Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Signature of All Things

Last year when I wasn't writing my blog, I was, of course, still reading and I tried to jot down some reviews in my notebook for when I started up again. They are not as fresh as I would like, but I read some great books during that time that I'd like to share, so I will do my best to capture the spirit of each book anyway. Several people have asked for recommendations for a good Easter holiday read and while this one might not seem like an obvious choice, Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things is a truly marvellous book and one that is perfect reading at home or poolside!

She really is an author at the top of her game and once I picked up this book, I could not put it down again. We were in Florence at the time and I still had to drag myself away, even with the wonderful sights…and tastes…of that stunning city! It's one of those rare books: a compellingly epic novel set against a weighty scientific backdrop. Alma Whittaker is the heroine of Gilbert's tale and she's as unique and memorable as they come. Born to a larger-than-life father and stern Dutch mother, both from botanical backgrounds, she is soon launched into the heady intellectual world of scientific debate. She can more than hold her own and so begins her journey through life -- and what a life she leads.

There is nothing predictable about this story and it is peopled with a rich cast of characters in settings that span the globe. We follow Alma throughout her entire life and it is a privilege to do so. I was blown away by this book and was extremely sad to turn the last page. I don't really want to say any more about it except go right away and buy a copy. It's a magnificent novel!

Friday, 20 March 2015

Resistance is futile...

Resistance is futile, yet we all do it all the time. Why such madness? Where did we all collectively get the idea that we should avoid anything that was uncomfortable? Most of the time I don't even realize what I'm doing, but I've been practicing Awareness for some time now so every now and again it kicks in and this morning I caught myself being joyous in the kitchen -- completely unbidden!

A little back story here, so that doesn't sound totally weird: I cook ALL THE TIME. Following the Autoimmune Paleo diet for my heart, trying to figure out what my youngest can and can't eat for her digestive problems as well as not neglecting my eldest and my husband's tastes means food planning and prepping has taken over my life. As you might expect, I have a certain amount of resentment (resistance) surrounding the amount of time I spend in my kitchen. It makes me crazy. I tell myself, while washing up yet another massive sinkful of dishes, that it's not fair, that there are so many other things I'd like to be doing, that it's boring, that I never have time to do anything for myself…. You know how it goes. You have your own version, I'm sure. And then I feel crappy. And tired. So tired.

But it's not all the cooking and cleaning up that is making me feel that way. It's my resistance to the job at hand. When I stop fighting it and instead decide to throw myself into it, pulling out a stack of cookbooks (I love cookbooks!), getting creative and making a big, glorious, delicious mess, I am happy as a clam. And energized. Not tired. So not tired. How can that be? Well, because at the end of the day it really doesn't matter what you do, only how you do it.

So, what element of your life are you resisting? Here's a clue: what do you complain about to yourself? Listen out for the negative running commentary in your head. Is it about work, your boss, the gym, your aunt whom you should visit more often, the diet you're trying to stick to, some element of parenting that is your particular bugbear? We all have areas of our lives that feel like a grind. This week I challenge you to pick one and figure out a way to just accept it for what it is. Drop the good/bad labelling, drop the resistance. It's something you have to do anyway, so just for one day actively decide to welcome it, however you can. Gratitude is helpful here. I read somewhere that if it's laundry you hate, you can be grateful that you have clothes to wear; if it's paying taxes, be grateful that you have an income. You get the gist… Or you could just go all Mary Poppins and figure out a way to make it fun. See if you can do whatever it is with grace and then note how you feel afterwards. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Chuckling Goat

What an extraordinary story! If you have even a passing interest in natural health, Secrets from Chuckling Goat is a must-read. Shann Nix Jones started off in the US as a radio talk show host and ended up making truly life-changing products from the milk of the goats she now rears on a remote farm in Wales. Her journey is remarkable in many ways, not least because she was so ill-prepared for the challenges she was to face, but she tells her beautifully written tale with a lightness of touch that allows the reader to gently learn the lessons she had to learn the hard way.

