Chick races #happyeaster

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Hurrah! It is the Easter break – a chance to celebrate Spring. It is such a hopeful time of year  – celebrating new life, new beginnings and longer days. Since the equinox on Sunday, I have been feeling that Spring is really starting with some blue skies and gorgeous spring flowers. I have been enjoying listening to birdsong and charting the longer daylight hours.

This week I have been really thinking about the rhythm of the year and cycles and how we should adapt our lives to suit it. The longer days give me more energy and I want to be outside, move more and eat lighter foods. I have been on a massive declutter; spring cleaning/clearing is well underway in the Lara nest. I’m enjoying clearing the dust from the corners and feel like it is shaking off the dark winter months.

Celebrating the seasons is a useful way to bring you into the present, into the now and connect you to you to the world around you. For me, Easter is a celebration of nature and spring which I love.  However, it is worth bearing mind that the environmental cost of Easter can be high and each year, more than 8,000 tonnes of waste is generated just from Easter egg packaging and cards alone. So over recent years, I have  experimented with different ways to mark the festival.

:: Go for a walk to look  at beautiful spring flowers. I am partial to hellebores, cherry blossom and I have been enjoying the parks in London planted with crocus and daffodils. I also love having spring flowers around my house. Beautiful flowers are in season at the moment and have pots of daffodils on many surfaces.

Trip to see snakehead fritillaries in Cotswolds: field full of these subtle beauties. #flowers

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:: Support fritillary open days. Snakehead fritillaries are beautiful subtle flowers and once common place in Britian’s water meadows. Sadly, this habitat is harder to find and this plant is an endangered species in the wild (mainly because of intensive farming methods) but there are few places in the country where they can be seen during April. Near Cricklade in the Cotswold, there is a field which fills with fritillaries  which I visited few years ago. (I warn you the aubergine colour is subtle against grass but it is still a really good thing to support).

Easter Sunday – cooking for family and celebrating spring.

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:: Creating an Easter feast. Last year, I decided to celebrate Easter by creating a Jerusalem and the delicious Ottolonghi book of the same name. I enjoyed celebrating spring eating food inspired by such a holy city where three of the major world’s religions had been born.

Easter Feast inspired by city of Jerusalem #ottenlenghi #jerusalem

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For the Easter feast, I made Roasted chicken with clementines, lamb meatballs with broad beans and lemons and then plenty of salad goodness for the vegetarian options so I didn’t go hungry! These included Baby spinach salad with dates and almonds, root vegetable slaw with labneh, basmati and wild rice with chickpeas, currents and herbs, with pitta breads and humus.

It was fragrant, delicious and felt suitably celebratory. My sister made an amazing rosewater meringue for pudding which we decorated with figs and honey.

:: Easter crafts are a joy and I have a Pinterest board full of origami bunnies, and flower wreaths. I used to love painting eggs when I was younger and my grandad used to save goose eggs for me to paint. Another favourite present for Easter is a knitted washcloth alongside a foil wrapped egg.

Daffodils of dreams

:: Air is the element associated with Spring, which feels very apt on such a windy day. In Japan, they celebrate the coming of spring with colourful kites and in Tibet, prayer flags are used to bless the surrounding countryside. I love the idea of using colourful streamers or kites to welcome Spring.
::Listen to  the ‘Power-charging the Equinox’ episode of Love Life. It is a eco-hippy podcast and thoroughly enjoyed it last year. I have already re-listened to it for this year.
However you are marking this Easter weekend, I hope you are having a splendid time. Happy Easter and roll on Spring!

Beautiful blue skies and my favourite view in London #spring #springhassprung #livethesimplethings

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:: Today is the Spring Equinox and it really feels like Spring has arrived.

:: Yoga – I did a gorgeous workshop today. Stretching, talking and meditating in a lovely sunlight studio in the company of other woman was a great way to spend a Sunday.

:: Fresh flowers. At the moment I have flowers blooming all around my flat which is a lovely way to bring the outside in.

:: Watching my niece in her first music concert.

:: Sitting in my mum’s garden – sun on my face listening to a robin sing/tweet on a nearby bush.

:: Coffee. Delicious coffee.

:: Birds eating fat balls from the bird feeder.

:: Listening to Simple Gifts after hearing it on Jill Paton Walsh’s Private Passions. Originally a Shaker folk song, it feels perfect for this time of year.

