Monday, 30 July 2012

Personality Projected on the Printed Page

Human communication is very complex.  It is easy enough to be misunderstood when you are speaking to someone face to face.  In the medium of print, it is impossible to know how others perceive you or take your meaning.

For example,  I have been following a particular blog for several months.  This individual is obviously a very talented cook and writer.  They have a beautifully designed webpage and feature some of the best food bloggers I have ever seen.   Over the past few months, I've been communicating with some of the contributors on Twitter.  I can tell you, I have never met more generous and kind people.   It was all going swimmingly until one day there was an article on cake and all the wheels came flying off.

The author of the blog posted the most venomous comment about cupcakes and those who choose to bake them.  Not just cupcakes, but those 'VILE AMERICAN' cupcakes.  Perhaps I was being too sensitive but I felt each vitriolic word like a slap across the face.  My perception of that blogger radically changed in that instant.  I went from respecting and admiring them to seeing every word they wrote as being arrogant or patronising.

In an instant I had typed an equally fierce comment in reply.  I wrote how unfair their comments were, when many of the blog's faithful supporters were American and all had been so complimentary and kind.  A large portion of this author's success could be attributed to loyal American cupcake bakers.   How DARE ......etc, etc, etc.

Then I read my comment to check it for errors and to make sure I'd made my point.  It was awful, I was ashamed.   I'd spat back with the same viciousness I thought I had perceived from the blogger.  Shame on me.

I deleted the unsent comment.  It wouldn't have changed the blogger's attitude, in fact, my rant would have only reinforced it.  There is another possibility,  maybe I read it wrong.  Perhaps the author had never meant to sound so unkind and disrespectful.  It could be how I read it ....not how it was written.

I began to wonder how the people who read my blogs perceive me.  Debs Dust Bunny is written primarily for my young nieces in the United States, so the content is light hearted and light on verbiage.  The Absent Auntie is more serious and hopefully, more content oriented.   Do I seem vapid, boastful or dour?  Am I just one of those 'VILE AMERICAN' cupcake bakers cluttering up the Internet with trivial tripe?

Well, yes, possibly, but it's not how I intend to come across.  So I've learned a lesson, NEVER respond to a comment in anger.   Try an old acting technique, read the line in a different way.  You will be amazed how it changes the meaning of the words.

Yes, human communication is a VERY complex thing,  even more complicated in text.

Thank you Kate  for being so inspirational and making me think twice!  Visit

Monday, 9 July 2012

Eating Marshmallow Fluff With a Spoon

When I was a little kid I wondered what it would be like to be an adult.  Chronologically, I am very much an adult.  Biologically, I am SO adult!  In my mind, I'm pretty much still a kid!  Thank GOODNESS!

I still love all the things I loved as a kid; furry animals, baking cupcakes and cookies, roller coaster rides, the smell of new books, walking in fresh snow,  playing in the garden..... you know what I mean.    I have all the pleasures of childhood, some of the responsibilities of adulthood and an outrageous amount of personal liberty.  To put it bluntly, I can do ALMOST anything I want!   How great is that?  

So what does one do with this autonomy?  Currently, I am eating Marshmallow Fluff out of the jar with a spoon while surfing the Internet and listening to the morning news program on Radio 4.  Now that is what I call being a grown up!  

Oh dear, think I've eaten a little too much Fluff,  I'm off to make a strong coffee to counteract the sugar overload.  And that children, is what it's like to be an adult!  It's GREAT!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Life Lessons - Part II

Topic of today's lecture is  MONEY!  Contrary to popular belief, money is not the root of all evil....the LOVE of money is the root of all evil. 

Money is a necessary evil...well, evil may be putting it a bit strongly.  In today's society it is practically impossible to live without it so you have to learn to manage it!  It's not difficult, it's sort of like training a puppy.  You just have to follow some clear, simple commands.
Earn your money:  this usually means getting a job and working for someone else.  It doesn't matter what you do for a living. All work has it's rewards and all honest work gives the worker self-respect and dignity.

Spend your money wisely: when you are an adult paying for living expenses usually takes care of the wise spending part.  But everyone has a weakness; cars, clothes, vacations.  Know the real cost of these luxuries.  How many hours did you have to work to pay for that item?  What was the cost to environment to produce it? Will  you still love it in six months, will you still have it in six months?