The point where her story intersects with the goats begins when she marries a Welsh farmer called Rich, who suggests that goats' milk may help clear her young son Benji's recurring bronchial infections. And so, off they go to buy a goat, whose milk does indeed clear up Benji's infections as well as his asthma. With the surplus of milk, Shann decides to try her hand at soaps and creams, the use of which results in Benji's eczema also completely disappearing. Armed with these successes, increasing interest from other mums on the school run and a new-found love of goats, she goes on to buy a whole herd. She also starts to experiment with other ancient kitchen staples, discovering the health benefits of fermentation along the way through her experiments with sourdough bread starters and kefir. She describes beautifully the concept of perthyn, which loosely means connection, relation, belonging.... This concept is really what drives her and ties her to this new land where she finds herself, so many light years away from where (and how) she began.

Then, when Shann thinks her husband might actually die form the MRSA infection he contracts in the hospital following an operation for his colitis, instead of cracking, she finds grace. In the midst of months of severe stress, she is able to let grace guide her to the answers that she had all along -- that we all have, but are usually not able to access. We are not conditioned to listen to our own inner wisdom, to use what we "know" to be true even when everyone is telling us we're crazy all the while having no answers of their own to give us. We need to remember this skill because we need to change a great many things in this world if we are all to survive.

That sounds so dramatic, I know, but I truly believe that we can fix the mess before it's too late. As a parent, I want nothing more than to leave the world in better shape than I found it for my own children and the rest of their generation, as well as teaching them new ways (or re-learning old ways?!) to respond to the challenges they will face. We all have innate talents and things that we feel passionate about and if we're encouraged to chase those passions and think outside the box about how to work with them then we all will be facing a very bright future indeed.

Shann thought way outside the box and in doing so, saved her husband's life with a combination of home remedies that drove the infection from his body. Now fully recovered, the two of them have quit their day jobs and devoted themselves fully to growing the line of products produced from the milk of their beloved goats. They are even working with the Welsh Assembly Government and scientists at Swansea University on further research and development of these powerfully healing ingredients. For more information, have a read of their website, Chuckling Goat; it's fascinating stuff!

So, here's to Shann Nix Jones -- for being an intrepid pioneer, for listening to her inner wisdom and for being brave enough to stick to her guns about what she knew was right. I suspect her seminal work with probiotics and gut health will prove of the utmost importance in a movement that is only just now starting to receive the widespread public attention it deserves. There are so many health issues that the medical profession is struggling to address. Hopefully, the general public will start to embrace this new paradigm shift in how to think about healing. I, for one, am very excited about its potential and will continue to share wonderful stories here like those of Shann and her chuckling goats!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

What's For Dinner?

This is a question that plagues most of us on a daily basis, but I really feel like it has taken over my whole, entire life. I am either making food or thinking about what food I am going to make pretty much every waking minute and I'm pretty sure I'm dreaming about it too! My youngest daughter and I are both trying to follow the Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) diet. This is not as easy as it sounds! I also went sugar-free a year ago and some of the foods allowed on the AIP I don't do so well with, so we are verrrrry limited. However, I'm a sucker for a challenge, so I thought I'd share a little of what we've been eating and how that's going down with the rest of the family!

Scrambled egg with courgette, sweet potato and turkey burger

Everyone I know is trying to eat a little better, cut back here, add in a few healthier foods there. Lunchboxes are a particular concern for a lot of people and there is so much confusion about what constitutes a healthy meal these days that it's impossible to please all the people all the time (especially when they're kids!), but I am not prescriptive and I think each person needs to employ a hearty dose of awareness to their diet and really start to listen to their own bodies to tell them what is working for them and what isn't.

Pesto quinoa with chicken and garlicky green beans

Breakfasts can be super hard for people making the switch as most conventional breakfasts are a gluten-dairy-sugar fest (think cereal with milk, toast with jam, a ham and cheese croissant on the run, pancakes with Nutella…!), so how to begin? Well, most mornings for me start with leftovers. Yep, it's true. It's very weird to start with, but then becomes strangely addictive as you get such a balanced energy boost that lasts a good long way into your day. It's also a terrific way to clear out the fridge!

