Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Sounds of Ilulissat

I've just got home from Greenland.

There will be photos soon, I promise - we took more photos than you could ever have time to look at, so it will take me a while to pick out the best ones. But much of what really stands out in my memory isn't visual but aural, particularly in Ilulissat, the first town where we stayed.

A loud crack, sounding like a gunshot, made me jump the first time I heard it. Hunters in Greenland do shoot, and oh, it sounded close. My heart started beating just a little bit faster.

Remember we were sleeping under canvas much of the time; sounds reached us loudly and clearly.

It wasn't long before I realised what I was hearing: not a gun, but the cracking of ice. Even a small piece of ice falling onto the frozen surface of the icefiord would create a significant noise, amplified as it echoed in the mountains. Icebergs turning in the sea made a similar sound. Hundreds of miles above the arctic circle, this became a constant soundtrack to our lives.

I was also haunted by the howling of Ilulissat's 3,500 sled dogs - who deserve a post all to themselves, especially the adorable puppy-huskies. In the summer heat (yes, it was hot some days) they were clearly uncomfortable and sleepy, feeling out of place, longing for the snow.

Finally (for now) a man-made kind of sound: apparently, headphones haven't reached Greenland, or are certainly not popular. Day or night, you would often come upon someone with an MP3 player or stereo playing - quietly but clearly - in the street. And on the bus. And in the ferry. Private music seems not to be a concept; if you're listening, you share. Just one modern-day example of the communality of Inuit culture, which I've read so much about lately.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Indestructible Nails

I imagine quite a few of my readers are girls like me (men can probably skip this post, unless you're shopping for presents!). Girls who want to look nice, but who have hectic and wonderful lives, and can't afford to put their appearance at the top of their priority lists each day.

Chipped nails don't look nice. The inherent chippy-ness of nail polish (and how scruffy it looks with even a single chip) is why I typically don't bother to paint my nails. I don't want to have to carry extra stuff around with me for 'emergency' repairs. So in general, although I'd love to have brightly-coloured nails all year round, I save it up for parties and special occasions.

Then a few weeks ago I treated myself to my first professional manicure and pedicure. I came away with striking pink nails, but I'd already resigned myself to the fact that it would probably only last for a day or two.

Actually, it lasted nearly three weeks (four, on my toes).

Whether I was typing (one of the most chip-inducing activities, in my experience) or knitting, cooking or climbing mountains, nothing seemed to damage it. And when it did eventually start to chip away at the edges, I got my nail polish remove it came off like a dream, with much less mess than other brands I've used.

The brand is OPI. They have an amazing website if you want to see all the available colours (click through to the "Try It On" studio, where you can adjust a virtual hand to match your skin tone). It's a lot more expensive than high street brands, but considering that most nail polish lasts about two days on me, the extra expense is more than justified by the extended lifetime. Plus, the colours are simply gorgeous.

OPI Nail Polish

Disclosure: OPI didn't approach me, it just happens to be the brand my manicurist used. And now I'm addicted!

I've just returned from an amazing holiday in Greenland! I'm catching up on comments as fast as I can, and will come round and visit you all soon.

Saturday, 26 June 2010


Apparently, if you ask my friends, I come across as quite well-organized. I don't feel organized! I feel like someone who clings to some semblance of organization by writing everything down and making a lot of lists. But I've always had a problem with loose pieces of paper - often post-it notes - and no sensible filing system. Sticking them into my Filofax, or a small box with no other purpose, seemed for a while to do the trick, but all it actually did was to hide the information. Any time I needed to find something again, I had to search for it.

I've long wished for an electronic solution to the 'notebook' problem - somewhere to store drafts and scribblings until they prove they're worthy of a proper home. But nothing seemed to be working for me, and I just ended up with a proliferation of poorly-structured 'notes' files on my computer, as well as stacks of hand-scribbled notes. Then a friend told me about TiddlyWiki (see, a single file that acts like a wiki site.

The TiddlyWiki format has a number of advantages that appeal to me. It behaves a bit like a wiki to edit and to read: you can make individual 'Tiddlers' (like an article/page on Wikipedia) and link them together however you choose using user-friendly wiki syntax. This allows me to structure my data in whatever way seems most intuitive, hopefully helping me to find it again. But it's all stored in a single HTML file, making it easy to use (just open the file in any browser, no setup or installation required) and, importantly, very quick and straightforward to back-up (since there's only one file to copy across).

