December: Joy and Peace.

Things are still plodding along slowly in the post-flood recovery. Mostly, we are in a normal routine again, albeit in a different house, with less stuff. Sometimes, I miss the stuff, other times, I plan a huge declutter upon our return. I feel an unease, that I suppose comes along with times of uncertainty (we still don’t really know how long it will be until we return), and there are occasional pangs of impatience. I just want to be back in our home.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some pictures of December, because it was a really lovely Christmas this year. I felt like I really got ahead of the game with planning, which left us a lot more time to spend in December, just immersing ourselves in the festive fun. It was the first Christmas in our newly decorated living room, and I wanted to go all out with the cosy, natural vibe this year.

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Joy and peace were not only the typical words of the season, but really how I felt, having so much time to make and do. The girl child is at a fun stage where she really loves it when I start pulling down all the crafty stuff and covering the kitchen table in glitter, and glue and twigs, paper, cards, string. She’s pretty messy, but so am I. The glitter got everywhere, but I didn’t care a jot. For the first time, I didn’t get hung up on making things perfect either. I just got on with it. Even the ‘Peace’ banner – I ended up cutting it out freehand after realising the printer was out of ink. I like it better than a perfect font would have turned out.

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I really loved how the spinning jennies turned out, dipped in glitter. I sprinkled them on the Christmas table, instead of plastic confetti. The 3D glitter bells (there’s a theme here…..) were great fun to do – we all had a go. I always think bells have gone a bit out of fashion in recent years, but as a child they were really popular, especially for crafts involving…. glitter!

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I couldn’t quite capture all of the candles we had going on. I went for tapers this year, but struggled to find a nice holder for them so ended up shoving them into these preserving bottles I hadn’t gotten around to using in the summer. Result! Especially when I further tarted them up with sprigs of conifer and glitter encrusted acorns. Obvs.

This is sheer vanity and pride. I was SO chuffed to find this gorgeous dress in Dog and Bone vintage shop in York. It was the perfect fit and I LOVE it. Especially with my new metallic, bargain brogues from Clarkes. I felt like a folk dancer from space and let me tell you, it was a fiiiiine feeling *clicks heels*.
  

December was unseasonably wet, but mild. When the rain did abate, we managed some outdoor time. Including the first solo, self-directed and successful tree climbing event in the back garden. She rocks my world.

So, I hope you didn’t mind me rewinding a little and indulging in a little love for the month that was December.

 

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Finding ourselves in tune

I seem to have spent a lot of time this year well, navel gazing really. For some this may seem indulgent or egotistical, but, it’s just where I am, mentally. I won’t apologise for it. It is what it is. I have often felt out of place, out of sync, out of myself. Unsure about what my purpose is. Not ‘in the world’ but simply ‘in my family’ or ‘in my community’. Where am I? What am I? Who the hell cares? Existential angst if you will. Yes. I am a child of the seventies who came of age in the nineties. Classic Generation X problems.

  
Thank heavens for my daughter. Even when she drives me up the wall, she grounds me. Today, we were perfectly in sync with each other. I dropped her off at playgroup – she always asks if I am staying today, but never a fuss when I leave, just a happy ‘see you later!’. We both need this time apart and when I return, it is with much happiness, as she shares her artwork and tells me what snack she’s eaten. So this was no different to usual, but afterwards, lunch, cosy cartoon cuddles on the sofa (ahem, slight snooze might have been had), crafting, doing something quietly with our hands, more lazy cuddles as she sat on my knee scoffing malted milk biscuits and drinking milk. Milky biscuity cuddles as we sat curled together in the chair that I nursed her in. I alternately rested my head back in the chair and closed my eyes, and let it rest forward on hers, inhaling her sweaty curls, like puppy dog ears. All day was like this. Our energies seemed to ebb and flow at the same times. We rode those waves together. All was harmonious from the calmness of holding each other quietly, to the energetic delights of dizzy-dancing together in the kitchen. 

It felt like a gift. 