Fried egg, gut-healing sauerkraut and sweet potato noodles with courgette, celery and avocado

I am completely in love with my spiralizer and make up a batch of courgette/zucchini noodles (courgetti/zoodles) or sweet potato noodles (swoodles?!) once a week to keep in the fridge, ready to chuck into a salad raw or eat lightly sautéed with whatever else I can find, often topped with an egg fried in coconut oil and sprinkled with furikake, always furikake! It makes everything taste special.

Buckwheat breakfast loaf with apricots

And then there are the more traditional breakfast alternatives. I am a huge fan of chia puddings, which I make up about twice a week in a jar large enough for a few portions. They are also great for a wee midday snack with a couple of berries tossed on top or some raw cacao powder stirred through to kill a chocolate craving. My favourite recipe of the moment is from The Healthy Foodie as I am a total coconut addict. And I've had good luck making baked goods, mostly for my daughter, with buckwheat flour (which, as part of the rhubarb family, is not "wheat" at all!). Check out this recipe for Sticky Date Loaf from the amazing Alice Nicholls over at The Whole Daily.

Coconut chia pudding with cinnamon and blueberries

Quinoa is also super useful as a filling, high-protein, grain replacement. I batch cook this as well so that I always have some to hand for a quick meal. I usually prefer it as a savoury, but it also works well heated gently with some coconut milk and then any of the toppings you prefer for oatmeal. And I always, always make a smoothie in my Nutribullet for my husband and I to share. Using the Nutribullet  is also a great way to add in some healthy extras, tailored to your own needs (think hemp protein, maca, flaxseed, spirulina, collagen…), and has also put an end to the problem of slimy, unidentifiable remnants in the vegetable drawer. If it needs eating up, in it goes…!

Spinach, celery, apple, turmeric, grapefruit, frozen pineapple and coconut water

To save this post becoming ridiculously long (frankly, I could go on about food forever!), I will stop here, but keep an eye out for shorter, more specific posts over the upcoming weeks with ideas and recipes from some of my favourite food bloggers. P.S. An unexpected bonus to changing the way I eat was the loss of an entire stone (14lbs) without even trying… if nothing else, that has to be good incentive for giving it a go!

quinoa porridge with cinnamon, coconut milk, pecans and berries

Saturday, 28 February 2015

February: a new beginning?

When I realised today was the last day of February, my first thought was: thank goodness! Traditionally, Februrary has been my least favourite month, but this one has surprised me. I have been plagued since the start of the year with a deep-seated fatigue I can't quite shake, but February hasn't decimated my mood like it normally does. I haven't allowed myself to indulge in my usual "I hate Feb" thinking, but instead tried to be as aware of my thoughts as possible and change them as soon as they started to take me there. I am finally coming to understand that I am responsible for what kind of February I experience, not some random, mysterious, outside force!

One thing I did that I am really happy about this month was to introduce Quote of the Week. I find an inspirational quote, make a poster (very primitive at the moment, see photographic evidence!) and then stick it up by the front door late each Sunday night, so that everyone sees it first thing Monday morning. There's not a great deal of interest from the rest of the family yet, but I am loving it and I suspect interest will grow as it becomes a regular feature and the signs become more creative and beautiful. I am also secretly hoping that it will become a family tradition that perhaps my girls will come back to some day with their own families. In the meantime, I am enjoying the joy it brings to me each week.

Another thing I'm hoping to do is a calligraphy workshop and then I can use the elegant, modern script that I see popping up all around Instagram for my posters! I've loved calligraphy since I took a class in high school, but have never prioritised revisiting it until now. Last year, I finally got around to pottery (another lifelong creative ambition), so maybe this will be the year for calligraphy. I found a place that runs classes. It's very hipster, which, frankly, at my age is rather intimidating, but that's where I'm looking to go this year: anywhere that scares me a little, takes me out of my comfort zone. I know that's where the magic happens -- and I'm ready for a little magic! Bring on March….!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Excellent Women

Sometimes there is just nothing for it but to pick up an old Virago Modern Classic and devour it, and being in the depths of gloom that are a British winter, Barbara Pym's Excellent Women will bring a much-needed slice of humour and comfort as well as a tantalising peek into life in a small English village in a world largely gone by, but whose echoes will still be all-too familiar to many today!

