Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Signature of All Things

Last year when I wasn't writing my blog, I was, of course, still reading and I tried to jot down some reviews in my notebook for when I started up again. They are not as fresh as I would like, but I read some great books during that time that I'd like to share, so I will do my best to capture the spirit of each book anyway. Several people have asked for recommendations for a good Easter holiday read and while this one might not seem like an obvious choice, Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things is a truly marvellous book and one that is perfect reading at home or poolside!

She really is an author at the top of her game and once I picked up this book, I could not put it down again. We were in Florence at the time and I still had to drag myself away, even with the wonderful sights…and tastes…of that stunning city! It's one of those rare books: a compellingly epic novel set against a weighty scientific backdrop. Alma Whittaker is the heroine of Gilbert's tale and she's as unique and memorable as they come. Born to a larger-than-life father and stern Dutch mother, both from botanical backgrounds, she is soon launched into the heady intellectual world of scientific debate. She can more than hold her own and so begins her journey through life -- and what a life she leads.

There is nothing predictable about this story and it is peopled with a rich cast of characters in settings that span the globe. We follow Alma throughout her entire life and it is a privilege to do so. I was blown away by this book and was extremely sad to turn the last page. I don't really want to say any more about it except go right away and buy a copy. It's a magnificent novel!

Friday, 20 March 2015

Resistance is futile...

Resistance is futile, yet we all do it all the time. Why such madness? Where did we all collectively get the idea that we should avoid anything that was uncomfortable? Most of the time I don't even realize what I'm doing, but I've been practicing Awareness for some time now so every now and again it kicks in and this morning I caught myself being joyous in the kitchen -- completely unbidden!

A little back story here, so that doesn't sound totally weird: I cook ALL THE TIME. Following the Autoimmune Paleo diet for my heart, trying to figure out what my youngest can and can't eat for her digestive problems as well as not neglecting my eldest and my husband's tastes means food planning and prepping has taken over my life. As you might expect, I have a certain amount of resentment (resistance) surrounding the amount of time I spend in my kitchen. It makes me crazy. I tell myself, while washing up yet another massive sinkful of dishes, that it's not fair, that there are so many other things I'd like to be doing, that it's boring, that I never have time to do anything for myself…. You know how it goes. You have your own version, I'm sure. And then I feel crappy. And tired. So tired.

But it's not all the cooking and cleaning up that is making me feel that way. It's my resistance to the job at hand. When I stop fighting it and instead decide to throw myself into it, pulling out a stack of cookbooks (I love cookbooks!), getting creative and making a big, glorious, delicious mess, I am happy as a clam. And energized. Not tired. So not tired. How can that be? Well, because at the end of the day it really doesn't matter what you do, only how you do it.

So, what element of your life are you resisting? Here's a clue: what do you complain about to yourself? Listen out for the negative running commentary in your head. Is it about work, your boss, the gym, your aunt whom you should visit more often, the diet you're trying to stick to, some element of parenting that is your particular bugbear? We all have areas of our lives that feel like a grind. This week I challenge you to pick one and figure out a way to just accept it for what it is. Drop the good/bad labelling, drop the resistance. It's something you have to do anyway, so just for one day actively decide to welcome it, however you can. Gratitude is helpful here. I read somewhere that if it's laundry you hate, you can be grateful that you have clothes to wear; if it's paying taxes, be grateful that you have an income. You get the gist… Or you could just go all Mary Poppins and figure out a way to make it fun. See if you can do whatever it is with grace and then note how you feel afterwards. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Chuckling Goat

What an extraordinary story! If you have even a passing interest in natural health, Secrets from Chuckling Goat is a must-read. Shann Nix Jones started off in the US as a radio talk show host and ended up making truly life-changing products from the milk of the goats she now rears on a remote farm in Wales. Her journey is remarkable in many ways, not least because she was so ill-prepared for the challenges she was to face, but she tells her beautifully written tale with a lightness of touch that allows the reader to gently learn the lessons she had to learn the hard way.

