Friday, December 30, 2016

Merry Everything & Happy Always

A couple of days after Christmas I stumbled across a jpeg that I wish I had found before Christmas. I really struggled with Christmas this year - especially in the "putting seasons greetings out there" department!

My own version - not too Christmasy.

Why did I struggle? I can tell you that, aside from missing family, it wasn't so much a personal struggle. 

It was a struggle for the friends that have lost someone during this last year & there seemed to be so many of them. From the one whose son left this world on Christmas day last year - to the one whose son left in April, the dear friend whose Mum died, an ocean away, a few days before Christmas, the one who buried her husband 2 days before Christmas &  the one whose husband passed on Christmas Eve. Then there is the one who is being nursed through the final stages of pancreatic cancer, by her daughter, along with the lovely lady I have just met that has had to admit her Mum to a dementia facility.
Some of these people I have met & consider friends, others I have known for years online - exchanged cards, beads & emails with & I consider them friends too.

The thing is it's academic as to whether I know them in reality  - or not. I don't need to have sat down with them in person to know that the first Christmas without someone who once was a part of you & your life is just bloody awful - or that a death anywhere near Christmas is always going to become an inextricable part of the whole Christmas thing from that day on.

I don't need to have sat down with them to know that often those trite comments, although well intentioned, sometimes just don't help - or seeing another make a comparison to a loss they have suffered is sometimes a bit meaningless because it isn't their loss. Trying to find the right thing to say, while acknowledging that their grief is immense & overwhelming, yet completely unique to them & not comparable to anyone else's grief, is difficult.

Amidst all the celebrity deaths this Christmas Season I felt most for the people I know. While a celebrity will impact our life to some degree & we will mourn their loss, it doesn't actually change our life the way losing a loved one does.
There is not that sudden shift in our psyche that tells us in no uncertain terms that life, as we knew it up until that moment, has just changed never to be life as we knew it again.

I do know that it gets better - no, that is not the right word. I do know that it gets less intense as time wears on - but I also know that in those first few months it sure as hell doesn't feel like it is going to.

I also know that the last thing you feel is as if Christmas is Merry - or even worth celebrating, & that the New Year that is unavoidably rushing towards you is scary. On the one hand it can't be as bad as the current one because the worst thing imaginable has already happened -  on the other hand it can't possibly be happy because you have lost a part of yourself.

One day, in the future Christmas won't seem quite as bleak for these friends as it does now. The happiness will start to sneak back in - but will always be tinged with a little sadness, & a longing for what once was, at this time of year. 

With that in mind, & rather than being too seasonally specific, I thought that the greeting
"Merry Everything and Happy Always" was rather fitting for the long term, on multiple levels.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Today We Celebrate "Carole Day"

Today, Boxing Day, we celebrate my Mum. First & foremost in our family, Boxing Day was Mum's Birthday.

I'll never forget her telling us when we were younger about one year, when she was a youngster, no one remembered her birthday until after lunch time.
As a child back in England,  her extended family would get together & stay with an Uncle (& Aunt) who was the caretaker for a school over the Christmas season. Both of my Grandparents came from large families & this was the only venue that could accommodate everyone. Mum had wonderful memories of this time - but the 'almost forgotten' birthday had stayed with her, too.

Knowing that, we always prioritised her Birthday over "Boxing Day".
Mum's wish for her Birthday was always to be surrounded by all of her family - but to not have to do any work. As adults we tried to make that happen with limited amounts of success. The time of year & outside invitations would sometimes get in the way - especially as our family got bigger.

The joy of a summer birthday - picnics & cricket with family.

Although I miss her every single day, I have also come to realise that I carry her with me.
On the surface I miss sharing my excitement at new things & discoveries with her - knowing that she is only as far away as a quick message on Facebook, a video chat on Skype or at the end of a phone line. I miss having someone that shared many of the same interests & the same tastes in things as I do. I miss her encouragement in my projects & joy she would show at their completion.

At a deeper level I have realised that I  carry her with me in pretty much everything I do. She is there in almost everything I attempt.
Every book I read I know whether Mum would have enjoyed it or not. Every TV program or series I watch has, in some way, been shaped by those that Mum enjoyed. I can't help but think as I watch Outlander, Wolf Hall & Versailles how much Mum would have enjoyed them.

When I garden & there will be some part of the process that I look up & notice something....& think "Oh, Mum would have loved this one".
I sew & I hear her saying "I wish I could sew like you Deb, I never could sew well"( although that was an absolute crock, she could!!) or I sit with crocheting or knitting, don't like they way things look, so  pull the work undone & change the pattern  - then hear her saying "You are such a perfectionist, Deb!". I can't even get away from it when I go out shopping - I see clothes & homewares & think "Ohhhhh, Mum would have loved that". She had such great, trendy taste in clothes & knew what suited her & what didn't.