I had never read anything by Barbara Pym before, but had been hearing her name for years. I saw this copy in an Oxfam Bookshop and snatched it right up. I'm a sucker for their covers, but I was also feeling grim that day: unloved, exhausted and, frankly, taken for granted! No doubt misguided and brought about largely due to the weather and a long run of back-to back viruses in the house; nonetheless, the book felt like the perfect antidote.

And so it was! Even the title is marvellous and hints at what lies within, which is basically a beautiful and quietly funny observation of the life of Mildred Lathbury, a woman heading rapidly toward spinsterhood. She is the daughter of a clergyman and, as such, well-versed in coping with "most of the stock situations". She has a wry talent for seeing the small but telling details and treats us to very funny vignettes of life in post-war Britain.

Here is one example: "The sight of Sister Blatt, splendid on her high, old-fashioned bicycle like a ship in full sail, filled me with pleasure." That line made me laugh out loud. On another occasion: "But as I had been at home in my village and she had been in Torquay the acquaintance had never prospered." Oh, how I wish people still spoke this way!

Pym is also brilliant at nailing the small truths of life that we never think of until they are pointed out to us and then we realise, "Oh, but that's exactly it!" How about these gems: "I began piling cups and saucers on a tray. I suppose it was cowardly of me, but I felt that I wanted to be alone, and what better place to choose than the sink, where neither of the men would follow me?" Or: " My thoughts went round and round and it occurred to me that if I ever wrote a novel it would be of the 'stream of consciousness' type and deal with an hour in the life of a woman at the sink." I think all of us can relate to her here!

And I will treat you to one last observation that will perhaps resonate more with British readers: "Did we really need a cup of tea? I even said as much to Miss Statham and she looked at me with a hurt, almost angry look, 'Do we need tea? she echoed. 'But Miss Lathbury…' She sounded so puzzled and distressed and I began to realise that my question had struck at something deep and fundamental. It was the kind of question that starts a landslide in the mind." And that last sentence really sums it up -- there are little rituals and mainstays in small, English villages that are not to be taken lightly and Barbara Pym has teased them out majestically. You will be well occupied by a few hours in her company!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A Return to Joy

Wow, it's sure been a long time since I was last here, almost a year. I have missed it terribly, but knew that I needed to take a break and figure out what it was that I really wanted to share. I also needed to tackle my health issues in a new way, which took up a lot of my time. I was diagnosed with severe heart failure at the beginning of 2012, which rocked me and my family to the core, but I was not ready to check out just yet and as I lay in my bed for weeks on end, heavily drugged with medication from the hospital, the one thought that my addled mind kept circling back to was: I have work to do.

The past three years have been what I thought were the beginnings of that work, but now, with hindsight, I realize that that work actually began many years ago when I first started training to practice energy medicine. It was my first foray as an adult back into a space of authenticity. When we are children we know instinctively who we are and what matters, but as we grow up and become conditioned by the world we live in, we forget so much of that. Clearly, some part of me had realized that it was important to get back to that space, but my internal conflict about who I was "supposed to be" as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, etc was so fierce that I didn't make it. I believe my heart failure was the result.

When we are not our authentic selves we lose our joyfulness. At the beginning of 2015, I chose the word JOY as my theme word for this year. I love theme words, as opposed to resolutions, because they have the ability to continually bring us back into the space we need to be in. Last year my word was CREATE and, unwittingly, I created much more than I had planned to! I worked fiendishly hard to keep my mind in check and not let it run off in unhelpful directions, I learned how to throw pots on a wheel (a lifelong ambition!), I learned how to cook and eat an Autoimmune Paleo diet to reduce inflammation and "clean up" my body from the inside out and, mostly, I learned that when I honour my own needs, life flows much more smoothly for me and everyone around me.