Happy Things #6

  

1 // Reading. On my bookshelf at the moment I have ‘Sane new world’ by Ruby Wax and ‘The Jewel Garden’ by Monty and Sarah Don. Knowledge is power and, as it happens, out of my three years of undergraduate Physiology, neuroscience was the most interesting module to me. As a Physio too, the physiology of pain fascinates me, so this was never going to be a tricky read for me… If anything I’m left wanting. Recognising there is a physiological process contributing to my low mood is helping me to accept it and move forward. The Jewel Garden is inspiring me to get my hands dirty to cleanse my mind.

2 // The garden is looking lovely, as I’ve already posted. Since then, the French lavender and our dusky pink aquilegia have exploded bringing some very definite floral focal point to the garden. 

3 // The first of the summer swallows arrived and I feel hopeful in my heart just thinking of lying in the garden looking up through the trees to watch them swoop and dive for flies. 

4 // Cow parsley and Lilacs frothing over the edges of our nearby cycle track, and Hawthorne blossoms filling the air with summer scent that reminds me of childhoods playing in the fields near our home. 

5 // Bringing some regularity and importance back to my meditation and mindfulness practice. Ruby Wax proving some practical tips in her book, Headspace guiding me in my meditation practice and Lotus Bell app reminding me to breathe and take a mindful moment at random times through the day. Discipline is all my own. 

What are you happy about or grateful for this week? Any recommendations for further reading…?!

My top 5 meat-free meals.

It’s Nation Vegetarian Week! Still. Just. We are not vegetarians, but we have gradually cut the frequency that we eat meat, primarily for health reasons. We eat more fish than we used to, and when we do have meat we try to buy higher welfare. I’ll be honest though – it’s not always convenient to source it as part of our weekly shop without going out of our way. We started the year trying to make January an almost meat-free month – saving meat only for weekends and trying new veggie recipes each week. I wanted to explore some different veggie options to the ones we usually fell back on. We did find some new recipes that we loved (Ottolenghi’s green couscous in ‘Plenty’) but were just too much of a faff for everyday cooking. Also, a fussy toddler meant I was making two separate meals, and her diet became very freezer based, so I reverted back to hearty stews and casseroles that we could all enjoy without too much fuss. I still go easy on the meat, but also bulk out with pulses, pearl barley and loads of veg.

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Anyway, back to the veg-a-thon. We still fall back on a few meat-free delights on a regular basis, so I thought I’d share them here. I’m not going to give you exact quantities, but I will link to recipes where I can.

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Let us meat-eaters try not to get to stressed about this whole thing & reinvent the wheel, okay? But also, don’t just stew all your veg in tinned tomatoes and then feel disappointed with the whole watery mess and order a lamb curry delivery instead. You’ve got to think flavour and texture at every step and this method keeps the bite on the veg and brings out their flavours too. Yes it’s an extra pan, but who really cleans griddle pans anyway?

Chuck a few sliced garlic cloves into a couple of lugs of oil, maybe a pinch of dried chilli and a spoonful of smoked paprika to boot. Once it become fragrant, add a tin of chopped tomatoes. While this grooves on a low heat, prepare some courgette, onion and pepper for griddling. I like mine chunky, so I go for half moon-ish courgette slices, onion cut into eight segments with root still attached, and peppers in approximate 1″ x 2″ pieces. Some might say you should toss the veg in oil before griddling. I couldn’t possibly comment*. Actually I can – I don’t bother. The veg gets smokier quicker as long as you don’t try to move the veg about until its got properly black lines on it. Otherwise its all a sticky mess. Once griddled, chuck the veg into the sauce and season to taste. Lob some fresh basil in just before serving. I prefer Penne.

Lentil Dhal with Veg Shashlik

This is now one of our top meat-free meals. There are loads of variations on dhal. I can never remember which one I used the last time, so it’s different each time, but always scrummy. Amoung our shelf of chefs we have Hugh F-W’s one and Jack Monroe’s version. In my experience, there isn’t much that can’t be tweaked or saved at the final stage anyway, so just Google one and start trying. Just don’t scrimp on the salt.

