Monday, 5 December 2016

A Trip to England: From Londoner to Tourist

"Does it feel funny being back?" my friend asked.

I had been away from England for nearly seven months. Arriving at Euston station after a wedding in Manchester I was blown away by the amount of people. It wasn't just the quantity that was mind-boggling but their speed. Like a flock of birds they changed direction, miraculously not knocking into each other.

When I lived in London I was like that. I sped everywhere, dodging in between everyone without stopping. But after so long away, I felt like a tourist, unsure of where I was or where I was supposed to be going. I stood in the wrong place, I stepped the wrong way, mirroring on comers instead of letting them pass.

How could I have lived here for so long? I wondered. It seemed so overwhelming and stressful. It took me a few days to recover my old pace.

The other big difference was the cold. It was 10 (50F) degrees at night when I left Mallorca. Arriving in Manchester the pilot said it was 0 (32F) outside. I thought I wasn't going to cope. I thought I was going to step outside and freeze mid walk. However I had come equipped and between my sheepskin lined boots and feather puffer jacket, I was surprisingly cosy.

Did I feel like a tourist?  I took photos of the frost and crunched back and forward through the ice like a little kid. The cold seemed like a novelty. I suppose it's fun when you know it's only temporary!

It was great to see friends and family after so much time. There was so much catching up to do. But when someone clinked my glass and said,  'Welcome home!' it seemed quite odd. Was it still home? It didn't feel like it. Not quite.  

I arrived back in Mallorca last night. I've already been for a driving lesson, chatted with my local grocer and called on my neighbours for help with a sticky door. It's 19 degrees (66F) outside. There's not many people about. I like it. I feel at ease. Safe.  It's been less than two years, but it already feels like home.   

Monday, 21 November 2016

Christmas Ideas: I've caught the DIY bug!

It happened overnight. I woke up one day and I wanted to upcycle things. I rummaged through old plain t-shirts and visualised glamming them up with lace inserts and sequins. I salivated over the creative geniuses on Pinterest and with great confidence lopped off the sleeves of T-shirt Number 1.

Have you ever cut sleeves off a t-shirt? I did such a bad job, cutting too close the collar, that I had to throw it away. So much for saving and upgrading.

It seemed my upcycling journey had come to an end before it had begun. However my cravings to sew and create were still alive and strong. I had hated sewing at school so this urge was really out of character.

I decided I would make my own Advent Calendar. I bought green, white and red felt and began my project. My husband raised an eyebrow at my messy stitches and gave me a lesson in sewing. 

My first creation was a funny looking snowman, my second a sequined stocking and third a lopsided Christmas tree. A practical man, my husband suggested looking in our local charity shop for a sewing machine. At the pace I was going my Advent Calendar wouldn't be ready until the following year.

I couldn't believe it when I spotted the sewing machine in the shop window. It was a ridiculous model. Bright pink with diamantes and obviously marketed to much younger seamstresses than myself, for six euros it was worth a shot. Once my husband had taught me how to use it (Seriously, how does he know how to do these things?) it proved to be perfect!

I'm on Day 9 now and I've been really enjoying myself. It's so satisfying to see something you've created yourself. It's relaxing too. I recommend it! 

This won't be my first and last project either. I keep looking around thinking, oooh what could I do to that?

I haven't given up the idea of upcycling old clothes either. I just need to learn some skills. 

Watch out Chanel, my little pink sewing machine has great ambitions!  

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Silencing the Inner Critic: What would your best friend say?

 I can't remember if I read it or if someone told me.

What if you talked to yourself as if you were your best friend?

It stopped me in my tracks. My inner critic which had been having a go at me for not getting up earlier, for not working harder, for not being more focused, was interrupted. I realised my best friend wouldn't be talking to me like this. She would be encouraging. She would be telling me to listen to my body. To be kind to myself. To accept some days are more productive than others.

Castellers supporting each other in Santa Ponsa
My inner critic likes to blame me for things beyond my control.  It likes to whisper regrets in my ear. You should have done things differently. You should have known better. But if I swap it for my best friend's voice, it completely changes. The voice says, it's okay, it didn't work out but you learned so much from that experience. Persevere.

My best friend's voice is much more practical than my inner critic. On a really personal note, I thought I'd have a baby by now. It hasn't happened. My inner critic sneers, says I'm not so 'creative' after all. My best friend's voice suggests I go to the doctor again if I'm worried. She tells me to relax. To not beat myself up about it.