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One of my New Year’s aspirations is to expand my cake repertoire. Over recent years, my baking has become a bit lacklustre and I have often fallen back on the same trusted favourites. I love baking but find it mystifying – sometimes I can make exactly the same things and they don’t work at all. Anyway, a Sunday afternoon making a cake and listening to podcast or audiobook can’t be beaten in my book.

My 2016 baking progress so far:

      1. Spiced Carrot, Pistachio & Almond (gf): This is a gorgeous cake from Persiana which is fast becoming a favourite cookbook. It is moist, fun to make and most importantly good to eat. Perfect for tea or to make as a pudding, I’m keen to try it again and add the Rosewater cream suggested in the book. I would happily make this again in a flash.
        Verdict: 8/10.
      2. Pain aux Raisin – cheat version: I made these from a kit from the supermarket so they don’t really count. I found them fun to make but too sweet for my liking.
        Verdict: 4/10
      3. Snickerdoodle Apple Bread: This is a Cookie and Cups recipe and once I got my head round working in cups worked really well. It is easy to make and very tasty. I added double the amount of apples because we like fruit in our household and it worked well. It is a great everyday cake, cheap to make and lasts a long time. It doesn’t look very presentable but the cinnamon sugar gives it a lovely crunch.
        Verdict: 8/10.
      4. Pistachio and Raspberries Brownies (v, gf): From Anna Jones’ A Modern Way to CookSadly these were a complete baking fail and I was so disappointed as I had been excited to make them. I think I must have undercooked them because they ended up in a gooey horrible mess that you had to eat with a spoon. While quite tasty, it was a bit cloying in texture and although my family valiantly tried to eat them in the end they were binned. I made them using chia seeds for the first time which I found gave them a sort of odd texture – I think perhaps I should have ground them up first. They were also very expensive to add further insult to the whole experience.  The coconut sugar made them quite oily as well.
        Verdict: 1/10
      5. Lemon and Thyme (not quite a) Bundt cake: Nigella is the queen of baking as far as I’m concerned and find her recipes work brilliantly. This is from her latest book, Simply Nigella, which has three bundt cakes. It is a bit fiddly because she relies on you having a fixed fancy mixer but well worth it. I made it in a square tin slightly larger than she suggested and only baked it for an hour. It made a huge pyramid cake but it has a lovely texture. I would prefer a bit more flavour in it – I used lemon thyme rather than thyme and I think it didn’t provide as much contrast as I would have liked. Next time, I will put more in. The topping is delicious and I would definitely try making this again.
        Verdict: 7/10


I want to have a crack at making madeleines next.

What are your fail-safe cake recipes? What should I try next?

:: Spring cleaning. This weekend has seen 8 charity shop runs, 4 and 1/2 recycling bins filled and a tip run. Operation declutter is underway. Daunting but feels good.

:: Daffodils. So yellow. So cheery.

:: Having a doorbell that works for the first time in 5 years in London.

:: Carol King is performing Tapestry in London in July. Whoot!

:: Elisa strawberries from Spain. Out of season naughty treat but so delicious.

:: Scrapbooking.  The simple pleasure of cutting and sticking.

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Today is International Women’s Day, a chance to celebrate women’s achievements around the world and take a moment to appreciate fabulous women in your life and the world in general.

However, it also is a day which makes me feel a bit grim. Gender equality has slowed, pay disparity is still common, violence against women is still incredibly high, sexual harassment is still very prevalent and in many countries women still haven’t got good access to education or healthcare. In terms of culture, I am bored of seeing TV drams with violence against women storylines, bad role models in pop culture for teenagers and still too many children’s clothes which come in gendered colours and designs.

Last night I remember a favourite quote from Freedom from Fear by Aung San Suu Kyi, “If you’re feeling helpless, help someone. ”  I am a big fan in taking action, even when it seems hopeless.  We won’t overthrow patriarchy today but we can do something which will help a woman somewhere.

These are some small steps which I think can help us get towards a better or at least kinder world.

