Friday, 21 August 2015

How do you measure a year?

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments, so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love.
--from Seasons of Love by Jonathan Larson from the musical Rent.

Well, my friends. It has been a year since we left England and moved to Cymru. Can you believe it? It has been a rollercoaster of a year with many ups and downs. Many things did not turn out the way we had planned and many things are better than our wildest dreams.

I am still not permanently employed, after a year of searching and applying for all sorts of jobs. Interviews--oh I've had 'em. Feedback? Well it was awesome. Aparently I am passionate and fascinating--just not what they were looking for.  For a while (a rather long while) this was incredibly hard. I was homesick. We were worried about money. I had nothing to do with my time. The winter was cold and we were trying to save on heating bills. I was home alone, cold and bored, frustrated and angry, sad and confused. It was only when i realised that I needed to stop fighting and give in that I began to relax. Maybe what was required of me was rest.  Maybe what was required of me was faith. Maybe what was required of me was trust in the belief that it would all be ok.

Then things started to get better.

My friend Priya who owns a two clothing boutiques in town needed some part time help. It wasn't regular, but it was work. I found that I really enjoyed it and it felt good to have something to do again. But not too much to do.

Then recently some friends asked me if I would be willing to tutor their two children as they were taking them out of mainstream school and were planning to homeschool them. Their children are (nearly) 7 and (almost) 9 and for one day a week i will go to their house from 10:00-2:00 and teach them literacy and maths. It is another part time paid job doing something I like and may lead to other opportunities. Or it may not.

And I am cool with that. Because this year has taught me that I don't need as much money as I thought to make me happy. We need a food and shelter and i need to be able to buy some craft supplies here and there and maybe a day out every once in a while, but mostly what I need to make me happy is friends. 

This was the part of my life that I was the most concerned with. I make friends really slowly. We lived in England for 11 years and took me most of that time to go from being a friendly aquaintence with people to a "Come over for dinner or let's go somewhere together"  sort of thing. It was only in the last few years of out time in England where i felt a sense of belonging and feeling like I was forging real, deep friendships. I had become very active in our local Quaker Meeting and had finally begun to find the sort of friendship I had dreamed of and now we were moving away. How was I going to cope far away with no friends and no job and nothing to do with my time?

This is where our lives have become more than I could have ever imagined. On our second week here we met Kathryn and Peter who were running a vegan information stall in town. They were so friendly and welcoming and the following Saturday we were at the Waverly cafe meeting other vegans, eating delicious food and chatting like we'd known each other forever. Straightaway we were invited to go on some day trips with the offer of a lift from Priya and we spent the day in the great outdoors hiking and picnicking--first to Caldey Island and then to Llansteffan where we picnicked in the shadows of a ruined castle by the sea.

The rest is history. Nearly every weekend we have something fun to do with friends. Outdoors if the good weather and indoors when the weather is too wet. We eat, drink, laugh and talk about serious subjects. We sing and dance and run a vegan outreach with free food 4 times a year. We discuss deep subjects like spirituality and then make corny jokes and groan.  We spread the vegan message by being healthy, happy people.

Last week a big group of us hiked from Stepaside to Saundersfoot.  You walk in the green of the woods then through some old rail tunnels that were dark and scary out to the glorious view of the sea.

It's a good life.

We are happy living here. We may not have what we expected to have but we have everything we could wish for.

We have each other and we have love.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Lark Rise to (cake)ford

We have a ritual. Every morning I wake up and say, "I had a dream last night"  and Spiderman replies, "No you didn't." 

This is because he knows without a shadow of a doubt that I have dreamed some weirdo dream. I have very vivid dreams and I remember nearly every one.

This latest dream was no doubt inspired by watching too many episodes in our boxset of the charming telly series Lark Rise to Candleford. 

Do you know this sweet and gentle programme? I am besotted with it. I have read the books that it is based on twice (a trilogy, beautifully written by Flora Thompson that describe people and places and life in the late 19th century. Her semi autobiographical novels perfectly capture rural life as is is slowly taken over by "progress" and mechanisation as our heroine Laura Timmins moves from the small hamlet of Larkrise to the neighbouring market town of Candleford to work as an assistant to the post mistress Dorcas Lane.)

Well in my dream I had been doing a lot of baking and bringing my treats to work. Not so unusual. The sweets were always well received and snaffled up by people who kept exclaiming "This is so delicious! I can't believe it is vegan!"  Again, not unusual. But then suddenly I was in the Candleford Post Office. It seems I work in the Candleford Post Office. OK, not quite so usual.

I bring in a batch of my brownies that always get raves when Minnie the maid  tells me there won't be a need for them.

Me: But why? You love my brownies.
Minnie:  I know but we don't need your brownies because Miss Lane has baked a cake.

Then Laura Timmins appears.

 Laura: i think what Minnie means is while we all love your baked goods, they are not real baked goods because they are not made with butter and eggs.
Me: They are so real baked goods! You liked my marmalade cake so much you asked for the recipe!
Minnie: I know. That's how we found out they weren't real. Whoever heard of a cake without butter and eggs.

