Breaking the Rules

About a week ago, I was honoured to be nominated for a Liebster Award by Kerry E.B. Black of Allusionary Assembly. Thank you, Kerry!

Liebster is German for sweet, kind, nice, dear, beloved, lovely, pleasant, valued, and endearing. This award is a sweet, kind and nice way of discovering new blogs and supporting others in our blogging community.

The rules:

  1. Say thank you to the person who nominated you for the award.
  2. Answer the 11 questions the person has asked you.
  3. Nominate people (comment on their blog to let them know).
  4. Ask the people you have nominated 11 questions.

Here are my answers to Kerry’s questions:

1. How much time a day do you spend writing?
When I’m working on my novel, it could be six to eight hours a day, but two jobs, this blog and life in general don’t allow me that luxury anymore! For my blog, I plan and write posts in advance to allow a lot of time for editing and tweaking until I feel they’re just right. I include original photography, so that takes time, too.

2. What are your greatest influences?
The medieval/Arthurian/historical books, movies and TV shows I consumed as a child, teen and young adult definitely formed me. The 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood was huge, along with Tolkien and many of the authors I’ve written about for my blog! I went through a big King Arthur phase, fed by movies such as Excalibur. Exposure to wildlife and botany from an early age is also part of my equation. I’d spend the summer holidays at our little cottage wandering the woods and pretending I was Lady Marion – or better yet, Morgana, such a naughty nymph!

3. What is your favourite colour and why?
I’m a Pisces and love the water – any water: lake, trickling stream, waterfalls, puddles, the ocean – so my favourite colours are blue-green and soft grey, the colours of sea and fog.

4. If you could travel anywhere, where would you visit? Live?
Back to England and Wales, which I’ve only visited once; there’s still so much I want to see! Then I’d settle in a tiny rustic cottage on a remote Scottish island where cars are not allowed and mail gets delivered once a week by boat. The cottage would have flagstone floors, a scrubbed oak work table, an Aga, a stillroom and a wood-burning fireplace. And a herb garden. And cats, lots of cats.

April Cottage, Castle Combe, Wiltshire (May 1992)

5. Plan a dinner party with anyone, living or dead. Who highlights your guest list?
It would be a dinner party for ghosts, I’m afraid — my four grandparents. I never knew my grandmothers, and I wish I’d been old enough to better appreciate my grandfathers before they died. And my dad would be the guest of honour at the head of the table.

6. What’s your favourite scent and why?
Ooo, do I have to pick just one? Right now, frankincense and sandalwood top the list, but I also love the fragrance of wildflower meadows, fresh-cut grass, beeswax, pine needles, petrichor, fallen leaves and wood smoke. From the herb garden it would be lavender, roman chamomile, thyme, bergamot and scented geranium. I also cannot resist the aroma of fresh-baked bread (and will eat the whole loaf if someone doesn’t stop me). All of these are organic, down-to-earth scents with history; nothing synthetic for me, thank you!

7. What size is your family? Do you have many siblings?
Small, with two older siblings. None of us has any kids, so the patriarchal family name, which emigrated from England a century ago, ends with us on this side of The Pond.

8. What is your preferred mode of transportation?
Although I have to drive all the time to live the life I have now, I despise it. Rather, I despise other drivers. When I move to that remote, pedestrian-only island, I’ll bring a classic English bicycle, complete with wicker basket and bell!

9. Do you have a cause you’d fight and go to jail for?
I think it’s silly to go to jail for any reason, as that doesn’t, ahem, serve anyone. However, my favourite causes are nature conservancy, animal rights (including saving the bees) and preventing violence against women.

10. Ever think of running for political office?
Gods, no.

11. What is your favourite social media platform and why?
I don’t use Instagram or Twitter, etc., but I am on Facebook. This blog allows me to express myself in ways in which Facebook doesn’t.

