Friday, 11 April 2014

Caudalie cleansers

Many of you will already know that I am not known for fastidiousness when it comes to The Evening Cleansing Routine! By evening, I am tired and usually feel that going to bed without washing my face is a crime I can live with. However, there is a solution, even for slobs like me: Caudalie Eau Micellaire Démaquillante (or Make-up Remover Cleansing Water). This has been my saving grace. It is free from nasties, removes make-up and city grime, and leaves my skin feeling clean and moisturized instead of tight, like some other brands. It also smells wonderful: like spring!

The cleansing water also has a partner in crime, Lotion Tonique Hydratante (or Moisturizing Toner) which I actually use every single day without fail. I have always been a toner girl and have tried absolutely loads of them over the years. This is the best one I have ever used, and it has been in my daily arsenal now for almost 10 years. For a product junkie like me, that is an endorsement of the highest order. It has the same fresh, clean smell, sort of a light grassy scent, and makes me happy each morning when I put it on and who wouldn't benefit from that first thing each morning?!

Both products are hypoallergenic, alcohol- and soap-free and leave the skin clean, moisturized and prepped for whatever you have in store for it. I love this line and the clever thinking behind it. Caudalie was founded by Mathilde Thomas and her husband Bertrand in 1993 when a professor, who was visiting their family vineyard, Château Smith Haut Lafitte, in Bordeaux, France, told them they were "throwing away treasures". By 1995, they had figured out how to extract and stabilize grape-seed Polyphenols and the brand was launched in local pharmacies, who stocked their very first face creams.

Caudalie products are now sold worldwide, and they have discovered (and patented) even more grape-related wonders as well as opening several spas and treatment boutiques. If you have a chance to sample their products, please do. They are usually very generous with their samples, have solid ethical credentials and there is a line for every stage of ageing: my mother and daughters are fans too!

[NB: The links in this post are for UK websites, but Naturisimo ships worldwide for free or you can purchase Caudalie products through Amazon and Sephora as well as Caudalie's own website.]

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Lost Lake

There is so much magic in the world if only we slowed down and opened our hearts enough to see it. We know all about it as children. We hear the truth behind the stories, see the real meaning of things, smell possibility on the wind… and then the grown-ups tell us none of it is real. They tell us so many times and with so much conviction that eventually we believe them and the magic starts to fade for us, too. I think that is terribly sad, which is no doubt why I love Sarah Addison Allen's writing so much. She hasn't lost the ability to open her heart and uses all her senses to keep tapping into the magic, and then she very generously shares it with us through her beautiful writing.

Her latest offering, Lost Lake, is no different. Do you ever wish you could go back to an enchanted time in your youth? If you could go back and then make all your decision with the beliefs you held then, can you imagine what your life would look like? I suspect your story would have a completely different ending! We don't think life works like that, but I think that's just because no one ever tells us it could. Heaven forbid that secret should get out...!

In the meantime, we can escape into Addison's charmed landscapes and hang out with her ever-appealing characters for awhile…and dream. Lost Lake is the tale of Eby Pim's life: the choices she makes, the lives she saves (literally and metaphorically), and the magical holiday camp she creates at Lost Lake with her beloved husband, George, all set the scene for a multitude of stories, stories of people who have lost sight of their dreams, but are inadvertently given a second chance when Eby decides to sell up. It is the story of how the life of just one person can change the lives of everyone they know.

As always, Addison has populated her Southern setting with beautifully drawn characters with rich imaginations. Her descriptions are so well-crafted that you can "see" everything unfolding right before your eyes. She describes places I want to go to and people I want to hang out with and there is always a sense of calm in her stories, like there is someone very capable at the helm who will make sure everyone makes it "home". She evokes worlds that we all remember from childhood and who's to say they're any less real than the ones we live in as adults? Certainly not me….

Regular readers will know that I have a predilection for a happy ending. Life can be hard; I like to finish a book on a high note, with a sense of hope, of possibility, and with a sense that, perhaps, if I simply believe, that my life, too, can contain a little more magic.

Friday, 21 March 2014

3 Happy Things: March

Well, the old saying about March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb certainly holds true this year! The beginning of the month saw the UK being battered by gale force wind and rain, but by mid-month we were enjoying blue skies and warm sunshine. Hurrah! Hope wherever you are the sun is shining and the spring flowers are starting to peek through!

One: The very best thing about spring has to be the flowers. I think I may have to take issue with Meg Ryan's character in You've Got Mail (ha, dare I?!), who said that daisies were the happiest of flowers, and throw my lot in with the wondrous ranunculus!

