Happy Chinese New Year

happy new year of the rabbit!  Jan 22nd is the official day for new year, but the celebrations can last for up to 2 weeks. 

1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023

we are leaving the energetic Tiger year and entering the more quiet and introspective Rabbit – the Rabbit is a symbol of intellect and cautiousness and this year we should all be focusing on rest and working smarter not harder – take a moment to think before action, not rushing into something that you may later regret.

taking a pause and a breath is a really useful tool for calming the system. Qigong helps to cultivate calmness as well as compassion and kindness – movements are uncrushed using fluid, intention based movements to allow our thoughts and body to work in a balanced way. for more information about my Qigong classes, both online and in person, please message or email me.

People born in the Year of the Rabbit are articulate, talented, and ambitious. They are virtuous, reserved, and have excellent taste. Rabbit people are admired, trusted, and are often financially lucky. They are fond of gossip but are tactful and generally kind. Rabbit people seldom lose their temper. They are clever at business and being conscientious, never back out of a contract. They would make good gamblers for they have the uncanny gift of choosing the right thing. However, they seldom gamble, as they are conservative and wise.

12 days after xmas

Friday is the twelfth day after christmas and is traditionally the day that you take down your xmas decorations- so dont forget!    jan 6th is epiphany and is the day the three wise  men (magi) brought their gifts to the young Jesus;  so especially in Latin American countries, the 6th Jan is usually the day that presents are given rather than 25th december.   On the night of the 5th, instead of stockings, kids leave their shoes out, stuffed with straw. It’s not Santa who comes in the middle of the night leaving the children presents. Instead, it’s the three magi who come bringing gifts for the kids, just like when they gave the baby Jesus presents in honor of his birth. The straw in the children’s shoes is for the Wise Men’s camels to eat.

To celebrate the Epiphany in Spain there are often parades featuring the three magi…  it seems it doesnt take much excuse to put on a parade in spain, throughout the year there is always a festival, parade or street party to either celebrate a saints day, or notable date in the calendar! thats what I love about spain, its cultures and traditions that are still family celebrations.

I wish that I was there in spain to celebrate – have never made it at this time of year – one day – its even been mild and sunny above 20C!

21Dec2013_0062
28_star_snow

winter solstice

Known as the winter extreme in Chinese wisdom, the 22nd December sees the Winter Solstice – a magical time of year when the daylight is at its shortest and night is at its longest and darkest. Its the moment when yin reaches its peak, pauses and the spark of yang ignites and the ascent into light begins again.  Its this precise meeting of yin and yang that heralds the possibility of new creation, both spiritually and emotionally. In this moment of stillness feel that anything is possible.  It’s time to say goodbye to the woes of the year and look forward to the brightening of the longer days and the goodness of the future. 

img_5490

one year i managed to catch the full moon known as the ‘harvest moon’ – so called because it signals the time when corn, pumpkins, squash, beans and wild rice – the chief indian staples are ready for gathering.   here is the full moon on the padstow estuary – its the view from my friends’ house. its actually one of my favourite images in my book stolen glimpses.

harvestmoon27Sep2015_006827Sep2015_0071R

buying gifts is such a difficult thing….

what to buy each year becomes a dilemma – here is my list of what usually works for most of the family.

  1. curzon  cinema vouchers or membership to local cinema, could be any of the lovely independents that are around ,  2. tate, v & a membership or any gallery subscription – older kids seem to have preferred the Barbican, which also gives you discounted access to the gallery and cinema, 3. ticket or gift voucher to the theatre, maybe somewhere unusual like Wiltons or Sam Wanamaker theatre or National Theatre, 4. daunts book voucher or again any local bookshop, 5. anything from aesop, 6.  anything from the wonderful art shop cornelissen 7.  food gifts from la fromagerie ,Lina stores or my favourite Italo in Bonnington Square , 8.  jewellery from Tidy Street, Liberty’s or  sweet pea,, 9. ceramics – Conran, Japan House – at the moment, I love Japanese bowls from Sway gallery 10. candles from cire trudon or Tom Dixon’s fab new shop 11. a treatment from the Cow Shed, my husband got me a voucher last year for my birthday and the pedicure was pretty amazing. 12. of course there is a night’s stay in a hotel somewhere in the countryside, and there are so many lovely hotels to stay in and one extra – a course in ceramics, a language, drawing or just about anything – there are so many courses on offer at city lit and the neighbouring adult colleges. lots of independent shops such as Momosan, Native and Co, Tidy Street, Couverture and Garb store, Vanil. remember most of these places have a website and you can get gifts delivered.

