What do you reckon Dear Reader? Think I should cook these up for dinner tonight?

I haven’t seen these sorts of mushrooms on the property before. I’ve seen other types of mushrooms – like these and these red and white spotted numbers. When I saw that last mushroom in the front yard, I nearly had hysterics as I was pretty sure (after Dr Googling) it was a toxic Fly Agaric.

As luck would have it, a high school mate of mine is an expert on fungus. Even has a PhD in fungi. We recently reconnected following a high school reunion in Australia (which I didn’t attend). She saw my name on the list and then found me on Facebook. We had a Skype chat and it was like yesterday talking to her. The years just melted away.

So I posted the photo below to her page and she told me that the mushrooms look the Armillaria species, which grow on living wood/roots. She also advised not to eat them – ah, wasn’t planning to anyway!

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The 5 year-old daughter of a friend of mine gave me some artwork over the weekend. According to her mum, she decided to draw Miss Rosie, Karma and Saffy, as well as Zeph, Zsa Zsa, me and El Hubs.

She was so proud to show it to me and describe each animal or person in the picture. Too too cute. Looks like Saffy might have to lose some weight hahaha!

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Did you have a good Easter break? I resolved not to eat much chocolate and, hooray, I ate just one small choc bunny. I bumped up my walking to around 17,000 steps per day. I have a FitBit and really love how it motivates you to get out and about.

We had some friends over on Easter Monday for hot cross buns and a sausage sizzle. Zeph is such a social dog and loves to get in on the human action. He is a cheese connoisseur and loves toast with butter. So we had to watch the hot cross buns and butter, as well as the Camembert we had on the table.

He puts his paws up on the seat, with a view to leaping up on the table and scoffing food. So we were all on guard, preventing Zeph from snatching delights.

Just look at the cheeky smirk on his face!IMG_8226

Here is something a bit different. A short piece I wrote on Julius Caesar’s assassination, which took place on the Ides of March (March 15, 44 BC in Rome, Italy). It’s entitled The Senators are Waiting.

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Mark Antony was already making his way to the Senate, which lay just beyond Pompey’s theater, behind the public gardens resplendent with cypress and umbrella pines. Caesar caught a glimpse of Antony, rushing up the uneven marble steps, leading to the large polished bronze doors.

“We must hurry Caesar. The Senators are waiting.” Decius, Caesar’s long-time friend, glanced at the great man as they walked together through Rome’s crowded streets.

“They can wait a little longer.” Caesar’s smile held a trace of annoyance. The sky to the south was a wash of dirty mauves and violets, a gentle breeze signalling a cool, if unsettled, day ahead. Caesar heard nightingales in the distance call farewell to the night.

“Calpurnia begged me not to attend the Senate today. My wife listens too much to the soothsayers, always declaring their dark prophecies.” He’d had a restless night, awakened by rolling thunder.

Street vendors hawked salted fish, warm pans of smoking sausages, and jars of wine. “For you, Caesar. A jar of my finest red wine,” called a mottle-faced man as they swept by. His throat was choked from the dust of the streets, and he considered accepting the cool, ruby
liquid before a member of his guard intervened. “Caesar, it could be poison,” he cautioned.

Caesar took in the guard’s oval leather shield, with its distinctive markings of moon and stars, the white horsehair plume of the helmet, bobbing in rhythm with the movement of his head.

“Oh, to be at war again Decius, instead of dealing with these wretched Senators. Always niggling about land and status. We could don our helmets and leave them to their squabbles.”

Caesar dodged a large earthenware pot, one of many placed at intervals in the streets. “Watch out Decius, it’s a blasted piss pot.”

“There’s death in every open window, Caesar. A piss pot or two could come down and crack us on the head at any moment.” Decius squinted his eyes from the rays of the wintery sun, as he looked up at the four-storied tenements that lined the streets and narrow passageways. Paint chipped turquoise doors, the only brightness in the gloom of poverty.

Stumbling towards them, hot with wine and young blood, four men in scarlet cloaks, escorted home by the awakening light of the new day, rather than the hidden dangers of moonlight.

“Caesar, we should return to the main thoroughfare.” The same guard, with a rough hand poised on sword hilt.