Of course it's not perfect. If I'm out of the house without my laptop, I still have to scribble on post-it notes, or save notes on my phone, or write on the back of my hand. But at least now I have a place to copy all that information to, once I get back to the computer.

How do you keep yourself organised? Do you, like me, find that you have to write things down regularly to stop your head exploding?

I'm in Greenland! I promise to catch up on comments, and come round and visit you all, just as soon as I get home. I'll try to keep in touch via Twitter and my Facebook page.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Familiarity vs Fear

On our recent trip to the Faroes, as we crossed London by tube to get to the airport, it suddenly occurred to me that this was probably the point when we were at most risk from thieves. After all, the Faroes has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

Not quite the big city...
Torshavn, capital of the Faroes

London is familiar. I feel pretty comfortable there, but I sometimes wonder whether that familiarity makes me overlook the little dangers in a way I never would if I was in a city I didn't know so well. Am I lulled into a false sense of security, or am I genuinely better at judging the threats around me in a place I know well? I have no idea of the answer.

There's definitely some level of safe-feeling which comes from familiarity, but there are other (more rational) factors in play when I suddenly start wearing a money belt overseas.

It matters less if I'm a victim of theft in my own country: I don't carry much cash, my cards are easily cancelled, and documents can be quickly replaced. The police are also familiar to me, they speak my language, and I theirs (at least, I know how to get a crime reference number!). Most importantly, I worry about my passport when I'm in a foreign country, because without it I can't get home.

Proof that it's all subjective: at the airport waiting to fly home from Colorado last summer, I overheard some American travellers discussing the extra precautions they were taking for their trip to England - just as I was about to relax my security from "holiday mode" back to normal.

Do you take more care when you're somewhere unfamiliar? Even when it's completely irrational...? All your thoughts are welcome, of course, but I'd be particularly interested in the views of natural city-dwellers (just because I'm really not one!)

I'm in Greenland! I promise to catch up on comments, and come round and visit you all, just as soon as I get home. I'll try to keep in touch via Twitter and my Facebook page.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

A Story About Stories

If you've been blogging for any length of time, you probably have "blog friends" - people you've never met, but who you know you'd be able to talk with for hours, if you ever end up in the same city/continent/hemisphere. Bells is one of those people - she lives in Australia, so I have no idea whether I ever will meet her, but I hope so one day. Today, she's kindly provided me out with a very touching post about her development as an aspiring writer.

A Story About Stories
by Bells of Bellsknits

I think I have wanted to be a writer all my life. I know I took writing stories pretty seriously as a child and was often praised for the results by my teachers. I loved the praise as much as I loved the making up of stories, so I kept going. I'm not sure I ever finished a lot of stories, apart from those I had to write for school, but there were always words around me, in the books I read, in the stories I started, and in the dreams I had for myself. I said that when I grew up I wanted to be many things - a teacher, a nurse, all those things that little girls say, but really I wanted to be a writer. Who knows where these things come from? I can only really guess at the motivations of a seven year old, from the distance of my thirties.

plum tree leaves after the storm

I have no idea when I started saying the words out loud, 'I want to be a writer' but I'm sure it started before I hit my teens. By then I was passionate about great writers - the Bronte sisters in particular - and those books kept me from entirely losing the plot during the long, very lonely high school years. It was a case of me and the books against the world.

The bullied, frightened child will always need somewhere to hide. The further I retreated into books and dreams, the more certain I became that writing would save me somehow from a miserable and isolated existence that was my life at high school.

Part of the problem with this beginning, of course, was the certainty that fame and fortune was the way to freedom, as far away as possible from small town high school and crippling loneliness. Years later, I would start to see that the dream of fame of fortune was ultimately immature and destructive, obscuring the actual desire to write.


Fast forward a decade - to the mid 90s - and I was writing.

University was over and I was living in a large group house, discovering, in a wide eyed way, the wonders of life outside of my family home, the church and all that that entailed. I told anyone who would listen that I was a writer. And more to the point, I was really writing. Lots of people I knew wanted to be writers but as far as I could see, they weren't actually writing. I was working in dull temp jobs, trying desperately to delay entry into permanent employment because attaining that dream, literary fame and fortune, was just around the corner. The book I was writing was going to make me a star!

I knew I was on the right track because I was short listed for a short story prize and the writer who ran my writing group said good things about my work. Things were going to happen.

