Happy Chinese New Year!

 

As it was Chinese New Year at the weekend, my hubby and I decided to visit the Giant Lanterns of China that have been on display at Edinburgh Zoo over the winter.

As darkness fell over the city, we wandered along the mile long circuit marveling at over 450 handcrafted silk lanterns illuminating the zoo. The beautiful displays featured elements from Chinese culture as well as various animals, birds and insects to be found in the zoo (though all of the real animals were kept inside overnight).

As with any outdoor event in Scotland, we were glad it was a dry evening, especially when we stopped to watch a twenty minute performance by Chinese acrobats who impressed the audience with their feats of strength and balance.

It was a wonderful way to spend a winter evening while learning a little bit about Chinese mythology and some of the conservation work that the zoo does. Have a lovely week. X

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Awakening from Hibernation

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I often think January is a month ill-suited to starting our New Year’s Resolutions as it’s the middle of winter and many of us are still recovering from the busy-ness and excess of the festive period. By February though, we’re usually awakening from our winter hibernation and ready to start tackling some of the goals and resolutions we’ve set ourselves.

One of our goals this year is to reduce how much food we waste. Food is a necessity but it’s also become one of our biggest expenditures after housing and transport, and I feel guilty when it goes to waste. To help us achieve our goal, we’ve been planning our meals in advance and we’ve bought a set of Pyrex dishes so we can cook some of our meals in bulk and freeze the extra portions for quick and healthy midweek suppers. We’re also going to continue growing some of our own fruit, vegetables and herbs in our little garden and composting our kitchen waste.

The gradually increasing daylight has given us a much-needed energy boost, and I’ve enjoyed getting back into our fitness routines, like swimming and my yoga class. Yoga has been a key component of my self-care over the last few years, as aside from the physical benefits, focusing on my breathing and immersing myself in physical activity helps me to clear my mind. This year I’d like to focus on improving my spine flexibility and increasing the number of sun salutations I can do without collapsing in exhaustion because I’d love to participate in a yogathon someday. I’m keeping my goals simple because as my yoga instructor often reminds us, yoga is as much about self-acceptance as it is about self-improvement. My husband and I have also signed up for salsa dancing classes. We learned how to foxtrot for our first dance, but took a break from classes after our wedding, and we’re excited to start our classes again as dancing’s a fun and romantic hobby to share together.

One resolution that’s already well under way in our home is resetting our cat’s breakfast routine with Pavlovian behavioural modification. Over the winter Mara had been waking us up earlier and earlier by pawing our faces, knocking things off our bedside tables and scrambling across our pillows, but we’ve gradually retrained her to stop waking us up at 4am, and she’s now allowing us a whole extra hour of sleep, which is a vast improvement as far as we’re concerned! After Mara’s had her breakfast, she always comes back to bed for a snuggle, which almost makes up for our rude awakening.

How are your resolutions going?

Have a lovely week. X

Winter in our Garden

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It’s snowed all through January in our part of the country, and it’s been lovely to see our garden under a thick blanket of soft, white snow, such a contrast from the colourful tangle of wildflowers in the summer. Over the last few weeks, I’ve enjoyed waking up and knowing it’s snowed without drawing the curtains as somehow the light seems diffused and a hush falls over the world. I much prefer a cold winter with frost and snow to a mild but wet one.

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Our raised beds and compost bins under the snow

This weekend my husband and I took part in the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch, and it’s been lovely to sit by the window for an hour with a cup of coffee counting the birds in our garden. Over the autumn and winter, I’ve been filling the feeders with suet balls and seed mixes, and scattering breadcrumbs and dried fruit on the ground for the family of sparrows living in the hedge as well as the blue tits, blackbirds, robins and starlings that visit our garden.

The snow has gradually melted away revealing the first shoots of our spring bulbs poking out of the soil. I’ve missed spending time in the garden over the winter, but until the weather improves I’ll savour the contrast of the cold and darkness outside with the warmth of the fire and soft glow of candlelight in our home.

Have a lovely week.

Festive Tidings and New Year Hopes

Somehow Christmas Day always ends up being busier than we expect as we try to juggle seeing both sides of the family with preparing Christmas dinner, and picking up my grandmother in the morning and returning her home in the evening.

