A journey …

It’s been a long time coming.

Getting on for 30 years in fact (how did that happen?)

BUT

We’re finally here.

India.

An intriguing mix of the cutting edge, and the very traditional.

Secular and sacred

  
 Delhi airport.  Passport control and giant mudras.

And why not?

And actually, after battling with Indian bureaucracy and biometric data collection, you can see why people might need a bit of calming meditation.

So, in the spirit of immersing ourselves in the experience, youngest child and I had booked a yoga class at our hotel.

I had assumed this would be a gentle generic type of yoga, aimed at the flagging business person.

You should never make assumptions.

The class consisted of youngest child and myself.

The teacher, a 29 year old, dressed all in white with film star good looks, took one look at youngest child and myself and sniffed “I usually just teach yoga teachers, but never mind”

I’m sure I don’t know how  he could tell we weren’t yoga teachers.

Possibly the look of fear on our faces?

What followed was a very interesting hour of yoga, performed outside in the grounds of the hotel.

And probably a very entertaining hour for anybody who happened to catch sight of us.

Not only did we have to get into the postures, but we then had to hold them whilst performing a type of pranayama called Kapalbhati See this you tube link for an example .

And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, we had to do standing balancing postures on a hill.  Whilst doing Kapalbhati breathing.

At one point the teacher made the comment that this was very good exercise for the belly.

Before looking at youngest child and saying pointedly “Of course, you don’t have a belly”.

Don’t know what he was implying. 🙂

And then just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse he did a…

Chakra Reading.

I’m not sure what I expected.

But I know I didn’t expect to be sat in a room, just him, me and youngest child

Having to take turns chanting a 7 line long mantra.

Anyone who knows me will know I am vocally challenged.

But to my horror, and for some unknown reason, Halfway through, I found myself chanting in a pub singer stylee.

Occasionally throwing in a Mariah Carey type falsetto wobble, just for a bit of variety.

I could see the corner of the teachers eye twitching.

But reader, I found myself unable to stop.

We were all relieved when the session came to an end.

India.  It’s going to be an interesting journey.
  

 

Yogic Lit

I realise that I am in danger of becoming a yoga bore.

So I promise this will be the last time I mention it.

For a little while a least.

Probably.

But I have been asked for recommendations for books on yoga.

And given that I’m a Librarian with a degree in history, my ability to source books on yoga far surpasses my ability to actually do it 🙂

So coming at this as a complete beginner, the following have been really useful additions to the bookshelf.

And I’m sure sitting reading them with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit counts towards self practice time.

Svadhyaya, (tick), Pratyahara (tick), dharana (tick)

See, well on the way to enlightenment already.

Books to help with the Physical Practice

 The Ashtanga Yoga Practice Manual by David Swenson.  I’ve found this absolutely invaluable.  Clear photos and written descriptions of the asanas, together with variations for the more flexibly challenged.  I still struggle with so many of the postures but at least with this book my brain can get what   I’m supposed to be doing even if my body isn’t interested in joining in yet.

 Yoga Mala by the originator of Ashtanga Yoga, Pattabhi Jois.  If I’m honest I really prefer David Swensons book, but it is interesting to read a text that weaves together the physical and spiritual elements of the practice. And makes incredible claims for the healing power of yoga.

image Having freaky fingers that bend the wrong way and are also double jointed I am fascinated by mudras.

Yay, postures I have half a chance of being able to do.

This is a really good introduction to a selection of the hundreds of different hand positions that focus on different physical, mental and spiritual attributes. Nice clear photos and written descriptions.

Integration/Philosophy

image Still working my way through this one.  But as I am trying develop both a daily asana self-practice , and to integrate other elements of yoga into my life, this is a useful set of pointers and discussions.

image I love this book, it really makes me laugh (the description of the young boy who claimed to have awoken his Kundalini energy being given a good slap and told to get a grip by Iyengar is particularly memorable) as well as being thought-provoking and full of wisdom.image This is absolutely fascinating.  A bit “photo-journalist”, but given it’s a topic I knew little about that was fine.  The photos are amazing, and the descriptions of how these men (and it is largely men) live and journey towards enlightenment are even more so.  A word of warning, if you are male and read this book, be aware that some of the photos (I’m thinking in particular of one that shows them lifting heavy stones without using their normal four limbs) will make your eyes water.

image Be Here Now by Ram Dass.  Well, I’ve included this because it comes under the heading of “interesting”.

Dass was a renowned Harvard academic & psychologist who worked with Timothy Leary “researching” the use of mind altering substances such as LSD.

