Monday, April 29, 2013

Yoghurt Cake

Here's a quick and simple recipe for a cake that's similar to a spongecake or pound cake.  And it only uses one bowl for mixing so it's easy on the washing-up, too.  You start with a small pot of yoghurt and then use the empty pot to measure the other ingredients.  If, like me, you make your own yoghurt or buy it in large jars, just buy one small pot and when its empty, fill it with water and pour it into one of your normal cups.  I have some mulled wine mugs that I've gotten at various christmas markets over the years and I find them great for measuring stuff - they're 0.2 litre in capacity and the amount that fits into a small yoghurt pot is about the amount that fits into the mug without it being too full.  Or you can make sure to buy a small pot of yoghurt which is of the indestructible plastic type and just keep that to use as your measure.  At any rate, here's the simple 3, 2, 1 recipe.

Yoghurt Cake
1 small pot of yoghurt - any flavour you like. Then use the pot to measure:
3 pots of self-raising flour (can't get that here so I use ordinary and add a small packet of baking powder)
2 pots of sugar
1 pot of sunflower oil
And 3 eggs.

Put everything into a bowl, mix well, pour into a greased cake tin (I usually use a springform one) and bake at about 170 (centigrade) for half-an-hour or so.  Easy peasy.  Check the centre of it with a skewer or knife and if it comes out clear, it's done.  Keep an eye on the top of it and if it seems to be burning/getting a bit too golden but it's not finished baking, simply cover it with tinfoil.  When it's finished and has cooled down you can top it if you like.  Melted chocolate or cream and strawberries are two of my favourite toppings for this.

You can also add fruit if you like, I've seen my sister adding slices of tinned pineapple to the cake tin before pouring the batter in, for example and if you google yoghurt cake and look at the images results, you'll find some scrumptious-looking photos.  I've made this recipe using a bun tray before as well and it works well for that, too but the cooking time needs to be reduced in that case.

So there you have it.  Y turned out not to be as difficult as I thought it would be thanks to me remembering I had some yoghurt in the fridge I need to use up (would have been better if I'd also remembered that I needed eggs, though).  Off to give some thought to Z now in preparation for being able to give myself a pat on the back tomorrow for having completed the A to Z challenge!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunday night chit-chat

Time is just flying past and it seems hard to believe that we've already nearly reached May.  The sunburn I got on my nose today is a sure sign that the weather is finally changing though.

This is what's on offer at my favourite Irish pub - the only one that really feels just like a normal local and this kind of humour is part of the reason why
What are you:
Reading
I didn't quite get to finish Atonement before book club on Thursday so I'm finishing that and hoping to start on Strumpet City next Wednesday.  It's a bank holiday here and I have large amounts of housework planned with a couple of hours sitting in the park reading as my reward if I get it done.

Watching
I wanted to watch Serendipity, the Joss Whedon film made to tie up loose ends left when the series Firefly was cancelled.  However someone posted about a documentary called Sugar: The Bitter Truth earlier and I really want to watch that, as well.  Decisions, decisions.  I've actually just finished watching a new German production of the Emperor's New Clothes and that was kind of sweet.  It was nicely made, too.  I should remember to check the German television websites more often to watch stuff on their catch-up internet service.

Listening to
Very little.  A tram just passed by but there has been almost no traffic otherwise.  Hopefully my next door neighbour won't be having another loud party till three in the morning today and I'll get to have a quiet night's sleep.

Cooking/baking
I'm about to put a frozen pizza into the oven.  Haven't cooked properly all week!

Happy you accomplished this week
Got into work early four days, which was good as I'm covering for someone who's on holidays as well as keeping my own stuff going and so far it's working out alright.  I finally brought part of the day-bed I dismantled last year down to the cellar and it has already made my sitting room feel so much lighter.  Made it to choir practice and book club, too, as well as helping out with the pasta party yesterday and clearing up after the post-marathon party this afternoon.  Also got to eat two very delicious steak sandwiches at the tent, one for a late breakfast at around 11 and one for a late lunch at around 3 - not really an accomplishment but it definitely made me happy.

Looking forward to next week
Bank holiday on Wednesday and I'll hopefully spend the morning catching up on the housework I have been ignoring and then spend the afternoon in the park reading - the weather forecast says it'll be 21 degrees and mostly cloudy so warm enough to want to be outside rather than in but less chance of getting sunburned.

Thankful for today
Getting to spend time outside in the sunshine and spending quite a bit of time doing nothing more than staring up at wispy clouds in a blue sky.  Also, steak sandwiches.

Bonus question: what is your preferred method of contact (email, text, phone, letter etc.)
It depends on who I'm contacting and for what.  If it's just to arrange meeting a friend or asking a question of some kind I prefer texting.  If it's something formal or official then email or letter (this is the land of letter-writing and you aren't guaranteed an answer unless you send a letter although having said that, if it's something a bit complicated I'll often start with a phone call, which helps me figure out exactly what it is I want to ask in the first place).  For just keeping in touch I think it definitely has to be phone calls.  Difficult to find the time for (especially for my friends who have kids) but worth it, in my opinion.

If you fancy joining in with Sunday night chit-chat, head on over to Half-Dozen Daily to post your link (actually, you should head over there anyway just to see the photo of the quilt she is making entirely from scraps of material - it's gorgeous).  Thanks as always to Carla for hosting.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X-beinig

I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel I know.  Not only do I really have nothing to say today, I've cheated a bit by just taking as my title a German word that caught my eye for no reason other than it's, well, a bit funny.  Bein is the German word for leg; x-beinig means knock-kneed.  German is a funny old language, so logical and sometimes just so descriptive.  It took me a while to acquire the German taste for making new words by combining words and I have to admit I don't do it often but it is fun.  Especially when I'm just doing it for fun.

The German propensity for combining words does make it somewhat difficult to find words in a dictionary sometimes, as they'll often only be listed by their component parts.  According to an expat blog I found the longest German word in the Duden dictionary (Duden would be similar in status to the Oxford English Dictionary or Merriam Webster) is Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung (67 letters, check the link for the meaning of it and how it's broken down).

I have to run off and cook spaghetti bolognese for fifty or so people now.  It's the marathon here tomorrow and the Irish Business Network is having a pasta party for those who are running.  I don't do running so I'm helping out with the cooking instead.  Much more my style!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Who do you write like?

I came across this little piece of internet fun two or three years ago.  "Check which famous writer you write like with this statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them with those of the famous writers."
I'm not sure what made me think of it again but I decided it would be interesting to revisit it in combination with a sort of mini-review of most of the month of April, during which I have been participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.  I know writers are supposed to be "finding their own voice" but (a) I'm not trying to be a writer as such and (b) this is mostly just a bit of fun.  Without further ado, here's my list of posts for the challenge and the style they are apparently written in.

Active - written like H. P. Lovecraft

Billing - written like David Foster Wallace

Curiosity - written like James Joyce (interesting one this as that post contained a block of text from a book by Stephen Fry.  If I enter just his text into the gadget it says it was written like Douglas Adams, who Stephen Fry was good friends with.  If I enter my text without his block of text in it, I get Cory Doctorow)

Doom, Table of - written like Vladimir Nabokov

Evenings out - written like Cory Doctorow

Farmers - written like Cory Doctorow

Glasses -  written like David Foster Wallace

Hellish - written like Chuck Palahniuk

Ireland - written like James Joyce

J is for some nice names...and jam - written like Cory Doctorow

Kuala Lumpur - written like Dan Brown

Labels - written like Cory Doctorow

Mooncup - written like Stephen King (LOL!)

Notions - written like H. P. Lovecraft

Organ donation and onion confit - written like James Joyce

Pretty - written like Stephen King

QI - written like Cory Doctorow

Roast chicken dinner - written like Cory Doctorow

Shampoo - written like Cory Doctorow

Telephone calls - written like Cory Doctorow

Ukulele - written like Cory Doctorow (even with the excerpt from Tom Hodgkinson taken out, it's still Cory Doctorow.  Just that excerpt though, is apparently written like James Joyce.)