The point where her story intersects with the goats begins when she marries a Welsh farmer called Rich, who suggests that goats' milk may help clear her young son Benji's recurring bronchial infections. And so, off they go to buy a goat, whose milk does indeed clear up Benji's infections as well as his asthma. With the surplus of milk, Shann decides to try her hand at soaps and creams, the use of which results in Benji's eczema also completely disappearing. Armed with these successes, increasing interest from other mums on the school run and a new-found love of goats, she goes on to buy a whole herd. She also starts to experiment with other ancient kitchen staples, discovering the health benefits of fermentation along the way through her experiments with sourdough bread starters and kefir. She describes beautifully the concept of perthyn, which loosely means connection, relation, belonging.... This concept is really what drives her and ties her to this new land where she finds herself, so many light years away from where (and how) she began.

Then, when Shann thinks her husband might actually die form the MRSA infection he contracts in the hospital following an operation for his colitis, instead of cracking, she finds grace. In the midst of months of severe stress, she is able to let grace guide her to the answers that she had all along -- that we all have, but are usually not able to access. We are not conditioned to listen to our own inner wisdom, to use what we "know" to be true even when everyone is telling us we're crazy all the while having no answers of their own to give us. We need to remember this skill because we need to change a great many things in this world if we are all to survive.

That sounds so dramatic, I know, but I truly believe that we can fix the mess before it's too late. As a parent, I want nothing more than to leave the world in better shape than I found it for my own children and the rest of their generation, as well as teaching them new ways (or re-learning old ways?!) to respond to the challenges they will face. We all have innate talents and things that we feel passionate about and if we're encouraged to chase those passions and think outside the box about how to work with them then we all will be facing a very bright future indeed.

Shann thought way outside the box and in doing so, saved her husband's life with a combination of home remedies that drove the infection from his body. Now fully recovered, the two of them have quit their day jobs and devoted themselves fully to growing the line of products produced from the milk of their beloved goats. They are even working with the Welsh Assembly Government and scientists at Swansea University on further research and development of these powerfully healing ingredients. For more information, have a read of their website, Chuckling Goat; it's fascinating stuff!

So, here's to Shann Nix Jones -- for being an intrepid pioneer, for listening to her inner wisdom and for being brave enough to stick to her guns about what she knew was right. I suspect her seminal work with probiotics and gut health will prove of the utmost importance in a movement that is only just now starting to receive the widespread public attention it deserves. There are so many health issues that the medical profession is struggling to address. Hopefully, the general public will start to embrace this new paradigm shift in how to think about healing. I, for one, am very excited about its potential and will continue to share wonderful stories here like those of Shann and her chuckling goats!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

What's For Dinner?

This is a question that plagues most of us on a daily basis, but I really feel like it has taken over my whole, entire life. I am either making food or thinking about what food I am going to make pretty much every waking minute and I'm pretty sure I'm dreaming about it too! My youngest daughter and I are both trying to follow the Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) diet. This is not as easy as it sounds! I also went sugar-free a year ago and some of the foods allowed on the AIP I don't do so well with, so we are verrrrry limited. However, I'm a sucker for a challenge, so I thought I'd share a little of what we've been eating and how that's going down with the rest of the family!

Scrambled egg with courgette, sweet potato and turkey burger

Everyone I know is trying to eat a little better, cut back here, add in a few healthier foods there. Lunchboxes are a particular concern for a lot of people and there is so much confusion about what constitutes a healthy meal these days that it's impossible to please all the people all the time (especially when they're kids!), but I am not prescriptive and I think each person needs to employ a hearty dose of awareness to their diet and really start to listen to their own bodies to tell them what is working for them and what isn't.

Pesto quinoa with chicken and garlicky green beans

Breakfasts can be super hard for people making the switch as most conventional breakfasts are a gluten-dairy-sugar fest (think cereal with milk, toast with jam, a ham and cheese croissant on the run, pancakes with Nutella…!), so how to begin? Well, most mornings for me start with leftovers. Yep, it's true. It's very weird to start with, but then becomes strangely addictive as you get such a balanced energy boost that lasts a good long way into your day. It's also a terrific way to clear out the fridge!

