Saturday, December 07, 2019

A Bit of Music

I needed cheering up and I went to find some to find something to lift my mood. So here are some links to a few favourite music videos by Celtic Woman from their official website.

First here is Amazing Grace

This time it's Tír na nÓg (this is in the Celtic Otherworld which translates as Land of the Young). Tír na nÓg is not the safest place to visit because time passes there very differently from the human world and you might suffer the fate of Oisín who finds what he thought was only three years was in fact three hundred. That aside the song is lovely.

And finally here is Níl Sé'n Lá 


Monday, December 02, 2019

Ethical Fashion

Until my hands got bad I used to make many of my clothes.  I still have a fabric stash that I'll eventually work my way through although these days it's harder work. That said when I went to YouTube following a link on the Donald Trump impeachment hearings I did not expect to find something about sewing or for that matter fashion related.

What happened was the link I had followed was interesting so I had a look at the list of other supposedly related videos that YouTube kindly provides on the side and a couple of videos down I found this video Buying a Knockoff of My Own Dress. In it Bernadette Banner, in the most educated, civilised and lady-like way possible, talks about the mass manufacturers who rip off clothing designers and artists by detailing her own experience.

Describing herself as an historian with an interest in historical clothing, she found a knockoff copy of a very lovely medieaval gown she had made with the seller even using the Instagram image of her wearing the dress on their website. Having bought the knockoff for comparison she then proceeded to point out the poor quality of the copy before going on to rant - her word - about the way so-called fast fashion has led us down a path that is ethically problematic and environmentally irresponsible.

It was interesting that I found this now because recently Facebook - whose algorithms obviously don't have a clue about most of my interests (and I intend to keep it that way by not providing them with any more data than is absolutely essential) - has been sending me ads for a clothing company which makes just this sort of rubbish. Goodness knows why but then they also often send me fashion ads. It’s pretty pointless really because, given my view on clothing shopping - that it is pretty much the last thing I ever want to do - I never even click on them.

But I digress. What this video reminded me of (apart from the blatant theft of intellectual property of a creative person which seems to be a business model for some companies these days) was how pervasive the idea is that clothing should be cheap and pretty much disposable. I was buying a few essentials at a local department store recently and I had to go past the women's clothing section on my way to what I needed. Pisces swerved into it hoping that I might be tempted to buy some much needed clothing. I'm afraid he was disappointed because although there was much 'stuff' at ludicrously low prices - $3 T-shirts for example - the trade off for cheap was poor quality and the knowledge that they were all almost certainly made in sweat shops and I’d prefer not go that route. I’d rather buy fewer clothes that are better quality and will last. I’ll let you into a secret here - I even mend things and that’s something I’m told is rare these days.

The thing is as a society we’ve fallen into a trap of wastefulness with a feeling that everything is cheaply replaceable and Banner goes on to talk about how in the past clothing was meant to last. It was mended and cut up to be repurposed or made over into other garments or for other textile uses like curtains or quilts. Patchwork quilts are a perfect example of careful use of what you had because originally they were not made of new purpose bought, carefully matched fabrics as a hobby for those who like me enjoy creative sewing but were a thrifty way to use up any scraps that could be salvaged from worn clothing or leftover cut offs from making garments. The same applied to children's clothes which were almost always made from older adult garments. It wasn't only the poor who remade clothes either as this link shows.

Coincidentally I came across this link on making do as I was working on this post and it made me think about how being thrifty has become an almost forgotten part of living. I know we're busy but truth be told people - apart from those lucky relatively few who could afford servants to do the work - have always been busy and time poor. I suspect that it's as much to do with availability of so much and the distractions with which we live as much as lack of time. Maybe it's time we tried a new/old way - a way where we carry over the KonMarie idea of only keeping that which sparks joy into what we buy and at the same time learn the pleasure of a less waste filled life.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Well, That's a Fail

I'm talking about NaNoWriMo because let's face it if I've only managed about 6,000 words by now the hope of reaching 50,000 is long gone. I have reasons - of course, I have - and they are quite genuine but I knew much of this was going to come up before I started so I should have known better.  There were things I couldn't factor in as well - a funeral, weather which is scorching and drains the energy, medical 'stuff' for both of us (not serious but time consuming) and that's only part of it.