“I will be thankful to reach the safety of the Senate. I fail to see why you always want to walk in these dirty streets.” Decius covered his nose, the sweet scents of myrtle and cypress oils he’d applied earlier in the morning, failing to mask the sulphurous stench of Rome’s sewers.

In the shadow of the public baths just ahead of them, restless hooves were beating the ground, as the parade horses were readied for the afternoon gladiatorial display. A mulberry-hued saddle blanket was being placed on his horse, who whinnied as Caesar approached. He whispered into silken ears: “Ah, Jupiter. Soon we will fly through fields of scarlet poppy and yellow mustard.”

They reached the steps of the Senate, and Caesar paused to look at the deep marbled veins of the steps. “Decius. I’ve not noticed this before. It’s like life itself coursing through.” The sky was now overcast and sullen, the murmur of thunder in the distance. “Caesar, I….” Decius could not meet Caesar’s gaze.

Stepping across the threshold into the Senate, raised voices became whispers, the Senators swathed in draping white togas, turning to face Rome’s dictator. “Senators, I trust we won’t be locked in debate for hours. Jupiter is anxious to join the parade later today.”

The mosaic tiled floor was an intricate serpentine pattern. Caesar was always amused by the entwined blue serpents with red eyes, for he could match each serpent to a troublesome Senator. The terracotta wall to his left, contained niches for honorific statues.

“I see that bastard, Pompey, has joined us.” Caesar sniggered at Pompey’s marble statue before taking his seat, his well-built frame hugging its winged arms, his fingers drumming the wood. Light streamed through the high windows, softening Caesar’s hard blue eyes, and making gold patterns on the tiles.

Tillius Cimber walked forward. “Caesar, I wish to petition on behalf of my brother, to recall him to Rome. You sent him into exile last year.” A tall man with jittery movements, he looked towards a group of men, gathering behind Caesar. Coming closer, he grasped Caesar’s shoulders, pinning him down, awakening every nerve in Caesar’s body.

Shouts and the hands of treachery and deceit stabbing, slashing. Caesar’s voice tight with pain, the great man fell at the feet of Pompey’s statue, his life draining and seeping into the cracks between the mosaic tiles. “Cassius, Brutus. Even you?”

Mark Antony, delayed by Caius Trebonius in a hall outside the Senate, sunk to his knees before Caesar. Blood pooling around him, he looked into the wild eyes of assassins. “Brutus, Caesar loved you like a son.”

Caesar felt the cold sting of the tiles against his temple, his vision blurred by a red toga. A slaughterous red. He hadn’t noticed Decius wearing a red toga as they walked to the Senate.

He clutched a silver dagger, drenched with blood. Caesar’s eyes settled on the carved bone handle with its coiled serpents, uncovering the lies of Decius. “My friend, why?”

© Kim Martins 2016

 

I visited a friend the other day for coffee. I sometimes look after her cat and KC decided to plonk herself between us as we were talking.

Don’t you love how she blends in with the cheetah-patterned blanket? She was conked out for hours. Just as well because we chatted for over four hours😉

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More empties people. Love it. Let’s sift through my trash!

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HAIR STUFF. What? No Batiste. Nope, not this time around. I did finish up two cans of VO5 Plump It Up Dry Shampoo. It’s effective; it’s cheaper than Batiste, so what’s not to love?

I finally made my way through a bottle of Carol’s Daughter Black Vanilla Leave-In Conditioner. The scent of this product is really lovely. But…it’s quite costly (I think it was around NZ$30.00) and I didn’t notice it doing anything amazing for my hair. So won’t repurchase.

Klorane Conditioning Balm with Mango Butter. When I was living in Australia, I would always buy a Klorane shampoo and conditioner. I’ve not seen the brand in New Zealand and this conditioner I bought overseas. Loved the delicate mango aroma. The conditioner is quite thick and did a great job giving my hair some shine. Will see if I can purchase it on the internet.

SOAPS. Another bottle of my favourite brand, Dr Bronner’s Pure Castille Liquid Soap, this time the rose scent. I always have a bottle of Dr Bronner’s in the house.

Sabun Olive Oil Soap. This is handmade in Syria and was the rose variety. I’ve used these soaps for years, but will now give them a rest. The bar is just too large to handle and I’m a bit over them.