I think the only thing we didn't share was her love of cooking & baking.
I'm working on that though & I am pretty sure that she was sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear "texture, Deb - it's all about the dough texture" when I had another go at her shortbread the other day. I know it was her hand guiding me when I made the Mandarin Mousse & had to adjust the liquid to allow for the fact that the jellies here in Australia seem to set a lot firmer than the jellies available in NZ.
I know I was subconsciously channelling her on Christmas Eve when I was making the stuffing, realised that I didn't have any celery & uttered a very specific string of expletives - only to hear Allan say "Yes, Carole". lol!

This morning I celebrated with the perfect Mandarin Mousse for Breakfast, in one of
her bowls! But this time I had made it!
As a very wise friend recently said "Birthdays are all about birth, not how many years one reaches, not about them not being here, but about the fact they were here - that is what we celebrate".

So to the Mum who shaped me in more ways than I ever realised - "Happy 79th Birthday".
Thank you for all of  your beautiful, positive input in my life - for showing me, through example, the true meaning of the word "strength" & for your constant unconditional love & encouragement.

To any family who don't think that "public"(as in within my friends lists) displays of grief or of missing people are appropriate, or that ongoing recognition of special dates are the done thing - you quite obviously didn't understand Mum as well as you thought you did.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Caroles Shortbread Step by Step

Originally published in December 2008 I'm reposting this recipe of Mum's (well technically it was Granny Battens) because a couple of people have asked for it.

It was always a favourite with friends & family, with many people requesting it if Mum offered to make them something for an occasion or event of some sort, often with the comment that no one else's shortbread had that same melt in the mouth texture or tasted as good.
The trick, according to Mum was truly in the texture of the dough & letting the bottom of the shortbread develop a light golden colour when cooking.

One of the things I miss is hearing Mum say "I have to make my Christmas shortbread this weekend"...& then reel off a list of all the people she was making some!

Let the baking begin!
Mum's 'basic' Shortbread recipe:
  • 1/2 lb butter
  • 2 1/2 cups standard flour
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup cornflour

When I saw Mum squinting at the scales I suggested that she actually wear her glasses.... then quickly took a photo of her when everything was mixing up. She has her shortbread recipe down to an art - & is more concerned with the correct texture than the exact amounts of anything.

Cream the softened butter, & icing sugar until light & fluffy, almost white. (Pour gin & tonic each whilst these are creaming away merrily.)
Gradually add the flour & cornflour, sifted together . Now when Mum says gradually - she means gradually & letting it mix in well between each addition (this gives you time to throw together some crackers & camembert to have with the G&T).
You may or may not use all of the flour, the important thing is to stop adding when you have a soft dough
that has just reached the stage where it no longer sticks to your mixer or fingers, if you pick up a bit & pinch it between them.

Have a sip of your G&T, & empty the dough onto a lightly floured surface & form into a log.


Rolling, rolling, rolling until you have a whopper

Slice, not too thinly (Mum makes each slice about 10mm thick), & squeeze the log back into shape between each slice.
Place on a baking tray that is carefully being guarded by the G&T.

Place in an oven that has been preheated to 150 celsius - 300 fahrenheit for 30 minuteschecking from 20 minutes onwards - if the bottom is lightly golden, it's done! If the bottom is still pale it just doesn't taste the same.

Ahh the part I was waiting for, licking the mixer - a 40 something year old daughter who really only wanted to relive her childhood & see if licking the mixer was the best part of the whole process! Perhaps it's the second best thing - these days it seems that warm shortbread fresh out of the oven is the best part.

** This was my Grandmother's recipe & traditionally it was rolled flat, cut into squares, pinched at the corners & pricked a couple of times with the fork before being baked. I clearly recall 40 odd years ago watching Mum make it that way & it all sticking to the bench top & tearing when she went to put the spatula under it to remove it. With an exclamation of 'bother - there has got to be an easier way than this' she scooped up the lot rolled it into the log & started slicing , the method she uses today.

A link to the original post is below:

Thursday, February 18, 2016


There I sat on Valentines Day 2016 - unsettled. Unable to stay focused on anything...except for the fact that Christchurch had just experienced another Earthquake, just a 8 days short of that dreadful day in 2011 when life, as us Cantabrians knew it, changed.