Invest in your future:  Money is well spent when you use it to make yourself more financially secure.  Start saving in a pension fund as soon as possible, even if it's a small amount it will be worth it.  Buy a home.  Notice, I said 'home' not 'house'.  Home is the most precious thing you will ever own and the most EXPENSIVE!   Continue your education.  It will improve your job prospects and will give you great satisfaction.  Nothing beats learning something new!  Remember, you are responsible for your future, invest in it. 

Give some money away:   Find a cause you believe in and support it.  You don't have to give a lot of money but do give some.  It's important to share your good fortune.  It's the kind thing to do, it's the generous thing to do and it is the RIGHT thing to do. 

So it's simple!  Earn your money, spend it wisely, invest in your future, and share a bit of your good fortune.  That's the Absent Auntie Guide to Money.

Check out this great origami website!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Life Lessons - Part I

Ok,  I have been putting this off but I think it's time we had a serious talk.   The purpose of this blog is to share experiences and ideas.  It's for my American nieces and all of you who are kind enough to visit this site.  As your old, absent auntie, I feel I must share with you some of the life lessons I've learned along the way.   You probably won't take any notice of them, but at least I can say I tried.

Life Lesson Number 1 -  Body Image

I have LOTS of experience on this subject.  In the Bridge Jones movie, Bridget says she will always be a little bit fat and her legs will always just come up to here.  I identify with that!  The truth is, there are three basic body shapes:

You are born a certain type and you will always have those characteristics.   It's a fact!  The good thing is that each of these body types has been the IDEAL shape at different times in history.  The bad news is that currently the ideal body shape, as dictated by the fashion industry and popular media, is a form of human being that doesn't often occur in nature.

Most models are extremely tall, extremely thin and in come cases, surgically modified!   The average woman will NEVER look like that.   The point being, those people aren't average, they are the ODD ones in nature.   You are normal...they are, I hate to use this word but I have to, the freaks of nature.  I mean that in the kindest possible way!

So we accept probably aren't going to make millions as a model but we still want to look as fit and healthy as possible, right?   Right....but no weird stuff!   No fasting, no fad diets, no exercising for 10 hours a day....just be reasonable.  Eat well, but have a few treats.  Exercise ...but try to enjoy it.  Learn what clothing is flattering and appropriate for you.  AND are more lovely than you can imagine.  Be kind, listen to people when they talk to you, look them in the eye and really pay attention to them.  If you do those things, I assure you, no one will care that you aren't a super model.... To them you will always be beautiful!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Mom's 1950 Betty Crocker Cookbook

When I came to live in the UK, I brought very few belongings with me.  I was confined to what I could pack into two large suitcases and one piece of carry on luggage.  For the first few years I didn't think about what I'd left behind. Beginning a new life and making a new home was so exciting.   As time went by and I became more established, I realized there were a few things I wished I had been able to bring with me.  Things that reminded me of my Mom and Dad, things from my childhood home.

 Things like my Mom's well-worn cookbook.  On a whim, I searched on the internet and found I could buy a  new copy of the exact recipe book I remembered from Mom's kitchen.  I had to have it!  When it arrived I was transported back to my early childhood, standing on my little, red, wooden chair to reach to kitchen work surface, helping Mom bake cookies.

I've spent at least two weeks pouring over each page, studying each illustration and photograph.  It's exactly how I remember it.  Now I've started cooking from this book.  I am trying recipes Mom and I never tried before.  It's almost like being that little kid again, learning how to cook and bake for the first time.  Best of all it brings back memories of happy days in the kitchen with Mom.

If you'd like to try a recipe from the '50s, visit Deb's Dust Bunny and learn how to bake Brown Sugar Drops.

Betty Crocker's Illustrated Cookbook is available from Amazon. First printed in 1950, it is a real slice of Americana.  

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Still Life at the Kitchen Sink

It's berry picking time again.   Here is the line up in the kitchen window.  It's amazing how bountiful and generous nature is.  A little water, a little seed, a little time and you get all this!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Good Life - growing your own

I don't really have a vegetable garden, but I manage to grow some strawberries, beans and salad leaves in my tiny back garden.  The beans are a long way off but I've had several lovely salads. Today there were enough ripe berries to make a nice dish of berries and home made yogurt.

