Hot Milk: The Book not the Beverage

IMG_3506

They say you can’t judge a book by its… instagram likes – but I think marketing gurus everywhere may beg to differ. Personally, I picked up Hot Milk by Deborah Levy solely because of its inclusion in a wonderfully curated flatlay by Alex Stedman aka @thefrugality, a current girl crush of mine – #influenced!!! Hey, I like her style, what’s to say I won’t like her book choices? And, as stupid reasons for impulse buys go, this one worked out pretty well.

This is a book where wisdom is sprinkled with weirdness, and ambiguity abounds but doesn’t particularly distract. It is thematically relevant to the contemporary reader and, although you are aware there is an underlying complexity and possibly missed symbolism, it is still a quick and engaging read.

IMG_3508.JPG

Hot Milk is set in Almería, Southern Spain in 2015. It is narrated by Sofia – a 25 year old Englishwoman – who is in equal parts endearing and infuriating. Despite being a little older than the norm for the genre, this is really Sofia’s “coming of age” story.

You see, Sofia’s mother suffers from a myriad of inexplicable health issues, quite likely the psychosomatic symptoms of  long-term hypochondria. Sofia has been a carer all her life, but seems often to be little more than a punching bag for her mother’s frustration. Deserted by a wealthy Greek father, both mother and daughter appear to have residual abandonment issues, and their subsequent co-dependant realtionship is both dysfunctional and problematic. I found this unromantic and heartbreakingly realistic – children who become carers and/or surrogate partners can often struggle to cut the chord, to take a vital step back and pursue their own adult life. If they do attempt to forge some independence, the dependant parent can oftentimes fight to keep the bond taut and tight – fearful of losing their human crutch. As both Sofia and her mother are too close to really judge the situation, we figure all this out for ourselves – there is a pattern but the reader must join the dots.

Sofia and her mother have travelled to Spain, at enormous personal expense, to receive treatment at a private clinic run by a vagabond clinician named Gómez. He is either a quack or a genius but he offers what those who are desperate will travel to the ends of the earth for – hope when conventional medicine has failed. In the wake of the Charlie Gard tragedy, the contemporary thematic relevance is as clear as the waters of the Indian Ocean. Here in Ireland, where daily newspapers report on how families will sacrifice their life savings for medicinal cannibas treatment or risky clinical trials abroad, the story also resonates.  £25,000 to Dr. Gómez – a small price to pay for an answer, a pittance to pay for a cure!

IMG_3497.JPG

The exploration of modern universal themes does not end there – Sofia uses the time in Spain to experiment with her sexual orientation – pursuing “relationships” with a beautiful German creative named Ingrid, and Juan, a sweet Spanish boy who works at the beach. Her emotional immaturity seems to make falling in love at best a long shot, and you get the impression she has a lot to figure out about herself first. Like what does one do with academic qualifications in Anthropology? And how do you stop practicing this study of humanity and start living your life with humanity? Sofia’s plight, as a highly educated graduate, earning a living working as a barista, will also resonate with many. She has a 1st class honours degree. She has a masters. She is contemplating a Phd. But when a form asks for her occupation – her confusion subtly hits on a deeper reality for many highly educated young people  – the struggle to carve out an actual career. She opts to fill in “Monster” – I like her style!!!!

IMG_3511.JPG

Personally, I found this to be a book filled with imperfections – some poorly drawn characters, some odd relationships, a regular sense that I was missing some deeper meaning. But all that aside, I really enjoyed the read. It was quick, wonderfully  poetic and generally realistic and universally relatable.  A quality summer read, that will linger on after the final page is turned. The Guardian used the adjective “hypnotic”, it’s not a mile from the mark, xo.

Advertisements

Book Review: All We Shall Know

IMG_2989

I’m reading again. I had stopped, well almost stopped. And that is a crazy statement from someone like me. I was always one of those types who got in trouble for reading too much…. reading when I should be playing outside, reading when I should be tidying my room, reading when I should be eating dinner. Some of my strongest childhood memories are intrinsically linked with works of Enid Blyton, and I always wonder how the boarding school industry survived without the exquisite marketing of the Malory Towers girls or the twins at St. Claire’s. A world full all ginger beer laden midnight feasts and sneaky adventures… leaving bookworms everywhere begging to be shipped off to school (head teachers the world over could be heard breathing a collective sigh of relief when Harry went to Hogwarts).

But this bookworm stayed at home, learning about life and love from the pages of Judy Blume. Who can remember hiding Forever under mattresses as it was passed around convent school classrooms? Our generation’s answer to Edna O’Brien’s Country Girl or D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Months of my teenage life were spent following the fate of Joan Lingard’s Kevin and Sadie as they aimed to break down sectarian barricades in Northern Ireland or engrossed in the drivel that made up the Sweet Valley High Series.