Robert and Alfie’s favourite shop for classic  men’s clothes with style,  visit  J.Simons  shop on chiltern street –  it brings together a handpicked selection of American, Continental and British brands, classic loafers, harrington jackets, jeans and even includes a few vintage pieces – perfect if you want to find your male partner or friend a gift.  i love the pendleton shirts!  you go in there wishing that they did the same things in womens sizes.

struggling to find presents for men, go along to the aesop shop in soho – their products are all plant based, high quality and specially made to benefit the skin and absolutely smell beautiful. last year i bought a foaming shaving balm for my husband with a steel dish for him to whip up the foam with his brush – he is very old fashioned and still likes to wet shave.  a lot of men hate bits and pieces, collective memoirs, so finding something to buy them  can become a bit of a challenge.  a guess this means that you have a limited list;   here are a few places that i know robert will always be pleased to receive from  -any products from  kiehls,  scarves and silk handkerchieves from peckham rye, vintage books and out of print books  from the numerous antiquarian book shops on cecil court, poetry books from  daunts, I still think that they have the best choice of books, and the re issues of classics such as Agatha Christie and Dickens are so beautifully presented that they can be the start of a collection, travel notebooks from smythsons – you can even have your own initials embossed on the beautiful leather covers, margaret howell for vases and accessories , rapha for absolutely anything cycling, brooks for classic cycling bags,chapmans for classic bags.

the boys love fresh boxers, from the great basic uniqulo boxers to the supremely quality cotton boxers from sunspel – their cotton is just lovely; even the girls like to wear them for holidays.

forever autumn

such an apt song for now , forever autumn justin hayward;  autumn is one of my favourite times of the year – its the gentle closing to summer and the breaking in of dark winter nights.  some may say its a bad time as it ends the long balmy nights, but i quite like wrapping up warm on an evening, curling up on the sofa – too lazy to venture out in the dark……

one of my new art cards available from my website
53_leaves

one of my favourite images – from my stolen glimpses book

suffolk in the autumn

I love going  to suffolk out of season – still the warmth of the sun, the breeze of the wind and the to and fro -ing of the sea; lots of lovely villages, but one of my favourites is Dunwich – a small sleepy village famous for its birdwatching. its hard to believe that it was once the unofficial capital of east anglia and the main port for trading of wool timber and fish.  there is apparently a 3 mile coastal walk to walberswick which is worth doing.  the ship at dunwich looks like a popular place to have sunday lunch, but you must reserve. there is also the lovely cafe by the beach car park, reminiscent of an old scouts hut, serving old fashioned knickerbocker glories plus great fish and chips.  stop off at dunwich forest and take a picnic and enjoy the natural beauty. on the top of the cliff top visit the National trust cafe, surrounded by fields of heather – it really is quite magical with all the changing colours.

we usually end up at Homebase in Lowestoft – so its a good excuse to pop to Kessingland beach for walk to take in the fresh sea air.  it always reminds me of Dungeness with its pebble beach, wild flora and incredible light. this is not a tourist beach, always quiet even in the height of summer.

Walberswick is easily accessible from Southwold, park at the water tower and make your way to the harbour, cross the pedestrian bridge at the end furthest from the sea and then walk down to Walberswick beach; then loop back to the harbour edge and take the short ferry ride back over to Southwold fish harbour and enjoy some fresh caught fish a Sole Bay fish and chips.

we have had the cottage 6 years now,  but we have explored the coastline on each of our short visits,  and each time we are pleasantly surprised at how naturally beautiful it is.

autumn equinox

an equinox is the moment in which the plane of Earth’s equator passes through the center of the Sun’s disk  which occurs twice each year.  today the equinox is due around 8pm – its the official end to summer and the start of autumn.  lots of cultures celebrate the equinox, including the mexicans for whom it is a big time of year.   i feel so sad for all these hurricanes and earthquakes that have affected parts of the world – we may complain about the rain and the grey days, but at least we are relatively free of these intense forces of nature.

