Thursday, 25 November 2021

We are the World Blogfest # 53 – The Red Dress Project …


This is such a wonderful project unifying women around the world – Kirstie Macleod from Somerset, England started The Red Dress project to help marginalised women tell their stories through embroidery.

The finished object
c/0 The Red Dress

As she says in her introduction … her dress embroidery project has globally connected 244 embroiderers (239 women and 5 men), their families and their communities from 28 different countries by adding an image onto the dress that represents themselves and their culture.

During twelve years (2009 – 2021) pieces of burgundy silk dupioni have travelled the globe to be embroidered with cultural stories …

Embroiderers include:

  • Women refugees from Palestine;
  • Victims of war in Kosovo, Rwanda, and DR Congo;
  • Impoverished women in South Africa, Mexico and Egypt;
  • Women in Kenya, Japan, Paris, Sweden, Peru, Czech Republic, Dubai, Afghanistan, Australia, Argentina, Switzerland, Canada, Tobago, USA, Russia, Pakistan, Wales, Colombia, and the UK, as well as
  • Upmarket embroidery studios in India and Saudi Arabia

It is quite stunning … and I would ask that you look at the video twelve minutes of pure indulgence for us to luxuriate in – and wonder at: 

  • their stories, 
  • their skill … 
  • and to see the dress in all its glory – in the individual's homeland
  • and now it is being exhibited in various galleries and museums worldwide

Each embroiderer has been able to have more positive lives, and have helped others in their villages or camps enhance theirs too … improve their lot, teach others to use their talents, and tell their stories with thread.

Just look at the beauty … this artistic platform has really opened doors for these marginalised people to rebuild their lives.

Kindly commenters, readers – please look at the video and marvel … I exhort you to!!

Hilaria in Mexico - one of the talented
embroiderers c/o the video

The Red Dress will embrace you – draw you in, let you wonder at its beauty. An artistic project to be sure …

This has to be a perfect example of the We are the World Blogfest mantra:

We are the World Blogfest

In Darkness, Be Light

The Red Dress Project has completely transformed their lives … they can afford to feed themselves, earn a decent and consistent living …

Enjoy the video!

The BBC Dress Embroidery Project unifies women around the world.

This has a two minute video - to give you an idea ... but the twelve minute one is superb.

Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Brumaire - French Republican Calendar …


We've just been looking at the French Revolution – guided by an excellent ex-history teacher – and I offered to give a talk about 'Napoleon and his Contested Legacy' … only clever because I'm plagiarising it from an article I came across!

Coup d'etat - painting (after the event)
by Bouchet (1840)

The French Revolution is a complicated period in history … and we've had some very good talks – I'm always learning.

My eclectic brain came to the fore again regarding a post – not for our history group – but for anyone who is kind enough to visit the blog.

I'd never heard of 'Brumaire' – believe it or not !… it was the second month in the French Republican Calendar – “which lasted for the longest time of all: twelve years (1793 – 1805)”.

The Coup of 18 Brumaire brought General Napoleon Bonaparte to power, and in the view of most historians ended the French Revolution.

Month of Brumaire

What fascinated me were the details found in the French Republican Calendar – such as …

  • each month lasted 30 days, divided into three 10-day weeks …

  • Every day of the year had the name of an agricultural plant – except! …

  • The fifth days were named after a domestic animal,
  • and the tenth days were named for an agricultural tool

  • The Calendar began in September at the Autumnal Equinox

Foggy Misty day ...
Brumaire – from the French for 'fog' or 'mist'the 2nd month (22 Oct/24 Oct to 20 Nov/22 Nov) – when apparently France is known to be full of misty foggy days!

It is an interesting calendar – useless to us, who all use the Gregorian one - but I was drawn in when I saw each of the 30 days – don't ask about the extra days … see the link.

  • Today is November 17th ...and we would be Watercress 'Cresson'
  • then a couple of others: Beet Root 'Betterave' is for 4th November;
  • November 27th features SweetPea 'Macjonc'

Just fun to look at and think about …

Republican Calendar - to be
found in Lausanne's Museum

The foggy month of Brumaire will live on in history as the time Napoleon came to power as the First Consul of France, when it is thought the French Revolution ended (1789 – November 1799).