They tasted so good.  I know it's because they are picked fresh and ripe. I think knowing that I grew them myself also makes them taste better. Please give strawberries a go.  They are just as happy in a big pot or planter as they are growing in a garden.  Give yogurt making a try, too.  It's so easy!  

Click on this link to get yogurt making instructions.  How to make yogurt!

Monday, 25 June 2012

Baking Bread with Sidbury Mill Flour

Andy and I bake our own bread.  We enjoy the process of making bread and the results!  It also gives us a good reason to search out the old fashioned, independent millers dotted across the South West.  Today I am using flour from Sidbury Mill.  

Sidbury is a beautiful little village near the seaside resort of Sidmouth. It is extra special to us because Andy has been doing genealogy research and found that he had family living in Sidbury ages ago.  The flour I am baking with today was produced by the same water mill his ancestors used all those years ago!   It is a rare thing, to have such a real connection with past generations.

If you would like to bake a little history of your own, you can bake an old fashioned Cottage Loaf or a lovely Farm House Loaf by following these recipes from Deb's Dust Bunny .  

Friday, 22 June 2012

East Budleigh Scarecrow Festival

Do you love local fairs and festivals?  Pop over to Deb's Dust Bunny to see the fantastic and funny scarecrows at East Budleigh.  

Red Velvet Cookies

Over on Deb's Dust Bunny we've made some delicious Red Velvet Cookies.   Give this recipe a try!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Poor Old Thomas

Hamlet says, 'When sorrows come, they come not as single spies but in battalions.  Perhaps I am being a bit extreme but this morning I got a very sad phone call from my sister-in-law, Jane.  After 19 years of companionship Thomas, their family cat, is going to be 'put to sleep' this afternoon.   We both had a good weep and said it was for the best but it tears one's heart to shreds.  I suppose it's because we've lost so many pets and family members already.  Each loss compounds the grief of the next and yet it always takes us  by surprise.  Shouldn't it get easier instead of harder?  We've been here before, we should be more equipped to cope with the loss.  I suppose it's the depth of feeling we have for the lost loved ones which makes each passing so difficult to accept.  That has to be a good thing, doesn't it?  

I look at my little cat, curled up in his favourite chair, sleeping so peacefully.  I hope he has as long a life as Thomas. Nineteen years, well done Thomas!   

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Frank's Patch at East Budleigh

Today I drove down to East Budleigh.  I wanted to take some photos for the Dust Bunny blog and see if Frank had some plants for my garden.   When I got there it was obvious Frank was gone.  My heart sank.

Frank was a wonderful old gent, at least 90 when I met him.   He grew vegetables and flowers and sold them from his 'patch'.  He had a twinkle in his eye and spoke like a pirate  or an Elizabethan farmer.   He always gave you more than you paid for, extra veg, an additional plant or two.  He was the soul of generosity.

The first time I bought some plants from him, he handed me four tiny petunia plants.  I asked what colour they would be.  Frank twinkled at me and said, 'I shan't tell ye maid!'  I was smitten!

Dear old Frank, he is sorely missed. Everyone I spoke to today said so.  East Budleigh is still a beautiful village.  No one can take away it's charm but part of the magic is gone now.  There won't ever be another Frank Farr, his sort isn't made anymore.  

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Lemon Drizzle Muffins

Now that you've made your yogurt, here is a recipe you can have ready for afternoon tea..... LEMON DRIZZLE MUFFINS! 

Visit Deb's Dust Bunny to learn how to make these delicately flavoured treats.

Making Something from Almost Nothing- Yogurt

Yesterday was my bread baking day.  I made my regular white loaf and a batch of Cinnamon-Apple muffins.  Today I am making yogurt.  I use a lot of yogurt in baking. It makes muffins more moist and cake-like and it's good to eat with fresh fruit or a drop of honey and vanilla.

It sounds weird, a bit old-hippy, to say 'I am making yogurt' but like baking bread, it's a very satisfying thing to do.   It doesn't take any real effort and requires only two ingredients to make: milk and a bit of  plain organic yogurt!

 If you buy plain organic yogurt you know how extortionate the price can be.  Next time you have a bit, save a few tablespoons to use as a culture and try making a batch of your own.  You can get the instructions from the Deb's Dust Bunny Blog - just click on the highlighted text.

It's so simple, like most really good things in life.  Who doesn't enjoy taking almost nothing and making it into something!

