April Showers and Spring Sunshine

IMG_6522

This weekend we found ourselves with an unexpected free Saturday as the tradesmen renovating our sitting room completed their work a day early, so my husband and I decided to make a spontaneous journey with no particular destination in mind. We found ourselves at St Fillans where we stopped to admire the statue ‘Still’ on the edge of Loch Earn. Designed by Robert Mulholland, ‘Still’ is a mirrored sculpture reflecting the weather and water in which it’s submerged.

Just as we arrived the clouds darkened, hiding the sun, and the wind picked up making the calm waters suddenly choppy, while the rain clouds in the distance obscured the mountains on the Western banks of Loch Earn. I love the way the weather can dramatically alter the landscape on days like this.

Driving through the rain, we found blue skies on the other side and stopped to take a rambling walk along a viaduct we spotted from the road, which turned out to be part of the Glen Ogle Trail. We left the path and scrambled down into the valley to admire the viaduct from below, it felt wonderful to literally stretch our legs after a long, lazy winter. Standing at the foot of the viaduct, with the valley channelling the wind through it, I felt as if the worries that have been clouding my thoughts over the last few weeks were swept away.

IMG_6541

There was no phone signal on our walk and yet neither of us missed it, instead enjoying the dramatic scenery, the changing weather and each other’s company. We returned home from our impromptu adventure with muddy boots and tired legs but feeling refreshed.

A drizzly start on Sunday gave us the perfect excuse to spend a lazy day at home, though we ventured into the garden between rain showers to sprinkle a mix of wild flower seeds and neat rows of vegetable seeds in our raised beds.

Today, we visited my parents and between cups of coffee and tea, helped them in their gardens as my dad has had backache over the last few weeks and mum is not as able as she used to be. It was a lovely, leisurely time together, laughing and chatting, watching the bees bumble around the garden and the clouds drift overhead.

Back in our own home now and with a busy week ahead, I’m grateful for the unhurried time spent outside enjoying the warmth of the sunshine, the refreshing winds and good company. Happy Easter and have a lovely week.

Review of ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ by Meik Wiking

FullSizeRender (2)

We are in the midst of fairly significant renovations in our house at the moment, and with tradesmen unblocking the fireplace in the living room and scrambling over the roof to fit a chimney, I’ve retreated upstairs and out of the way with my cat and The Little Book of Hygge for company.

Over the last couple of years, the Danish concept of hygge has taken the world by storm. Yet there has also been something of a backlash against it, with some criticizing it as xenophobic and the latest marketing ploy to sell mugs, rugs, all manner of knitwear and books on the subject.

While hygge is often synonymous with cosiness, especially during the colder and darker months of the year, Meik Wiking defines hygge as a feeling of safety, relaxation and contentment that can be found in any weather or season. For many of us who lead busy lives, part of the appeal of hygge is the chance to slow down, set aside our worries for a while and indulge in simple pleasures.

FullSizeRender (3)

The Little Book of Hygge is packed with a mix of research and personal anecdotes, which makes this book better suited to dipping into every now and again than binge-reading. There are whole chapters devoted to candles and lighting, Christmas (the most hygge time of the year), a dictionary to help you work out your hygge from your hyggeligt, a few Danish recipes (though I was a little disappointed there were more recipes for meat than cake), and various other aspects of a hygge lifestyle. The presentation of the book is lovely with beautiful photos and illustrations generously scattered throughout.

With tradesmen thudding and thumping around above and below, it’s been hard to concentrate on reading, but The Little Book of Hygge left me imagining – and looking forward to – lots of hyggeligt moments once the renovations are complete, like sitting in the garden in the sunshine over the summer, huddling around board games with friends on rainy days, and reading in front of the fire on cold, winter nights. Have a lovely week.

Springing back to Health

Every year, winter seems to stretch on for longer than it should, and I’m always relieved when I notice the first budding leaves appear on the trees. Despite this, spring is probably my least favourite season; it seems shorter and less well-defined than the others – at least in our part of the country; just a few weeks characterised by daffodils braced against the rain and cherry blossoms swirling like pink snowflakes in the breeze to separate winter from summer.