  1. Give money or time to Refuge, the domestic violence shelter charity. Recently Archer’s Fans have been so moved by the recent Helen Titcher storyline that they have raised over £60k (so proud to be an Archers fan). If you have recently shouted at the radio or cringed as controlling psycho Rob has demeaned Helen, please consider supporting.
  2. Donate any spare toiletries or makeup to Give and Make Up. All donations go to local women’s shelters to help women who have just left their partners.
  3. Consider taking a microfinance loan or giving to Help Her Live, Learn and Earn campaign to help support female entrepreneurs around the world. (The recent Poverty is Sexist report is really worth reading too).
  4. Make some cloth sanitary pads for donatepads.org. In many countries sanitary towels are hard to find and very expensive. This means that women can use other (sometimes unsanitary things) and that many girls miss school when they are on their period with damaging results. Rose George has written some brilliant articles about this which make me feel eternal grateful to be in a country where it is easy to get sanitary protection.
  5. Donate money, time, books or either badly needed items to help with the growing refugee crisis in the UK. Women and children now account for over half the refugees arriving in Europe and desperately need help. These articles contain a wide range of organisations and ideas of ways to help.
  6. Support a maternal health project. Maternal health is an area which progress is not being made fast enough, I believe access to high quality healthcare and safe childbirth is a human right. I have been very inspired by the work which Bumi Sehat is doing in Bali and think they are an amazing organisation to support. 
  7. Support female makers. There are so many talented brilliant women in the craft and creative entrepreneur sphere that deserve our support. You could buy a something lovely or consider You could also consider backing a kickstarter campaign for female maker or supporting a blogger or podcaster you love.Some of my favourites are Katie’s lovely wool, Felix’s ingenious book or support A Playful Day podcast on Patreon.
  8. Listen and support fantastic women in the music industry, there is still so much prejudice and sexism. At the moment, The Anchoress’s new album, Confessions of a Romantic Novelist is on constant play.
  9. Learn to code! I listened to a brilliant talk last year at Women of the World by Sarah Brown about women and technology which really inspired me.  Project Ava has wealth of information about women in technology including where to find free coding classes for women.
  10. Finally, talk to the girls in your life about something that matters to them. I love talking to small people about their interests and from some of the literature I’ve read a key to raising resilient strong women is to nuture interests and talents. (I strongly expect that I will be having a conversations about hippos or rhinos…).

I’d love to know if you do any of these things or have anything to add to the list.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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Sign of Spring #frogspawn #spring #pondlife

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:: Beautiful sunny days – welcome Spring!
:: Flowers in bloom. I have been enjoying seeing patches of yellow aconites, blue iris and the winter flowering viburnum.
:: Coffee with my sister. Just the two of us.
:: Seeing my first frog-spawn this year.
:: Blood oranges.
:: Making – knitting, cooking, collaging.
:: Library books.
:: Call the Midwife. (Sob!)
:: Ginger and lime tea.
:: Notebooks – writing things down and ticking things off the (never ending) lists.
:: My mum. So. Flippin. Awesome.

Yes I’m back. I feel ready to do this again. It has been hard for a while to write this post but I’m here again and there is still so many reasons to be cheerful.

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whales1

Beautiful print from ETSY

I love World Book Day as an opportunity to celebrate the joy of reading and rejoice in the wonder of children’s books and yesterday was no exception.  I sadly didn’t dress up as a favourite character, unlike my niece who thoroughly enjoyed dressing up as Perdita from 101 Dalmatians, but I am looking forward to getting hold of Rainbow Rowell’s Kindred Spirits which is one of this year’s promoted titles.

Instead to celebrate I thought I would share some favourite whale-related books. I grew up fairly obsessed with the sea, loved being near it and finding out about rockpools, birds and animals in and around the sea. I was desperate for many years to be a Marine Biologist working for Greenpeace until I realised that I would have to put my head underwater which I hated. In particular, whales have fascinated me since primary school. For many years my Granddad sponsored a killer whale called S.O.D for me which amused us all greatly. (S.O.D is short for scratches on dorsal as in fin). S.O.D lived off the coast of Canada and it sounded like lived a very peaceful existence from my regular newsletters.

Over Christmas I watched in dismay as beautiful sperm whales got repeatedly washed onto the coast and I kept thinking about these books so I thought I would share these beautiful stories about these majestic, gentle creatures.