Monday, 21 May 2012

You are HOW you eat!

I just finished setting up the bread maker to bake a loaf of fresh bread when it dawned on me how fortunate I am to have access to so many wonderful local food stuffs.  The flour in my bread maker is from locally grown, organic, wheat ground at a nearby water driven mill!

Otterton Mill has been grinding grain into flour since 1068, probably even longer.  This is just first recorded date of the mill. That fact staggers me and makes me feel linked to all the people who have come before us and baked bread from this very mill.  Placed in this historic context, bread becomes more than an ingredient in a sandwich or a bit of toast.  It takes on a more spiritual meaning, it gives you a sense of continuity and a link to the past.  Well, at least that is how I feel. 

We've all heard that old adage, 'you are what you eat'.  I am starting to believe we are HOW we eat as well.  We know we should all live more sustainable lives, eat local produce, save energy and recycle.  I try to do all these things and it sometimes feels like a bit of a chore.  But to bake bread from this flour is a privilege and a pleasure. 

I think that is how we should feel about all food and dining, grateful  and privileged.  When so many people in the world are hungry we must be more mindful of what we eat and how we acquire our food.  We  must source our food ethically, and prepare it carefully without wasting precious resources.  It's not just what we eat that matters, it's  also HOW we eat.

I can't wait to have some warm bread with butter! 

Saturday, 12 May 2012

A Beautiful Day in the Garden

Yesterday was about as perfect a day as one could ask for.   After a week of wild weather and a few of life's personal hiccoughs,  the sun came out and all was right with the world.   Andy worked for hours in the garden doing the dreaded mowing and trimming.  When he was done the garden looked a picture.... so I had to take a few photos.  

Hope you enjoy them!

You've got to love a lady bug!

And this sweet smelling clematis...

 it sort of smells like cloves.

These photos all have a white theme.  If you'd like to see more White Gardens, click on Deb's Dust Bunny  to visit Barrington Court and Sissinghurst Castle. They have two of the most beautiful and famous White Gardens in the world!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

On The Mend

It's been a rough couple of days here.   I think this picture says it all!

I spoke too soon in my last post.  I thought the little cat was improving but I found him behind the garden fence looking like death and very near it!  It was late Sunday afternoon  and out of hours for the Vet.  Fortunately, we have wonderful emergency service and he was receiving treatment almost immediately.  

It was scary, the Vet said she had never seen a cat with such a high temperature.   She was brilliant and kind and what ever she did worked!   The little cat is much better and I am just about to come down off the ceiling AGAIN! 

Fingers crossed, I think this time we really are on the mend!  

(thanks to Simon Tofield and Simon's Cat for the illustration)

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Fighting Fear

We have a little black cat who adopted us about six months ago.  We had avoided getting a pet even though Andy and I both love animals.  We said we didn't want to be tied down, wanted to be free to do some travelling when ever we liked.  But the truth is, we were both afraid of having a pet, loving it and loosing it.  It's happened to both of us many times before.  You think you'd get stronger with each little loss.  It doesn't work that way, it just gets harder and harder.  

This morning I came downstairs to find the little cat curled up in a tight knot in his bed.  When I touched him he didn't move, just gave a little cry of pain.  My heart sank!  He had been in a cat fight. Over one eye was a scratch from a sharp set of claws.  The other eye was cloudy and weepy. 

I could feel panic rising in my chest.  It's the only time I feel it, when someone or something I love is hurt or unwell.  I live in fear of this little cat being run over by a car, savaged by other animals or abused by someone who doesn't value animal life the way we do.  Now I was terrified he was going to be blinded in one eye.

Fortunately, things aren't as grim as they seemed at first.  After a quiet day and lots of rest, the little cat is looking better.  He has finally eaten a bit of food and his eye is looking better,too.  We have adopted a 'wait and see' approach and if he isn't much better by morning, he is off to the Vets. 

The panic in me has subsided and I am grateful he is our cat.  I know we will do everything that can be done for him to give him a happy, healthy life.  He is such a pleasure, such good company and  so much fun.  He gives us so much more than we give him.  Our lives would be diminished without pets.  It's worth fighting the fear and dread of loss. 