At the time, grunge was all the rage and in Australia, there were loads of young, grungy writers making big names for themselves. I thought I could be like them, but I was writing a nice book, about a girl growing up in a small town and dreaming of the Brontes. I was never going to be like the young, grungy writers.

In 1995, I entered the Vogel award with my first book. The Vogel award is a lucrative, prestigious Australian contest for an unpublished novel by an author under the age of thirty-five. I didn't win and I remember being crushed, as if I had thought I really stood a chance. The novel was literally finished and printed out just days before entries closed. I think one or two friends did a quick edit and that was it. I really thought that was all there was to it. Looking back, I see what the real achievement was there. A finished book is a massive achievement. Never mind that I plan never to look at it again. That first hurdle, finishing something, was done.

daphne with water

By 1998, I was living in London, having escaped a disasterous, short-lived marriage. That was fine. Such things made good novelists, I was sure. A bit of tragedy, a dash of suffering, that's what writers need.

I remember saying to a friend around that time, 'What else are all these experiences for if not for writing about them?'

'For living?' he suggested. I've never forgotten it because it struck me as odd. I truly believed that everything I was doing, every experience I was having, was simply a way to get material for writing.

In London, where I lived for most of a year, I submitted a reworked version of the first novel to The Women's Press and then quickly left the country to come home, because I was homesick and lost.

My London aunt forwarded a letter from the Women's Press months later. They were interested in the chapters I'd sent them and could I send more? Of course! I quickly tidied up the book again and sent it off.

A rejection promptly followed. They rejected it and so did I. It was time to move on. First novels are notoriously self involved and poor and I decided I could do better.

The second and third novels never really got off the ground. There might have even been a fourth. I don't remember any more. Well into this decade, I was still plugging away. I'd had more success with short stories, being shortlisted for contests but never winning.

The novel writing had to happen around life by then. I was a Government employee, not a particularly happy one, and had met my husband and settled down. The more settled I became, the more tortured the writing process became. Like the biological clock, the more years passed, the more desperate I felt. Every time someone asked me how the book was going, I felt the blood rush to my head and my ears would ring ferociously. There was no book. Just an endless stream of rejected drafts and a growing sense of failure.

I took courses. I attended workshops. I read books on writing. I sought inspiration from the writers I loved most.

And yet it wasn't happening. I was miserable. I had to give it up. I'd completely lost the ability to enjoy writing. I hated it. I was doing it because I'd backed myself into a corner. It's what I felt had to happen or else my life would be meaningless.

In mid 2004, I collapsed under the weight of my own expectation and knew that writing had to stop. Suddenly, I felt like I could breathe again. My time was my own - or more than it had been for a long time - and I could do anything I wanted.

What did I do? I dug out some old knitting needles and began to relearn a craft I'd abandoned in my teen years.

And here I am. Knitting and blogging are two of my great loves now and I have trouble imagining life without the creative outlet they provide.


I never said I'd give up writing for good. Blogging has been a wonderful way to keep up the act of writing in a way that's been so much fun for me. There's been no pressure, just the exploration of a craft, making friends and communicating.

I'll admit that I'm afraid of opening up the door to that pressure again. I fear the moment I sit down at the computer to "write," as opposed to just writing like I do here, the pressure will mount and I'll be back where I was in 2004. How would I fit it in? I work more now than I did back then. I have filled my life with so much.

I don't know what the answer is but I am starting to feel like there is another book in my future. Not today. And not tomorrow. But after that? Who knows? I just know that the dream has changed. It's less about winning major awards now and more about enjoying doing what, deep down, I've always suspected I'm best at.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. It's been a pleasure to write and to remember. I'm here right now, writing these words, because people read them and that means so much.

I'm in Greenland! I promise to catch up on comments, and come round and visit you all, just as soon as I get home. I'll try to keep in touch via Twitter and my Facebook page.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Cotswold Crazy

This year, the world-famous cheeserolling has been cancelled due to health and safety concerns. Of course throwing yourself down a hill after a lump of cheese is neither healthy nor particularly safe, but surely that's the point? I have to confess I'm disappointed.

But fear not. The crazy people still have plenty of ideas to keep themselves occupied on a grey bank holiday afternoon.


Take, for instance, the Tetbury Woolsack Races. Now in their 37th year, the goal of this particular event is to run a race while carrying a 60lb sack of wool (for men; it's 'only' 35lb for women).