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Illustration from Snail and the Whale

:: The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson. Julia Donaldson writes so beautifully for children with fantastic fun and bounce. We are big Donaldson fans and are often found singing songs inspired by Room on the Broom, reciting the Gruffalo or not picking up sticks in the park for fear of displacing Stickman. The Snail and the Whale is a book that I love and have bought for some of my favourite small people. A tiny snail wants to see the world so hitches a lift on the whale. On their dream journey they go past beautiful scenes of icebergs and jungles showing the beauty and vastness of the world. It is a lovely book for children because the illustrations are so vibrant and they love identifying with the small snail.

“And she gazed at the sky, the sea, the land, The waves and the caves and the golden sand. She gazed and gazed, amazed by it all, And she said to the whale, ‘I feel so small.’

jd-_the_snail_and_the_whale2

Illustration from Snail and the Whale

It is a story most of all about friendship and how the smallest creatures can have a big impact on the world around them.

:: The Storm Whale by Benji Davies.

SW_Sticker_LARGE_01

Image from the Storm Whale

Noi is a boy after my own heart, after discovering a whale washed up on the beach he keeps it at home in this bath. The sense of relief that Noi discovers at having this little whale as a friend is palpable in the book.

“He told stories about life on the island. The whale was an excellent listener.”

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Image from the Storm Whale

The Storm Whale is a gem of a book and has won countless numbers of awards for its beautiful pictures and poignant story. Benji Davies is also worth following on Instagram to see his beautiful illustrations.

:: Why the Whales Came by Michael Morpurgo

whales_came_01

Still from When The Whales Came Film

To complete my whale triptych, I’m including a book which is incredibly dear to me. Set in the Isles of Scilly, Why the Whales Came is a story about Gracie and Daniel, who build up an unlikely friendship with the Birdman, and about the islands themselves. Steeped in the landscape of the islands you get a sense of the freedom that the children have on the islands and the wildlife  – particularly birds and fish.  At the heart of the story is a curse linked to some Narwhals which lends an otherworldly air of mystery and folklore, ghostships alongside the stories of wreckers. It is interesting on themes of acceptance and social isolation in small communities as well.

The attention to details in this book is gorgeous and I always get a thrill reading the book with it featuring places I know so well like Rushy Bay on Bryher. I remember seeing the houses on Samson with their piles of limpets outside their doors as the book describes.

“If you ever do go to the Isles of Scilly, go over to Samson and look round for yourself. The old ruined cottages are still there; a mound of limpet shells outside each one; and you will find the well full of water. No one lives there, so you’ll have only the terns and the black rabbits for company. You’ll be quite alone.”

Sunset over Samson

I was fairly obsessed with this book for many years, I read and re-read it as a child. I met Michael Morpurgo on a very windswept day at Bryher’s fete when I was about 10 and feeling quite seasick after the most terrifying boat ride of my life – absolutely huge waves throwing us from side to side in a tiny boat. He was charming and sweet when he signed a piece of paper to stick in my book in the driving rain. “To Lara, thank you for reading it more than once….” 

Do you have a favourite book which features whales? I would love to know if so to help continue to expand my whale reads. What books are you currently enjoying this World Book Day?

For more grown up books about whales, I am looking forward to reading Philip Hoare’s The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea which is on my to read pile. He also did a great list of books featuring whales in the Guardian which is worth a look.

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Philip Larkin

This is one of my favourite Spring poems. I love how it captures a sense of renewal but also the gloom of early Spring. Today with the grey rain on the first day of March reminded me of it.  The BBC have also made a gorgeous animation of this poem which is worth a watch.

“You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.” – Pema Chodron #wintersky #nofilter

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Dahlias – How I have missed you. #finally

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:: Walking along the Thames this morning in the sunshine
:: Drinking tea on the train out of my lovely China travel mug
:: Wearing a coat which was my Mum’s – preloved clothes are the best.
:: Feeling lucky after watching programme on The Food Bank in Dundee.
:: Planning a Blue Moon sweater.
:: Enjoying reading these  posts on World Vegan Day.
:: Following the book recommendations on The Year in Books twitter chat.
:: Fireworks & sparklers – it’s that time of year!
:: Lovely comments on my last post – thank you for your messages and texts.  They have done me the world of good. 

On dark dreary day here is another gorgeous bloom #daliahs #latesummer

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Summer holiday postcard no. 1: Fresh from the tree #figs #France #allthecolours #latergrams ☀️

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The difficulty of having a happy place on the internet is that when you are feeling a bit out of sorts or just exhausted, it remains a quiet, silent place. I love this corner of the internet – it is a place for me to share my interests, passions and corners of my life.