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For the shashlik, cut your veg into large chunks, eg. onions quartered, small tomato halves, pepper quartered, courgettes 2cm thick slices. Use whatever you have or like – cauliflower & aubergine are other good flavours if you have them. Place chunky veg pieces into a bowl and coat in oil, a liberal sprinkling of paprika (I use a mix of regular and smoked) and a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice (or squeezy lemon if you don’t have fresh). Salt to taste – don’t scrimp! Once coated, griddle on a medium heat until cooked. You may have to batch cook this and remove to a warming drawer or low oven. Serve the shashlik with the dhal and rice.

I also like some fresh chopped tomatoes and onion, and some home made cucumber raita: Dice a few inches of cucumber into 1cm cubes, then sprinkle with salt. Leave for five or so minutes so the salt can help the juices to flow. Dollop on a couple of tablespoons or more of plain yogurt (I use Greek). Add a little splash of milk to thin if necessary – depends on your preference.

Broccoli Pasta

Ok this one is not 100% meat free due to the anchovies, but I have heard some people say you can make it without. I wouldn’t dream of it, but maybe you don’t like anchovies. Anyway, I like to court controversy, so here it is!

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It’s a Jamie Oliver recipe from Happy Days and is another regular on our meal plan. It’s thrifty, tasty and quick. At Christmas we subbed the broccoli for shredded sprouts and it was even better! A tip – I find I need a full tin of anchovies and more garlic and chilli than he suggests, but you know, thats just me. If Jamie can’t handle it….

Salad

Sounds boring doesn’t it? We call it mega-salad and in this house, it is never anything less. I’m not going to teach you to suck eggs here, but use your imagination and choose flavours you enjoy. There is a great infographic to help you hone your salad-building prowess. A typical meat-free example in this house would be Spinach leaves, cucumber, spring onions, green beans, soya beans, boiled eggs, toasted walnuts or pistachios, basil and mint leaves, roasted butternut or beetroot, grilled halloumi, toasted seeds. Sprinkled with fresh chopped red chilli and large salt flakes for crunch, then drizzled with a dressing like this one or this one or just a good shop-bought one. Don’t make life too difficult for yourself. The virtue of the salad outweighs any slacker-guilt you may experience.

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I know I said five meals, but the salad counts as at least two because it is so infinitely adaptable (see photographic evidence above).

So, there you have it carnivorous compadres. My meat-lovers meat-free must-munch meals. You’re most welcome.

*still loving House of Cards.

Garden happenings.

Girl child has fully embraced gardening this year and asks “can we garden mummy?” as if she is asking for chocolate treats. Win! Bits of tidying, planning and some planting have been like a salve for our occasional tempestuous relations when the weather has allowed. I learned last year, that gardening with a small child involves a large degree of letting go. Gardening is always teaching me about life. I learn to grow, nurture, watch, be patient and trust. There no other option really, nature will have her way.

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I’m not setting high hopes for vegetables this year, save for trying a few seeds I have left from last year – beetroots, lettuce and salad leaves. I’m focussing on the herbs this year. I have a small patch of the sunny border which has accidentally evolved into a herb patch over the years. This year I’m sowing some annuals like parsley and coriander, but having listened to Gardeners Question Time on Friday afternoon, James Wong suggested that germination of herbs is so hit and miss, the better approach may be to buy supermarket herbs and then divide up the plants from the pot and pot them on. The phrase “it couldn’t be simpler” drives me insane when applied to anything, but growing basil is my gardening nemesis and in fact, it seems anything could be simpler. I have read about a method (also using supermarket herbs) where you make a clean transverse (I imagine) snip in a stem and then pop it into a glass of water until it sprouts roots, then pot it up. It’s got to beat poor germination, damping off, growing leggy or just plain  s l o w  growth, so I’ll give it a try.