Who thinks of these things?!

I know, I know. The English are famous for their eccentricity. But honestly, I'd never seen anything like this before I moved to the Cotswolds - yet here, it seems that almost every village has its own bonkers tradition.


Oh - and just in case the idea of running along a (rather hilly!) road with 60lb on your back doesn't sound quite mad enough yet, silly costumes are also par for the course. This year, there were two whole teams dressed as foxes.


It was interesting to observe the different strategies for lifting and holding the giant sacks of wool.


Some were more succcessful than others; one poor fox dropped his sack and struggled to get it back on his shoulders again, eventually resorting to walking the last few yards with the sack clutched in front of him.


There's even a children's race (with lighter sacks, naturally) :

Girl in the children's relay

The whole town was dressed up for the festivities, with market stalls and fairground rides. After watching a few races and munching ice-cream, we stopped off for coffee and scones on our way home. There are some things the Cotswolds do really, really well. Cream teas, and crazy.


Friday, 18 June 2010

The World's Scariest Landings

Today's post is by someone whose travel history makes mine look mundane. I've always loved flying, so I was fascinated to read Ian's take on the scariest landings in the world... if anything, I'm just jealous of these experiences! Though I will get to take a helicopter to start the journey home from Narsaq.

The World's Scariest Landings
by Bangkok Ian

Hi, welcome to my first guest post. I opted to write about travel, thanks for the opportunity Rachel. I consider travel to be the most rewarding of pastimes and welcome its mind-expanding experiences. Having visited more than 60 countries I feel qualified to write with some authority on airports, specifically the approaches to them from the air.

I have two particular tales to relate to you; they concern 'character building' descents to a couple of notable airports. I used to think the old Hong Kong airport was quite unsafe and it scared me a little.

The first airport that really got to me was Paro International, Bhutan. A cuter, more twee international airport there cannot be. There are only a handful of flights a week and the main terminal is no bigger than a branch of Starbucks. The immigration officer was about 75 years old and wore an embroidered silk gown complete with mandarin style headgear and Fu Manchu inspired moustache. I saw this on shaky legs, shaky for two reasons; firstly the lack of oxygen, the airport is at about 8,000 feet above sea level. The second reason for unsteady legs was the final approach I had just experienced.

Apparently the flight simulator sequence that all pilots must successfully complete before getting approval to fly into Paro has only been passed by eight pilots, mostly ex-military gung-ho types. Our pilot was a Sikh who had flown fighter jets in the Indian Air Force.

The first indication I had that the landing may be eventful was the curious announcement from the stewardess, it went something like this. "Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. We will shortly be beginning our descent into Paro airport. Please tighten your seatbelts and do not be alarmed by the proximity of the mountains or the attitude of the aircraft, this is perfectly normal."

Well, she had my attention so I looked out of the window. A curtain of Himalayan mountains, much higher than our current height was filling the sky. The plane appeared to be heading straight for the peaks. Suddenly it flipped sideways and I was looking down at the adjacent bank of seats. No sooner had I got used to the new angle when equally suddenly the plane banked violently to the opposite side and levelled off before thudding down and screeching to a halt on the runway. Looking back towards the mountains I could not see where the plane had threaded itself through. All the passengers broke out into spontaneous applause and breathed a collective sigh of relief. The old Hong Kong airport had nothing on this; it was more like a horribly real theme park ride.

Two years ago, however, I was forced to revise my number one scariest airport yet again to be Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand. I was in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, not a big plane, five seats including the pilot. I was upfront with the dual set of controls just in front of me. In so small a plane you feel every little turbulent bump much more acutely and the ride over, or rather through, the tops of the snow covered mountain range en route to Milford Sound fiord was turning into quite a memorable journey.

From our departure airport at Queenstown the little plane was scheduled to fly for about 40 minutes to meet up with our cruise vessel for the middle section of the day on Milford Sound. The pilot’s voice crackled into my headphones "There’s the strip below." I was incredulous – surely he didn’t mean that short bit of tarmac between the river and the sea nestled between mountains of 6,000 feet minimum! I’m afraid he did – he put the plane into an impossibly steep suicidal dive down the mountainside and levelled out over a river before plopping down and slamming on the brakes. Milford Sound: a new scariest airport for my list. I looked forward to my lunchtime cruise to recover and then panic set in as I realised we would have to do the same in reverse later that day to get back to Queenstown.