Vegetarian Myth - written like David Foster Wallace

And let's not forget the summary: 8.7% H.P. Lovecraft, 13.04% David Foster Wallace, 6.52% James Joyce, 50% Cory Doctorow, 4.35% Vladimir Nabokov, 4.35% Chuck Palahniuk, 4.35% Dan Brown and 8.7% Stephen King.

So there you have it.  When I did this the first time I found out that I write like David Foster Wallace, who I think is one of the most boring writers I've ever tried to read.  I will finish Infinite Jest one day I'm sure.  So I chose another blog post to see if I'd get another answer.  Only to be told that I apparently write like James Joyce, who I think might actually be the most boring writer I've ever tried to read - I couldn't even manage to finish The Dubliners, which is only short stories!  I do still plan to read Ulysses one day but that's just to be able to have some authority behind my assertion that he's a boring writer.  The thing is, you see, that I'm not the only one who finds these writers boring but at least the boring is tempered somewhat by the fact that they were, by all accounts, geniuses.  That doesn't help me much when it comes to my writing style though because I'm definitely not a genius.  Which just leaves me with boring.  It's a good thing I get so much therapeutic value out of this blog is all I can say!  It has been interesting to analyse my blog posts during this month and surprising that I haven't had more DFW and JJ.  I'll have to get my hands on some Cory Doctorow books to read before I can decide whether or not I'm flattered by the comparison.

Vegetarian Myth

Book club went on later than normal yesterday evening as it has been a while since we met and there was a lot to catch up on.  So I'm a day late with 'V' but will also post 'W' today anyway, as that's something I've been working on over the month and will be quick to finish.  One thing I have definitely learned by participating in this challenge is that I hate having to write something every day and genuinely do have days where I just don't want to turn the computer on at all.  This is my second one-day-late post so I have been mostly doing it but that has come at a cost as the overall time I spend online is limited.  So I have a lot of blog-reading to catch up on - trying to visit a few new A to Z blogs every day as well as returning to the ones I like has meant that the blogs I normally read have mostly had to be ignored and I haven't even touched on even 10% of those participating!  It has certainly been an interesting experience.

All of which has nothing to do with the Vegetarian Myth, the book that I started reading in January and have only now managed to reach the last few pages of.  There was so much in it at the beginning that I kept going backwards and forwards, re-reading bits and putting it down to think.  And then I got sick again and found it hard to read anything at all, never mind a book that was going to make me think.  And then of course there were book club books to be read and other books that I couldn't resist anymore.  That makes it sound like I've read a lot of books this year already but actually I've only finished three, nearly four.  I've started at least another four or five though, just couldn't seem to keep my attention focused on any one thing for long.

While reading Vegetarian Myth I heard (from Clickclackgorilla, I think) that there was a lot of criticism leveled at it and so I also got distracted trying to find some of that online, too.  What I found though was mostly a lot of very outraged vegans who may have had valid points but didn't have anything to back them up with.  One post I read, for example, criticised Lierre Keith's lack of proper research and dependency on quoting other books, rather than the studies etc. in question as well as her inability to properly analyse the studies she did reference.  Now, I'm not a statistician and I'm by no means scientifically inclined so I was interested to read about where mistakes had been made.  But all I got was something along the lines of "I'm a vegan and I'm a nutritionist so I know it's all wrong" and that doesn't really help me in understanding where the problems lie with this book.  It just doesn't bring me beyond a he said/she said argument, if you know what I mean.

Lierre Keith is also a radical feminist (not to mention having the audacity to be not only an atheist but also a lesbian) and I suspect that this may also have put some people off, particularly if they weren't inclined to accept her premises anyway.  Whereas I already share a lot of opinions anyway that are already far along the road towards having the same viewpoints as here - even if I may not entirely agree with all of her more ferocious activist ideals (but I agree with them far more than I would have five years ago, that's for sure).

I do want to do a proper review of this book but I'm going to take it chapter by chapter and go through each one again as well as trying to pin down some of the more valid criticisms that might be out there (okay, I may not fully follow through on that part or else we'll be waiting until 2020 for me to get it finished but I may try at least).  If anyone has read the book and has an opinion to offer or read any of the criticism of the book and can point me to good sources on that, please leave me a comment below.  Actually, would anyone be interested in doing a read-along and coming back to discuss the book?  There are five chapters and I'll be aiming for doing perhaps one chapter a month.  Let me know if there's any interest - it could be kind of fun.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ukulele

A few years ago I read a book by Tom Hodgkinson called How to be Idle after reading about it on a blog somewhere.  I found it really interesting, determined that I should really try to incorporate some of the ideas into my life, put it on a shelf and that was about it.  A while later I realised that there was a second book, How to be Idle, got that, read it and found it interesting as well, put it on a shelf and that was it.  I think I didn't find the second one quite as gripping as the first because, to be honest, I didn't really need anyone to tell me how to be idle, I can do it all on my own and don't really suffer from thinking that I must always be doing something.  However I have never forgotten one of the things he suggested and have kept the idea in the back of my head since then.

It's in Chapter 2, Break the Bonds of Boredom, just after he talks about punk.

"Punk was about putting creativity back in the hands of the people; anyone can do it, they said and, to prove it, here are the three chords you need to write a song: E, A and B7.  Do it yourself.
Well, I can go one better than that.  Instead of the guitar, I urge you to take up the ukulele.  This four-stringed marvel is very cheap, very portable and very easy to play.  It is therefore even more punk than the guitar.  Here are the three chords you need to play most songs [there's an illustration here of C, G and F chords].
Get a uke and you will never be bored again.  You could even make some extra cash by busking.  The uke is freedom.  Indeed, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain's first album is called Anarchy in the Ukulele, and aptly titled it is too.
Behind the attack on boredom is a radical desire to take control of our lives back from the giant organisations to whom we have more or less willingly entrusted ourselves.  This is an act of gross irresponsibility on our part.  But it is not too late.  We simply need to discover our own creativity.  The simple way to avoid boredom is to make stuff..."

I'm adding a ukulele to my budget for June and am just going to go for it.  If the above wasn't enough reason to want to learn it, the fact that Marilyn Monroe plays it in Some Like it Hot is an incentive too.  Maybe I could end up looking like this:

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Telephone calls

Otherwise known as the reason I have no time to write much this evening.  I've spent over an hour on the phone to one of my best friends.  It's good to catch up sometimes.  And conversations with people you haven't been in touch with for a while and with your close friends (or partner, if you have one) are all part of the happiness manifesto, after all.  I've just searched my blog for a post on the happiness manifesto and came up empty.  I cannot believe I haven't done a post about it as I know I've definitely typed it out at least once before.  Anyway, here's a link to someone else's post about the happiness manifesto that featured on a program the BBC did a few years ago called Making Slough Happy - the 10 point manifesto is not quite halfway down the page.  Worth taking a look and thinking about incorporating some or all of it into your life. I don't always do all of these things but when I do, I always feel much better about life.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Shampoo

I originally started to write an update on going no 'poo in November 2010, although even then I didn't get much further than the title.  So I'm making it fit into the A to Z challenge just to get it finally written.  Before doing that, I'm having to go back through some old posts, trying to make sure I don't forget to mention anything I may have experienced along the way.

To read about how it all started, go to this post from March 2007.  Wow, that makes it six years since I stopped using shampoo.  That was three weeks into my no-'poo experience and a week later I posted an update.  I also posted updates in a thread on the forums then called It's Not Easy Being Green, now the Green Living Forum and that thread can be found here if anyone is interested.

To recap a bit: I have very thick, long, curly hair.  And by curly, I mean curls sometimes and lots of frizz all the time.  For years I was in the habit of shampooing twice and finishing off with some conditioner although I never did subscribe to the wash every day idea and usually just washed it once a week. About six months before giving up shampoo I switched to using SLS-free shampoo and conditioner.  But once I gave up, I didn't look back.