Not sure how academically rigorous the research actually was.

Anyway, the first part of the book is a really interesting autobiographical description of Dass seeking spiritual enlightenment, first through psychology, then through drugs, and then through his wanderings in India.  This is absolutely fascinating.

The second part of the book is a series of stream-of-consciousness statements and drawings which I must admit I struggled with as it reminded me too much of some “deep and meaningful” album covers I spent too much time analysing as an angst-ridden teen goth.

Lots of people swear by it as a starting point for their own spiritual journey.

but I think I’ll stick with The Sisters of Mercy

Breath

image I’m just starting on this, but have high hopes it will prevent a recurrence of the hair ball incident (see previous post) and my tendency to sound like Darth Vader during his death scene in Star Wars  VI.

Fiction

Who knew there would be such a rich seam of yogic fic. to tap into?

image Yes it’s chick lit, but it’s very very funny.  And the descriptions of the heroines first forays into a yoga class are hilarious.

And so true to life.

image I’ve mentioned this before, but it so good, and as someone who struggles with meditation this did offer hope that if I persevere  one day my mind may stay focused for longer than three seconds (and yep, See previous posts about meditation)

image  I really hated this book.  But if you like the sort of self-obsessed, narcissistic works of Eat, Pray, Love and the like then you’ll probably like this.  Marketing executive decides there is more to life than image and goes off in search of enlightenment by staying in posh ashrams with beautiful people.  It made me so cross I gave up half way through, but perhaps it gets better later on.

Maybe.

And just to finish off….Ayurveda

image Ayurveda is a sister discipline to yoga.  It works on the assumption that we have different body types, made up of a mixture of the doshas vata, pitta and kapha.  If these doshas become imbalanced then you will have illness -physical, mental or spiritual.  Ayurveda is a system designed to help you keep your life in balance.

There are much more complete guides to Ayurveda out there.  But if you want a light, easy introduction to the topic, this is a good staring point.

Beltane fire

A happy Beltane to you all.

Turning the wheel.

Moving from spring to summer. 

 A hot, sunny British summer.

I can tell this from the way I’ve just had to dig out my woolly gloves again this morning.

Ahem.

This Week I Have Mostly Been Reading

   Clovenhoof by Heide Goody and Iain Grant.

I can’t stress enough how hilariously brilliant this book is.

Oldest child kept telling me off for laughing out loud so much and spoiling his gaming concentration.

Shame.

The devil is banished to earth for failing to meet productivity targets.

Imagine a book that combines the farcical elements of Tom Sharpe with a strong awareness of the minutiae (and sometimes ludicrousness) of church law and custom.  

Throw in a healthy dose of the anarchy and heresy of (one of my favourite films) Dogma.

Set it all in Sutton Coldfield.

Just brilliant.

So brilliant that I immediately downloaded and read the other three volumes the authors have produced so far -Pigeonwings (Archangel Micheal similarly banished to Sutton Coldfield), Satans Shorts (short stories on the trials and tribulations of Michael and Satan) and GodSquad (Saints Christopher, Francis and Joan of Arc sent as an A team to earth in response to a prayer from a soulless anarchist. Yes Really.)

Can’t wait for the next volume to be published later this year 🙂

Next Week I Will Mostly Be Reading

   The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.

Love, lust, mystery and dolls houses in 17th century Amsterdam.

Cool.

Je ne regrette rien

Day two in Paris.

Definitely a day of contrasts.

A morning spent browsing the vintage markets at Porte de Clignancourt.

An eclectic mix of everything from stuffed zebras to the finest silverware.  

And everything you can think of in between!

Then a mad dash across to a distinctly un touristy part of Paris to try to find a Hammam we had booked in to for the afternoon.

A nice man stopped to help us find our way.

“You want to go there?” he said when he saw the street we were pointing to on the map.  

In a tone that said “why on earth do you want to go there?”

Fills you full of confidence.

But the Hammam was lovely.

Two us had the gommage.

Which basically involved being scrubbed down with a Brillo pad.

One of us had the massage.

Which involved wearing a pair of small tiny plastic pants.

And being vigorously pummelled by a nice young man.

Naming no names but Julie definitely left with a smile on her face 😉

   

 

Will post about our evening later!

…In the Air

Happy Valentines Day 🙂

Yoga yesterday.

