Thursday, 30 May 2013

Never Juice Celery

I'm on a bit of a health kick at the moment. I discovered the amazing fact that if you eat a shed load of fruit and veg you don't pick up colds from all an sundry. I know! Who knew right?! This quest led me down the route of ordering a weekly veg box. It's all very exciting. Every week a parcel arrives on your door step and like a (sad, middle aged) child at Christmas you tear it open and yell with glee 'some chestnut mushrooms! Huzzah!'

All this excitement encouraged me to order a box of fruit for juicing. I've had a juicer for some time but like most households it ended up in the place household appliances go to die, i.e. nestled next to the bread maker and all the appendages to my food processor that I don't understand. Imagine my great joy, then, when my juicing box arrived packed with two kilos of apples, two kilos of oranges, two kilos of carrots, a big pile of beetroot, ginger, lemons and some celery.

Naturally I got to work immediately and having had some reasonable success with some carrot and apple juice last week, I thought to myself, 'hey why not blend up some more veggie juice?' I'll be so intensely healthy I will never get a cold again! In went some carrots, a nice sweet apple, a beetroot and, gulp, some celery. The emerging juice, courtesy of the beets, looked like something that would be at home on the Vampire Diaries. Undeterred I took a big swig.
Dalek like juicer and dodgy looking juice!
It was horrific.

Seriously, never, ever, ever juice celery. Nothing can mask that taste. And adding beets, well it kind of just taste like celery mixed with mud. Urgh.
The only place for celery if you ask me
I did have a bit more success today however so I thought I'd share it with you. Summer in a glass to save you from the sheer misery of the weather we are having in England at the moment.

Summer Tastes Peachy!

1 Banana (peeled and in rough chunks)

1 Peach (just chop the stone out)

2 Oranges (peeled and juiced)

One Tablespoon of Natural Yoghurt

Chuck in a blender, whizz it up for a minute or so and there you have it. Lovely smooth, summery smoothie
– and not a stick of celery in sight!!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Summertime and Gathering Stories

I don't know about you but summer for me is a time of writing new stories in my life. Whether it is the long days and plentiful hours of daylight or the feeling of coming out of hibernation from a long winter, I don't know. But I do know that when I re run the most inspiring times of my life so far they usually involved summers. Singing along with an African choir in the bush under a blanket of a thousand stars, watching the sea hit the shore and feeling like an inhabitant of the ancient world in Athens, seeing a humpback whale jump my boat in South Africa and feeling like the smallest creature in the whole wide world. Powerful stories that I am utterly grateful for and that define who I have become.

Summers are also a time when I collect other people's stories. Stories I treasure and that define me as much as my own. Brave, brave Donata and her beautiful life of service to the disabled children of Northern Zambia (who, can you believe it, I'm going to see in London in a weeks time!), the residents of Twapia (meaning 'broken') near Ndola on my first trip to Zambia with Tearfund forming co-operatives and battling poverty with determination and grit. Alcestis from Athens who took in abandoned animals into her tiny apartment because she couldn't bare to see them go hungry. These are the stories that have made me grow.

This Summer you might be resigned to being at home and willing the weather to co-operate and bring you a little sunshine but that doesn't mean inspiration and life changing stories are beyond you. Tearfund are running a very exciting campaign called 'The Choice'. Have a quick peek at the first teaser video, hot off the press...
I've yet to meet someone via Tearfund who hasn't thoroughly inspired me so I am really looking forward to being part of this journey. The stories I have gathered so far have deeply enhanced my life. I credit them for a large part of who I am. Because of the people I have met, particularly those who live in poverty, I live gratefully and more joyfully than before. They remind me that true happiness comes in unexpected packages, in service, in love and in thankfulness. So, hey, what are you waiting for? Click and get inspired this summer!

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Handmade Home – Bank Holiday Inspiration

I've been asked today to put together an article for a magazine on creating a happy, homemade home. The two are synonymous for me, handmade means love in every stitch, coat of paint or mouthful and so makes me infinitely more happy than shop bought, manufactured products. With the Bank Holiday coming up it's the perfect opportunity to do some crafting, baking and filling your home with a bit more homemade love.

If you're looking for inspiration then I'd really recommend taking a trip down to your local bookshop and picking up Cherry Menlove's new book, The Handmade Home. It is beautifully made and photographed and makes you want to throw down a blanket on the lawn, make a jug of old fashioned lemonade and bloomin' well enjoy your life. That's what I love about Cherry's book and about craft in general. It reminds us that we are not automatons, not made to work non-stop but to live. To enjoy the beautiful things in life and, even better, for them to come from our own fair hands.