Here endeth my lesson about the French Revolution – with the interesting (I think) French Republican Calendar …

Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday, 12 November 2021

Moment of Silence … Remembrance Day 11th November 2021


I have been wondering what to write this year – at least to make us all remember, perhaps in a somewhat different approach to Remembrance Day – which we always commemorate on the Sunday nearest to the 11th of November – when the Armistice was signed in 1918 … the inauguration of our Remembrance Day was set one year later.

The Cenotaph, London

The world does not seem to have learnt any lessons … and albeit in 2000 I felt we were in a golden era – things have definitely taken a turn for the worse as the years go by.

I was somewhat surprised to read that a blogger from a European nation wondered why remembering Remembrance Day was relevant today – as we only read about it in books … I'm sure their family would have fought in both Wars … it has shocked me.

The University of Leicester's

We live today in relative peace and harmony because of all the souls lost in War, or hurt by any War– we are so fortunate.

When I looked for a different approach … I noted how the Moment of Silence came about … that period of silent contemplation, prayer, reflection, or meditation – that genuine gesture of respect dedicated to the dead.

It seems to have originated in Portugal in 1912 but was a ten minute dedication of silence … we usually apply the one minute silence – except on special occasions …

or as we do every year on our Remembrance Day – the two minute silence is held at the Cenotaph … we need to remember those who sacrificed their lives for us to live in peace.

The Peace Lily

There were a great many small commemorations around the British Isles yesterday – the 11th day – and on Sunday we will observe the formal commemoration at the Cenotaph in London.

With special thanks to all who have allowed us to live today …

Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Shattered - Lee McKenzie's new book ...


Lee's latest book 'Shattered' where a 19 year old is crippled by a snow-boarding accident – a freak of timing, or a murder … we are left to wonder.

Lee's book

The story, or two, are a delight to read – there's the main story with a sub-plot, which adds to the twist of the tale.

I really enjoyed it … for two reasons:

First and obvious I guess – the story … it happily took me along, and I was interested to see what would happen next.

Secondly – I'd recommend it as an education 'tool' to start to understand disability, how to cope with it from both the outsider (parent, friend, contacts – medical and community), and from the person whose life has suddenly, and so dramatically, changed.

Lee's banner for her new Young Adult novel

I've been fortunate in my life … in that I should have been involved with major incidents – but I was overseas and thus was not in the country – until my mother near the end of her life had major strokes and was confined to bed … we were very fortunate that she was able to communicate.

Disability Symbols

It was a learning experience that I had to come to terms with, as well as learn to deal with – it was a struggle, and mentally demanding … but we coped – I learnt and we both laughed our way along – yes with, at times, lots of grief.

However – this is not about me – 

                            but Lee's book 'Shattered'

lives are altered, we need to adapt and change, we should appreciate others' challenges …

If I had read this book … perhaps a much younger self would have enjoyed the story, but today's self – appreciated the accuracy of the times in the book that showed how all the characters dealt with their lives … something that we really do not come across … unless disaster intercepts our lives, or we're in that type of work.

Snowboarder in soft snow

I really did enjoy the book – and do highly recommend it: to everyone to read … it has depth, the characters are interesting, the storyline makes sense in today's world … and is there to make us think about things perhaps we had never had reason to do so, and I would hope to remember/learn from.

Lee – I congratulate you … 'Shattered' is a highly readable book – with hope, with struggles, but most of all with positivity …

It is in the Young Adult genre … but frankly could be enjoyed by everyone and discussed within the family setting – a great read: Highly recommended.

All the best Lee (also known as Cheryl … but to me she's Lee!) …

You can pick Shattered up here: Amazon      Smashwords     

I slightly give up with the changes in text size ... so I do give up!

Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Saturday, 30 October 2021

We are the World Blogfest #54 – Emma Watson Gallery at Headington School …


My alumni for nine years … I cannot say I remotely came anywhere near Emma's achievements – however if you look at her life … she is one of the world's great achievers and influencers.

Emma Watson in 2013

I also hadn't realised she had been at Headington … her recognition (actress, artist, activist – particularly women's rights) occurred when I was in near full-time caring for my mother and uncle … so I was very interested in the email that popped in my inbox this morning … so appropriate for a #WATWB post …

The school has recently opened a Creativity and Innovation Centre: The Hive – putting Creative Thinking at the heart of Headington education.

