Oh, the weather outside is frightful…

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but the fire is so delightful!

We woke up this morning to a thick frost on the ground, a deep mist in the air and a temperature of -4. It’s dark when we leave for work in the morning and it’s dark again by the time we arrive home in the evening, and with the exception of walks around the park during my lunch break to get some fresh air and absorb some much needed Vitamin D from the sunlight, life seems to move indoors at this time of year. Over the last few weeks, time in the garden has been reduced to crunching across the frozen grass to deposit kitchen waste and wood ash in the compost bins, and refilling the bird feeder, but we’ve been enjoying lots of cosy evenings in front of the wood burning stove with our cat stretched out across one of our laps or in front of the hearth.

It was just under a year ago that my husband and I moved into our little house, since then we’ve been gradually transforming it into our dream house, and I thought I’d share a few before and after photos of our living room.

I think it’s fair to say that the house wasn’t exactly a blank canvas when we moved in, and I suspect that the bold colour schemes, imposing floor-to-ceiling furniture and odd DIY features probably put other prospective buyers off as it made the rooms looks cramped and dark.

The previous owners had bricked up and plastered over the old fireplace, but we’d always dreamed of having a wood-burning stove, and although the stove we chose is small it really packs out the heat. Opening up the alcoves on either side of the fireplace gave us plenty of space for our books and a shelf for the TV, and I even re-purposed some of the toadstool decorations we made for our wedding as cupboard door handles. I’m a late convert to white paint, but I can’t deny that it makes the room look much brighter and more spacious.

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We knew it would be a bit of a project, but it’s been wonderful to see our ideas come together, and we feel very lucky to call this little house our home. We still have a long list of DIY projects to complete, but for now we’re savouring the warmth and cosy glow of the fire on these long, dark winter evenings. Have a lovely week!

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Review of ‘Silence’ by Thich Nhat Hanh

Silence

In Silence, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that many of us are sleepwalking through life barely aware of the world around us because we are so lost in our own thoughts and distracted by the constant stream of information drip-fed to us by our phones, computers, TV and radio everyday.

Having said that, Silence does not read like it was written by someone out of touch with the modern world and living in a monastery in rural France, but by someone who understands just how busy, stressful and distracting modern life can be. Thich Nhat Hanh argues that there is no need to lock ourselves away in a quiet room or move to a monastery to spend our days meditating, but that everyone can achieve a sense of calm and inner peace whatever their circumstances by practising mindfulness during their daily activities.

In many ways, Silence is not dissimilar to Peace Is Every Step published in 1991, yet the message Thich Nhat Hanh delivered then seems even more relevant for readers today.

Although written by a Buddhist monk, Silence is not a religious text and is aimed at readers of all faiths and none. The tone of Silence is patient and understanding, and the mindfulness exercises in the book are simple to follow.

Winter seemed to arrive a little early this year with the last day of a frosty November bringing a light snowfall to our part of the country, and with our calendar rapidly filling up with festive fun, this short book is a timely reminder that we can still make time for silence and mindfulness regardless of what else is going on in our lives or the world around us.

A Peaceful Day at Samye Ling

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A little while ago, my husband and I spent a day at one of my favourite places, Samye Ling. Founded in 1967, Kagyu Samye Ling was the first Tibetan Buddhist Centre in Europe, and the red-robed monks with shaved heads were an incongruous sight in the little Scottish town where I grew up. I’ve been visiting Samye Ling since I was a teenager, and over the years I’ve come with friends to buy books and prayer flags from the shop, chat over cups of tea in the cafĂ© or sit peacefully in the temple. Nine years ago now, I suggested visiting Samye Ling as one of our very first dates as my then boyfriend (now husband) had never been before, and we’ve returned several times throughout our relationship.

In keeping with the Buddhist belief that everything is impermanent and ever-changing, Samye Ling is a work in progress and there is always something new or slightly different every time we visit. Nevertheless, I’m always struck by how calm and unhurried the pace of life at Samye Ling is, yet somehow the work still gets done.

I often write about slowing down because it is not something that comes naturally to me. Like many of my peers, I’ve rushed through life treating significant milestones like items on a to-do-list to be ticked off one by one, instead of achievements to be celebrated or precious moments to be savoured. Many of us are so impatient to reach our destination that we barely experience the journey itself, yet watching the monks mindfully – and joyfully – going about their daily routines and chores always reminds me just how calming and restorative it is to immerse ourselves in the here and now.

This has been a turbulent year for us with illnesses and injuries – as well as daily news reports of terrorist attacks, natural disasters and political unrest – reminding us just how fragile and fleeting life is, but I feel very grateful for the people and places that help me to find peace and contentment in the present moment. So much has happened since the first time we visited Samye Ling together, and so much has changed, yet some things have remained constant, like the serenity of Samye Ling and the steadying presence of my husband as we walk hand-in-hand through life together. Have a lovely week. X

Tofu Quesadilla

A quick and tasty Mexican-inspired recipe, ideal for lunch or a light supper.

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Ingredients:

1 Onion, finely diced

1 Garlic clove, crushed or finely diced

140g of firm Tofu, drained and chopped into small cubes

120g of Cheese, grated

Handful of Cherry or Baby Plum Tomatoes, finely sliced

1 tsp of Chipotle Chili Powder

1tsp of Ancho or Guajillo Chili Powder

4 small Tortillas

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Method:

In a bowl, mix the cubed tofu with the chili powder.

Pour a dash of oil in a small pan on a medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, fry gently for around 5 minutes or until onions turn translucent.

Add the tofu to the pan and mix thoroughly. Heat for 3-5 minutes until warm through. Remove the pan from the heat and add the tomatoes, mix well.

Heat a large frying pan on a low heat. Fold the tortillas in half or using the back of a knife press a line along the middle. When pan is warm, place one tortilla flat on the pan.

