Sunday, 12 August 2018

gardens in the rain, and the restorative power of plants

yesterday we spent the afternoon out at exbury gardens. it was one of those mornings that started great and then disintegrated... so we packed ourselves into the car, let the todder fall asleep and drove around the new forest. almost as soon as i was in the countryside i could feel my spirit lift, and so my husband decided to drive us to somewhere new (to us) that he knew would make us all feel brighter.

exbury gardens was created by the De Rothschild family, and is a really well established garden. it blends into the Beaulieu River in a way i've never experienced in a garden before, and the view from the bank is absolutely phenomenal, even in the rain.

obviously, right now we're sort of into visiting gardens (see our visit to Hillier Gardens), because the 2.5 year old just loves to run around and i am really enjoying the restorative power of creation, especially in its cultivated form rather than wild - but i think with these gardens being in the middle of the forest, there was a good deal of both on offer.

since working with flowers for a living, i love to see them cultivated so beautifully, and it inspires me one day to do the same - i hope one day i will have a garden that i can invite other people to sit in and enjoy. i even love having just a few pots at the moment because it brings me such joy!

there is one particular garden at Exbury, the Sundial garden, which is hidden away and is absolutely abundant with flowers at this time of year, it was so gorgeous and i could've stayed there for a whole day.

the garden also has its own steam train to ride on, which was fun for all of us actually, not just the toddler!

we also ate at the cafe, which was really delicious! the only thing i'd say is that it's a pretty pricey experience, so it wouldn't be a super regular thing for us, but it's definitely worth going and we will go back in another season (and maybe on a sunnier day!)

thank you for reading x

currently listening to: better love by green river ordinance

you may be interested in reading: 25 things to do with a toddler

Friday, 10 August 2018

love and marriage : my relationship advice

hey all, today i'm sharing something close to my heart - i'm talking about marriage, my tips and advice from all the things i've learnt these last crazy 6 years!

if you're new to this blog, my name is Alissa and i'm married to a guy named Pete, and our story is not super typical (but then whose is?). we got married 11 months after we met, and we planned the wedding in a short 11 weeks. we didn't live together, and he was my first ever boyfriend - it was a steep learning curve for me in particular, and i think a lot of people thought we were crazy! but we were madly in love, and we still are, praise God!

honestly, the first year of marriage in particular was tremendously difficult for me, because there was a lot of new things to learn about living with a man, about living with Pete and about what marriage meant. i even honestly had a very real moment where i almost packed my bags to leave, because it was all too much for me... but i stayed and fought, because that's a big part of being married, fighting for each other. 

so here goes on my list of marriage tips for you. please read them all, take those that are helpful and discard the rest - not all of these will be relevant for all of you, and some you may already have learnt or not be ready to learn, or maybe they just don't relate to how you see marriage... anyhow, here goes!

1. put yourself in their shoes.
the surefire best way to end an argument is to throw away your pride and your way of seeing things and try to see things from the other persons point of view. maybe they're tired from a long day and they aren't thinking clearly, maybe they were taught a different way to handle that situation as a child and they've never seen it another way.

i reckon if you take the time to see things from their angle you'll feel both empathy and understanding and solve your argument much more quickly. that doesn't mean that you tell them how you think they're seeing it (although sometimes that is appropriate), instead it means just accepting their perspective and gracefully sharing your own or trying things from a new angle. 

         “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” 
– Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

2. don't always listen to the world around you. 
no-one knows your marriage like you two. you are the only two people in this marriage and whilst outside advice is sometimes helpful, you shouldn't take it from every single source. everyone's understanding of the inner workings of marriage is different, because every person is different and every couple has a different way of working things out.

even family can get it wrong too, and they're often the first to give you their opinion on the way you do things. but you need to be wise and thoughtfully weigh up the opinions you take on board, because sometimes they can be damaging to your relationship.

i've found the best advice we get is from other married couples, especially those that have been married for longer and/or are similar personality types to us. make sure you make time to ask those people for advice when you're having a more serious issue or you need some tips.