Two: Primrose Hill…just right for spring! (Photo credit here goes to my clever mother, who spotted this perfect photo op!)

Three: Just last night, I was chopping up vegetables to go with our dinner when I was struck by that strong, earthy, "green" scent of tomatoes pulled fresh from the vine. For me, it says summer is coming!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Sugar Detox Update: Week 3

Okay, here we are at the end of Week 3 and I am still sugar-free! Woo-hoo! Wasn't sure I'd make it even this far. Soooo, how's it been? Well, not too bad, actually. Week 1 was brilliant. I was so excited about quitting that I went out and bought loads of ingredients that Sarah Wilson recommends in the I Quit Sugar book and started putting together some of the recipes and snacks straightaway. My energy levels shot up and my mental clarity improved; I could really focus for the first time in absolutely ages, which was bliss.

Omelette with goat's cheese, parsley and tomato

Week 2 was not so exciting. The novelty of the first week had worn off and the detox-y effects were starting to kick in. However, I stuck to my guns and carried on. This week was all about eating fat! Yep, you heard right. The logic is this: we have to replace what we're taking out for both psychological and physiological reasons. Healthy fats and quality proteins (like eggs, cheese, avocado, nuts and coconut) feel like a treat and fill us up at the same time, thereby satisfying and curbing cravings in one go. Clever, huh?

Grilled halloumi with apples and cinnamon

Week 3 is cold-turkey week. I had pretty much gone cold turkey from the beginning, so not too much of a shift, but it meant the end of fruit, which did make oatmeal rather less appealing. Also, I really started to feel the physical effects of the detox: nausea, fatigue, dizziness, etc. I was expecting it, but it made me grumpy nonetheless. My family have been great, super supportive and blessedly ignore me when I prowl the house menacingly, in search of a replacement for cake! My favourite distractions for when the cravings really hit home are a cup of cinnamon tea alongside some oatcakes spread with almond butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon…cinnamon is really helpful! Oh, and seaweed! I love seaweed!

Oatmeal with pecans, cacao nibs and coconut flakes

Sooo, I am still hanging in there and am so grateful for the support I've received in person, on email, on Instagram.... Sugar seems to be a hot topic at the moment, so I hope you are finding some inspiration here. It really is making a difference and has not been that hard to manage, even while cooking for a family with children. There are lots of little, tasty changes you can make and I think it's a great way to lead by example. My kids may not get on the bandwagon now, but maybe it will inspire them to make better choices for themselves as they get older. I hope so!

Brown rice with mackerel, snap peas, chard and tomato

I've illustrated this post with some of the meals I've been eating this past three weeks in case you want some ideas. Everything's been easy to prepare so far with one epic fail (as the kids say!), which was my first attempt to make chocolate. For some reason, all the brown rice syrup sank to the bottom. I would show you a picture because it was very funny, but my cravings were so bad at that point that I ate it all before it occurred to me to record the evidence! I'll post again in a week or two and let you know what I've been up to.

Friday, 14 March 2014


As you know, I'm not traditionally a re-reader. There are so many wonderful new books out there that I haven't yet read, I usually feel that to re-read an old one is superfluous to requirements. However, every now and again one calls to me. At first, it's just a whisper, a hint, a tiny thought fluttering around at the back of my mind. If I ignore it, it gets louder and more persistent, eventually shouting to me from its home on the bookshelf or even from its box high up in the girls' cupboard. And so it was with Claire Dederer's Poser.

This book has been yelling at me since last summer! Rude! Six whole months I ignored it til I finally cracked and started in again on Chapter 1. As always, the Universe was way ahead of me. At the end of last summer, I was knackered — the school holidays are long — but I was ready for yoga. I craved yoga. My body was tired, untoned and crying out for some disciplined attention. I tried, but it was too soon. Now, in March, I am finally ready. I've been doing 15 minutes in my living room every day for a month now and Poser was too loud to ignore. This is a funny and, at times, bittersweet tale of one woman's discovery of yoga and how she used it to ease her transition into motherhood, calm her fears, soothe her past and heal her body. I love her voice and her story.

I recognize much of my own experience of discovering yoga here as well as much of my shock at what was expected of moms at a time when babies had just become the must-have accessory among the celebrity pack (around the millennium). We were bombarded with messages of what we should do and just exactly how we should do it and, like me, Claire fell into the trap of believing it all. And so it was with more than a tinge of recognition that I enjoyed following her progression from anxious new mom, hung up on her own weird experience of childhood and her birth family (her parents were hippies with an unconventional marital arrangement that continues to this day!) to someone who has had enough experience of life to finally let it go.