The image from the website - showing
The Hive, and the Emma Watson Gallery

These are two introductory paragraphs + the first line of the third paragraph:

With the advent of AI and increasing automation of jobs, we believe that future generations must be creative thinkers.

Creativity is a uniquely human and future-proof skill, and we know that increasingly, employers are looking for the whole person and seeking creative minds to solve business problems in a new way. 

A twenty-first century education is about thinking beyond graduation, and towards enabling pupils to become the collaborative workers, critical thinkers and creative problem solvers that our future and economy needs.

Creativity is not just about being artistic, it’s the ability to take risks, adapt, innovate, and to have the vision to make ideas a reality.

At Headington, we believe it is crucial to teach these skills from an early age, and to build upon them at each stage of the curriculum.

The Hive is a hub for cross-curricular learning with an emphasis on sustainabilitytechnology and enterprise.

Image from The Hive header

There's a short video – 5 minutes … which is so informative. Gosh! I'd love to be at school now!

Creativity and Innovation Centre:

We are in the era where jobs that can be digitised and processed by robots, will be –

whereas humans will be called upon to use their creativity, critical thinking, seeing the connection between those complex ideas –

which is what humans can do uniquely.” As implied in the video.

We are the World Blogfest

In Darkness, Be Light

Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Write … Edit … Publish … Bloghop / IWSG hop: The Scream …


The sprawling grasslands hovered ahead, shimmering mirages – where the sparse shady trees might be … also hiding the roaming wild animals and locals’ hostilities – yet the need to progress the line: the Cape to Cairo railway in the late 1890s took precedence.


The golden orb baked the earth, globules and beads of sweat oozed from the skin of the men working on the line … from noon to night ….


African Savannah - with a road
running straight through
… they were in the ‘middle of nowhere’ literally – Southern Africa to be precise – but determined by their entrepreneurial confidence to build on …



… in 1896 the Matabeles’ crops had failed … so the call to build  the railway faster came about … removing the need for ox-wagons to traverse the rough veld …

An American locomotive

The inaugural journey through the Cape Province into southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was made, the dignitaries had their steam-smutty ride through the bush … one of the Matabele chiefs commented on seeing the engine:


“It is a huge animal belonging to the white man.  It has only one eye and it feeds on fire and hates work; but when the white man pumps it to make it work, it screams ….”


Turner's Rain, Steam and Speed (1844)

This heavy-metal animal would stop, go out, get cold … then the white man stoked her up, lit her boiler and pumped … until she screamed, screamed, screamed as she pulled her passengers behind her …


Africa screamed too … her huge continent being pierced by colonial powers – British, German, French, Portuguese, Belgian and Spanish … and now Japanese, Indian and Chinese electric lines shrilly connect the compass points of this great land.

Upland Savannah

… the screaming continues as we live in today’s age … it would be helpful if we could murmur our way ahead, leaving the shrieking shrills in the past …



 We can quietly progress without Shrill Screams … let us do so together …


Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Diana Kennedy … the “Mexican culinary anthropologist” …


Back in the 1950s people didn’t appreciate other country’s foods … as they do now … but it’d take the likes of pioneer cookery writers to set the standards … Julia Childs, Elizabeth David, and of course Diana Kennedy – who has put Mexican cuisine on the map …


Diana Kennedy in 2016

 We were due to see this film last year … but in the circumstances had to wait … that did not deter … I was so interested I bought her book – updated in 2016 from the 1984 earlier version: ‘Nothing Fancy: Recipes and Recollections of Soul-Satisfying Food’.  What an excellent read.



This no-nonsense English lady, born in 1923 – yes she is 98 - learnt to cook from her grandmother and mother … then went to work in Wales during the War as a timber girl – here she appreciated the availability of fresh food off the land …


Her book: Nothing Fancy
… it was after the War that her gastronomic adventures started … at home, around Europe, before moving to Canada in 1953 taking various positions, then on a whim visited Haiti in 1957.  There she met her future husband Paul P Kennedy (1905 – 1967), a correspondent for The New York Times in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean …



Book of the Month -
subscription service

(founded 1926)
Later … Diana with her friends and editors, particularly Fran McCullough, set out to promote authentic Mexican recipes – cooking for the Book of the Month Club – no doubt helped by her husband’s contacts in the journalistic world exposed her ideas to a large audience.