We had to do a pose that involved sitting on the floor, one leg pulled back, knee bent, to the chest.

then you had to slip an arm through the crook of the bent knee, twist the arm behind the back, take the other arm behind the back and clasp hands, and then casually straighten the bent leg so it was waving nonchalantly in the air.

all the while focussing on drishti and engaging bhandas.

what popped in to my head?

a roomful of cats all poised to, erm, wash themselves

You can see the meditation practice is doing a fine job of helping me control my thought processes. 🙂

So. Valentines Day. And what could be more appropriate then chocolate?

Gooey chocolate muffins with a gooey chocolate centre and gooey chocolate topping. With just a hint of orange to break up all that gooey ness a smidgen.

Perfect for a day that makes otherwise sane people go gooey.

You will need
80g softened butter
280g caster sugar
200g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
A sprinkling of salt
1tbsp baking powder
2 eggs
240ml milk
1 tsp orange essence
Grated zest of 1 small orange.

For the icing and filling
1 chocolate orange (175g) or a bar of orange infused chocolate such as Maya gold if you want to be a bit more upmarket
Plain chocolate to make the quantity of chocolate up to 250g
250ml double cream

Preheat oven to Gas 5, 190C

Cream together the butter and sugar then add the flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder. The texture will be very grainy, this is fine.

Ina jug mix together the eggs, milk, orange essence and zest.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix together very well until you have a lovely, smooth batterimage

Spoon into muffin cases and bake for about 20 minutes. When cool enough to touch, place on a wire rack and let them cool completely before going any further.

To make the filling/icing, chop up the chocolates
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And place in a bowl. Put the cream into a saucepan and heat until nearly boiling, then pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Give it a stir and then leave for a few minutes for the chocolate to melt before stirring again to combine thoroughly. Allow to cool.

Take your now cooled cupcakes
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and with a sharp knife cut out a cork-shaped and sized lump from the middle of the cupcake
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Fill the hole with the chocolate & cream ganache and replace the plug of cake, trimming it if need be.
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Top with a generous, artistically swirled blob of ganache and adorn with more zest or whatever other sprinkles you fancy and happen to have to hand.

I would have inserted a picture of the completed cupcakes, but they seemed to disappear. Strange.

Eat and enjoy.

Time for tea

The last two mornings I have got up early and gone for a run.

That noise you can hear?  That’s the sound of people who know me falling over in a dead faint.

I don’t do running.

And as I was running around the park this morning I thought to myself

 

“I don’t DO running”

and then “why am I here?”

 

and then “I want to go hoooooommmmeee”

But, I’ve been reading recently.

and that can be a dangerous thing.

so according to this

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I (along with most of the western world) have a biological age that is 18 years older than my chronological age.

Which makes me over 60.

But given the effect that 90minutes of Ashtanga on Friday followed by two early morning runs on Saturday and Sunday has had on my body, 95 would be a positively flattering estimate.

This can’t be good for you!

And then, and then, of course, is the ‘news’ that all sugar is evil, the work of the devil, and responsible for everything that is wrong in the world today.

So what is a girl to do?

Lavender and Honey Scones

No sugar (ahem) and it contains plant matter so it can count as one of your five seven a day.

Take 375g self raising flour and sift it into a bowl. Take 2heaped teaspoons of culinary lavender flowers and grind in a pestle and mortar or blitz in a processor

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Add the lavender to the flour and mix well.

Now add 2 tablespoons of runny honey and mix well, and then to this slightly sticky mix add 80g of butter. Use your finger tips to mix in until it resembles breadcrumbs

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Add between 150-200ml of milk – add a bit at a time, you don’t want it too sticky, but also try not to overwork the dough or the scones will be heavy. Once the dough has come together, turn it out onto a floured surface and press down.

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Cut out your circles and place on a baking tray. Brush with milk if you like.

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Bake in an oven, preheated to 220C gas 7 (200c if fan assisted), for about 15 minutes until golden.

I remember having Lavender ice cream when we were in Provence many years ago.
Sounds lovely doesn’t it?
Imagine eating frozen perfume and you get close to the experience.

These scones are not like that. The lavender is subtle and adds just a hint of fragrance to the scone.

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They go very well with strawberry jam

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And that ups the score to 2 of your 7 a day!

Result!

🙂

Ticking

The clock that is.

It’s the Craft Fayre at Hatton Country World this weekend.

I have now officially run out of time.

What a relief 🙂

After yoga today I think I am incapable of lifting even a needle.
I was placed in a bind (no way I could have got myself into it) and the only way it was going to end was by my poinging out of it like a jack out of the box.

And so it came to pass.