She learned that in order to be truly happy we have to let go of the need for perfection and the approval of others as well as the idea of what we think our lives should look like. Only when we drop the need for control do we find any freedom in being ourselves. It's a truly wonderful point to reach and one that is more liberating that almost anything else I can think of…. and yoga is as good a way to get there as any. If you are pondering how to make a leap of faith of any kind in your life, pick up a copy of Poser. Claire Dederer makes for an inspiring companion.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014


Can you think of anything more joyous than bouncing? I can't. I love to bounce. That feeling of being weightless, free from gravity's pull, is so liberating even if only for a split second. It's taken me two years to get to the point where I could do any kind of sustained exercise and bouncing was my first port of call. At the moment, I am only doing five minutes a day, but can already feel a huge difference.

Photo courtesy of J Clarke

Bouncing is also one of the healthiest forms of exercise you can do. It's main benefit, as I see it, is that it stimulates the lymphatic system, which is basically the body's garbage disposal. Bouncing is great at opening and closing our millions of one-way lymph valves, a process which rids the body of toxins, dead cells, cancerous cells, bacteria, viruses, fatty globules (oh, yes!), trapped protein and all other manner of junk that the cells throw off. You can only activate the lymphatic system through exercise, gravitational pull or massage, so bouncing is perfect as it does all three!

And just check out this list of its other benefits:

  • no jarring on impact (so good for the joints)
  • profound detoxification (good for increasing alkalinity)
  • improves agility and balance
  • slows the ageing process
  • relieves pain (especially neck and back pain, and headaches)
  • moves aqueous fluid in the eyes (good for vision)
  • moves cerebral-spinal fluid (good for the brain)
  • reduces body fat
  • curtails fatigue and menstrual discomfort
  • allows for easier relaxation and deeper sleep
  • increases cellular strength (good for the immune system)
  • stimulates all internal organs, including intestines (good for digestive problems)
  • stabilizes the nervous system (good for reducing stress)
  • increases oxygenation (good for improved respiratory function)
  • reduces "bad" cholesterol levels (good for staving off coronary artery disease)
  • tones up the glandular system (good for thyroid problems)

Really, why wouldn't you do it?! The most exciting thing for me while doing this research, though, was to discover how much good it does for the heart. By gently strengthening the heart muscle and moving the blood so effectively, it lightens the heart's load, allows the resting heart to beat less often and prevents edema, so I hope my cardiologist will be suitably impressed when I have my next appointment. So, what's stopping you: get out there and get bouncing!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Persephone Books

Last week, my friend Lisa and I popped into The Persephone Bookshop on Lamb's Conduit Street. I love this shop. Even on a grey, English winter's day, it is still a bright, little haven of calm. The large store-front windows cast their light across the inviting, wooden-floored room where tables and shelves alike are stacked high with piles of books, all covered in Persephone's signature plain grey covers.

Interspersed between the piles of books are tiny towers of beautifully designed bookmarks. The bookmarks are such a clever idea and deeply appealing in their own right. Each one is based on a design (often from fabric or wallpaper) that complements the time and feel of the text inside and matches the endpapers of the book it accompanies.

Persephone specializes in reprinting both fiction and non-fiction from mid-20th century authors (mainly women) that have often been long (and unjustly) forgotten. There are wonderful stories, diaries, cookbooks and gardening tomes, ghostly tales, children's books and more. There really is something for everyone and they make perfect presents for almost any occasion.

Many Christmases ago, I bought my first Persephone book, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (originally published in 1938), and as soon as I read it, I immediately went back and bought six more copies to give to friends. This is one of those truly uplifting titles that everyone should have on their shelf. As it says in the preface (and I paraphrase): this book feels more like a Fred Astaire film than anything else…sheer, light-hearted fun!

When my children were still very young, I enjoyed Dorothy Canfield Fisher's The Home-maker, lent to me by my canny friend Sara in a subtle, yet timely gesture! This is the story of a woman who is driving her family crazy with her perfectionist ideas about how to be a mother when really the problem is her own boredom and frustration. We shall say no more…!

And, just last week, I picked up Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey, about a girl who realizes on her wedding day that she is making a terrible mistake. It is a testament to the good judgement of the editors at Persephone that several of their reissued titles have since been made into films. We are clearly ready to engage once more with these intelligent, well-written titles.

