2016: the year of spaciousness

Because there's more to life than work


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September and new starts

IMG_2819Wow, that was a long break from blogging – work and life just kind of overtook me. But September always feels like a New Year to me, and so it’s time to dust off the cobwebs and get going on this again. Truth be told, the blog had been starting to feel a bit samey – having gone through a full year on it, I felt like I was going over old ground and wasn’t getting the same buzz out of posting that I had been. So I’m looking forward to getting started afresh, and sharing the things that bring joy to my life (apart from my OH as that would just get nauseating), which at the moment are:

  • Sewing – new hobby, but am inordinately proud of the messenger bag, tote bag and cushion that I’ve made recently. The curtains could have been a leap too far…
  • Cooking – great recent discovery was the blackberry, almond and cardamom cake in this month’s Simple Things (seriously good) by Signe Johansen. I just used the crushed seeds from 5 cardamom pods as I didn’t have any ground cardamom and it was perfect.
  • Being outdoors – walking in the dunes this year has been such a release (and was the source of the aforementioned blackberries)
  • Reading – recently rediscovered the ‘Merrily Watkins’ series by Phil Rickman and am re-reading them from the start – they are brilliant, hard to categorise stories – they’re often in the ‘crime’ section at the library but in fact are keenly observed stories with a supernatural undercurrent about Merrily’s work as a female vicar and ‘deliverance consultant’ (or ‘exorcist’) in the Welsh borders. Sounds a bit bizarre but they are wonderfully down to earth and believable – do try them if you’ve not come across them.
  • Inspirational stuff – haven’t come up with a better title than this for it at the moment, but I’ll just say that if you like listening to great speakers head for the Do Lectures, and for a great online read you can’t beat Holstee – their theme for September is ‘Balance’ and am so looking forward to reading it.

Happy September everyone!

 


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Perfect garden afternoon

IMG_2648The warm weather this weekend seems to have resulted in lots of wildlife getting out and about. I saw three different types of butterfly this afternoon: the Peacock above and the Tortoiseshell below. I also had a Comma land on the table, but couldn’t get to my camera without frightening it off! I’m sure these must all be ones that have been hibernating through the winter.

IMG_2646The birds are also thoroughly enjoying the warmer weather – the bowl we have for Tilly to drink from in the garden makes a perfect sized bath for two or three sparrows, or a solitary starling or blackbird – this one today was having a really good splash!

IMG_2645So, so nice to sit in the garden with my flip flops on (with my feet hideously whitened after many months of thick socks!), read (currently revisiting Enchanted April, which I wrote about last year, and is one of the best books about finding joy by following your heart), journal, bask in the sun and listen to the bird song. Not warm enough to be out of long sleeves yet, but pretty good all the same.

IMG_2650I always want to grab hold of spring this time of year and make it stay longer – things seem to flower and change so quickly, and after a long winter you feel like you want the magnolia and quince blossom to last just as long as the cold weather did.

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Recharging my batteries

It’s Friday afternoon, I have a host of work that I should be doing, but I know my brain is tired. So I’m stopping. Doing stuff I enjoy, that engages my senses, reduces the stress response – and returns me fresher and brighter afterwards. So on the agenda is:

Embroidery – I’ve been working on this kit since Christmas and am so enjoying doing this for the first time in years.

IMG_2399Stroll round the garden – looks like it’s going to be an early spring this year with a few flowers already out like hellebores,

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IMG_2405heather,

IMG_2402and the silvery seed pods of honesty just hanging on.

IMG_2411A little light baking – I’m planning on making a lemon drizzle cake from this month’s Sainsbury’s magazine.

Reading – currently enjoying ‘By Blood’ by Ellen Ullman, unsettling and gripping tale of someone who overhears sessions with an analyst in the room next door…

A long, hot bath with the luxurious smellies I got for Christmas.

Browse through the blogs I follow.

Spot of meditation…

I feel better already – what have you got planned to help you wind down this weekend?


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Solstice

I always love this day – it feels like the year is turning again and all of the delights of another year and another spring to come are laid out before you. Logically, I know we haven’t even hit winter yet, but it doesn’t stop me feeling ridiculously optimistic. Tiny step by tiny step, after today there will be more light each day, and in the next couple of weeks we’ll start to see the first bulbs pushing their way up. If ever there was a time for anticipation, this is it.

I finished work yesterday for Christmas and am thoroughly enjoying all the preparation for the big day. Most of the food is bought (in a surprisingly quiet store), presents are wrapped (though need more bows and ribbon), and there’s time for stories by the fire with coffee and mince pies. I’ve also dug out some of my favourite festive reads: one of them I thought would be worth sharing with you:

IMG_2336The book is ‘Images of Christmas’ by Dorothy Boux and Eliane Wilson and it’s all handwritten in this beautiful calligraphy script. I’ve had the book since I was a teenager – calligraphy was one of my pastimes then – and every Christmas I look at it again and the poems, drawings and stories still enchant me.

IMG_2337Do you have any favourite festive reads to recommend? If so, please share!

 


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Wild gardening

Having recently got back into gardening, I’ve been looking back through my collection of gardening books that I’ve not touched for the last few years, and have just uncovered the gem below.

