On the road around Iceland

Over the years my husband and I have had some wonderful holidays together from our first city-break to Budapest a few months into our courtship to our honeymoon in Japan, but this year we decided to return to Iceland for a second time. We first visited Iceland in September 2014 and though we spent most of our time in and around Reykjavik we fell in love with the vast, volcanic landscape, and this time we hired a car to explore the ring road.

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We travelled clockwise around the ring road, taking it in turns to drive, mixing our favourite songs with a few Icelandic artists like Bjork, Of Monsters and Men and Sigur Ros, and watching the landscape change through the windscreen. Iceland is sparsely inhabited, beautiful and full of contrasts from crashing waterfalls, winding roads, snowy mountains and frozen lakes to moss covered lava fields, craters, bubbling mud pits, black sand beaches, colourful houses and quirky churches.

It was such a memorable adventure that it’s hard to pick my favourite moments ‚Äď some of which weren’t even captured on camera. In Akureyri, we had the option of pony trekking or whale watching and my husband chose the former as he pointed out there was no guarantee we’d see a whale but 100% chance of seeing a pony while trekking. I was a little nervous as I hadn’t been riding since I was a child, but it was a lot of fun and the ponies were full of character.

We visited the fairly new Into the Arctic museum in Akureyri and as we had the place almost to ourselves, the curator gave us a guided tour. Both times we’ve visited Iceland, we’ve really enjoyed chatting to the locals, as most people speak English and they’re polite, friendly and funny, and it’s a great way of learning about the country.

We also spent a couple of blissful hours soaking in the Myvatn nature baths and we emerged feeling relaxed, refreshed and wrinkly as prunes.

Svartifoss

The first time we visited Iceland, we were lucky enough to see rainbows in the waterspray at Skogafoss, and this time the sun hit the spray in front of Svartifoss creating a perfect rainbow just for a moment.

We ended up spending longer than we expected at Jokulsarlon as we were fascinated by the contrast of the blue icebergs washed ashore on the black sand beach. It is truly one of the strangest and most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.

The Icelandic diet is heavy on meat and fish, but we didn’t have any trouble finding tasty vegetarian food, and the highlights were vegan curry-wurst from a little farm cafe called Havari near Breiddalsvik and tomato soup from Fridheimar, a farm where they use geothermal energy to grow fresh tomatoes.

It was an incredible adventure and although we saw almost everything we wanted to on this trip, there is still so much more to see and do that I hope we will visit Iceland at least once more. Have a lovely week. X

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Review of ‘Signs Preceding the End of the World’ by Yuri Herrera

Review of ‘Signs Preceding the End of the World’ by Yuri Herrera

Inspired by Ann Morgan’s TED talk¬†My Year Reading a Book from Every Country in the World, I’ve been trying to read more translated fiction over the last few years, and I picked up Signs Preceding the End of the World on a cold day while day-dreaming about¬†sunnier climes.

Signs Preceding the End of the World is the tale of a young Mexican woman called Makina who embarks on a quest to deliver a message to her brother who crossed the border to make a new life for himself in the United States.

In some ways,¬†this is a modern retelling of the hero’s quest, reminiscent of Orpheus’ journey through the underworld, except Makina’s underworld is one full of crimelords, thugs, border patrols, police officers and illegal immigrants. The writing is sparse and poetic,¬†and at times the plot trots along so quickly that whole chapters pass in a blur adding to the¬†surreal and sometimes nightmarish quality of the story.

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Makina is quite literally a messenger, working at a telephone exchange connecting people from ‚ÄúLittle Town‚ÄĚ where she lives to ‚Äúthe Big Chilango‚ÄĚ (Mexico city) and beyond;¬†Makina is resourceful, capable of crossing borders and languages, and able to defend herself in a machismo culture.

Signs Preceding the End of the World is a topical story concerning someone crossing the Mexico-US border illegally, describing how dangerous the crossing itself is as she relies on crimelords and smugglers to help her, evading border patrols and police along the way. Reaching the U.S.A she finds immigrants everywhere, and notices their influence on the culture from food to music and language, as well witnessing the daily prejudice and discrimination they face.

