Three things: Prickly pears, fallen gurus, and little+often outings

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Firstly, are those prickly pears? These have been growing on an empty lot on the road out of town for at least 20 years and I have always want to stop and take a picture. I finally did on Mother’s Day on an outing with my mum+dad. Actually, I have always wanted to stop and pull out an easel and paint them. One day, when I don’t have to figure out how to retrieve a three year old ensnared on multiple spikes of a prickly pear, I will sit for a few hours and marvel at the colonising structure, colour variation, and the light across these broad prickly hands.

This week I binge-listened (that’s a phrase, right?) on this short podcast series about Bikram Choudhury who bought a yoga boom to America in the 80s. This podcast explores his dark and abusive side which was the nasty edge of his gifts. Coming from a faith community myself (and we are all well-aware of how abusive people in power in the church can be), I really appreciated the complexities shot through this podcast. It was profound to hear yogis speak of the suffering that they endured under this narcissist, but also of the comfort that the actual practice of yoga gave them. Then today, I listened to the recent episode of The Fundamentalists on the myth of the un-castrated other–High On Our Own Supply. It helped to see Bikram, and other abusers in positions of authority, in a complex framework and process. In a sense, the thing that makes a guru a guru is that they know there is nothing special about them–they are like anyone else and they are simply filling a role for their community, church, or family. The guru (or priest, or parent, or whoever) is only as powerful in as much as they know they are not. Gah! Does that make your head spin? It should! It is complicated and so are its implications. If we think about what we as small children made of our own parents: generally speaking, they held the truth of the world for us and even if they were awful parents, their truth ran (and still runs) deep in our lives. The majority of adults have come to the realisation that our parents–however ‘good’ or ‘bad’ they were in their parenting role when we were children–are just people making their way through life the best way they know how. Realising this, we can start to understand our own place in the world; that we are not special in any way either, and nor do we hold the truth of the world for anyone (not our yogis or kids or congregants, not even ourselves). Abusive scenarios arise when the guru is not aware that he is merely playing a role. That without the status and position in their community they would actually be the same as everyone else. He believes what he is selling–ie, that there is something magical, mystical key to life and if you were more like him you would know it–and is getting ‘high on his own supply’. The way you get to obtain this guru’s key to life? Pay lots of money and subject yourself to his power. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat for as long as it takes to discover he no more holds the key to life than you.

We are staying in suburbia and I tell you, going to the beach or wherever is a very different experience from doing it from an inner-city home. Wanna know why? The automobile. I almost can’t quite remember just how intentional I had to be when I lived without a car and had to take tiny people to lovely places. Many parents who have lived without a car will know that it is special outings to the beach or river, etc, ever so slightly out of walking distance that feel the most overwhelming–not the supermarket, which is what most people assume. Kid falls in the North Sea and doesn’t have a spare change and it takes an hour on the bus to return home? Could mean they’re home from school with a cold (or pneumonia) this coming week. Left the sandwiches that you prepared earlier on the kitchen table? Not only will the kids be hungry on the long walk home, but so will you–and isn’t being hungry with kids a short slippery slope to being hangry with kids? Living in suburbia is nigh impossible without a car, so I am grateful for being able to use one. And now I realise just how easy it makes short outings to the beach with the kids. In my car-less days, a short trip to the beach entailed as much preparation as a long one, and the mental load felt significant. I hope I will never take this for granted just how easy it is to load a bunch of snacks and spare changes of clothes (and towels! and blankets! and special sticks and stones! and toys!). It sounds like I am about to write an ‘Ode To The Automobile’, but I do still feel an inner conflict as we pile into the car to drive 6 miles to enjoy the beach for 90 mins–does the good outweigh the hidden costs of this journey? Going out for even just an hour can be the difference between the day going to hell in a handcart and easing us all into a better frame of mind. I need to get out more than I have been in recent weeks and these short trips are just the things for me right now. However, long-term, this isn’t a sustainable lifestyle for us. This is another thing I am curious about for our new life (beginning in exactly two weeks!)–what sort of places will become our nature haunts? I hope they will be just over the back fence and not an awkward ten minute drive. (But, of course, nature is everywhere; even in a hotel room in the middle of Tokyo you can feel water coming through the taps and see light falling across another building… I try to remember this quote when I feel like I am far from ‘nature’ and it makes me grateful for moments like making fairy houses in back lanes. I put the word ‘nature’ in inverted commas, because I am nature too and therefore I am never separate from Nature).

