Taking my joy from… 9

Neolithic stone circle on flat plain surrounded by hills in the Lake District.
Castlerigg Stone Circle

Someone once said you can tell just as much from a writer’s quiet periods as you can from when they write a lot. For me, it usually means I’ve been busy or haven’t had much to say. I do try to follow this wonderful advice when engaging my inner editor, whether during a conversation, social media update or in my writing:

  • Does this need to be said?
  • Does this need to be said by me?
  • Does this need to be said by me, right now?

I don’t always manage, but when I do follow it, I find my interactions much more satisfying and real, somehow.

Time for what is bringing me joy right now:

  • I am excited about a new series of blog posts I’m writing, all about my favourite places in Leeds and Yorkshire. It started as one blog post, but quickly got out of control in the draft stage. I’ve broken the content into several posts, including wonderful things to do in Leeds, as well as easy day-trips from Leeds to beautiful countryside walks, market towns, other nearby cities like York, and my favourite places to eat. Stay tuned!
  • Pop culture has been super nerdtastic lately, with Game of Thrones and Avengers: Endgame. I needed a little escape, especially from British politics. Perfect.
  • Recently watched Knock Down The House on Netflix. Wow! All.The.Feels.
  • My boy Tom at Hive Hair Salon has been taking care of my new-ish platinum hair, and I love it so much!
  • While in the Lake District, we visited Castlerigg Stone Circle and I was thrilled to read that Coleridge and Wordsworth had visited a mere 220 years earlier. This Canadian English Lit major never gets tired of how much history (over so many centuries!) I stumble across over here.
  • Finally, check out Street Food on Netflix. First, make sure you have lots of food in the house or you’ve ordered something delicious.

Taking my joy from… 8

It’s Saturday! Make that Caturday!

I’m supposed to be gathering up my information for my UK tax return. Instead, I’m writing a blog post.

How was everyone’s first proper week back in normal? I had a great break, but normal feels nice too. All that holiday pressure has vanished. Leeds swiftly put its Christmas decorations away so it’s like the holiday never happened.

Roll on winter. It’s time to read those books people gave you as gifts, pour a glass of something nice, grab your favourite blanket, optional cuddly pet, and stay home.

To that end, everything bringing me joy right now has a cosy, hibernating quality. There are no trips on the horizon, and for once I’m ok with that.

  • I don’t often come across a novel that I completely fall in love with, but when I do I simultaneously want to share it with everyone I know, while not wanting it to ever leave my shelf of treasured books. Happily, I can tell you to buy it yourself or suggest borrowing it from your local library. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is so very, very good. It almost doesn’t matter what it’s about – the writing is that beautiful. If you are having trouble understanding how to ‘show, don’t tell’ in your own writing, read this book.
  • Outlander has had some uneven episodes/seasons, but the last few episodes have been knocking it out of the park and remind me why I love this show.
  • A co-worker suggested the game Bananagrams as it’s nice and compact for travelling. Although we bought it as a Christmas gift, we’re totally going to buy it again for ourselves. It’s an anagram game, so this word nerd was all over it. Plus the tiles have a lovely feel – I couldn’t stop touching them.
  • Finally, I am so freakin’ glad that Catastrophe is back, but so sad that it’s the final season.

Resolutions for 2019

Light purple 2019 numbers in front of fireworks on a dark blue background

Happy New Year! I hope 2019 is a good one for you.

I’m not going to focus on my perennial resolutions – the ones that have been with me since university – all having to do with healthy lifestyle choices. I’ve made inroads in them over the years, but I don’t see January 1st as the day to resolve anew. It’s more like a big helping of broccoli seems like an absolute lifeline, and shortbread becomes as sickly sweet and inappropriate as a Christmas carol in January.

My favourite and most successful resolutions have been creative and fun. There was the year that I decided to try foods from as many countries as possible – easily done in super multicultural Toronto. Ended up loving most of them (sorry Ethiopian). What’s more, I felt like I’d finally unshackled myself from being a less than confident eater thanks to my childhood meals of meat, potatoes and green beans. We take our earliest cues about food from our parents, and I still struggle with many fish dishes as a result.

One January I enrolled in a food writing class – who knew it would become the beginning of my certificate in editing and a huge shift in career opportunities? I originally decided to take the course just to make sure I was attributing other people’s recipes properly on my then-fledgling blog. I didn’t expect to ignite a fierce desire to write, no matter how much the feedback on my assignments stung.

So in that spirit, what should my resolutions for 2019 be?

For that I need to look at the dreams I had about life in Yorkshire before we even arrived. I saw myself carrying my camera around. I saw myself lacing up my hiking boots. I saw myself reading books in cosy pubs. I carried those images of myself throughout lengthy Toronto commutes and weekly errands along utilitarian Dufferin Street. It’s time I did those sort of things more often. They seem to have gotten lost in the shuffle of making a new life here.

And maybe it’s time to give fish another whirl.