This week two of my friends were facing unkind inner critics and I passed on the question:

What if you talked to yourself as if you were your best friend?

Both told me later that it had really helped them. So I thought I'd write it down and share it, in case you need to shut up your inner critic too. 

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

A City Break: Things to Do in Madrid...

A while ago my lucky husband won some travel vouchers. Last month, realizing they were about to expire, we booked a trip to Madrid.  I had been once before as a teenager but my memory of it was hazy. 

We stayed at the handy central location  of Principe Pio, in an ancient hotel with green walls and bathroom tiles so old fashioned they had gone full circle and become stylishly vintage. 

We didn't spend much time in our hotel room and were locked out of it completely on day three because the booking agency had made a mistake and only booked two nights! 

Some heavy rain was the only other setback but I solved the crisis of wet feet (I had holes in my shoes!) by buying some very sparkly trainers. We wore rain ponchos after that and waved maps around in case there was any one left who hadn't realized we were tourists. 

Madrid overflows with culture. We began with an essential visit to El Prado and opted for the €4 audio guide to educate us on the masterpieces by Goya, Velazquez, El Greco and a gazillion others. I hope to come out with something knowledgeable at a dinner party one day, although right now I can't think of one fun fact! 

Erm... did you know that Goya painted his nightmarish Black Paintings directly on the wall of his house? ... I hope the rest of his decor was more cheerful. Oh dear, that's all I've got. Never mind. 

Getting Cultured at El Prado

Drunk on Art, we hopped on a tourist bus to get a sense of the city. I love a tourist bus although I think the audio guide could have done with more of a story line. It was basically date of building, architect, date, architect, date, architect... the views were fantastic though and we feasted our eyes on the cityscape.  

I loved Calle Alcala and in the evening we went up to the Azotea (rooftop) at the Circulo de Bellas Artes nearby for a glass of wine. I would recommend heading up there in the day though to take more advantage of the panorama.
View from La Azotea de Bellas Artes 
Our Madrid pass made our trip extra enjoyable as we didn't have to queue up anywhere. Lovers of opulent chandeliers, ornate clocks, frescoes, overwhelming wallpaper and mismatching carpet will love the Royal Palace. 

I recommend popping into the Cathedral next door too because it has the best ceiling ever. It's bright and colourful and if I had a kitchen with old wooden beams I would want to paint something in between them just like it!
Colourful Ceiling at Almudena Cathedral
I also have to add El Museu del Traje (Fashion and Costume Museum) to my list of recommendations. Opened in 2004 it has a fascinating collection of clothes from the 17th century through to the 90s. You get to see just how uncomfortable women's clothing have been through the ages. I'm talking about all those horrible corsets and crinolines! After months of wearing comfy shorts I can't even bear to wear jeans at the moment. Maybe I'll just line my rain poncho with some fleece and wear that this winter! 
As for food?
We hid from the rain at famous San Gines chocolateria for chocolate and churros. At San Miguel market we tried everything from fresh anchovies, to spicy sausage, to octopus, sardines, eel and weird barnacles which resemble dinosaur feet (Percebes). 

Percebes - barnacle or dinosaur foot? 

At San Miguel we also drank lots of sherry in the sherry corner: amontillados, olorosos, finos... (I began my sherry love affair in Jerez and Sevilla last year and it's still going strong.) 

I may not be a city girl any more or have any inclination to move to one but I do wholeheartedly recommend a visit to this vibrant capital for all those after a city break!

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Day 2 Mushroom Picking Gets Riskier

If pickings hadn't been so slim I doubt we would have been so bold. 

After finding 11 edible rovellons in 10 minutes on Day 1, we were expecting similar success on Day 2. Our initial excitement at finding mushrooms as big as our palms faded as we read on fungipedia that though edible, they were of low quality. 

Mushrooms as big as our palms!
Determined to find something we could eat for our lunch, we stopped at each unfamiliar mushroom and spent what seemed an age trying to ascertain whether they were toxic or not. My favourite part of foraging is scrambling through the forest and the stopping and starting was a little tedious. The pictures we found online varied so much and we couldn't be entirely sure the mushrooms in front of us were the same as in the online archives. It's a risky call to make. Often an edible mushroom will have a copy cat mushroom which is toxic.