I decided the best way to honour those lessons is by being my genuine self. So bear with me while I find my voice again and I will share what I have learned, what is important to me, what's worked and what hasn't, including recipes to inspire you to use delicious food as medicine and plenty of book reviews because, well, books are my one weakness! So, I hope that you will join me and along the way pick up some things that will inspire you, lift your spirits and help you move into your own authentically joyous space.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Caudalie cleansers

Many of you will already know that I am not known for fastidiousness when it comes to The Evening Cleansing Routine! By evening, I am tired and usually feel that going to bed without washing my face is a crime I can live with. However, there is a solution, even for slobs like me: Caudalie Eau Micellaire Démaquillante (or Make-up Remover Cleansing Water). This has been my saving grace. It is free from nasties, removes make-up and city grime, and leaves my skin feeling clean and moisturized instead of tight, like some other brands. It also smells wonderful: like spring!

The cleansing water also has a partner in crime, Lotion Tonique Hydratante (or Moisturizing Toner) which I actually use every single day without fail. I have always been a toner girl and have tried absolutely loads of them over the years. This is the best one I have ever used, and it has been in my daily arsenal now for almost 10 years. For a product junkie like me, that is an endorsement of the highest order. It has the same fresh, clean smell, sort of a light grassy scent, and makes me happy each morning when I put it on and who wouldn't benefit from that first thing each morning?!

Both products are hypoallergenic, alcohol- and soap-free and leave the skin clean, moisturized and prepped for whatever you have in store for it. I love this line and the clever thinking behind it. Caudalie was founded by Mathilde Thomas and her husband Bertrand in 1993 when a professor, who was visiting their family vineyard, Château Smith Haut Lafitte, in Bordeaux, France, told them they were "throwing away treasures". By 1995, they had figured out how to extract and stabilize grape-seed Polyphenols and the brand was launched in local pharmacies, who stocked their very first face creams.

Caudalie products are now sold worldwide, and they have discovered (and patented) even more grape-related wonders as well as opening several spas and treatment boutiques. If you have a chance to sample their products, please do. They are usually very generous with their samples, have solid ethical credentials and there is a line for every stage of ageing: my mother and daughters are fans too!

[NB: The links in this post are for UK websites, but Naturisimo ships worldwide for free or you can purchase Caudalie products through Amazon and Sephora as well as Caudalie's own website.]

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Lost Lake

There is so much magic in the world if only we slowed down and opened our hearts enough to see it. We know all about it as children. We hear the truth behind the stories, see the real meaning of things, smell possibility on the wind… and then the grown-ups tell us none of it is real. They tell us so many times and with so much conviction that eventually we believe them and the magic starts to fade for us, too. I think that is terribly sad, which is no doubt why I love Sarah Addison Allen's writing so much. She hasn't lost the ability to open her heart and uses all her senses to keep tapping into the magic, and then she very generously shares it with us through her beautiful writing.

Her latest offering, Lost Lake, is no different. Do you ever wish you could go back to an enchanted time in your youth? If you could go back and then make all your decision with the beliefs you held then, can you imagine what your life would look like? I suspect your story would have a completely different ending! We don't think life works like that, but I think that's just because no one ever tells us it could. Heaven forbid that secret should get out...!

In the meantime, we can escape into Addison's charmed landscapes and hang out with her ever-appealing characters for awhile…and dream. Lost Lake is the tale of Eby Pim's life: the choices she makes, the lives she saves (literally and metaphorically), and the magical holiday camp she creates at Lost Lake with her beloved husband, George, all set the scene for a multitude of stories, stories of people who have lost sight of their dreams, but are inadvertently given a second chance when Eby decides to sell up. It is the story of how the life of just one person can change the lives of everyone they know.

