January 2nd – Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Today I finished one of the most moving and touching books I have ever read – Wild by Cheryl Strayed.  I read as much as I possibly can, and there are lots of good books available, but I always think that the mark of a truly inspirational and life affirming book is one that leaves me profoundly moved, emotional and slightly breathless at the end of it.  When I finish a book like that, I find myself wishing that it hadn’t ended, and I sit there for a while with it, remembering it, absorbing it, reeling from it.  Those are the really great books, the ones that stand out from all the others by a country mile.  Wild fulfilled all of those criteria.

Wild is Cheryl Strayed’s own story of how a series of events outside of her control upended her life and sent her on something of a downward spiral, and yet in the midst of that storm she made plans to hike the Pacific Crest Trail which runs up the West side of America, from the border with Mexico through California, Oregon and Washington to the border with Canada.  Cheryl’s plan was to hike from Mojave to Washington State and to do it alone.  This is a story of bravery and singlemindedness and facing down a mammoth challenge in the same way you would go about eating an elephant – one bite at a time – the sum of which leads to something far greater than Strayed ever expected – eventual peace of mind.  Strayed’s is a very positive book, never looking on the dark side or veering into self pity or introspection, rather telling the story with quiet thoughtfulness and insight.

I first heard about this book from Gretchen Rubin’s website The Happiness Project, a place and subject which probably deserves a post in its own right.  That will be for another day.

Posted in Life in the Day | Comments Off on January 2nd – Wild by Cheryl Strayed

January 1st – Greenwich Park

One of my aims this year is to spend more time in London, so with that in mind, let’s begin as we mean to continue.  Today we visited Greenwich Park, which was life affirming in many different ways.  Apart from ticking the London box, the day was one of those gloriously sunny, clear but cold days, which was invigorating.  We took the little man’s bike, which meant we were able to cover quite a bit of the park as he cycled off.  If we’d all been on foot, we wouldn’t have got as far as we did.  I enjoyed being amongst the crowds out in the fresh air, and doing a bit of people-watching while I waited for hubby to bring my latte from the Pavilion Cafe.  I looked out from the viewpoint near the observatory, which affords a magnificent view over central London, one of my favourite views of London as you can see so much from there, Primrose Hill being my other top favourite, which looks in the other direction.  From the viewpoint, I could see the building I used to work in, just across the water in Canary Wharf.  I enjoyed hearing the familiar squeak of the green parakeets which have set up residence in London.  When I lived in London full time, the parakeets were mainly in West / South West London, but they’ve gradually made inroads eastwards and I now sometimes hear them in parts of Kent, but there is nothing quite like hearing their incongruous call in the skies of London.  I enjoyed the bustle and energy of the place and I’m already planning solo return visits during school hours.  Great beginning to the new year.

Posted in Life in the Day | 8 Comments

Life in the Day – A resolution for 2013

I don’t really make resolutions for the new year, because generally I find that if I fall off whatever wagon I’ve set myself up for, I become very dispirited.  I prefer to be flexible and I believe that, so long as the trend is upwards, minor setbacks shouldn’t be taken too seriously.  I’m trying to be less black and white.

However, I also think that if I don’t keep a track of myself, whole passages of time can just disappear and I’m left feeling that nothing much has been achieved.  For example, I went back to learning French in the summer with the intention of being more fluent by the time a planned visit came around at Christmas time.  Only I allowed my momentum to peter out and, by Christmas, I knew not very much more French than I had in the summer.  In September, after a short period of feeling a few degrees under, I made plans to look after myself better, lose some weight, shape up a bit.  By year end, I’m only 2kg lighter.  I didn’t keep an eye on myself.  This is how whole years can disappear in a blur as time passes ever faster and faster.

So with this thought in mind, I’m going to devote the blog to putting more Life In My Day.  By that, I mean I want to do at least one life affirming thing every day and blog about as much of it as I can.  Life affirming, by my definition, could mean anything from taking a big trip somewhere to taking a deep bubble bath when I’m freezing cold; from reading an amazing book to learning a new skill; from spending time with old friends to making new ones. And then writing about it.

Let’s see where 2013 takes us.

Posted in Life in the Day | 14 Comments

One Week – Autumn 2012 – Red Drinks

Linking up once again with Older Mum’s One Week project – a week every season where we post photographs and blog about our lives and experiences during that one week.