After umming and aahing for the time it takes a mushroom to grow, we picked two samples of a mushroom that is endearingly nicknamed 'Pixaca', or in English, 'dog piss'. No joke. It must be to do with its colour and lack of popularity. They are brown capped, with yellow spongy gills and a spotty yellow and brown stalk.

Hello there. Are you the one they call Dog Piss?
I also picked up a little grey and white specimen, which I was almost certain was a 'fredolic', a mushroom I used to collect with my Dad. I didn't feel over confident but planned to Google enthusiastically before I cooked it. We also picked up a few white puffballs and, finally, we revisited out patch from the first day and found five rovellons.

Foe or friendly fredolic?
It wasn't much for a lunch, so we saved them and cooked them for dinner. I was a little bit worried about the yellow dog piss ones, and my husband didn't fancy tasting my I'm-80%-sure-it's-a-fredolic. After I'd gobbled it down, he showed me a list of the five mushrooms that could actually kill a human. I could have killed him when the first picture popped and it looked exactly like the mushroom I'd just eaten.

"It's not the same," he insisted nervously. "The one in the picture has a ring, see?"

The murderous mushroom looked less like my one in the second photograph. But still. It was scary. Next I tried the puff ball. It was creamy inside, like a Lindt chocolate ball, except Lindt chocolate balls are much better because they don't taste of moss and soil.

The deadly mushroom would have an affect between 20 minutes and 4 hours after
consumption. I went to bed two hours after eating it and with my stomach intact. My skin felt itchy, but then that was probably from all the scratches from scampering through the forest.

I was relieved when I woke up the next morning still alive. I've decided I don't think one should be too hasty when sampling wild mushrooms. So many look so alike and I think it would be safer to learn from an expert. I've actually been searching for a mycology course but without much luck.  

In other foraging news, my husband also picked up a berry like fruit on our excursion. He appeared with it later that day and asked me to eat it without looking it up online. I thought it was a real test of my faith in him that I did it. Luckily It was delicious. Turns out it's called a madroño fruit (Arbutus) and can be used in jams and sauces. Husband now says he is more excited about this fruit than mushrooms.

(Erm, I don't know if this blog is turning into The Good Life. I'm just going with the flow at the moment.) 

Monday, 24 October 2016

The Joy of Mushroom Foraging

I've rediscovered the pure joy of mushroom foraging! My Dad introduced me to it when I was little and we used to go into the pre-pyrenees mountains to look for them.  

Not sure what it is - but I'm guessing toxic!
Yesterday, after a week of photo exchanges on the family WhatsApp group, not only my Dad but my brother had been showing off their finds, I decided it was time to see what Mallorca had to offer. It's rained a lot this week so I thought it would be a good time.

Rovellons or esclats de sang- the prized mushroom of my childhood - like wet, mossy ground in pine forests. That's all I know really!

Cute but what is it?
Husband and I headed off mid morning to... ha, no true mushroom hunter ever reveals where he goes. Let's just say, it was in the south west of Mallorca.

It was Sunday and our destination was disappointingly full of cars. Cars filled the off road car park. Cars were lined up along the narrow country road. Our expectations were low. We didn't even take a basket. 

I've recently read, when collecting mushrooms you must use a basket so that the spores can scatter as you walk through the forest.

We got out of the car and immediately saw a mushroom beside the back tyre. It was not one I recognised but it seemed like an excellent sign. A few minutes down the road, we saw another bright yellow one. Definitely toxic, I thought.  Google agreed. A minute after that, we spotted another.

Beautiful but poisonous!
None of the four types of mushroom we spotted in the first five minutes of our walk were edible, and yet I was already jumping up and down with excitement. I felt high on nature, high on being on this grown up treasure hunt.

(I'm giving a business consultant feedback on her book about 'personal power'. There's a part about how we should raise our energy levels by reconnecting with our passions and dedicating time to doing things that makes us feel joyful. What was the last thing that made you really happy? Do it!)

Our plan was to join a hiking route, but half way before we got to the start, we decided to go off road and check out a mossy patch. Immediately we saw two more species of mushroom. The thorny bushes were vicious, cutting up our legs and arms, but we couldn't resist continuing.
Rovellons - edible and delicious!

My husband spotted the first rovello. It was a little paler than I was used to but I got down on my knees and scraped around it to check the colour underneath. There's a trickster mushroom called un rop which is almost identical to the rovello but white underneath. 