Three things: Australian permaculture, Thank You For Waiting, and oatcakes


Ever since we made up our minds to move to Australia, I have been dreaming of what our new garden might hold for us. I am very curious to experience a year of a Sydney climate and can’t wait to see what sort of things will grow there. One thing is for sure–it will be so different from my Scottish garden. Farewell delicious raspberries and crunchy apples (I think), and hello avocados and citrus. Another thing is for sure–I need to curb my snake+spider anxieties. I heard a while ago that an episode of Peppa Pig could not be played in Australia because it was about getting over a fear of spiders and befriending them. I guess Australian kids probably shouldn’t be encouraged to cuddle up to a potential killer. However, I do also think (in a wholey abstract+rational way at this stage, and not at all lived out yet) that our relationship with these creatures would be better if we humans could respect them, and not, say, lunge at them with pitch forks. I mean, fear and need for domination is what drives that kind of behaviour, right? Much of my gardening is rooted in permaculture principles which says that a garden is a system made up of systems and that the more complex systems there are, the healthier the larger system is. Permaculture loves diversity and therefore there is room for the snake and spider–these things have work to do in the garden and excluding them could lead to imbalances in other parts of the system. I found some really helpful tips for safely cohabitating with snakes in this tiny article. Do you have any tips? While we are on the topic of permaculture, I hope to visit this amazing Indigenous rooftop garden in Sydney one day and here is a link to an important and inspiring TED talk about the agricultural and societal practises of Aboriginal Australians. 

I’ve been noticing planes more. And my younger son is suddenly going around telling the adults in his life everything he knows about planes. Which goes something like, ‘I have been on a plane and and and the lights go off and and you sleep and then the food happens and and and I watched a screen and it takes off and lands lands lands. And then I went on another one.’ The next flight we make will be like only two others I have made in my life. All three flights are significant, being the beginning of a new life in a new country. When I see a plane ascending from the nearby airport, I start to imagine myself in those few hours between here (where I am staying now) and there (where I shall be living), sitting in my uncomfortable sit, trying to occupy a small child with small activities, simultaneously trying not to panic about whether anyone in my new home will actually like people like me, or whether I will find a job that suits me, or whether the house we will be moving into has some issue that wasn’t obvious in the photos. And I then I remind my-future-self-sitting-in-the-airplane, that all the things to be very anxious about are actually the things I never would have thought about so stop wasting your brain and heart cells. Anyway, I really liked this poem: Thank You For Waiting. It reminded me that I will be flying soon and going through all those rituals that unite and divide fliers.

This week I made two batches of oatcakes. One was for a playgroup that S. and I have been attending, and the other was for a cultural appreciation day at L.’s school. The playgroup (consisting of under-4-year-olds and polite [not to mention, lovely] adults) enjoyed the oatcakes and hummus I bought along and asked for the recipe. The discerning 5–7-year-old’s at L.’s school turned their noses up at them and reached for the sweet-covered cookies from England instead. I wonder what you might make of them?

Seedy oatcakes

Oatcakes are like thick, rustic crackers and are a Scottish staple, sometimes replacing bread. I had never heard of them before moving to Scotland. This is a slightly adjusted recipe from ‘River Cottage Light And Easy’, by Hugh Fernley Whittingstall, and has some non-traditional seedy additions.  

150g medium oatmeal

150g rolled oats

1 Tbsp chia seeds (or flax seeds)

1 Tbsp poppy seeds

1 Tbsp pumpkin (or sunflower seeds)

½ tsp salt

75ml olive oil

100-150ml just boiled water

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line two baking trays.
Mix all dry ingredients together.

Stir the oil through.

Add 100-150ml of boiling water, stirring as you pour.  You want enough to be able to bring the mix together but you don’t want it to be sticky.  If it does stick too much, just add a little more oatmeal.

Use your hands to bring it into two flattened balls and let it rest, covered, for 10 minutes.
Place one ball between two pieces of baking parchment and roll until 3-4mm thick.  Cut into desired shapes.  Do the other ball.
Place on baking trays and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden on-top.  They don’t brown quickly, but they will dry out a lot if you leave them in the oven too long.
They’ll keep in an airtight container for about a week.