One of the very inspiring things about Cherry's book, and blog in fact, is that her own life and story really shines through. She has faced some massive challenges in her life and really makes the most of each day because of it. Day to day life, let alone major challenges, along with all the pressures of the workplace, that we all experience these days, can thoroughly drain us. But in your home, you reign. This is your little corner of the world and you can make it however you want and you can do it sustainably and cheaply. You can make something beautiful just for the fun of it. Paint it pink if you so fancy. Drink your tea out of china fit for the Queen. In your place, guess who is Queen, why yes, that would be YOU!

Cherry progresses in her book through a number of different events offering ideas for things to cook, things to make - like her 'laying on the lawn' duvet and pink stripy deck chair – and things to grow. It is prime growing season, and you can grow your own flowers and veg whateversize your space. All this comes together in sumptuous arrangements that will have you arranging a dinner party quicker then you can say Domestic Goddess.

Speaking of Domestic Goddess moments, I am also providing the photos for my article on all things happy and homemade so I have a tea party to organise and photograph. Some chums are going to get a very pleasant invite in their Inbox! But really, what better way to make your friends and family feel utterly precious and spoilt than to treat them to a beautiful table jammed with homemade goodies?

You'll certainly not run short of ideas for all seasons in Cherry's book. So out with the whisk and in with the happy memories. Have a great Bank Holiday!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Basil puts me in my place

My house is full of stuff. Not secret hoarders, shortly to appear on a Channel 4 documentary levels of stuff, just lots of things. Pretty things, inherited things, revamped things, home made things but LOTS of things. My essay this week is on a fourth century writer, Basil of Caesarea. I'm supposed to be reading about his views on the Holy Spirit and how that represents an advancement on Trinitarian theology (yes, fun eh?!) but I have been waylaid by a little collection of his writings on poverty, riches and basically giving it all away.

Basil was born in to an aristocratic family but after getting serious about the whole Christianity thing found himself attracted to a simpler way of life. More than anything it seems he found his way to a deeply compassionate way of life and that motivated so much of what he did as a Priest and Bishop. He founded a home for the sick out of his own pocket dubbed the Basilia (Nicolia anyone? It has a nice ring eh?!) and saved umpteen people during a serious famine in Caesarea.

His writing certainly packs a punch:
'For if what you say is true, that you have kept from your youth the commandment of love and have given to everyone the same as to yourself, then how did you come by this wealth? Care for the needy requires the expenditure of wealth...Thus, those who love their neighbour as themselves possess nothing more than their neighbour, yet surely you seem to have great possessions! How else can this be, but that you have preferred your own enjoyment to the consolation of many? For the more you abound in wealth, the more you lack love.'


If THAT doesn't get you then nothing will. And so I find myself looking around at all the stuff I have and thinking about my neighbour, my global neighbours, who have so little. Guilty as charged, Basil.

But then I think of the story behind each item. The dress from the beautiful independent store on the High Street, the fabric from the girl who just set out on her own in business, the china from the charity shop on the corner, the jewellery from my Grandma's house, the quilt I made by hand. And then the lines seem to go a little hazy. What does it mean to love my neighbour? To buy nothing and put my wages in the nearest charity box? Perhaps it does, perhaps everything else is just excuses. But then I think of the lady in the haberdashery and the charity shop volunteers and my favourite author whose books I buy and it doesn't seem to so clear cut any more.

Basil left the monastic life to be back in the thick of things in Caesarea and that certainly cost him. It makes me think that perhaps the way to go is not to opt out, no matter how noble it may seem. Perhaps the best option is to really think. To give generously, to live carefully, to buy with integrity. To be neither a burden due to your irresponsibility nor to hold on so tight to what you have and so deny others what is rightly theirs.

What do you think? Is it just qualifying what is straight forward? Stuff = selfishness and there's nothing more to it? Let the conversation begin! Comment or tweet me @nicolahwriter

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Dealing with Negativity

I'm a big fan of spiritual guru Gabrielle Bernstein and I particularly love her vlog this week on dealing with negative comments online so I really wanted to share it with you. I love Gabby's approach to life, full of grace and energy and with a real drive to see positive change in the world through personal transformation. Her vlog really hit home for me this week as I spent some time mulling over some negativity that has come my way recently. It's nothing to write home about but weighted me down nonetheless.

The great temptation, I found, is to fall so quickly into the kind of behaviour that is causing the problem in the first place. It's worrying natural to leap into 'an eye for an eye' and fight negativity with negativity when it is the most ineffective attitude to adopt to really transform a situation. First of all, as Gabby suggests, I've found that when comments hit home it's worth spending a little time touching base with myself and asking if they have any real merit. 'Criticism is free advice' is one of my favourite mottos. That comment may not have been made in the kind of spirit I may have wished for but it may have done me an enormous favour. Very often I take it, use it and say 'Ta very much!'.

