Sunday, 23 August 2015

What if it had been you?

I, like the person who posted this, saw this pop up in my news feed and felt the need to share it here.
Translated from the original Norwegian post.

What if it had been you?

08/21/2015 - 9:34 p.m.

It's not often I call friends to ask if I can publish their Facebook status as a blog post, but when I saw this pop up in my newsfeed today, I realised immediately that this had to be shared with a wider audience.

It is my good friend Oliver who has written this great text, which is simply a beautiful symphony of emotions and gratitude, compassion and love, sadness and contemplation. Political or not - this is fantastically written.

"Look at this picture. The one just below the advertisement for cheap industrial meat and fish.


It looks like a dad holding a son. Such a dad who could just as easily have been me, if I had not won first prize in the lottery of life and ended up here in safe, marvellous Norway. A dad who is desperate.

With his child in his arms, held back by a powerful person. Excluded by other powerful people - those with batons and shields and carbon kneepads and teargas. Just in case a desperate dad would try to squeeze past. Or bite, or scratch or hit or kick or whatever the fuck – just to get his kid to safety. One who could have been any one of us. Could have been me.

This picture has affected on my Friday night. Soon, I'll get my boys from kindergarten and after-school-club. Then we’ll eat tacos with Mimmi and Bess. Read a little more of the adventure story at bedtime, a hug and a scruffing up of the hair, like we do - and I have a really good, cold beer in the fridge to enjoy when the rest of the house is asleep, safe in their bed, while dad watches over the house.

While another dad, just a few hours flight away, literally fights for his life. With his child in his arms. Tonight and tomorrow, and every day - until he breaks or succeeds. Just as I would have done.

If we can not, one of the world's safest, richest and most plentiful countries, offer help - then we are so rotten to the core and damned that I am ashamed to be Norwegian.

Look at that picture. And imagine if it had been you.

It’s election time soon, by the way. 


P.S. I think this is an incredibly nice text for reflection, on the way into yet another weekend here in one of the richest and best countries to live in, but I do not want to turn it into a political debate. Just think about it. What if it had been you?"

Sunday, 17 May 2015

You Have No Idea What Hell Is

I read this blog post, originally published in Norwegian, and I was compelled to translate it into English.

A Palaetinian child. Photo: The Guardian

“How are you?” An ordinary question. A phrase.
“I’m fine, thanks”, we most often reply.

Today, I got an eye-opener.

What does it mean to be fine? Maslow says that people must have certain needs met before they can develop. One doesn’t need to be a psychologist to understand that one needs food, water, sleep and other basic needs to survive.

When these needs are met, we seek security and protection. Then comes a sense of belonging and love. Only then can one begin to think of status, self-esteem and finally self-actualisation, both personally and spiritually. It strikes me that I have every need in Maslow's pyramid covered, and most likely, you have too. 

I can therefore answer honestly, "Yes, I'm doing just fine, thanks!"

Yet, I complain. Yet, you complain. Yet, we complain.

Today, my students were informed of an impending maths exam. Tears welled in the eyes of many. I understand them well. As a philologist, maths exams for me were always a nightmare. We often use that word, nightmare, about everyday problems, large and small. Things we struggle with when we no longer have several steps further up the pyramid to ascend. We are on top of it. The job is done. So, what now? Why this eternal yearning in the gut? Is it because we are afraid of falling down again, or is it because we humans are able to look beyond ourselves and show empathy for those who are further down the pyramid?

Everything is relative.

Relative poverty? Relative happiness? We measure ourselves against others in similar situations. It is much easier than measuring oneself against those who don't have anything. How can I defend myself buying a house in Spain, if I measure my needs against those who, at this moment, swim with those who drown in the Mediterranean? Just the thought of these people, who are well below the first step of the needs pyramid, cause me to abort my plans.

At this time of celebration, here in Norway, this poem comes to mind:

Do Not Sleep

You believe, it cannot be true,
So evil humans cannot be.

Do not sit safely in your home
and say: It is sad, poor them!