As you can see I wasn’t always the most refined reader – but I was always a reader. Lately however, I found myself lacking not so much the time but the energy to read. Life was busy, the pull of social media strong and my physical surroundings far from comfortable. But now that things are calmer, cleaner and prettier, I am both reading and writing once more – the 3 month holiday helps I admit!!

IMG_2999

And so to the point of this post – I have finished my first read of summer and here are my thoughts on Donal Ryan’s All We Shall Know.

Honestly, I turned every page hating what I was reading, wanting to put it down but unable to look away. It sounds trite to say I was gripped from the opening lines but in this case it’s true:

“Martin Toppy is the son of a famous Traveller and the father of my unborn child. He’s seventeen, I’m thirty-three. I was his teacher.”

I was hooked.

Interestingly, the novel that follows is not really plot driven, and Martin Toppy has at best a small, supporting role. This is not his story. It is the story of Melody Shee, the pregnant teacher who narrates this tale, and she is a woman for whom it is hard to muster any sympathy. This would not normally appeal to me, as I like to feel I have a protagonist to root for. But there is a grit and a reality to Ryan’s beautifully controlled prose that makes you invest emotionally even in characters you fundamentally dislike. His ability to write from the perspective of a pregnant woman, whose story defies stereotypes, is the strength of this book. I always worry when a male author tries to assume the narrative voice of a woman, especially one who is pregnant and confused, but I felt Ryan’s refusal to sugar-coat either the marriage of Melody and her husband Pat, or the moment of conception with Martin Toppy, made me believe in the voice of Melody. From here the book was on to a winner.

During her pregnancy Melody’s story becomes entwined with that of a young Traveller girl, Mary Crothery. A review I read a while back, I think it was in The Guardian, was critical of this element of the novel, feeling the portrayal of the Travelling community to be a tad lazy and stereotypical. I wholeheartedly disagree. Although I wasn’t blown away by the characterisation of Mary, I thought the depiction of the the modern Irish Travelling community was truthful, balanced and emotionally strong. Marginalisation, ongoing prejudice, a quest for education (or at least literacy), the treatment of women, infertility, the grudge culture and the prevalence of violence were all aspects of this life that were explored. I think all these issues are still real and present in the life of many Irish Travellers. I think the mutual suspicion with which the Travelling and Settled communities regard each other also remains today  – a reality Ryan observed without feeling the need to moralise too much. Pretending things to be different would be being led by the politically correct agenda – a road Ryan never allows himself to be diverted down.

Like his stunning debut novel The Spinning Heart, this unflinching realism is where Ryan excels. He creates an Ireland we might wish did not exist, and a type of society that we may wish we had moved beyond. But we can identify. And that’s uncomfortable. And it makes us ask hard questions of ourselves and our world. And that is exceptional writing. This is not a work to make you smile, but a piece to make you think. Give it a try and don’t worry, because for all the grit there is also a place for sympathy, redemption and powerful friendship. Pick up a copy, grab a coffee and allow yourself to become immersed.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did, xo.

 

Celebrate Yourself….

“We can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.” (The Mill on the Floss)

IMG_2356.JPG

The classics can be a drag to read sometimes (and that sacrilegious declaration comes from a teacher of English) but they invariably conceal hidden diamonds in the rough rock, like the above kernel of wisdom from George Eliot. Eons before mindfulness was a thing, or wellness a cliché, Eliot realised that every now and then we need to actively search out the things that make us happy. Simple? Yes. So why in the mania that is modern life do we so often put our own happiness last?

I don’t really have the answer, but I do accept that sometimes only you can be the rainbow on your own cloudy day and, if it feels like the sun isn’t shining for you, maybe you need to take proactive steps to reverse the unwelcome climate change.

Personally,there was quite a lot of grey in the kaleidoscope of my life this past month. We are renovating a house we are living in – not for the lovers of luxury (or sanity) I can assure you – and there were evenings with no heat, walls with exposed wiring, more dust than you can imagine and not a floor to be seen that didn’t have a hole in it for some reason. This, combined with fairly miserable weather, spiralling costs and a workload that is barely sustainable, and you will see how the sunniest of dispositions could be a bit more muted than normal.

