Monthly Archives: March 2011

Titles, country estates and all that jazz.

Since I was very young and visited  Chatsworth House in Derbyshire,  I have been fascinated by the house and those who have lived in it over a very long time.

Chatsworth House

Via Wikipedia

I had another visit there when staying with a cousin of my late husband several years ago.  It has lost none of its fascination for me.  In fact, I think that it increased following that visit.

I had bought and read “Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire” some years ago and again that only served to increase my interest in  Chatsworth House and the Devonshires.

And then this morning on our local radio program I heard Deborah the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire being interviewed about her latest book –” Wait for Me”.

The Mitford Family

The Mitford Family – Wikipedia

Deborah was the youngest of the Mitford sisters.  How amazing that six sisters could all have had such eventful and interesting lives.  If you are interested in reading more about this family of six girls and one boy click here. and for a recent  interview Deborah had with Stephen Moss at The Guardian click here.  This 91 year old is yet another example of the active, older ladies I keep coming across.

And I just love this quote from an interview earlier last year. “Being a duchess doesn’t save you from official forms. “When I had to fill in my occupation, I used to put ‘housewife’,” says the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. “Because that’s what I was: the wife of a house… Well, three houses, as it happened.”  How very very refreshing and down to earth.

I am quite sure that Deborah is my favorite of the sisters but if you want some more information on this fascinating family, without traipsing to the library to pick up a book go to Booked All Week

So I am off to the library to pick up, or perhaps reserve a copy of “Wait For Me”.

“The only thing that makes one place more attractive to me than another is the quantity of heart I find in it.”  Jane Welsh Carlyle, Scottish Poet 1801-1866

Never Regret

The quote today is from Katherine Mansfield, New Zealand author, 1888-1923

Make it a rule of life never to regret and never to look back.  Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can’t build on it, it’s only good for wallowing in.

After Robert died and during that time when I didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest of my life, I spent some time in the UK acting as companion to an elderly widow.  During the time I spent with her we became firm friends, even though she was a peremptory, demanding and often overbearing woman.

Mrs M and Mathilde

We found that we had a lot in common.  We were both independent women although she was years older than me, and had therefore been born in a different time and was of a different generation.

She was a teenager when World War II was declared.  At the time she had been traveling overland by car to Egypt in the company of two young men; one of whom was much later to become her husband. She had been told by the driver that she could accompany them on this journey but could only bring with her a small bag that she would hold at all times on her lap in the ‘dickie’ seat.  I can’t imagine what her father thought of that.

Although I tried on many occasions she wouldn’t allow me to document or record any of her reminisces about her early life.  I know it would have made fascinating reading.  I told her once that she made the Great Gatsby and his crowd sound dull.

She was quite fearless when I knew her, even though her health was breaking down and her mobility was impaired.  She certainly retained all her mental faculties and was another who completed the Times crossword on a daily basis.

And it is she who I have used as role model as I am aging.  She had many young friends, some as much as 30 years her junior.  She kept as active as she could and each time I was with her for a few months, we went out and about almost every day.  We discovered we had much in common.  A love of French film – she had spent long periods of time in Paris up to and after the war and so was fluent in French.  We discovered that we each had a love of the poems of Rupert Brooke, Longfellow, Percy Byshe Shelley and Tennyson.  I also discovered that she too loved the Turner paintings.  Luckily she lived quite close to Petworth House which houses the biggest collection of Turner paintings in the UK.   And I introduced her to Newbolt’s poem “The Fighting Temeraire’  which has been one of my all time favorites since we had to learn it so many years ago at school.

The Fighting Temeraire

So we had plenty to talk about during the long winter afternoons and evenings when we were confined to the house because of the English winter.

She taught me never to excuse or regret so I thought that Katherine Mansfield’s quote quite apt when I think about this lady.  And make no mistake, she was a lady.

She was adamant that she wanted to live on in her own house with a companion and any other helpers for as long as she could; and then she wanted to quietly pass away one night in her sleep.  She had her wish and died in her sleep but unfortunately, not in her own house but in a nursing home a few days after she moved in with her companion.

I think maybe she should also be on my gratitude list, along with my parents for the many things she taught me.  Take a look at my Gratitude List, I have made some additions.

Until tomorrow.

It’s My Birthday and I’ll ….