As always, Addison has populated her Southern setting with beautifully drawn characters with rich imaginations. Her descriptions are so well-crafted that you can "see" everything unfolding right before your eyes. She describes places I want to go to and people I want to hang out with and there is always a sense of calm in her stories, like there is someone very capable at the helm who will make sure everyone makes it "home". She evokes worlds that we all remember from childhood and who's to say they're any less real than the ones we live in as adults? Certainly not me….

Regular readers will know that I have a predilection for a happy ending. Life can be hard; I like to finish a book on a high note, with a sense of hope, of possibility, and with a sense that, perhaps, if I simply believe, that my life, too, can contain a little more magic.

Friday, 21 March 2014

3 Happy Things: March

Well, the old saying about March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb certainly holds true this year! The beginning of the month saw the UK being battered by gale force wind and rain, but by mid-month we were enjoying blue skies and warm sunshine. Hurrah! Hope wherever you are the sun is shining and the spring flowers are starting to peek through!

One: The very best thing about spring has to be the flowers. I think I may have to take issue with Meg Ryan's character in You've Got Mail (ha, dare I?!), who said that daisies were the happiest of flowers, and throw my lot in with the wondrous ranunculus!

Two: Primrose Hill…just right for spring! (Photo credit here goes to my clever mother, who spotted this perfect photo op!)

Three: Just last night, I was chopping up vegetables to go with our dinner when I was struck by that strong, earthy, "green" scent of tomatoes pulled fresh from the vine. For me, it says summer is coming!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Sugar Detox Update: Week 3

Okay, here we are at the end of Week 3 and I am still sugar-free! Woo-hoo! Wasn't sure I'd make it even this far. Soooo, how's it been? Well, not too bad, actually. Week 1 was brilliant. I was so excited about quitting that I went out and bought loads of ingredients that Sarah Wilson recommends in the I Quit Sugar book and started putting together some of the recipes and snacks straightaway. My energy levels shot up and my mental clarity improved; I could really focus for the first time in absolutely ages, which was bliss.

Omelette with goat's cheese, parsley and tomato

Week 2 was not so exciting. The novelty of the first week had worn off and the detox-y effects were starting to kick in. However, I stuck to my guns and carried on. This week was all about eating fat! Yep, you heard right. The logic is this: we have to replace what we're taking out for both psychological and physiological reasons. Healthy fats and quality proteins (like eggs, cheese, avocado, nuts and coconut) feel like a treat and fill us up at the same time, thereby satisfying and curbing cravings in one go. Clever, huh?

Grilled halloumi with apples and cinnamon

Week 3 is cold-turkey week. I had pretty much gone cold turkey from the beginning, so not too much of a shift, but it meant the end of fruit, which did make oatmeal rather less appealing. Also, I really started to feel the physical effects of the detox: nausea, fatigue, dizziness, etc. I was expecting it, but it made me grumpy nonetheless. My family have been great, super supportive and blessedly ignore me when I prowl the house menacingly, in search of a replacement for cake! My favourite distractions for when the cravings really hit home are a cup of cinnamon tea alongside some oatcakes spread with almond butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon…cinnamon is really helpful! Oh, and seaweed! I love seaweed!

Oatmeal with pecans, cacao nibs and coconut flakes

Sooo, I am still hanging in there and am so grateful for the support I've received in person, on email, on Instagram.... Sugar seems to be a hot topic at the moment, so I hope you are finding some inspiration here. It really is making a difference and has not been that hard to manage, even while cooking for a family with children. There are lots of little, tasty changes you can make and I think it's a great way to lead by example. My kids may not get on the bandwagon now, but maybe it will inspire them to make better choices for themselves as they get older. I hope so!

Brown rice with mackerel, snap peas, chard and tomato

I've illustrated this post with some of the meals I've been eating this past three weeks in case you want some ideas. Everything's been easy to prepare so far with one epic fail (as the kids say!), which was my first attempt to make chocolate. For some reason, all the brown rice syrup sank to the bottom. I would show you a picture because it was very funny, but my cravings were so bad at that point that I ate it all before it occurred to me to record the evidence! I'll post again in a week or two and let you know what I've been up to.