But you know what? Sometimes people get it wrong. Sometimes people say things out of their own unresolved pool of emotion. At times like that we really need to ask ourselves why someone else's opinion has merit over our own. To have the confidence of our convictions. As a Christian I turn to one of my other fundamentals, who is my audience here? In reality my audience is one. He's the one I'm doing anything in my life for and the only one I need justify myself to.

So what if you think they've got it wrong? What then? I know how I'd like to be treated. I'd like someone to forgive me, to look beyond something stupidly said to the person underneath who, like everyone else, is simply doing their best. I'd like someone to behave in a way that brought light into the situation. There is only one response to anger and that is peace. There is only one response to negativity and that is to be positive. There is only one response to thoughtlessness and that is to forgive. Don't mistake me, that is hard. Intensely hard. I get it so wrong but that is what I'm committing to afresh to this week.

Monday, 6 May 2013

How much for one day of your life?

I recently received my reports back from this years practical placements. My passion for my hospital placement shone through in what I wrote of them and they wrote of me. I feel profoundly changed by the whole experience. Most of all, my greatest revelation, was how intensely ungrateful I am. Sitting by someone's bedside who is fighting valiantly for just one more day of their life is enough to make you reconsider your whole world. I walked out of there desperate to breath in the fresh air and feel the sun on my face. To just live and be grateful.

Living life!
I'm now reading another Lynda Field book (man, I love her!) and one of the scenarios she poses is this: If someone offered to buy one day of your life for a limitless price would you sell and for how much? This question seriously stopped me short. Suddenly massive figures were flying around my brain. In the millions surely, for one of my precious days? I couldn't give one up for any less than that.

My brain whirred with all those things I would be missing. Days like today where I sat in the garden in the sunshine eating feta and tomato sandwiches and laughing with my husband. Feeling the strain in my legs as I cycled up the hill to college (yes, I can do it now!). The light bulb moment as I understand a new idea while studying. The grumpiness too, the fuzzed up feeling of waking. The simple feelings of being alive and well. All of it, so utterly priceless.

The scariest thing about the question is how little I live with this awareness and the hours by the hospital beds showed me much the same thing. If one single day is worth a million pounds to me then why do I treat it like any old thing to be rushed through and on to the next? I have had the great blessing of knowing and being friends with many heroic people who have overcome serious illness in their life. They often have a zest for life that is the envy of everyone around them. The question I have often asked myself is, is that what it will take for me to really enjoy my life? To make the most of every million pound day?

I wonder if the real enjoyment is in the small things. If a well lived life is simply an appreciative one. For the sunshine, for damn good cheese, for a friend's happy face, for a job well done. Perhaps the whole things is not such a mystery after all. Perhaps it really is just slowing down and smelling the roses. If I learn nothing more from this year then let it be that, let me learn to be an expert in living million pound days.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Sping time = garden time!

The sunshine is bringing a whole new dimension to our little abode. This is our first summer here and the change in the weather has finally meant I can get outside and get the garden in shape. We also happen to have an excellent plant nursery in between our house and college where I stopped by today on my way home and picked up a few new additions.

When it comes to plants they have to work pretty hard for me to spend the time looking after them. This usually means they have to be really, really pretty or edible. My absolute fav plants are my Blueberries who fruit every year without fail and need basically no care (or at least haven't suffered too much from having me completely ignore them for the last two years!)

Oregano, yum!
I'm really not green fingered at all. We've never had much outside space. Just windowsills, then a little bit of space outside out front door and now a little patio garden. But in some ways this has been a good way to learn. Everything has been in pots, so I can move them around trying to figure out the best conditions for them, and they can move with me when I move essential if like me you're pretty mobile.

Sugar snap peas, so yummy they hardly ever make it to the kitchen!
My first attempt at growing from seed has been a few batches of lettuces which, I swear to you, is no more tricky than that cress growing experiment you did in Primary School! And then 'Voila!', fresh lettuce every day! Whatever space you have there really is some great stuff to grow (and eat!). It's so fun to experiment and see what plants suit you. I loved growing carrots and potatoes one year and I probably will again one day but now I really focus on fruit - strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants - as it's so low maintenance and on herbs for cooking and looking pretty on the patio.

My ticket to fresh strawberries this summer!
I also grow Lavender which is very low maintenance (anything from the Mediterranean is a total winner for me as it likes arid conditions, i.e. people like me who forget to water!) and chop it for making dried lavender bags. Don't you just love it when two crafts collide?!

Lavender, smells good, looks great!
If you're thinking of starting growing and have no idea where to start I'd really recommend 'The Virgin Gardener' by Laetitia Maklouf. She presents a whole host of projects a bit like recipes in a cook book and it is absolutely jargon free. I often have a browse through it and pick an easy weekend project for inside or out and she totally understands working on a small scale.

So that's my garden this summer, how about yours?