Birthdays are good for you

Today is my birthday. “You’re how old? ‘” I hear you say. Well, I make no excuses for having lived so long and for enjoying the ride (for the most part).

Oh, there have been bumps along the way – the death of my mother, followed shortly thereafter by my husband and then my father a few years later.  But I have been blessed with a happy marriage, two great children, their spouses and their children.

I have been privileged to see many parts of this wonderful world and in my travels have met many who have since become my real friends.  I have also lived in other parts of this world; moving from London to Glasgow with my handsome young Scotsman;

View of Glasgow

Glasgow today – courtesy Wikipedia

Then when he was transferred we had two years living on the beach in Auckland;

Takapuna Beach

The beach at Takapuna

then to Montreal.  This wasn’t so pleasant.  It was in 1969/70 when the French Separatists were very active.  The children’s school and the local mailboxes were bombed; the police went on strike one memorable day and Bob worked far too many hours each day.

Montreal today

View of Montreal today – – courtesy Wikipedia

Then back to New Zealand to the beach and eventually to Wellington, where I live very happily now.

Lambton Harbour, Wellington

The Harbor, Wellington

So today is my day.  I am sitting at the computer blogging away; reading other people’s blogs and making no attempt to tidy the house, weed the garden or the myriad of other things that need doing.

Today I am having drinks with friends early this afternoon before going off to dinner with some others.  My only regret is that many of my friends live in other parts of the country or the world and can’t join me for a celebration.  However, the phone has been ringing off the hook and emails have been coming in.  Don’t you just love the internet?  It makes keeping in touch so easy.

Some blogs I have found or been directed to :

So I will raise a glass of whatever you drink, to my old friends and to all my new friends I have found in the blogging world.

Bottle of Champagne

And to those who share my birthday, here is a gift for you.Bouquet of rosesSo until tomorrow.  Take care and remember Alice’s words

“But I don’t want to go among mad people”, said Alice.
“Oh, you can’t help that”, said the cat. “We’re all mad here.”

Today’s Lesson

Today I realized something – or remembered it.

There is an upside to everything.  While preparing dinner today I reached up to put away the box with the rice.  As I did so I knocked the one next to it and yes, you’ve guessed it all the boxes came tumbling down.  Just like a pack of dominoes.  The box holding the pasta flew open and I was faced with about 1kg of pasta over the bench and the floor, even some onto the cook top where dinner was simmering.

Boxes in Larder

Boxes returned to larder

A few choice words in my head, a visitation from my sleepy little companion and then I started to laugh.  It was easy to sweep up the pasta but what if it had been flour or sugar?  Imagine the mess then.

So the upside is the floor has been swept today, it was easily cleared up and my little dog had great fun walking through the spilled pasta. Perhaps spilling the pasta should be added to my Gratitude List.

As they say – It’s no good crying over spilled milk (or pasta).

So until tomorrow

Take Time To Reflect

This has really been a challenging time for all of us wherever we live in this wide, wonderful world.

Here in New Zealand, on February 22, Christchurch was hit with a massive earthquake, followed by many large aftershocks.  While we weren’t directly affected here in Wellington, many of us have friends and relatives in Christchurch.  The people of Christchurch are continually in our thoughts.

And then Japan and the horrendous tsunami and earthquake that hit there on March 9.  So many people lost their lives or loved ones and our hearts go out to them.  Daily, the pictures on the News programs really bring the horror of it into our living rooms.

And this chaos is not restricted to New Zealand and Japan.  All around the world there is unrest and uneasiness.  So how do we handle this time of chaos?

  • I have been taking time to take stock.  See my Gratitude List.  This is where I always start.
  • Then I make time to spend with loved ones and friends.  I take time to really connect with those people who I care about, who nourish my soul and support me.  These people raise my energy levels and help me direct my thoughts to the positive.
  • I take time to notice what is going on around me and also within me.  I notice how other people’s emotions and energy can affect me and I work on making conscious choices as to how I want to respond to these emotions and energy states.
  • I make time to just sit still, to reflect on what I am learning from this state of chaos and what I can do to influence this even in a very small part.

When Robert died 13 years ago I learned to meditate.  In this way I learned to accept what had happened and recognize that I was unable to change it.  If you haven’t tried mediation click here to access a number of free meditations that you can use.

And if you are interested here is a YouTube link on Calm over Chaos.  Just take a look.