This applies to people,too.   We all must be brave....not be afraid to love.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Life's Not Fair- Celebrating an Excess of Good Fortune

It's not fair!  How many times have I thought many times have you?  I can still hear my Dad's voice in patient reply to my childish whinging, 'I never told you life would be fair!' 

Sometimes I still feel a little 'put upon' when doing a chore I don't enjoy, or when I've tidied the sitting room three times in one hour only to find it in disarray AGAIN!  I think,'Why are the menial tasks always my job!'  Mowing the lawn puts me in THAT mood.

It seemed like every garden task put me in that mood yesterday, then I realised how lovely the garden was beginning to look.  I watched the birds at the feeders while I had a cup of tea and my mood began to soften.

No, life isn't fair.  I have been so blessed.  I have a wonderful husband, family and friends that I love, a cosy home, a mad little cat and my health.   It's not fair for me to have so much.... I am grateful.  I still don't like mowing grass!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A Day Working in the Garden

I 've spent the day working in the garden, mowing the lawn, weeding the flower beds, and trimming the topiaries.  I am beat!  The best thing is you can see progress in a garden.  That makes the work rewarding.  It also means I haven't been a good blogger.  To make up for it I've baked some Carrot Cake Muffins.

For the recipe, please visit Deb's Dust Bunny  ..... I think you'll like these A LOT!

Movie Night

Last night my friends, Leslie and Eilean, took me to the cinema.  We saw Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and it was very good.   I like gentle films like this one.  I am not much for the 'end of the world' films. 

I won't ruin the movie by giving away the plot but  it's about pursuing mad dreams, following your passions and finding where you belong in life.  I  think  I know why I liked this film! 
Over at Deb's Dust Bunny  I'm trying to use up a 'Two for One' error by making soup.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Plain Sailing

Over on the Deb's Dust Bunny blog, I've done a little piece about the first and only time I've been sailing.   I enjoyed the experience but it isn't a hobby I'd like to pursue.  At first I was a bit frightened, then I just got a bit bored.  It was a very quiet evening so there wasn't much wind. 

It made think, just because you aren't navigating rough waters doesn't mean you are having fun.  I mean, having it easy isn't always what makes you happy. That's why they call it the doldrums, not enough wind to fill your sails.

It's good to challenge yourself sometimes or simply to make a change. Try something different or new.  You may find it's like sailing and never feel the need to repeat the experience. You may find the passion of your life!  Saying that, with stronger winds on the open sea, sailing could be exciting.  Maybe I should give it one more try.

Monday, 30 April 2012

On the Road to a New Life

I don't know about you, but I loathe self-help books.  I don't think much of 'team building' exercises either, but every once in a while you see something that just goes click in your head.  That little light bulb flickers on and you are changed forever!

My Edison moment took place in the late 1990's.  I was driving the 500 mile trip to my parents' house near Chicago via I-70.   It's a long drive through some of the flattest country you can imagine, pretty tedious.  Near Saint Charles, Missouri, I started to read the huge billboard signs that ran along the side of the road.  Some were advertisements but some had 'inspirational' messages on them.  You know the sort, 'When life gives you lemons', etc, etc, etc.  

I was busy grumbling under my breath at this horrible tripe and how dare they blight the countryside with these awful billboards when I read this:

"If you keep on doing what you've always done, you'll keep on getting what you've always got."
                                                                                       W. L. Bateman

CLICK!  I suppose it was just that time of my life. We all have them, a time to re-evaluate, to decide how we want to live our lives.   I hadn't been happy for a very long time and I had to decide what I was going to do about it.  This quote on that sign on that particular day told me exactly what I had to do.... I was truly on the road to a new life! 


Just getting started....

I am indulging in a second blog.  I already have one called, Deb's Dust Bunny
which I started for my nieces living in the United States. I wanted to show them some of the historic and beautiful places we enjoy living in Devon. There are recipes, videos and links to lots of interesting things.  It is a gentle, friendly site... I hope. I enjoy writing it but I find I must censor myself.  I want to keep it light and happy.  There are things I'd like to say but my readership might be a bit too young or too polite to appreciate my sardonic sense of humour, hence, the Absent Auntie has been conceived.

Don't worry, this isn't going to be pornographic or overly radical.  That's not my style.  But get ready for some more grown-up topics and an occasional 'Auntie Rant'.   The content is going to be a bit more random, organic...

 who knows what you will find here.  So here we go.... let's get started!