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Christmas morning began with a quick tour of my brother-in-law’s new home before visiting the rest of the in-laws to exchange gifts, catch up over giant mugs of coffee and fuss over their twenty-year-old cat.

As my mum has multiple sclerosis, which affects her dexterity and balance, dad has taken over preparing and cooking our family’s Christmas dinner, though the rest of us all lend a hand. The hard work in the kitchen is always worth the effort though to gather around a dining table groaning under a mountain of food with my husband, parents and grandmother to enjoy a three course Christmas feast, pull crackers and exchange gifts. The older I get the harder it is to reply when anyone asks me what I’d like for Christmas (or birthdays) as most of the things I value most cannot be bought and it is time with my loved ones that I appreciate most.

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The Kelpies on New Year’s Day

I was recovering from a cold on New Year’s Eve and my husband has never liked crowds so we stayed at home playing a board-game called Carcassonne that my father-in-law gave us for Christmas, eating a cheeseboard and sipping Champagne with Jools Holland’s Hootenanny in the background and our cat Mara snoozing in front of the fire. There was a frenzy of phone and video calls with parents, in-laws and our closest friends at midnight that took up almost the whole first hour of 2018. It was exactly the simple end to a stormy year, and joyful beginning to a new one that we both wanted.

On New Year’s Day after a lazy morning, we met up with a couple of friends in Falkirk for the Fire and Light Walk. The short trail took us past illuminated trees, paper lanterns and a choreographed fire dance in front of the Kelpies. Before leaving we scribbled wishes on strands of ribbon and tied them to a wicker clootie tree. Wrapped up in winter coats with cold hands curled around cups of hot chocolate, it was a lovely way to spend the evening.

2017 was a difficult year for us, and no doubt 2018 will bring new challenges, yet I can’t help but feel hopeful about the possibilities of a fresh start, and we have already begun setting our fitness goals and reading challenges, thinking about holidays and making plans for the year ahead.

Wishing everyone a very happy new year! X

Counting Our Blessings at Christmas

 

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As much as I love Christmas and all our festive traditions, December is also a good time to reflect on all the achievements and lessons, the joys and sorrows of the previous year, and to start making plans for the year ahead. In many ways 2017 didn’t turn out like my husband and I hoped it would; our year has been dominated by health issues, estrangement and home renovations, and some of our dreams are still as far out of reach now as they were twelve months ago, yet it’s also been a time of counting our blessings and appreciating what we already have.

It was a year ago today that we bought our house and I’m grateful to call this little house home, it’s been our safe haven sheltering us from so many storms.

Everyone in my little family suffered some form of illness or injury this year, and there’ll be no greater gift waiting for me under the Christmas tree than having my loved ones safe and well around me at Christmastime. I may write about my own health issues in more detail another time, but taking better care of myself by eating well, exercising and resting will be high on my agenda next year.

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Our cat, Mara, has been a constant source of affection and companionship since we adopted her, and after a difficult year health-wise, we’re so relieved that she seems healthy and still full of mischief and purrs. We’re very thankful to our local vets and the oncologists at the small animal hospital for everything they’ve done for Mara this year.

I’ve written before about some of the difficulties we’ve had establishing boundaries with a few demanding individuals in our lives, and it’s taken my husband and me a few years to disentangle ourselves from the webs we were caught in. While it’s sad we were unable to reach a compromise or resolve our differences, after years of conflict and heartache, it was a relief to let go and move on. Although our circle may be smaller now, it is infinitely kinder and more loving, and I’m so grateful for the family and friends who brighten our days and lighten our burdens.

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I also feel very lucky to be married to my best friend, and over the last few weeks my husband and I have been talking about our work, hobbies, travelling and our hopes for the future.

This isn’t the Christmas post I intended to write, but I wanted to share the most valuable lesson I’ve learned this year, that life doesn’t always turn out like we hope it will, and we don’t always get what we want, yet we can still count our blessings and find reasons to smile every day. Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who takes the time to read my little blog. Wishing everyone a peaceful winter solstice and a joyful Christmas. X

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!

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