Things advanced rather rapidly … Diana’s knowledge of Mexican recipes, how they were cooked, then served in authentic cazuelas (earthen ware) … was immediately accepted. 


Her energy is boundless – now aged 98 … we see her exercising, walking around, tending the garden, driving (fast!) to collect items for the house …



Frances McCullough in her foreword to the book ‘Nothing Fancy’ states that Diana Kennedy has documented and saved many of the dishes of the authentic regional cuisines of Mexico with the eyes of a botanist and an anthropologist as well as those of a fine cook.

Benito Juarez Market
The first chapter – “Introduction” – lets us know about her traditional British upbringing, then expanding out into recipes and ideas found during her gastronomic adventures …



Her husband was very supportive – I guess eating fascinating interesting food when he was home – encouraged him to bring back recipes for her …


In the hills above
After her husband died she decided to build an ecological adobe house in Zitacuaro, Michoacan – about 3 hours SE of Mexico city, but she moved into the incomplete shell in 1980 … over time – we see the result in the film: “Quinta Diana” – as it became known – The Diana Kennedy Centre – where her organic, ecological, true to Mexico teachings continue.



The chapters in the book make for a fascinating insight into how she thinks … and thus what she considers a necessity for our future world in the culinary sense … the chapters I set out:



Freshly churned English butter
The Making of a Palate’ … she describes one of our early grocer’s (Sainsbury’s) layout, with its foods on offer … it takes me back to my youth – though 20 years later … then goes on to explain how her palate came about … she was always learning and experimenting as her gastronomic adventures expanded.


Water Droplet

My Betes Noires” … where she excoriates various items including cassia (the cinnamon imposter) … and water is liquid gold – do not ever waste a drop …



Ant-egg caviar
“Addictions” … she says her mother lived to 92, so I suppose it’s no surprise she is still going strong at 98, happily surviving on lots of starches, delicious fats … actually that was acceptable in the 1920s to ‘our time’!  She includes Escamoles – Mexican “caviar” … ant-egg caviar; and Seville orange marmalade, Le croissant …


“Equipment I Simply Cannot Do Without” … a Cuisinart machine; coffee/spice grinders; lots of cazuelas … a large selection of wooden spoons and stirrers, white rubber spatulas – no coloured ones! 

The Mexican national dish -
Mole Sauce

The “Ingredients” and “Cookbookese” … chapters include acerbic comments.


“My BĂȘtes Noires Vertes” … first she says she’ll look in your garbage can/rubbish bin …this should be sustainably kept – and she goes on to particularly white chef items … the bleach to obtain these whites – kills the water … which is liquid gold…



Buttery Crumpets
Then we’re onto recipes … Roast Pork with Sage and Onion Stuffing, Crumpets, English Clotted Cream … but lots of traditional ones that I happily remember being made by my mother, and family friends …


Seville orange marmalade

I am totally caught up in Diana Kennedy’s vision with that over-riding nostalgia of earlier days … Christmas is coming – actually we still have a traditional family time – everything fresh and home-made … happy memories too.


Oh Golly Gosh … as I used to say to my Ma … so many memories of times gone by – but this was a wonderful find.


Close up ... with her English tea

Diana Kennedy’s British upbringing rings out through her life – I can feel and see it … via the film and the book … encouraging us to think ahead … do not waste … enjoy foods from the land. 



While during her time in Mexico she has embraced authentic Mexican cooking and all that entails … disseminating Mexican culture through its foods and ensuring that native ingredients and traditional recipes found in villages are not lost.


Scottish (of course) shortbread -
often the tea-time fare of 
the English!

Diana Kennedy is recognised as the “grand dame of Mexican cuisine” – a true title if ever there was one.


I hope you can get to see the film … it is on YouTube … and perhaps read the book – which personally I think is more interesting … perhaps it’s the nostalgia of my mother’s and my life through Diana’s years …

Diana Kennedy ... 

The Diana Kennedy Center - more details about her life and work ... 

Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy - trailer ... I couldn't easily find which film would be best for each of your country's ... but from the trailer in YouTube I hope you can find it ... 

PS - I know and I knew I'd be castigated for calling shortbread English ... I know it's Scottish ... but we're talking an English lady ... so my wrist is slapped!

Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories