My favourite books

The past week saw World Book Day come and go. I don’t remember such a day existing when I was young (it probably did, but from the age of 12 I went to a school where dressing up as a literary character was a concept that belonged in the ‘fun bin’ along with Children in Need, Red Nose Day, ‘Wear a Crazy Tie for Charity’ events…) but seeing so many kids celebrate their imaginary heroes brought back fond memories all the same.

I remember each of us being given a book catalogue once or twice a year at school, and everyone was given the chance to order something. The most exciting day was when said books arrived; we’d trail into class, spot the book box on the desk and become dizzy with excitement at our new books. A world of adventure, happiness, drama and suspense awaited! I was addicted to The Saddle Club and, as I got older, Heartland – and the new book feeling has never left me all these years later.

Tonight I thought I’d share some of my favourites. They’re in no particular order, but I love reading other peoples recommendations and am always on the look out for a new book; I’d love to hear if anyone out there has any particular favourites.

  1. The Goldfinch
    I’ve probably read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt 10 times now, it has to be one of my all time favourites. From the beginning it’s gripping, and I find Theo a fascinating and very sad character. I must admit I’m not a huge fan of the last 100 pages or so, but the rest of the book makes up for it.
  2. Harry Potter
    I know. How boring. But if ever I’m in need of comfort and easy reading then I return to this ol’ faithful; I always seem to find something new every time I read the series. Fun fact – I’ve never watched the films. I did try once, but the characters and sets have their own look in my imagination and I don’t like it being ruined by how they are portrayed in the movies!
  3. The Snow Child
    When I first read the blurb I thought ‘This sounds ridiculous.’ But actually, The Snow Child contains the most beautiful writing – I like a book which sends my head wild with pictures, and this one certainly does that. It’s haunting and mystifying and another that I can re-read a thousand times and always find myself enthralled.
  4. Emma
    Classics aren’t really my favourite, but I studied Emma by Jane Austen at school and have always had a special place in my heart for the strong willed heroine. It’s the only Austen book that I could ever stomach, and personally I find it the most readable (and relatable!). One of my favourite movies of all time is the film adaption with Gwyneth Paltrow – would definitely recommend as an alternative romcom!
  5. The Great Gatsby
    Ok so I know I said I didn’t like classics, but Gatsby is another school favourite that I’ve carried with me into adulthood. I always found it dark and intriguing and I got a lot from all the symbolism (again, never seen any of the movie adaptions, I don’t like anyone messing with the Daisy and Gatsby in my head!)
  6. Kate’s Story
    Kate’s Story (and the books which follow it, starting with Our Kid) tell the part-biographical tale of a family in Manchester in 1900. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry, and it opens your eyes to a fascinating period of history told from the viewpoint of a poor family trying to make ends meet. I first read these books as an early teenager and still get great enjoyment from them now – easy reading but really interesting.
  7. The Shock of the Fall
    I’ve read quite a few books about mental illness and this one is by far by favourite. The character of Matthew, who is tormented by grief and love and suffering from poor mental health, is one of those characters you just can’t get out of your head. It’s so raw and readable.
  8. All Creatures Great and Small
    Every book written by James Herriot is firmly cemented in my heart as an absolute favourite. Each book is set in Yorkshire in the 20’s/30’s and tells of life in a country vet practice. They are so harmless and gentle yet often very very funny (and sometimes sad) and I always find myself thanking my lucky starts that I live in the country after reading them as it sounds so lovely! If you like gentle comedy and don’t mind animal tales I would thoroughly recommend, they are lovely stories from a simpler time.

On that farming-orientated note I shall leave you with some pictures of our wonderful sunset tonight. It fills my heart with joy when the nights start getting lighter, and the loch is so still you could mistake it for a mirror.

Five Things Friday

And just like that we’re on Friday again.

This week has been a whirlwind for me. 3 job interviews really took it out of me – but the awesome news is that I was successful! I actually got offered 2 positions, and I’m so thankful for that. This weekend I’m going to do a lot of thinking and weighing up the pros and cons before I make my final decision. This is a truly exciting new chapter in my life and I’m pumped for the challenge.

On the back of a busy week I’m going to take some time to reflect on 5 things, aside from jobs.

1. Beautiful Spring weather

It’s been so lovely in Scotland this week. Last week I wrote about snow, but in the true spirit of Spring this week the weather did a U-turn and was (vaguely!) warm and sunny. Like I keep saying, I’m so grateful to be able to appreciate this wonderful season. We did, however, have some wintry showers kicking about which looked quite stunning from our elevated position.