So I've faced reality which is that NaNoWriMo is a step too far this year. Instead I'm turning my mind to Christmas and trying to get myself organised earlier rather than later. These days I don't go crazy with Christmas decorations but I do like to do a little and this means it's time to pull the tree out of the shed and give it a hose down -  the amount of dust it accumulates even though it's sheathed in plastic always amazes me. Then I'll sort through the decorations and decide what has passed its useful time - and there's always something that has apparently spontaneously decided to crack or fall apart - and from there decide whether or not I need to invest in anything new.

We have a family tradition of putting up the tree and other decorations on the first weekend of December and then taking the whole lot down on the traditional date of January 6 and I think that's quite long enough for it to be up. There seems to be a tendency these days - largely due to commercial drivers - to extend the seasons for festivals of all kinds and I think that's a pity. One of our local supermarkets has taken to selling traditional Easter hot cross buns year round for example. This irritates me not so much because it's a break from tradition but because it takes away something that's unique to a particular time and something that could be looked forward to and savoured. If you have Easter buns all year there's nothing special about them, is there, so why bother?

It seems to me that this is all part of the way we live now where we seem to seek instant gratification and waiting for something is just too hard. Well, I refuse to give in to this because often anticipation is as much part of the delight as the actual event itself. This means I try to live by the principle of 'to everything there is a season' although others might find it odd and in line with that I'll keep to my traditional rituals and let each spark some pleasure because small joys are the things that make our lives worth living, don't you think.

Monday, November 11, 2019

We Will Remember Them

This handsome young man is my great uncle, Captain Horace Chamberlain King MC, and this photo was taken just before he joined up.

Horrie was born on 25 September, 1895, so he was 19 ½ when he joined up on 4 March, 1915. He was promoted rapidly becoming a sergeant on 27 July 2, 1915, second lieutenant on 14 March, 1916, lieutenant 21 August 1916 and finally captain on 23 March, 1917. He fought at Gallipolli and later in France where he was awarded the Military Cross on 2 September 1916 'for services rendered during recent fighting at Pozieres'. He was wounded on 2 November, 1917, and mentioned in despatches at the same time. He was wounded again in action on 7 April, 1918 and died as a result on 1 May, 1918.

A much loved youngest son and brother, his sisters, my grandmother and great aunt, mourned him all their lives.

Lest we forget.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Cultural Appropriation

After my successful return to yoghurt making I wanted to do more. With my Dairy-o kit came an instruction booklet - and since I had the foresight to cover it with plastic back in the day it's still pretty well intact. I had read it, of course, back when I got it but never gone beyond basic yoghurt making for some reason. There are other interesting recipes in it starting with how to make 'thickened yoghurt'. This is what we now know as Greek style yoghurt so it turns out I could have been making this for myself for years instead of waiting until it became a popular food item in the supermarket refrigerator shelves. Doh. Then there's how to make other cultures - buttermilk, sour cream, creme fraiche and cottage cheese - and buried among these is drained yoghurt cheese.

This last really caught my eye because I was recently watching an excerpt from The Feed (from public broadcaster SBS) in which the presenter, who is of Lebanese descent, was saying how she had come across this somewhere and how she felt there was some cultural appropriation taking place where someone had taken an item of Lebanese culture - labneh (a cheese made by draining yoghurt) - and misrepresented it by calling it something else (that is drained yoghurt cheese). I can understand how this might feel. Labneh is one of those traditional foods in Lebanese cooking that appears in many guises and I'm more than happy to acknowledge its place in that cuisine. I read a lot of cooking blogs and the further I looked into it the more often I found Lebanese folk claiming drained yoghurt cheese in the form of labneh as their culture's own.  They turned up writing critical comments about how their culture was being mistreated in some way which sometimes became quite heated - and I do understand.