The ridiculous thing, for me personally, is the way my body reacted the second I read that single status saying "F!#k - that was a big one". When someone from Christchurch posts that - you know that it isn't just another four point something aftershock type affair - we almost got used to those.
No, my body went straight into fight or flight response, heart racing, restricted vision & coiled like a spring while I looked around me trying to figure what to do............. then realising I was 2,504 kilometers away.

With shaking hands I put a call out on Social Media for Christchurch friends to check in. My head said "Family & Friends" by my hands weren't listening. My thoughts were rushing trying to remember that old mental checklist of names of everyone I needed to check on. I missed loads of names. Fortunately I got quick responses on Facebook, saw posts commenting on the quake &, as I was starting to really stress, a phone from my eldest daughter, Michaela.

But what was it with that reaction? That surge of adrenalin, that left me shaking, alternating between tearful &  unable to focus on anything for the rest of the day. Not to mention feeling exhausted for  days afterwards!

I know those experiences haven't truly left me - I get reminders. Helicopters flying over will cause a temporary stillness while my mind takes that brief pause to figure it is not another civil defence emergency. Parking under buildings still always triggers that "what if" in my mind as I go in - & for the most part I will park in the open given the choice. The city here - I don't even contemplate taking my car in - preferring to catch the train, not just for convenience.
Sitting on a wooden deck having a coffee with a friend, & the deck will shake for some reason.....& there it is, that pounding that triggers my body into high alert. These days at least I manage to stay seated. 
The first time that happened it was just a bird landing on the patio out of our sight, such a tiny shudder of the floor beneath me & I catapulted out of my chair & froze - waiting to see if that movement got bigger before fleeing. Thank goodness for the gentle voice next to me that realised what was happening with me & said "it's ok, Deb, it's just a bird", bringing me back to earth.

Back when the Earthquakes first started people used to tell me that I was so strong, & I probably was - I had to be for my kids & my Mum. In the months that I stayed with Mum before moving here, I realised that my "strong" had run out. Roles were reversed. Living out near the beach gave a whole new perspective on how nasty each & every one of those "aftershocks" truly was. They just felt different - so very much harsher than just 6 kilometers inland. An even nastier kind of nasty. Hence some of the references to a city divided.

So almost 5 years on I know that Christchurch has little to feel like celebrating.
Oh yes, the rebuild is plodding along (if you define the rebuild as being focussed primarily in the CBD). The very first estimate of $20 Billion to rebuild (laughable even at the time), escalated to $30 Billion within 6 months & $40 Billion by 2013. But that is only a small part of things.

What about the people? Right from the beginning I have questioned all of this focus on fixing the bricks & mortar, rather than fixing the people. There was support for those that had suffered injury & loss in the early days, those that were suffering because they had been caught in the thick of it - but what about the longer term. 
Initially I questioned it on what I was observing around me - the reactions of friends & family. It was a no brainer to figure that some were dealing with it better than others.

How many have given a thought to the medical conditions that are a direct, or indirect result of continued stress? I didn't need any sort of degree to figure that one - dealing with a partner having what was a rather significant heart attack 3 days after the September 4th 7.1 quake taught me the effects of stress rather quickly. Interestingly this timed perfectly to the onset of my symptoms that were later diagnosed as Hypothyroidism. 
In hindsight I'm surprised that no one ever bothered to look at adrenal fatigue, given the events surrounding us at the time. I honestly wonder how many people are struggling with that - especially as the primary causes are prolonged stress, emotional trauma, lack of sleep....
It doesn't get better alone - & it certainly doesn't help your ability to cope.

Yes, we were strong, or made an appearance of being so - but the resilient, not so much. We were strong because we had no choice - but for the most part "resilient" was a handle that the rest of the country gave us because that is how we appeared to them. I well recall feeling like smacking the next person that referred to Cantabrians as "resilient" over the head by Boxing Day 2011. I also wondered if I was being uncharitable by feeling that way, until I read this today.
I don't feel so uncharitable any more.

A city tired....tired of the "get over it" attitude sometimes seen from the rest of the country, tired of circumnavigating broken roads, tired of waiting, tired of change, & certainly tired of upheaval.

So on the 5th Remembrance of the February Quake - just take a moment before "labelling" Christchurch & Cantabrians. If you must pick labels then patient, enduring, accepting, loving, valiant & inspiring might be better choices.

Try to comprehend what it is like to lose your bearings in a city that was once as familiar as the back of your hand, because those subconscious "landmark buildings" are no longer there - & everything is unfamiliar....often causing you to grieve all over again when you finally figure what it once was.

Try to understand that many choose to say "I'm ok"- because it is easier than trying to explain why they are not....& that in itself becomes habitual.