family · health and wellbeing · recipes

Quake

Presently based in Mexico City, my daughter endured the terrifying experience of an earthquake. Standing in a queue on nightclub stairwell (where most twenty-somethings living on the other side of the world from home should be) the quake hit. Fearing its likely collapse, she had the presence of mind to push herself and those ahead of her off the stairs and into the club – where they safely waited it out.

Although she was physically unscathed, the experience has remained within her protective recesses. The nights are very hot in Mexico and for maximum sleeping comfort the minimum in sleeping attire is required. Never sure now when the next tremor may strike, she keeps a pair of pants within arm’s reach next to her bed should she need to evacuate to the street in the wee hours. Affectionately termed her ”earthquake pants” they provide the security she currently needs to sleep well through unsettling circumstances.

And today I thought, we all need earthquake pants, something or someone we know we can reach for when life trembles. I am lucky. I have some very sound quake strides that have supported me, so I urge you to think about what are yours. For many the fabric is woven from religion, a parent, a partner or a social network. Whatever guise your pants may be, cherish them and keep them close.

I hope I am the earthquake pants for my children.

Maybe you also have a pair fashioned from the strongest material available, but have not yet discovered them or have forgotten they are there, folded securely within you. These are the pants that you slide into when the fault lines of life shift and separate beneath you. Their warp and weft threads are tightly bound by the inner strength of your human spirit – and nothing, not even a shift in the physical earth will ever separate them.

If you are experiencing or have endured your own personal instability, this is a lovely piece to help restore calm.

 

And here is the recipe for this brownie, with all of its cracks, splits and crevices.

Cranberry and Mixed Nut Brownie

125g dark chocolate
175g butter
3 eggs
275g caster sugar
75g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
small handful of dried cranberries
150g mixed unsalted nuts, chopped

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees (fan-forced).
  2. Grease and line a slice tin with baking paper overhanging the sides.
  3. Place chocolate and butter in a heat proof bowl and melt over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir constantly and cool for a few minutes once melted.
  4. Beat eggs and sugar.
  5. Blend this mixture with the chocolate mixture and fold through all of the dry ingredients.
  6. Pour into lined tin and bake for around 30 minutes.
  7. Once completely cold, slice into portions, which if you have no will power to withstand, like me, share out or place in the freezer for a rough day.

 

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health and wellbeing

Control


At some point, most of us turn our thoughts to uninhabited islands, more specifically being able to exist on one – alone. The prospect of being in a defined space where all that happens is decided by you, where external forces cannot reach and the time spent there yields incredible personal benefit, is well, the stuff of fantasy. Or not. Not actually. I have access to one and can escape to it at short notice. It unfolds in a trice. It’s my pilates mat. For a relatively small outlay, you can invest in your own island, and for reasons I will explain, I encourage you to do so.

As living creatures, we need to move, most basically because we must find our nutrition, organise our shelter, maintain our hygiene and nurture our young. Fortunately we have been provided with a musculo-skeletal system to enable us to do such things. When this system is compromised, so then is our life. There are a range of options available to care for our movement system and it’s wonderful to see so many people adopting them. Purposeful ramblers, runners, cyclists, swimmers and dancers are a common sight, since the automation of our world has all but made these forms of movement redundant as natural actions within our daily lives.

Of course, with repetitive motion, does at times come injury and the very issue we are aiming to avoid we may have encouraged. As a runner, I have welcomed a few of these issues! So to engage in movement that will nurture your system, safeguard or repair it in times of high intensity activity and require a level of concentration so focused that external thoughts are impossible to entertain, has got to be worth undertaking. And it is. Pilates or Contrology (as Joseph Pilates coined it) can be your way of moving throughout the stages of your life in a strong, flexible and centered manner.

You may have come to the understanding, as I have, that there is very little in life we have, or really need to have, ultimate control over. But to have a sense of mastery of our own movement is ultimately very rewarding – both practically and intrinsically. Whatever point you are at today in terms of age, injury or level of flexibility (or inflexibility) you are ready to begin a Pilates sequence.

Postscript: I shall leave Joseph Pilates to make the final point today.

”A body free from nervous tension and fatigue is the ideal shelter provided by nature for housing a well balanced mind, fully capable of successfully meeting all the complex problems of modern living.’

And with that, I shall sling my island over my shoulder and escape to mastery of the mind and control of the body.

gardening · health and wellbeing

Plot

vegetable garden plot

There aren’t many places more grounding than a vegetable plot.

To potter amongst the growth, inspecting leaves for bugs and looking for signs of a budding flower – or better – a spent flower giving life to its fruit, is a most pleasant way of expending time. A quick morning reconnaissance with a cup of coffee in hand, can become an hour in what seems like no time.

A vegetable patch, aside from the obvious benefits of bountiful produce, provides a place of introspection and digestion of all that has taken place in your busy world prior. With only snails and the occasional thrip to hear your thoughts, your mind is given licence to open itself to broader pastures, normally fenced off by the chatter of indoor living. New resolve, clarification and acceptance are often arrived at as a tomato branch is secured to a stake or withered foliage is removed to make way for new. The patch is a place to reassess, formulate and commit to future steps.