Nowadays, we seem to be looking to days gone by more and more often to find answers as to how to live more simply. The worlds covered in the wide array of Persephone books are a fantastic place to immerse yourself for lessons of all kinds as well as just for the sheer pleasure of it. If you ever happen to find yourself in the quiet streets of Bloomsbury, do be sure to pop in. You'll be very glad you did.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Sugar Detox!

Yipes! Today's the day…. my body has been telling me for some time now that it did not want any more sugar to contend with and I have finally decided to listen. I am worried, though. Sugar is everywhere! Will I be able to avoid it? It is horrendously addictive and, even though I don't think I eat much of it, I'm sure that I do. Did you know that 150 years ago we ate almost no sugar while today we eat more than 1kg a week? I've decided to use Sarah Wilson's incredibly appealing book, I Quit Sugar to help me along.

The detox takes eight weeks and she starts in gently, so I'm hoping that this forgiving approach will be easier to stick to. I've made my shopping list and am hitting the health food shop to stock up on ingredients for simple snacks to keep me going. Today, I started with one of my favourite breakfasts, which is sugar-free anyway (phew!): rye toast with coconut oil and mashed avocado topped with a sprinkling of furikake and a splash of Bragg's amino acids.

Sarah's approach is not preachy and she includes loads of recipes as well as sneaking in lots of motivating facts. For example: the real killer is not sugar, per se, but fructose. Here are three things I was surprised to learn about it: 
1) Fructose does not contain the molecule that tells our brains when we are full, so we just keep eating.
2) Fructose converts directly into fat, which can cause fatty liver and lead to insulin resistance.
3) Fructose wreaks havoc with our immune systems, upsets the mineral balance in our bodies, messes with fertility, speeds the ageing process and plays a role in causing metabolic syndrome, which is thought to be the precursor to heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

That was more than enough to convince me! I'll let you know how I get on during the upcoming weeks and include any new recipes I find that are particularly helpful or tasty. In the meantime, you can check out Sarah's website for more information. Who knows, you might be inspired to try it for yourself!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Energy Medicine

I am a huge fan of energy medicine, which I believe to be the future of all medicine. It has been used by ancient cultures in every part of the world for thousands of years, right up until (somewhat ironically) The Age of Reason, when we fell under the spell of Science and modern medicine as we know it was born. Over the coming months, I'll be looking at ways to get at the heart of illness and how to prevent getting sick in the first place as well as how to peel away the layers of ill health on any level. I hope there will be something here that resonates with you.

There is often a lot of bad feeling between alternative practitioners and allopathic doctors. I am not in that camp. I believe strongly in an integrated approach. If I broke my arm, I would not go to an acupuncturist (at least not at first!); likewise, if I was struggling with anxiety, I would not go to a hospital. Modern medicine tends to be curative while energy medicine is more preventative. Nowadays, we wait until we are sick and then treat the symptoms, often ignoring (and often ignorant of) the root cause. This was not always the case.

My biggest energy medicine heroine is Donna Eden. Many years ago now, my kinesiology teacher recommended her book Energy Medicine and as soon as I started reading it I knew where my future lay. Everything she said made total sense to me and I was able to immediately start using her techniques (at home, by myself, for free, with no training!) to amazing effect. It was incredibly empowering to be able to take the responsibility for healing back into my own hands.

I once heard her speak at a workshop and have never been in the presence of someone so alive. Her energy was "happy" and palpable, zinging around the room, lifting up everyone there. She has a core group of techniques that I revisit again and again, really basic stuff that helps to maintain clear energy circuits on a daily basis. She has kindly packaged these up into The Little Book of Energy Medicine, which I cannot recommend highly enough, even for total beginners. It's perfect for anyone who want to have a go without jumping into too much detail. (You can also find all of the techniques online in YouTube videos if you need a demo!)

As we are at that transition point between winter and spring when a lot of people gets colds, I thought I would introduce one of my favourites: The Spinal Flush. You can do this on a daily basis to keep everything flowing, or use in a more targeted way the minute you feel a cold coming on. At the first sign of sniffles or mention of a scratchy throat, I start "flushing" both of my daughters and 9 times out of 10, perfect health is restored within hours. This has been a lifesaver for avoiding colds in the first place. (There are also lots of things you can do if you are already well into a cold, but that will have to wait for another post!)

So, grab a partner. Anyone will do; even a small child is capable of making energy work for them! Standing behind the person, rub the muscles on either side of the spine in a downward motion from top to bottom three times. You are quite literally pushing the toxins out of the lymphs. Then, find the vertebra at the top of the neck and rub side to side across the juncture of each vertebra all the way down the back (once). And, finally, holding your hand flat, palm facing the person's spine, about two inches away from the body, "sweep" the energy down and away from the body, from head to tailbone, three times. And that's it. You are done! It takes only a minute or two and the effects are astonishing.

