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.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Just like the trees.

I'm writing this beside a roaring fire, with a certain happy dog stretched out on his sheepskin rug before it. Outside, heavy thundery showers keep passing over; it's dark, and it's cold. I'm feeling very grateful for all this cosy warmth.

It's a bleak time of year here in New Zealand. I find it hard going to work when it's still dark, and coming home after sunset. I even have to do most of my hooping inside at this time of the year.

A friend and I were walking our dogs at Kowhai Park last week, on one of those rare fine, windless, winter days. I confided to him that I often feel depressed at this time of the year, no matter how positive I am or how mild the weather is.

"I feel stripped bare," I said.

I didn't really understand my own words, but as we walked on I watched clouds of dead oak and liquid ambar leaves drift down to rest on the grass below. Some trees were only just starting to shed their leaves while others were nearly bare. I love the trees that fully lose their leaves in winter. They may appear to be naked and lifeless but they have a certain majesty about them. Without its covering of leaves, you can see a tree as it really is.

Maybe I am like the deciduous trees in winter. My leaves have been stripped from me, leaving only my bare branches. In winter, I see things - I see myself - as I truly am. Which is not always a comfortable thing.

I like this analogy.

The next day during my morning devotions I picked up Caitlin Matthews' wonderful, wise book, The Celtic Spirit {which I recommend to any Pagan with an interest in the Celtic world}, and the reading for that day contained the following paragraph:

"At this time of the year, when the trees look dishevelled, when growth stops, we may feel the loss as a personal thing and cross the threshold to depression. Yet the roots of renewal lie in the contemplation of the way in which this year's leaf mould on the forest floor will become the rich earth for next year's glorious growth."

I still long for warm sunshine and long days. Yet I feel I've been given a different perspective on winter: without the cold, the dark, the depression, the being stripped bare, we cannot experience the growth of spring.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

My first Samhain.

Samhain altar, which includes photos of grandparents and great-grandparents.

At the end of April I celebrated my first Samhain {pronounced SOW-en}.

Samhain marks the start of winter and is one of four major pre-Christian Celtic festivals {the others are Imbolc - start of spring; Beltane - start of summer; and Lughnasadh / Lunastal - the start of autumn}. Of course, Samhain is supposed to be celebrated at the end of October, as it still is in the northern hemisphere, but there seems little point in celebrating the start of winter in October in New Zealand! So southern hemisphere Pagans switch the Celtic seasonal festivals around by six months.

Our modern festival of Hallowe'en originated with Samhain. One of the beliefs about Samhain was that it is a night when the veil between the living world and the Otherworld was open and if you weren't careful you might be harassed by all sorts of ghouls and ghosts and bad spirits. Fires were lit to drive them away.

Another less sinister custom of Samhain was that it is the night when our ancestors draw close to us. Pagans will often decorate their altars with photos of the beloved who have died. A group of local Pagans I know go to the local cemetery at Samhain to clean gravestones.

Many Pagans have great reverence for their ancestors; so Samhain - while it was originally an agricultural festival - has become a sort of "day of the dead". In New Zealand and Australia Samhain falls very close to Anzac Day, which is really appropriate because Anzac Day is a holiday to remember those who have died in wars.

I marked Samhain by placing photos of both my immediate ancestors and John's immediate ancestors on our home altar. I made a nice meal, lit some candles and set an extra place at our table for the ancestors. After dinner we drank mulled wine and ate Anzac biscuits {a delicious cookie which many Australians and New Zealanders bake at this time of the year}, and I said some prayers.

It was a very simple celebration, but it was meaningful and it felt good.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

A Pagan year.

Crescent moon at sunset, Castlecliff beach.
Photo by Anne-Marie MacDonald

All my life I've been a spiritual seeker, searching for the Divine.

I grew up with a devout Catholic faith, in a close Catholic community. Until I was a teenager I barely knew anyone who wasn't a Catholic {except for my dad, and he went to Mass with us anyway}. I could go to Mass or say the Rosary right now and feel immediately comforted by those familiar prayers.

As an adult I tried hard to remain a Catholic, but eventually the realisation that I was lacking such essential beliefs as the divinity of Jesus and the authority of the Bible caught up with me.

Later, I felt comfortable with the Quakers. After a while, though, I felt like I was at a Green Party meeting; the Divine was an optional extra and seldom mentioned. For me, the Divine is front and centre. Not optional.

