Don’t Panic! There’s still time!

 Have YOU done your Christmas shopping?

                      I mean Have You? HAVE YOU? ….  I haven’t!

                                 Indeed – What type of Christmas shopper are you?

DSCF0088Are you a very organised person? Do you buy throughout the year as ideas come to you?

Sad to say – I’m not one of those.

Maybe you are a blitzer – make a list and blitz the shops notching up scores until the whole lot is got?

No, I’m not one of those either.

Maybe you like to sit at the computer in late November or early December and order everything on-line?

Now, I have to admit I’d like to do this. However, if I am stuck for ideas this doesn’t work very well for me – real browsing would be better at triggering ideas.

I have a confession – I do not like shopping.

There, I’ve said it. I know, I know, we women are supposed to like shopping.
But I mean – who says?? No-one asked me!

I do not even like shopping for things, clothes, treats or gifts for MYSELF – let alone any other type of shopping!

A trip to the shops usually has me returning with either something, which I later decide is not the right thing after all, or nothing – except a headache – which I always come back with. (which is why the internet shopping is attractive – don’t usually get a headache doing that)

More than anything – I do not want to go to Plymouth, our nearest metropolis, and trail around the shops there – it is not just Plymouth – I just do not want to trail around shops in any town or city – it is not my thing.

You get the picture – Christmas shopping is not a joyous time for me – though I love to give gifts that I know the other person will actually want and like!

 For the main presents ‘want’ and ‘like’ are the key words to me – however I am now resigned to the fact that I cannot buy what my loved ones will really want and like and make it a surprise. Oh, yes – I forgot to mention that. I really would like presents to be a surprise. A surprise that also happens to really and truly be ‘Just What they Wanted’ … Yeah, right, in my dreams.

And so … no surprises any more for the big stuff – now the esoteric gifts (climbing gear – for instance) is ordered via a link to the precise item, or a description given that cannot be mistaken in any way, for the more usual things.

However, for ‘secondary’ or ‘stocking’ presents I like unique, interesting, different gifts if I can find them to suit the right people – and so, as I said in an earlier blog, I do frequent local quality Craft Fairs – like the one coming up at Upton Cross next weekend. (4th– 6th) where lovely things and beautiful paintings are to be found (as well as my novels) and these have to satisfy my longing to ‘surprise!’

What kind of Christmas Shopper are You?

Are you a woman and like shopping? (or not?)

Do share – you know I love to hear from you.upton cross

 

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What our Ancestors can teach us about healing

It is odd that today I came across not one, but two examples of the ‘super-‘bug’ MRSA being defeated, or at the least severely dented, by ‘old recipes’ for fighting disease.

The first was a report in NEW SCIENTIST that scientists from the University of Nottingham have worked on a recipe to cure styes, laid out in a 1000 year-old Anglo-Saxon medical recipes book called Bald’s Leechbook . (article here)    DSCF5518

It sounds like the three witches in Macbeth, ‘Take cropleek and garlic, of both equal quantities, pound them well together… take wine and bullocks gall, mix with the leek… let it stand nine days in the brass vessel…’  But this is exactly what the scientists did.. though they made sure everything was sterile, and had controls set up, and had each element set up separately too (to see if only one would work – none did on their own)

The result: ‘The potion was tested on scraps of skin taken from mice infected with Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. This is an antibiotic-resistant version of the bacteria that causes styes, more commonly known as the hospital super-bug MRSA. The potion killed 90 per cent of the bacteria. Vancomycin, the antibiotic generally used for MRSA, killed about the same proportion when it was added to the skin scraps’.

Just imagine how long and how much experimentation had to have taken place in ancient times to come up with this particular mixture of herbs and the vessel to use to make it in, made up so carefully (another ‘try’ with this recipe by a US university in 2005 resulted in  ‘a loathsome, odorous slime‘ that did not work,) and left for that particular length of time to discover it worked, that it cured styes (for that is what the recipe was for – and as styes are caused by Staphylococcus aureus – this is why the scientists were trying it)

This method has been peer tested by Dr Kendra Rumbaugh, of Texas Tech University in the US, who was asked to replicate the findings. She said that the salve performed ‘good if not better’ than traditional antibiotics at tackling the superbug. The findings were presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for General Microbiology in Birmingham which runs from March 30 this year.