And now, I’m going to break the rules a bit. (Sometimes it’s good to break the rules, isn’t it?) I’m nominating only two people: Samantha at samanthamurdochblog and Gillian of PaperPuff, neither of whom I was able to nominate for the Real Neat Blog Award a while back. And I’m asking these wonderful ladies just one question, with no pressure or rules attached:

1. Oatmeal biscuits [cookies] with raisins? Or without?

(Is that two questions? Oops, now is that three? Ah, jeez…)

Ladies, be very careful when you answer the above question (if, indeed, you choose to answer). It is an extremely decisive issue! Feel free to wax poetical for an entire post on the virtues of oatmeal biscuits, or biscuits of any kind, if you wish. Especially if there’s tea involved.


Real Neat Blog Award – a first!

real-neat-blog-awardA few days ago, one of my WordPress friends (and fellow medieval hut-dweller) Samantha nominated me for the Real Neat Blog Award on her lovely site, samanthamurdochblog. If you have a moment, please visit her for funny and insightful thoughts on crystals, cats, canines and other characters. Thank you, Samantha, for maintaining such an entertaining and informative blog, and for being a steadfast supporter of my own!

Here are the rules for the Real Neat Blog Award:

  1. Post the award logo on your blog.
  2. Answer 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
  3. Thank the people who nominated you and link to their blog.
  4. Nominate any number of bloggers you like and link to their blog.
  5. Let them know you nominated them by leaving a comment on their blog.

So, without further ado, these are my answers to Samantha’s questions:

1. Sunshine or rain?
Rain, definitely. Let’s just say that the sun and I don’t get along; I’m very fair-skinned and will burn to a crisp in about 20 minutes. (The night and the moon are my faithful companions!) I love rain: pearl-grey mist, a gentle drizzle, the soft, all-day patter on the cottage roof, getting caught in a sudden downpour whilst looking for wildflowers in the field behind my brother’s house.


Ophelia by John William Waterhouse, 1910 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

2. If you were a herb, what would you be?
Given the name of this blog, I suppose I ought to say the gillyflower, or carnation, because it’s a pretty, old-fashioned, clove-scented flower-herb. In the Middle Ages, it was combined with cinnamon in cooking sauces and used to flavour wine and ale. Because it could be grown year-round indoors on windowsills, it was sometimes used to pay rent! However, in the Victorian language of flowers, the gillyflower’s symbolism is rather unfortunate: a red carnation means alas for my poor heart, and striped and yellow varieties signify refusal and disdain. No, if I had to pick one over-all herb to represent me, I’d choose rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). I can’t pass a rosemary plant without brushing its fragrant sprigs with my fingers, and one of my favourite foods is warm rosemary bread fresh from the oven. I appreciate its long history, too. Used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, brought to England probably in the 12th or 13th century CE and to America by the 1600s, this versatile herb has so many culinary, medicinal and cosmetic uses as to render it indispensable to cooks, healers and homemakers everywhere, past and present. From scented monastic garden hedges to a pest-controlling strewing herb, as a flavouring for meat, eggs and baked goods, an antiseptic in balms, washes and tonics and an ingredient in potpourris and incense, rosemary has it all. Sir Thomas More wrote of it in the 16th century: As for Rosemary, I lette it run all over my garden walls, not onlie because my bees love it, but because it is the herbe sacred to remembrance and therefore to friendship. Nearly a century later, The Bard himself perpetuated the idea of memorializing the dead with a sprig of rosemary. In Hamlet, Ophelia, who is about to commit suicide, urges her loved ones not to forget her when she’s gone: There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.

