Well hello again little blog

Well hello little blog. I have missed you.

Here I am sitting on a train from York to Edinburgh watching the beautiful late autumn colors roll by.

This time just over a month ago I would be nearly at the end of my work week, juggling too many balls. Instead I am on a three-week adventure to connect with my British heritage of early dark and late sun-rise, dazzling Christmas lights and the promise of snow.

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Those of you that have followed this blog will know that I made the decision to go back to work full-time about 9 months ago. Best work place, amazing vision, the genuinely nicest people. Yet circumstances have led me to reluctantly put that aside (at least for now) and go back to a slightly altered version of my life for the last couple of years.

Turns out just when you think you might be able to commit yourself fully to work, things don’t always go according to plan – now there’s a surprise.

The catalyst was one of our dogs developing diabetes. Diabetes for a dog is the same as Type One diabetes for a human. there is no managing it with diet, it’s straight onto twice daily insulin injections and a pretty intense schedule of working with your vet in the initial period to get the dose right.

It is not an exaggeration to say this changed our lives over night. The injections have to be given as close as possible to 12 hours apart, food must be measured, walks must be strict and the possibility of a diabetic crash lingers closely in those first few weeks.

My wonderful workplace said I could bring him into work with me as he couldn’t be left alone. He was a very popular visitor to the office as he is very cute and loves people. Deep down though I knew this wasn’t a long term plan as he was slightly stressed by the process and it was hard to juggle taking him to various meetings.

So with heavy heart I resigned my position but we developed a two day a week position that meant I could look after Bosco, and still contribute in the form of important but not so urgent projects that needed to be bought on line.

However this catalyst became a domino on the move and I found myself weighing up work with all the other things going on in our lives – a house renovation, travel, my husband’s very full-on job, the birth of yet another precious grandchild and the announcement that there was another due early year. All good things but all that meant that something had to give.

Unlike many  people I am in the weird position of not having to work unless I want to,  so for me the question is nuanced and in some ways more difficult. I have had  several other grandmothers say that if they didn’t have to work, they wouldn’t. Yet we work for other reasons than just the financial ones and that made my decision hard. I like working, making a difference, being part of something bigger than myself, workplace banter, even wearing ‘work’ clothes. But I kind of knew as I went through the praying and thinking process, that for this season it made sense to step down for a time –  maybe permanently – I don’t know.

That was just over four weeks ago and my life has been full of  getting used to having a pet with diabetes, hanging out with our children, their little ones, my friends,  and appreciating all this  in a way I didn’t before I worked full-time for the last eight months. Also time spent catching up on all those things that don’t get done when you are both working full-time!

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Which brings me up to now. The amazing  trip  I am currently on was planned while I was working but I have been able to extend it for another week now I don’t have to fit it into annual leave.

And it is ‘I’ and not ‘we’ as it is a trip to the cold dark  Northern hemisphere winter (spurred by the  promise of a visit to a friend and the desire to see what Christmas is like over this side of the world) that did not appeal to Wayne so he graciously suggested I do it by myself – but more of that in my next entry.

It is a very big solo adventure for me!

 

Decisions in the desert

A week in of no Facebook and all is well. I have missed some of it, although  not the sensationalist posts I have been reading since November. (I know they are still there, I just don’t get to read them). I definitely have a sense of being isolated in some way, in some good way.I know there are announcements I have missed, celebrations I don’t know about and even some sadnesses I could have been part of. On the whole though, this has been a good experience so far.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, I have been presented with an exciting possibility in this last week and having the extra thinking space has been great. While it had been a blessing to have not worked for this year, I must confess I was starting to struggle with a tiny bit of a ‘what should I be doing with my life’ feeling. I am not old enough to retire, and so I had been half-heartedly keeping an eye on the job notifications in my inbox. I applied for a couple but then one came along that really piqued my interest – an excellent Christian organisation that works to provide parents with resources and tools in raising their children  was looking for a PA, so I applied for it and got an interview.

The interview went well – but I didn’t get the job. However they said they really liked me and that there was another position that they would love me to apply for. So I did. It was a little out of my comfort zone in terms of experience but I decided to lean in (as Sheryl Sandberg would encourage me to do).