NB: If it hurts when you are rubbing either the muscles or between the vertebrae, don't worry, that is just a sign of blocked energy. Go gently, you don't need a great deal of pressure. It is more about intention and the pain will clear as the energy becomes unblocked.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

3 Happy Things: February

February is my least favourite month and, sadly, this one has not changed my mind about that. I always feel a little down, the weather is always a little grey (and often wet!) and I am impatient waiting for Winter to finish and Spring to start, so I have been looking extra hard this month for Happy Things! I hope wherever you are there are some little signs of Spring peeking through! And, finally, while I am not big on commercial holidays, I am big on love, so a Happy Valentine's Day to you all!

One: We have had a ton of stormy weather this month in the UK, so I have been fortifying the house with daffodils to brighten things up.

Two: As it's still dark and gloomy, we have been lighting lots of candles and I realized that I love the smell of a freshly struck match.

Three: Nutritionists always advise to "eat the rainbow" and I think this beautiful rainbow chard fits the bill perfectly!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The Invention of Wings

I love Sue Monk Kidd's writing. She writes with such clarity and purpose that you can't help but get swept up by the tidal wave of her imagination. The Invention of Wings is her latest triumph. This is a story of women and their extraordinary capacity for courage, and it blew me right out of the water. Every word is in the right place. It's an astonishing piece of work, peopled with a diverse group of women so real and so memorable that they've all crept under my skin and it is them that I am thinking about today every time my mind starts its incessant wandering.

When you were a child, did you want to change the world? I did. So badly. I wanted to right all the wrongs, fix all the problems, stop all the injustices, champion the underdog…. As I got older, this seemed such an insurmountable task that I think part of me just gave up and tried to do the best I could within my own life, but this book brought all that zeal zooming right back into my heart. It made me ask questions like, "What am I doing with my life? What contribution am I here to make?" And I am listening out for that inner voice again, which has grown wiser with age, to guide me.

The book is set in the Deep South during the early 1800s and shines its light on Sarah, the daughter of a wealthy Charlestonian, and Hetty, the slave girl she is given for her 11th birthday. Sarah does not believe in slavery, but is bound by the conventions of her time. The girls are therefore bound to each other and the bond they develop will influence them both deeply throughout their lives. They must each decide how to respond to their powerlessness and find their own place in the world as they grow into women.

At one point in the story, Hetty says to Sarah, "My body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you its the other way round." It neatly sums up the way Sue Monk Kidd has woven together their plights. While slaves were subjected to unimaginable cruelty and deprived of all freedoms, women's freedoms were also curtailed at that time: their right to work, vote, own property, have a voice…. The Invention of Wings is, in fact, based on the true story of Sarah Grimké, who, along with her sister Angelina, became the first female abolitionist in America, and the first to speak out publicly about equality for both women and slaves. It reminded me that one person, one brave act, really can change the world.

Books change us too. When Sue Monk Kidd sits down and answers her own calling to put words on the page, her truth goes out into the world and touches the hearts of everyone who reads her stories. Some books become part of your story when you read them. This is one of them.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Making Piece

Beth M Howard's Making Piece falls into the Cathartic Grief category, and I know that word "grief" makes you wary. Don't be. This book is uplifting and redemptive, and when it found its way to me, it was like spending time with an empathetic friend who was telling me her story in order to help me heal. The emphasis is not really on the loss, but the forging ahead. The ability to go back to basics and create something new from the bombed-out remains of her previous life. Beth Howard is an extraordinary and inspiring person and her tale is well-worth reading.

Beth's 43-year-old husband died suddenly while they were in the throes of a divorce neither of them were sure they wanted. They loved each other, but being married wasn't working, so her grief was complicated and all-encompasing, yet when you read through the 18 months following his death, it's with awe and wonder that she has the wherewithal to get out on the road and bake for people, for pies are her salvation. She has always baked pies. In fact, she is crazily pie-obsessed (in a good way!) and uses pie — baking it and sharing it — as a metaphor for healing throughout the book.

She is also a journalist and it shows in her engaging writing. At the end of each chapter, late at night, I found myself turning the page, thinking, "just one more chapter…", which is surely the best sign of a good book! I felt akin to her in many little ways too. In one instance, she talks about nature as a source of healing, which made total sense to me: "For as much as making pie soothes my soul, I find my greatest solace in nature. Pie connects me with people, but nature connects me with God and with myself."