IMG_0384The second MRSA attacker I heard about on the radio — my ears pricked up when I heard the goats (we used to keep goats) and they were the source of this other unexpected beater of MRSA.  It is a long story – but the goats had initially been kept to help with their son’s asthma (this is well documented that Goat’s milk is a less antagonistic to bronchial conditions than cows milk.) They also found that it helped clear up his eczema when made into a cream and a soap.

Now, eczema is an auto-immune disease and many auto-immune diseases appear to be triggered in the gut. By making a fermented product from the goat’s milk, called kefir, they found they had something that seemed to help many auto-immune gut related conditions. Kefir is a powerful probiotic that has been made for hundreds of years in Russia, though the name is possibly Turkish (from keif meaning good feeling).

Then, after surgery, the husband contracted MRSA from the hospital. The wound wasn’t healing, worse, the MRSA was attacking the skin and flesh and making the wound larger and worse and, despite treatment, would not go away. Having read of the curative powers of kefir and having seen how it had helped their son with both asthma and eczema, the wife started treating her husband with kefir by getting him to drink it. She also read-up on essential oils and, believe it or not, the bubonic plague and a bunch of perfumiers who didn’t catch it, and created her own blend of essential oils which she used to bathe his skin, after which she used the kefir on his skin too. In two weeks his skin was testing negative for MRSA and soon healed. The blend of essential oils has since been lab-tested to show it is effective against a whole bunch of pathogenic bacteria, and they are currently working with Swansea university on the effects of kefir and the essential oils  (read an article here)

Now these are concoctions that have been ‘known’ about in the western world for hundreds of years – and we are still only just realising how nature works, how our bodies work and how they can work together – or against each other. If this is the state we are in with cures and remedies we already ‘know’ about  – how many more cures are out there in nature, especially in the most bio-diverse regions like the rain-forests that man seems set on destroying? It makes you think!  (Yes, I did quite get into all this while I was writing ‘The Angel Bug’ as one of the main characters was deeply concerned for the rain-forest and its bio-diversity – does it show?

Had you picked up on these stories in the recent media?

What are your thoughts?

Are you fed up with the general election  (UK) ALREADY?

Do share – you know you want to 🙂

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Having a Jammy time …

DSCF7517The house is feeling empty; having been jam-full for the past five weeks. It has been a joy, this big old house and garden likes to be full of young people, from the very young (grandson #3 at 17 months) through his brothers (4 & 6) – right up to their Mum and Dad – all over from Malaysia, plus two other sons of ours, and a girlfriend, then after the ‘Malaysian’ contingent left, my second cousin and boyfriend (from Australia) .. it’s been great … and busy!

And now it is quiet and the soft-fruit needs picking and the jam stocks need replenishing.

It is blackcurrant time and ours have produced a good quantity. Most of this will go into the freezer – having been carefully ‘picked over’ to remove bits of stalk, so that jam making through the year will be easier. After all, who wants to be making jam when the sun is shining? It is also useful when you want a bit of extra flavour to sharpen up an apple crumble or similar, to know you can just pull a handful from the bag in the freezer and throw them into the mix knowing they are ready to cook with.

A new comment on my ‘recipes’ on the drop-down (above) made me think I ought to put my MW recipe for Blackcurrant jam into a blog as well as just on the recipes. If you are a regular reader you may have realised by now that I use my microwave for a lot of REAL cooking – and especially for jam as I find it faster, much less of a bother (no standing over steamy pot stirring to prevent burning or sticking) and less messy – easy cleaning of bowl as there is nothing burnt on.

My MW blackcurrant recipe has proved to be very popular – in fact Google Analytics shows me that over the last week alone 89 people came to view my microwave recipe for Blackcurrant jam (and 20 the MW Apricot jam one) and, judging by the average time spent on the page, many of them chose this recipe over other recipes available on the net.