Here is something else I will remember this autumn for – juicing!  I had a juicer about 10 years ago but only really made apple juice with it.  Anyway, I recently fished it out from the back of the cupboard, washed it down and started making some vegetable juices.  And as luck would have it, one of the best has turned out to be, if not properly red, then definitely on the red spectrum.  Carrot, celery, cucumber and ginger.  Way more delicious than it sounds.

one week

Posted in One Week | 18 Comments

One Week – Autumn 2012 – Red Velvet

Linking up once again with Older Mum’s One Week project, and continuing the red theme that seems to be developing – my son’s birthday is in the autumn and we had a Moshi Monster Katsuma cake made for him.  The cake was red velvet and the icing was yellow and red.  Absolutely the best birthday cake I’ve ever eaten, my own or anyone else’s.

 

 

one week

Posted in One Week | 10 Comments

One Week – Autumn 2012 – Red Hair

I’m finally getting round to linking up with Older Mum’s project “One Week”.  Older Mum publishes this link every season and the idea is that we take a photo each day for one week which describes our lives and experiences during that one week.  I’ve been reading other people’s contributions but never got around to taking part myself, until now.

So here we are.  Finally, after more years than I care to consider, of thinking about it on and off, finally, I have coloured my hair red.  And I’m really rather pleased with the result!  I think I fit right in with the season.

one week

Posted in One Week | 12 Comments

The Next Big Thing

I was tagged by the inspirational Karen McCann at Enjoy Living Abroad to take part in this feature.  Karen is the author of Dancing in the Fountain, the story of how she went to live in Spain for a year and ended up staying.   The idea of the project is this:  you write about your Next Big Thing, using the questions below, and then pass the torch onto other writers and bloggers who would like to take part.

My Next Big Thing is a way off into the future, but I’m already in the early planning stages.  Next summer, during the school holidays, I want to take myself and my five year old son off to France for at least a month, to practise our French, to get to know a few new people, to experience some new adventures and hopefully have a whole lot of fun along the way.  At the moment, I’m aiming to write it all up as a number of blog posts.  Here are the details:

What is the working title of the project?

At the moment, something frivolous and supremely unoriginal like Two Go Adventuring, or something like that.  I want to make it fun and spontaneous as I will have my small boy with me and I want him to enjoy the experience too.

Where did the idea come from?

Lots of things put this idea into my head.  Firstly, I’ve always wanted to live abroad, at least for a little while, even just a few months, but for various reasons I can’t see that happening yet.  A couple of years ago I was learning Italian and I thought it would be fun to go to practise the language in the country; this is definitely the fastest way for me to learn – total immersion.  Also, this summer we spent nearly three weeks in France and loved it.  So I thought I could satisfy my own wanderlust and give my son an amazing learning experience on a slightly more extended basis than the annual holiday would afford.  That’s the plan, anyway.

What genre does the project fall under?

I’m aiming for several categories, including travel and languages.  I want to experience as much of the culture of the place(s) we stay as I possibly can.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

This is a slightly absurd question, but stranger things have been known.  I’m thinking of “We Bought A Zoo”, which was made into a film.  My project may not be quite as ambitious as that, but films are produced based on ordinary people’s everyday lives, so why not.   I’d like someone quirky and feisty like Celia Imrie to play me.  I had more trouble with an actor to play my little man.  I’ve been watching Pillars of the Earth on TV recently and the little boy, Sidney Johnston according to Wikipedia, who plays Tom Builder’s youngest son is a good actor and seems a fine young man.  Neither one resembles us in the slightest, but I don’t see that as a problem.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your project?

Finally at the end of her patience with her rural existence, adventurous, young(ish) mother breaks out and takes off into the wild unknown taking her much loved small son with her for fresh perspective and childlike wonder.

Will your book be self published or represented by an agency?

I intend to publish the results of my project via a series of blog posts.

How long will it take to write the first draft?

Ideally, I’d like to post as I go along, as a month’s worth of adventures could take a very long time to write up once we’ve returned home.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

While researching this question, The Swiss Family Robinson came up rather a lot!  Perhaps slightly closer to the mark, Paula Horowitz’s Finding Our Way: A Mother’s Journey with her Son also made an appearance.  Horowitz travelled to many more far flung places than France with her son, but she began when he was six, so I may have to track this book down and see what inspiration and knowledge I can gain from it.  There are a great many travel books on sale, and many devoted to travelling with children, but I want mine to be a little different.