But, the thing is drained yoghurt cheese is made all around the Mediterranean - it's found in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Cyprus and Egypt and many other places. It's known by different names - it's labne in Egypt for example - and used in different ways in many places. There are even some slightly different versions of drained yoghurt in Asian and southern Europe cultures. Some might even view Icelandic skyr as in the same tradition although it does use rennet as part of its ingredients so maybe not.

This is where my dilemma arises because cultural appropriation is very tricky and as a writer it's something I have to be aware of. The trouble is when is it appropriation? In the case of drained yoghurt cheese I think I come down on the side of no, it's not cultural appropriation because it's a staple in many places and doesn't belong specifically to the Lebanon. I'd be interested to know what you think, too.

While I investigated a lot of things came up that I'm very unsure about. One thing about cultural appropriation seems to be that someone from a dominant culture lays claim to something which is unique to another culture and uses that for profit. So I can see why a fashion designer putting catwalk models in Native American war bonnets is definitely not on. Apart from anything else such headdresses are not merely meant as ornamentation and have other cultural significance. But another example given was of an incident where a manufacturer had used without permission paintings and designs by indigenous Australian artists on items like T-shirts and tea towels. To me this isn't simply appropriation - although it is in part - but more accurately it's outright theft of the artists' work. If someone makes something - a piece of art or written words or whatever - this belongs to them and they should be the one who profits from it. Just like movie and book piracy if you take and use what someone produces for your profit or to avoid paying for it without either the creator's consent or permission in my view you're a thief. Again I'd like to know what you think.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


Guess what this is.

No? Well, here's the story. A while back I was reading a post on The Simple Country Creative. This is the blog of Polla Posavec, a local West Australian artist (she's also part of my extended family just so you know). She writes about aspects of her life on a bush block outside Perth and that includes food. When I had kids at home I used make yoghurt but somehow since it's just down to Pisces and me I never seem to get around to doing. I've no idea why I stopped - it's simple enough to make - and as I've recently started getting interested in making fermented foods I had been toying with the idea of starting again. So when Polla wrote about making yoghurt using UHT milk it piqued my interest and I wondered if you could use powdered milk.

I made a few enquiries of my Facebook friends and it seemed possible so I got out my trusty Dairy-o yoghurt kit. This is basically an insulated container - that's what the slightly wonky photo is of - into which you put your jar of yoghurt mixture and then leave it alone until it ferments to your taste. It also comes with a handy heat resistant thermometer that clips on to the side of your saucepan. I have no idea how old this is but I seem to remember having it before Virgo was born so it's probably very old but being low tech it'll last as long as I can get replacement jars in case of breakages.

So yesterday was the day. I mixed up a litre of instant powdered milk according to the directions plus an extra tablespoon of milk powder (not essential but it makes for a thicker, creamier end product), heated it to between 85-90°C, left it to cool to 44°C, mixed in the starter - I used one heaped tablespoon of commercial natural yoghurt, poured it into the jar, loosely screwed on the lid and put the jar into the flask where it fermented for around six and a half hours before it reached the degree of tartness I like. Into the fridge it went overnight and this is the result.

And this is it as I ate it with a handful each of blueberries and flaked almonds. Yum.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Spoon Theory

A reminder about this came up in my Facebook newsfeed yesterday.

For those who have diseases of the invisible kind - and there is a wide range of these nasties - chronic pain is only part of the problem. An equally devastating part is what happens when you overdo things. This is where the cost of doing some activity - which for the able-bodied may seem quite insignificant - wipes you out for days. This is why those with chronic pain from any of a multitude of causes have to pull out of social activities or can't do something that seems perfectly simple - and which they managed a few days ago - today. Because it's so hard for the healthy to understand this the sufferer is seen as unreliable and lazy and this impacts on everything from friendship to employment.

You may have heard folk with these kinds of conditions refer to 'spoons'. This refers to what Christine Miserandino calls 'spoon theory', where you are dealt a set number of 'spoons' every day. Each 'spoon' represents a specific amount of energy and how you 'spend' them correlates to what you can do on that day and often for days following. Have a look at her website But You Don't Look Sick where she talks about living with lupus (one of the invisible auto-immune diseases) and if you want to find out more about Spoon Theory in particular it's at this link  It's worth a read.