Elsewhere in the garden, the concrete area outside the back door is looking happy now that the evergreen shrubs I potted up last year have established, reducing the need for loads of pricey annuals and keeping the area looking cheerful all year round. The lavenders which I gave a good haircut to last summer are also lush with little purple spikes. A friend gave us a lovely but leggy sedum last year, and it has redoubled its energy over the winter and is now growing bushy and bold. All being well there will be a mass of little clusters of bee-friendly flowers later in the summer.

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Compost has been a bit of an issue. I prefer to buy peat-free unless I am desperate or completely skint, so I decided this year it was time to harvest the compost bin which has lain abandoned since parenthood came along. I was stopped in my tracks by an apparent Yellow Jacket nest, which by all accounts (Dr. Google) is best left alone until they leave by themselves, usually after a year. I bought New Horizon Organic peat-free multipurpose which has been fine for general garden planting, but I’ve found it moulds over when left in the bag or in the seed pots. My seeds have still germinated but it ain’t pretty. Does anybody have any experience or tips for sowing in peat-free mediums? I know Monty Don says it’s no problem, but I think he blends his own, which is not feasible for those of us not producing acres-worth of garden waste!

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Looking back at this time last year, so much more is still to come into flower – It’s been such a cold May!

How does your garden grow? Any tips to share? Please leave a comment below!

Happy Things #4 

Er, May? What the Billy-o?

Also: Spring where have ye gone? Nevermind… Still plenty to be thankful for of late methinks.

1 // Lots of garden activity at the weekend. Tidying, planting, buying too many plants… Oops. Hearing the girl-child asking if she can “do gardening” and standing there with her little watering can and hopeful eyes, as if she was asking for the best, naughtiest treat that she’d never be allowed.

2 // Chasing butterflies in the garden and, rain or shine, watching the birds poking their little head out of the shuddering hedge before visiting the bird table. Girl child, if she is in the garden, will talk to the wildlife as if it’s a baby “hello little bird. Are you ok? Do you want a cuddle?”

3 // Lovely new bright yellow raincoat for the girl child. Is it wrong to wear the same as your daughter? She looks awesome, and the colour of sunshine was invented solely for her.

4 // Getting a little time out for a bike ride along the river for some much needed head clearing. More please!

5 // Getting into some box set happiness. How is it that I am so late to the Girls AND House of Cards parties? House of Cards is so intriguing and Kevin Spacey is brilliant.

Bring on May!

What’s been putting a smile on your face lately? Let me know in the comments below!

A visit to Yorkshire Lavender.

In a sleepless haze of nap-less desperation I bundled the girl-child into the car in the hope she would fall asleep. I wound through lanes and villages around York for half an hour before she finally closed her eyes. Being lost* I carried on driving looking for somewhere to pull in and close my own eyes for half an hour. We happened upon Yorkshire Lavender in Terrington near York, and it was the perfect spot for a bit of aimless wandering once she awoke.

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Obviously we bypassed the natural splendours and headed straight for the tea room, which serves an assortment of savoury and sweet foods. Not all the sweet treats are laced with lavender, but we chose the lavender and raspberry Bakewell tart, and a lavender and blueberry muffin for the girl-child.

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The lavenders are looking lush with new growth at this time of year, but no flower spikes yet. Still, there are enough spring flowers to make the gardens worthwhile if you love flowers. And taking picture of flowers… Ahem.

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Coming as I do, from a hilly Pennine village, I find a proper hilltop hard to come by in these parts *sobs*. Terrington sits atop the Howardian Hills and the views from Terrington Bank back towards York are stunning, especially on a day like this one. The gardens are well maintained and landscaped in a way that I think makes them really toddler friendly, but without losing any adult appeal. We had enormous fun running up and down the “wobbly wobbly path” and when I stopped to take pictures, I knew that the girl-child couldn’t really roam too far out of my sight.

The staff were really friendly and happy to indulge the girl-child in a bit of “helping” with the weeding. Visitors are actively encouraged to touch the plants, and girl-child really enjoyed being able to wander among the lavenders and the gravel paths that wind through the herbaceous borders. At the bottom of the hill is a small paddock with a herd of deer, and along with the sculptures, giant gates and pergolas, it’s a really fun, sensory way to spend an hour or two with an active toddler. As well as the tea rooms there are a gift shop and a modest plant nursery, but entry to the gardens is free.