But with days lengthening, the chill in the air dissipating and life simply being too short for self-pity, there comes a time to take control and seek out the beauty and the light. A time to hunger after the beautiful and the good. So here’s a few options I am favouring to inject a little colour into the dusty reality that can sometimes settle just about everywhere.

summer

Take More Walks:

If the problem is the grimness of the four walls that are currently surrounding you – get out of the house and see the beauty that is everywhere. I know the walls won’t be bare forever, the new floors will be stunning soon, the kitchen will once again be my sanctuary, but in the meantime I need to remember that if I don’t love what is in my eye-line, then I can just avert my gaze. So I’ve been doing it, getting out more and seeing the beauty in the ordinary, the sensational in the simple and the little winks of wonder from a natural world awakening for winter and bursting into spring. Take a look…..

Pamper, pamper, pamper:

Do something just for you! Something relaxing, something fun, something a little self-indulgent. For me it was a morning at the hairdressers and, to be fair, it was well overdue. I have to say I chose well with this one. I was home in Kerry and decided to check out a salon I have liked the look of for ages and I was really not disappointed. From the cute decor, to the cupcake and coffee with vintage reading material, it was exactly what I was craving. The stylist was also lovely and my tired locks were rejuvenated just the way I wanted – a real success. A reason to smile.

Enjoy a Date Night:

My husband will cringe at the phrase…. but I am afraid that’s what it is when a couple venture out on their own to do something recreational together!!! It doesn’t really  matter what you do – it matters that you take the time to do it. Consume some art – a movie, a piece of theatre, a gallery visit. Drink a cocktail. Eat great food. Go to a gig. Basically whatever floats your boat. For us it has been a mixture of all of the above. Prior to Lent (weird Catholic self-deprivation ritual) there were some cocktails. Alternatively, there is always room in my world for dinner or lunch somewhere delicious. And, as we are currently booze free (more a personal than a religious penance tbh) and on a very tight budget, we are seeing some movies to unwind. Last week it was Loving (I think the trailer really has all the highlights of this one – although I did quite enjoy it) and tonight we are going to try Moonlight. Cheap cinema tickets and a tub of popcorn – remember it’s the simple things.

 

I guess the moral of today’s story is that it doesn’t matter what you do, but if you feel like you need to do something to inject some cheer into your soul – then do it. You deserve it. We all do. Anne Frank (who was scarily wise for one so young) said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” I think we can paraphrase and revel in the reality that we need not wait a single moment to improve our own world, just for us, just because we are worth it. Find the light, see the beauty ..have a happy Sunday xo

athlone

Life after TV….

124

32075816076_0e74ff801bOf all the slightly bizarre things I have done in life, none seem to have bemused people as much as getting rid of our television set. It evokes really strong reactions in people, although it has no impact whatsoever on their lives. It shocks people, upsets people and almost angers them. Many doubters rolled their eyes and predicted we would last a month at most. Some seemed to think we needed a psychiatric assessment. More that our marriage would not survive so radical a move. There seemed to be an impression that we would be surrounded by a wall of silence and spend our evenings staring at walls or into the open fire. But it really is not as tragic as all that.

Firstly, the reason behind the madness. Basically, we had found that the TV had become constant background noise in our lives, an inanimate object that had gained the stature of a family member. If it was quiet it was worrying, so it was always flickering and murmuring in the background. It demanded attention, baiting the eye, even when it had nothing worthwhile to offer in return.

Our decision was finally made when we reflected on our viewing habits and had to admit that we were essentially watching little other than re-runs of shows that we knew almost by heart – Frasier, Two and a Half Men, Friends and other 90’s sitcoms. I also had a penchant for some pure chewing-gum TV like Made in Chelsea and Keeping up with the Kardashians, offerings that my world can surely survive without. Yet there it was, requiring its own licence, guzzling energy,  but not really contributing enough to warrant 50 inches of space, in our new and rather tiny abode. So that was it – we moved to our new house and sent the TV to a different geographical location. Now we live sans gogglebox.

But let’s keep things in perspective; it is not as if we have reverted to a bygone era, where we huddle around the wireless, awaiting news from the outside world. We don’t, although there is a wireless. It’s weird but I feel the constant need to reassure those struggling with our decision that we do have  Netflix, albeit the most basic package, so only for use on one device at a time. And I hear those of you smugly now thinking….sure that’s TV!!! And I don’t argue; remember this was a casual enough decision to us and not one that seemed any big deal. I don’t claim to never watch a series or a movie – that was never what this was about. There is just far less of it, and it is far more focused.

thecrowntrailer

And that’s the main difference. We don’t consume Netflix in the same way as we did traditional television. In my experience Netflix, for all its promotion of the binge watching epidemic, requires some active decision making on the part of the viewer. It is not about constant random flicking, and we have never left it on when no one is watching it. There is also a greater tendency to go for new, good quality productions and, while I have to admit to watching very little of late, my husband has been very taken with The Crown and more recently The People vs OJ Simpson. But our use of Netflix is more conscious, less passive, and we watch it very sparingly.