There was a fairly long settling-in period for me and from what I've read on the subject, it seems that that is probably due to the fact that I only washed my hair once a week anyway.  If you wash your hair every day and give up shampoo, it seems like you are more likely to have a more extreme but far shorter settling in period.  I'm lucky in that even when my hair is greasy, it doesn't look too bad and if it's tied up, isn't that noticeable.  So during the worst weeks of the adjustment period, I might not have always felt great but I didn't look noticeably different.  I tried various things to help.  Oatmeal rubbed into dry hair to absorb the grease remains my favourite.  Just brush it out afterwards and, if you like, rinse your hair after that with hot water.  But I honestly can't remember the last time I did that or felt the need to do it.

My hair did suffer a setback when I moved to Germany as the water here is extremely hard, especially in comparison to the water where I lived in Ireland.  When I left Ireland I had not used shampoo for over a year and by then I was just washing once a week using water and every month or so doing a vinegar rinse.  But really I was just doing the vinegar rinse because I still felt like I should be doing something.  After moving here I did start to get a somewhat itchy scalp quite often and after checking stuff on the internet I realised it was most probably linked to the very hard water.  So I started doing a vinegar rinse every week and that has improved things again.  One day when I have my own place with water barrels all around, I'll be able to use filtered rainwater to wash my hair with and won't have that hard water problem to worry about any more either but for now I have a small plastic jug (500ml) that I fill about quarter of the way with cider vinegar and then top up with water.  When I get in the shower the first thing I do is wash my hair with water, giving my scalp a decent scrub.  Then I slowly pour the vinegar rinse over my scalp, rubbing my scalp and hair well (and making sure to not get any in my eyes, because, hey, it's vinegar people and that stuff stings!).  I leave that in my hair while I finish washing myself and then at the end I rinse my hair thoroughly with water.  Any slight lingering vinegary smell if I'm not too careful when rinsing disappears as the hair dries.

And that's it.  My hair might still be frizzy but it's not anything like it was before.  If I leave it to dry naturally the curls are lovely.  It's the next day when I brush it that they disappear a bit but I've tried not brushing and i hated it.  I've often gotten compliments on my hair and no-one has ever mentioned anything to me about it smelling funny or horrible.  That's not to say it never smells horrible but it doesn't do so any more often than it did when I was using shampoo and if it does, I just wash it.  Remember, no shampoo does not mean no washing.  Actually, it's usually only a bit of a problem in winter when I first start wearing my wooly hats again and they get wet.  Perfectly normal for that to end up smelling a bit, I reckon, and easily fixed (until the next time I wear a hat anyway).

Unfortunately I cannot say that I have never used shampoo since March 2007 because I have yet to find a hairdresser that will cut my hair without washing it first.  I get my hair cut about once a year though so it's not too often.  When I come out of the hairdressers I do find myself thinking that my hair is lovely and soft and shiny and expensive smelling.  But it usually only takes about two or three hours before the itching starts and by the end of the day I'm back to wishing I hadn't let them do it.  It takes a week or two for my hair to settle back down after a trip to the hairdresser and the funny thing is that even though they've usually used conditioner as well, my hair gets more tangled and difficult to brush than it usually is.  That was probably the biggest surprise to me actually, because before I stopped using shampoo I would have sworn to anyone who'd listen that it was impossible to brush my hair if I hadn't used copious amounts of conditioner.

So, there's no big bottles to lug around when travelling (or to decant into smaller bottles to carry with you when travelling), you save lots of money by not needing to buy shampoo and conditioner, you produce less waste (packaging) and less run-off going down your waste pipes and in my case, end up with better looking and more easily managed hair.  It's definitely worth a go in my opinion.

Please note that enthusiastic as I am about giving up shampoo, I do also know that there are some people that this does not work for.  If you have certain skin conditions it might not be for you.  My gut feeling tells me that if you've doing it and your head actually hurts, it might be time to go and see your dermatologist.  But  all in all, I'd certainly recommend that everyone gives this a go at least.

Have any of you ever gone no 'poo?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday night chit-chat

No photo this week, just a quote that Laura from Noho'ana Hau'ole: Life is Good used in response to a comment I made that I really liked and wanted to have here for inspiration:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in ones favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: ‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it! Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it.’” –W.H. Murray, of the Scottish Himalayan Expedition

If you want to join in with Sunday night chit-chat, head on over to Half-Dozen Daily, where Carla hosts this lovely review every week.


What are you:

Reading
I spent most of yesterday and today reading (and finishing) The Memory of Light.  Still can't quite believe the series is over.  I plan to read the entire series from the beginning again but may not get to that until next year.  Now I need to really make some progress reading Atonement, since it's book club this week and I'm only two chapters in.

Watching

Nothing.  I did watch a couple of clips on youtube of Britain's Got Talent earlier but that's it.  These two were very good, I thought.  Attraction (shadow dancing) and Jack Carroll (14 year-old stand-up comedian)

Listening to

Not much of anything.  Some noise from the taxi rank outside but otherwise it's quiet tonight.

Cooking/baking

Again, absolutely nothing.  Need to get back into the swing of cooking properly again.

Happy you accomplished this week

I had a good long walk today.  And finished my book.  And managed, just about, to get through the third week of the A to Z blogging challenge.  And got caught up on washing after having missed last week due to being away - at least now I know that I can survive two weeks without doing laundry even if it does mean I'll need to have recourse to my oldest gray-used-to-be-white knickers.

Looking forward to next week

There's a lecture on tomorrow evening that I hope to get to.  Can't remember what it's about because I just wrote lecture in my diary but I think it's the one about the Jewish history of Dusseldorf, which would be interesting.  Then there's choir on Wednesday, book club on Thursday and at the weekend, I'll be helping out at the Irish Business Network's pasta party and meet + greet stand for the marathon.

Thankful for today

Clean underwear.  Hey, it's the little things in life that matter, isn't it?

Bonus question: fill in the blank - I am by far the biggest ______ snob

I really don't know if I can limit this to just one answer and still have a niggly feeling that there's something I missing that is the thing that I really, really am the biggest snob about.  But here's a few of the things that I just don't even bother ever ordering while out because it can just never match what I make myself at home: mashed potatoes, tiramisu, banoffee pie, anything with shortcrust pastry.  And tomatoes of course, has to be local, organic and only in season for tomatoes.

Roast chicken dinner

I didn't post this yesterday because although I switched on my computer, once I had quickly checked that I had no urgent emails I had a burning desire to switch it off again and I did just that.  It has been challenging to keep up with posting every day (and that was the biggest part of the challenge for me so scheduling posts ahead of time was never part of my plan) simply because I don't really want to have to turn the computer on every single day.  But it's good to learn that I may not be as dependent on it as I thought at least.

Anyway, here's yesterday's A to Z post.  Then I'll be back shortly with a Sunday night chit-chat.  I also just noticed that yesterday's post was my 500th.  Doesn't seem like a lot in six and a half years of blogging but it's still a hell of a lot compared to any other diary I've ever tried to keep!

Here’s the instructions for cooking a roast chicken dinner with stuffing, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, carrot and peas and, most importantly, for how to have it all ready at the same time. My sister wrote this out for me many years ago when I first moved into my own place.  I don't do a full roast dinner very often so still need to have these on hand when I do and haven't managed to do much in the way of adding my own touches.  Bear in mind that these instructions were based on my sister's cooker, which was old but had fantastic controls. If you have a less decent cooker like me that doesn’t really do very low heat, for example, you’ll need to take that into account. Yes, I know that point should be obvious but I’m just saying – don’t blame me if you burn your spuds before you get to mashing!