Does anyone have another contender for the world’s most character building landing?

I'm in Greenland! I promise to catch up on comments, and come round and visit you all, just as soon as I get home. I'll try to keep in touch via Twitter and my Facebook page.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Learning Sports

I was never really athletic at school, and my parents didn't watch any sporting events on TV, so I managed to reach adulthood with very little understanding of the rules of most sports.

Then I met, and subsequently married, my husband - who is interested in pretty much any sport you could imagine.

Talk about a change.

Now, I pride myself on the breadth of my interests. I genuinely like to believe that if there is interest to be found in a subject, I should be able to find it, and certainly millions of people find something compelling about sports. So. A personal challenge. Learn, and learn to love, at least some sports.

There's a twist in this tale, though, because we don't have a television. So instead of sitting and having my husband point things out on a screen, over the last couple of years I've been trying to learn sports from the radio.

I got into Formula 1 racing quite easily. It's essentially just a race. Aside from the fact that they change the rules every year, it's quite easy to follow: they go round and round in circles, with occasional stops and occasional crashes, and that's pretty much it.

I also love the Olympics (especially the winter events - skiing, etc) though for this I will go to someone else's house and watch the TV coverage!

I've found it harder to become involved with more complex sports. Example: the cricket. Andrew loves his cricket, and he's patiently explained the rules to me more than once, but I find that my ears just switch off when I try to listen to it. I'm sort-of interested in the results (as long as it's England playing) but when I try to follow what's actually happening, I simply can't translate from the commentary into positions on an imaginary mental cricket pitch.

Rugby is even worse, because it's faster, and it's simply impossible to follow if you don't know what they mean by all their jargon (though I did get a bit more understanding when we went to the cinema to watch Invictus... but I still can't follow it on the radio).

What's your favourite sport? Do you know of any that work particularly well on the radio?

I'm in Greenland! I promise to catch up on comments, and come round and visit you all, just as soon as I get home. I'll try to keep in touch via Twitter and my Facebook page.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Vegan Sweet Potato Falafel

Time for a recipe - and since I should currently be cooking over a camp stove, I need to hand this one over to one of my Twitter buddies.

Jenny has a fun video blog at Jenny Learns to Cook, which has only been running since March, so please go and support her. Since I haven't got the whole video thing down, yet (something I promise to work on now I have a camera which takes video!) she kindly agreed to write actual words for this post. I think you'll find her personality and style still shines through!

Vegan Sweet Potato Falafels
by Jenny of Jenny Learns to Cook

My brother is a vegan hippie and it was his birthday last week, so a trip to Whole Foods and a first time experience with Indian ingredients was in store. This recipe is fun if only for the reason that it's insanely easy - throw a bunch of stuff together and bake it in vague ball shapes - and yet mention them to someone and jaws drop, backs get patted... or maybe that only happened in my imagination. Cilantro can have that effect on you. So first, the ingredients:


2 Sweet Potatoes (about 1½ lbs)
1 cup Chickpea (Garbonzo Bean) Flour
Lotsa Cilantro (I just used the whole package I bought)
2 Cloves Garlic (minced)
The juice of half a lemon
1½ tsp Coriander
1½ tsp Cumin
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil
Sesame Seeds (for garnish)

Chickpea Flour was the hardest thing to find ever. Or not really. I found it at Whole Foods, buried at the bottom of the flour section. Only problem: since you only need about a cup for this, I now have a ¾ full bag of Chickpea Flour with no idea how to finish it off. Also - I read that if you can't find it, you can substitute it by roasting some dry garbanzos and grinding them up yourself. Might even be more cost effective.

Roast your sweet potatoes on 450°F (230°C) for 45 minutes. Then take them out and let them cool while you smell up your kitchen with the cardamom, cumin, cilantro, garlic, chickpea flour, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Or, if that list was too long for your attention span, everything except the olive oil and sesame seeds.


That happens to me a lot with recipes - I get a "skim" attitude. No matter how many times I force myself to read EVERY INGREDIENT, I can't. So, yea. Take out all of the ingredients, hide the sesame seeds and oil, and mix everything else together... just don't forget where you hid them, because you need them later. Anyway.

Undress your sweet potatoes - singing raunchy stripper-type songs isn't necessary, but I feel it helps the flavah.