You must not endure so well
the unfairness that upon thyself!

I cry with the last breath of my voice:
You are not allowed to go there and forget!

 Arnulf Overland
-1937 (excerpt)

After my students learned of the maths exam, they received another piece of news.
One of our students, a refugee who has been with us for many years, has been absent since August 2014. This month, he fled across the Mediterranean. Maybe it happened at the very same moment I was teaching the class about people drowning after paying a fortune to human traffickers. Not to “actualise" themselves, but to struggle up on to the lowest step in the human needs pyramid - food, water, security and protection. Our student lived in Kabul, a city foreign to him, where he constantly feared for his life.

As I told the students about the thousands of women and children who drowned, and about our government sending a boat in August, their classmate was heading over the same Mediterranean Sea, not in ‘our’ boat that is. He didn’t have time to wait for that. He had to take the chance. Last time he travelled was by plane, in the opposite direction, at the Norwegian government's expense.

Today, the fear of a mathematics exam was put into perspective. We learned that our friend and classmate had undergone a far greater ordeal than any tenth grader should have to endure. Against all odds, he had managed to get across the ocean with his mother and his brother. He is now in Norway. He is in safety. He has food, water, security and protection. We know that he is safe, but does he? Does he have any reason to believe that he will stay this time? What about his father, left behind  in Kabul, who could not face the journey? Will he just die? ... Have you lost a mother, a father, or two or three siblings? Have you been taken at night and sent to Kabul without anywhere to stay on your arrival?

It's hard for youngsters to get a reality check such as our pupils have today. They can't sleep. They cannot tolerate the injustice that doesn't affect them themselves. They want to help, but they feel powerless.

We, in the class, put it all into perspective: Let’s say that people had to flee from England, across the Atlantic towards a safer life, pursued by brainwashed terrorists. Terrorism knows no borders. What would our government do? How many ships would be sent out of Norwegian ports to pick up Englishmen in dire need? One boat in August?

I have, as a writer, decided to comment on things we don’t like to talk about. The unpleasant aspects of life. Last time it was bulimia. God, who wants to talk about how many times a day one pukes and what it’s really like? How many cases of bulimia are there in Burundi?

My next novel is about rape in social relationship - being raped by a relaive or an aquaintence, by someone you trust. Many don't dare to report such an abuse. Those who do are often not believed. There are borderline cases and there are false accusations. Some will not be judged, while others, who ought to be judged, never will be.

Actually, maybe I should rather write a book about the protection of women, children, boys and men against rape carried out by criminal gangs who call themselves disciples. The prophet they claim to follow could have been one of those who had fled across the Mediterranean if he had lived today. Maybe he would have fled along side Jesus?

Where there is poverty, there is crime, hatred and violence. It’s that simple.

‘People who lack food are like animals’, sings Sigvart Dagsland.

Assault, rape, murder, ethnic cleansing and dismemberment. Something happens to us humans when stress becomes too great. The same thing happened during World War II, when many here in Norway were stabbed in the back by their own. We fled to Sweden. No standing at the border and being stopped. The Swedes opened their homes and helped people on the run from oppression. Authors who spoke out, teachers who refused to teach Nazi ideology, Jews, gays, gypsies, dark-skinned ...

No, absolutely no one thinks it strange that our grandparents and great-grandparents went across the border to Sweden or England. They were being persecuted! The shock would be if they had not been taken in. Here at home in Haugesund, the local, right leaning Fremskrittspartiet expressed exactly that, that they would not take in 35 new refugees.

How far are you willing to crawl down the pyramid before you expect any help? Can we bear to imagine the situation the people of Syria are experiencing, or in any other similarly torn country? I have a good imagination, authors often do, but dear God, to see it before you –  it's your fifteen year old, your mother, your girlfriend, or your brother who sits huddled with 600 hungry, wet, frightened and desperate people in an unsafe raft on the open ocean. You cannot do it, and perhaps it's just as well. For if we had been able to, the tears would  never stop flowing. The horror would chop our legs away from under us, and we'd see ourselves as we really are, people who have no room at the inn for anyone but ourselves. Because if we take on anything over our immediate responsibility, then maybe the foundations of that top floor of Maslow's pyramid will begin to shake. Must there then be limits to what we have to endure?

