Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Food Goals

One of my favourite blogs currently is written by Rhonda Hetzel, called Down to Earth. She lives in Australia and writes about how she and her husband, Hanno, live 'simply'. She's even written a book called The Simple Life, available from Amazon and all sorts of other places.  I don't think I would call their life simple in that it requires a fair amount of work to grow as much food as they do, raise chickens, bake breads, make their own soap and household cleaners, etc.  I suppose it is simple in that they have stepped away from the usual consumer lifestyle and are as self-sufficient as they are able to be. 

Somehow the concept of 'simple' in modern (post-modern?) society is fairly complex! I tend to think of it as 'minimalist' but they are not minimalists.  I also think of 'simple' as meaning 'easy' (as in automated, I suppose), but they don't do that either.  They are however frugal and they obviously enjoy what they do. I like to occasionally try some of their ideas (like homemade laundry soap, which seems to have worked out fine). If any of these ideas interest you, you should definitely check out her blog and possibly her book (more on the way).  I have neither the land space nor the climate that they enjoy - I especially envy them the latter, so even with the best will I couldn't replicate their lifestyle. (Besides I suspect I'm far too lazy).

Rhonda recently mentioned about Food Goals, a topic that came up on the Simple Living Forum.  I've joined the forum but not figured out how to comment, etc. I thought this was an interesting topic and people have quite a wide variety of goals.

Mine are
1) spend less than £100 per month on average for our food keeping but also serve a variety of healthy, nutritional foods, especially vegetables and fruit. Not sure how realistic this is, but it's what I aim for.
 - Average of £94 a month spent for food so far this year.  

2) grow some fruit and veg in the back garden (my goal is extremely modest, ie anything is better than nothing)
- I've got the soil all turned and ready, but only strawberries (moved) and broad beans have gone in; on the other hand I've had 2 full crops of carrot greens just from my carrot tops-sitting-in-water in the kitchen; this amuses me no end.

3) use up my stockpiled foods, especially those odd items that will just sit forever if I don't make an effort.
- This is largely what has made £94 monthly average possible. There are still odd things to use up so I'm far from finished with this. It is a balance between presenting Bill with new surprises (which is generally likes) and feeding him tinned and frozen foods (which he'll only tolerate so much of).  

More long-range ideas I've had a long time are to be more competent at making pastry for pies and American style biscuits from scratch (as opposed to British style biscuits which I call cookies).  

Other people have listed such things as

reduce/remove sugar from their diet (because they are diabetic)
grow enough food to preserve
learn to make more things from scratch, ie yoghurt, sourdough bread 
increase the diversity of their diets
move more towards a vegetarian / vegan lifestyle
plan more meals, packed lunches
re-build the stockpile
waste less food

This all sounds really good to me. In fact I can't imagine not having a food goal of some kind.  

How about you? Do you have any food goals?

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Daddy's Birthday

Today is my Dad's birthday, he would have been 96. I've been very busy this week with my genealogy, having discovered a new cousin, on my Mom's side, in Australia. She has given us a photo of my Great-great-grandfather and we're all very excited about this.

In doing more research on some of that branch I discovered that Google can be quite useful with the more recent events, like discovering a whole group of grave sites (Find a Grave.com) with dates of birth and death on the tombstones. 

On a whim I entered my Dad's name into Google. It came up with mostly stuff from my Ancestry family tree, but the last entry was on Ancestry in Italian. I pulled it up and found this photograph attached to a family tree. I've no idea why it should be there, but given that he served in WWII in Italy in 1944 and given that I only discovered a few years ago that my Dad was adopted, I'm wondering what other surprises might pop up. I like being an only child and I think would prefer to stay that way, but we don't have control over these things and so we shall see how things unfold. Given that the family tree is full of English names, not Italian, I'm thinking that Ancestry must just provide all sorts of information in different languages. I hope.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Return to Delaval Hall

We had a State Visit from Princess Charlotte a couple of weekends ago (time passes too quick these days!).  Helen and Martin brought Bill his birthday present, some exotic beer from Dunham Massey, a National Trust property near them. One of the beers is labelled 'Sanctuary from the Trenches'. 

Dunham is commemorating WWI by returning the Hall to the military hospital it was during that war (you know, like they did in Downton Abbey?). Anyhow, they came up and she had the plan of going to see Belsay Hall or the like rather than our usual routine of just sitting around admiring Charlotte.

Couldn't decide which I liked best...

I suggested Seaton Delaval Hall, as none of them had been. So that is what we did, following an enormous lunch at Shiremore Farm (a pub/restaurant).  Bill joined us up to the National Trust, our plan for the motorhome adventures being to visit some of these places rather than driving over to the continent this year.  Bill has already started planning trips to those with interwar decor, but our first trip will likely be to a place with a Mitford connection.

I've already told you all I can about Delaval Hall

It was a very cold day, but fortunately the wind wasn't bad. 

Looking up in one of the octagonal rooms either side of the front door.

The ceiling of the entry hall.

Looking through the central hall to the back of the house.

Even if the views were bad (and they are brilliant), the light
from all these enormous windows is fabulous.

The central hall of this building is having some repairs and so we couldn't see all there was. I was glad that we hadn't paid an entry fee (other than joining of course) as I would have felt a bit cheated. 

Queen Helen.  Charlotte knew the word 'king'; she's going
to be a royalist rather than a republican I gather.

In one of the octagonal rooms Helen found a children's dress up box with crowns and masks. We admired the soft, thick styrofoam like material of the masks, obviously hand crafted; Helen said they were far more comfortable than the usual store-bought masks. I thought it looked like a fun craft project.