Gardening expertise comes not from books, a degree or birthrite but by simply – gardening. The former will certainly put the icing on your earthy cake but the latter: turning over soil, planting and watering provides the knowledge that embeds itself and becomes second nature – over time.

Start small. Mark out  an area to dig and fertilise. Mine is located several steps from the kitchen door, to ensure quick retrieval of herbs in mid-stir or a greater likelihood of a visit when the weather becomes inclement. Choose a few vegetables that appeal and some herbs for instant gratification. No doubt some will flourish, others will die or be feasted upon by invertebrates before you, but inevitably your place of inner sanctum has been established.

broad beans

Postscript: and your horticultural career has begun.

health and wellbeing

Stargazing

Let’s face it. There are times in life when, after mentally turning over all alternatives with no resolution in sight, the only option remaining is to resort to celestial guidance.

For someone who is the first to scoff at anything remotely esoteric, it is uncanny how often I catch myself lingering over the astrological page of my Sunday magazine. Should I favor the prediction, it is thoughtfully tucked away to be referred to at some point of the day or week when a connection can be made. If however, the forecast is grim or not the general essence of my expectation, astrology is conveniently dismissed as hocus pocus. I’m not the most loyal of disciples.

Far too often we doubt our own ability to ‘choose the right path’, when in fact, we have the map inside us all the while. This map does not appear as a series of topographical lines but instead a roll call of values – pertinent only to ourselves. This well-worn, crinkly chart that we unfold and examine when a decision or a choice must be made, is the one that is responsible for all of the outcomes of which we are proud – or that settle with quiet satisfaction within us upon reflection.

Electing to use this chart when you are standing at a perilous cross-road can seem like a gamble and it is only from a vantage point of time past that the invaluable guidance it has provided is realised.

Sometimes a glance at the stars however, can contribute to an equally important element of our lives – fun.

Postscript: I do like to indulge Jonathan Cainer, as he usually spouts a bit of wisdom. Here is my reading for today:

  ‘If you want an improved relationship with someone, try to see the world from their point of view. Get them to talk and show that you are listening, so that you can encourage them to trust you. If they say something that you don’t like the sound of, hide your reaction; don’t leave them feeling as if there are things they dare not say. And, if you in turn, want to be better understood? That is not so easy. There is really nothing you can do, other than offer so much genuine empathy that they feel inspired to return the favour.’

Ok folks, I’m ready to hear what you have to say – fire away!

family · health and wellbeing

Focus

It’s easy, with all of the distractions that life deals us, to lose sight of those things we know to be important. It’s not impossible though, to shrug off these diversions and regain focus.

It can be at the most inopportune moments that inspiration will strike suddenly you are charged with enthusiasm to embark on a project. Often, life’s circumstances prevent this ie you are at the office and the urge to paint the spare room duck egg blue must be quelled. Towards the end of the week, this brilliance of thought is misplaced amongst supermarkets, washing machines, petrol stations and lawns. Possibly lost forever.

If this is a dilemma you share, then notes really are the answer. I use the Notes app on my iphone and jot in gems as they surface. If your computer supports Windows 7 use Sticky Notes or simply add notes to Notepad and save your file to your Desktop for quick retrieval. Otherwise, have a small notebook in your handbag or pocket – all fulfil the same role, to capture your ingenuity to be acted on at a more convenient time.

If this seems like old news, try it and experience the enjoyment of reacquainting yourself with long-lost friends when you open your notes at the close of the day or the end of the week.

And it’s not only moments of creative brilliance that you need to record, but maybe a list of things you place value upon. In the ballyhoo of the day, sometimes it’s nice to swipe the screen and focus on what it’s really all about.

Postscript: for those wondering, the pigeon lives on – with thanks to distraction of the human kind.

health and wellbeing

Slow

Observe the pace of a snail and you may not be particularly impressed. Plant a row of seedlings and witness the magnitude of the decimation the following morning. Conclusion: speed is not a prerequisite to achievement. Are hares and tortoises ringing bells here?

To say we have a lot to do is an understatement. We carry large bags filled with tasks and as quickly as we offload them, new bags with bigger bulges are waiting to be collected. The obvious answer to this is to work faster, harder and smarter and then surely we will get ahead of those bags. Not so – the bags keep coming – and this is a good thing really, as this is the essence of life. We are going about our business.

Believe it or not, the snail has his (relative) bags too. His approach is a measured and steady one, and without haste or anxiety he works through his bag and accepts the next one the following day.

Lately, when I see the ‘To Do’ list lengthening on my notebook, I have been looking to the snail and deliberately reducing speed. Rather than tearing through one chore at a hare’s pace with my mind on the next, I’m finding that taking my time and considering the task at hand means I can be more effective and content. Many things that are done at break-neck speed are often not done well and yes, while they can be ticked off, an underlying sense of dissatisfaction lurks.

What I have come to recognise is these bags are actually filled with pieces of life. Whether they be peeling potatoes, making time to catch up with a friend or driving to the office, they are all using allocated life time and this is far too important to be lost in an unconscious blur of scampering rabbit’s feet.

I encourage you to take it slowly this week and make like the snail. As my mother often says, life is a marathon, not a sprint, and as usual she’s right.

Postscript: I must give credit to the in-house wildlife photographer for today’s image, my daughter Adelaide.