Who or what inspired you to write these blog posts?

I’ve been blogging for about a year now and enjoy writing things down, but I haven’t written anything for a while now.  The invite from Karen McCann to take part in this project has inspired me to begin again.  Instead of writing it all down in a paper diary, why not publish it on the blog for a wider audience.

What else about your project might pique the readers’ interest?

I’m always fascinated by how ordinary people live and organise their lives and spend their time.  I’ve always loved history but as time goes by I find I’m less interested in Kings and Queens and battles and castles etc and much more interested in how the ordinary person lived and how the aforementioned political upheavals affected their quality of life.  I enjoy reading that about other people.  Maybe other people will enjoy reading about my month in France with my son.

I would like to pass the torch to the following bloggers and writers:

Sarah at Older Mum in a Muddle writes another blog which is a priceless mine of information and support for those of us who became mothers after the age of 35.  Sarah is a writer with a great many quirky ideas who is currently working on her Next Big Thing – her first novel.  If her shorter pieces of writing are anything to go by, it will be well worth reading.

Kate at Kate On Thin Ice is a writer and blogger with a great many other skills besides.  She is currently regaining her equilibrium after two or three major life events ambushed her all at once, whilst she maintains an internet presence aimed at encouraging those of us who feel we may have lost our way a bit to take life by the horns again and follow our dreams, however big or small they may be.

Anya at Older Single Mum is a writer and blogger.  She writes a blog aimed at challenging perceptions of who single mums are and her writing reflects the eclectic person she is.  Anya is not afraid of a challenge and has two lively boys to prove that.  Her writing is funny, witty, honest and direct.  I look forward to finding out what her Next Big Thing is going to be.

If anyone else would like to join in, please feel free, it’s open to anyone.

Posted in Memes | 16 Comments

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie!  Just the sound of the words makes me think of America, spices, Thanksgiving and Halloween; frosty mornings and glowing log fires; family celebrations.  At first it seemed a strange concept to put a vegetable in a pie without a lid and call it a dessert, but then I thought of carrot cake, or courgette and lime cake, so maybe it’s not so strange.  Maybe I just don’t get out enough.

Anyhow, I’ve never eaten pumpkin pie before but I’ve always wanted to try it.  So I was wandering around the shops the other day and, for the first time, I found canned pumpkin.  Being unsure how much I needed for a pie, I bought a few cans, some spices and a few other ingredients and brought it all home.  Closer reading of the instructions revealed that one can is sufficient for one large pie, so, with a cupboard full of it, I think I’ll be trying other versions of the pie soon!  But for this week, here is the recipe for what I believe to be a standard pumpkin pie.

9oz shortcrust pastry

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 can pumpkin puree

6oz granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

½ pint evaporated milk

 

Pre-heat oven to 220C, 425F, Gas 7.

Roll out pastry and line a 9 inch deep flan tin.  Chill.  Bake blind for 10-15 minutes.

Reduce oven to 180C, 350F, Gas 4.

Combine filling ingredients and pour into pastry case.  Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a knife inserted near the centre comes out clean.  Allow to cool.

 

Simplicity itself.  I didn’t bake the case blind, but just went right ahead and poured all the ingredients in before baking.  I used a 12 inch flan tin, and the filling was just the right amount, so my tin must be more shallow than most.  It took an hour to bake.

Zazzy, one of my favourite internet friends who has a fabulous-sounding pumpkin  and chocolate chip cookie recipe and who knows way more about pumpkin pie than I do, recommended a spoonful of freshly whipped cream to go with the pie, and I have to say it was absolutely delicious.

Next week, I’m going to try Pumpkin and Mascarpone.

Posted in Food | 4 Comments

The Beauty of Travel – expect the unexpected

The Church at St-Jean-de-Côle, Dordogne

This year, we tried a new approach to choosing a holiday – we picked a charming house in a village we had never heard of in a country we had rarely visited: St-Jean-de-Côle in southern France.  And so it was that after two days of unplanned meandering we arrived just a few hours before a free concert was to be held in the village church.  With no idea of what to expect, we went along half an hour before the advertised time to find the church half full and the musicians, casually dressed, half-way through a piece.  At first we thought we’d missed most of the concert; maybe 17:30 doesn’t mean half past five but half before five, as it does in Austria.  But at the end of the piece there was no applause and the musicians didn’t seem to expect it: it must be a rehearsal.  A few minutes later the musicians left the stage and the church began to fill up.  Half past five came, people began to chat, and a few made a fuss of Oliver, allowing him to practise the few words of French that he knows.  Six o’clock came and went. It’s normal, we were assured, nothing ever starts on time, and so we relaxed and waited to see what would happen.