This weekend my husband and I took a wander through a local park to admire the spring blossom on the trees. There have been times over the past while when I have felt like one of those little petals tumbling out of control in the currents of life. Between moving house, nursing our cat Mara back to health, my husband being injured in a cycling accident and various other happenings, the first quarter of 2017 has left me feeling somewhat weary.

I’ve also been struggling with writer’s block; I’ve always found writing therapeutic, but it can be hard to organise my thoughts when life is turbulent. In blogs and social networks, we have the power to rewrite events and portray our lives from the most flattering and rose-tinted angles, yet writing also gives us the chance to reflect on our experiences and find meaningful lessons in our most mundane and lowest moments. Over the last few years, I’ve learned that whenever I feel weary or overwhelmed, it’s time to slow down.

FullSizeRender (1)

I’ve lost count of how many vet appointments I’ve taken my cat to in the last few months, but I’ve been neglecting my own health and a recent illness reminded me to stop taking it for granted.

My husband and I have always enjoyed cooking and eating together, but cooking from scratch takes planning, time and effort, and it fell by the wayside when we were rushing around or under pressure, we survived on takeaways and reheating frozen food for a while instead. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I became ill after neglecting my nutrition so we’re making more effort to cook from scratch using fresh ingredients and adding a few new recipes to our repertoire, and we’re already feeling better for it.

After a sporadic attendance over the winter, I’ve returned to my weekly yoga class. It requires a little more effort now I live further away, but I usually feel physically and emotionally calm and refreshed after yoga. We’ve found a local swimming pool, and once my husband has healed up, we’ll resume swimming on Saturday mornings. Due to my laziness, my husband has to bribe and cajole me to go almost every week, but once I’m in the pool swimming has a meditative effect on me and I get a little sense of achievement as the number of lengths I can swim gradually increases each week. We’ve also been taking advantage of the better weather to work in our garden, chatting to our neighbours over the hedge while sparrows, blackbirds and blue tits flutter and chirrup nearby.

IMG_5401

Taking better care of myself means I’m better prepared to weather all the setbacks and storms of life. Spring might not be my favourite season, but I can still appreciate the gentle reminder of the cherry blossoms to slow down and enjoy the lighter evenings, the warmth of the sun and new life springing up all around. Have a lovely week.

Lentil Bolognese Recipe

Ingredients (serves 4):

1 Onion finely diced

1 large Carrot grated

1 stalk of Celery grated

1 Clove of Garlic crushed

1 Courgette quartered lengthwise and finely chopped

1 Red or Orange pepper finely chopped

1/2 cup of Red Lentils

400g of Tomato Passata

1 tsp of vegetable stock powder

IMG_5414
One of the first vegetarian meals I learned to cook, this is a nourishing and adaptable meal.

Method:

Pour a splash of olive oil in a medium sized pan, put on a medium heat. Once the oil is warm, add the onions and garlic. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until onions are translucent.

Add the grated carrot and celery, mix well and cook for 2-5 minutes or until softened.

Add the courgette and cook for 2 minutes, then add the pepper and cook for a further minute. Add 1 tsp of vegetable stock powder and mix well.

Pour in 1/2 cup of red lentils. Mix thoroughly to ensure the lentils are spread throughout and cook for one minute.

Add the tomato passata and up to 2 tablespoons of water. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until sauce thickens and lentils start to break apart, stirring frequently.

Once cooked serve with pasta.

Review of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Furry’ by Tom Cox

10 TheGoodBadFurry1

I had been vaguely aware of Tom Cox and his cats on twitter, but I only stumbled upon his books recently while looking for A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen (reviewed here)The Good, The Bad and The Furry follows roughly a year in the life of Tom Cox and his cats starting at the end of his nine year relationship with his wife and explaining the difficulty of reaching a custody arrangement for the couple’s six cats, his grief following one of his cat’s deaths, a new relationship and eventually a new kitten.

Tom vividly describes his relationships and family, his own beloved cats and other wildlife (including a toad living in his dad’s shoe) he meets along the way. There is considerable anthropomorphism throughout the book as Tom tries to convey his cats’ personalities and quirks, and the animals are every bit as memorable as the people.

I chuckled aloud at so many points during this book, and could relate to Tom’s descriptions of life with cats from the conversations he has with them (“It’s a carrot, you wouldn’t like it”) to his anxiety and sorrow when any of his cats are unwell. I was also moved by his realisation about just how much of his identity and history is tied up with his furry friends.