First up, the recipe for sage and onion stuffing.  You will need:

  1. 1 onion, finely chopped 
  2. 10-12 chopped sage leaves or 1 tablespoon dried sage (do not overdo it on the sage
  3. 125g breadcrumbs 
  4. ½ teaspoon black pepper 
  5. 1 tablespoon melted butter 
  6. 1 egg yolk (optional. If not using, increase butter x 1, i.e. use 2 tbsps butter) 
Simmer onion in boiling water for 5 mins (NB: do it or onions will be horrible). Drain onions and throw out water. Put onion in mixing bowl, add dry ingredients and mix well. Add melted butter and egg. Mix well. Set aside.

And now for the main event.


  1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees centigrade. Remove any coverings/wrap from chicken and don’t forget to check for giblets and remove (they are in cavity). Remove fat from just inside chicken. Do stuffing when bird already in roasting dish. Put most of stuffing into the neck skin and tuck under. Put rest just inside cavity (for crispiness). Pour over 250ml water and wrap foil over the chicken. Put in oven. 
  2. Peel and halve some potatoes. Allow 3 to 6 pieces each (depending on appetite and ability to resist roast potatoes). Boil until nearly done. Watch them or they fall apart. While they are doing, peel more potatoes for mash and peel and chop carrots. Leave these in saucepans, with enough water to cover.  When roasties are parboiled, take them out and place in buttered or oiled flat dish. Dot with butter and a good sprinkle of salt. Put aside. 
  3. After 30 minutes turn down chicken to 180. 
  4. After 2 hours check chicken by sticking a sharp knife into the thigh of the leg. If the juice that comes out is clear, the chicken is nearly ready. If it’s pink, just put it back for another 20 mins. At this point drain all the juice out of the roasting dish into a small pot. Top-up with COLD water, to set any grease for ease of removal. 
  5. Leave foil off chicken and put back in oven for about 15-20 minutes to brown. Put roasties into TOP of oven when chicken goes in to brown and when chicken comes out, turn up oven to 220 to crisp up roasties. NB Take chicken out of oven and cover up with the foil to keep warm while resting. 
  6. When you turn up oven, put veggies (potatoes and carrots) on at medium heat – between 3 and 4 (that was on my sister’s cooker, you’ll have to adjust for your own as necessary). 
  7. When veggies come to boil you can make the gravy. Heat up the chicken juice (which you have already removed the grease from) to hand hot. Make up bisto paste (we always used bisto and since I don't do roast dinners very often, I've never gotten around to doing real gravy but  feel free to use your own recipe for 'proper' gravy if you like) using ¾ teaspoon in ½ cup COLD water and pour into stock while stirring. Put back on full heat and bring to boil, stirring all the time. Take off heat quickly when it boils and leave to simmer. 
  8. Also simmer carrots when they boil. Spuds can stay around medium. Put water on to boil for frozen peas. 
  9. When spuds done, drain and leave on very low heat to dry them (I can't do this on my current cooker so I just put them on a trivet and put a clean teatowel over the top of the pot, which is something I head somewhere to keep your potatoes nice and floury - the towel keeps heat in but absorbs some of the steam so you don't end up with watery spuds or something is the theory). Add some salt and put ½ cup of milk into middle of hob to warm up. After about 5 mins, add butter to spuds and mash well. Add some (maybe not all, you judge) milk and whip up with a fork.
  10. Put peas into boiling water just before you mash spuds. Take roasties out of over and turn off oven. Stir gravy before serving. 
  11. Pile everything onto plates and enjoy! 
Here’s a 20 Steps shorthand version, too:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees (centigrade) 
  2. Make stuffing, set up chicken in foil 
  3. Put chicken in oven
  4. Peel spuds for roasting and par-boil 
  5. Turn oven down to 180 
  6. Put roasties into flat dish, etc. 
  7. Peel other vegetables 
  8. Check chicken after 2 hours cooking 
  9. Take juice off chicken 
  10. Take foil off chicken 
  11. Put roasties in top of oven 
  12. Take chicken out when brown and cover with foil 
  13. Turn oven up to 220 
  14. Put on vegetables 
  15. Make gravy and stir just before serving 
  16. Boil water for peas 
  17. Put on peas 
  18. Mash spuds 
  19. Take out roasties
  20. Pile on plates and eat

Friday, April 19, 2013

QI

Not the correct spelling for 'chi' and most popular highest scoring two-letter word in Scrabble, qi.  I'm talking about QI, the comedy quiz/panel show on the BBC, hosted by Stephen Fry.  You don't just get points for the correct answers to questions (and a lot, if not most, questions are so hard no-one gets them anyway), you get points for any answers that are Quite Interesting.  I really enjoy this show, have learned a lot from watching it and just recently finished one of their books, 1,227 QI Facts to Blow your Mind.  If I start watching bits of it on youtube, I invariably end up losing hours of time.  And it's one of the few shows that will almost always have several moments where I genuinely burst out laughing.  So I thought I'd share a couple of links with you.  Most of these are shorter clips but there are full episodes available on youtube as well.  And the show is interesting enough that it's actually on my list of DVDs to buy some day when I have money (me not being the kind of person who retains information for very long, I can watch something over and over again without too much bother).  What I really like is that people get very involved and they will correct themselves if they find that something they've said is wrong (and they even took points off poor old Dara O'Briain in one series for an answer he gave in the previous series that was disputed by a member of the public).  QI also features some of my favourite comedians and other people.  In fact, there are some comedians I really like that I hadn't really heard of before seeing them on QI.  Each series is loosely based around a letter of the alphabet and since they've only made it up to 'J' so far, we hopefully have quite a few more years of hearing quite interesting stuff ahead of us.

Fair warning: some of the humour is very adult humour so you might prefer to watch this without your kids around, if you have any.

QI - Phil Jupitus hates the show (because of the sunset, you see)

QI - the scoring system

QI - nuts

QI - measuring shoe size

QI - Dara O'Briain is corrected

QI - oscars

QI - can't kill an Irishman with alcohol

QI - full episode with Brian Cox

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pretty

I pass by these magnolia trees every day on my way to and from work.  Every year when they blossom I promise myself I'll take some photos and every year for the past four years I've forgotten.  I'm trying to make the most of all the possibilities that surround me though so this year, although I nearly missed it by going away for five days (these trees weren't showing any signs of blooming this time last week), I managed to get a few pictures.  Aren't they pretty?





I think I may need to make a pretty post a regular feature, at least once a month.  It's so easy to not take proper notice of all the wonderful things that we walk past every day.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Organ donation and onion confit

Possibly not two items that automatically go together in anyone's mind but I'm tired, had a very long day at work which meant missing choir and once again, couldn't come up with anything really good to write about.  Even though I'm sure I had a good idea for 'O' last week.

Anyway, organ donation first.  I carry an organ donation card and have done for many years.  It was always a no-brainer for me - once I'm dead I won't need any of my organs anymore and if they can help anyone, that'd be great.  Of course, short-sighted, overweight and very unfit me might not have many organs that'd be deemed fit for transplant but hey, at least I'll be making the offer.  Once they're done with all that my brother is supposed to make sure I get thrown on the fire properly and then used to fertilise something nice.

I should be all conscientious now and go and research some statistics for you on how many people are on waiting lists for transplants, how many people one person can help by donating their organs and what have you.  But, well, see above re. tiredness.  What did surprise me to learn at one point was that in many (most? all?) countries even if you carry a donor card, it is still your next of kin who has to make the decision on whether to allow the donation or not.  So, if you carry a donor card please do make sure that your nearest and dearest (and any interfering busybodies who might be closely related and could possibly throw a spanner in the works) are aware of your wishes and will respect them.

If you don't already carry a donor card, please do consider getting one.  Or filling out the space on your driving licence that covers that question (in some countries anyway - it was definitely on my old licence but isn't on the new, credit card type I got here in Germany).  While you're at it, you might also consider being added to your country's bone marrow registry.  I've been on that since my brother-in-law was diagnosed with plasmacytoma about ten years ago.  I couldn't stand the thought that I might be able to do something to help and not do it.  I even got a call once that I was a potential match for someone but it was just before I left Ireland and they wouldn't let me proceed with further testing as I wasn't going to be in the country for long enough to make it to the actual donation.  But it was good that it happened as they were able to transfer my details to the German registry, something I don't think I would have thought of doing.