This is a short book ‚Äď barely more than 100 pages ‚Äď it ends almost as abruptly as it starts,¬†but¬†leaves the reader with much to ponder. Have a lovely week. X

A Little Spring in My Step

A Little Spring in My Step

We’re just home¬†from¬†a wonderful holiday in Iceland (which deserves a separate post)¬†feeling thoroughly refreshed and inspired,¬†and enjoying a few days at home before we return to work.

This weekend it was warm enough to sit outside sipping our morning coffee for the first time this year, and it was lovely to notice all the changes that have occurred in the garden while we’ve been away.

Before we left the tulips were still green with only the tips hinting at the colours hidden within, and just a week later the first petals are starting to unfurl. Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a haphazard gardener so I forgot to write down the varieties of bulbs I planted, and the only tulip I can identify with any certainty is ‘red riding hood’ because of its distinctive leaves.

Elsewhere in the garden, the primroses are appearing, and I’ve cut some of the hyacinths that were toppling under their own weight and put them in a vase on the mantelpiece.

Of course, the best part of coming home is being reunited with our cat, Mara, who stays with my dad whenever we go on holiday. As much as we love travelling, Mara is such a big part of our little family and so many of our daily routines revolve around her that we miss her terribly while we’re away. For her part, Mara is very much a family cat who loves nothing more than the three of us being snuggled up on the couch or in bed together. Luckily, Mara is such a sweetheart that she never holds a grudge and is always full of purrs and affection when we return.

It’s good to be home again after a¬†lovely holiday, enjoying the sunshine and preparing for the week ahead with a little spring in¬†my step. Have a lovely week. X

Spring bulbs and seedlings

 

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Our windowsills have been even more crowded with plant pots than normal as the chili, courgette and squash seedlings jostle our houseplants for space. I never know when to start sowing seeds as it’s not unusual to have frosts in April here, and there’s a risk of seedlings outgrowing their pots before it’s warm enough to plant them outside, but I sowed the courgette and squash seeds on the Spring Equinox. All the¬†green and yellow courgettes have surfaced, but unfortunately only one¬†each of the¬†hunter and uchiki kuri squash seeds germinated.

It’s an awkward time of year in the garden, as we’ve been hard at work but there’s little to show for it yet, except for a few daffodils and hyacinths providing a welcome splash of colour.

In a rare week without snow in February, we hired a tree surgeon to cut down the three fir trees at the back of the garden. Part of me thinks cutting down healthy trees is heinous but having spent an exhausting afternoon digging up their shallow but tough and far-reaching roots, I’m glad to be rid of them, and we’re planning to replace with them with apple and willow trees.

We’ve turned the compost, and moved the compost bins to a location that gets more sunlight as they were in the shade before, it was a messy job but less smelly than expected.

Over the Easter weekend, my husband built a fruit cage to prevent our feathered friends from stealing all our berries. He’s recently added a Japanese wineberry, a blackcurrant and another blueberry to his fruit bush collection. We’ve also planted two more crowns of rhubarb (holstein blood red and champagne) to keep the mystery rhubarb my mum gave us company.

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Mara surveying our efforts in the garden

When I first started my blog, we didn’t have a garden (though it was something we both dreamed of), and I had no idea how much writing inspiration I would find in our little garden, nor how much I would enjoy reading about other people’s gardens. Our garden is very much a work in progress, constantly evolving, and although it’s been hard work at times, gardening has brought us so much pleasure and a real sense of achievement. Have a lovely weekend. X

Review of ‘Soulful Simplicity’ by Courtney Carver

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Before Courtney Carver was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, she thought exhaustion, stress and debt were all normal parts of life, yet her illness became a catalyst forcing her to evaluate her lifestyle and choices; since then Courtney has started a blog Be More with Less, and become an advocate of living simply to increase happiness, health and love.

In Soulful Simplicity, Courtney explores how the myth of more keeps us trapped, indebted and unhappy. Shopping becomes a distraction and¬†a way of numbing uncomfortable emotions like boredom, sadness, frustration and disappointment, and many of us fall into the marketing trap that somehow a new phone, car or pair of shoes has the power to change our lives, change how other¬†people see us, and change how we feel about ourselves. Yet no matter how much Courtney bought, it was never enough, and it wasn’t until she started de-cluttering, downsizing and simplifying that she learned to appreciate what she already had, and what really mattered in life.