2. Getting back in the kitchen

I’ve missed cooking and baking for a few days while I prepped for my interviews. In the past few days I’ve made a winter stew, a chunky apple cake and small sponges, all of which have turned out well. I also saw these…..er, truly awful poo cakes in my local shop. Seriously, only Scotland…

3. The dreaded ‘storage full’ message

Is there anything worse?! You go to take a picture and your iPhone tells you no. I have a serious photo-hoarding problem and hate deleting anything; “But I might want to reflect back on that picture of my lunch in a years time…” Today I decided to chuck some music off instead and it was surprisingly therapeutic. I rarely ever download music and haven’t since I was a teenager, so a lot of my songs are definitely not to my taste 10 years on! It was even quite fun flicking through albums that I haven’t listened to in years and finding some real gems…

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4. Hot stone massages 

I had my first hot stone back massage yesterday and it was dreamy. Mum treated me which was very naughty, however I’m trying to be kind to myself and not feel guilty for accepting her lovely gift. I’ve had lots of back massages before and although they’re always nice, they tend to be quite painful (I’m an extremely tense person!) and not exactly relaxing. The hot stone experience was different, and I left feeling re-energised and very grateful. Would definitely recommend!

5. This month’s Good Food magazine

I can’t afford to buy nice magazines very often (£4.35?!) but I treated myself this week to the March edition of Good Food. And I was so glad that I did! The month it is a celebration of women in food, and several of my idols are featured including Monica Galetti, Nadiya Hussain and Susie Orbach. I read Orbach’s On Eating a while ago and found it really useful, so this was a useful reminder to re-read and re-abosrb it. The message within the magazine this month is appreciating your body, not depriving yourself of anything and eating nutritious food in a healthy manner – all statements I agree wholeheartedly with. It’s refreshing reading a magazine that isn’t all about low calorie diet food.

 

It’s also Eating Disorders Awareness Week this week. I’m all for raising awareness, but so much of the work done just perpetuates the myth that you have to be skeletal to have an ED. I’m loving the Instagram ‘More than a before photo’ hashtag!

March goals

Er, how is it March already?! I swear it was Christmas two seconds ago.

I haven’t blogged as much as I would have liked to recently. My baking has taken a back seat while I’ve been preparing for a bunch of interviews; I had 2 yesterday which took all day and it was exhausting. Hopefully I’ll hear back from them soon, and fingers crossed it will be good news. As we come into Spring I’m really ready to make a fresh start, and although it’s scary looking for jobs and starting a new role, I feel like I’m in a good place to do that now.

As I was outside enjoying the Spring sunshine this afternoon, I had a think about all the things I want to try and achieve during March. Hopefully by popping them down here I’ll keep myself accountable – whilst also remembering I’m not superwoman, so if I don’t get something done then that’s ok too!

More self-care

I think I’ve said before I suck at self-compassion. Recently I’ve been working really hard at this, and I think I’ve done a good job; I’ve cut back on exercise, allowed myself a long bath when I want it, reordered my favourite CD and belt it out in the car. So I need to keep it up! Especially things like taking the time to light some candles and meditate, making time to watch my favourite tv programmes (holla Call The Midwife) and going to bed earlier. So I can get as comfy as Chip…img_8433

Drink more throughout the day 

Lately I’ve been slacking with my fluid intake. It always makes me feel better when I drink plenty, so I’m going to focus on this during March. I received a voucher for taking part in a survey today so I bought a nice new water bottle (nothing like a shiny new toy to help start a habit!)

Start some pre-reading

In preparation for going back to work, I need to start up my online CPD and reading again. I sometimes struggle for time with this, so during March I’m going to aim to fit in an hour of studying a day. This should be manageable – half an hour here and half an hour there soon add up, and if I feel like doing more then I can.

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Fully appreciate the season

This time last year I was living in the centre of a city, with views of a tower block and a carpark. I missed the countryside terribly and could only dream of Spring lambs and snowdrops. This year I’m here, I’m home, and I want to focus on gratitude. Days like today, when the sun is shining and the sky is the best shade of blue, I am overwhelmed at how lucky I am to be in Scotland, to feel safe and whole again. As the month goes on and gets busier, my aim is to remember that feeling and stay close to it.

I’m sure there are more things I’d like to achieve during March, but these seem like a good (and not overwhelming) start. I really want to get back baking again (as I type this I have 2 pear and apple crumbles in the oven!) and hopefully my April goals will include starting a new job….I can dream!

Five Things Friday

How is it Friday already?! It’s been the fastest week ever.

I spent most of this week getting ready for a job interview that was supposed to be yesterday. The weather forecasters kept howling snow but I was praying they’d be wrong – they weren’t. Much to my disappointment I spent all of yesterday snowed in baking biscuits (on an ordinary day this would be an excellent use of a Thursday, but not on job interview day!). Luckily I was able to rearrange but it’s still a bit disappointing when you’re pumped and ready.