This one was pink underneath. Result!  Beside it there was a smaller one... and not far from it... another and another and another! It was incredible. We had only been walking ten minutes and we found 11 in one spot!

In the evening we fried garlic in olive oil and then added our mushrooms. The idea is you fry them until all the water leaves them. We had them on toast with a glass of red wine. It felt quite something to have foraged for your own dinner. 

After his first successful mushroom trip, my husband feels very confident. He thinks it was as easy as picking them up from the supermarket. Tomorrow we'll head out again and we'll see if it was beginners luck!


Extract from my book Shop Girl Diaries (Diary entry: 2nd October 2008)

It was just me and my Dad on the trip. Mum stayed to run the shop.
          We arrived in the village at night; the air smelt of earth and blown out candles. This was the village of my childhood. It was where I’d learnt that lizards lost their tails when in danger and a Calimocho was wine mixed with Coca Cola.
          In the morning the sun was shining.
          Time expanded.
          Old men sat on benches chewing toothpicks. They grunted and stared.
          Everyone who passed by was under scrutiny.
          Papa and I sat out on the balcony with our books, pens and newspapers.      
          The Spanish papers had adopted a tabloid tone for that week’s disaster. The stock exchange was collapsing; the banks were in trouble.
          Papa rubbed his hands together and looked excited.
          ‘I’m getting very worried!’ he said.
          I looked across at the sleepy plaza.
          The sun was out and a breeze was gently lifting the pants on the washing line.
          I could hear the clang of cow bells.
          It was hard to muster any worry in the pueblo.
          Perhaps If I’d had money I would’ve been a bit more concerned. It felt good not to own anything.
          In the afternoon we headed into the forest.
          I felt about twelve years old with my wicker basket and as free as a mountain goat.
          Rovellons are like big, fat orange buttons sown into the earth.
          There weren’t lots about and I was thrilled by each one I found.
          ‘We’re going back to our roots, aren’t we?’ I said. ‘We’re hunters again!’
          In the evening, Papa fried the mushrooms with garlic.
          ‘What else could we find in the forest?’
          I had a devilish desire to shoot a rabbit.
          ‘Cauliflower,’ Papa said.
          We followed the same simple pattern each day.
          I wrote endlessly, plotting my novel about the phoenix until my head hurt.
          It was perfect.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Unproductive Days and Changing your Mindset

I was listening to a podcast as I do when I'm fishing for wisdom on an unproductive day. The kind of useless day when everything seems so impossible and frustrating, and everyone so annoying and demanding. The sort of day you want to throw yourself on the floor and thrash your arms and legs about like a furious toddler suffering some terrible injustice. Like not being allowed to shoplift Peppa Pig or shovel M&Ms up your nose.

The subject was the Successful Author Mindset and I was half listening, half observing the familiar knot of anxiety in my stomach caused by the feeling this day was not going to be salvaged. A few words on the podcast caught my attention and I rewound the cheerful voice of Joanna Penn. She was talking about a book called “The Success Principles” by Jack Canfield.  
The first thing it says is take 100% responsibility for your life.
100%? I considered my unhappy predicament, my restlessness and angst. 100% seemed rather a lot of responsibility.
Was it true? Should I?
I suppose I hadn't got much done today because I was tired. I was tired because we'd had a friend to visit and we'd treated Monday like a Saturday night. We'd drunk quite a bit and it takes me at least two days to recover from a hangover. So that did explain why I wasn't feeling very focused. I could have drunk less so I guess I had to take responsibility for that.
What else was wrong?
Okay, I'd been feeling a bit sorry for myself which was contributing to my weariness. I was feeling sorry for myself because I'm not yet a rich, bestselling author with books translated in every language from Chinese to Chamicuro*.
(*Chamicuro is a language from Peru and apparently has only 8 native speakers. It's probably only oral so it's a silly example, for which I apologise half heartedly.)    
But wasn't the reason I wasn't a rich best selling blablabla my responsibility too? I could have become a plastic surgeon if I'd wanted to make some money a bit quicker. And if I wanted to be a best seller then it was up to me to write more than three books, wasn't it?
Oh, I thought. And I realised I had no one to blame for my terrible day and no reason to feel any more terrible than necessary.

It cheered me up knowing I could take so much responsibility for my life. Now to decide what to do with it...