She also talks about going back to Iowa, where she was born and spent her childhood and it reminded me of my own Midwestern childhood, with its sense of security and community. She goes to the Iowa State Fair as a pie judge and says, "From the minute I set foot onto the fairgrounds, I was filled with a giddiness I hadn't expected. First of all, I hate crowds. I prefer solitude with occasional but controlled social gatherings." That about sums me up, but I know exactly what she means about that giddiness. What joy to re-experience that connection!

The thing that really got me, though, was that the whole year after her husband died, she just followed her gut and let "life" lead her from place to place, experience to opportunity. She listened carefully and by doing so found what was right for her. It's so important we all do this and so rare that any of us do. Her book left me feeling like I had spent time with a cherished old friend, revisiting my past, and full of hope for the future… but be warned, reading this will leave you with a ferocious urge to eat pie!!

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Julia Cameron and her Morning Pages

Okay, hands up, everyone who's been churning a problem around in your mind recently, chewing over an issue repeatedly, running into the same old road blocks in your life day after day or having the same endless dialogue with yourself and getting nowhere. Yeah, we've all been there. In fact, it's where we all reside most of the time. So, what do we do about it? Well, Julia Cameron is one of my all-time heroines, and her practice of writing Morning Pages has been saving me for the last 20 years!

She is someone who seems to embody all the things I'm shooting for right now: authenticity, creativity, grace, joy, awareness, strength and much more. I can't remember when I was first introduced to her most seminal tome The Artist's Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self — it just feels like it has always been in my orbit, and I would like to thank whoever it was (probably my mother!). It changed my life. Really.

One of the tools that Julia advocates is Morning Pages. They are the best and fastest way I know to check in with myself and get back on track. You simply commit to writing, long-hand, three pages of A4 every morning, uncensored. Just write whatever comes into your head and keep writing til you've filled the three pages, even if it's "I don't know what to write." Sounds crazy, works brilliantly — and it's so simple. It doesn't take very long for the pattern to emerge and then you are much better equipped to proceed wisely. You really are your own best guide!

Her second book in the series, Walking in This World: Spiritual Strategies for Forging Your Creative Trail, picks up where The Artist's Way leaves off. My favourite tool from this book is the Weekly Walk. You are supposed to do this alone, but I cheated and asked my friend Loralie if she wanted to join me as a regular thing. That was nine years ago and we never missed a walk unless one of us was sick or on holiday. It became a hugely important touchstone for both of us — a safe space to explore ideas, figure ourselves out and be 100% supported in our respective journeys. She has just moved away and her absence has left me feeling somewhat untethered and missing her terribly.

Often, when this happens, I find myself turning to Julia Cameron's wisdom for some guidance and some grounding. How can I get back on track? Which tools are the ones that will help me the most in this situation? She always comes up with the goods and I have faith that this time will be no different.

I am currently working my way through The Prosperous Heart: Creating A Life of 'Enough', and, before she moved, I know Loralie had secured a copy of The Artist's Way for Parents: Raising Creative Children. [And here's how "in the zone" working with Julia's techniques makes you: just as I was typing that sentence, Loralie emailed me! This is not so remarkable until you know that she has almost no internet access at the moment and is many, many time zones away, so it really was quite a "coincidence"!!]

P.S. My best friend Denise confessed to me a couple of months ago that she hates Morning Pages. Hates them! Can you imagine? I couldn't, but then there are lots and lots of ways to access that peaceful place that moves us forward, so I'd say do give Morning Pages a go, but if they are not for you, please no guilt! There will be something else that comes along and scoops you up…just keep paying attention so you recognise it when it suggests itself to you!

P.P.S. Ha, ha, in another In The Zone "coincidence", Denise called me this very morning, totally unaware that I had been working on this post, to say that she had just been doing…. yup, you guessed it: Morning Pages! I think I'd better post this and let Julia continue to work her magic...!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

3 Happy Things: January

January can seem like a long month what with the excitement of Christmas passed, the nights still drawing in early and the weather challenging. As I write, there is torrential rain streaming down my windows and many of my friends are caught in the Polar Vortex! So, this month I have been trying to notice things that bring "light" in some way. We have been burning loads of candles, baking, doing puzzles and trying to lift each other up. I hope you are finding some light in your days too!

One: a bright bowlful of clementines in the sunshine

Two: this happy Buddha on a card from my brother: pure joy!

Three: planning my next bake...

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Lemon Aid… for your eyes!