Just breathe.

beach at bamburgh

I went to a restorative yoga class for the first time last night, while simultaneously playing host to a slowly ebbing migraine that nonetheless pulsed behind my right eye and refused to go gently into that good night.

I get tired of migraines sidelining me and I was determined to go to this class anyway. Besides – I knew that it certainly wouldn’t make my head feel worse.

And while it would have been nice to arrive to this class pain-free, I simply didn’t have the energy to care. And that turned out to be for the best. I didn’t bother with my usual anxiety, perfectionism and gracelessness – usually on hand to psyche me out like my grade-school gym teacher any time I try anything more physical than walking.

Instead, I gave myself permission to do a really bad job of following the instructions and gratefully accepted all the help from the instructor and the helper (there were a lot of blankets, bolsters and blocks involved in this class). The kicker was realising that I couldn’t wear my glasses, making the entire room as blurry as a Monet. Even more reason to do a ‘bad job’ of the poses.

The other thing I didn’t really have energy for was breathing properly, and focusing on the breath, and all that. Not at first, anyway. And that was ok with me. I was doing the poses, I was in a warm, dim room with several like-minded souls who were all craving the same calm and peace. I let my mind chatter away and breathed automatically and just didn’t care if I was counting to four or not. And of course, that’s when I calmed down. In a non-striving, it’s enough to be here and see what this class is like kind of way.

And then I started to breathe and focus on the breath, and breathed and focused on the breath. And breathed and focused on the breath.

I’m going to peel away the ‘everything is fine!’ facade for a few moments and be real.

It’s been a tough year. I read the news with horrified fascination and then try to take media breaks, only to be dragged back into the fray when the next ridiculous horrible stupendously stupid headline unfurls. Uncertainty is something I am very uncomfortable with, like most people, and I feel like every day I get a double portion of it, from the world at large, and as a freelancer. It’s making me tired and sad. It’s making me not recognise myself. It’s shaking my confidence daily. It’s keeping me from being creative.

So I started to breathe and focus on the breath, and breathed and focused on the breath. And breathed and focused on the breath.

I breathed until it felt like my heart was going to break with all the feelings I’ve been holding in check.

And I heard a little voice. It said:

Write.

 

 

Taking my joy from…7

Sycamore Gap Hadrians Wall

Autumn, with its crisp air, crunchy leaves, and hide-and-seek sunshine, is here.

Yorkshire definitely knows how to put on a good, lingering autumn, with lots of chances to wrap up in cosy knitwear, and pull out favourite chili and stew recipes for slow-cooking Sundays.

In Toronto the fall season starts with sticky, humid t-shirt weather, brief interludes of chilly jacket weather, and – far too quickly – intrepid Torontonians are back to zipping up parkas, wrapping thick scarves and pulling on gloves and hats.

Long live invigorating jacket weather, and having fun with layers!

Other things bringing me joy:

  • Because I am all about English and Scottish history these days, we recently took a road trip further north to what I kept accidentally calling ‘Northumbria’ (a medieval kingdom), but what are actually the present-day counties of Northumberland and Cumbria. We had a peaceful walk on the beach at Bamburgh Castle, a quick gaze at Hadrian’s Wall (Sycamore Gap is pictured above), and a stunning drive home through the Lake District. My mind thrilled to all the history, and my eyes soaked up all the splendor. Trips like this are why we moved over here.
  • After several months of bingeing, I’m all caught up with the podcast Rex Factor, where Graham and Ali review all the kings and queens of England (1st series) and of the Scots (2nd series). They’re partially responsible for my current obsession with history and I’m totally psyched to see them live in a few weeks.
  • It was very cool to tag along when Jeff was the guest of the lovely John Marley on his bi-weekly radio show, ‘Jazz on Tempo’ with John Marley on Tempo 107.4 FM. Although Jeff’s interview was live and is now lost to to the gods of ephemera, you can tune into future episodes of John’s show on alternating Monday nights from 8 – 10 pm (GMT+1). I know we will be listening tomorrow night – John’s fantastic and supremely knowledgeable about all things jazz.
  • Always love a good thrift-bookstore find. Most recently it was picking up The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook for a couple of pounds. I’ve already taken the pumpkin pie recipe out for a spin when we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving. It was a hit, even with English friends who’d never had it before.
  • I’m glad I’m part of the world’s population that can experience audio frisson – and for me it’s always in the same place in certain songs, no matter how often I listen to them. (one fave: AF607105 by Charlotte Gainsbourg, with my goosebumps appearing on cue at 2:27)

Taking my joy from… 6

cheeky gin and tonic

Well.

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts.

That’s not to say that I haven’t had lots of things to be happy about, but life has been busy, with good stuff, great stuff, and a lovely smattering of not-so-great moments that, while uncomfortable, have been talked out over wine with friends and shifted into their proper perspective: to serve as excellent counterpoints to make happy news and events even more awesome.