10TheGoodBadFurry2

It seems somewhat unfair to compare The Good, The Bad and The Furry to A Street Cat Named Bob as they are very different books, one written by a middle class journalist with four cats living in Norfolk and the other by a recovering addict in London who takes in a stray cat, yet they are both aimed at a similar demographic sitting side by side on the bookshop shelf. Both books are autobiographical, but differ in tone and content, yet both writers are equally devoted to their feline companions, and they share similar insights into the comforting sense of purpose and routine that caring for pets provides during all the ups and downs of life.

After a hectic week that included taking my cat to see an oncologist and my husband to A&E along with hosting family and friends at home, The Good, The Bad and The Furry was an easy to read and often amusing book I could dip into during the rare quiet moments I had to myself.

At Home with Mara-cat

13 the Love of a Cat1

Our evenings and weekends lately have been spent at home as my husband and I tackle various projects around the house and garden, before changing out of our muddy, paint splattered clothes to play games on the rug with our cat Mara or snuggled up on the sofa with her stretched across our laps. Mara is recovering well from her recent operation, and is almost back to her scampering, chatty and cuddly self.

So many of our daily rituals revolve around Mara: our mornings invariably start with the sound of her plaintive mewing for breakfast, and our evenings end with her wishing us “goodnight” in her own way by nuzzling her face against each of ours in turn before she settles down to sleep by my ankles. Mara is almost always there waiting behind the front door to welcome us home when we’ve been out, and she often follows us around the house like a little shadow as we go about our routines and chores.

I’ll never forget the day we brought Mara home from the rescue centre: When we released her from the cat carrier into our bedroom, after a quick exploration of the room, she jumped up on our bed and began affectionately butting heads with us. Mara was timid and unsure, but seemed overjoyed to be out of the cattery and eager to bond with us. Since then, our home has very much become her home with all her countless toys, dens and miscellanea scattered everywhere, and scratch marks on the upholstery to prove it. Many of our friends (even those with pets of their own) think we spoil Mara, but from the moment we adopted her, she has given us so much love, affection and companionship that it always seems like a fair trade.

13 the love of a cat2

Hanging in pride of place on our living room wall is a framed picture of the three of us drawn by web-comic artist Li Chen. My husband commissioned it shortly after we adopted Mara and it was our Christmas present to each other that year. To us, it represents that no matter what happens or where we go, Mara will always be part of our little family and home.

We often lament that we have no photos of Mara as a kitten, though we imagine she must have been very cute given how kittenish some of her mannerisms still are. We knew so little about her when we adopted her, only that she had to be rehomed because her previous owner died, and even her age is estimated.

FullSizeRender

Mara has had such a lot of upheaval over the last couple of years from losing her previous owner and everything familiar to being adopted by us, moving house with us at the end of last year and most recently having her tail amputated after we found a malignant tumour near the base of it. Yet throughout everything, Mara has shown such bravery and resilience, and given us her unwavering trust and unconditional love. Whatever the future holds for us all, I’ll always be grateful for Mara, and I’ll cherish every moment we’ve spent together. Have a lovely week.

Spicy Carrot and Lentil Soup

Ingredients (serves 2-4):

1 medium Onion finely diced

1 medium sized Sweet Potato grated

2 medium Carrots grated

1 stalk of Celery grated or finely diced

1 clove of Garlic crushed

1cm cube of Fresh Root Ginger diced

2/3 cup of Red Lentils

2 tsp of Cumin

1 tsp of Turmeric

IMG_4956
A simple to cook fresh and slightly spiced soup.

Method:

Heat oil in a medium sized pan on a medium heat. Once the oil is warm, add the onion, garlic and ginger to the pan. Cook for 3 t0 5 minutes or until the onions turn translucent.

Add a pinch of salt, cracked black pepper, turmeric and cumin, stirring well for 30 seconds.

Add the grated carrot, sweet potato and celery to the pan, mix well and cook for one or two minutes until the the carrot and sweet potato have slightly softened.

Add the red lentils and stir thoroughly.

Add about one and a half pints of boiling water to the pan, mix in. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 25 to 35 minutes or until lentils have cooked. Add more water if it appears too thick.

Blend with a handheld blender or in a food processor for a smoother soup.