I got this for my birthday. I opened it and immediately loved the packaging. I'm like that. But I had no idea what to do with the product! I checked the back for clues: "colour correcting eyelid primer". I was none the wiser. And then I started worrying about whether or not the colour of my eyelids actually needed correcting. What colour were other people's eyelids? Were mine not normal? Oh my, I was full of questions. I decided to put the little container (face out, so I could see the packaging) in one of my little, clear plastic make-up drawers and come back to it when I could cope with that level of enquiry.

Approximately one month later, I could no longer hold out. I wanted to love lemon aid, but, more importantly, I wanted to know what it did! And so, without any research whatsoever (most unlike me!), I started putting it on my eyelids. I have to say it goes on smooth and makes my eyelids a uniform colour, lighter and brighter than my own. Then I wondered if it would hold my eyeshadow in place for the whole day. I vowed to check it that night. But I forgot. I forgot for the next two weeks (although I faithfully put it on each morning). And then, finally, I remembered. And it does! It works! My eyelid were just as perfectly made up as when I finished my morning maquillage.

I am shot through with fatigue most days and so anything that perks up my eye area is a blessing. My dear friend Jane is not limited only to excellent book recommendations, she is also a genius gift-giver and this is one of her finds. It's good to know your friends are looking out for you, and if they are not, well, you can order some for yourself right here: Benefit Lemon Aid. Go on, you know you are a sucker for the packaging too!

Friday, 17 January 2014

Inspiration Times Two

2014 started here in London in typical fashion: wet and windy! I have to admit I had been feeling a little gloomy and housebound when I was unexpectedly cheered up by two people I have never met! Buddhists use the term "sangha" to refer to their community and, in my mind, it is how I think of the community I am coming to know online. The only things you need to join in are common interests, some shared reference points, possibly a love of Nutella (depending on what "sangha" calls to you!) So, last week, when I had lost my momentum, I logged on looking for some of these people who are putting their good vibes out into the world to help lift me out of my malaise and get me feeling inspired again. There were two that jumped right out at me.

The first was a quote I saw on Laura Wright's Instagram feed ("thefirstmess"):
"There are years that ask questions and years that answer."
I did not know it was Zora Neale Hurston and had to look that up. Perhaps you already knew! However, that sentence has been bouncing around and around in my brain ever since I read it. It feels so prophetic to me ahead of this year that is about to unfold. Last year was tough and the year before even tougher. I faced the biggest challenges of my life. I made it through and am proud of what I have picked up along the way, but now I am ready to move forward, instead of just surviving, and how I do that is still ahead of me. It's an exciting time.

The second thing was a connection I made through my blogging that showed me again the power of the internet to connect us to people all over the world who are doing amazing, inspiring things every day. To be able to tap into that and be a part of something so big and so awesome (in the true sense of the word) fills me with joy…. and that has been my goal for the past two years: to get back the joy that seems to seep out of most of us as we grow up and get bogged down by the responsibilities that come with adult life. It doesn't have to be that way and I forget that when I am busy/tired/focused elsewhere. We need to be present, and also to present our most authentic selves to the world. When we connect with each other and share our experiences, we create an opportunity for joy to flood in for everyone.

So, thank you to Christa over at Christa In New York. I came across her blog via a friend and have been following her journey for several months now. I noticed after a while that when I was having a day where I was struggling to get off the ground, it was often one of her inspiring (daily) posts that perked me up enough to get going. She followed her heart last year and that authenticity shines through her writing and is now bringing her lots of exciting new opportunities. Sometimes all we need is a little prod, a little reminder that we can choose how we feel and that can make all the difference.

So I am sending out a big thank you to all of you who inspired me in 2013. I hope I can pay some of it back (or forward?!) here on my own blog this year.

Much love, Aimee
Photos courtesy of my very talented dad and brother, respectively.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Cazalet Chronicles

Oh, where to begin?! I have just finished All Change, the last book in Elizabeth Jane Howard's marvellous Cazalet Chronicles and am equal parts elated and bereft! After five books and a story spanning 21 years, I feel like the Cazalets are my own family. As they are a large and ever-expanding family, it is to Howard's immense credit that she has drawn them all so completely for my mind's eye that I did not once have to refer to the sprawling family tree which appears so helpfully on the endpapers. Quite a feat at the best of times and she was in her late 80s when she wrote this.

It amazes me that she was able to so accurately capture and describe the internal emotional lives of so many diverse characters. She weaves them together beautifully by writing different chapters from the perspectives of different people, so the story keeps moving on but we are far more deeply involved with each character through seeing things precisely from their point of view. As my writing teacher always said, "Don't tell me, show me." Howard is a genius at that. She has also been clever here with her ending, which, of course, I won't spoil by giving away. I was so curious as to how she would manage to successfully wrap up such an ongoing family saga. There is no plot, after all; we are simply following the life of a family — all the ins and outs, up and downs…. I will simply say that I was not disappointed.

