during the second year. We chose to go that year because the two subjects being taught were English with Dr D and science by a professor from Mississippi College. To take Shakespeare in London with our favourite professor and friend was a dream come true.  I loved that she stayed at the hotel with us (some later professors in residence stayed elsewhere away from all the students) but she was always there, in the thick of it with us.


 The programme helped us to leave the sheltered confines of Louisiana and see a more global perspective on the world. We saw art, went to the theatre, discussed current events and became more well rounded people. Our eyes were opened. For me it was like having been in a desert all my life and suddenly feeling the rain on my skin. Spiderman felt that way as well. That was largely due to Dr D and her enthusiasm for all that the United Kingdom had to offer.


It was on that trip in 1990, on our one year anniversary, while sitting on the old green sofa at our beloved Saint Margaret’s Hotel that Spiderman proposed to me. Being me, I burst into tears (I do that easily) and right at that moment who should walk in by Dr D who saw me crying and thought something tragic had happened.  Immediately, she rushed to my side and asked if I was ok. All I could do was hiccup and say, “We’re going to get married!”  and she started to cry as well! She was so happy and hugged us over and over and kept saying that we were such a perfect match for each other. We went to bed, elated in our secret good news and by the time we came down for breakfast the next day the word was out. Everyone knew. And I do mean everyone. We were getting winks and smiles and hugs from all the waitresses as well as from our LC/MC compatriots.


Connie Douglas is one of the main reasons we are here today. She made us believe it was possible. So many people tried to slam the door on our dreams, but she opened the door wider and told us walk in.


Thank you Dr D. We will miss you.