The interview was on Monday – went for nearly two hours (which I’m taking as a good sign). They are advertising internally but have asked me if they can follow up my references.

So I’m in a bit of  a Schrodinger’s cat situation. This time next week I might have an offer of a full-time position, or I might be carrying on as I started the year. I veer between feeling excited and terrified. Full-time, back to an office, being accountable for my time, no sleep-ins, or long breakfasts, less hanging out with my gorgeous grandkids. Not having Facebook to conveniently use to avoid really thinking abut how this might work has been fantastic and a little challenging. I have had to really really think about whether I want this or not. No avoidance technique available means I have been forced to confront my fears and aspirations.

I have prayed that I will only be offered the job if it is the very best thing to do, as I am nearly  decided if I am offered it I will take it. I know God gives us choices in our life path, but I really want this one to be a Plan A route as it will mean a lot of changes.

I don’t really think it’s a coincidence that this has come up while I am spending time making room for God over the Lent period. I’m not sure I would have been in the right space to consider this properly if I was running around filling myself with noise. I now know I may be walking out of the desert carrying something I didn’t take in with me, or I may come out empty handed. Either way I will have gone through an important process. I feel surprisingly relaxed about the outcome either way and I think that means I am walking in the right direction.

 

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Back into the desert

Tuesday  marked the beginning of the season of Lent. March 1 – first day of autumn for us here in NZ, which is a nice seasonal change for the start of a period of reflection. Last year I followed the practice of Lent for the first time, even though I have been a Christian for many many years. The ‘modern’ church in NZ has only very recently begun to re-assimilate some of these practices and our current church doesn’t follow the more traditional church calendar, but I found it a very worthwhile discipline.

In doing so, I found a great app called Into the Desert. Focusing on the writings of the ancient desert fathers and mothers, I found it both challenging and enriching. I was delighted to see that they  have a 2017 version, so I am using this as my focus again this year.

I  have also taken things one step further this year and have gone off Facebook for the Lent period.  I though about cutting out all news feeds but to be honest there is too much of import going on in the world at the moment and I didn’t want to emerge in 6 weeks’ time  to find myself in a totally foreign landscape!

I thought about Instagram as well but I have a different relationship with Instagram so have decided (for this year at least)  that I will remain on that feed. Messenger is the way we communicate with our son and his girlfriend in the UK (and ironically how our worship team communicates) so that has to stay as well. Fortunately, I can go straight there without going through Facebook first. I had no idea that this would be a complicated process but I am finding there are many tendrils that spiral out from Facebook (even sharing these posts usually.) These might sound like compromises but I did think very carefully about the parameters of what I wanted to do and why.

I have read lots of blog posts and news article about how the pros and cons of, for want of a better word “fasting” social media for Lent. Turns out it’s something lots of people have  very strong opinions on. For me, it just felt like the right thing to do, and does send me into a social media desert. I definitely feel as though I am disconnected in some way form what it is going on. It has made me very aware (as opposed to saying it but not really thinking about it) of how much of our life, or more so the communication of it now seems to be conducted on social media.

Sad confession – I’m a very regular Facebook user –  it’s how I keep in touch with many people and I love seeing various posts, the news, the gossip, the silly quizzes, and to be honest the outrageously stupid things people post on a regular basis!  So it will be a challenge, but only two days in, I have noticed a difference. Having to consciously stop my  almost mindless habit of jumping onto Facebook while I am working on my computer or sitting somewhere with my phone has made me aware both of how many times I do that, and also reminds me why I am doing it. Instead of scrolling down with my brain on auto-pilot, I am forced to think and pray about various things, from personal to global.

It’s not so much about giving up, but more about making room. Room for myself to hear God speak. Room for my own thoughts without  distractions. Room for silence that would normally fill it with ‘noise’ of Facebook. Room to be much more present.

Has been surprisingly easy so far, but it’s a long way to go to Easter Sunday!

 

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Loving our farmers’ market

After my last entry I thought I would this time write about something that makes me happy. I think it’s important to take time to think about what is good as well as what is troubling (and I am spending a lot of time thinking about what is troubling!). I am definitely learning to take joy in small things, and feel incredibly grateful for the country I live in.