So here goes:

My microwave Blackcurrant Jam recipe (makes 5lbs)

2lbs blackcurrants (picked over to remove stalks – if using frozen, make sure they are fully defrosted overnight, defrosting by MW seems to make the skins tougher
3 dessert-spoons water
3lbs sugar

1, Place blackcurrants and water in large* Pyrex or similarly heat proof microwave safe bowl, covered, 10 mins on high power to soften fruit and release pectin. (*large enough to hold at least twice the amount of fruit you are putting in it – mine holds 6 litres)
2, Add sugar and stir in well.
3, Lid off, bring up to the boil again in MW on high – about 6 mins.
4, Stir well and put back into MW to Simmer for 8 mins ( Simmer or med > low power)
5, Stir well, and put back into MW to simmer for 4 mins and check for set (place a teaspoon of jam mix on a cold plate – pop back in fridge – will show a set if the jam skin forms wrinkles and feels thick when finger is pushed though it when cool)
6, Into well washed jars pour about 1 cm (half an inch) of boiling water, place in microwave on full power for 3 – 4 mins until the water boils in the jars. Take care and tip them out well and stand to evaporate the last bit of water while you re-heat the jam mix
7, If a set is demonstrated by your test – return jam mix to microwave and heat until bubbles appear then remove from microwave and ladle into hot jars. (if no set then simmer for another 3 mins and retest, continue until a set is demonstrated)
8, Cover with clear jam-covers as per instructions with the packet, and label.
9, Enjoy!

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This recipe makes a very intensely favoured Blackcurrant jam … which we also use to flavour our home-made yoghurt, just by stirring in a scant teaspoonful at the table – YUM!

Are you a jam maker?

Do you like to use your microwave to make jam or is this a new idea for you?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you.

6Oh – and if you are a Facebooker – there is a draw on Pendown Publishing’s page to enter where you can win a paperback copy of The Angel Bug  – please do pop over there and enter – you just Like the page and answer the fun question – ‘What genre would your life-story be?’ to enter. Thanks

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** Pre-Launch Party ** for The Angel Bug

WoooHooo – Welcome to the Pre-Launch Party for THE ANGEL BUG  – due to be released on the 1st July!

What is a blog pre-launch party? Well, I’d love to break out the champers and serve up the caviar but on a blog all I can offer is some PRIZES  and some TASTERS.

champers PRIZES  *******

I will give away one ebook a day (winner’s choice) from my previously published novels, to a correct entry in the competition below – EVERYDAY ALL THROUGH JUNE!

So get reading,

answer the questions

and email your answers and your book choice to ann@anfoweraker.com.

The sooner you enter the more chances you get! Each week I will organise a random pick for seven lucky winners!

COMPETITION QUESTIONS!

(click book links to read first 3 chapters of each, in pdf, to find the answers)

1] In DIVINING the LINE what county does Liz live in?

2] In NOTHING EVER HAPPENS HERE where, in Cornwall, does Sally suggest Jo and Alex might go to, to get away from London?

3] In SOME KIND of SYNCHRONY what is Di’s new job?

{hint: all answers are within the first chapter}

Competition Rules:

You need to be signed-up to this blog (email sign -up is easy if you are not signed up already – see ‘subscribe’ box top left)

Answer all three questions and email the answers and the following information to ann@annfoweraker.com

The novel* you’d like to receive as a prize AND the eformat you would like it in (MOBI for kindle: EPUB for nook/sony/kobo: or  PDF)

* to read blurbs – to help you chose – go to Ann Foweraker Bookshop on TOP bar

One winner per email address; chosen via random.org. The prize ebook will be emailed to the winner after the weekly draw.

and now the caviar TASTER  ******

every week, added to the usual blog, will be excerpts from my latest novel The Angel Bug due to be released on July 1st … read the first instalment Today !

The Angel Bug  1

Gabbi – October 18th

Thirty years should change a man, I thought, but looking at the handsome face on the huge poster it didn’t look like it had done much to Luke Adamson’s features except, perhaps, make him look more rugged, a man to be taken seriously.

I hadn’t mentioned knowing him when it was first mooted that he might be able to fit the Eden Project into his UK trip; publicising his book and film, rumoured to have made him a millionaire already. ‘Jungala’ was a box-office phenomenon, though it started out as a serious film on ‘Man’s relationship with plants and the importance of preserving biodiversity’.