Sunday, 25 January 2015

My Fiscal Logic

I bid on this gold shopping bag on eBay. 100% leather, beautiful, fun.

But it was £30 + £13 postage, and I wasn't totally convinced it would work (no cross body option).
So, I was relieved when, at the last minute, literally, I was outbid. That's £43 I haven't spent.

Another thing, on the run up to Christmas, in the fog of online mass purchasing, I clicked on something to get free UK delivery and, earlier this week, I noticed £79 had been deducted from my bank account.

I had unwittingly subscribed to Amazon Prime. But, because I hadn't used any of the privileges, I got a full refund. That's £79 saved!

£43 +£79 = £122 not spent. £122 which I have somehow saved, and can therefore... spend! ðŸ˜‰

Eating Mindfully

I haven't read this book, I haven't even read what it's about, but the title, I love.

We were raised with no culture of food, no routine of eating at all, much less a meal served at a table. One of my healthy eating strategies is to eat seated. It's as simple as that. If ever I notice that I'm standing and eating, I know there's something wrong. I'm not being mindful, I'm not even being conscious.

Julian Baggini is a journalist and philosopher who studies the complexities of personal identity.
He is the editor-in-chief of the Philosophers' Magazine.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Tomato Bread

Last year, Kenneth, Noah and I went to Lagunen (a large shopping cebtre on the mainland),
At some point, I got really hangry and we stopped, at the first cafe we saw, to eat.
At this cafe, there was a table, near the counter, heavily laden with loaves of fresh bread - a bit like a good breakfast in a nice hotel.
The best bread there, by far was an orange loaf. Tomato bread.

Noah talks about this bread, as though it were a fantasy. We talk about going back, just so we can have more of it (and another Club Sandwich with the mysterious brown sauce!)
Skip to the chase, I decided to try and make my own tomato bread. Here's the recipe.

5 cups of flour - you may need more.
2 tsp salt
12g dry yeast or 50g fresh yeast
Pepper to taset
Herbs to taste - I didn't use any in mine, but I would have love to add a couple of fresh sage leaves, or a pinch of rosemary.

2 tbsp honey or malt extract
2tsps sugar
100g tomato paste
Four pieces of sundried tomato, chopped (optional)
2Tbsp olive oil
<200mls hot water
Cold water

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt, and pepper and herbs if using.
Put the honey/malt extract, sugar, tomato paste and sundried tomaotoes in a measuring jug and add hot water up to the 200mls mark.
Stir to combine thoroughly.
Add the olive oil and cold water up to the 400mls mark.

Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and bring it all together. If the dough is too sticky, add flour, one tablespoon at a time. If it's too firm/dry, add a little more water. Knead for 5 - 10 minutes. The dough should be elastic and the bowl should be completely clean.

Leaving the dough in the mixing bowl, or in a bowl with high sides, cover the bowl with a cloth and leave the dough to rise until it has doubled in size.
How long this takes depends on the temperature of the space. I heat my oven to 30 degrees and turn it off, then set the dough in there to rise. It takes about 40 minutes. A cooler location will require up to 2 hours.

Divide the dough into two and form into loaf shapes. Cover with a cloth and set to rise for 30 minutes.

Bake at 180 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Friday, 16 January 2015

100 Mandalas

My friend posted a link to a this image via's facebook page.

I like those 30 day challenges and I love mandalas, so I signed up for the newsletter and started doodling.

That was just a few days ago, but I'm already realising that I'd like to know more about mandalas.

I went to Wikipedia and came across this:

Carl Jung's first mandala.

Already a fan of Jung, I was surprised to find that he was responsible for bringing mandalas to the western world.

Carl Jung refers to the mandala as “the psychological expression of the totality of the self.”