Himalaya Herbals Almond & Rose Soap. This is a brand I discovered when working in Bhutan back in 2013. An Indian market in Christchurch carries some of the range. Really liked this soap – very creamy and silky. Would repurchase.

A lavender soap from Portugal that my mother-in-law gave me. I think the brand is Caricia. Super-creamy and just a lovely soap to enjoy.

An organic soap I bought in Bali a couple of years ago and finally got around to using. Quite lovely actually – a delicate papaya orange scent by a brand called Aura.

SHOWER STUFF. I went through a bottle of body wash from NZ brand, Only Good. Their products are made in New Zealand, 100% natural, palm free, no petrochemicals, and are not tested on animals. I tried the Awaken body wash, which is scented with orange, lemongrass and ginger. Really liked it and now have the Vitality body wash lined up and ready to go.

The Body Shop drench sponge, which is a synthetic, latex-free sponge I use in the shower. Had it for ages and it was still going strong, but thought I should replace it.

The Body Shop body butter in Peach. At least I think it’s peach; it was a gift with purchase and is a small tub. I LOVE the body butters from TBS but this one I wasn’t a great fan of – don’t fancy smelling like a fruit bowl.

CLEANSERS. Powered my way through another Bioderma cleanser. I bought it in Rome and decided it had to be finished off. From the sensitive range, it’s the Sensibio Lait or cleansing milk for sensitive skin. I actually preferred this to the Sensibio H20 I finished up recently. A lovely silky milk that wiped off makeup easily and left my skin feeling soft. Would repurchase.

I also knocked off a cleansing oil I picked up in Malaysia. Can’t remember the name of it, but it’s very popular in Asia. Liked it but wouldn’t rave about it. I prefer The Body Shop Chamomile Cleansing Oil.

Weleda One Step Cleanser & Toner. I’m a great fan of Weleda. I use their almond moisturizer, but this cleanser was just awful. It was the smell – a strong herbal whiff – and I don’t think it was a very effective cleanser. I tossed it when I was half-way through the bottle.

Nivea Gentle Facial Cleansing Wipes. I always have a packet of cleansing wipes on hand. I like the Nivea brand as the wipes remain moist and are gentle on the skin.

Earth Science Chamomile & Green Tea Eye Makeup Remover. Love anything by Earth Science. This product was very gentle, didn’t sting my eyes and was very effective. Would certainly buy again.

SKIN STUFF. Quite a bit finished up.

Another bottle of Evolu Eye & Lip Serum. This is a New Zealand brand I’ve used for years and the serum is great. Lightweight, absorbs easily but has enough power to combat the signs of ageing. All sorts of goodies in this serum: tigernut extract; marine wakame algae; and shea butter. I’m currently trialing two new eye creams – one is the Azulene eye treatment cream from Earth Science; the other is the Reviva Labs Eye Complex Firming Cream. Both are lovely but I will pick up another Evolu serum down the track.

Very sad to finish up an eye cream from La Prairie – the Cellular Radiance eye cream. I bought this in South Africa and I think it cost a hefty NZ$210.00!! But worth every cent. Rich, creamy and a little goes a long way. A dream of a cream.

Royal Nectar Moisturizing Facelift Cream by New Zealand brand, Nelson Honey. I’ve used some of their products before and I really liked this cream. It contains bee venom (all the rage) and I did think it tightened up the skin a bit. Would definitely repurchase.

Simple Protecting Light Moisturizer with SPF 15. My first go at the Simple brand. I liked it a lot. No fuss moisturiser that was light-weight on my oily combo skin. I will look into more products from this range.

Dr Hauschka Regenerating Serum. Fantastic product. Free from mineral oils, parabens and silicone; and contains quince seed. I used this serum under their Rose Day cream. I am very partial to anything from this brand as it’s a quality brand.

Maria Åkerberg is a brand I found whilst in Sweden. I use their rose facial oil and their bronzer has made my top list of bronzers many times. It’s an organic range of products featuring organic vegetable oils. I finished up their Serum Antirouge, designed to calm down and treat skin that might be inflamed from rosacea. Contains a combination of horse chestnut, poria, common reed, cypress, and neroli. It certainly helped my skin a lot. I will have to order from Sweden I think because I haven’t seen Maria Åkerberg products available on any of the usual international skin or makeup websitea. I certainly want to continue using the brand and would love to try some of the cleansers.