Sprinkle a layer of cheese over half the tortilla, when the cheese starts to melt, spread a layer of the spiced tofu, tomatoes and onion over the cheese.

Once the underside of the tortilla starts to crisp, fold in half and press down to seal, then remove from the pan. Repeat the process with the remaining tortillas and tofu.

Serve whole or cut in half.

Review of ‘Temeraire’ by Naomi Novik

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Temeraire is set during the Napoleonic Wars, but in a slightly alternative history where dragons exist. The story begins just after Captain Will Laurence of the HMS Reliant has taken command of a French ship carrying a dragon egg. Soon after, the egg hatches and the dragon chooses Laurence to be his rider, a role he is at first reluctant to accept as being bound to a dragon means giving up his naval career, plans to marry his childhood sweetheart and his position in polite society as (despite their vital contribution to the war) dragon riders are largely shunned by the rest of society. However, a bond quickly develops between Laurence and the dragon he names Temeraire, and their relationship is at the heart of this story.

Once they have joined the British Aerial Corps, both Temeraire and Laurence feel like misfits as Temeraire discovers he is a rare breed but lacks the fire-breathing or acid-spitting abilities of the other dragons, while Laurence struggles with the informality of the Aerial Corps and the inclusion of female dragon riders. The dragons themselves are all wonderful characters, and the plight of one particularly loyal and brave dragon brought tears to my eyes.

This an engaging story, but there are some pacing issues as Laurence and Temeraire don’t see any combat until the last third of the story. Having said that, the aerial battles are thrilling and capture the danger and savagery of combat for the dragons and their crews.

I’m a bit apprehensive about committing to a nine-book-long series, yet I found Temeraire quick to read and a little twist at the end left me eager to find out what happens next. Have a lovely weekend. X

Preparing for Winter and a Halloween Fright (courtesy of the cat)

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October has been a month of misty mornings, silvery sunlight breaking through the clouds and stormy nights in our part of the country. Over the last few weeks we’ve been racing against the decreasing daylight and worsening weather to finish tidying the garden before winter.

My husband has extended one of the raised beds to give us more space to grow some of our own vegetables again next year. I’ve composted the courgette and pumpkin plants, and we’ve bought a second compost bin to keep up with the kitchen waste, grass cuttings and ash from the woodburning stove. I’ve also planted snowdrop, tulip and crocosmia bulbs in the flower bed, and hopefully some of them will surface. I was sad to pull up the last of the wildflowers as some of the marigolds were still flowering but it is deeply satisfying to see the freshly turned soil free from all the weeds that were growing between the flowers.

Nasturtiums have been creeping along the back fence but I don’t mind as that part of the garden has been sorely neglected while we’ve been trying to decide what to do with it – we’ve discussed everything from apple trees to a zen garden or a chicken coop (if local by-laws allow). There are currently three fir trees growing at the back and though I hate the thought of cutting down trees and losing the privacy they provide, they’re almost twenty foot tall and still growing, they block out a lot of light and their lower branches take up too much ground space.

There is nothing like a visit from parents or in-laws to prompt a frenzy of cleaning inside the house, and this weekend we had back-to-back visits from both sides of the family. My in-laws live quite a distance from us and we don’t get to see each other as often as any of us would like, yet it always makes our reunions joyful occasions and we spent a lovely day chatting, laughing and playing board games together. No sooner had we waved goodbye to one set of parents than the other side of the family arrived as we wanted to treat my mum to a birthday meal and she chose a vegan restaurant near us. Afterwards, we all returned to our house and spent a few cosy hours chatting and half-watching one of mum’s favourite films with hands wrapped around cups of coffee and the fire crackling in the background.

This weekend also brought the first frosts of the season to our part of the country and we were up before dawn yesterday defrosting the car as our cat Mara was lethargic and off her food, and given the year she’s had we didn’t want to take any chances so we rushed to the emergency vet. Mara was severely dehydrated after eating something she shouldn’t have the day before and spent most of Monday hooked up to an IV drip but thankfully she was discharged in the evening. Our naughty little snaffler gave us a fright, but we couldn’t have been happier or more relieved when she woke us up at ten to six this morning whining for breakfast as usual.

Wishing everyone a happy Halloween and lovely week!

Review of ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’ by Haruki Murakami

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I sometimes hesitate to recommend Haruki Murakami to other readers as his novels are often strange and surreal, and I often find it hard to describe what they’re about and even harder to explain why I enjoyed them.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is easily one of Murakami’s most accessible novels and probably the one I’d recommend to anyone who’d never read anything by him before. However, Murakami is not for everyone, there are awkward sex scenes, some strands of the plot are frustratingly unresolved by the end and there is still a slightly surreal element to this novel with actions that occur in Tsukuru’s dreams seeming to have consequences in reality.

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The story follows Tsukuru Tazaki who had four best friends at high school but was the only member of the group without a colour in his name leading him to view himself as colourless and empty; then one day Tsukuru was rejected by the group suddenly and without any explanation. For the next sixteen years, Tsukuru drifts through life unable to form deep or meaningful relationships with others until he meets Sara, his would-be girlfriend, who pushes him to find out why his friends ostracised him all those years ago, sensing that until he heals those wounds he’ll never be able to connect with anyone else. Tsukuru’s quest takes him from Tokyo back to his hometown of Nagoya and all the way to Finland in search of answers to the questions that have haunted him for so long.

This is a story about friendship and belonging, rejection, loneliness, death and rebirth that allows Murakami to explore the difference between how we see ourselves and how others perceive us, the choices that define us and the ripple effects they create. Bittersweet, slightly surreal and even humorous in places, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is laced with a sense of regret about lost time and the ways things could have been, yet it very much ends with hope.