We also….wait for it….. READ BOOKS.

Actual books made from paper and even borrowed from a library….it is all delightfully booksquaint.  And yet I am not reading anything as much as I would like – my phone may need to go out the window for that – but I do read on a daily basis, and with the benefit of giving the piece of writing my full attention. Having never really got the huge fuss about The Alchemist, I am currently loving Paulo Coelo’s The Zahir. It is the simple wisdom that peppers the pages that I am enjoying, particularly gems like this:

“It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.”

And we listen to music, currently a lot of vinyl, which is expanding my musical knowledge no end. I am a bit of a philistine I admit but that allowed me to only yesterday discover Manfred Mann, and if you have never heard the song “Waiting for the Rain”, please give it a listen. It is stunning…I love it, and am pretty sure that if the  TV stood where the record player now resides, this, and discoveries like it, may never have happened.

220px-angel_station

I do have to concede that for all the time devoted to books and vinyl, far more is still devoted to YouTube and general internet trawling. I do want to cut back, but I may be an addict living in blissful denial. That is not to say that I do not have some wonderful gems to share from the wonderful world of the web, I really do. For a glimpse of journalism and general penmanship at its finest, I love the New Yorker. For example, “What happens to the Deported” is a poignant and honest look at the human side of anti-emigrant policies, similar to those advocated by the inimitable Mr. Trump. The New Yorker is definitely one of the world’s seriously quality publications.

redOn a lighter note, I love to check in with Red Online, almost as much as I love poring over the physical magazine with a coffee, and the reviews of books, films and Netflix are proving particularly beneficial in a post-tv era. In blogs, the lifestyle blog “The Tig” is visually stunning and has some fab inclusions in its Living & Food sections  – you can make Sweet Potato and White Bean soup while listening to their Winter Vibes playlist – bliss.

And lastly, there is no escapism I am currently enjoying more than curling up in a big armchair by the fire and listening to the beauty and lifestyle updates of Lily Pebbles and Megan Ellaby. Love these girls and their individual styles.

And so I say with conviction – that old TV, I don’t miss it at all!!!!!

 

January Favourites

January can be quiet on the retail front, due to the financial incontinence of the festive season and some general January sales fatigue.  I hate rooting through racks and racks of sale stock, preferring my occasional shopping sprees to be a little easier on the eye. I am far more into a simple, clean aesthetic than having to search through the rubble of the previous season, frantically seeking a diamond in the rough. Therefore, I like to wait until the shops restock and reorganise and the sale racks are packed away again. This said I have still manged to uncover a few January favourites, and here are a selection of my top picks from the beginning of 2017:

Oskia Renaissance Cleansing Gel

oskia

I picked up a mini version of this cleanser in the Space NK January sale while I was in London. It was reduced by 50% due to the festive packaging (it was in a cracker), making it a bit of a steal at just £9. Although I was aware that this is a bit of a cult classic, especially among beauty bloggers, I knew very little about the product and had no idea what to expect. The product describes itself as “an illuminating vitamin melting cleanser” and to be fair, it does melt into the skin, before cleansing and illuminating it. In short, it does what it says on the tin!!

The cleansing gel is orange in colour, has a pleasant perfume and a little goes a long way. It looks very oily on application, and this alarmed me a little, as my skin can already be quite oily, but this was not an issue as the Oskia Renaissance cleans and moisturises without leaving any greasy residue or tacky sheen.

Using just one pump, I apply the cleanser to dry skin and massage it in for a minute or so. Generally, I leave it to work on the skin while I brush my teeth and then rinse it off, after jumping in the shower, using a facecloth soaked in warm water . Although it does dissolve make-up, I rarely use it to remove mine, preferring a different routine in the evening.

Overall this product, with its combination of ingredients like pumpkin enzymes, Vitamin C and E and Starflower Oil, is a beautiful cleanser that leaves the skin feeling soft and nourished. I will definitely repurchase this new favourite.

Kiehl’s Amino Acid Conditioner

kiehls

This, in my humble opinion, is a life-changing purchase!!!

Yes, I know it is just conditioner. Yes, I know it is not imperative to my survival. But OMG, this has made my life so much easier and sprinkled it with just a little extra happiness. I had heard Anna, from The Anna Edit, mention this product on her YouTube channel a few times, and so decided to pick up a travel size version in Selfridges. What a great decision. I genuinely noticed the difference instantly and just a few days later, I was splurging on the full size version in the Kiehl’s Duty Free Shop at Stansted Airport. It is so so so good.  I really didn’t know it was possible to feel so strongly about a hair care product but, given that I had started to really struggle with knotting ends, even with recently trimmed hair, I was crying out for something to help.  TBH I didn’t expect the results I got from this silicone-free daily conditioner, as years of blonde highlights tend to call for some strong chemical detangling, but just a little worked through the ends and, left for a couple of minutes, makes tough tangles a thing of the past. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.

A Classic Blazer

jacket1

My next favourite for the beginning of the year is a fashion buy and it was a bit of an emergency purchase for a work event. This type of panic purchase does not always work out too well but this time I think the item is divine. It is this blush pink blazer from the new collection at River Island. It fits well, I love the ruched sleeve detail and the colour is on-trend as winter gives way to spring. I think it will get loads of wear both for work and leisure. I paired it with simple black skinny jeans, a vest top, heels and a little statement jewellery. Cute but classic.

lizis

Generally, I make my own granola, but the oven situation in our new house is not great and so, until the kitchen refurb is complete, I am largely avoiding recipes requiring baking. fruit bowlHowever, granola with Greek yoghurt and berries is my favourite post-gym breakfast and so I had to seek out a good shop bought version. I opted for Lizi’s Original Granola which contains  Jumbo Rolled Oats, Cashew, Walnut and Hazelnut pieces, Pumpkin, Sunflower and Golden Linseeds, and Desiccated coconut. It is delicious, filling and releases energy slowly. I like it with a spoon of Total 0%, a drizzle of Agave and a sprinkling of fresh berries. Yum.

So, in a pretty frugal month, as pennies are pinched for the cosmetic overhaul of a kitchen, these were a few of my favourite purchases. And now for a few other bits and bobs…

At the beginning of the month, I really enjoyed the Will Smith movie, Collateral Beauty, which I thought was really under-rated by reviewers. Based on the premise that as humans “we long for love, we wish we had more time, and we fear death”, the film looks at what happens when death steals what is most precious from you, and love and time no longer seem to hold any appeal. This is a movie all about grief, and personally I thought it was sweet, sad and really tugged at the heart-strings. Now I just need to work on curtailing catatonic sobbing in public places when I watch something emotional  – a New Year’s Resolution perhaps!!!!

freedomschild-wpcf_193x300

We no longer own a television, and instead rely on YouTube and Netflix for our viewing choices, and so, this month, I really loved the relaxed vlogging style of the beautiful Estée Lalonde and some healthy living inspo from Niomi Smart. I have been listening to lots of Simon and Garfunkel Live in Central Park on our new record player. And finally, I am reading and enjoying a novel called Freedom’s Child by Jax Miller. And that’s a wrap for my January favourites 2017. Hope you are having a lovely beginning to the new year xo

 

 

 

La La Land: A Little Review

img_2265In a subtle dig at Los Angeles, and possibly contemporary society in general, La La Land suggested that the denizens of the modern world “worship everything and.. value nothing”. Given that we live in a world which appears to consider the Matcha Latte or cooking with Coconut Oil necessary to its very survival, I had to admire the insightful observation. But in satirising a Samba and Tapas bar for trying to cater to whims and not sticking to one thing and doing it right, I felt the movie came dangerously close to unearthing its own major weakness. In trying to be a musical, a romantic comedy and a nostalgic look at movies through the ages, my personal opinion was the film slightly over-extended itself.  Its 14 Oscar nominations suggest that I am in a minority of one in my more critical appraisal.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a movie without strengths – far from it. Its ability to be modern yet still nostalgic was admirable, and in ways it managed to answer one of its own big questions. “How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist? You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future.” This was the movie equivalent of the Jazz debate – a film that wanted to be both revolutionary, yet traditional. A movie striving to embrace cinematic triumphs of the past but remain very much of its own time – and to be fair there was obvious successes, with the movie justifiably achieving critical acclaim.

lala

It is also a beautiful movie – opening as a traditional musical (with a completely over the top but fabulously choreographed chorus scene on a freeway) and sidestepping into a dramatic rom-com at intervals. The score was well-written and the music largely upbeat and catchy. The costuming had a beautiful retro-feel and the cinematography was exquisite throughout – especially for LA lovers. Although the singing and dancing was definitely not flawless, there was something endearing about that, and both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are engaging actors who have a girl/boy next door likability. He has the cheeky twinkle in his eye, she is all under-stated beauty and affable charm. So what was the problem?