I’m hoping to put together several posts about this small planned community with a big vision. We have been in our new home here  for just over a year. Moving from an established suburb to a brand new area has been way easier than we expected. Hobsonville Point has very quickly become home.

One of the things I love most about living here is that I can now walk to a farmers’ market (which has always been something I have wanted to be able to do). I am becoming increasingly convinced that supporting our local community, producers and economy is incredibly important. The market’s not a big one, and is the process of transitioning to a new space which means a bit of patience is required during this period, but it’s one of the highlights of my weekends.

To be able to stroll down, pick up some free range eggs, freshly baked bread, honey and partake of the odd treat still feels like such a special thing to do. The coffee is always amazing, there’s usually a busker adding to the ambience, it’s nestled down at a wharf in one of the prettiest inner harbours in Auckland – what could be better!

 

When it doesn’t feel like summer

We are having a very odd summer here in New Zealand. Mid-January should be hot and sunny, weekends spent at the beach, warm BBQ nights, melting ice blocks hastily licked and sun-block ever at hand. Yet for most of us here summer so far has been windy, cold and vaguely dissatisfying.

It doesn’t feel like summer yet even though it is officially half way over.  The deep deep vivid blue of our summer sky is pale and covered with fast moving clouds. The little glimpse I have of the inlet near to our house is a cold greeny-grey with white caps instead of calm sparkling blue.

Last night we had a storm that knocked out power for many people in Auckland, blew down trees and fences, and drenched the ground with heavy rain.Today the sun is out (intermittently)  but it’s very windy, not very warm and grey clouds still threaten. This afternoon I have been sitting in my little office browsing the internet and generally wasting my day. Definitely this kind of weather  makes me feel lethargic and vaguely grumpy.

In  need of something to force myself to change gears,  I picked up the camera and spent a few minutes taking photos of the beautiful bunch of hydrangeas  I treated myself to earlier this week. They are so perfect and their colour is so intense that I decided a couple of the photos were worth putting up here. Taking some time trying to capture their beauty, and then looking at the results has  has brightened this rather gloomy afternoon and lifted my spirits.

I might even get out of my chair again and go for a run in that wind outside!

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Floral overload (in a good way)

We celebrated our wedding anniversary (33 years!) a few days early this weekend in the beautiful South Island town of Queenstown. I have been lucky enough to stay in this stunning place a few times but never before in the summer. For me its a ski town, but turns out that in the summer it’s a lush and verdant paradise. I think I drove my poor husband crazy as I spent the whole time taking photos of the stunning flowers in bloom everywhere. The whole place was fragrant with roses and jasmine.

Easy to forget how much beauty you have in your own country. It was also wonderful at such a hectic time of year to reflect on how far we have come in those 33 years, enjoy a quiet weekend with each other and literally stop and smell the roses.

Christmas food trial #1

It’s the first of December here in New Zealand! That is crazy. Having been away for so long I am mentally two months behind which means I am actually two months behind in Christmas preparation.

However I have been doing a bit of experimenting with Christmas dessert ideas this week to try and get myself back into the swing of things and I was rather pleased with these. This isn’t so much a recipe as a guide for assembling. What I liked about them is you can make as much or as little of them from scratch – depending on time, patience, confidence, inclination or stress level.

Mini lemon and chocolate tarts

You will need:

Mini pastry cases. I made mine in mini muffin tins using a polenta pastry, but you could make any sweet pastry, use store bought, or use ready-made cases.

Lemon curd. Either home-made from your favourite recipe, or from a jar you bought at the supermarket…either is fine. I had some in the fridge that I made last week as we have a surfeit of lemons. Lime curd would also be delicious.

Ganache. Ganache is so quick and easy to make that I would recommend making this rather than buying it. Make it at the beginning so it can cool down in the fridge.

Ganache is basically equal proportions of good quality dark chocolate and cream.  I used 250gms of each. Heat cream until nearly boiling, place roughly chopped chocolate into the cream and wait a few minute. Stir together until smooth. Cool in fridge until firm. If you want to use some later as an icing or chocolate sauce just gently reheat. It will keep in the fridge for at least several weeks.