And as for onion confit, well, I had a lovely jar of it that I bought in a delicatessen in Brussels when I was there last year.  I finished it recently and have decided that I should give making it myself a go this year.  Anyone have any tried and tested recipes they swear by?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Notions

I am completely lacking in inspiration today and have no notion of what to write about.  I've read through the 'N' section of my small thesaurus.  I've read about twenty other blog posts by those participating in the A to Z challenge.  I even looked back through the archives of The Great Big Vegetable Challenge to see what Charlotte cooked for 'N' but came up empty on thoughts for my own post.  This post did inspire some thoughts but they don't really have anything but a tenuous connection to the letter 'N', however, since it's the best I've managed after thinking about it all day and not coming up with more than a sentence or two for any other possible topic, it'll have to do.  If nothing else, it's getting to be past my bedtime so it's time to just write something and hit the hay.

The notions I'm thinking about are the one that just never seem to occur to me.  I've been toying with the idea of entering the three-day novel writing contest ever since I read about it a couple of months ago.  I haven't written any fiction since I was in school (which I left 21 years ago) and I'm not really a very good writer (that's not me fishing for compliments, by the way, come back and check out my post on day 'W' to see some of the reasons I think that) but the idea of it did catch my imagination.  And then I read the rule about how you don't even have to submit your manuscript if you don't want to and was even more tantalised by the idea that it really is something you can just do for yourself.  My problem though, is a lack of imagination when it comes to storylines, plot points or even a starting point (coupled with a tendency to be entirely too fond of commas, exclamation marks and bracketed asides!) - I have no notions you see.  I even bought a notebook to jot down any random notions that might occur to me and have written exactly three words in it in the two months since I got it.  I have one sentence that I would like to use just for the fun of it.  And that's it.  Not a terribly promising start.  Still, even if all I could do is regurgitate some trite old storyline, it could be fun dedicating three days just to writing.

Some of the 'N' words that I considered writing about today but couldn't find a full post's worth of words for: nincompoop, natural, nourishment, night, nettles, nice (being, that is, not the place nor the biscuits), neatness, neighbours, nudity, native, nationalism, negativity, nest, nurturing.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mooncup

Disclaimer: Yes, this post is about the use of a mooncup and other non-disposable methods of sanitary protection during a period.  That means there'll be some frank descriptions of things such as the pill, periods, bodily functions and possibly vaginas. Yes, if you're the type to be offended or feel uncomfortable reading about those topics, you can run away now.  You've been warned.

I first heard of menstrual cups just after I started this blog and Liz from Pocket Farm left a comment (on this post) asking if I had ever considered using a diva cup.  I followed her link and seriously thought it was a joke.  I few months later I came across a thread on one of my favourite discussion forums and realised there was a whole world of disposable sanitary towel and tampon alternatives out there.  That discussion can be found here and is highly recommended reading.

For those who aren't already aware, a menstrual cup is a small medical grade silicon receptacle which is inserted into the vagina during a period to collect the fluids, which can then simply be tipped out and the cup re-inserted.  Washable cloth sanitary towels/pads are also widely available or can be made at home.  There are different types and lots of lovely, lovely different fabrics to choose from.  Sea sponges are another alternative to tampons but as I've never used them, I can't offer any other information on them than that they exist.

On reading the thread mentioned above, as I was trying to 'green' my life, and also because I was intrigued by people on that thread mentioning a noticeable decrease in pain and cramping after switching from disposables, I decided to give it a go.  Although by now I had accepted that menstrual cups weren't actually a joke product, never having been a fan of tampons, I wasn't sure I'd like using one and so I opted to get some cloth pads instead.  I ordered 12 from Wee Notions and honestly never looked back.  They come in lots of lovely different fabrics and I have to admit that especially at the beginning, I got a real kick every time I went to the toilet and instead of looking down at the same old white, I was looking at swirls of blue and pink or black and white.  That might be just me though.  I get the same kind of kick when I (very, very occasionally) paint my toenails, even though I don't ever wear open-toe shoes.  My own secret little splash of colour, so to speak.

I became a dedicated fan of washables and although I still liked the idea of the mooncup (that's the type I have now, there are lots of different brands available - menstrual cups have been around since the 1930s!), I decided that I was so happy with my washable towels it didn't matter.  I went from needing to take the pill and using strong prescription painkillers just to make it through some days when I had my period and even then sometimes having to miss a day or two of work to having minimal pain that could be either just borne with or handeled using ordinary painkillers and being able to come off the pill, too.  A while after starting to use washables, I was invited to a wedding and happened to have my period.  Not wanting to have to carry around dirty towels with me all day, as well as having bought a ridiculously tiny handbag to use, I decided to just go ahead and use up some of the always towels I still had lying around.  Within a couple of hours I had started to have the most incredible cramps.  Of a type that I hadn't even realised I was missing.  Definitely different than the ordinary cramps I had since gotten used to and it reminded me that when I first started using them, I had noticed that the type of cramps I was having were not only far less severe but they reminded me of when I first starting having my period.  I managed to get through that day and after that made sure to get rid of any disposable towels I still had left and have never used them since.

That day convinced me, however, that I should consider at least trying the mooncup, as it would be ideal for a day when you don't want to be carrying supplies with you.  So I bought one.  And then did nothing but take it out of the packaging for a look and think to myself, "Must try that sometime".  Eventually I did try it once or twice but really didn't click with it at all.  I waited until I got my period at a weekend, and luckily it was a weekend when my housemate was away, too, so no-one to notice if I was spending longer than usual in the bathroom or wonder what the hell this silicon thing was boiling away on the cooker.  I didn't heed the advice I'd heard over and over again to cut as much as possible off the stem and, well, ouch!  I eventually did get it down to something I feel comfortable with, probably a little bit over half a centimetre.  But I also really struggled to just contort my body in such a way as to be able to get the bloody thing (pun intended) in or out.  Once the contortions had finished, I really did like it, but it just all seemed like too much hard work somehow and since I loved my washables so much I just left it in the cupboard.

A while after moving to Germany I decided I really should give it a proper go again.  Same thing, I used it once and then felt like it was too much like hard work and gave up.  But at the beginning of last year I really, finally, actually made a proper effort.  I re-read through the thread I've mentioned above, I read through all the FAQs on the mooncup website and anything else I found that I thought might help and I gave it a proper go, telling myself that I was going to use it every month for at least six months, even if I only used it for one day each month, and that if after that I still didn't like it, I'd just leave it be.  It took about three months for me to get it figured out and by the end of six, I couldn't imagine ever being without it.  

I had blamed a lot of it on being overweight and therefore not as agile as I felt I needed to be but really, it turns out that I just needed to find the way that really worked for me.  For what it's worth, for me that means a slight squat and then going up on tiptoe.  I discovered this completely by accident but this position seems to tilt my pelvis at just exactly the right angle to allow me to really easily insert the mooncup.  The body is a funny old thing.  Before I figured that out I had had some success with making sure that my back was against a wall (otherwise I sort of kept pushing myself backwards and could never get a grip on the ruddy thing).  Lots of people say that using the mooncup really made them feel more in touch with their bodies and I must say, I have to agree.  I had already had some of that feeling from using washable pads but using the mooncup took it to a whole new level.  I've always been a big fan of masturbation so I would have thought that I was fairly well acquainted with my body.  But now I really am (maybe it's just because I'm less, er, distracted when I'm putting the mooncup in or taking it out and therefore I'm paying more attention) and I've found that to be a fairly powerful thing.  I wasn't brought up to be ashamed of my body but women aren't generally encouraged to pay too close attention beyond what's absolutely necessary to "down there" (oh how that phrase annoys me, even if I do use it on occasion) and that, I find, is a pity.  