It shouldn’t have made it as a blockbuster movie, however, something happened in the filming; the ‘baddies’, a real threatening force, turned up and turned Luke into an Indiana Jones character. Added to that, in the three years it took to film, two major breakthroughs in treating terminal illnesses in man had been developed from extracts of plants hitherto only known and used by natives of the rainforests. With his superb on-screen presence, deep knowledge of his subject, film-star good looks and some excellent cutting, the serious ethno-botanical study became a mainstream ‘true-life’ film complete with soundtrack and an eco-song reminiscent of ‘Born Free’.

You see I knew all this, I’d read about it in the papers; his name, as always, drawing my eye and, despite my conscious thoughts, my interest, I’d even gone up to Plymouth to see the first screening. So why hadn’t I said anything to Mikaela when she was bubbling on about ‘how wonderful it would be’, and ‘what a coup it would be’, and ‘wasn’t he the most sexy scientist out there’? Well, I knew myself too well, I knew if I’d said anything that I’d have blushed, and then there would have been that kind teasing that they went in for in the Eden family, and I didn’t think I could cope with that, and they would have no idea that it would be difficult for me.

The Eden family, that’s how I felt about them all, a great bunch of people that easily became friends as they seemed to have, at their core, the same values. To me they had been a true life-line, welcoming me in and giving me both a focus in life and the gentle external framework I had needed to grow into a stronger person when my main support had been so suddenly cut away.

Well I’d had a month to get used to seeing his photo everywhere, even in my local Co-op, and now his visit was only a couple of days away. I wasn’t really worried, I told myself, even at university he’d been one of the ‘celebrities’ and I was definitely ‘one of the others’. He probably wouldn’t recognise or remember me, so it wouldn’t be anything to be fussed about, I told myself – again.

‘Gabbi!’ Mikaela called, waving me over as soon as I reached the open-plan office floor of the Foundation building. When I got close enough, Mikaela swung her chair round to face the others too, ‘Hey, listen – Luke Adamson’s emailed me. “So looking forward to seeing the eighth wonder of the world! I have heard so many good things about the Eden Project – and as it is the last date on my tour I intend to take a break and see a bit of Cornwall while I’m there. Recommendations welcome.” Wow, what do you think? What would a guy like that want to see?’

‘He’s American – anything older than 200 years should do the trick,’ cut in Andy from the plant pathology desk.

‘Cynic!’ Naomi muttered, her eye to a microscope.

‘He’s used to old buildings,’ I murmured, seeing him standing under the arch of King’s College, then, as Mikaela turned a puzzled face to me, I added quickly, ‘PhD at Cambridge.’

‘So he did!’ Mikaela turned back to Andy, ‘So, maestro?’

‘So, it had better be King Arthur then, Tintagel, um, some of the prehistoric stuff, Men-a-Tol,’ Andy offered, pushing himself back from his desk, ‘Coffee anyone?’ Heads were shaken, one hand up, Andy shambled off to fetch one for himself and one for Naomi.

‘You know I keep thinking this is his first UK visit, when it’s just his first visit to this part of the UK!’ Mikaela beamed brightly, ‘I’m sure we can find some really Cornish places to recommend to him, might even be able to escort him round a bit,’ she added with a twinkle in her eye.

I smiled at Mikaela’s enthusiasm and thought he’d probably be quite happy to be escorted by Mikki. Twenty-eight, pretty, long-legged, blonde and shapely, Mikki was the antithesis of the dowdy scientist, very much the sort of girl Luke used to go for, I thought, and the type who went for him back then. I didn’t suppose he’d changed in that respect either.

By mid-afternoon, truth be told, I was feeling a little drowsy as another restless night caught up with me and I was finding the rows of figures in front of me swimming. Somehow, while Eden was between senior botanists, I had ended up with the role, partly through an odd deference to me as the senior by age and, I believed, an acknowledgement of my organisational skills. I shook myself and, deciding on a restorative cup of tea, pushed my chair away from the desk. As I did so my phone rang, sliding the chair forward again I answered with a voice much brighter than I felt.

‘Hello, Gabbi Johnston.’

