Monday, 14 September 2015

Winds of change.

At last it's starting to feel like spring here in New Zealand. It has been an extremely wet and cold winter - and it seems to have gone on forever. The days began to lengthen, hesitantly it seemed, around Imbolc, and all the daffodils flowered. Other than that, we've been stuck in winter right into September.

But now our daylight hours are definitely longer, all the blossom trees and magnolias and camellias are flowering, and it's almost warm in the sunshine. And I'm looking forward to the celebration of Ostara {Spring Equinox} on September 23.

In late August and early September I became quite ill with the flu. It's only the third time in my life I've had it, and at its worst I could barely get out of bed. It was while I was feeling most rotten that my course materials arrived in the mail for the diploma I will be studying over the next year. Nothing like a nice big pile of textbooks about proofreading and editing {see picture above} to make me feel more cheerful about having the flu!

I have wanted to do this diploma for ages; several years at least. I've just finished my first tutorial and assignment {11 to go} and already I am thinking this was money well spent. I actually look forward to spending a few nights each week at my desk studying.

I am hoping that this diploma will help me make a break from being employed as a full-time newspaper journalist. I would like to freelance: I already have several skills as a journalist, and being able to proofread and edit would add more skills to my tool-box. I have a natural eye for proofreading but there is a lot I don't know. The diploma is very comprehensive - as well as proofreading and editing skills, it also teaches basic business skills and guidance on how to find freelance projects.

So this is very exciting for me.

The other bit of news is that my husband is looking for teaching jobs overseas, specifically the United Arab Emirates. It makes sense: he's a qualified and experienced teacher who has struggled to find anything other than relieving work in our small town. The jobs are plentiful in the UAE, and so is the money. There's been nothing definite yet, but I am keeping my fingers crossed. I think it would be an interesting adventure for us, and hopefully enable us to pay off most of our mortgage.

I'll keep you posted!

Anne-Marie x

Friday, 24 July 2015

Choosing Paganism.

Waxing moon with Venus and Jupiter
19 July, 2015

Sometimes I think it would be easier for me to have followed almost any other religion than Paganism. Surely converting to Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism must be simpler than Paganism. I know that if I’d returned to the faith I was born into, Catholicism, my spiritual beliefs would have been guided by the teachings of the Church and the Bible. If I was unclear on any beliefs I could have talked to a priest or a spiritual director to have my doubts set straight.

Exactly what modern day Pagans believe is really hard to pin down. I’ve written before about the three principles of the Pagan Federation, and how they resonated with me when I first read them. Beyond those three principles, things can get pretty murky.

You would struggle to identify what Pagans believe about God because Pagans choose their own gods and/or goddesses {or, the gods and goddesses choose them}. Paganism seems to be dominated by Wiccans who follow the Goddess and the God – but even that isn't simple. Then there are those who follow Asatru / Heathenism, and worship the Norse pantheon of gods and goddesses. Other Pagans worship the Celtic deities. Or the Greek. Or the Roman. Or the ancient Egyptian. Some, with indigenous roots, honour the gods of their culture. Others honour their ancestors. Yet other Pagans are actively atheist or non-theist. Some Pagans do spellwork, read cards, work with crystals, use shaman practices, meditate … and some don’t.

As you can imagine, for a new Pagan it can be a truly dizzying array of gods and goddesses, beliefs, and spiritual practices to get your head around. Because Paganism is more of a religious movement than an organised religion, new Pagans often have little real-life guidance unless they join a coven. I felt overwhelmed when I began to ponder the question, just what do I believe in?

But the flip side of this is the ability to choose whatever is right for you. When you become a Pagan you are not confined to a set of beliefs. God is not a prescribed being.

The first thing I discovered is that even though it's a long time since I called myself a Christian, some of the beliefs I had as a Christian were still entrenched. For example, I was very determinedly monotheistic, and expected that wouldn't change once I became a Pagan. But I thought about it a lot, tried out many different devotions, and wrote about it in my journal. I discovered I am - surprise, surprise! - mostly non-theist.

You'll notice I said mostly non-theist. That's because a certain Celtic goddess keeps appearing in my devotions and I feel I have no choice but to follow that. For the most part, however, my Pagan prayers are to the dawn, the sky, the moon, the ancestors, and are expressions of what is in my heart.

I expect this process of working out my own personal theology to take a long time, maybe the rest of my life. It's early days yet ... so expect more theological ramblings from me another time.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Pear and chocolate crumble.

Every year I forget how much I love pears.

Fruit is so prolific and so cheap throughout much of New Zealand that I don’t think much about pears when they’re out of season. I know I take for granted the apples, the peaches, the watermelon, the plums, the mandarins, the cherries. The lemons, the grapes, the feijoas that grow without effort in our small garden.