3. figure out what your expectations are/were of marriage.
with marriage comes a lot of expectation and assumption of how things should and shouldn't be. and for me, a lot of that came from movies that i'd watched - and it is so funny to catch myself almost playing out a scene from a movie but in real life. you know what i mean, when something cliche in life happens, say the man has left his dirty clothes in a heap on the floor, we have a lot of movie reference guides for how that scene should play out...

instead, every time you assume your partner should be doing a particular thing in a particular way, or your marriage should resemble something else, ask yourself why? where did that assumption come from? try and eradicate those expectations from your marriage and start in a fresh way - do things the way you two would do them, don't copy other people!

4. be endlessly forgiving. 
a major life lesson, especially within marriage, is to not set a limit on how much forgiveness you will show your spouse. just keep on forgiving them, keep on showing them love, and keep on being understanding. it's emotionally exhausting sometimes, and often involves you laying down your own pride, but isn't that what we should do for our spouses? lay down our lives for theirs? 

this goes especially for those little things that annoy you about them, those little irritating habits that can build resentment in you over time. we have a choice in marriage - we can either be the typical wife that moans about her husband coming home late after work all the time or we can chose to not let it bother us, accept our situation, forgive him and move on with a smile on our face (a real one).

      "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no account of wrongs. Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth.…"
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

if you saw the video i did about resenting my husband then you'll have more of an understanding on this point, and if you haven't seen it yet i'd recommend to because there's been a lot of positive feedback from it...

5. serve each other, in ways you each appreciate.
if you've not read the 5 love languages (US/UK) then why not? it's a really helpful book that can help you understand how every single person sees love in a different way, and it has really helped our marriage, because quite often we find that we're trying to show love using the wrong sort of language - say Pete says "i love you" but doesn't hug me, then i think that he is lying. or for him if he comes home and i give him a hug but then he sees that the house is a mess then he thinks i don't love him. we all have different ways to understand and appreciate love, and they're not wrong, they're just different. 

and when we choose to accept these differences and show each other love in ways we understand then marriage is SO much sweeter. 

      “A good marriage is a contest of generosity.”
-Diane Sawyer

also, please note, that these "love languages" change over time and with different seasons of life, so make sure you're always communicating if something isn't working for you and you need something different.

6. understand that men and women are different. 
last night we watched The Female Brain (see trailer) which was actually a really funny comedy movie about how our brains are wired differently and it reminded Pete and i of some important truths.

sometimes we come from different angles because we're wired differently - and we have different emotional attachments to different scenarios. and that's ok! accepting these differences is part of the battle, and then you can communicate in a different way about them.

7. TALK!
lack of communication is the reason that marriage counseling exists. you need to make space to talk with each other, share not just problems, but share your life with each other. don't hide things, always be open and 100% honest, even to the point of embarrassment or an argument. remember that its better to say it than not say it... however difficult.

8. be naked!
if we're ever struggling to communicate then one of the easiest ways to resolve an issue or think more clearly is to get naked. this may just be in our marriage this one, but we often find it helps! generally we just lie naked in bed with the sheets over us, and we end up having a much better discussion than we would've done clothed on the sofa. sometimes anyway. but if the conversation doesn't happen, then something else might, and that's also helpful in a marriage ;)

9. don't gossip about your spouse.
respect your partner by addressing them directly with the issues you have with them. i think i used to think it was normal to talk about problems with my spouse with my family and friends, but then referring back to point #2, not everyone has helpful advice.

also it wrecks trust and makes them respect you less. and breeds resentment towards your husband in other people, which isn't great as the years go on and your still married to them. i know this one first hand, and i wish i could go back in time and not say bad things about him to my family and friends.

      “The best thing we can do with the failures of the past is to let them be history.” 
― Gary Chapman

10. do stuff together.
when you got married you wanted to spend your lives together, doing stuff together right? but then life happens and it's all too easy to get swept up in careers or children, and forget the importance of doing life together. so make time for each other in whatever way suits you both - for us its going out to lunch at the weekends with our son, or just cooking a special meal for each other in the week. making time to do thing together is so key.