Toppings: Strawberries, mint leaves, pistachio nuts chopped finely, whipped cream and raspberry powder (optional). Chop a few strawberries finely, add a few drops of balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of caster sugar and a few chopped mint leaves. Obviously you can add or change these toppings. It’s a great way to use up Christmas ingredients that may be languishing in the fridge or pantry.

To assemble:Fill half the cases with curd and half with ganache. Top with cream and fresh raspberries (and freeze-dried raspberry powder if you have some); and the other half with cream, chopped pistachios and the strawberry mixture.

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An antidote to my London yearning

Sometimes you need to see or do something completely different to get yourself back to normal.

After posting just over a week ago about my yearning to go back to London and finding it hard to settle back in,  I decided to spend a few days down at my favourite spot in New Zealand – Waihi Beach. Our daughter, her delightful baby and two dogs joined me. I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves.

This is my home country at its very best.

 

 

Two days in Venice is not enough (part one)

We came across from Rapello through Verona. I liked Verona very much although passed on the option to eat horse or donkey ragu, instead enjoying an excellent seafood pasta.

After what seemed like forever we finally pulled up at the wharf and farewelled our faithful coach and awesome driver.

Like many people Venice is somewhere I have always fantastised about going. The concept of a seemingly floating city, the canals, the gondalas, the Grand Canal, the history. I was a bit worried that it would be a single idea destination – but the longer we stayed there (and it was sadly a brief visit) the more we fell under its spell.

We did the classic arrival in style via a James Bondesque speedboat to our hotel on the Grand Canal.

Old world and ornate but slightly shabby, it was a perfect place to set up base. We arrived in the late afternoon so only had time for a gondala ride on the first evening. You can see from one of the photos that we had a wee bit of a gondola traffic jam. Great fun and the perfect way to be introduced to Venice as the sun started to set. We peeled off from the group afterwards, had a pizza just off St Mark’s Square and checked out some of the amazing shops in the ever narrower side streets. It was just about closing time so we knew would would have to come back later.

Really regretting having to use my phone camera as Venice is a photographers’ paradise.  The combination of the buildings and that famous luminosity of the light takes your breath away.

 

 

 

Beautiful Cinque Terre

I’m going to jump ahead (will write about  Pisa and Florence in a later entry hopefully) to a day I had been looking forward to very very much – visiting the famed Cinque Terre.

We were treated to a beautiful view of the bay as we headed to Cinque Terre. On the way  our tour guide discussed the issues facing this unique area. While to a visitor it looks exotic and romantic, this is not a life that has appealed to the young of the villages. Toiling on vertical cliffs in harsh conditions to produce the wine and produce of the region has not been appealing to the majority of the young people and many of the vineyards struggle to find workers. Yet there is some good news as the trend towards locally produced and sustainable produce has started to bring new life back into ancient cottage industries.

Obviously tourism is a huge part of the local economy and this has lead to many discussion on how to protect this fragile area. The Italian government are looking at restricting the numbers of people who can visit each year in an effort to cut down the 2.5 million annual tourists. It is a difficult problem as obviously everyone wants to come here and the tourist dollar injects vital life into the economy, but it almost impossible for the locals to go about their daily lives. 

We spent some time in the exquisite  Manarola and then travelled to Monteroso by ferry so didn’t get to stop at the middle villages but we could see the crowds of people at each one. Lots of people swimming which was frustrating as we didn’t have any swimming gear with us! The ferry was very hot and overcrowded but we managed to get a seat in the sea breeze on the upper deck and enjoy. The spectacular views.

On arrival in Monteroso we were left to our own devices for lunch and we found a tiny restaurant where they cooked delicious seafood in a compact open kitchen. Beautiful scampi risotto still sizzling as it arrived at the table. Then we wandered round the medieval square a bit, rolled up our shorts and paddled in the ocean. It was warm, crystal clear and incredibly salty. Sadly time was up way to soon and we had to head to the train to get back to our coach.

Photos below are a hodge pudge of the day, hope they give some sense of how special this part of the world is.