Thicker skin, and a softer heart

I have really enjoyed reading the memoir about traveling with kids by Tsh Oxenrider, At Home In The World. With its reference to Benedictine spirituality , it sums up some of the things I am grateful about my life abroad, while holding in tension the challenge of finding a home.

Traveling means touching, tasting, smelling the world. It means the chance to explore hamlets and boroughs that citizens the over call home. Through travel, you can know, firsthand, the difference in taste between the bread in Sri Lanka and Turkey. You’ll add years to your life with more layers, thicker skin, and a softer heart because of it. Travel is a gift. 

But travel doesn’t offer stability. And isn’t it in stability that we find home? 

Twentieth-century Trappist monk Thomas Merton explains the vow of stability this way: “By making a vow of stability the monk renounces the vain hope of wandering off to find a ‘perfect monastery’. This implies a deep act of faith: the recognition that it does not much matter where we are or whom we live with… Stability becomes difficult for a man whose monastic ideal contains some note, some element of the extraordinary. All monasteries are more or less ordinary. Its ordinariness is one of its greatest blessings.”

Three things: Birthdays, geocaching, and Take Three For The Sea




I know you’ve all been wondering what our birthdays and Edinburgh trip were like, right? Well, highlights of the trip were: zoo, Arthur’s Seat (and the inadvertant 11km hike we did to get to and from Arthur’s Seat), Jacobite songs and stories at the National Musum, Malaysian food, and the Botanic Gardens which is where this Gunnera (or Chillean Rhubarb) was growing. Some of us slept well, others of us were cutting a few teeth, and others of us still were looking after said teeth-cutters. On our return to Aberdeen, we celebrated my partner’s birthday. L. was desperate to buy him a £2 dessert pizza from the local frozen foods shop. I like trashy food as much as the next self-respecting person, but I think a low-grade-frozen-foods-shop-bought-dessert-pizza should really be saved for a very special occasion, like a 50th wedding anniversary or something. So L. settled for making one instead. Here I share the recipe with you: Your favourite cooked pizza base, yoghurt, chocolate shavings, more chocolate, fruit, and a dragon. You’re welcome.

Geocaching! I have just heard about this! I know! Where have I been all my life?! Without a mobile device, that’s where. I know there are some hard-core people who search for them using compasses, etc., but I am not one of them. We have been using my very slow phone to locate them around our neighbourhood–including one across the road from us! (There’s even a couple beside my mum+dad’s place in New Zealand!). There is something quite marvellous and magical about the fact we’ve walked past it multiple times a week and not known it was there.

My Plastic-Free July was, well, still full of plastic. We do our best (almost… not always… well, you know, we’re not perfect) on the whole, with cloth bags, wooden toothbrushes, and a good portion of our vegetables coming from local (ie, no-bag) sources, but damn, there are not a lot of options around here for packaging-free foods places. At one supermarket I have seen lemons packed in little pastic boxes. Why?!?! @$£&! Like they don’t come in their own sturdy little package?! However, I am very excited about a local cafe’s soon-to-open initiative involving selling local ingredients (I’m hoping for produce as well as dry goods), and I am really hoping I will be able to buy my cucumbers free of shrink wrap. In the meantime, I am trying to do my best to remember to bring a bag with us on our walks so that we have some way to carry all the rubbish that L. insists on picking up. Have you heard of Take Three For The Sea? The idea is you pick up three bits of rubbish on your walk at the beach or river, and once you’re holding three pieces, what’s a few more to carry to the bin? We live near the beach and a major waterway, and while I know a few committed rubbish collectors, I would love to be more committed myself… because, did you know, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea if we keep on going like this? My kids will still be alive then. I can’t be bothered working out if I will still be alive, but you get the point.

Haiku-sday: The toitoi*

Birds peck as they slip

from the tassels. Arcs of gold

soften and sharpen.


*Toitoi is the Maori name for the pampas grass you see growing around Aberdeen. This particular species is actually a New Zealand native. 

Who can bear to feel himself forgotten?


Last week we found a copy of A Poem For Every Night Of The Year at a charity shop. What a find indeed! L. and I have been playing a game where he chooses a day of the year (“the last day of the year,” “my birthday,” “next Thursday”) and I read the appropriate poem. Oh, what wholesome fun we do have around here. This poem, which even mentions our own fair silver city, was the poem of the day on which we bought the book. It’s a great one to read aloud, with its metre reminiscent of a train slowing in the cities and speeding through countryside.