I’ve never been¬†someone who lives to work, and my career is well below my other priorities like family, friends, health and hobbies, yet the reality is that many of us spend as many waking hours in the office with our colleagues as we do at home with our loved ones. Unfortunately, we can’t all give up our jobs to become full-time bloggers, but Soulful Simplicity offers useful advice on how to cultivate space, time and calm in a culture that promotes the idea that happiness can be bought and confuses busy-ness with productivity.

I¬†started reading¬†Soulful Simplicity during a period of acute stress when both my husband and mum were struggling with ill-health, and Courtney’s message that sometimes less is more really resonated with me and inspired me to examine how I spend my own¬†time and money. Have a lovely week.

Pottering around with houseplants

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Winter still hasn’t given way to spring yet in our part of the country, and another snowfall at the weekend prevented us from¬†making a start in¬†the garden, but I’ve been pottering around the house tending my little collection of houseplants instead.

Our house is¬†a long way from becoming one of the lush urban jungles to be found on Instagram, and I’ve killed more plants than I’d like to admit but I’ve gradually¬†collected and nurtured¬†a little selection of succulents, ferns, fittonia and, of course, a seemingly¬†infallible spider-plant. Decorating the plant pots was a rainy day project – though like all my crafts they’re a bit rough around the edges.

As our cat, Mara, is a nibbler, we only have plants that are safe for pets, and the ASPCA provide helpful lists of toxic and non-toxic plants.

I’ve had no luck at all propagating succulents, but I’ve had much more success propagating spiderettes from the spider-plant. I’ve already given one to my dad, another to my best friend, and I’ve just potted up a few more to give to a couple of friends and my husband, who wants one for his desk at work.

Determined not to repeat some of the rookie mistakes we made last year, I’ve¬†started our courgettes and squash plants off¬†inside.¬†I’m also attempting to grow chilli peppers from seed; the¬†cayenne seedlings have already surfaced, and I’m¬†hoping the poblano will¬†sprout soon too.

Meanwhile¬†in the garden…

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Have a lovely week! X

 

Review of ‘Finding Gobi’ by Dion Leonard

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I can’t remember when I first heard about the ultra-marathon runner from Edinburgh who bonded with a stray dog he found while competing in a race across the Gobi desert in China, but I was delighted when I found out he’d written a book about their story.

Something that struck me right from the start is that it was the little dog who chose Dion out of a hundred other runners, not the other way around. Mile after mile, the scruffy stray he names Gobi keeps pace with Dion, and little by little he starts to enjoy her company as she gallops along beside him, at times Gobi’s presence helps¬†him push through the pain, exhaustion and boredom of long distance running. A real turning point in their relationship comes when Dion stops to carry Gobi across a river that is too deep and fast flowing for her to cross, even though he knows it will cost him time and probably his position in the race too. By the time he crosses the finish line,¬†seven days and 155 miles¬†later, Dion has resolved to bring¬†her back to the UK with him.

Roughly the first third of Finding Gobi focuses on the ultra-marathon, and the rest describes all the challenges of trying to bring Gobi back to the UK. I don’t want to spoil it, but this story ends happily and their reunion and eventual return to the UK is that much sweeter for all the obstacles and setbacks they faced along the way.

Dion, a bit of a loner by nature with¬†a fair bit¬†of emotional baggage from his childhood and adolescence, is humbled by the outpouring of generosity and support from friends and strangers alike who donate money to the crowd-funding campaign he starts or give up their time to help him directly. It is Dion’s commitment to bringing Gobi home that drives the campaign, but it’s the kindness of people from all over the world who make it possible, and in turn make this story so heart-warming and memorable.

Although my own furry, four-legged companion is of the feline variety, there were so many aspects of this story that resonated with me. Human relationships can often be complex, yet our animal companions offer us their love and trust unconditionally, and no matter how we may see ourselves they accept us just as we are. Yet even more than that, Finding Gobi demonstrates that somehow animals also have the ability to bring out our very best qualities ‚Äď from commitment and co-operation to kindness and compassion.

Have a lovely week. X