*I’m never lost. I’m just enjoying being on an unfamiliar road.

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Happy Things #3

I felt like the last post was a bit moany, so I looked back through my photos and found loads of really happy sunny times! Classic example of how the brain can cling to the negatives. Those seductive little blighters. So here are some happy things from the last few weeks. In your FACE, pesky brain poo’s!

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1 // The sun is here! The sun is here! The sun is here!

2 // Wriggling my toes in the sand. Eeeee!

3 // Lying on a soft mossy leafy wooded hillside in the quiet morning, listening to nothing but the birds and the sound of a nearby stream. Wherever it is, it’s the best place on earth.

4 // Eating fresh, simple, summery flavours again, like avocados and tomatoes on garlic toast. Quick, simple and delish.

5 // Feeling the motivation to move my body again after a few weeks hiatus. Boom shake shake shake the room. Or the wobbly bits. Whatever.

What have you been up to? Let me know in the comments below!

p.s. Linking this post with Mum’s Days & YouBabyMeMummy’s #TheList!

 

You Baby Me Mummy

In Pictures // March

Looking back, it seems March was super-productive – who knew? Or maybe I just took more pictures than usual because of Spring lifting it’s delicate little head?

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There was making and baking and travels and flowers and celestial happenings and celebrations and ALL THE DAFFODILS HURRAY!

We ended the month by embarking upon and painting and decorating job which we are still finishing off now. Hence the slight radio silence the last couple of weeks. Now we have a big blue smooth wall and we can start to play with fabrics and art and colours… the good bit!

Adios for now! x

Where to start with mindfulness.

Mindfulness hit the news recently, weirdly just a couple of days after I decided to start doing guided meditations again. I’ve used these meditations since I discovered them a few years ago and was having some stress and panic attacks at work. They really helped at the time, and even though I’ve not always had time to keep them up since having the Chicken, the technique of noticing the breath is something I’ve found myself doing whenever I need a little calm (Ha! frequently!) I’m yet to learn more about it, but I thought I’d share the things that I’ve found easiest to incorporate into daily life with a baby / toddler (I think she has a foot in both camps at the moment)!

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1. Watching my daughter. Not interfering or directing. Just watching her going about her active business, singing as she goes and contemplating, as I do, how much joy she oozes without even trying. I think babies are mindful by nature – they focus intently on their own present moment and have not yet learned to manage their emotions, which they express freely and passionately.

2. Learning from my daughter to stop and notice things. We stop and stroke some leaves and talk about how they feel, what colour they are, if they smell, what do they feel like on our fingers or tongues, how does the light fall on them. Intensely focussed on the minutae of everyday life. It’s really calming.

3. Breathing. Noticing my breath whenever I get a moment to. The rhythm, the sound, the temperature, the sensation in my nostrils, the associated movements of my belly. The effortlessness of it. Just all the details.

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Essentially it’s about being in the present – not ruminating on the past and not creating narratives about the future which can lead you to stress about things that might not even happen. I’m very prone to that way of thinking.

Last night I went to my first Yin Yoga class. We held sustained postures while focussing on the breath, which is harder than you think! I can immediately see the value of this when standing rocking a baby/toddler back to sleep at 3am, or when I feel the heat of frustration rising in my chest. I find it really hard to focus on my breath and stay centred and not lose it when every fibre of my body and mind just wants to crawl back into bed! Patience is not one of my finer qualities!

I’m not saying I’ve cracked it, and I definitely do not float about in zen like state of wonder at the universe. Far from it – I’m impatient, I get angry, I’m stroppy and I let all these things get me down sometimes. But I’m practising different ways of dealing with those feelings because I want to relate better with those I love, and I want to “be the change”.

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via Pinterest

 

Do you have anymore tips? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!