11. accept change in each other. grow together.
one of the things we're learning right now in our marriage, during this period in our lives where a lot of major things have happened (see here and here), we've both been learning a lot about ourselves and the world around us, seeing things more clearly and sometimes seeing things differently. one of the things we've made sure to do is to talk to each other about these things, go on the journey together, talk about how we're feeling, help each other through it, and repair together.

i think it can often happen that people drift apart as the years go on, and i think that's because it actively takes effort to bother to share stuff with each other over time, because you can assume you already know how the other person is feeling or what they're thinking. but however well you know someone, they will probably still surprise you. share you personal journey together.

so there you have it, my marriage advice!

now really quickly i want to address those people who aren't married but are thinking about getting married, wondering 'should i get married?' ...

1. don't settle! 
only marry someone you think is smoking hot inside and out. AND that you honestly love like the love in the movies, that proper head over heels thing is REAL people, i live it and i see it all around me. and without that passion, marriage can work, but it's not as fun.

2. don't marry because you think you 'should', because you think 'it's time' or because you think that's just the next step in your relationship. 
marriage is HARD and should be entered into lightly or for the wrong reasons. the only reason to marry someone is if you LOVE them and you GENUINELY want to spend your life with them, however hard it gets. and seriously think about if you should really get married if you're doing it so you can have kids or because your parents want you to or because you think you're getting too old!

and for the guys in particular:
 - run after her, especially when she wants to run the other way. women are more flight than fight. be persistent, it's heroic!
 - listen to her, even when you have no idea what she's saying. don't try to "fix" it, just listen.
 - work on your physical spacing in an argument, it's taken 5 years but finally i realised the best place for my husband when i'm annoyed with him isn't cuddling me, it isn't the other side of the room, it's sat right next to me. 

and lastly,
      "In marriage, each partner is to be an encourager rather than a critic, a forgiver rather than a collector of hurts, an enabler rather than a reformer."
 - Norman Wright and Gary Oliver

thank you so much for reading - please ask if you have any questions - i'm here x

Monday, 6 August 2018

chocolate truffle tart for breakfast | gluten free, refined sugar free

this is one of those blog posts where i'm really writing things down for the sake of my own memory, because this tart is delicious! and i want to be able to make it again...

yesterday afternoon i was just in the mood to bake something, and i had a load of chocolate in the cupboard - good chocolate that needn't be wasted, and needed to be celebrated. and i'd been in the mood for a chocolate tart like i used to get down at the patisserie when we lived in Brussels. and i managed to make one!!

chocolate truffle tart
makes 1 large tart, serves 10

for the crust
a handful of dried dates
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1/2 a large banana or 1 small banana
3/4 cup oats
a sprinkle of sea salt
approx 1 cup buckwheat flour (or other flour)

for the filling
200g dark chocolate
2 tbsp coconut sugar
1 can coconut milk (the creamy bit not the watery bit)
drizzle vanilla extract
a sprinkle of sea salt
2 egg whites

coconut shreds, for topping (optional)

1. pit the dates and put them in a bowl and cover them over with boiling hot water for 10-15 mins to soften them.
2. pour off the water from the dates and add them to a blender, with the coconut oil and banana. blend until totally smooth. 
3. add in the oats and sea salt and blend again until smooth.
4. put the paste into a bowl and add buckwheat flour until the mixture is not sticky any more and you can roll it with a rolling pin. it will depend on what type of dates you use, the size of your banana and what type of flour you use as to how much you will need, so go slowly until you have the right consistency. 
5. roll the pastry dough out into a circle and place/press into a tart pan.
6. bake in a preheated oven (180c/350f) for 10 minutes or until cooked through and slightly golden at the edges. remove from the oven and let cool.
7. place a pyrex bowl over a pan shallowly filled with 1 inch of water. add your chocolate and sift in the coconut sugar. bring the pan of water to a medium temperature, almost a simmer but not too hot or else you could burn the chocolate - slow is good! (mine took 20mins or so)
8. once thoroughly melted and incorporated (the sugar will still look quite grainy at this stage) add in the vanilla extract, sea salt and the creamy coconut milk and whisk until very smooth. 
9. separate your eggs if you haven't already and whisk the egg whites in a bowl until they form stiff peaks. 
10. fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. then pour this mixture into the prepared pastry crust. sprinkle over any toppings you so desire (i used coconut shreds) and then place in the fridge to set for 2 hours or overnight.
11. enjoy!!