Mash it all together with a fork, and let it sit in the fridge for about an hour. Or a potato masher. But I do not own a dishwasher, so the fewer utensils I can use, the better.


I actually had to make these a day ahead, so I'll find out if a cold, hard night does anything to my poor falafels. A day later, ball 'em up. I used an ice cream scoop so they would be vaguely the same size, but you still have to go all play-dough on they're asses if you want nicer shapes.


Sprinkle with sesame seeds (or in hindsight, rolling them around until you can't see any orange would have been utterly divine) and pop into a 400°F (200°C) oven for 20 minutes, and VIOLA! I ate mine on a whole wheat pita with hummus and avocado slices. Because it was my brother's birthday and he's a hippie. So there.


PS - I found this recipe at 101 Cookbooks, so click the link for their article.

I'm in Greenland! I promise to catch up on comments, and come round and visit you all, just as soon as I get home. I'll try to keep in touch via Twitter and my Facebook page.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

On Sequels

This is turning into an accidental mini-series on exposition; you might want to check out my earlier thoughts on the importance of subtlety and expository dialogue.

I'm currently working on a sequel to REBELLION (yeah! Volume 1 finally has a title!). And a sequel opens a whole new can of worms so far as exposition is concerned. How to make the new book accessible to a new reader, without boring or alienating those who've already read volume one?

On a lot of TV shows, each episode opens with a reminder of pertinent scenes from earlier episodes. It would feel clumsy to put a similar "The story so far..." get-out in a book, but the need is still there. It just isn't safe to assume that every reader will have read the previous book.

Well, I suppose you could simply insist - but that would be not only arrogant, but counterproductive. If someone happens across a later volume in a bookshop or a library, wouldn't it be preferable if they could read it right away and then (if they enjoyed it) go back to read the earlier books afterwards?

I actually have to face up to this twice, since it seems that the Charanthe series has morphed into a trilogy (against my better judgement - fantasy trilogies are such a cliche....).

In both cases, without really planning it, I have new characters appearing within the first few pages. This definitely helps: there are questions that would naturally be asked, which will help me to bring out a tiny bit of context.

There's only one way to find out whether it works, though: I'm going to need to find some test readers who haven't read any of the series so far. Because there's only so much pretending-I-don't-know-my-own-story that I can do!

I'm in Greenland! I promise to catch up on comments, and come round and visit you all, just as soon as I get home. I'll try to keep in touch via Twitter and my Facebook page.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Friendship Rediscovered

When I realised I was going to be away from the internet for almost a month, and started thinking about how to keep my blog going in my absence, it occurred to me that this would be a perfect time to feature some guest posts from my readers. So, over the next couple of weeks, you'll see my posts interspersed with a few words from my guests. I hope you'll make them all welcome.

First up is Kirsty, who's working on her first art installation, and blogs about her progress over at Night of a Thousand Cranes. I didn't meet her through blogging, though - I've known her since I was eleven (before I'd even heard of the internet!). I'd tell you all about our friendship, but she's done it more eloquently than I ever could. Suffice it to say that Kirsty was always the girl with the big dreams - she was telling me that she was going to be a writer back when I was letting careers advisors tell me that it wasn't a valid career path. Her dreams may have changed shape a little, but she's still busy making them come true.

Friendship Rediscovered
by Kirsty of Night of a Thousand Cranes

While Rachel is off gallivanting, I offered to write a guest post. I said I'd write about origami, as that's what my blog is about, maybe a quick tutorial or whatever. Then when I sat down to write this, I couldn't think of what to say; nothing I wrote flowed properly, and all I kept thinking was that it wasn't good enough for Rachel's blog, which I hugely admire. So, I stopped trying to force it, and completely changed my thinking. Now, this post is a love letter - to friendship.

You see, me and Rachel have been friends for years. Since we were eleven. We met at school, though I can't remember how, and held each other up through crushes (in one memorable case, on the same guy), tantrums (mostly me), crises of confidence, arguments (again, mostly down to me) and all the other "life-changing" events you have when you're a teenager. Most of my high school memories contain Rachel - many a time she read my (bad) poetry, or I slept over at her house, or we hid under the desk in class together (we did this more than was probably healthy). Passing notes wasn't just a way of communication; it was a way of life, and I still have a whole boxful of them. Here's an actual page from my 'homework diary' (that was never used to record homework!) – see if you can spot Rachel's comments:

We had fun in that way where at the time you just can't stop laughing, but you look back and can't understand why. I could tell you a thousand stories about throwing ink cartridges at each other, l'escargot club, how our German teacher was Superman... but they wouldn't interest you. They've probably brought a smile to Rachel's face though.