on an equinox, day and night are of approximately equal duration all over the planet. they are not exactly equal, however, due to the angular size of the sun and atmospheric refraction. the word is derived from the Latin aequinoctium, aequus (equal) and nox (genitive noctis) (night).

beaches in Andalucia

we are on our annual family holiday in Vejer and September is a perfect temperature…. we have had the house 22 years now, watching our little one grow from one to 23 years old and still loving the area and especially the beaches.

one of my favourite beaches in andalucia is El Palmar – popular for surfing in the winter and the local beach to our village of Vejer de la Fronterra;   its quite a long beach and the waves can be strong, but the sea is fresh and exhilarating.  we tend to go to the far left of the beach which is a little bit quieter, but if you go towards Conil, there is a much more younger audience and lots of surfing and cafe and bars to choose from.

Zahora, hidden away, this natural beach is within a bay, so a bit more sheltered than the wider open beaches and is perfect for children;  however, when the tide goes out, its very shallow with lots of rocks, and a long way to walk out to swim. friends have noted that its like a Caribbean beach; if you walk up towards the lighthouse from Zahora, you will reach Manguete beach – a beautiful wild beach with nothing built on it – access by this road is more difficult as its an unmade dirt road, but well worth the journey. In the summer months, there are lovely Chiringuitos, pop up beach restaurants, but they tend to only be there from mid June to mid September.

Cabo de Trafalgar, is the famous beach from the battle of Trafalgar, totally unspoilt with nothing built on it – lots of kite surfers frequent this beach when the conditions are right for surfing – a finer sand its completely unspoilt and during the summer can have fewer waves for swimming as it is in a cove like position; the next beach along is Canos de la Meca   a smaller hippy beach, again a bit sheltered, but very busy in the summer – only worth going to out of the busy August period; the sea can be less wavy as there is a ridge in the sea that breaks the waves –  the far end is rugged with cliff tops but also attracts nudists, again wilder with no buildings built on it.  

Zahara de los Atunes is a  fishing village by the sea with a long windswept rugged beach, popular in the summer with tourists – there is a lovely bit by the old town and a long stretch further down towards the newer apartments;  we like to eat in the hotel Don Antonio and then sit on that part of the beach after and watch the sun go down, but if you stay in the old town, our other favourite restaurant la Taberna de la Campero.

Yerbabuena beach, just at the start of Barbate and next to the pine forest is a beautiful setting, especially at this time of year. There are a couple of chiringuitos there in the summer.

Conil is more built up than the other beaches, but has a fantastic long wide beach and the sea is perfect for wave jumping – again, the end nearest Vejer has a bridge that takes you to a wilder non built up part, but the other end has 2 fantastic eating places right onto the beach, La Fontanilla.

Bolonia is a great beach with the added attraction of some Roman ruins, dunes and the odd cow or horse stepping out on the seafront; – if you go left its quieter with cafes on the cliff top, right are the ruins.  Tarifa is hip, young and a magnet for windsurfing and kite surfers, but also has the wonderful dunes nearby;  between Tarifa and the dunes is the beach Valdequeros, which has a fun beach bar.

Calas de Roche are a series of coves, seven in total, accessible only by walking from the road 10 mins, and down steep steps, but they are really beautiful and wild beaches, surrounded by fossilised rocks. the waves are quite strong, but if you paddle around the rocks there are lots of pools to step into. there are no facilities for food, but in the nearby marina there are a couple of spanish style restaurants, El Pastor and El Nautico de Conil

La Barossa has more hotels around, more built up, but again a fabulous long beach; San Lucar de la Barrameda is an old fishing village by the sea, famed for its seafood – its one of our favourite towns in spain – not at all trendy, just full of locals from jerez and seville searching for the famous prawns.  Seek Bajo de Guia and eat at casa Bigote – classic traditional food that is always of a high quality.

www.andalucia-house-vejer.com

The Queen and I, a swimming adventure

I read this absolutely lovely piece by James Stuart, owner of the wonderful Califa Hotel in our town in Andalucia – he is embarking on a swim to Africa from Tarifa and he writes some beautiful stories about the coastline and his adventures. To continue reading the whole short story, go to my Guest Writers page, where I add little vignettes of life through words from several writers.