3. First thing you ever cooked or baked?
Oh my, I simply don’t remember! I learned family favourites – scrumptious goodies like lemon bars, spice drops and no-bake peanut butter cookies – from my mother. I regret never having taken up offers from an aunt and my mother-in-law (now gone) to learn how to make bread and pastry by hand. Many of my attempts at fancy cooking have been epic fails (I blame it on a temperamental oven), so I stick to the simplest recipes possible! By far the most delicious, crowd-pleasing, no-fail dessert I’ve ever learned to make is a recipe from my mom, which I share here:

Helen’s Skor Bar Candy

Preheat oven to 350° F • Line cookie pan with parchment paper, including the sides • Lay an even layer of unsalted soda crackers in pan (you may have to cut some to fit) • Slowly melt together 1 cup butter and ¾ cup brown sugar and bring to a gentle boil for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly and taking care not to scorch the mixture • Pour syrup evenly over crackers • Bake for 10 minutes on middle rack • Remove from oven and push any crackers which have floated around back in place • Sprinkle a 300 g bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips into the pan; as they melt, spread evenly over the crackers • Cool pan in refrigerator • When hard, break into pieces to serve • Keep refrigerated in airtight container • Challenge yourself or your friends to eat just one • When you lose the challenge, go see your doctor about the diabetes you now have • You’re welcome.


Faithful friends: Sherry and a 7-year-old me

4. First Pet?
Sherry, the sweet-tempered, long-haired daughter of an adopted stray, was the cat I grew up with and the only one I’ve actually owned. (My husband isn’t fond of the beasts, so for years I’ve indulged my love of cats vicariously, as an aunt to other people’s pets.) Sherry loved cantaloupe and stealing sips from unattended coffee cups, caught dragonflies from the creek behind our house, eating everything except the dry and unappetizing wings, slept at the foot of my bed (acting as an alarm clock by placing a wet nose strategically in my ear), and accompanied us each summer to the island cottage where she could roam free in her own private feline paradise.

5. What country would you like to visit and why?
England, for a second time. I did take a wonderful three-week trip to England and Wales way back in 1992 and intended to return a couple of years later, but wedding plans and a job change got in the way. Other than a weekend visit to the States, it’s the only country I’ve ever travelled to. Our focus was on castles and ancient monuments, and we were well-satisfied, but since then I’ve compiled a list of so many other sites I’d love to see, such as the snickelways of York (see my post about them here), Sherwood Forest and ancient sunken lanes and holloways.

6. What one piece of advice would you give to your 16 year old self?
Finish your math, science and physics courses, take the long, harder road, and study to become a veterinarian.

7. Favourite drink (alcoholic or otherwise)?
Tea. Supermarket-variety orange pekoe tea, in bags (I’m lazy). I couldn’t live without it. Because I generally work in the afternoons and evenings, I have the luxury of being able to down a whole pot (4 cups), leisurely, as my day-starter, and I’ll often have more tea later on. I find it relaxing, comforting and stomach-soothing, and my co-workers would tell you that a large Tim Horton’s steeped tea with two milks and fourteen grains of sugar (not 13, not 15) is my personal bliss. I’m thoroughly addicted, but I console myself with the supposed health benefits (flavonoids, polyphenols, tannins and fluoride) of black tea. As for alcoholic beverages … I’m not a drinker, but I have been known to enjoy the very occasional champagne, ice wine or mead. For medicinal purposes, natch.


My favourite teacup and new cobalt Blue Betty – the best teapot in the world!

I hope these answers give you a little more insight into how I roll! Now it’s my turn to nominate some of the bloggers and sites I admire.

My nominations for the Real Neat Blog Award:

(I’d have nominated Gillian at PaperPuff, but Samantha got to her first!)

Here are my seven questions for the nominees:

  1. What motto or quote do you live by?
  2. Why did you decide to start a blog?
  3. Besides blogging, what are two other favourite things you like to do?
  4. What is your favourite book, TV show and movie? (All three, please!)
  5. What is your biggest pet peeve?
  6. Other than a parent or family member, which person (real or fictional) was the biggest influence on you growing up?
  7. If you were headed into the woods alone for a week, what one item (besides some sort of fire starter) would you take with you?

These nominations are a mark of appreciation and a way of getting to know each other and spreading the love. There is, of course, no pressure to accept. If you do choose to participate, please follow the rules at the beginning of this post. Thank you – and have fun!