‘Gabbi! Josh here, I’m in H03. There’s something not right with the Moringa – I think you had better come and take a look.’

From the designation, H03, I pictured the slight, pale boy, Josh, standing by the Orang dan Kebun, the Malaysian house and garden area in the humid-tropics biome.

‘All right, Josh, I’ll be right down,’ I said already standing as I replaced the phone. A quick whiz down to the pit was probably the best antidote to the lethargy I was feeling anyway.

Picking up my mobile I headed out of the Foundation building, turned sharply and collected my bike. As a health and lifestyle statement and as a method of keeping fit I kept a bike at Eden for getting around. Easy on the trip down into the pit, as the site of the biomes was appropriately known to the employees of Eden, but a darn sight harder on the muscles on the way back up to the administration buildings on the rim.

I felt that sense of wonder and exhilaration that I always did as my pedal strokes brought me in sight of the Eden that everyone recognises from books, TV and adverts, the soap-bubble constructions piled against the sides of the once raw granite china-clay pit, then, as I neared, the panoply of the temperate zone, the largest, the ‘outdoor biome’. All of it looking both small and vast at the same time.

After walking briskly through the jungle conditions of the humid biome I was perspiring slightly by the time I reached H03 and there was Josh standing beside the Malaysian house, keeping out of the way of the visitors who were wandering, gawping upwards, stopping and bending to read notices, children dashing back and forth to drag parents on to the ‘thing’ they’d found, or trailing behind, tired and hot.

‘Hi!’ Josh said when I stood beside him. ‘You have to get to the higher side to see it.’

We walked with the crowd round the edge of the garden, but where the rest flowed onwards we stopped and stepped to the far side of the path.

Josh raised his hand and pointed to the top most leaves of the Moringa oleifera.

‘There!’ he said, ‘Earlier, when it was clouded over, I could see quite clearly that the top-most leaves are going red.’

The sky beyond the ETFE bubble biome structure was bright now, I shaded my eyes but I still couldn’t see the leaf colour properly; the higher delicate fronds were just dark silhouettes.

A family came and stood between us and the tree. The mother read from the guide in clear tones. ‘ “Moringa oleifera, also know as the Horseradish or Miracle tree, has edible leaves, beans, flowers and roots.”  I wonder if it’s the roots that give it the Horseradish name. “Beside it stands the Neem tree known throughout the East as the world’s most useful tree, providing medicine, fuel and food.” Well that sounds impressive for one plant. ’

The family stood a moment or two looking the two slim trees up and down, the younger boy pointing out the bean-like seed pods. They moved on, the mother reading the next section as they walked.

‘I’m going higher,’ I said. ‘I can’t see well enough from here.’

Josh nodded assent and followed me as I turned and took a near vertical route up through the planting to get as high as possible.

Now I could see. Josh was right; there were a significant number of leaves turning red, as if for an early autumn. Yet these trees shouldn’t have an autumn, shouldn’t be changing colour.

‘What’s the watering like?’ I asked

‘Fine, checked that, no problems now or recorded.’

‘Hmm, okay, well we will need leaf samples anyway – so dehydration can be ruled out while we look for other baddies,’ I smiled. ‘Could you arrange that for me Josh?’

‘Sure, only one for you, or one to each?’ he said, meaning, a sample for the plant pathologist and one for the entomologist too.

‘Better make it one to each, thanks,’ I said frowning. ‘Better make them bio-safe and labelled urgent. Okay?’

‘Okay, no probs!’

No probs! Indeed! Big Probs!! I thought as I sweated the bike back up the slope. Perhaps I should have had a sample sent to Mikki too. It might be easier than actually telling her that there was a problem with the Moringa. Of all the trees in all the biomes, why did it have to be that one, a paraphrased Bogart said in my head, if no other plant, Luke would certainly zero in on his pet, the tree that made his name in ethnobotany!  Back at my desk I bashed Moringa oleifera into the Forestry-Compendium website to check out if it had any history of turning red, and what the cause might be………

 I hope you enjoyed that little taster ….. more next week.

Have you ever been to The Eden Project in Cornwall?

Do share your thoughts on the excerpt, the competition or Eden … you know I love to hear from you.

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