The Night Mail, by W.H. Auden

This is the Night Mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner and the girl next door.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
The gradient’s against her, but she’s on time.

Thro’ sparse counties she rampages,
Her driver’s eye upon the gauges.
Panting up past lonely farms
Fed by the fireman’s restless arms.
Striding forward along the rails
Thro’ southern uplands with northern mails. Winding up the valley to the watershed,
Thro’ the heather and the weather and the dawn overhead.
Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.

Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from the bushes at her blank-faced coaches.
Sheepdogs cannot turn her course;
They slumber on with paws across.
In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in the bedroom gently shakes.

Dawn freshens, the climb is done.
Down towards Glasgow she descends
Towards the steam tugs yelping down the glade of cranes,
Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
All Scotland waits for her:
In the dark glens, beside the pale-green sea lochs
Men long for news.

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from the girl and the boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or visit relations,
And applications for situations
And timid lovers’ declarations
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled in the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Notes from overseas to Hebrides
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, adoring,
The cold and official and the heart’s outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

Thousands are still asleep
Dreaming of terrifying monsters,
Or of friendly tea beside the band at Cranston’s or Crawford’s:
Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
They continue their dreams,
And shall wake soon and long for letters,
And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

You can also listen to it here… sounds like spoken word, don’t you think?

Three things: Garden, berries, and birthday (and break)



This is my favourite view of my garden at the moment. I only see it if I am hanging out laundry (and, being in Scotland, this is not often), or when I intentionally go and stand in this spot specifically for the view. You can see it is not a big garden–I am in one corner, and the opposite corner is very close to the metal grid in the background–but man, I am so grateful for this piece of earth. I cannot believe that only 18 months ago it was entirely covered in gravel and plastic. Now birds come and steal my herbs to make nests with, worms hide in the soil, and we stuff our faces with slightly-under-ripe berries. There’s still so much work to be done… but there always will be. That’s why we garden, right?

Berries! I may have eaten my weight in berries this week. We have a not-so-secret spot to forage raspberries , and each time we visit we each eat so many that we swear we will not return… but we do a couple of days later when the next layer of berries have ripened and we’ve forgotten about our sore tummies. Raspberries are my favourite fruit of all time, but blaeberries (wild blueberries) are getting up there too. We did our first blaeberry hunt of the year this week and were rewarded with more than enough for a big batch of pancakes. We also go for the view. The heather is blooming and the rowans look so magical. On the downside, the low bushes are very easy for a 1.5 year old blueberry picking child to get lost in.

I’m one of those rare people who likes to inform people of it being my birthday. Not in advance, but on the day it actually is. That said, my birthday is tomorrow. Which still gives you time to post a card into my letter box. But I don’t expect you to, and that is why I usually don’t say anything until the day itself. This year is a special one, as I was born in the Year of the Rooster. The personality stuff attributed to these signs makes absolutely no sense to me, but I do like the fact I am in a gang with people who are separated by 12 (and multiples of) years from me. I am celebrating by heading to beautiful Edinburgh for a few days with my family and there we will eat a lot of Malaysian food, hike up Arthur’s Seat, visit the zoo, drink coffee, and wander the streets looking for mischief. Hope you enjoy my birthday too!

I should also mention, I’m going to be taking another blogging break. I’ll be away from my computer a lot in the next couple of weeks. So see you in a while!

Pairing up the scattered shoes

My second Louise Erdrich book of the year–LaRose. The story is gripping, and a part of the gripping-ness is wondering how the characters will shape up too.

Landreaux opened the door and LaRose ran straight past him, clutching his stuffed creature, shouting for his mom. Landreaux turned back to wave good-bye but Peter had quickly swung back out onto the road. Landreaux closed the aluminum storm door and then pushed the wooden door shut behind it. To see LaRose and Emmaline fly together would hurt so he bent over by the mud rug and took a long time pairing up the scattered shoes and setting them in lines. When he finally came to them, his long arms dangling, they were talking about how to use a potato peeler. 

LaRose sat down at the table by the window, in feeble winter sunlight. The edges of the storm window were thick with frost. Steam had frozen in gray fuzz upon the sides and sills. He peeled the potato skin awy from himself, bit by skimpy bit, onto a plastic plate. Emmaline shook chunks of meat in a bag with flour, then pinched up each chunk and dropped it carefully into hot grease. The cast-iron skillet was smooth and light from fifty years of hard use. Her mother had left it. 

Landreaux sat across the table and opened out the  rest of the newspaper. The rustling it made caused him to notice his hands were lightly trembling. (pp. 88-9)