The Queen and I, a swimming adventure by James Stuart

My original title for this site was ‘The loneliness of the long distance swimmer’, stolen of course from Alan Sillitoe’s famous story about a young lad whose prowess at running takes him on a mental escape from the reality of the institution he lives in. Loneliness in the water is an irrevocable part of swimming great distances where the activity becomes an entirely solitary pursuit, even when accompanied by others in the water. Head down, arms churning, the roll of hips, the turn of the head, the deep suck of breath, the slow exhalation under water and only very brief glimpses of sky relieve the monotony and loneliness of the challenge. Talk is impossible, contact pointless.

Yesterday I took my swimming adventures to a whole new level with a 10,5km. solo swim from Atlanterra to Barbate. It’s an almost arrow straight stretch of beach running south east to north west from the edge of the cork oak studded Sierra de la Plata, past the village of Zahara de los Atunes and then along an almost endless empty stretch of coast lined with golden sand and scrubby palmito bushes. I took a companion of course, just to have a conversation with. I find this is the easiest way to break up the heady wet loneliness. In the past I’ve swum with Ernest Hemingway (“this is man’s stuff, you’re not made for defeat, you can do it”), Winston Churchill (“If only I could keep my cigar alight I might become a tad proficient at this game”), Charlie Chaplin (who swam with great proficiency and inevitably we ended up talking about women and sex), Enid Blyton (I switched her off before she became too polemic – she started asking if we might meet gypsies on the beach in Barbate), Sean Connery (James? Look here young man, we can talk about anything but just not about you know who) and even on one memorable occasion a teacher from school whose name I couldn’t remember – I spent an hour trying to get an answer from him as to why he always wore a sharp ironed crease in his jeans.

The Queen was very much in my mind as I slipped in to the morning stillness of the grey green water. She’d died the previous day, news about her was everywhere, I’d even been asked by a local newspaper wanting the reaction of the British community in the province to her death. What could I say that hadn’t been said by tens of thousands before me? Somewhat irreverently I said that I preferred licking stamps with the Queen on them than licking stamps with King Charles on them. Probably won’t be published.

to read the rest of this story, go to the Guest Writers Page.

photo courtesy of James Stuart.

Chichen Itza

Getting around Mexico is pretty easy – we thought about hiring a car, but in the end we decided it was not much more expensive booking a driver or taxi to take you around. Its just over one and half hours from Merida to Chichen Itza – one of the main Mayan sites that you must visit, especially if you are in the area of Merida. we booked the Hacienda Chichen – a lovely peaceful hotel only 10 mins drive from the ruins – set in beautiful tropical gardens within the jungle area. It’s an old style colonial building with little houses dotted around the grounds, with swimming pool and areas to walk around. The trees are some of the most incredible that I have ever seen. Food at the hotel is perfect – light Mexican food and apparently all the vegetables are grown on site – we actually saw the mangoes, papayas, almonds growing o the trees in their vegetable garden plus all the lovely chickens – now I know why there are a lot of chicken dishes on the menu!

One of the reasons we stayed there was to get up early and be the first at the archaeological site when it opened at 9am – but even though we got there for 9am, there was already a queue and you could see the coach trips starting to come in. Luckily its such a big area, you can find peaceful quiet spots to sit, contemplate and be in awe of what had been achieved over a 1000 years ago. I don’t know much about the Mayan culture, but it’s fascinating learning about another culture. Be warned, its very hot and although there are shady parts, the main pyramid is quite open, so take a hat or like me a parasol. I bought a white umbrella to shield from the direct sunlight – it’s a nuisance to carry, but if you get a folding one, it really does help protect from the 35 degrees heat.

There are 2 sections of the site – the older Mayan part with the main pyramid and the later Mayan buildings, which had much more variety of buildings – actually my favourite part as a lot of it is still surrounded by its original jungle of trees and plants, so felt more in situ. You must also see the 2 cenotes – water caverns that the Mayans worshipped for water and is one of the reasons they set up towns around this source. I would say 2 – 3 hours is enough time to stay, especially if you are in this 35 degrees heat. July/August is actually rainy season in Mexico, but generally it rains quite hard for 1 – 2 hours, then clears up. Occasionally there is a storm with thunder, lightening and more persistent rain lasting longer – it actually cools the air making it more bearable, but watch out for the mosquitoes.