Nellie Tier Frankincense & Rose facial oil. Oh my. Where to begin. This is a New Zealand brand and the facial oil is possibly the best I’ve ever used. It has a beautiful scent to it; not strong despite the frankincense. A bottle of this liquid gold costs around NZ$42.00 but lasts well over a year. Sad to finish it. I will repurchase once I’ve made my way through my current facial oil (which is the Maria Åkerberg rose facial oil).

MAKEUP. Not a lot finished up because I have eyeshadows and mascaras on heavy rotation. VERY sad to finish up my last tube of the Helena Rubenstein Lash Queen mascara in Chinchilla Blue. This blue-coloured mascara was discontinued years ago. I bought a stash of it in Hong Kong in 2010 I think and this is the last tube. We are not talking the electric blue mascara of the 1980s. We’re talking a light navy that gave the lashes just a hint of colour, and is more forgiving than black mascara. I might have to go back to the Aubergine mascara of Dr Hauschka, which I really like or their navy one.

Innoxa Perfect Lash mascara. Another brand I’m partial to and have used on and off for years. I think this is my fifth tube of this mascara. Doesn’t clump and glides easily onto the lashes. A good old standby.

ELF High Definition Undereye Setting Powder. A little pot that goes a long way. I wasn’t that fussed about it but….since I’ve run out, I’ve come to realise that it’s very very good, so will need to repurchase. It certainly lightens and brightens the undereye area.

Bare Minerals Well Rested Eye Brightener. This is a cult product that’s been around for years. I liked the silky powder but I think it’s too yellow for my NC15 porcelain skin. I prefer the ELF version.

My favourite go-to-lipstick of the moment – Essence Long Lasting Lipstick #7 Natural Beauty. Creamy, stays on through thick and thin. It’s a beautiful colour if you’re looking for “my lips but better”. I have another two lined up ready to go.

PERFUMES. Two finished up. The first one is an old favourite – by the American designer, Jessica McClintock – and is called Jessica McClintock for Women. First released in 1988. It’s a floral fragrance, which I’m usually not a fan of (preferring a heavier Oriental), but I think it’s the blackcurrent in this that I really like. I have a second bottle in my stash.

Karma by LUSH. Who would have thought that LUSH could make a good perfume (I didn’t). I love Karma soap and the Karma Kream, so why not the perfume with its orange, lavender and lemongrass top notes?! I’m into my second bottle already and it’s very easy to travel with Karma.

TOOTHPASTE. Two more tubes of my favourite Red Seal toothpaste – Natural and Baking Soda. A great New Zealand brand and the Natural toothpaste is SLS-free.

Finally….another packet of The Body Shop Organic Cotton Rounds. Can’t go wrong with these.

I’m doing another creative fiction writing course, so not as much time to read. I encountered some great and not so great novels in the last couple of months.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2015 and it’s a wonderful read. I read somewhere that it took him 10 years to finish. The story centres around Marie-Laure, a young blind girl living in France during World War II, and a German orphan who serves as a Nazi radio specialist. In fact, radio is a constant theme: how the German Reich used radio for propaganda, and how the French Resistance used it to combat the Germans.

Every word of this piece of literary fiction is meticulously chosen for maximum impact. There are some beautiful passages viz: “They start up the length of the rue Cuvier. A trio of airborne ducks threads toward them, flapping their wings in synchrony, making for the Seine, and as the birds rush overhead, she imagines she can feel the light settling over their wings, striking each individual feather.”

Thankfully, there is no love affair that transpires between the two main characters – that would have been too predictable and disappointing. I liked the originality of the story. Yes, it’s about WWII and the Holocaust, but told through the eyes of two youngsters.

If I had to throw around some criticism, it would be that the character of the German officer (Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel) is a bit of a stereotype. A dastardly, evil Nazi who is riddled with cancer and hell bent on finding the Sea of Flame – a gem with supernatural powers to protect whoever possesses it from death. Maire-Laure has the diamond and the Nazi chases her around the small French village of Saint Malo.