Friday, 14 March 2014


As you know, I'm not traditionally a re-reader. There are so many wonderful new books out there that I haven't yet read, I usually feel that to re-read an old one is superfluous to requirements. However, every now and again one calls to me. At first, it's just a whisper, a hint, a tiny thought fluttering around at the back of my mind. If I ignore it, it gets louder and more persistent, eventually shouting to me from its home on the bookshelf or even from its box high up in the girls' cupboard. And so it was with Claire Dederer's Poser.

This book has been yelling at me since last summer! Rude! Six whole months I ignored it til I finally cracked and started in again on Chapter 1. As always, the Universe was way ahead of me. At the end of last summer, I was knackered — the school holidays are long — but I was ready for yoga. I craved yoga. My body was tired, untoned and crying out for some disciplined attention. I tried, but it was too soon. Now, in March, I am finally ready. I've been doing 15 minutes in my living room every day for a month now and Poser was too loud to ignore. This is a funny and, at times, bittersweet tale of one woman's discovery of yoga and how she used it to ease her transition into motherhood, calm her fears, soothe her past and heal her body. I love her voice and her story.

I recognize much of my own experience of discovering yoga here as well as much of my shock at what was expected of moms at a time when babies had just become the must-have accessory among the celebrity pack (around the millennium). We were bombarded with messages of what we should do and just exactly how we should do it and, like me, Claire fell into the trap of believing it all. And so it was with more than a tinge of recognition that I enjoyed following her progression from anxious new mom, hung up on her own weird experience of childhood and her birth family (her parents were hippies with an unconventional marital arrangement that continues to this day!) to someone who has had enough experience of life to finally let it go.

She learned that in order to be truly happy we have to let go of the need for perfection and the approval of others as well as the idea of what we think our lives should look like. Only when we drop the need for control do we find any freedom in being ourselves. It's a truly wonderful point to reach and one that is more liberating that almost anything else I can think of…. and yoga is as good a way to get there as any. If you are pondering how to make a leap of faith of any kind in your life, pick up a copy of Poser. Claire Dederer makes for an inspiring companion.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014


Can you think of anything more joyous than bouncing? I can't. I love to bounce. That feeling of being weightless, free from gravity's pull, is so liberating even if only for a split second. It's taken me two years to get to the point where I could do any kind of sustained exercise and bouncing was my first port of call. At the moment, I am only doing five minutes a day, but can already feel a huge difference.

Photo courtesy of J Clarke

Bouncing is also one of the healthiest forms of exercise you can do. It's main benefit, as I see it, is that it stimulates the lymphatic system, which is basically the body's garbage disposal. Bouncing is great at opening and closing our millions of one-way lymph valves, a process which rids the body of toxins, dead cells, cancerous cells, bacteria, viruses, fatty globules (oh, yes!), trapped protein and all other manner of junk that the cells throw off. You can only activate the lymphatic system through exercise, gravitational pull or massage, so bouncing is perfect as it does all three!

And just check out this list of its other benefits:

  • no jarring on impact (so good for the joints)
  • profound detoxification (good for increasing alkalinity)
  • improves agility and balance
  • slows the ageing process
  • relieves pain (especially neck and back pain, and headaches)
  • moves aqueous fluid in the eyes (good for vision)
  • moves cerebral-spinal fluid (good for the brain)
  • reduces body fat
  • curtails fatigue and menstrual discomfort
  • allows for easier relaxation and deeper sleep
  • increases cellular strength (good for the immune system)
  • stimulates all internal organs, including intestines (good for digestive problems)
  • stabilizes the nervous system (good for reducing stress)
  • increases oxygenation (good for improved respiratory function)
  • reduces "bad" cholesterol levels (good for staving off coronary artery disease)
  • tones up the glandular system (good for thyroid problems)

Really, why wouldn't you do it?! The most exciting thing for me while doing this research, though, was to discover how much good it does for the heart. By gently strengthening the heart muscle and moving the blood so effectively, it lightens the heart's load, allows the resting heart to beat less often and prevents edema, so I hope my cardiologist will be suitably impressed when I have my next appointment. So, what's stopping you: get out there and get bouncing!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Persephone Books

Last week, my friend Lisa and I popped into The Persephone Bookshop on Lamb's Conduit Street. I love this shop. Even on a grey, English winter's day, it is still a bright, little haven of calm. The large store-front windows cast their light across the inviting, wooden-floored room where tables and shelves alike are stacked high with piles of books, all covered in Persephone's signature plain grey covers.