And then the musicians returned, in full evening dress, and the concert began.  Some of my favourite pieces of music were being performed by some of France’s most eminent professional musicians, in a tiny village only a matter of hours after our arrival.  It was one of those extremely fortuitous occasions that cannot be planned; a lovely welcome to the village, an opportunity to meet some friendly people and hear some very special music beautifully performed.

The evening ended with an extract from Joseph Haydn’s “Les Adieux”.  As it is performed, various musicians leave the stage in turn, the conductor included, and so the piece ends with only two violinists on the stage.  It was a superb and very funny finale to a magical and completely unplanned evening.

Posted in France | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

C’est La Folie by Michael Wright

I’d already heard of this book before I started my French project.  In the pre-little-man days I used to be able to (whisper it) read the whole Saturday Telegraph!  In one day!  Shocking, I know, but true.  How times have changed.  Michael Wright used to write a short column in the Weekend section of the newspaper and it was called C’est la Folie (he may still but it’s a while since I’ve seen a Saturday Telegraph).  It was a small snippet about life in rural France, usually involving amusing interactions with the locals or how to round up a flock of runaway sheep.  I liked the columns and was vaguely interested in the book, but not enough to buy it at the time.  So now, having embarked on the French project, my eye was caught by the title while I was browsing in Waterstone’s for road maps and guides to the Dordogne (more on that later).  I remember how I liked the columns, I thought to myself, I wonder if the book is any good.  So I bought it.

It is a good tale, very good in fact.  It’s much more raw and down to the nuts and bolts than Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, but there are at least 15 years between the books and the settings are two distinctly separate geographical regions.  Michael Wright gave up his London life because he felt both it and consequently he were becoming too soft and comfortable, and so he needed toughening up by some real challenges, not just those posed by a daily commute on the Underground (although Heaven knows that is enough to promote the growth of several thick skins).  He buys an old farmhouse in need of renovation because it just feels right when he walks in to look round.  We’ve all rented or bought properties on that basis, I’m sure; because it just feels right.  The book is about his first 15 months or so living in France, organising renovations, learning the language, learning to care for livestock, trying to integrate into the community.  The stories are recounted with humour and a sense of the endless possibilities for making a complete plank of oneself.  For example the time when Michael tries to engage the newsagent with his fledgling French, but the newsagent cannot understanding and tells Michael, in English, that there are English newspapers for sale.  Or when Michael asks one of the local young ladies if she would like to have a drink with him one evening and is met with a frank stare and an emphatic “non”.  No beating around the bush there, then!   There are several stories involving how a slight change in language can completely alter the meaning of a sentence: for example while flying his small plane tries to tell air traffic control that he has the wind behind him and is coming in to land and to take off again immediately – a touch and go.  He ends up sounding as if he’s troubled by last night’s baked beans and is coming in for a quick feel (une touche rather than un touche, I believe).

There are also moments of real sadness, when it all seems likes it’s been a huge mistake, however the book gives little hint of how truly difficult the transition was.  For example, at one point he writes that, tired of sitting at the kitchen table with tears streaming down his face, he gets up and goes out.  It’s only by phrases such as this that you get any sense at all that the move has been really and properly challenging and suddenly it’s abundantly obvious that the transition was not a walk in the park.  This makes the book better, in my opinion, because it is not a long succession of sorry tales of maudlin introspection, but neither is it a falsely happy tale, woven because the reader only really wants to know the good bits.   It seems like more of a reflection of real life, in as much as any story can achieve that.  Despite the difficulties, Michael reminds himself that he came to France to learn to be tougher, and so he sticks with it.

And of course, gradually things do become easier; his renovations take shape, he joins clubs and makes friends in the local area, becomes more proficient in the language and settles in to his new way of life.  The story ends when more than a year has elapsed and Michael Wright is becoming more contented.  Only one thing is missing now from his life, a partner to share it with.  This is the subject of the sequel, Je t’aime a la Folie.  I think I might be buying that one too.

Posted in France | 4 Comments