It's funny how friendships are formed and maintained. I often think of people I was 'best friends' with at a particular point in my life, but that I haven't seen for years. How the person you ate lunch with every day at work disappeared off your radar the minute you handed in your resignation; the flatmate at university packed up as neatly as your books when you graduate. How at the time, they were the one thing that got you through the day, and now days go by without you thinking of them at all. How nearly every memory I have has a person imprinted on it, and how many of them I haven't spoken to in years.

We grew up. Rachel went off to a different college to be clever and smart and bloom into the person you know and love, and I went off to do performing arts and become even more angsty and obsessed with boys. We tried to keep in touch, but letters dwindled to Christmas cards to…well, nothing. We drifted apart.

Sometimes, I imagine what my "past friends" are doing now. I think of them living the lives we said we would lead. A parallel world where nothing has ever got in the way, where everyone's dreams came true. Where the pictures of my 30th birthday will show the same people as at my 13th.

Through a mutual friend who'd managed to keep track of us both, we got back in touch and Christmas cards were exchanged and plans mooted but never firmed up. Then I found Rachel's blog. I can't remember how, but somehow, without her expressly saying "read my blog," I wandered across it, read a little bit, then read a little bit more. I marvelled at how my friend, who campaigned for girls to wear trousers at school, now loved pink and knitting; I boggled when she dropped in anecdotes about how she used to make waffles for a living or had written plays. The girl I knew, who translated Eurovision entries for us for fun (she always was the clever one), had a wonderful life, and above all else, was happy. It wasn't anything like what we'd thought it would be, but then again, neither is mine (I never did make it on Broadway). I was so proud, and so thankful that I counted her as a friend.

I'm sorry for the years we lost touch (not least because I missed out on waffles), but I am glad we found each other again. Rachel's been super supportive of my blog, and what I'm working on in my life right now, and I'm always interested in what's going on in hers. We haven't seen each other since we were 16, but we have firm plans for October, if not before.

So to finish this post, I'm asking you to think of your friends. To think of the ones that you treasure now, and the ones that you treasured once upon a time. If you can get in touch, try to take ten minutes out of your day to make that call or write that email. Think of the friends that you loved and lost. Imagine them, in that happy world, where everyone gets their dreams, and everything's like you thought it would be when you were eleven. Because every time I think of my friends, Rachel ranks up there high. They say you never forget your first love – and that includes your friends.

I'm in Greenland! I promise to catch up on comments, and come round and visit you all, just as soon as I get home. I'll try to keep in touch via Twitter and my Facebook page.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Instant Fruit Oatmeal Porridge

When we were in Russia for our honeymoon aboard the transmongolian railway, we discovered small packets of instant, fruity porridge. Just add hot water from the samovar, and there's your breakfast. I'd never seen these before (not that I'd really looked), but we lived on them while we were on the train.

As we started preparing for Greenland, where we'd be camping, I realised I wanted to get something similar to take with us. But I couldn't find anything comparable in the UK, and a shopping trip to Russia was sadly out of budget.

Well, you all know I like a challenge...

I started with our everyday oatmeal porridge recipe, and converted everything to dried form: specifically, this meant figuring out how much milk powder was equivalent to the amount of milk I'd typically use, and buying some packets of freeze-dried fruit. I then milled down the oats in the food processor, so that they were fine enough to cook with just hot water, not requiring any additional cooking: this makes it perfect for camping as you can make it in a mug or bowl, and reduces the amount of washing up you have to do.

The final product tastes pretty similar to the Russian version.

Homemade instant oatmeal

Homemade Instant Fruit Porridge
Makes approx. 25 servings

6 cups porridge oats
1 cup + 2tbsp dried milk powder
¾ cup sugar
1½ cup freeze-dried fruit (e.g. raspberries or strawberries)

  1. Put the oats into a food processor, and whizz until they're finely ground.
  2. Crush the freeze-dried fruit into small pieces.
  3. Mix all ingredients together in a tub with an air-tight seal, or a large plastic food bag.
  4. Your instant porridge is now ready to travel!
  5. When you want to eat it, scoop ⅓ cup per person into a bowl or mug, and add ½ cup boiling water. Stir thoroughly and leave it a couple of minutes for the oats to absorb the water. If you prefer a softer texture, you can add a little more water at the end.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Why Camping?