IMG_1514Isn’t the cover beautiful? Written in the 80’s, it’s an account of the author’s garden on a large estate in Scotland that they bought after the days when there was a team of gardeners to run and manage it, and how they adopt a more ‘relaxed’ approach to dealing with the plants there (basically: if it isn’t poisonous, they eat it).

IMG_1516It’s a brilliant read, it just meanders along, beautiful drawings of plants and insects interspersed with really interesting writing and anecdotes (such as their efforts to make rhubarb champagne without it exploding, and finding that a plastic dustbin full of this only lasted them for 3 months). I’m reading it in bed at the moment and am driving my other half nuts by constantly interrupting his reading to tell him new snippets of information I’ve gleaned.

I definitely like the wild garden concept – mine is not one where you will ever see neat spaces of soil between plants, but it does mean it’s less work to keep the weeds down, and the birds and insects seem to like it. And in the spirit of the book above, I’m thinking of making some rose petal jelly in the next week or so – our two Rosa rugosa bushes are in full bloom and the scent is just magical.

IMG_1505This is the deep pink one I’m thinking of using, ‘Roseraie de L’Hay’, as it’ll make the jelly a nicer colour than the other one we have, which is pure white. These are great roses, they flower like mad, smell fantastic, don’t need pruning and never get diseases.

IMG_1508It’s all getting a bit lush in the garden right now…but I like it that way…and at least now I know I can eat half of it to keep it in check! What’s your favourite nibble from your garden?


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Simple pleasures

I was thinking today how some of the things I most enjoy doing really don’t involve much money at all. We went for a walk round one of the local nature reserves by the beach this morning before doing the weekly shop, and were rewarded with the sight of the first swallow of the year and the sound of masses of skylarks in the air above us. Though there were few signs of growth, the willows were covered in various types of soft furry catkins.

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We also saw this little one on the ground just outside the reserve – I thought he might have been one of the rare natterjack toads that live on the reserve, but a bit of a Google makes me think he’s just a Common Toad (seems rude to call him that, we thought he was rather cute).

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It was a beautiful weekend morning, yet there wasn’t another soul around to see the birds, catkins and toads. Great for us, but shame there weren’t more people taking time to enjoy it – the supermarket, on the other hand, was packed out. Again – our shop didn’t cost much – we like to cook from scratch and find that we spend so much less these days now that we’re almost totally vegetarian with fish perhaps once a month. I couldn’t cook at all when I left home at 20 and ate no veg apart from potatoes, peas, onions and carrots. My ability to cook is now probably the skill I’m most proud of, but it’s only been acquired through many years of trial and error (learning the difference between a clove and a bulb of garlic was a biggy – none of our friends would come near us for days after I put an entire bulb in a meal!). I love being able to see an offer and buy it, knowing I can turn it into a delicious meal. Star buy today was a big bag of aubergines for just 30p!! That’ll make at least 4 days worth of meals (obviously with some other additions!), am thinking a coconut, mushroom and aubergine curry, and then perhaps a repeat of the aubergines parmigiana that I made last week.

Tonight was one of our few fish meals of the month – mediterranean fish crumble, an old recipe from Good Housekeeping that I’ve been making for years. For the two of us I halve all the ingredients except the topping, use a dessertspoon of pesto instead of basil, and bake it in one big dish. It’s really far too much for two of us, but we justify this by saying that it wouldn’t be as good reheated the next day…

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Lovely meal for a rainy evening followed up by the habit we’ve had over the last year of reading to each other a couple of chapters of classic novels – this week it’s ‘Kidnapped’ by Robert Louis Stevenson, lots of dialect in it that’s great for reading in the most exaggerated Scottish accent possible. Hoot toot, I cannae stop to fash with ye more!


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Warmth of the sun

Oh, what a fantastic day! I’m not saying it was tropical, but for the first time this year it was actually possible to sit out without the risk of frostbite. The wind had changed direction slightly and dropped a bit, and in sheltered spots you could almost have thought it was spring. We walked down to the RSPB reserve this morning and the light reflecting off the water was just dazzling. Loads of birds around and we saw two avocets (the RSPB symbol) as well.

After lunch, I finished off the gloves I started a couple of weeks ago and then headed into the garden with my Kindle. With a scarf, boots, woolly jumper and my new gloves on, I was quite happy to sit out there for 3 hours and just soak up the sunshine. It feels so long since I did that, and when my other half got in he joined me out there with a freshly brewed cafetiere. Bliss.

Our cat, Tilly, enjoyed having some company in the garden for a change and sat by me all afternoon. She’s an ex feral and has only been comfortable sitting with us outside for about a year (we’ve had her for 10 years), so it still seems amazing having her so near.

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New recipe time tonight, made ‘mr jefferson’s parmigiana pie’ from the very tempting pieminister recipe book and a raspberry, oat and almond bake from Rosie Sykes published in The Guardian. The pie was a variation on melanzane parmigiana (layers of aubergine, cheese and tomato sauce) which I’ve made before, but this was definitely the best version I’ve tried – other half pronounced it to be ‘absolutely perfect’ so it’s going to be a keeper!

It looked pretty good going into the oven…

IMG_1129…but it looked even better coming out, although I forgot to take a picture until afterwards!

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The raspberry bake was also great, and prettiest while I was still making it:

IMG_1131Very crumbly – would have liked it a bit moister, but the almond flavour was lovely. I don’t think we’ll be needing any supper tonight…lovely sunset to round the day off instead.

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