But when you are not feeling yourself that becomes hard to do. I have always tried to keep my blog authentic since the original advent of Messy Tuesdays years ago when I realised I wasn’t interested in writing a glossy lifestyle blog. I am more interested how people really live. However, this year has been hard at times and I have been struggling with feeling overwhelmed and quite blue. I tend to minimise how I feel when I talk about things but there have been some dark places this year when at times I have suddenly hated everything. (Well, except my patient lovely family who have been fantastic at coping with me and reminding that actually I don’t really hate everything at all but that I need to look after myself.)

London can jar when you are feeling down – I get depressed by the boarded up shops, the feeling of people being too busy, and the lack of wild spaces.  I have been anaemic all year which I don’t think has helped either and has made me feel exhausted. I have found it harsh, noisy, and expensive. I have struggled to find the energy to do the things I usually love and have at times shied away of seeing friends.

All of this coupled with some work/study deadlines has been the perfect storm and left me feeling rubbish.  There have been tears, days when I have thought I would feel better if I lived somewhere else, put all my stuff into storage and a sense of not being sure where I fit.  I like having a plan in my head and set of objectives/goals to work to but I can see that this also puts a lot of pressure of making the RIGHT choices and can led to anxiety about the future when I should be enjoying now.

At the heart of some of my anxiety is that I actually really like my life and in some ways do not want to it change greatly but I am worried that at some point in the future I might regret this. Having spoken to a few of my friends, this seems to be a shared anxiety amongst us and I think it is partly because the narrative you are presented with ageing is quite reductionist. When you are growing up there is a wonderful sense that there are many different ways to live but as I have got older it feels like you are presented with a narrower range of choices.

As my wise friend Felix wrote in an excellent blogpost, the narrative that is often presented in the media about being a woman in your mid-30s highlights messages associated with regret, fear, declining fertility, being past your prime  and there as Felix argues remains a “collective impression that feminism has seriously lapsed.”  The archetype of the childless woman is as either selfish, driven career woman or a sad regretful Miss Havisham figure remaining sadly unmarried still seem to haunt the popular consciousness and I have certainly been exposed to thoughtless comments over the past few years that I’m sure men my age haven’t had to put up with. There are so many more interesting things to talk about.

In The Bell Jar, there is a wonderful scene when Esther imagines life choices on different branches of a fig tree which as she contemplates them they fall to the floor and wither as she can’t decide which one to choose. This is the best description of how I have been feeling – paralyzed and unsettled by the possibilities.

Fig Tree

Rereading it today I think there are so many conversations that need to be had about how to combine those branches and how complex and rich life can be. I’m not sure that you need to define yourself in one way or another – it is about being happy with whichever branch you are on now.

I have been getting some help and I’m into a better place. I am looking after myself better and feel lighter and brighter than I have for a while. I am going back to my resolve that I had at the beginning of the year to nourish. I’m saying no more to things, avoiding being endlessly busy and allowing myself a bit more space. I am trying to stop putting pressure on things I think I should do and focus on things I really want to do. I’m also trying to make a concerted effort to also do some more active things – there has been too much thinking and I need to find ways to get out of my head (figuratively, not in an intoxicated way).

I’m eating better, stopped drinking completely, sleeping more, doing some regular exercise, building in regular time for reading, making and play. I am in organising mode – making sure my study and work is in good order to help me feel like I’m across things, focusing on making my flat as nice as possible and tackling piles of doom in corners. There are some holiday plans in the offing for next year – I need to see the sea and there are trips to India, Shetland and Amsterdam on the horizon too.

Over the past few things – there have been things I have returned to read:

A Woman Turning 35 by Felix

Who Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? by Lauren Laverne

Why It Is Important To Love Yourself  by Hannah from Seeds and Stitches

Throughout this period, I have been counting my blessings and there are a great many things to be thankful for in my life. While I know all this angst could be construed as intense naval-gazing, acknowledging some of these thoughts and verbalizing them has meant that although I don’t necessarily have any answers, having the conversation is comforting and has made me feel loads better.

Instead of it being an albatross around my neck, I’m allowing it to fly free.

Alabatross

Image from here.

 

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