Turn on, tune in, drop out

Music is becoming an increasingly important part of my gap year preparations.  In the transition from CDs to streaming and Spotify, I’d kind of forgotten how much I enjoy pottering around the house with music on and how relaxing it is to cook or do the packed lunches with some tunes.  I’d also forgotten how much I love to sing.  Last night I took to the mic for the first time in about ten years, and sang some folk songs with Gallant Grandpa at Boston Tea Party’s Play On.  It was great to sing about feisty young women of the 17th century, and I tested out my red lippy again which was fun.  It definitely is like putting on an instant slick of confidence (thank you YSL!)

Going to see live music was a massive part of my teenage years in Leeds, and I had the privilege of seeing both Madonna and U2 outdoors at Roundhay Park.  I now have two live music events to look forward to in the gap year – The Dixie Chicks at the O2 next year and Farmfest in August.  After singing last night, GH and I watched a brilliant BBC documentary about the evolution of music festivals and it really inspired me about the heady mix of hope, politics, fields, music and dancing (Bad Brain means no recreational drugs on my menu!)

For the last few months I’ve been challenging my vocal cords and sight-reading skills in a local jazz choir, Harmoni.  It’s so much fun practising discordant harmonies and lots of “doo-be-doos” as we work through the arrangements together.  I’ll be getting out that red lippy again for our performance at the local community centre in July.  Using the musical side of my brain is so relaxing and such an antidote to busy days of writing as I finish my contract with Action on Postpartum Psychosis.  If music be the food of love, let’s play on.

Getting my ducks in a row

It’s been three months now since the night of the life-changing pizza.  My gap year doesn’t ‘officially’ start until September this year, when Little One starts school, but I have found it really useful to have some preparation time.  Getting my meds right has been a critical step in feeling ready for a year of letting go of career-me and embracing different aspects of my personality.

When I first started thinking about the expanse of time I would have on my hands with Little One at school, frankly I was terrified.  I was worried about feeling lonely and housebound, and I’m not a natural home-maker so the thought of hours of housework made me feel flat and purposeless.  Something has definitely shifted as I’ve regained energy and enthusiasm with the change of meds and the change of seasons.  The house feels like it is coming back to life again with fresh flowers in vases, new artwork on display (made by both myself and the girls) and with a greater sense of order and tidiness.  I’m coming to accept that there will probably always be the odd squashed frozen pea on the kitchen floor, crumbs in the living room and Eldest will keep adding to her ‘floordrobe’ of dirty clothes… but I care more now and have the energy to whizz around doing a quick tidy or a load of laundry.

I’ve also come to learn that I am a creature that thrives on a bit of routine and a lot of spontenaity.  I’ve found a yoga package with Lotus Loft where I can attend my regular Hatha class but also drop in to other classes on a whim.  I’m still mulling over a regular day a week volunteering in the Cancer Research shop in our town, and probably one other weekly class such as painting or flower arranging.  The rest of the time I’m going to enjoy the freedom to be spontaneous – to cycle to Budleigh Salterton and have a swim in the sea, to drop in to an open art session at my local Mind, to sit around the fire at Escot with the Bridge Collective or to enjoy peaceful space to cook at home.

I’m excited that I also have variations on some of the more ambitious suggestions from my Facebook friends lined up.  I’m not going to organise a festival, but I am going to this one with a brilliant friend from Leeds University days so you’ll find me stocking up on fringed crochet cardigans and flowered headbands in a few weeks!  Renovating a building is probably outside the gap year budget but I do plan to renovate the girls’ bedrooms and have been gradually gathering ideas.  Eldest is going for a beach theme with a turquoise blue feature wall, and I’m planning a butterfly garden look for Little One’s room. She has told me in no uncertain terms that she wants a pink wall!  It feels good to have it in my sights now to tackle the black mould that affects these rooms in our poorly ventilated 1970’s house, and to refresh both of their play spaces after a few years of neglect.

Encouragement for this year of nurturing myself and my family has come from so many people along the way.  To all of the Facebook friends who took time to comment and inspire me, I’m truly grateful.  To my running club buddies and yoga teachers, you are helping me to get my body stronger and my head clearer.  I’m thankful too for conversations with cafe owners and shopkeepers who I’ve shared a bit of my story with along the way.  Finally, the blogosphere has been immensely supportive and I’ve made it to 100 likes this month!  Writing has been a great way to make this experiment feel more tangible and real, I look forward to sharing more of it with you. x

Recovery recipes

Gallant Husband is having a few weeks learning how to be an invalid after hernia surgery.  Little One has been surprisingly understanding about his ‘tummy holes’ from the keyhole surgery and is refraining from using him as a human climbing frame! Eldest is teasing him about his shuffle and uniform of pyjamas…

We’ve had a couple of delicious meals focusing on protein for muscle repair (!) so I thought I’d share them with you