These days, I’m taking my joy from:

  • Days – no, weeks – of absolutely perfect weather. Blue skies, never ending sunsets, gentle breezes, lots of sunshine. And now that I have a little outdoor table and a couple of lawn chairs, my front garden is now the most exclusive place in Yorkshire for a cheeky gin and tonic, or splitting a bottle of wine.
  • Related to my first point and the photo gracing this post, it’s been over a year since I bought a set of 4 pink plastic tumblers from Flying Tiger and they still make me happy every time.
  • Binging old seasons of The Great British Bake Off on Netflix – especially because Jeff is just as enthralled as I am!
  • Grocery shopping at the new Aldi – it’s nice to finally have a big, good, affordable grocery store in the village.
  • Day trips: They blast the cobwebs out of my soul, make me glad to be alive, and fill me with gratitude for being around so much beauty and craftsmanship.
  • I’ve talked about Nigella’s Chicken Mango and Chilli Salad before, but it is so delicious and perfect for warm days that it bears repeating.

Lisbon

IMG_5910

I’ve just returned from a few sunny days in Lisbon, a city that I’d previously made the mistake of overlooking. Portugal wasn’t on my radar – not part of my European canon of long-cherished dream travel experiences. I’m happy to admit that I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Lisbon is white-hot at the moment and buzzing like crazy. As I write, they are hosting Eurovision and the city is reaching fever pitch with passionate fans of the annual song contest descending in droves. The food in Lisbon is fantastic, the people are friendly, and the prices are reasonable – for example, we made their excellent transit system our bitch for 3 days and it cost less than 15 euros each, including our trip to the airport.

I’d tell you to go, but the secret is already out – it seems like half the people I know are already planning to visit, or are wandering around those crazy cobblestone streets right now.

Armchair Travel

I love sharing other people’s wonderful media and photography and no matter how much I fill my phone with snaps, I appreciate the next-level photography I find online:

15 Photos That Will Make You Want to Visit Lisbon – Condé Nast Traveler 

and

These 18 Pictures Will Convince You That Lisbon Is the Most Beautiful City in Europe – Culture Trip

Food and Drink

We really lucked out on this trip for eating well. I did a little bit of research and ‘starred’ a few noteworthy places (something I talk about here), but we also threw a few random walks down random streets into the mix and were handsomely rewarded for our adventurous spirit.

Honorato Hamburgueres Artesanais – totally random pick, saw it across the street while walking in our AirBnB’s neighborhood, knew we were on to something awesome before we even crossed the threshold. They have a simple menu of burgers, and they endeared me to them further by offering mini versions at smaller price points. Wash your burger down with a fishbowl-sized gin & tonic after flipping through their impressive cocktail menu, or order their cocktail of the day.

Time Out Market – all I can say is WOW! This place! Bring your appetite, bring your patience, suppress your aversion to crowds, because it is absolutely amazing. I’ll let Time Out explain in their own words:

IMG_5926

Have a look at their Instagram page here to get a sense of the size and scale of the market. We sat outside – it was such a lovely, sunny day and a bit more peaceful to get table service at Balcão da Esquina. My pork sandwich seemed like a quick choice while scanning the menu but it was damn tasty, on some of the best bread I’ve eaten in ages. While wandering around the market after lunch, I could see myself coming back to Lisbon on a longer trip, simply to have more chances to eat at all the other excellent restaurants.

And a huge thanks to this Guardian city guide for tipping me off to Palácio Chiado, a palatial (#sorrynotsorry) set of five restaurants under one roof. The best part?  You can order off all five menus no matter where you are seated. This meant we could start with Spanish acorn-fed 100% Ibérico ham, olives and bread, move on to a Hawaiian poke bowl filled with bite-sized chunks of sushi-grade raw salmon and Japanese flavours, while my husband could go another healthy direction – grilled tuna covered in chimichurri sauce on a bed of millet and sweet potatoes. Then I veered over into Italy for some gelato, and Jeff finished things off with a nice glass of port. A great restaurant if you and your group aren’t quite sure what you’re in the mood for, but you know you want great food in beautiful surroundings. Sounds like me, all the time.

Fun

You don’t go to a city dubbed ‘The City of Seven Hills’ without craving a few lookout points. A few of my favourites:

Miradouro de Santa Luzia – calling it an observation deck just seems so clinical. Resplendent with red roses, a pergola and sweeping city views of the city.

Castelo de S. Jorge – a Moorish castle from the 11th century. Of course, there’s much more to explore than just the view.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos – take the elevator to the top of this monument for stunning views of the Tagus River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean.

I’m a big enthusiast of simply wandering, especially in such a sunny, warm city – stroll through ancient squares, have a glass of Vinho Verde at a sidewalk table while watching the world go by, do a bit of shopping, and enjoy your city break. But if you need ideas….

The best things to do in Lisbon – Time Out

Top things to do in Lisbon – Lonely Planet

21 things to see on a weekend trip to Lisbon – lastminute.com

IMG_5940.jpg