21 Mar 2016

Little People, Big Hearts

I have a problem with today's society. There is an urge for 'being somebody', for being noticed, being with it, breaking it, making it, becoming famous. What rigs it even more is that the quest for be(com)ing somebody is defined by one parameter - the popularity contest. It is driven by celebrity culture, inflated by social media (creating the ephemeral buzz and elusive cool factor) and misguided by the reality TV agenda (whereby we are sold the idea that anyone - just anyone - can be someone). In a world where individuals are hungry for fame and still stand famished as the fame they're craving for does not sustain in the long run, I am wondering: what's wrong with just wanting to be/ stay ordinary - as in not famous - at all?

My great great grandad Ferdinand's village in Picardie, France (pic source)

Ordinary and be of worth, able to accomplish worthwhile things, like a job done right, and be a caring child, spouse, parent, friend, neighbour. To establish and maintain one's value system and cause no harm nor prejudice. Respectful of life in all its representations, down to nature that surrounds us. Give a meaning to life that is not dependent upon external objects.

I have discussed the ordinary folks before now and to me they are anything but ordinary. I hold so much respect for them! No need to be searching high and low for we are surrounded by them in our own lifelines. Take my maternal great great auntie, Claire, an industrious Corsican woman who worked her land her entire life, with nothing like a day in lieu or a pension to fall back on. Take my paternal great grandad, Louis, who started work at 6 years of age down his local textile mill in Picardie, northern France, and later took his leave... to experience the trenches of the Great War. Or how about Louis's dad, Ferdinand, a weaver and family man whose life was stolen off him at 45 on his way to work, engulfed by snow drift in the wee hours of the morning... His tragic passing didn't make the news.

Ferdinand is buried in the Fluquières cemetery (pic source)

Those are ordinary folks, working-class heroes in their own right. They glide in and out of the grand scheme of things, and get no mention in history books. Yet in the great architecture of the universe, those are the artisans who laboured their lives away and still managed to grow spiritually and enrich their communities with a strong set of values. 

Dignity, pride, honour, honesty, respect, grace, compassion, loving care, knowledge, inner wisdom, gratitude, acceptance, resilience, bravery, labour - and an immense strength of character that we, the modern folks in quest of the un-ordinary, should take a leaf out of. These 'behind-the-scenes' folks were used by governments and corporate but still held their all while acting as the cannon-fodder that fuelled the mills during peace and the artillery during war. They still found the time and energy to be creative in their frugal ways, attend to their land agroecologically (way before the term was coined!), make do with little they owned, fix and build things, make life beautiful, feed a family and raise the kids right, go to church, believe in Heaven and redemption and hone their own conception of the after-life, and an earnest belief in the continuous betterment of man.

They lived in rural communities and were in tune with nature that they nurtured, knew every plant, concocted herbal remedies, understood the weather patterns, nature cycles, the seasons and the lunar calendar, and referred to the almanac. They were fabulous story-tellers, and the guardians of family anecdotes, local legends and folk tales. They met up with family and friends in a spirit of conviviality. They always had a bowl of soup at the ready for someone even poorer than themselves who would come knocking on their door. They were hardly school-educated, and so what? They could function autonomously, solidly grounded in common sense and observation. They were entrepreneurial, inventive and never backed down. They lived a simple life but that didn't make them the commoners they may be described as by whoever is hungry for fame and a material lifestyle that ends up tarnishing their soul. For to be rich is to own inner riches, and these cannot be bought.

19 Mar 2016

How to Foolproof Your Windows 10 PC in 10 Easy Steps!

My parents bought a new PC lately, an ASUS X553M Notebook. Price was the catch, but as the more savvy amongst us are aware, price does not (always) dictate quality, especially when it comes to technology. Roby, my Apple-devout better half, had warned them that they should go for Mac rather than PC but they went down the supermarket instead, and halfway between browsing the DIY aisle and the books section, had a quick nose round the IT shelves for a pretty-looking piece wearing an ice white shell and a shiny logo on top, then asked a couple of lame questions to a nearby vendor and the deal was sealed. When they got home, they called me and asked me to work my magic on it. And faced with Windows 10 - an adversity all to itself - this is what I came up with:

  1. I registered their ASUS machine online, following the prompts, and had to create an ASUS account in the process but kept personal data to a minimum. 
  2. Personalised the 'Welcome' message that pops up when Windows loads.
  3. Set the date and time (yep, can you believe that this is not an automatic Windows feature here?)!
  4. Uninstalled the preset anti-virus software and unleashed my trusted Kaspersky, as I own a Kaspersky licence for 2 PCs.
  5. Installed Iolo System Mechanic, a programme (not a freebie but well worth the cost!) that does a great job of decluttering registers and system drives and all the behind-the-scenes shindig!
  6. Killed off Internet Explorer and installed Firefox as the defacto internet browser. I bookmarked a handful of websites that I know my parents will be using, to make it easier for them. I tweaked the design to make it more personable to them and added the Ghostery plug-in, an advert blocker that works wonders!
  7. Uninstalled the Microsoft Office free trial bundle. Who wants to shell out cash for more crawling chaos? And here whizzed in OpenOffice! While I was at it, I installed Adobe Acrobat Reader DC, and PhotoScape free photo-editing software, a pared-down cheapo imitation of Photoshop Elements that does amateur photography the trick of the tweak!
  8. Installed Skype and created and configured their brand new Skype account, adding a couple of family contacts to give my parents a headstart with the application!
  9. Customised their task bar with all the basic programmes and features, like Open Office, Adobe Reader, Calculator, Screen Capture Tool, Kaspersky, System Mechanic, Skype and PhotoScape. I doubt they will use WebStorage and Evernote but I added those on too. Cleaned out the Windows start menu off any unnecessary items.
  10. Created a table in a word document that holds their account logins and passwords, so that they are never stuck! Of course I encouraged them to change their passwords and update the sheet accordingly whenever they do so.
Finally I downloaded the Lexmark printer files off the manufacturer's website in order to connect my parents' old printer to their new computer. Unfortunately I couldn't find drivers compatible with Windows 10;  yet another dirty little trick that Microsoft loves to play on us whenever they upgrade to a new OS, forcing folks to purchase new bits of kit... This is the Microsoft Windows diktat, and another reason why I begrudge the IT behemoth.

Now a little rant. Unsurprisingly, Windows 10 has failed to impress me, and already I can spot error messages creeping up and discrepancies brewing up just under the hood... You wonder whether Windows' clunky and notoriously dysfunctioning operating systems are not a justification for keeping IT departments and the IT sector as a whole superstaffed, because if we were dealing with efficient systems, we wouldn't need all those dedicated Windows technicians!

Would you trust this man with your computer? Me neither.

Anyhoo I tried to streamline and foolproof my parents' computer as best I could. Considering they will be mostly surfing the internet and typing up the odd letter, a PC put through my 10-step programme should suffice.

14 Mar 2016

The Lambing Season

With the call of Spring only one week away and Easter a week after that, family gatherings are back on the menu after the post-Christmas interval. Now pardon me for sounding blunt and direct, but may I ask you a personal question: How do you like your lamb?

Cory Weber Photography, via Wedding Sparrow

No, it's not a strange question, and yes I do mean the cute cuddly baby sheep! Hmm, before the juices start running and baby onions start rustling up in the oven, you'll have me beg you to spare me the trimmings. Why? Because it just so happens that I like my lamb au naturel and with little else. That means I like it without the mint sauce and the garden peas, and the basting unless it's a typo and you mean 'basking', because I like my lamb basking in the sun (and not in gravy!). I like my lamb so much that it has got to run free through the herb garden and the potager, and across pastures new of tender grass, with no fear to be had, and a long life to look forward to. I am a vegetarian and I like my lamb alive!

Cory Weber Photography, via Wedding Sparrow

My lamb may lie on a carrot bed should its fancy be tickled by it, but not on a bed of steamed carrots. I shall be able to gaze into its eyes while calling it cute, and not have to bear the double standards once it has been slain and laid to rest on the Easter platter for all of us to share, cutting the chop and cutting away the idea that said meat belongs to an animal that we call cute and pretty and cuddly! So cute awww, it hurts! So huggable, it loses out in the food stakes, to the hug of the carnivorous diet...  

Pause and think: do you really need to eat a cute little thing like that little guy in order to satisfy your wondrous appetite? Or are you just getting so caught up in tradition and habit that you don't even realise what is going on on your plate anymore?

This coming Easter, may your 'Aww!' moment be your 'Aha!' moment. I'll meat you over the nut loaf.

Cory Weber Photography, via Wedding Sparrow
Cory Weber Photography, via Wedding Sparrow

Wait for it! There are more farm animal cuties to be seen, via exPress-o and A Playful Day! Meanwhile the story of a blind steer cutie called Oatmeal may well tip the die-hard meat lovers to forego steak for veg!

7 Mar 2016

The Art of Slow Blogging

Recently I came across an interesting and thought-provoking post by Kate O'Sullivan @ A Playful Day that mused over the Art of Slow Blogging. The topic instantly resonated with me... and my blogging style which happens to bear a close resemblance to the art form. Thus it was both flattering and encouraging for me to find out that the methodology - Movement even! - had been acknowledged by insiders within the blogging community!