So anyway, the mooncup gets a big thumbs up from me.  It is especially wonderful when travelling and as I managed to time my long holiday to Australia in December to be having my period on both the flight there and the flight back (only me!), I was extra pleased to have taken to the time to really give it a chance and make it work.  It may not be for everyone but if you do decide to try it out, please do give it a few months.  It takes time to get used to but it is well worth it.  Although I did have the initial cash outlay for the washable pads (which I still use as panty liners) as well as for the mooncup, I had recouped that money after only a few months of not having to buy disposable towels.  So over the five plus years I've been using non-disposable forms of sanitary protection, I have saved myself a LOT of money.  And saved a huge amount of unnecessary waste adding to landfill or worse, ending up polluting our seas.  If you're a woman who gets periods, please do consider switching to non-disposables and for all men and all women, even if you don't have a use for it yourself, please do consider telling your daughters, friends and anyone you think might listen.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday night chit-chat

Very early today, it's not even really evening yet but I'm heading out shortly to meet some friends for an early dinner before I head off to watch a concert that my old choir are holding this evening.  So rather than missing it entirely, I thought I'd just post something now and then add a photo and the bonus question later on.

Dublin - Ha'penny Bridge at night


What are you:
Reading
A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, which finally arrived to my Kindle last week.  Last part of this epic series and although I sort of half intended to read the full series again before starting on the final part, I haven't been able to resist it.

Watching
Have the RTE news from last night on in the background as someone told me that our Messiah on the Street performance was on it.  Although I don't remember seeing a camera there - we'll see.

Listening to
Just the news at the moment.  Will be listening to Our Lady's Choral Society later on.

Cooking/baking
Not a thing.  I'm on holidays!  Had a full Irish breakfast for brunch today and heading to a Thai restaurant for dinner later.

Happy you accomplished this week
I got a few things cleared in work that had built up and been left lying since I was sick during January and February and was really pleased to get so much done before having a few days off.  Not quite caught up but noticeably getting there.  Have also managed to enjoy my few days and have packed plenty in, catching up with family and friends, fitting in a much-needed haircut, too.

Looking forward to next week
Flotation, flotation, flotation.  Have a session booked for tomorrow morning and am really, really looking forward to it.  After that I'll head across town to meet another friend for lunch before heading to the airport to fly home again.

Thankful for today
It may sound strange but right now I am thankful for not being the kind of bad-tempered bitch that shouted at me in the hotel car park.  And that just because I was trying to give her enough space to get at her boot to take something out.  I'd like to be generous enough to try and understand she might be just having a bad day but I'm not and instead will just be glad that I do try most of the time to not be unnecessarily nasty.

Bonus question: what is your ideal wake-up time and what time do you usually wake up?
My ideal time is whenever I wake up.  I dislike more and more having to wake up to the sound of the alarm clock.  Given that I work fixed hours, however, I have to to stick with it for the foreseeable future.  That means being up by about eight.  During the winter I really struggle to get out of bed when it's dark outside so my alarm is set to the latest possible time.  Once the mornings start to get brighter earlier I'll often find myself waking before the alarm and then my ideal time to get up becomes about half-six so that I can go swimming before work.  Whatever time I wake at though, I need my eight hours sleep.  I can manage on seven but any less than that and I may make it through one day but will struggle after that and badly need a very early night to catch up.

If you fancy joining in with Sunday night chit-chat, head on over to to Half-Dozen Daily a bit later.

Messiah on the street

Here's what I was doing yesterday afternoon.  It rained the entire time and I spoiled the aesthetics of all the photos by keeping my green hat on for most of it.  Amazing how much more difficult I found it to keep concentration up while singing outdoors.  Good fun though.

http://www.thejournal.ie/handel-messiah-dublin-fishamble-street-868654-Apr2013/

Labels

When I first started blogging I was delighted to figure out how to attach labels to my posts.  I began to rapidly accumulate a long list of labels.  One for every post it seemed sometimes.  So then I merged a few similar ones, went back through old posts and corrected them and things were fine for a while.  It's one thing to go through a few months worth of posts and redo them.

The first time I went through a phase where every single post seemed to have the label "unloading brain", I started to feel bad about only ever seeming to choose that label and so I just stopped.  And although I have occasionally since then assigned labels to posts, by and large I really haven't.  And it'd be a whole other thing to go through what is now more than six years of posts.  I'll get around to it one day, but it may be a while.

I find myself wondering what the optimum number of labels is, if there even is such a thing and would be interested to hear others views on this. My instinct is that somewhere between ten and twenty might be a good number.  On the one hand, I'd like to have labels general enough that you don't need to create dozens of sub-sets just to accurately cover what you're writing about.  On the other, a too general label that will present you with dozens of posts to search through on any one area is not necessarily the best thing either.  Do you use labels on your blog?  Have you restricted it to a certain number or do you just keep adding new ones as they occur to you?  Do you use labels when reading someone else's blog in order to read posts on a topic you're particularly interested in or to find a particular post that you remember?  I'm really interested to hear what other people think about this.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Kuala Lumpur

I was going to write about kindness today.  But writing while on holidays is challenging, to say the least.  Luckily I've been able to get wireless internet access everywhere I've stayed so far, which is a help.  I have a  small picture on my wall that I bought when I was about 15 that simply says:

The greatest kindness we can offer one another is truth

It resonated with me the minute I saw it and has continued to do so over the years.  Which means that although I sometimes feel that I would like to be a kinder person, my bluntness and conviction that the truth is so important has sometimes led to some awkward moments.  Thankfully I have another saying from my mum  that helps to balance things out:

If you can't find anything nice to say, don't say anything at all

At any rate, that's about all the words I can find at the moment so instead of a well-thought out post, I'm presenting you this evening with a couple of pictures from Kuala Lumpur, my stopover when I went to Australia in December.

Petronas Towers - 88 floors high

Batik factory

Fruit stall

Sultan's palace

View towards the town (and the Petronas Towers) from outside the Sultan's palace, including the gathering rainclouds - note to self, next time you think about going to Malaysia, check whether it's monsoon season or not!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

J is for some nice names...and jam

Not that I can actually share those names with you, though.  That would defeat the anonymous nature of this blog.  But my own name does start with a J, as does my baby brother's name.  And I spent a lovely few hours in his company today, so he's as good a subject for today's blog post as any other.  He even ran back the ten minutes to the car to rescue my phone after I had a brain fart and forgot to check I had removed all valuables from sight when we parked and headed off for a nice lunch.

He's a funny soul, my brother.  He has a way of looking at things and a way of thinking that blows my mind sometimes.  I have, on occasion, come across an idea or a philosophy and really struggled with wrapping my head around it and the implications of it.  And then tried to explain it to my brother and had him simply make an off-hand remark demonstrating that he had come to the same conclusions all by himself, without needing to have ever read it in a book.  And then there was the time that I was trying to explain about how I sometimes feel self-conscious going to the sauna in Germany (where nudity is the order of the day).  It's more that I feel self-conscious about the idea of it than the actuality, especially since I'm so short-sighted that once I'm there and not wearing my glasses, I can't really see enough of myself to feel bad anyway.  At any rate, I was talking about this to my brother once and he asked me why I was getting bothered about it and on my somewhat feeble reply, he simply stated the blindingly obvious truth that if it's body-shape that concerns me but I don't feel self-conscious about going swimming, then there shouldn't be a problem.  Because when all's said and done, a swimsuit doesn't hide much of your body-shape at all.  The kind of exquisitely simple thought that takes your breath away and makes you wonder what you've been making a big deal of it all in your head for.

So here's to my little brother (all six foot five or so of him, although as I have reminded him of since he first had a serious growth spurt as a teenager, I still win on overall surface area!), who is also one of my best friends, the one I know I will get no judgement from no matter what and the one who will put up with just enough of my bullshit and no more.  As well as being the one who is always appreciative when I give him some homemade chutney or jam.  Speaking of which...