cook's notes:
 - to separate your coconut milk more easily, pop it in the fridge and then the cream will harden and be really easy to separate. otherwise pour slowly and do not shake the can before doing so, and it should be easy enough to stop pouring once you see the coconut water at the bottom.
 - you could also substitute soy cream for the coconut milk.
 - to make this vegan, simply omit the egg whites and it is still a very light and delicious mousse! (and arguably more similar to the original Belgian version)

this is a really light and fluffy mousse-like texture, and actually would be delicious without the crust too served in individual ramekins - it would be a great chocolate cream pie filling too topped with whipped coconut cream and bananas! this is such a versatile mousse.

and i did eat it for breakfast today! because of the high amount of dark chocolate in it, there's a fair amount of caffeine, so it makes a good morning treat - there's even a version of this in my old breakfast cookbook in the brunch section ;)

thankfully my little Buds doesn't really like dark chocolate yet, so even though he tried a mouthful it came back out again - i'm so proud of him for always trying, i hope that always stays!

thanks for reading x

currently listening to: farther along by josh garrels

Thursday, 2 August 2018

seeking nature & finding the woodland pigs

this morning i woke up with some energy, which for me is actually a pretty rare occurrence. and because the sun was shining right along with me i decided that little IJ and i should go out for the morning. nowhere too far, somewhere that would be relaxing and calming, and i've been so envious of my brothers trip to Sweden (see his instagram) that i needed to be in BEAUTY so badly today. 

so i settled on a trip to Sir Harold Hillier Gardens - reasonably close to where we live, and also not somewhere with too many "kiddy" distractions - it's cultivated of course but it's not designed for children so it's very peaceful for both of us. 

one of my favourite things ever is to walk around beautiful gardens, see the flowers up close, smell them, listen to the buzz of the insects, walk in the shade of giant trees. it nurtures my soul, reminds me of how intricately made our planet is, and gives me vitality and energy... 

the whole morning actually went pretty well, given we got there at 10:30 and left at 1pm, and we didn't take the pushchair at all! he walked almost entirely the whole way by himself, up steps and up hills, through woodlands and on paths. i was a VERY proud mama today. he didn't moan and i honestly think he loved it in the same way as i did, because he was also calmed and relaxed by the whole experience. 

there were a couple of times that he fussed and then we just ate a little cake, or drank a little juice and carried on. there are a lot of things to distract a toddler, like woodland pigs or some beautiful sculpture, and that helps to keep them moving! i was so thankful there wasn't a massive play-park to distract him in a fake way from the amazing play-park that was the entire garden, where he could watch fish and walk down cute hidden pathways, or tangle himself up in giant bamboo.

so, i wanted to share the photos i took with you, because i hope they can transport you in some way, so you can enjoy some of the beauty that we did too - and maybe it'll inspire you to get to some sort of garden near you.

also, it's surprising how far a 2 year old will walk to go and see pigs! we travelled the whole length of the estate to find them, and he almost didn't want to leave..,

so, i hope you enjoyed reading! let me know where your favourite gardens are to visit with your toddler, because we'd love to visit more all over the country x

ps. this sort of follows on in a genuinely accidental way to my most recent blog post about things to do to pass the time with your toddler! sometimes you just have to get in the car and have an outing, and today i was so glad we did seize the moment.