For most viewers, it would appear nothing. But for me – well I will try to explain. This was ostensibly a bittersweet love story where romance and ambition are placed on a collision course and the decisions made will change the trajectory of both characters’ lives. Classic themes – universal and engaging. Both hero and heroine reciprocate the notion that “I am always gonna love you” – but with very different dreams, can such noble sentiment translate into a future? The problem with this film was that I didn’t care. I love, love, love romance in my movies but I really didn’t care. I didn’t believe enough in either Mia’s acting dreams or Seb’s unending love for her. The story of her big break was unconvincing, the veracity of his love no different. Personally, I felt between channelling nostalgia for old Hollywood, breaking randomly into song or waltzing around LA; the movie lost the plot a little – and for me, when the film loses sight, even just a little, of the story it is trying to tell, then it loses just a little of where its heart and soul should be.

IMG_2266.JPG

This was a lovely way to while away a couple of hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon – but a record number of Oscar nominations??? Sorry guys, I just don’t quite get it.

August Favourites – Books

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” – Stephen King

As the summer is quickly drawing to a close, and I have to consider the reality of returning to work after three months (yes, I hear all those tiny violins) I thought I would do a quick review of some of the “stuff” I have been loving (or not) lately. Today I am going to start with books, because I can be happy pretty much anywhere with a good cup of coffee and a good book. Anyone who knows me will attest that paradise for me will definitely have a library.

reading in bed

In recent weeks I have read three bestsellers and here is my two cents worth on their varying strengths and weaknesses.

“Sometimes he fantasised that at the end of his life, he would be shown a home movie of all the roads he had not taken, and where they would have led.” – Anne Tyler

This first book was a kind of romcom in pen and ink format, although I am sure this description would make the author cringe a little. “The Versions of Us” by Laura Barnett focuses on the moments that can change a life forever. It takes a “Sliding Doors” style approach, and the reader follows the central characters Eva and Richard through different versions of their respective lives. One moment, a choice of responses, a decision that will change the course of both their lives. From that moment we follow all three versions of the lives of our protagonists. The way their lives play out after that first meeting in Cambridge in 1958, and how the response in that blink of an eye encounter could open or close a variety of different doors. Robert Frost’s “The Road not Taken” explores how, as “way leads on to way”, we do not get to come back and travel the other roads, or ever know the outcome of a different decision when faced with choice. Barnett uses the power of imagination to follow both roads (or in this case all three) and tell, effectively, three stories in one. For the writer, this is no simple task. The success of the typical linear narrative is due to its simplicity. We trace a story from beginning to end in chronological order – it is difficult to “lose the plot”. Deviate from this and you set yourself a great challenge. The writing has to be skilful to see this through. It was. The characters were engaging, the language both simple and poetic and the plot not overly complicated. Like Frost, Barnett explores lives unlived. It is a perfect theme for literature as it is an intrinsic element of life; every door we open sees another close, every choice brings new opportunity but inevitably leaves other possibilities unexplored.

We have one life. Eva and Richard in the pages of this novel had the luxury of three. I loved the reality in this narrative  – there is no perfect path – there are ups and down, joys and heartbreaks, sacrifices and rewards – no matter what choices they make. That’s what life is, no matter which of the divergent paths you choose in Frost’s “yellow wood”. And so a realisation dawns….“because he is old enough now to know happiness for what it is: brief and fleeting, not a state to strive for, to seek to live in, but to catch when it comes, and to hold on to for as long as you can.”

This was a great read; simple yet engaging, suspending reality yet paradoxically grounded in reality, poetic and conversational – grab a coffee and a comfy chair and give this one a go.

My second recent read was again a work of fiction and this time it was “The Reader on the 6.27”. The blurb of this really captured my attention, as it was set up as a book that explores the power of the written word, specifically storytelling, to change a life. The central character, Guylain, works in a factory that pulps books, and hates his job. However, he takes random pages from various publications and reads them aloud on the 6.27 train, saving those words in some way, giving them the life they deserve. The pulping machine is personified as a monster, the stories themselves a panacea for life’s difficulty and monotony. So far, so right up my street.

But I just didn’t really engage with this narrative, as the larger-than-life characters just had an air of unreality, and personally I felt the plot just didn’t quite hang together. That said, the story’s central thread really begins when Guylain finds a memory stick containing the musings (almost in diary form) of a public toilet attendant called Julie. Personally, it was the writings of Julie that made me see this novel through to the end. I found her voice hilarious and sweet in equal measure, and, although I wasn’t really invested in the love story of sorts that Didierlaurent was striving to create, the ending of this novel was ridiculously cute. Now I am sure that just as Barnett would not want to be viewed as a literary romcom, Didierlaurent would cringe at the term “cute” to describe his concluding moments – but that it was, and, make no mistake, it was the silver lining in what for me was a slightly cloudy read. If your eye has been caught by this book, I would not let this lukewarm review put you off; it is a really quick read, and not one I regret at all. I read the entire book in a day, and it had enough merit to sustain me through airport waiting time and a short flight. What was good was golden, but there was a little too much beige.

book

Finally, I picked up Matt Haig’s “Reasons to Stay Alive” in a hurry and without reading the blurb. Never a good idea. However, this is a very readable, autobiographical account of the author’s struggles with anxiety and depression and there is no doubting its honesty or integrity. It is quite an engaging read, with sprinkles of humour and a generally positive outlook on a dark subject. It is an important book for a society that still has a way to go to destigmatise mental illness.