We like them topped with salty fish and tomato, or butter and honey, or nut butter with apple, or hummus (recipe below), or cheese and sauerkraut, or anything really…


Smooth and yummy hummus

There’s a lot of blending and scraping down of the food processor–this is what makes the hummus really smooth and yummy. You should do the blending and the scraping. It’s totally worth it!  

1/4 c lemon juice

1/4 c tahini

2 Tbsps olive oil

pinch asafoetida (or 1 crushed garlic clove)

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 c cooked chickpeas (or a can of chickpeas)

2-3 Tbsps water (or aquafava–the chickpea cooking water)

Blend the tahini and lemon juice in a food processor for 1 1/2 mins, stopping a couple of times to scrape down the sides.

Add the oil, asafoetida (or garlic), cumin, and salt and blend for 1 min, stopping once to scrape down the sides.

Add the chickpeas and blend for 1 1/2 mins, stopping a couple of times to scrape down the sides.  At this stage, the hummus will be rather thick and likely have some chunks of chickpea in it.  While the processor is running, add the water slowly until it is the consistency you prefer.  I am a three tablespoon hummus person… but you might like only two.

Three things: Pania, furoshiki, and old home/new home





We had tea on this sea shore tonight. Looks docile here, but it is a very strong current that has been known to tow small children away, so we stayed well back. Once my kids get a taste for the water it is all over, and it really would have been all over there. By the time we’d finished eating and the darkness was full of Autumn magic, we headed down the beach to visit Pania and to peer over the edge of Marine Parade’s viewing platform, down to the swirling sea below. I love taking the kids out at night time at this time of year. It’s a real mixture of pragmatics and magic–the darkness really does make everything appear differently, but it is also dark at 5.30pm, so I am not constantly worrying about how crappy everyone is going to be in the morning because we all will still get into bed at a decent time.

I dyed with indigo four pieces of linen last week, roughly 60cm square (although they will be smaller when I tidy up the edges that are horrifying me in these pictures). They were lovely to play with different resist techniques. Resist dyeing is when you do something to the fabric (like apply wax or fold or pin or sew–or a combination of these techniques) that causes the dye to resist the fabric in places. My favourite one is the top one–I concertina-folded the fabric and then pegged it with laundry pegs. Do you see where the pegs were? They look like little computer robots from the 80s. The other two pictures show what I have in mind for the dyed fabric–furoshiki, or the art of wrapping. Here’s a link to a little more information and it includes an excellent chart with multiple simple wrapping techniques. We’ve been using that lovely bag (katakake fukuro) for foraging, supermarketing, and Duplo-playing.

Last week we sold our flat. Yay! This is nothing short of miraculous in Aberdeen right now, where you can walk down street after street and see ‘For Sale’ signs yellowing and curling in the windows of empty homes. In spite of the financial loss, we are so grateful to be shot of our lovely flat. Letting go of it really helps us to prepare for a new life in a new place. And… we now know where we will be living. Yay again! We’ve seen photos of the house and know where we will be on the map. The best bit is that it backs on to this wee lake with its surrounding bushland. I am imagining a lot of walks and picnics… maybe swims? Most definitely snakes… Regardless, we’ll have lots of room for visitors, so please visit.

Core samples

They say that the Waikato dialect burbles like its river rapids, and

those by the sea are never sure if they’re coming or going. And

the ponies and people are short on Shetland;

the wind just sails right over them. When I moved to Aberdeen,

someone said, ‘it takes a long time to chip past the granite’ and

they weren’t meaning that of the buildings. Indeed,

it would take a long time to chip past the granite, but

maybe not as long as the metaphorical granite.

A question I return to often now goes:

if I could extract core samples from my children

–my children, with their wayward vowels like

bramble vines snaking through cracks, over walls–

what would it show of this half year of two Autumns?

Two summers of growth separated by an Autumn;

would there be two soft pale rings side-by-side or,

if I ran my finger across, would an extra dense ridge rise to meet it?

My children: they’re fibrous as manuka trees on a windswept hillside

and linear as eucalypti lining a river’s bank,

twisting to resist the wind, and bending to meet the sun.