Beach and tree

At the water's edge

I am very fortunate in that I live close to both the beach and the bush.  Lotte (my Tibetan spaniel) and I take advantage of this to walk, experience the open air and to reflect on life and my place in the scheme of things.  I must say that Lotte’s contribution to this last part is hard to understand.  But her smiling face and waggy tail tell me she is happy.

The bush in autumn

A walk in the bush

I am now working hard on looking for the positive amongst all the negative and chaos that surrounds us all.

Until tomorrow.

Alone But Not Lonely

Well the gremlins have been at work and all the writing has disappeared.  The blog was written this morning complete with words and photos, but where did it go?

Today I wanted to talk about being alone but not lonely.  I am often alone but rarely do I feel lonely.  When Bob first died I was very lonely although my family and friends did their best to make it not so.  Often, in the midst of a group of people having fun I would feel so lonely.  But this passed and I learned how to live alone.

For me loneliness is looking for somebody or something else to fill the empty spaces and alone is when I am content with my own company not needing anyone of anything else.

The Collins dictionary definition of lonely is “unhappy as a result of being without companions, isolated, solitary’ and Mother Teresa said “ Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”. The dictionary defines alone as “apart from another or others”.

As I have said, I have many supportive friends but they each respect my desire to be alone at times; whether this is to take in a movie, have coffee or lunch at a cafe or just to stay home and read a book.  This quiet time being alone, feeds my soul and keeps me grounded.  It is too easy to fill our lives with busyness and other people.

When I was first on my own I wrote a small book that explained how I had brought myself out of the grief and sorrow to being able to take my place in the world again.  If you are going through the grieving process, or are too much alone and lonely I would be happy to send you a pdf of my book.  Just email me at with Suddenly Single in the subject line.  And take a look at the website.

My advice to anyone who is lonely, take the first step.  Go out of the house and talk to people.  There are clubs and groups to join and even if you only go to the library and talk to the librarian he or she will put you in touch with others.  As human beings we know we need contact with others.  So make the effort – it becomes easier as time goes on.

What I am reading

I recently moved from a three bedroom plus study and two bathroom home of 2500 square feet – far too large for a woman on her own – to an old (1914) cottage with only two bedrooms and one bathroom.  It’s 1,000 square feet if stretched from end to end.  As you can imagine much had to be shed and many of the books I have collected over the years also went to the Lions and Rotary Clubs to raise some funds.  I kept only the treasured books that I couldn’t bear to let go.

Library books

Library books

Because of the lack of space, I decided that I could no more just purchase books and that I would investigate the library.  What a treasure world that is.  And now at least once a week I take myself off to the library for an hour or so of browsing around and noting those authors of whom I never heard.

In this way I found the following three books.

I have a talented sister who is a quilter. I sorry to say, can barely thread a needle and where would I get the patience to be a quilter? So when I was browsing in the library recently I came across a series of books written by Jennifer Chiaverini.  Knowing absolutely nothing about quilting I have found this  a fascinating novel, centered around quilting, family, friendship and sisterhood.

Thank you Christine for making me aware that quilting is still practiced.

Having looked at the website I see that Jennifer has written seventeen Elm Creek books and my admiration for this prolific writer is unbounded.

I recently discovered two Australian writers –Bronwyn Parry and Susan Duncan.  Bronwyn writes about life in a small town many miles from any large town and her novels are filled with fascinating insights into the hinterland of Australia.  Here there are few people and fewer amenities but the characters are rich and enthralling.  A third book is due out shortly but Bronwyn is recovering from neurosurgery so maybe the publishing date will be pushed out from April.

The other writer is Susan Duncan.  Her books are set in Pittwater a small settlement on the northern beaches of  Sydney in New South Wales,  A short distance from Sydney but a different world.  Susan relates her story moving from a 25 year career in journalism and magazine editorship to settling in this lovely area.  Have a look at Sheila Smart’s images to see just what a special place this is.

And I have always been a follower of Jeffery Deaver.  I particularly like the Lincoln Rhyme stories and have recently discovered his other protagonist, Kathryn Dance.  I look for his new titles now in the library rather than in the bookshop.

Apart from the novels I am reading ‘1421 – The Year  China Discovered the World’  by Gavin Menzies. This is a tome and it certainly is making my brain work.  I now see that there is another book by this author called 1434 that tells of the fleet leaving China for Italy.  Have a look at the website for a wealth of really interesting things to learn about.