But I am going to be honest here, this book did not touch my soul, probably because it wasn’t written to be soppy or overly morose. And, possibly because to this point in my life, I have been blessed with pretty good mental health. It did, however, help me understand depression a little better and I did enjoy the listing technique peppering the pages.  Lists of warning signs associated with anxiety or depression, famous people who experienced mental illness, tweets from fellow sufferers regarding their reasons to stay alive and ways to support someone enduring a period of darkness. All this I found informative and very accessible. I also LOVED this passage:

“The world is increasingly designed to depress us.
Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser?
You make someone worry about ageing.
How do you get people to vote for a political party?
You make them worry about immigration.
How do you get them to buy insurance?
By making them worry about everything.
How do you get them to have plastic surgery?
By highlighting their physical flaws.
How do you get them to watch a TV show?
By making them worry about missing out. “

I have no doubt that this book has changed lives. It vocalised the emotions and experiences people struggle to find the words to describe. It gave people someone to relate to. It created a sense of being less alone. I admire all this. I admire the reality. I admire the honesty. I admire the individuality. Personally, I just didn’t really connect, though reviews would suggest I am part of the minority. Again, this is a quick read that is well worth a shot. Just because it didn’t change my life doesn’t mean it won’t change yours.

Now I have laundry to do and a new book to dip into. Til next time xo

Lovin’ Lots of Little Things

At the end of a somewhat crazy week, I am finally getting a chance to sit and reflect on some highlights…the low points would make a far less enjoyable read.

Lovin’ Visiting

Oriel Hotel, Ballincollig, Co. Cork.

oriel

Mum and I needed some last minute accommodation  in the environs of Cork City this week and so ended up in the satellite town of Ballincollig as guests of the Oriel Hotel. Just really looking for a bed for the night at short notice, little to no research had gone into the hotel and we had no real expectations one way or another. However, it turned out to be an extremely pleasant stay that is worthy of high praise. We arrived early (about 11.30am) hoping only to avail of the free parking but were treated to a complimentary cappuccino in the bar while the extremely friendly staff worked out some confusion relating to our booking.

Coffees enjoyed, we left to get on with our day confident that our room would be ready on our return. And what a room we were greeted with. Despite having paid a very modest sum for the b&b, we found ourselves upgraded to their very luxurious bridal suite where we spent a lovely restful night. We ate a delicious, reasonably priced dinner in the hotel bar and enjoyed an abundant breakfast in the restaurant early the following morning. Armed with a complimentary newspaper we were disappointed that a really lovely stay was not a little longer. I will definitely consider a return visit.

 

 

Lovin’ Cooking…..

I am not sure that this constitutes a recipe but I have been trying to introduce a little tuna (something I am not a great fan of) into our weekly meal plan. For me it needs a little work though to make it in any way appetising. Here’s what I did for a simple frugal lunch.

Poppy Seed Bagel with Tuna Salad

IMG_1212

Ingredients:

  • 2 Poppy Seed Bagels
  • One tin of tuna in spring water
  • Two finely chopped spring onions
  • 1 tbs of mayonnaise
  •  Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 plum tomato
  • A small amount of grated red cheddar
  • Sea-salt and black pepper

Method:

  • Heat the grill. Half the bagels and place them on a baking tray. Toast them gently on both sides.
  • In the meantime, drain the tuna and spoon it into a bowl. Add the spring onions, the mayonnaise, the lemon juice and mix well. Season to taste.
  • Spoon the tuna mixture on to the base of the bagels. Top with a couple of slices of tomato and sprinkle on a little cheese.
  • Return to the grill for one minute to allow the cheese to melt.
  • Place the bagel tops on. Slice and serve.

Lovin’ Shopping for…

Books, books, books. My adorable little godchild has been a little out of sorts for the last few days and my dad has had some health issues to contend with as well and so to pass the time in hospital, for both the littlest patient and myself, I took a ramble to Waterstones in Cork City. I am so far, so pleased with my purchases.  For lovely Lucy, the cute and funny letters from the crayons to Duncan.

And for me, an easy holiday read that I am in the early stages of but that is giving me good vibes – The Versions of Us.

And then just lovin’

The most genius invention ever for those of us who can’t drink red wine in public….this I just LOVE!!!!