I have several friends who are mystified by my love of camping.

It was a source of particular confusion when my husband and I decided to camp outside in our own garden one night. Why would you choose to go and sleep in a tent, I was asked, when you have a perfectly good bed right there?

Now, as it happened the reasons were mundane and boring (testing out equipment ready for Greenland) but the experience was incredible and we'll definitely do it again. I was woken up by an owl coming in to hunt something very close to the tent... you simply can't buy that kind of experience. And the dawn chorus was loud and clear and beautiful.

But the main reason I love to go camping is because it gives me chance to stay in places where there simply is no other accommodation. I love isolation; in a tent, I can spend time in the kind of silent and beautiful place where I would choose to live, if it weren't so impractical. I suppose this is why we spend so much more time wild camping than on campsites. It gives us the chance to 'live' - however briefly - in the world's untouched places, whilst leaving them fundamentally untouched. By the time we've packed our tent up in the morning, our temporary campsite is returned to its natural state, with only a small patch of flattened grass to show that we were ever there.

By the time you read this, we will (ash clouds permitting) be on our way to Greenland. One happy couple and one slightly-leaky tent. You may very well think we're mad, but we're happy-mad, and that's what matters.

Posts will be scheduled in my absence and I promise to catch up on comments, and come round and visit you all, just as soon as I get home. I'll also try to text updates to my Twitter account and my Facebook page to keep in touch.

Camping by the glacier in Iceland (2007)

Friday, 4 June 2010

If You Go Down To The Woods Today....

We were so overcome with the adorable baby birds in our front garden that we just had to check up on them to see how they'd grown. Quite a bit, as it happened, in just six days - suddenly they're not bald any more so they look like mini birds now, rather than ugly-cute newborns:

Inside the nest box

We actually have a few nest boxes scattered around our garden. The one I've been showing you is right in front of our house, but there are more out in the woods:


So, inspired by the cute babies, we went out to see if we could find more. Not all the boxes are inhabited (apparently some of our birds would rather live in a hedge than in a house!) but we did find a couple more little families.

The first ones we found were the tiniest we've seen yet - with hardly any feathers. We guessed they may be blue tits, which typically have more babies, and are smaller birds. They made such a noise!


For scale, here's a picture where you can see the whole box:

Seven babies - maybe bluetits

Whereas the next ones we found were much more grown up:


Sadly I think we'll have gone on holiday before they learn to fly. Maybe next year...?

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Blog Inspiration: June

I've decided to try and give out a few of my Blog Inspiration badges in the first post of each month. I'm hoping that giving myself a kind of structure will ensure I keep this going - and keep me constantly on the look-out for deserving bloggers and new themes.

But first I'd like to thank the Fab Bitch over at The Joys of my Splintered Life in Smalltown for passing me a fab (and not-at-all-bitchy) pink award. Thank you!

Today we have a new badge to say thank you for all the inspiration I get from blogs in the sphere of crafting. I could make a list as long as my arm for this one, but like last time, we'll kick off with just three.

  • The first recipient of this badge surely has to be Elizabeth from Sew In Love; I've mentioned her before, but she's singlehandedly responsible for taking embroidery from my "maybe, one day, but this looks scary" list, to "okay, let's have a go!" And you can't get much more inspiring than that.

  • Next up, Bells from Bellsknits, who lives in Australia and does lacy knitting that I can only dream of (maybe learning lace quickly is a factor of the climate over there!).

  • And finally (for today, anyhow), another knitter who never fails to answer my daft questions and be generally encouraging, Louiz from Random Acts of Yarn.

In the Inspiring Travel category, this month I'd like to give the badge to Shannon of A Little Adrift, who is on a long-term trip and shares her amazing adventures with beautiful stories.
In the Inspiring Recipes category, today's badge goes to Mary of One Perfect Bite, whose daily recipes are always accompanied by an interesting tale, and who always has a friendly word for her visitors.

Recipients are welcome to display the badge (right-click to download the image), and to pass it on if they wish; the only condition is to let me know if you decide to pass it along so that I can check out your recommendations.

Comments are closed; please go and visit some of these lovely bloggers instead. If you want to let me know about passing along a badge, you can do that at the main Blog Inspiration page.

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