...(did you like my segue there?  Very clever I thought.) after having not gotten around to making any jam last year, except for perhaps one batch of raspberry, I've decided that it definitely needs to be on the agenda for this summer's preserving efforts.  Plenty of strawberry and raspberry, of course, but also some apple jelly.  And I'll probably be spending quite a bit of time on the Food in Jars blog, trawling for other ideas and recipes, too.  There was one for a tomato and peach (although she used tomato and mango, which also sounds good) jam recently that sounded amazing.  I need to expand a bit into the more savoury jams this season as well because I had a jar of onion confit that I bought last year in Brussels that was really delicious and I'd really like to have a go at that, too.  We're still months away from the summer bounty hitting the markets, especially given how long this winter is dragging on for, but this is around the time that I need to start slowly psyching myself up for it all.  It's a form of spring cleaning, I suppose.  Reviewing my supply of jars, thinking about what to do and gradually giving the kitchen the deep cleaning it badly needs so that by the time things kick off in earnest, everything will be ready and waiting.  With a bit of luck the mental preparation will have paid off by then as well so that it doesn't feel overwhelming and can actually just be enjoyed for the great pleasure that preparing foods to extend your harvest into the winter can bring.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ireland

Am I being obvious again?  I may not have chosen Ireland as my "I" word except for the fact that I'm sitting in the airport, waiting to board a plane for Dublin shortly.  People often ask me how often I go home.  The funny thing is that I have more and more difficulty saying I'm going home when I'm flying to Ireland.  I left because I didn't like it and I've always felt more comfortable and more like I belong in Germany.  Although I accept that part of that comes from my first experiences away from my very dysfunctional family being in Germany.  My first taste of freedom.  My first taste of what it was like to just be me and not someone's daughter, someone's sister, someone's friend.  But this post is about Ireland, not Germany.

I don't go home, then, on a very regular basis.  I sort of aim for about once a year and usually end up going twice or three times because something has come up.  There was the memorable April last year when I ended up going back two weekends in a row for funerals as well as for my planned weekend at the end of April.  And then I ended up having to go over for a few days in September to deal with some bank stuff.   Or there's a wedding to go to or someone has had a baby.  This year, I'm heading for a long weekend so that I can (a) have a few days off work and (b) sing along with my old choir when they perform excerpts from the Messiah on Fishamble Street, the site of the theater in which the original performance was held all those years ago.

I also saw recently that the book chosen for "Dublin: One City, One Book" is Strumpet City and that's one of those books I've meant to read for years and years so I'll be sure to pick up a copy when I'm there.  Any excuse to go to Chapters, the big second-hand book shop in the city centre.  And it's really close to the Kingfisher restaurant so I'll be able to time it to stop there to have egg and chips (and a pint of milk) for lunch.

Although I do miss friends and family when I'm not there, especially as most of my friends now have kids and I don't get to spend much time at all with them, the five days I spend in Dublin will be more than enough for me.  At least I'll be spared too much travel on the bus as I decided to go ahead and hire a car for the time I'm there!  I'm officially forgetting about debt while I'm away and although I won't go mad I know I will be pushing some of the cost to next month.  But I've once again reached a point where I don't care and I just want to pay for the convenience of some things rather than take the cheaper but more hassle-full way of doing things.  Next year, it would be nice to go for a longer holiday but to go out of Dublin to one of the nicer spots on the west coast, perhaps.  Or maybe somewhere down in Cork or Kerry, both beautiful places.

I feel much better at least.  Thanks for your well wishes.  It's only a short flight so with a bit of luck I'll sleep most of the way.  It's the only way to fly!

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Hellish

That's pretty much the way I'm feeling at the moment.  Should be doing a lovely post about my upcoming holiday and instead I'm learning that apparently my body does not take kindly to be asked to deal with a hayfever hypersensitisation shot the day after having gotten a polio/tetanus/diptheria immunisation.  Both doctors thought it should be fine and I'm not too seriously sick I suppose.  But I definitely don't feel normal and am sweating like a pig.  And on that lovely image I'll leave ye.  I'm heading home to bed and am daring the wrath of the IT people by posting this from work so that I won't even be tempted to switch on my computer when I get home.  Hopefully I'll sleep well enough that I can get up early in the morning to pack before work.  Sooooo looking forward to a few days off.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Glasses

The spectacle type that is.  I bought new glasses just before I moved over here.  Snazzy red ones for my snazzy new life.  Or something.  I never did follow through on the rest of the whole new image idea because life got in the way somehow (not the first time I've thought about doing something like that.  Once when I started a new job, I booked an appointment with a personal shopper at Debenhams. I had to wait quite a bit before there was a Saturday morning one free and by the time it came around I had completely forgotten it.  She rang me fifteen minutes before I was supposed to be there to make sure I knew where to go and I was still fast asleep at home.  So that didn't work out either).

That means that I've had my current glasses for nearly five years ago now and what with them starting to look a bit beaten up as well as the prospect of being debt-free before too much longer, it seems like a new pair of glasses might not be a bad idea.  This idea is, of course, helped along by the fact that I pass by two different opticians every day and one of them has a pair of frames in their window at the moment that I really like.  They're green, with dark green around the lens and a much lighter shade on the arms.  Very cute.  And green does suit me very well.  Matches my eyes, you see.  On the other hand, these are designer frames that cost over two hundred euro just for the frame.  I'm used to going to the type of place where you practically get the frames for free and just have to pay for the actual lenses and whatever anti-scratch, anti-reflective, super-duper anti-this that and the other finishes they manage to talk you into.  And let's face it, most designer logos are kind of ugly and, on glasses anyway, far too prominent.  I don't often see something that I really like though in a shop window though, so I'll definitely be keeping the style and colours in mind when I do get around to getting new glasses.  Maybe then I should start thinking about that whole new image idea again!

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Sunday night chit-chat

I took this photo last Monday evening walking along the Rhine near my house.  I took one without the sunset setting on the camera and one (this one) with. It makes quite a difference.  Now that the weather seems to be starting to improve somewhat (it got up to ten degrees today!) I'm hoping to incorporate lots more walks along the river into my life again.  It can never match the see but it's nice to be near the water.  And something I'll sit near one of the parts where there are some rocks along the sides of the river and close my eyes and when one of the really big container ships goes past it nearly sounds like real waves.

And now for some chit-chat

What are you:
Reading
Atonement by Ian McEwan - didn't ever want to read it because I saw the film and while I thought it was okay, I didn't like it that much.  But it's for book club and only a few chapters in I'm very glad that someone suggested it.

Watching
I've been watching old clips from the Good Life on youtube (and have added the DVD boxset to my list of things to get when I have some spare money).  There was some discussion about it on the Green Living Forum yesterday so I had to go looking for my favourite christmas speciall (from 1977 silly but it's fun) on youtube and once you start, it's hard to stop.

Listening to
Sound of boiling water from the kitchen, need to type fast and go and rescue my mooncup soon.

Cooking/baking
I made some chickpea and white bean casserole earlier and that's it for today.

Happy you accomplished this week
Made it through the first week of the Blogging from A to Z challenge.  And I went to the European and World Irish Dancing Championships yesterday with some friends and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I also found time to do some research on the exam I hope to do next year and found out there are only two places that do the preparation courses.  Hope to make contact with at least one of them next week but am already fairly sure which one I'll end up using.

Looking forward to next week
A couple of days off work and a trip back to Ireland for a few days to catch up with family and friends, not to mention the opportunity to sing along with the Messiah on the Street performance next week to celebrate the original performance of Messiah in Dublin.

Thankful for today
That the days are finally getting longer.  It makes such a difference!  Oh, and for my mooncup - so glad I persevered until I got the hang of it.

Bonus question: what is your regular day-to-day outfit?
Generally a pair of black trousers and a blouse (have several different colours of the same one, comfy, easy to care for but smart enough for work - if I find something that works, I stick with it).  In cold weather I'll have a vest-top on underneath and maybe leggings under the trousers.  Once I get home I change into tracksuit bottoms, t-shirt and, if necessary, a fleece.

If you fancy joining in with Sunday night chit-chat, head on over to Half-Dozen Daily to post your link.