Lucky I didn’t take someone’s eye out in the process.

Anyway, if you are near Hatton Country World this weekend, the Craft Fayre is on Saturday and Sunday so pop by and say hello.

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Why?

This morning I got up early to go running with oldest child. We managed 2/3 of a mile around the park.

As I was running, with all the grace of a balletic hippo, I thought “why?”

Why do people do this to themselves?

It’s not fun.

But then, as I lay on the Tarmac, gasping for air like a cod on the quayside, I realised why.

It feels so darned good when you stop.

Raspberry and White Chocolate Scones

These came about as a result of a chat I had with Averil (Hi Averil) on Thursday.

Mention was made of a bakers oop north who make amazing raspberry and white chocolate scones.

I just couldn’t get those scones out of my head (Na Na Na, naa Na naa naa Na, Na Na Na,naa naa Na naa naa)

And so, here’s the first attempt at making a southern softy version

You will need

225g self raising flour
Pinch salt
50g butter
25g sugar
75g raspberries
75g white chocolate
1 egg, beaten mixed with milk to make 150ml liquid

Heat the oven to 220C/Gas 7
Grease a baking tray
Mix flour and salt.
Rub in butter until it is like fine breadcrumbs.
Stir in sugar and fruit. Chop the chocolate and add. Stir well but try not to mush the raspberries.

Add the egg/milk mixture and mix together to form a stiff dough.

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Place on a floured board. Flatten slightly. You can try cutting out shapes with a cutter but this is quite a wet mixture so I found just hacking with a knife was more effective.

Place on the baking tray

Brush the tops of the scones with the dregs of the egg/milk mixture.

Bake for about 12 minutes.

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Now I know they look a bit, um, rustic, but they taste good. The sharpness of the raspberries contrasts really well with the sweet white chocolate.

And at least they don’t look like cow pats 🙂

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Linen, Lavender and Old Lace

I glimpse tiny flecks of dust reflecting the late afternoon sunlight as it shines through the open French doors. The faint hint of lavender scented beeswax, caught as a hand brushes the well loved oak desk. The welcoming smell of fresh bread baking in the oven, waiting for hungry children to return from school. I open the aged white armoire and run my fingers over the neatly stacked piles of vintage linen, admiring the shelves lined with delicately patterned old papers and edged in fine hand made lace. Trying to choose, amongst so many treasures, which crisp cottons to sleep on tonight.

Or at least that’s what happens in my other life. The one in the alternative reality that plays in my head, where I homeschool two angelic children who call me Mama (not Mum, or even Muuuummm), who embrace project based learning with glee and enthusiasm instead of rolled eyes, and home life is a haven of calm and vintage and handcrafted goodness. Yes, that life.

My real life involves, not a vintage armoire but, deep breath, THIS

20130917-203145.jpgTurmoil.. When opened you must play in your head the soundtrack to the shower scene in Psycho “waap, waap, waap” and prepare to battle unravelling sheets and blankets as they attempt to drag you in and eat you.

You think I jest.

But today the time came to fight back. To reclaim the turf. To tame the beasts that lived within.

It wasn’t pretty, there may even have been tears (mine) at one point. But. BUT. The beast is vanquished.

20130917-203743.jpglace edges shelves!

20130917-203811.jpgbaskets!

20130917-203850.jpglace-tied, lavender scented bundles of table linen!

The airing cupboard isn’t the vintage armoire of my alternate reality. But it’ll do for now. 🙂

Family ties

I know very little about my family. Oh, I know my mum and dad very well, but beyond that – very little. My Mums mother died when she was a baby

20130915-203220.jpgMy maternal grandmother. My Mum was estranged from her father and stepmother, and didn’t really keep in touch with her sister and step sister. They grew up during the war years and life, hard life, got in the way of family.

My dad’s father died when he was about the age my oldest is now. His mother, my Nana, died when I was 6. I have so few memories of her.

20130915-203338.jpgNana

I always meant to ask my parents about their families, but somehow, although we did talk about them sometimes, the in depth recording never happened. My dad died 9 years ago tomorrow; my Mum, with Alzheimer’s, can’t remember the 50 years she spent with my father, never mind the minutiae of relatives and addresses from her past. So much of their shared history together, and the history of our families is lost now.

So now, when it’s almost too late, I’m going to try and record what I can. My winter project, if you like, though I think this has the potential to take years rather than a season. And I’ll record new family memories and traditions too, so that my children will have that sense of home and belonging that has often eluded me.

20130915-204734.jpgmy paternal grandparents.