Happy @ Home

Summer, Sun, Sunglasses, Relaxation

Loving a very lazy weekend this weekend – the last for a while as my social diary is pretty full for the next month or so. And in order to fully embrace my lack of commitments, I have spent the whole weekend in a tracksuit, with no make-up and hair tied back.  There has been some cooking, less cleaning and quite a lot of reading.  A little wine, a little more coffee and lots of lemony water. No work…not one minute…not even a thought. And countless lost hours peeking into the lives of strangers through Instagram and  Bloglovin. Generally a perfect weekend!!!

I am not sure if “wanderlust” is a personality trait and if so whether it is a vice or a virtue but whatever you want to call it, I have it.  Watching Donal Skehan in Greece or Rick Stein’s long weekend in Reykjavik has resulted in a need for physical distance to be created between me and my credit card.  My desire to book flights and spend hours perusing Air BnB can regularly become completely overwhelming and the fact that I booked a week in London on Thursday makes it imperative, while at the same time close to impossible, that I resist any further Ryanair transactions for a little while at least. Therefore my favourite post of the week was terribly timed as I faced my perpetual dilemma…“to book or not to book, that is the question”. You see I found Cookies & Candies post, Charmed by Lisbon” well, charming, and now I think it would be a perfect long weekend destination. She said it’s great value too and the food looks fab….how is a girl to resist?

Realising that I really can’t book anything until I have the current credit card issue at least partly under control, I needed a distraction.  And thankfully here intervened a really cool playlist shared by Rosie from A Rosie Outlook. I was hooked from the first track, Ruth B’s stunning, slow, melancholy offering Lost Boy.  This is definitely worth a listen, as is the rest of the list. It is a soulful, poignant and melancholy mix of tracks perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Credit card crisis momentarily averted.

Turntable, Vinyl, Sound, Retro, Stereo

The sun has been trying to come out today and there is a little glimmer of hope that there may be at least some sliver of a summer. This is one of those things that can never be taken for granted here in Ireland. There have been years when, to quote an esteemed national political figure, we got “drowned out of it every day”. But the Irish are a nation of meteorological optimists and a few dry hours leads to serious contemplation of the summer wardrobe. This for me has to include white skinnies and so this post from Laura at lustrous.ie was both timely and helpful and it is clear we share a love of River Island’s Molly jeggings. For the last couple of years I have also loved white ankle skimming skinny jeans with little zips from Zara. Really hope they get them in this year.

Finally, I am constantly searching for new and improved granola recipes. I make it often, generally successfully but there are a few things that always take some points away in my imaginary grading scale. One is that the nuts often feel like they are verging on burnt, the second is that I worry they it too sweet to really be healthy at all and finally I don’t know when is best to add things like the fruit and the coconut. Today I stumbled across a new recipe and while I need to see how it tastes on a weekday morning with yoghurt and berries, it is currently cooling on the rack and looks like it may be my best effort yet. Hope your weekend was also a happy one, whatever that means for you. And for the week ahead just keep smiling, you will always be amazed how many people smile back xoxo

Yogurt, Granola, Blueberries, Fruit

Easy Like Sunday Morning

Flower, Narcissus, Spring, Yellow, Nature

It has to be one of the best feelings – waking up refreshed after a great night’s sleep to the sun shining on a perfect Spring morning, knowing that it is still the weekend and reality can wait for another day.  I have just had a healthy but decadent breakfast (so good I forgot to take a photo to share) of pancakes with caramelised banana, Greek yoghurt and  berries. It was simple to make but tasted really good.  Have a go!!

Healthy Wholemeal Pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of wholemeal flour
  • I cup of almond milk
  • I egg
  • A little pinch of salt
  • A drop of vanilla extract

Method:

Simply whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl and fry in coconut oil until golden brown on both sides.

I had two pancakes drizzled with maple syrup and I fried a banana in a pan until golden and placed it in the middle. I topped it all off with a dollop of Greek yoghurt and a handful of fresh raspberries. Delicious.

Raspberries, Red, Fruit, Cup, Dessert, Food, Berries

Appetite sated, it is time for a little light exercise and so I am off to the forest with the dog. Time to enjoy the last of the daffodils and the cuteness of fields of spring lambs.  But maybe, like Wordsworth, the memory of beautiful mornings can help get us through those days when we are fit for little more than lazing on the couch daydreaming.  Of course Wordsworth had no instagram so he had no choice but rely on the pictures in his mind for his escapism. Was he any worse off I wonder??? Could we all do with a little more time to remember and reflect??

Have a great Sunday whatever you get up to, and take some time to notice the fresh flowers and the beauty that surrounds you xo