More recently, hooping has been the place where I encounter the Divine. But I never lost my interest in religion. I love to learn about other people's religious beliefs. If I'm honest, part of my interest comes from the desire to put a label on my own beliefs.

One evening last spring I came across the website of the Pagan Federation, based in Britain. I read their Three Principles:

1. Love for and kinship with Nature. Reverence for the life force and its ever-renewing cycles of life and death.
2. A positive morality, in which the individual is responsible for the discovery and development of their true nature in harmony with the outer world and community. 
3. Recognition of the Divine, which transcends gender, acknowledging both the female and male aspect of Deity.

There it is - my own core beliefs and spirituality written out in three short sentences. You can read more about the Pagan Federation's Three Principles here.

I had heard of Paganism and was familiar with the solar festivals, known as The Wheel of the Year. But beyond that I didn't know much about it. Were Pagans witches? What was Wicca, and Druidry? Do you have to cast spells to be a Pagan? Is Paganism even a religion? What's the theology of Paganism?

I didn't know the answer to these questions so I decided to spend a year living as a Pagan, beginning with the festival of Beltane last year {1 November in the southern hemisphere}. What do I mean by "living as a Pagan"? Celebrating all the solar and lunar festivals, reading and meditating and exploring exactly what Paganism is and how it might fit into my life.

It's been interesting so far. I've discovered I don't really want to find a Pagan community - I'm quite happy to be a solitary {which is an acceptable thing to do in many strands of Paganism}. That may change later, though. I've discovered that I am not interested in staging elaborate rituals, I prefer simple rituals with meaningful prayers. I've even written prayers myself. I've discovered I have no interest in doing spellwork, again I'm open to that changing. I'm reading about Pagan theology and I find it fascinating.

I've discovered nothing is off-limits to me in Paganism - I feel comfortable praying the Rosary, meditating, doing yoga, and bowing to the Moon.

So what will happen at Beltane when my year of living as a Pagan is up? I have no idea. I'm open to whatever feels right for me.

For more on Paganism, visit the Pagan Federation's description here.

Sunday, 1 March 2015


It's my third hoop anniversary, or "hoopiversary". On this day three years ago, I picked up a hoop for the first time, and I haven't put it down since!

I decided to celebrate my hoopiversary with a new hoop. I choose the beautiful hoop you see above, a 37-inch five-piece sectional polypro hoop in blueberry from Trinity Starr Hoops. The colour reminds me, not of blueberries, but of bluebells; those beautiful, delicate flowers that pop up all over my garden in October.

I was surprised to realise this is the first hoop I've ordered in about six months. I used to have a terrible hoop-buying habit - well, actually, it was a really good hooping-buying habit, as in, I was really good at buying hoops!! I started, like most people, with a big heavy hoop. Then I felt I needed something smaller and lighter. Then I wanted a polypro. Then I discovered coloured polypro - oh boy! Suddenly, I wanted ALL the hoops. A polypro in every colour was a must.

If you are a hooper, this probably sounds familiar to you.

The last six months, though, I seem to have gone the opposite way. I don't want lots of hoops any more; I just want one. My one and only dance partner, the hoop that I can use for waist hooping or hand spins, the hoop whose moves I know inside and out. The hoop I feel totally comfortable with.

A 37-inch polypro is it for me - and even better if it happens to be in my favourite colour and is really easy to break apart to travel with. I've decided that for every hoopiversary I celebrate from now on, I will buy myself one hoop, and that hoop will last me all year.

Do you have one favourite hoop that you love to death, or do you have lots and lots of hoops you like to play with?

Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

PS. I should point out that I do still have multiple hoops, but only so I have spare hoops to take to Monday night hoop jam.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Hoop hate.

What hoop move do you hate most?

For me, it's angled waist hooping. It's awkward and ugly and uncomfortable, and the hoop keeps twisting me around. You have to stick your bum out to do it. It just feels silly.

But I practise angled waist hooping every day, even if only for 30 seconds.

I know from past experiences that hating a move means it has something to teach me.

I used to hate isolations. Isolations require such precise and controlled movements to look good, and I couldn't be bothered with that. I'd rather go do something messy, like a pizza toss. But I kept practising isolations, and I learned that persistence pays off. Now I love isolations! I can do them well, and I use them a lot.