Interspersed between the piles of books are tiny towers of beautifully designed bookmarks. The bookmarks are such a clever idea and deeply appealing in their own right. Each one is based on a design (often from fabric or wallpaper) that complements the time and feel of the text inside and matches the endpapers of the book it accompanies.

Persephone specializes in reprinting both fiction and non-fiction from mid-20th century authors (mainly women) that have often been long (and unjustly) forgotten. There are wonderful stories, diaries, cookbooks and gardening tomes, ghostly tales, children's books and more. There really is something for everyone and they make perfect presents for almost any occasion.

Many Christmases ago, I bought my first Persephone book, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (originally published in 1938), and as soon as I read it, I immediately went back and bought six more copies to give to friends. This is one of those truly uplifting titles that everyone should have on their shelf. As it says in the preface (and I paraphrase): this book feels more like a Fred Astaire film than anything else…sheer, light-hearted fun!

When my children were still very young, I enjoyed Dorothy Canfield Fisher's The Home-maker, lent to me by my canny friend Sara in a subtle, yet timely gesture! This is the story of a woman who is driving her family crazy with her perfectionist ideas about how to be a mother when really the problem is her own boredom and frustration. We shall say no more…!

And, just last week, I picked up Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey, about a girl who realizes on her wedding day that she is making a terrible mistake. It is a testament to the good judgement of the editors at Persephone that several of their reissued titles have since been made into films. We are clearly ready to engage once more with these intelligent, well-written titles.

Nowadays, we seem to be looking to days gone by more and more often to find answers as to how to live more simply. The worlds covered in the wide array of Persephone books are a fantastic place to immerse yourself for lessons of all kinds as well as just for the sheer pleasure of it. If you ever happen to find yourself in the quiet streets of Bloomsbury, do be sure to pop in. You'll be very glad you did.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Sugar Detox!

Yipes! Today's the day…. my body has been telling me for some time now that it did not want any more sugar to contend with and I have finally decided to listen. I am worried, though. Sugar is everywhere! Will I be able to avoid it? It is horrendously addictive and, even though I don't think I eat much of it, I'm sure that I do. Did you know that 150 years ago we ate almost no sugar while today we eat more than 1kg a week? I've decided to use Sarah Wilson's incredibly appealing book, I Quit Sugar to help me along.

The detox takes eight weeks and she starts in gently, so I'm hoping that this forgiving approach will be easier to stick to. I've made my shopping list and am hitting the health food shop to stock up on ingredients for simple snacks to keep me going. Today, I started with one of my favourite breakfasts, which is sugar-free anyway (phew!): rye toast with coconut oil and mashed avocado topped with a sprinkling of furikake and a splash of Bragg's amino acids.

Sarah's approach is not preachy and she includes loads of recipes as well as sneaking in lots of motivating facts. For example: the real killer is not sugar, per se, but fructose. Here are three things I was surprised to learn about it: 
1) Fructose does not contain the molecule that tells our brains when we are full, so we just keep eating.
2) Fructose converts directly into fat, which can cause fatty liver and lead to insulin resistance.
3) Fructose wreaks havoc with our immune systems, upsets the mineral balance in our bodies, messes with fertility, speeds the ageing process and plays a role in causing metabolic syndrome, which is thought to be the precursor to heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

That was more than enough to convince me! I'll let you know how I get on during the upcoming weeks and include any new recipes I find that are particularly helpful or tasty. In the meantime, you can check out Sarah's website for more information. Who knows, you might be inspired to try it for yourself!