The other book is ‘Secrets in the Fields’ by Freddy Silva. This is an investigation into crop circles, where they appear and how they came to be.  It’s fascinating but another book that one just can’t sit and read.  I find myself turning back regularly to check something that he has said.

Crop Circles

Photo - Freddy Silva

So in the spirit of use it or lose it, I am exercising my mind with some ‘heavy’ books liberally sprinkled with novels and other books.

See you tomorrow.

Changing Seasons

Sunflowers at Waiheke Island, NZ

Sunflowers at Waiheke- Photo Barbara-Ann Kerr

Here in Wellington, New Zealand we certainly have four distinct seasons.  We have been enjoying a lovely summer, with long hot days and warm nights.  Fortunately, in Wellington we don’t suffer from the high humidity of many other areas of the country.

But now the days are closing in.  Darkness is coming earlier and there is the occasional autumnal nip in the air.  The plane tree that nestles right over my roof is shedding masses of leaves onto the back courtyard  Pretty when the leaves stay on the tree, but what a mess in my little courtyard. Oh well, another daily task.  But perhaps I should add this to my gratitude list – thanks that I am able to wield a broom to clear the courtyard and thanks that I have a courtyard and a broom.

We also enjoy daylight saving from September to April so very shortly (April 5) the clocks will fall back an hour.  We will all have to adapt to the changed time and this usually takes a few days.

So Lotte (my dog) and I will continue to enjoy the lovely days and we will put off thinking about the coming winter until we have to.

Now excuse me while I go to sweep up the leaves.  Then with Lotte, I  will walk around the streets of Brooklyn (my suburb) admiring the gardens as they morph into autumn.  Until tomorrow.

Giving thanks for my family

Having just returned from dinner with my daughter, her husband and two sons, I realize just how lucky I am to have family so close.  My daughter lives about 5 minutes drive away and my son and his family about 40 minutes away.

Many of my friends have children on the other side of the world and see their children and grandchildren infrequently, and sometimes, hardly ever.  In comparison, I see my family at least once each week.  How lucky is that and how can I not add that to my list of things for which to be grateful?

And I have one friend with a daughter in London and a son in Tokyo.  Apart from the fact that they see each other rarely, my friend has the added worry about his son being in Japan at this time.  I cannot begin to understand how he is feeling at present and wonder how I would feel if I couldn’t speak to my children and their families just whenever I wanted to.  We have heard that phone lines are either down or overloaded, travel is restricted and of course, for the son just living through each day must be awful.

As I am writing this, I have just received an email  from my friend that his son and daughter in law are well.  Apparently more than 4 million homes in Tokyo are without electricity.  They are lucky in that they do have electricity but no gas and they cook on gas.  But they are alive and well and that is what counts at this time.

Let’s get our attitude muscle tuned up and ready to go.  Use it as regularly as you use your other muscles.  Don’t let it atrophy.  And when the current emergencies around the world have been controlled and life begins to get back to normal, let’s remember to give thanks for all whom we love, for their safety and well-being, and also for all the things in our lives for which we are truly grateful.

As I finish today’s blog Louis Armstrong is on the radio singing ‘What a Wonderful World’.  Doesn’t that sum everything up for us?

Until tomorrow.

More Reasons to be Grateful

Today, all our thoughts must be with the people of Japan following the earthquake and tsunami Those of us who live in New Zealand, ‘the shaky isles’ have recently lived through the devastating Christchurch earthquake, but there was much less loss of life and damage.  Although for those who lost loved ones, this is no comfort.

Ground split

Fissure in ground after earthquake

The effects of our earthquake on lives, property, business and infrastructure will last for many months (hopefully not years) and will impact on the whole of New Zealand not just Christchurch and the Canterbury region.

Already so few hours after the earthquake we hear that the Yen has been devalued.  How many lives will this impact?

I am taken back to memories of Sunday School and teachings of building your house on solid ground and also the wolf who huffed and puffed and blew down the pigs’ houses.  But now we question is the land solid. We know that the plates move and cause land movement.

Today I am thinking of the people of Japan and the other areas affected by the tsunami and give thanks for those people who survived.

If there is a god in your scheme of things or if you simply look to a higher body or the universe, please take some time today to think of the devastation wrought in Japan and other places and give thanks that so many people survived.  And, selfishly, maybe even add a word of gratitude that you don’t live in Japan.