I used to hate knee hooping, because I couldn't do it. I would practise for hours on end but that hoop kept sliding to my ankles, no matter what I did. I watched tutorials and asked people to help me. Nothing worked. I decided I had to let knee hooping go - my body would decide when it was ready. So I practised each day for just a minute or so, then moved onto something else.

And it was one day when I was least expecting it that I realised - wow! - I could knee hoop.

So from these two moves I learned that sometimes you need to be persistent with a move. Sometimes you need to let a move go. And the wisdom comes from distinguishing between the two!

I don't yet know what angled waist hooping has to teach me. Right now, it feels like it has nothing to teach me other than how to be really awkward!! But I'm sure the lesson will come eventually.

Next on my list of hated moves? Wedgies. Ugh... let's not go there yet.

Happy hooping,
Anne-Marie x

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Luxury Pooch.

Two years ago today we brought home from the animal shelter a scared, skinny, lethargic, flea-infested dog. We were full of hope but not sure what we were getting ourselves into.

That was the day Monty entered our lives, our sweet little west highland terrier, who has become the light of our lives.

Monty's arrival was the realisation of a long-held dream for me; I had wanted my own dog the whole of my adult life. I never hoped to be able to have my own west highland terrier as a puppy costs around NZ$1200. We bought Monty for NZ$30.

He became part of the family almost immediately, and it didn't take much longer before the wounds from his old life had disappeared. Now Monty {also known as Moo} is almost unrecognisable from the dog he once was. He's happy, healthy, confident, friendly, a good guard dog, and he has the most comical little personality.

Everyone who meets Monty loves him. Even children who are scared of dogs will bring themselves to pat him because he's so calm. My mother - who has never been interested in animals - fell head over heels for Monty and now has her own dog who she dotes on!

Like any self-respecting westie, Moo thinks he's the boss of the house. His daddy has nicknamed him The Luxury Pooch because he's developed quite a taste for luxury. The couch is his, the bed is his, our laps are most certainly his! He loves his dinner, loves his daily walk, loves snuggles, and really loves wrestling with his soft toys.

I knew I'd love having a dog, but I hadn't realised just how satisfying it could be.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

On the other side of a hoop slump.

Time to get this somewhat neglected blog up and running again. I haven't written for a while, but that doesn't mean I've forgotten about my blog - definitely not. I've done a lot of thinking about the future direction of this blog, and I've decided to widen its scope. I love hooping as much as ever, and I still want to write about hooping... but there are other things I want to write about too. We shall see how things unfold this year.

Another reason I haven't written for a while is that my computer has had some issues, but fortunately they've been sorted out now.

I'm pleased to tell you that the hoop slump I went through late last year is over. It was an interesting experience and, although I'd be happy if I never had a hoop slump again, I don't regret going through it because I learned from it.

I asked my online hoop communities for advice and everyone was so generous with their help. It's a common problem, of course, in any discipline, to go through times of plateauing, of feeling flat and uninspired. So there were plenty of hoopers who had been there, done there, and come out the other side.

I'm grateful for my hoop sisters and brothers' advice but I actually disagreed with nearly all of it. The consensus seemed to be that in times like these, I should put the hoop down. Take a break. Go do something else that inspires you, and come back to the hoop later.

I have hooped every single day for nearly three years, and taking a break sounded sensible. But I knew that if I took a break I would most likely never hoop again. I don't know why - but I could feel that truth in my bones.

So I kept hooping. I experimented with different hoop sizes, different hoop tubing, different music different locations - everything external that I could change, I did. Nothing worked. I still felt like crap every time I hooped. And then one day I realised the problem was with me and the way I was hooping.

Back in October I discovered through a hoop injury that I prefer on-body hooping {hooping propelled by the core: waist, hips, shoulder, chest, legs or head} to off-body hooping {hooping driven mostly by the hands and arms, and incorporating jumps, throws, tosses, hand-spins, etc}. On-body {or bodyrocking} feels so gooooood to me. But it's also very energetic, and I had become lazy and gone back to my off-body ways.

I needed more bodyrocking in my life!

After that, I decided one of my goals for this year was to become a bodyrocking ninja queen. {Or something like that.} Obviously, I do incorporate off-body moves into my flow as well to keep my flow well-rounded. But my focus is on bodyrocking and how wonderful it feels to have that hoop spinning around my shoulders or my waist.