Howard's real skill is making us care about each and every one of her characters, even the less sympathetic ones. She has managed to make them so utterly human that we can always find a scrap of recognition (and therefore compassion) in even their most appalling behaviour. We all have less-than-attractive traits and it is a relief to see them handled so beautifully. We are also treated to a partial social history of England between 1937 and 1958, which is inherently woven into the writing (some of which is autobiographical). It's all the bits I wish I could "see" when I visit an old country house, the bits behind the closed doors: how did they really live, how did they think and feel, what did they wear and eat and do? What social conventions were they held by? And when and how did they allow for changes to set in?

Howard is brilliant at showing all the dynamics of a big family, how they are all cogs in a larger machine, each affecting the others. I come from a smallish family and do not live near most of them, but I do have childhood memories of gathering as a clan at my grandparents' house for summers and Thanksgivings with my aunts, uncles and cousins. There were elements similar to Home Place (the Cazalets' family home) and they are lovely memories, but only took place over a short number of years. In this series, their whole lives and those of their parents and children revolve around this hub and it is this unifying theme of the house being a true home to them all that is the real bedrock of her story.

My friend Jane (she of the most excellent recommendations) introduced me to these stories. I was resistant at first. Surely one family saga is much like another, I reasoned, and I had read plenty. She finally got so fed up with me that she bought me the first one, The Light Years, and told me to Get On With It! And I'm so very glad she did. My life has been immeasurably enriched by Elizabeth Jane Howard's wisdom, intelligence and grace. Jane told me once that every few years she would re-read the whole series (and there were only four at that point) from start to finish. At the time, I thought, "Good Heavens, is she mad?" (I am not usually a re-reader.) But now I totally understand.

I shall miss the Cazalets enormously and there really won't be any more stories this time as Howard died, age 90, shortly after the New Year. However, I know without a doubt that I will be joining Jane in her tradition of re-reading these wonderful books. In fact, just knowing that I have the pleasure of re-visiting all of them again has taken me from a mood of feeling quite wistful to one of happy anticipation of a grand treat to come. So, I have now only to implore you to go and get yourself a copy of The Light Years and tell you to Get On With It! Trust me, you'll be ever so pleased you did.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

A Year for Creating

Happy (slightly belated) New Year! I realize it has been a while since I was last here. My heart is still not quite strong enough to sail through school holidays, and Christmas is the trickiest, what with all the "extras" from the North Pole to attend to! However, I have some rest time set aside now that the girls are back at school and there are lots of ideas percolating around in my head that I am excited about exploring in 2014.

One concept that I keep running into is that of Theme Words. Like everyone, I am familiar with New Year's Resolutions (or Revolutions as my daughter used to call them, perhaps more accurately!), but picking a word that represented what the "theme" of my year would be was totally new to me.

The first word that popped into my head was Authenticity, but after some reflection I realized that that had been my theme for 2013! It was the whole foundation for this blog, in fact — tapping back into my authentic self to help bring about healing. I had been diagnosed with heart failure in 2012 and reasoned that living more from my true heart-space (listening more to my own heart's guidance), would be the best place to begin.

This proved to be the case and I made huge improvements last year. I also made this blog and dipped my toe tentatively into social media. I am low-tech by nature and struggle with the electronic side of things, but I love to write and share ideas and I was looking for a community of like-minded people, so I jumped in and tried my best. The site itself still needs a lot of work, but it has already (in the six months that I have been dabbling) brought me so much.

I am flexing my creative muscle and that is opening doors. I started using Instagram (aimeesapothecary) recently as one of my other loves is taking photographs. The unexpected treat that came with that adventure was the visual dialogue that is happening in that world. Wow! So much creativity there and it has connected me to people and worlds that inspire me every day. Seeing what others are up to reminded me of how many interests I had dropped along the way as life got busy and other responsibilities filled my days. I had started to feel empty and, as Julia Cameron says, I needed to fill my "creative well".

And so after a few days of pondering and ending up at exactly the same place each time, I have settled on "Create" as my theme word for 2014. Last year, I remembered who I really was, deep down, and this year I will try to honour that by creating opportunities wherever I am drawn: writing, photography, knitting, baking, candlestick-making (totally serious here!) and I'm sure many more ideas will bubble up to the surface as I continue to explore. I hope you will join me. I have a feeling this is going to be an exciting year!