At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracey Chevalier. I usually love her books but this one, not so much. It was a slow start and I never really felt invested in the characters, because I found them flat. Set in the 1830s, it’s a bleak story about sequoia trees, the American frontier, and a very dysfunctional family (the Goodenoughs). I really disliked the violent relationship between James and Sadie Goodenough. I wasn’t looking for a romantic love story, but I just didn’t find their relationship believable.

Along the way, we meet some real life characters – William Lobb and Johnny Appleseed. I will say it’s well-researched and well-written. Just not an enjoyable novel for me. I far prefer her earlier writing.

The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader. I didn’t finish this debut novel. Cadwallader is an Australian author and the story is set in England in 1255. Seventeen year old, Sarah, voluntarily enters a small cell in a church and devotes her life to God. Immersed in a prayerful life for her village and the wealthy landowner who is her patron, it’s essentially 300 pages of someone sitting in a claustrophobic cell, whilst denying her senses and physicality.

I do think the world-building was handled very well. You could imagine the Medieval setting and Cadwallader writes well. A number of themes are developed, which I’d describe as being about madness, isolation, intimacy, and patriarchal society and power. However, I thought it was a slow start and I was annoyed by too many adverbs (it’s a pet hate of mine).

Number 11 by Jonathon Coe. I have not read any of Coe’s books before, and I won’t be – based on this book. I just didn’t like this novel at all. I found it confusing, with a slow start and annoying adverbs. For example: “Nicholas said, unnecessarily...”;  “Mum, where are you going?” he asked, plangently” (plangently??? who the hell uses this word?). By page 62, I was ready to throw in the towel – I wasn’t invested in the main character, a young girl called Rachel (why are so many female main characters called Rachel these days?).

The novel is really Coe’s vehicle to deliver a (sometimes witty) diatribe on contemporary Britain – austerity measures; reality TV; tax evasion and internet trolls; erosion of privacy; and how money has become a driving force. There are five interconnected stories that seem to meander and I wonder if you need to have read his 1994 book, What A Carve Up!, to understand some of the context and cultural references. I thought there were some tedious, preachy passages along the way. Sometimes I thought he’d cobbled together some short stories around a state-of-the-nation address.

You and Me, Always by Jill Mansell. Another author I haven’t read before. Guess I’d describe this as Chick Lit and I’m not into this genre. It’s the story of Lily who, on her twenty-fifth birthday, reads a letter from her mother, who died when she was eight. From here, we have a story of regret and loss, of hope and love, although it’s a bit of a romantic comedy too.

It’s a light read but the problem was I read it straight after finishing All The Light We Cannot See. Unfair to compare I know. What really annoyed me about this book was the thirty-something single woman, who has been unlucky in love and desperately wants a child. Any man she meets, it’s as though she’s ready to get her clutches into him, plan the wedding and have kids straight away.

Doubt I’d read anything more by Mansell, but I can see she would appeal to those who like romantic, light-hearted reads.

The Keeper of Secrets by Julie Thomas. This debut novel was a surprise, and the back story is just as interesting as the book itself. Thomas (a Kiwi) was a radio copywriter and also a scriptwriter for documentaries and sports programmes. It was whilst researching for a documentary that she came across stories of Nazis looting the valuable treasures of Jewish people during WWII.

She wrote The Keeper of Secrets over seven years, and then self-published it in 2011. The book sold well and then along came Harper Collins USA, who expressed an interest in the novel, edited it and changed the title (from The Secret Keepers). What I found interesting (for those of us thinking of self-publishing) is that the novel was taken off Kindle and other e-readers whilst it was edited. Quite a few self-published authors have been picked up by publishing houses (ones that come to mind are Hugh Howey, E. L. James and James Redfield).

It’s a riveting story about a precious Guarneri del Gesu violin, its Jewish owners, and the fate of the violin and its owners throughout WWII and to the present day. Thomas manages a good cast of believable characters, who come alive as the story progresses. A slightly slow start and a bit of expository writing, but it picked up fairly quickly. My pet hate – annoying adverbs – were apparent here and there, but the story was so interesting I can forgive this.  I’ve started reading the sequel, Rachel’s Legacy.

So out of this bunch, I’d only recommend Anthony Doerr, Jill Mansell and Julie Thomas if you want a good read.

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