I usually taste my first pear around June, when the feijoas have finished, and that’s when I remember just how delicious they are – that gorgeous, soft, perfumed juiciness. It’s a very feminine fruit, the pear.

So it’s appropriate that in this recipe pear is paired with chocolate. I have tried both dark and milk chocolate  and my preference is for milk. It’s more subtle in flavour; dark chocolate can be overpowering. But you can use any plain chocolate of your choice.

The fragrance of the poached pears and the richness of the chocolate combine to make this a special occasion dessert, despite being a humble crumble.

In a large saucepan place 7 pears that have been peeled, cored and cut into eight pieces each.{My favourite pear is a New Zealand variety, Taylor's Gold.}

Add 100g brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla essence, 1 tsp ground ginger, the juice and zest of one lemon, and half cup of water. Simmer for around 10 minutes - pears should keep their shape but be tender.

Turn into a large baking dish.

Roughly chop 150g chocolate and sprinkle over pear mixture.

In a large bowl mix 200g plain flour, 100g oats, 75g brown sugar, and 1 tsp ground ginger. Rub in 100g softened butter, until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Spread crumble mixture over the chocolate and pears. Bake at 180C for 25-30 minutes or until crumble is golden brown.

Serve with cream, custard, or vanilla ice cream - or all three!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Knitting with my grandmothers.

So I'm still not hooping, and I miss it. A lot. Several times a day I go to take my hoop off the wall, and then I remember.

I tried hooping for five minutes during the weekend and was forced to stop because of the pain in my back, shoulders, neck and arms. I've unfollowed many of my hooping friends on Instagram and Facebook because it's too hurtful to see what I'm missing out on. It makes me sad that at the next gathering of the New Zealand hoop community I might not be there.

But I'm enjoying walking {when the weather isn't too bad; it is the middle of winter right now!}. And I'm grateful that not long before I had to stop hooping I discovered another creative outlet: knitting.

How does someone with RSI so bad she can't hula hoop and can barely hold a pen, manage to knit? I don't know! I'm careful to not do it for too long, and I use small, flexible needles which I think makes a big difference. But it really doesn't seem to cause me any pain at all.

I come from a family of talented knitters. My sister, my mum, my grandmothers, and probably my great-grandmothers too, could/can all knit well. My paternal grandmother knit every item of clothing for her five boys during World War II, knitting sleeves of jerseys from the shoulders down so that they could be unravelled and knit longer as the boys grew.

I never showed promise as a knitter. I was clumsy with my needles and probably frustrated my mother - who taught me to knit when I was about five - by doing stupid things like slipping the stitches from one needle to the other without knitting them. My first knitted item was a dolls' scarf but it wasn't much good - it started with 10 stitches and ended with 35. I was slightly more dedicated as a teenager, but once I left home I never picked up my needles again, except for a brief, fruitless attempt in 2009.

I can't say why I decided to start knitting again. I work across the road from a woolshop and one day, when I was walking past, I suddenly went in, bought a ball of red double-knit wool and a pair of 4mm needles and began knitting that night. I've been hooked ever since.

I've even joined a knitting group. We meet every Saturday afternoon at a local cafe, a really diverse bunch of women joined by a mutual love of knitting. I love these two hours of time each week to do nothing but knit, chat and drink tea.

When I knit I'm reminded of my mother and my sister. I never really knew my grandmothers - I met them both, once, when I was seven - and my great-grandmothers had all died well before I was born; but when I knit I feel a sense of connection with these women. I'd like to think I've inherited just a little of their talent.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Hanging up the hoop.

I made a big decision this week: I'm giving up hooping.

Well, at least for a while. I don't want to give up hooping at all, but I have to. I've written before about my issues with RSI. Things haven't been good with my arms, shoulders, neck and back recently - I've even had to have some time off work - and on the advice of my physio I've decided to hang up my hoop.

Hooping has brought me all sorts of joy over the past three years. But the reality is that it no longer makes my body happy. Quite the opposite - it makes my body tense and aching and painful, and I don't want that for my body.

For a while I tried confining myself to hooping only on my waist and below, thinking that would ease the strain on my upper body. But it makes no difference at all.

I've also had to give up writing with a pen, except in very small doses {such as writing my shopping list}. At work I now record all my interviews rather than taking notes, which is working well, although it's a little more time consuming. Surprisingly, I can still knit without strain.

My physio tells me I need to improve my posture, as well as get up and move around more. Sitting hunched at my computer for hours on end is a big no-no. I need yoga, fresh air, plenty of walking around. Today I bought myself a Fitbit and can see I will be obsessively counting steps before too long. {I'm walking around 4,500 steps a day - less than half of what I need for good health!}

So, although I'm disappointed at having to give up hooping, I am looking forward to being pain-free before too long. And I've always enjoyed walking so I'm looking forward to the opportunity to stretch my legs more often.