I’ve been wanting to do a weekly round up so have taken inspiration from the lovely Erin and the equally lovely Ellen, since I enjoy their blogs so much. I hope they don’t mind me borrowing their blog title!

1. Snow

This winter we’ve had a shortage of the white stuff in Scotland. Our ski fields are suffering greatly which is a real shame; while I love skiing, I’m not a huge fan of snow at home as I live in a remote area with a tiny wee car, so when it snows even a little I’m marooned. Yesterday we had about a foot, which is enough to render the country useless! Like I said it meant I missed my interview, but it was very pretty.

2. Good music

img_4112There was a time last year when I was feeling incredibly low and I couldn’t bring myself to listen to music. Not only did I feel I didn’t deserve to (how sad) but when I did I found no joy in it. Yesterday I was sweeping in the kitchen and I caught myself singing Why Does It Always Rain on Me by Travis (which I realise now is a little ironic!) at the top of my voice, and it made me stop and just appreciate that moment. I’m singing again. Letting myself listen to the radio. This is a good sign.

3. I actually went clothes shopping and bought something!

I find clothes shopping a) incredibly boring and b) incredibly difficult. But I realised I needed to smarten up my wardrobe for my upcoming interviews, so I dragged myself to the shops deimg_2213termined not to come home empty handed. People have asked me in the past if my eating disorder has impacted on my body image and I’m always quick to say “No, it’s totally not about that.” And yes, it isn’t about that, but it certainly has impacted on how I see myself. Which makes buying new clothes excruciating sometimes. However, with my big girls pants on, I picked up some new things and am determined not to feel too bad about wearing them.

 

4. Internet (or lack thereof)

My blog hadn’t been set up when we moved into our new build house the week before Christmas, but basically my parents and I built a house in the middle of nowhere. No water, no electricity, no sewerage, no phone line. We were able to add in the first three, but the phone line? Different story. Of course, nowadays you really need the internet – banking, job hunting, emailing (reading blogs…) so I’ve been surviving with a 4G dongle because thankfully (thankfully thankfully thankfully!) we have 4G up here. But with 4 adults in the house, our data allowance goes nowhere, and we’re not allowed to download anything, watch anything or listen to anything. It’s not the end of the world, but I am seriously missing catching up on Youtube or scrolling through Instagram without guilt. First world problems.

5. Realisations – being truthful 

This week I’ve felt tired. Physically and mentally. My joints ache, especially my hip and ankles and climbing the stairs is an effort. I’m being annoyed by my dry skin and thin, lank hair. When I was trying on clothes this week (see 3 above) I looked at myself in the mirror and thought “Enough.” Of course, I’ve had this thought many times before and it’s no good without action, but it hit me yet again as someone who isn’t me stared back in the changing rooms.

I’ve come a long way from the lows of when I was first diagnosed with an eating disorder, and when I relapsed last year. But I’m still not back to being me, the real me, and I honestly think it’s catching up with my body. Years of being healthy-ish are starting to affect me, and I really need to take the leap and start some positive changes. A bit more weight. A bit more relaxation. And more reflection.

Little things that make me smile

I think I’m in the minority when I say I like Mondays. I always have done; they’re a little fresh start and a return to routine which is soothing for me. Weekends have a nasty habit of making me anxious which is definitely something I need to work on.

My mood today is also helped by the lovely weather. There’s just a touch of warmth in the sun and the promise of Spring – so refreshing. I was standing enjoying the cool wind and warm sun earlier and was struck by how lucky I am to be here, to live in this beautiful country and be able to appreciate the seasons. img_6669

A year ago today my mum travelled down to England to visit me in my new city and new job. I was dreadfully unhappy but trying to make the most of it; I hated city living and felt incredibly trapped. There’s a line in one of my favourite Kacey Musgraves songs: You can take me out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of me.” That’s so me – I need to be able to reach the fields, the greenery, the trees. Many cities, Edinburgh for example, have plenty of green space, but where I was had literally none and it was one of the unhappiest times of my life.

Fast forward a year and I’m back home, on my way to wellness, and able to fully appreciate how lucky I am to have this on my doorstep. Thinking about how grateful I am made me think of all the other little things that are making me smile lately – because it never does any harm to reflect.

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New bakes
I made this Lamington Loaf (recipe courtesy of absolute favourite, Nadiya Hussain) and it turned out really well. I hate jam and coconut so none for me, but my family reassured me it was delicious and it was fun to make.

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Spring flowers
Never fail to make me smile. I don’t buy enough flowers, but they’re so uplifting.