I realise this is going to something splendid. I'm not going to get too involved in the deep spiritual and psychological aspects of drawing the sacred circle. I want to stay free and explore on my own terms. I know that I will explore more deeply later, but I have the whole year to get what I need to out of this project.

For example, today, I just played around with PatternPie.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Storm Named Nina

Dark thoughts pop into my head all the time.  Visions of morbid, violent, gruesome events. Horrific, devastating. All the time.
I used to write. I wrote stories with fictional characters, experiencing fictional atrocities. But that was a bit like being a doctor, who happens upon a severely damaged body, a person. The doctor examines the body, in depth, to find out exactly how horrific the damages are, then she must write a report, in great detail, on the extent of the damages.

Many years ago I decided that I no longer wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to be a florist or a baker. I wanted to start watching romantic comedies and listening to Lifehouse. The morbid thoughts still pop into my head, but they pass just as quickly as they appear. The why and what of them no longer need to be examined.

Today, a storm is raging around us. The time now is 12:34, the storm will peak at 14:00 and last five to six hours. It is already one of the most severe storms I have ever experienced. Kenneth is in the next town. He has to drive 27 kilometres home, at around 14:00 hours. The oil rigs have been evactuated, flights postponed, ships moored securly in the docks. The local council has issued a warning to secure all loose items and be prepared for "extreme weather".

Despite the visions of his car being blown off the road and into a fjord, I know that Kenneth will get home safe and sound. Because, along with the curse of the dark visions, I have inherited a sixth sense, which was passed down to me through my mother side of the family. My aunt has it, too. This gift manifests itself with a feeling. When a dark thought pops into my head, I feel it. I feel it as though it actually happened in that moment. Then it becomes something else entirely. Then I phone my daughter at 6AM and tell her that she has to promise that she will stay indoors all day. Or ask her, for my sake, to not get on the plane.

So, although the storm is fierce, we will all emerge from it unscathed.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Cinnamon Roll Bread

I've always like cinnamon, but lately, I've been hooked on it!

Here's my latest creation - Cinnamon Bread

Make the bread.
This is my basic bread recipe, to which can be added all kind of extar ingredients.
In this case, we're going to stick to the basic recipe, but note that extra sweetening, spices, or other ingredients can be added at the dry mix stage.

note: 1 metric cup is 250mls. Also, this bread recipe is for standard bread. 
If you want the bread sweeter add an extra 1/4 cup of sweetening agent, such as honey, syrup or sugar. 

In a large mixing bowl add
1.5 cups  all purpose, plain flour
1.5 cups rolled/porridge oats
3 cups whole spelt flour (course ground and finely ground, 50/50, if applicable)
1 packet/12g dried yeast or 50g fresh yeast

You can add 
1-2 cups of dried fruit or chopped nuts here.
You can also any spices you might want to use - 
to taste, cinnamon, cardemom, anis, ginger, etc. 

Combine well

In a measuring jug add 
50g melted butter butter
1 Tbsp malt extract
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt

You can also add a 
2 tablespoons of milk or fruit juice.

Add enough warm water to make it up to 450mls

Combine well so that nothing is stuck to the bottom of the jug.

Add the wet mix to the dry mix and knead for at least five minutes. The bowl should be 'clean' and the dough reasonably dry.

Before first rising. The bowl is clean... I didn't clean it, the dough did.
Cover with a clean cloth/towel and leave it to rise somewhere warm, until doubled in size. 
Depending on the temperature of the rising place, this can be anything from 30 minutes to two hours.
I actually turn my oven on to 30 degrees for a few minutes, then turn it off. I put the dough in the oven with the door closed. It's like a hot summer's day in there, with no breeze. Perfect.

Meanwhile make your filling - 
Mix together 
100 - 150g of softened butter with as much cinnamon as you'd like. 
Quantities for cinnamon are strictly to personal taste - from 
2tsp - 2Tbsp cinnamon

I used 30g of cinnamon and a pinch of ground anis.