I started blogging over six years ago - in earnest. But I had started the journey a few weeks prior, writing a dozen posts in advance, all collated together in a Word document. I published my posts at the rate of one a day. Meanwhile I knew I should be pacing myself but in those early weeks, blogging fever had taken over me! I never ran out of ideas or material or steam. Then just before Christmas 2009, I changed lives and I moved countries, and blogging had to take a back seat for a while. Yet I missed blogging so bad, I pined for it! When I finally managed to settle into a routine a few months later, I resumed the blogging, after writing a series of ready-to-be-published articles behind the scenes. I knew nonetheless that the daily post formula would not be a viable option.

Besides I had high standards and high expectations of myself, and I wanted blogging to remain an enjoyable experience - keep the flame alive - not having it turned into a chore. My priority was for content quality to improve consistently, presentation to be on a par with professional blogs out there, and topics to be more and more daring. And to me, aside from a few notable exceptions, those bloggers who deliver daily tend after a while to run out of creative steam, or get too comfortable and start cutting corners, getting sloppy, giving the finer details the shoulder, and discussing the same topic over and over, under a different title, and ripped off Pinterest pictures, for the sake of the daily publish. Or turn the daily post into the daily mall, with a shopping list and a wish list to boot that link to a list of affiliates that kerchings blogging out! The Art of Blogging, in all its capital letter glory, falls off the wayside. All you get is a series of images, and a bit of lame text that painfully stretches the distance from side bar to side bar, flashing with retail links. This leaves us readers in search of 'substance' questioning our loyalty to material that is not worth our while (anymore).

My prerogative has always been to keep my integrity of spirit and keep writing from the heart, and alongside this, develop further as a writer, and eventually move towards a non-fiction book project. In the meantime, as a blogger I choose to pace myself in order to have the time that helps me deliver quality. Slow does it for me. But careful, slow is not lazy! It might be so in relation to certain bloggers, but those won't last the distance. The slow I am on about, you need to allegorically associate it to the Slow Food Movement, that rediscovers the traditional way of cooking honest, simple food and sharing it in a convivial, nourishing and paced fashion. Slow is crucial to a stew or a fine cheese or a good wine. The produce takes a little longer in the making, it needs that little extra time and loving care in order to come together and mature and deliver taste. Good things come to those (readers) who wait and to those (bloggers) who take their time to write them. This creates a synergy.

Forget about the stats. I might not be writing a post a day, but rest assured that every single one of them is no casual affair. It takes me a fair amount of time to put together. Some posts require me to push the envelope further as they involve research that may span weeks. But in every case, I enjoy the process and I can safely say without sounding pretentious that all of my posts convey a message, provide food for thought, and give lifestyle that little edge of attitude. This, to me, is the recipe for a blog to last the distance - and what Slow Blogging is/ should be about.

Thanks from the bottom of my heart for reading and appreciating my blog! This means a lot to me.

5 Mar 2016

Foraging for Wild Asparagus

Wild asparagus season is in full swing in Corsica right now, and a demonstration of how giving and generous nature is to man, in all of our taking for granted of it. I had spotted a few asparagus stems around the village, tentatively tempting me to indulge in a little culinary adventure.

Fresh asparagus always gets me excited for two reasons. It heralds Spring (two weeks from now!), and is an indulgent delicacy (verging on luxury) that gracefully eases us out of the stodgy Winter veg dishes. Unlike its cultivated counterpart, wild asparagus is thin and lean! Long stems (whose tips are for picking) that delicately sway to the breeze in a semi-shaded, well-drained environment. I find them scattered at the feet of old olive trees.

Yesterday morning, with little Tickle in tow, and 'armed' with a paring knife, small gratin dish and camera, I went pottering about my immediate surroundings, on the hunt for wild asparagus. Oh, I did get distracted on the way there and back by those other tangible signs of Spring, purple daisy-like ground flowers that go by the name of Anemone stellata.

Then I spotted what looked like Morels. However not being a mycologist and not being able to ascertain whether those morels were safe and edible - or toxic - I resisted the temptation of picking them! Folks, the 'Better safe than sorry' idiom befits wild mushroom foraging to a cap, especially if you are no specialist!

Creamy Pasta Served with Wild Asparagus

Back home, I threw together a quick and easy lunch out of leftover plain pasta, simply plunged in boiling water and a dash of olive oil for a couple of minutes, then tossed in double cream, to which were added a small tin of sliced button mushrooms (my safe option to those unacquainted wild varieties out there!), the juice of half a lemon from Nice (+ a sprinkle of grated peel), salt, pepper and chopped chives. In a separate pan, I blanched the asparagus tips for five minutes, drained them and scattered them over the plated pasta. It was an ordinary meal with a little extra thrown into it, thanks to the fragrant, natural and organic asparagus that had been picked from the wild!

(pict source)