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Kacey Musgraves
Need I say more? Cannot get enough of belting out Biscuits (my family, however, can..)

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Job interviews
Eeek. I have 3 coming up. Stressful, but I’m so grateful to have them. Fingers crossed…

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Having a dog who sits like a human
Nothing better.

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Having time to bake with mum
Yesterday she showed me (for the millionth time!) how to make scones. They are totally my nemesis! So grateful for Sunday morning teachings from the Master.

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Easter snacks
Ok so they did the same biscuits with penguin designs on and called them Christmas snacks, but still – delicious! Gingerbread biscuits and a cup of tea, simple pleasures.

I hope you have time to sit and think about the wee things that you’re grateful for at the start of this new week

 

 

Sultana loaf

I love loaf cakes. They tend to last for ages, are easy and mess-free to serve and are, on the whole, easy and quick to make.

There’s a myriad of fruit loaf cakes out there, some much richer than others. Personally I hate heavy fruit cakes (part of the reason I dislike traditional Christmas cake so much. Although marzipan plays a large role in that hatred too *shudder*) and much prefer something light and simple. For years my mum has made a sultana loaf that ticks all those boxes; you probably could make it more adventurous by adding different dried fruits, but I think its charm is in its simplicity. This cake keeps really well and is best enjoyed alongside a cup of tea.


Sultana loaf

Grease or line a 1lb loaf tin. This recipe is easily doubled to make a bigger cake. 

  • 4oz margarine
  • 4oz caster sugar
  • 4oz plain flour                                           Oven at 180°C/160°C fan oven/ Gas 4 
  • 2oz self raising flour
  • 6oz sultanas
  • 2 eggsimg_5309

Start by creaming the margarine and sugar together until it is light and fluffy. Then sift your flour so both the plain and the self raising flour are together in a bowl.

Beat your eggs in to the marg/sugar mix one by one (if it wants to curdle, add a spoonful of flour from your other bowl to the mixture as you beat). Fold in the flour, then gently fold in the sultanas and spoon into the prepared tin. Bake for around 40 minutes un
til a skewer comes out clean.

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Sometimes you crave something sticky, but other times an airy, fruity, dry cake is just the ticket. This will always make me think of my childhood, and that alone is enough to make you tuck in.

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Compassionate curiosity

Yesterday was Valentines day, as I’m sure you’re all aware. I saw a handful of guys scooting around town clutching roses, and have to say I found the selection of pink, love heart shaped items in the bakery quite cute.

Being a single pringle I didn’t expect to participate in the festivities, but when I got to my yoga class last night I found the theme was self compassion. “Oh no” I thought inside. One thing I suck at is any form of self love.

As a nurse, compassion is at the heart of all that I do. But what is compassion? What does it mean to be compassionate? Well, if I have a quick mind-dump of what compassion means to me I’d say it involved:

  • respect
  • kindness
  • empathy
  • dignity
  • acceptance
  • listening

In my professional and personal life I aspire to provide all of these to the people around me. But I am really poor at applying them to myself. My head believes that I am undeserving, that the things I’ve done wrong exclude me from being kind towards myself. I was having a wee think about all the things that I used to do that I enjoyed, but now I don’t; the reason is that they feel indulgent, and what have I done to deserve such niceties? Things like lighting candles, putting ice in my drinks, using scented moisturiser, grabbing an extra blanket when I’m cold, getting my eyelashes tinted, listening to my country music CD…. small but pleasurable actions that I’ve found myself not doing.

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Can I truly claim to be compassionate if I refuse to show myself compassion?

At the end of our compassionate heart meditation we said “May be calm, may be peaceful, may be happy.” Just saying these words made me feed a tad uncomfortable, that pesky negative voice hissing in my ear. But my wonderful yoga teacher invited us to be curious last night, curious about these feelings and why we might have them. Self love is definitely something I need to work on over time, but being aware of the negative feelings is a good first step towards change. We are who we are, we only get one body and one mind and one shot at living with them – life is short, too short to be at war with ourselves. I am fighting a silent battle for no reason; what if I just said “I am not going to hate myself any longer. I am going to accept that hating myself gets me nowhere, and I don’t want to go through life unhappy.”

No one knows or cares that I am internally punishing myself. And no one will know or care if I don’t punish myself any longer. So if it makes no difference, why don’t I try the second option for a while? Because maybe it will actually make me happier, more able to effectively practice compassion towards those around me, and that is a good thing for people to notice. So today I bought myself a hair mask. And tonight I will light some candles. I didn’t get a bunch of roses or a box of heart shaped chocolates yesterday, but I did take a step towards giving myself a break.