If you want it sweet, mix in 
1/4 - 1 cup soft brown sugar or regular sugar.

Roll the dough out to a long rectangle.

Spread with the cinnamon butter.

Leave one short side of the rectangle clear by about 2cms. This will be to seal the loaf/roll.

Starting with the opposite short side of the rectangle, start rolling. 
Don't roll too tightly.
Before sealing the end, moisten the area that was left clear of cinnamon butter with some water or milk.
I use water in a spray bottle for this task.

Once the roll is sealed, lay it on a non-stick or lightly greased baking tray, with the sealed edge at the bottom.

Leave to rise for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Bake for 25-30 minutes. It should sound hollow when tapped.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

A Mother's Worry

Nice blog post, translated from Norwegian. Original post written by Christine Otterstad - AKA, Otters

ChristineOtterstad Рogs̴ kalt Otters

A Mother's Worry

Posted at 9:04 pm , on januar 16, 2014

"I'm sitting in the living room with my 11 year old son. He does his homework and I work a little. Suddenly, he puts down his pencil and asks what I'm writing about today.

"Today, I’m doing a little research for my book" I reply.

"I have a tip on what to write about" he continued. "Something I've been thinking about.”

I shut the PC, thinking that this could be interesting.

The boy breathes and takes moment: "I thought you should write about mums, and all the concerns they have. Like you, for instance, you worry yourself sick for your kids all the time. For us to have a good time and stuff... But the problem is that when you worry yourself SO sick, it becomes sort so serious to not have be happy! It's almost like we HAVE TO be happy, ALL the time, if not you get INSANELY-worried. No one can be happy, ALL the time!!! And besides, you say yourself that almost all worries never amount to anything anyway?” said the boy, looking at me with an uncertain smile.

It takes a few seconds before I get my speech back. I am so incredibly taken by surprise by this 11 year old! A quiet boy who rarely speaks about feelings and the like, but who, nevertheless, has seen right through his mother, a mother who lives by getting others to worry less in everyday life, a mother who is full of concern on behalf of her children. INSANELY -worried.

That same evening I did something I've never done before. I sat down and wrote down all the concerns I had on my children’s behalf. The list was long. Very long. Having studied the list for a while, I came to the conclusion that at least 80% of the concerns would never amount to anything, plus a couple of them were downright crazy.

As a coach, I go on about the need to get better at living in the present. But how clever am I really when even I, on my children's behalf, am constantly worried about what might happen to them? Not only am I living in the future, I live in a worrisome future!

The boy tried, in his childish way, to tell the concerned mother say that the goal is not necessarily to be happy all the time, the goal is to withstand both, the good times and the bad.

I think he's right! I think that many of us (including yours truly) have been so caught up in the pursuit of happiness, prosperity, mental strength and not least to have it good, that we forget that it's okay not to be happy, too.

We cannot be happy all the time! We need to take the lows too, not just the highs. And the same goes for our kids, they are going to know the bad times. Maybe it’s good for them to know that the world sucks sometimes, without Mum intervening and worrying herself grey and wrinkled.

It’s not irresponsible to live a worry-free life, it just means that you don’t concern yourself with future sorrows. For, as the kid said, No one can be happy, ALL the time! And besides, almost all worries never amount to anything anyway?”

Christine - also called Otters"

"World's smartest 11 year old (strictly objectively speaking, of course."

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Be a Biscuit of Today

When I was very young, my sister had a friend who was a proper hippy. She was married to a Sri Lankan man and had some kids. Her hair was long, unmanaged and slightly transparent. She wore corduroy jeans and cheesecloth tops.

She was of the tradition of never arriving at someone's house empty handed. One day, she came with a book. the Tassajara Bread Book.

Since then, the book has been in my possession. Well loved and well utilised.

Here's a short excerpt from the film How to Cook Your Life, featuring the book's author, Edward Espe Brown.

"It turns out that we'll pay a lot of money not to cook, not to actually confront a half a potato."