Fried egg, gut-healing sauerkraut and sweet potato noodles with courgette, celery and avocado

I am completely in love with my spiralizer and make up a batch of courgette/zucchini noodles (courgetti/zoodles) or sweet potato noodles (swoodles?!) once a week to keep in the fridge, ready to chuck into a salad raw or eat lightly sautéed with whatever else I can find, often topped with an egg fried in coconut oil and sprinkled with furikake, always furikake! It makes everything taste special.

Buckwheat breakfast loaf with apricots

And then there are the more traditional breakfast alternatives. I am a huge fan of chia puddings, which I make up about twice a week in a jar large enough for a few portions. They are also great for a wee midday snack with a couple of berries tossed on top or some raw cacao powder stirred through to kill a chocolate craving. My favourite recipe of the moment is from The Healthy Foodie as I am a total coconut addict. And I've had good luck making baked goods, mostly for my daughter, with buckwheat flour (which, as part of the rhubarb family, is not "wheat" at all!). Check out this recipe for Sticky Date Loaf from the amazing Alice Nicholls over at The Whole Daily.

Coconut chia pudding with cinnamon and blueberries

Quinoa is also super useful as a filling, high-protein, grain replacement. I batch cook this as well so that I always have some to hand for a quick meal. I usually prefer it as a savoury, but it also works well heated gently with some coconut milk and then any of the toppings you prefer for oatmeal. And I always, always make a smoothie in my Nutribullet for my husband and I to share. Using the Nutribullet  is also a great way to add in some healthy extras, tailored to your own needs (think hemp protein, maca, flaxseed, spirulina, collagen…), and has also put an end to the problem of slimy, unidentifiable remnants in the vegetable drawer. If it needs eating up, in it goes…!

Spinach, celery, apple, turmeric, grapefruit, frozen pineapple and coconut water

To save this post becoming ridiculously long (frankly, I could go on about food forever!), I will stop here, but keep an eye out for shorter, more specific posts over the upcoming weeks with ideas and recipes from some of my favourite food bloggers. P.S. An unexpected bonus to changing the way I eat was the loss of an entire stone (14lbs) without even trying… if nothing else, that has to be good incentive for giving it a go!

quinoa porridge with cinnamon, coconut milk, pecans and berries

Saturday, 28 February 2015

February: a new beginning?

When I realised today was the last day of February, my first thought was: thank goodness! Traditionally, Februrary has been my least favourite month, but this one has surprised me. I have been plagued since the start of the year with a deep-seated fatigue I can't quite shake, but February hasn't decimated my mood like it normally does. I haven't allowed myself to indulge in my usual "I hate Feb" thinking, but instead tried to be as aware of my thoughts as possible and change them as soon as they started to take me there. I am finally coming to understand that I am responsible for what kind of February I experience, not some random, mysterious, outside force!

One thing I did that I am really happy about this month was to introduce Quote of the Week. I find an inspirational quote, make a poster (very primitive at the moment, see photographic evidence!) and then stick it up by the front door late each Sunday night, so that everyone sees it first thing Monday morning. There's not a great deal of interest from the rest of the family yet, but I am loving it and I suspect interest will grow as it becomes a regular feature and the signs become more creative and beautiful. I am also secretly hoping that it will become a family tradition that perhaps my girls will come back to some day with their own families. In the meantime, I am enjoying the joy it brings to me each week.

Another thing I'm hoping to do is a calligraphy workshop and then I can use the elegant, modern script that I see popping up all around Instagram for my posters! I've loved calligraphy since I took a class in high school, but have never prioritised revisiting it until now. Last year, I finally got around to pottery (another lifelong creative ambition), so maybe this will be the year for calligraphy. I found a place that runs classes. It's very hipster, which, frankly, at my age is rather intimidating, but that's where I'm looking to go this year: anywhere that scares me a little, takes me out of my comfort zone. I know that's where the magic happens -- and I'm ready for a little magic! Bring on March….!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Excellent Women

Sometimes there is just nothing for it but to pick up an old Virago Modern Classic and devour it, and being in the depths of gloom that are a British winter, Barbara Pym's Excellent Women will bring a much-needed slice of humour and comfort as well as a tantalising peek into life in a small English village in a world largely gone by, but whose echoes will still be all-too familiar to many today!