Spiced roast chicken with vegetable freekeh

  • 1 free range chicken
  • Salt, garlic powder, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper
  • 100g freekeh (green wheat)
  • 1 glass white wine
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 1 red pepper
  • bunch radishes, diced
  • green beans, finely sliced

Roast the chicken coated in the spices for 1-2 hours depending on size

Take the chicken out of the oven to rest

Deglaze the chicken roasting tin with a glass of white wine

Pour in the vegetable stock

Cook the freekeh with the stock for 15 minutes

Meanwhile, steam the green beans and sear the red pepper over a hob flame

When the freekeh is cooked, drain and reserve the cooking stock for gravy

Stir the roasted red pepper, steamed beans and radishes into the freekeh and serve with the roast chicken

Lamb and pearled spelt hotpot

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 500g minced lamb
  • handful pearled spelt or pearled barley
  • 3 sticks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • vegetable stock cube
  • worcestershire sauce
  • soy sauce
  • herbes de provence
  • 2 large potatoes, thinly sliced

Fry the onion, celery and pepper in olive oil over a medium heat for 10 minutes

Brown the lamb along with the vegetables, and add the vegerable stock, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and herbs

Stir in the pearled spelt or pearled barley and bring to the boil

Top with sliced potatoes and bake in a low oven for 1.5 hours

Barefoot in the kitchen

With my trusty ancient copy of Cordon Rouge in hand, I’ve spent a peaceful afternoon cooking today.  A dear friend is going away on holiday and I wanted to make something delicious for her to take to the cottage.  I’ve been practising ‘slowment’ as I cook, a concept shared with me by a wonderful colleague from my Rethink days.  Bare feet touching the floor, I’ve taken the time to dice the vegetables slowly and purposefully, enjoying every sensation.  With accompaniment from Molten Meditation it’s felt a very Zen way to cook, in comparison with my normal flurry of pots and pans.  It’s a rare treat for me to take time out to cook without Little One tangled around my feet asking if she can help out!

The Cordon Rouge cookbook came from a (sadly now departed) cafe called The Red Herring from my Newcastle Uni days. The vegetarian and vegan food there was out of this world, and the whole place ran on ‘love, pure love’ as a worker’s co-operative.  When I cook one of their recipes it instantly transports me back to the feeling of wellbeing and comfort promoted by the delicious food and the staff.  Recently, I’ve found my goodgirlgapyear solution to Red Herring nostalgia; Herbies vegetarian cafe in Exeter.  The most fantastic dhal and delicious salads, an incredibly warm welcome (especially for Little One) and free cakes with a drink before 12pm.  It’s the perfect way to round off my day when I pop into Exeter for yoga.

What did I cook while barefoot in the kitchen?  Well that’s a surprise for my special friend.  If you love veggie food, I’d definitely recommend treating yourself to a copy of this legendary book. x

The Tao of Tangled

This is the story of how I died. But, don’t worry, this is actually a fun story and the truth is it isn’t even mine. This is the story of a girl named Rapunzel, and it starts with the sun. Now, once upon a time, a single drop of sunlight fell from the heavens. And from this small drop of sun grew a magic, golden flower. It had the ability to heal the sick and injured.

Disney’s retelling of the story of Rapunzel has always been very special to me.  Almost five years ago we took Eldest to see it in glorious 3D while Little One was in hospital.  I think the story of a tiny baby with magic golden hair which could heal and restore felt all the more poignant as we had come so close to losing our own baby girl.

I don’t believe in ‘magic flowers’ any more – the lines between truth and reality were somewhat blurred for me in those days as I struggled to manage my own relapse of postpartum psychosis – but I do still believe in happy endings.  Restoration, healing, love, families being put back together.

My heart soars every time I watch the scene where Eugene and Rapunzel sit in their little boat on the water and watch thousands of floating lanterns.  I still believe in a Father who doesn’t give up on us; who sends out thousands of lanterns every year in the hope of calling us back to Him.  I believe that dreams can come true and sometimes, Like Eugene, we need a new dream.

Shin splints

Body, you are trying to tell me something

When I rush it, guns blazing

You complain.

You are teaching me

Pace, gentleness

Time, spaciousness

Bones, you are taking your own sweet time to strengthen

Just like my heart, my mind

Recovery and rest hand in hand

A spring supper

Thought you might like this, a very green ‘speltotto’ recipe to celebrate the joys of late spring.

1 red onion

2 cloves garlic

250g pearled spelt

1 litre chicken stock

1 glass white wine

bunch asparagus, sliced into 3 cm pieces

3 courgettes, grated

pecorino or parmesan cheese

1 tsp lemon thyme

  • fry the onion and garlic over a low heat for 5-10 mins
  • add a glass of wine and the spelt, simmer til absorbed
  • add half the chicken stock, the lemon thyme and simmer til absorbed
  • meanwhile, fry the courgettes and asparagus with a pinch of salt
  • add the remaining half of the chicken stock to the spelt
  • when absorbed, mix the spelt and vegetables together
  • serve with pecorino or parmesan

Yum x