View from the front porch (obelisk in the distance).

I told Helen this obelisk marked the spot where one of the Delaval's died of a heart attack when out riding. In fact there is another obelisk on the north side of the estate which marks that spot. I've no idea what this one commemorates, if anything. Helen told me 'obelisk' was one of her favourite words as a child. I don't think I ever encountered the word until my first visit to London.

Though the rose garden was well cut back and the parterre was bare, there were plenty of daffs in the woods beyond the tall hedge that enclosed the garden.

Speaking of fun words, have you ever met a  ha-haI still remember seeing my first ha-ha, though I can't recall where we were. 

West side ha-ha

East side ha-ha.

They are common enough around stately homes that I don't have the same reaction as earned them their name, but some are quite striking in their invisibility and a fairly brilliant idea.  

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Mothering Sunday

Today is the British version of Mother's Day, only they call it Mothering Sunday. The name alone makes me think of old fashioned prams and lacy Victorian blouses. Turns out it wasn't always to do with mothers, but with one's Mother Church, initially being a Christian rather than a Secular holiday.

File:Mrs. Herbert Stevens May 2008.jpg

I'm positive that had I not been writing this post, I would never have learned about the history of Mothering Sunday. Though not particularly religious myself, I'm thrilled to bits to learn that this observance didn't originate with the marketers at Hallmark.

Saturday, 29 March 2014


We have rain, we have drizzle, we have thunder, lightening and hailstones; then we have more rain.

But at least we now have daffodils.

Saturday, 22 March 2014


It took me over a month to finish reading Paul Fussell's book, Abroad, British Literary Travel Between the Wars. His is a dense writing style that takes some getting into.  Also, at the end I had six post-it-notes covered with words to look up. I don't think I can share all that I would like to a single post, but let's at least get started.

Travail: painful, laborious effort (n), or (v) to engage in such.  You probably know about the snobs who distinguish between 'travelers' and 'tourists' - of course they are always the former. But did you realise that the word 'travel' has the same root as the word 'travail'? It's not just about hard work, but is related to the Latin 'tripaliare', 'to torture' or the instruments for doing this. Even worse, before that it probably came from the Latin 'tripalis' or 'having three stakes'.  Sounds about as painful as some of the travelling Bill and I have done - or touristing / touring, whatever you want to call what we do. I'm not bothered about naming it.

Actually, being a 'traveler' isn't the top of the heap according to Fussell.  To really impress him, you needed a whole other level of courage: you had to be an 'explorer'.  Might be interesting to read Graham Greene's Journey without Maps, a 200 mile trip in West Africa undertaken in 1935. He uses the word

sodality - basically a fraternity, concerning the many witch doctors he encountered there. By at least one account, Greene wasn't a nice character at all. Then again, I read similar stuff about H.V. Morton, whose book  (In Search of England) I'm about eventually going to read.

cf - from the Latin word confer, to consult. If eg is read 'such as' and ie is read 'for example', cf is read 'compare to'. You probably already knew that, right? I didn't.

I learned about a writer named Robert Byron whose opus magnum was The Road to Oxiana.  I'm unlikely to travel in Persia (Iran), but a tad of internet research took me to a picture of a breath-taking mosque.  Byron was killed in 1941 when his ship was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Scotland; he was 35 years old.  Having died young makes me wonder if he might or might not have been one of the nicer writers running around loose at the time. 

pederasty - vs pedophilia - Apparently the latter is attracted to young children (say, under age 11); the former refers to a sexual relationship between an older man and a younger (12-16 years) boy. I wondered what I was reading about author Norman Douglas, whose most famous work is South Wind (mentioned in passing by Dorothy L. Sayers - it was a small world between the wars in many ways). Douglas lived in Italy, an exile from Britain as the result of a charge of indecent assault in London.  He carried on his pederasty with young Italian boys. Charming man, I'm sure. Actually, he probably was, but creepy all the same.

There was a passage early on in the book that gave me the shivers. It spoke of how in the 20's people were still recovering from feeling they had just barely squeeked through the nightmare of the first World War.  Then in the 30's (and coming to terms with the aftermath of the stock market crash), they gradually became aware of the horrors that were going to culminate in yet another World War.  As much as I love the fashions, the decor, the art of the time, I think the emotional edge people must have lived on is another thing along with all the social change that really fascinates me about this period.

Other passages seemed to illuminate and explain things:

"Sacred to this generation is the image not just of the traveler but of the wanderer, the vagabond, or even Chaplin's cinema tramp, all skilled in the techniques of shrewd evasion and makeshift appropriate to the age's open road." 

This chimed a faint cord of remembrance of something Grandmother said about tramps during the Depression, something about a code that required helping them. It will have been part of being 'a good Christian' but I had the sense there was something romantic about them as well.

'Jet-setting' didn't happen until the late 40s, early 50s. Prior to this, and particularly between the wars, one traveled by ship or by train.  Both of these modes of transport are iconic for this period. I wonder if this is why Bill and I are so enamoured of these modes of travel (and not just because I despise the circus that air travel has become).

I'm sure I've tried to cram too much into this post and thus incoherently skipped around. I could probably expound on any of these topics, but will leave it for now. I wanted to get this out before this post also grew cobwebs. There are a number of Fussell's other books about social class in the US that I'm looking forward to tackling. I am now forewarned that he is hard work to read. Totally worth it, but effort is required.

Have you read any of Paul Fussell's books?