Then Dorcas Lane appears.

Me: you love my cake. you told me so. Why won't you eat my brownies?
Dorcas: I am afraid that is is just not possible now that we know they aren't real. Which is rather a shame because cake is my one weakness. My own cakes often contain up to a dozen eggs. Now if you will excuse me I need to go and make calve's foot jelly. (seriously, a real thing. How do you think jell-o is made?)

Then God-fearing postman Thomas Brown appeared.
Thomas:(crams a brownie in his mouth) Well, I for one never noticed the lack of butter or eggs in Miss Heather's baked goods. ma'am. They all taste good with a cup of tea.
Me: Thank you Thomas.

Then his timid wife Margaret Brown appears.
Margaret: I had noticed a lack of butteryness in the baked good, but did not want to say for fear of causing offence.

This is when I lost it. I decided I would bake a spectacular cake, a cake like no other and enter it in the annual autumn fair that was conveniently happening on the weekend. I decided on a chocolate cherry cake.  it would be made like my well received marmalade cake but with cherry preserves mixed in.  It would have dried cherries and chunks of chocolate and a rich chocolate frosting. I would win the baking competition and then everyone from Larkrise to Candleford would know that vegan baking is real baking. 19th century or not.

But then, this is when things started to get weird. (more weird, I suppose I should say.)

Inexplicably, my oven was located in the back yard of my childhood home. Yes, literally in the middle of my back yard. Not a plug in sight. But somehow I am able to heat it up. I am having to do all my cooking outside and am concerned about pollen falling in my cake batter. I manage to make a spectacular looking batter that needs to get into the oven straightway to let the vinegar react with the baking soda so it will rise and when I open the oven it i full of stuff. Seriously. All this old metal work. Old dented pots and pans, bits if wrought iron. Dorcas Lane also owns the forge where blacksmithing is done as well as the Post Office and so I suspect sabotage. I rant and rail and try to pull all these oddments of metal out of the oven (being metal they are frightfully hot and I don't seem to have any oven gloves. i am using a large palm leaf instead) and by the time i get everything out the oven is cold and the cake has sunk and I am in no way going to win the baking contest.

it is then I wake up.

Glad to not be a vegan in the 19th century (were there even vegans in the 19th century? there were vegetarians, but vegans?)  I decided to make the cake.  I made a delicious gluten free chocolate cake with 4 TB cherry preserves and a half cup of dried cranberries that were flavoured with pomegranate juice and frosted it with a rich and creamy chocolate frosting.

It is, no matter what Candleford folk say, a real cake.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Perks of Being a Swot


it's a funny old word.

A very British word.

According to Urban Dictionary: (verb) To Swot; Revision undertaken preceding an exam.

But used as a noun it is considered offensive slang.  Swot; A person who values his education at least three times more than his social life and his teacher at least three times more than his friends, hypothetically.

We first came across this word in an episode of The Young Ones. Exam results are in the post but a particularly young and keen girl has jogged down to get hers early because as she says it with a smug sense of satisfaction, "I'm such a girly swot."

I completely identified with her. I have more than a bit of Hermione Granger in me. I am that kid that nobody liked in school. if I was keen on a subject then i was *very* keen. I always like sitting front and centre in a classroom so I can concentrate and not be distracted by my peers who may be taking things less serious than me. I am the type who enjoys the challenge of homework and raises my hand tall and straight (none of this wussy barely creeping up to shoulder level apologetic hand raise), I like to raise it straight up like a rocket and often accompany it with a serious raised eyebrow look and finger wiggle.

So it was really no surprise to me that I did very well on my Welsh exam. 

Yes folks, the results are in. Spiderman and i both passed our exam and will be receiving an entry level qualification certificate (a certificate! be still my beating heart. i am such a gold star junkie). Spiderman did well, he was well above the passmark but I did outstanding.

But then I am a girly swot.

My total score was  369/400. 
The breakdown  is as follows:
70/80 listening comprehension test
202/220 Oral test
58/60 Reading Comprehension and Gap Filling test
39/40 Writing test.

I am chuffed to bits with my scores  but  wish I could see where I went wrong. I would like to see the paper when it comes up on the website as a past exam paper to revise so i can see where i think I went wrong. I know one thing. I am 100% sure that my minus one point on the written comes from forgetting to mutate prysur to brysur. I was so busy trying work out how to use it in a sentence (it means busy) that I forgot to mutate it.

But we are both pleased that after only one year of living here we have learned so much. We have a very basic understanding of a difficult language and are excited about another year's worth of study that lies ahead of us. We have already registered for the Foundation Level Welsh Class next year because we both genuinely love learning.

So ffrindiau, diolch yn fawr a hywl. Friends, thank you and goodbye.

PS What kind of student are you? Are you a Hermione? or are you the type that beat up the Hermione's of this world? (she says from experience)