Saturday, April 06, 2013

Farmers

I'm finding it difficult to summon up the energy to do anything much today, much less find inspiration for writing.  So let's keep it simple and let today be all about a big shout-out for the farmers who work hard producing food for us to eat.  Note: by farmers I do mean farmers and not factory owners, which is unfortunately what far too many people involved in agriculture have become.

Here's a link to a documentary I've linked to before but isn't any less interesting when watching for a second time.  Farm for the future - Rebecca Hosking (this is a youtube link, the film is nearly 50 minutes long).  Enjoy!

Friday, April 05, 2013

Evenings out

I was going to do a post all about eggs today.  Complete with photos of my planned supper of a boiled egg in one of my lovely new egg cups along with soldiers swimming in butter.  I stopped in to the shop of a friend of mine on the way home though.  We shared a couple of glasses of champagne while she continued to do some sewing and then she'd had enough and wanted to go home and invited me to go with her.  I rarely do anything that spontaneous and my first instinct was to say no but I honestly just couldn't think of any reason not to go.

So off we went.  Got to her place in time to spend an hour or so playing with her one-year old son, had a lovely supper of bread, cheese, cold cuts and dried tomatoes and zucchini as well as a very nice bottle of wine and some grapes and one or two chocolates for dessert.  Her lovely mum is visiting at the moment as well and her partner was very excited to hear that I might be going home soon because he knows there's the possibility I might bring him back some nice whiskey.  Good food, good company and then an episode of Tatort.  I don't have a television but did always enjoy Tatort years ago when I was a student here and had access to one.  It's a police drama that has been running here for over forty years.  Here's the wiki link for Tatort if you're interested.  There is a certain feeling of immersing myself in real German life any time I watch it.

I've had a lovely evening, all the nicer for the fact that it was unexpected.  And although the date stamp on this post will probably show tomorrow already, it's not that long after midnight so I'm going to allow myself to consider myself to still be keeping up with the whole blogging every day thing.  Even if I didn't have much to say and very little energy left to say it with. :-)

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Doom, Table of

Okay, that may be a teeny tiny bit of a cheat for "D" but when I signed up for this challenge I immediately thought that four days was more than enough to finish up and I'd be able to use today to show off photos of the Table of Doom, finally de-doomed.  But I wasn't reckoning on having to work until after nine two days in a row so it doesn't look a whole lot different than it did on Sunday, after all.  But it's definitely time to get back to it.  Mid-way through February, this post showed how much progress I had made.  I did actually deal with the pile on the left side of that photo and then I headed off to Halle for Happy Birthday Handel, came back and promptly succumbed to a nasty bout of bronchitis.  I did get up at some stage to try and finish off the last few bits and pieces as well as to get rid of some very, very old flowers on a side-table just to the right of this one.  And remembered that when the Table of Doom was getting very full and threatening to overflow onto the floor not long before I went on holidays in December, I moved a big pile of stuff over to that side table.  Aaagggh.  Doesn't quite feel like I'm back where I started but nearly does.  

So I have no photo of a lovely clear table to share with you this evening.  I didn't even get any done today because I went swimming after work (couldn't drag myself out of bed early enough to go before work) and now I feel all lovely and tired and am going to have an early night.  At least I did something active though!

I'm going to try and tackle the Table of Doom at the weekend and if that doesn't work out, I'll just have to go back to my original 5-a-day plan. 

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Curiosity

I racked my brain all day* trying to come up with a suitable topic for C.  And yet it wasn't until I was on my way home, too exhausted to even read and so just letting my mind wander while staring out the window of the tram, that it came to me.  Forget about cucumbers (surely one of the most disgusting tasting things on the planet), forget about cocks and cunts and several other naughty and/or offensive-to-some words that I would never have been able to pull off writing about, forget about courgettes (because I badly need to keep zucchini in reserve for day Z), curiosity is where it's at.

It's possible that I have written about this before but since it's late and I want to get something posted for day C, I'm not going to bother searching the blog for it.  And if I have posted this before, in all honestly, I still get so annoyed about it that I have no problem with repeating myself.

I'm a big fan of Stephen Fry.  I liked him when I was a teenager watching A Bit of Fry and Laurie.  I liked him when I discovered a few years later that he was also an author and I read Making History.  I really like QI and I have enjoyed many hours reading his blog and watching youtube clips of him discussing events and topics like dying languages (his cameo in Ros na Rún, done while making a documentary about Irish, was pretty funny, too).  I have a lot of respect for many of his opinions and so I was very pleased to buy and start reading the second volume of his autobiography, The Fry Chronicles.  But then I discovered that on at least one topic I most definitely do not agree with him and I even found it difficult to believe that he could be so misguided.  Here's the paragraph that set me off:

"There are young men and women up and down the land who happily (or unhappily) tell anyone who will listen that they don't have an academic turn of mind, or that they aren't lucky enough to have been blessed with a good memory, and yet can recite hundreds of pop lyrics and reel off any amount of information about footballers, cars and celebrities.  Why?  Because they are interested in those things.  They are curious.  If you are hungry for food you are prepared to hunt high and low for it.  If you are hungry for information it is the same.  Information is all around us, now more than ever before in human history.  You barely have to stir or incommode yourself to find things out.  The only reason people do not know much is because they do not care to know.  They are incurious.  Incuriosity is the oddest and most foolish failing there is.

Picture the world as being a city whose pavements are covered a foot deep in gold coins.  You have to wade through them to make progress.  Their clinking and rattling fills the air.  Imagine that you met a beggar in such a city.
'Please, give me something.  I am penniless.'
'But look around you,' you would shout.  'There is gold enough to last you your whole life.  All you have to do is to bend down and pick it up!'
When people complain that they don't know any literature because it was badly taught at school, or that they missed out on history because on the timetable it was either that or biology, or some such ludicrous excuse, it is hard not to react in the same way.
'But it's all around you!' I want to scream.  'All you have to do is bend down and pick it up!' "

What annoys me is that this does not allow for the curiosity being drummed out of you by, for example, parents who don't have the time or the inclination to answer your questions and who continually tell their children to shut up, stop bothering them, go and watch telly.  Never mind those that might try to beat it out of their kids.  If you have any contact with kids and have seen how wonderfully curious they are about the world and absolutely everything in it, you may agree with the above.  But now imagine for a moment that that wonderfully curious child is told every day, multiple times, not to ask so many questions, or worse, not to be so stupid or any number of variations on a theme.  Imagine that they go to a school where questioning is not encouraged or even actively discouraged.  Or when slightly older, perhaps then having to deal with teasing and pressure from classmates for being a swot.  How long do you think it might take before curiosity is buried so deep it seems to have disappeared completely?  Or what about those people who are depressed and could no more find a speck of curiosity in themselves than they could produce a carefree smile?


I know that my own experiences colour my view on this topic.  But I genuinely don't believe that I am alone in this because there are so many people who really have gone through some of the really horrible, perhaps extreme, examples above, so much worse than I went through as a teenager.  And I try, I really do and more and more so as I go along.  But I don't think it's ever going to come as naturally to me as it probably once did.  And it's definitely true that I missed out on a lot of time in school and college, even simply by virtue of the fact that it was such a rote-learning experience in the time and place I was.  It's also true that I bemoan the fact that I was never really taught critical thinking far too often instead of just trying to learn now.  And that kind of thing is undoubtedly what he means.  But I know myself well enough and have come to terms with my past enough to know that the full blame for my incuriosity does not lie entirely at my feet.


So in an effort to end on a somewhat positive note my call to everyone is to please always encourage curiosity, even if it may inconvenience you slightly in the moment.  If someone asks you why, especially if a child asks why, take the time to explain it.  There aren't enough mentors in the world, I reckon.  And in the meantime I have tried to a certain extent to fake it till I make it by adopting as one of my guidelines for life something I read a while ago: to be interesting, be interested!




*This may be a slight exaggeration but I definitely thought about it more than once