I had never read anything by Barbara Pym before, but had been hearing her name for years. I saw this copy in an Oxfam Bookshop and snatched it right up. I'm a sucker for their covers, but I was also feeling grim that day: unloved, exhausted and, frankly, taken for granted! No doubt misguided and brought about largely due to the weather and a long run of back-to back viruses in the house; nonetheless, the book felt like the perfect antidote.

And so it was! Even the title is marvellous and hints at what lies within, which is basically a beautiful and quietly funny observation of the life of Mildred Lathbury, a woman heading rapidly toward spinsterhood. She is the daughter of a clergyman and, as such, well-versed in coping with "most of the stock situations". She has a wry talent for seeing the small but telling details and treats us to very funny vignettes of life in post-war Britain.

Here is one example: "The sight of Sister Blatt, splendid on her high, old-fashioned bicycle like a ship in full sail, filled me with pleasure." That line made me laugh out loud. On another occasion: "But as I had been at home in my village and she had been in Torquay the acquaintance had never prospered." Oh, how I wish people still spoke this way!

Pym is also brilliant at nailing the small truths of life that we never think of until they are pointed out to us and then we realise, "Oh, but that's exactly it!" How about these gems: "I began piling cups and saucers on a tray. I suppose it was cowardly of me, but I felt that I wanted to be alone, and what better place to choose than the sink, where neither of the men would follow me?" Or: " My thoughts went round and round and it occurred to me that if I ever wrote a novel it would be of the 'stream of consciousness' type and deal with an hour in the life of a woman at the sink." I think all of us can relate to her here!

And I will treat you to one last observation that will perhaps resonate more with British readers: "Did we really need a cup of tea? I even said as much to Miss Statham and she looked at me with a hurt, almost angry look, 'Do we need tea? she echoed. 'But Miss Lathbury…' She sounded so puzzled and distressed and I began to realise that my question had struck at something deep and fundamental. It was the kind of question that starts a landslide in the mind." And that last sentence really sums it up -- there are little rituals and mainstays in small, English villages that are not to be taken lightly and Barbara Pym has teased them out majestically. You will be well occupied by a few hours in her company!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A Return to Joy

Wow, it's sure been a long time since I was last here, almost a year. I have missed it terribly, but knew that I needed to take a break and figure out what it was that I really wanted to share. I also needed to tackle my health issues in a new way, which took up a lot of my time. I was diagnosed with severe heart failure at the beginning of 2012, which rocked me and my family to the core, but I was not ready to check out just yet and as I lay in my bed for weeks on end, heavily drugged with medication from the hospital, the one thought that my addled mind kept circling back to was: I have work to do.

The past three years have been what I thought were the beginnings of that work, but now, with hindsight, I realize that that work actually began many years ago when I first started training to practice energy medicine. It was my first foray as an adult back into a space of authenticity. When we are children we know instinctively who we are and what matters, but as we grow up and become conditioned by the world we live in, we forget so much of that. Clearly, some part of me had realized that it was important to get back to that space, but my internal conflict about who I was "supposed to be" as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, etc was so fierce that I didn't make it. I believe my heart failure was the result.

When we are not our authentic selves we lose our joyfulness. At the beginning of 2015, I chose the word JOY as my theme word for this year. I love theme words, as opposed to resolutions, because they have the ability to continually bring us back into the space we need to be in. Last year my word was CREATE and, unwittingly, I created much more than I had planned to! I worked fiendishly hard to keep my mind in check and not let it run off in unhelpful directions, I learned how to throw pots on a wheel (a lifelong ambition!), I learned how to cook and eat an Autoimmune Paleo diet to reduce inflammation and "clean up" my body from the inside out and, mostly, I learned that when I honour my own needs, life flows much more smoothly for me and everyone around me.

I decided the best way to honour those lessons is by being my genuine self. So bear with me while I find my voice again and I will share what I have learned, what is important to me, what's worked and what hasn't, including recipes to inspire you to use delicious food as medicine and plenty of book reviews because, well, books are my one weakness! So, I hope that you will join me and along the way pick up some things that will inspire you, lift your spirits and help you move into your own authentically joyous space.