Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The Real Hygge

'Hygge' is the new buzz word. It used to be that only the most serious of Scandiphiles would have heard of this abstract idea imported from Denmark but now there seems to be a new book about hygge published every week. Every lifestyle column has a guide to hygge, there is hygge fashion, hygge blankets, hygge candles and hygge cafes and bars serving hygge food and hygge drinks. The hygge overload has left us feeling both captivated and confused at the same time. I am not an expert but it is not a new concept for me either; my Danish mother-in-law introduced me to the idea of hygge over 20 years ago and extolled its benefits long before it was fashionable or we had any idea of how to pronounce it ('hoogah' is probably the simplest phonetic guide in case you were wondering!)

Far from feeling pleased with the prospect of the UK embracing one of the best Danish exports since Carlsberg I have instead been feeling a little a bit peeved at the  inevitable 'cashing in' from commercialism. It is easy to lose the true essence of hygge and be left with just the material trappings and only a basic understanding of what it really means. One reason for this is the translation itself limits the explanation. Hygge is one of those words that does not translate into English. We do not have an equivilant word and though many put forward 'cosiness' as a sufficient synonym, hygge is far more complex than this twee interpretation suggests. A better explanation might be 'a sense of well-being'; 'being at peace with your own company'; 'a feeling of togetherness in a group of like-minded friends' or 'an appreciation of the simple pleasures in life'.  

You do not need to make any expensive purchases of cashmere throws or wildly overpriced candles, neither do you need to install a log burner to achieve hygge. What you do need to invest in, however, is time. That most precious of commodities is key to hygge. Taking time for ourselves, spending quality time with our family, or to gather with friends, is a luxury few of us can afford. Everyone is always trying to cram more and more work into less and less time and the lines between work and play are increasingly blurred. Weekends become the overspill of chores and errands, and even when we do get precious free time we do not feel that going for a walk, having a candle-lit bath or curling up with a good book is somehow a worthy use of it. Real hygge is contentment with 'just being' and I think most British people find it hard to give themselves permission to step off the treadmill and stop the constant multi-tasking. 

Hygge is not just for Christmas either. Its introduction to our shores seems to have been inextricably tied together with the season. A real fire, candlelight and fluffy blankets do much to help create a hygge atmosphere but it is possible to experience hygge during the warmer months too. Hygge is just as much about a walk in the spring rain and splashing in April puddles or a summer evening barbecue with friends and watching the sun set. 

To me, at the heart of hygge is being kind to yourself. It is an understanding that a little care is needed if we are to store up emotional well-being in preparation for a real or metaphorical winter. Hygge is the opposite of self-deprivation but neither is it about excess either. Real hygge is unsophisticated; there is no room for pretension or competition. It really doesn't matter if the laundry needs doing or piles of leaves are choking the lawn. Leave it. Hunker down in a cosy nook, play a board game with the family or put the kettle on and invite friends round for a cuppa. Shelter the spirit and indulge in a little hygge time.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Socket to me...

Apologies for what is a bad taste  (there is a pun here which will be revealed later) post but I feel the cathartic need to share the latest development in my autoimmune 'journey'.

One of the many joys of Sjogren's Syndrome is the inevitable dental decay. This is because for us Sjoggies saliva production is drastically reduced causing a whole host of subsequent problems the most distressing of which is the effect on your pearly whites. 

Saliva generally makes me think of poor old Pavlov's dog, conditioned to drool at the sound of a bell, but it turns out that saliva is, in fact, the elixir for good dental health. It's not just dribble, I'll have you know, it does a whole load more than just helping you to chew, taste and swallow. Saliva contains powerful antibacterial properties that help to clean your teeth from food debris and fight against invading hordes of microbes as well as containing proteins and minerals to protect both tooth enamel and gums. Oral bacteria can double their numbers every twenty minutes under 'ideal conditions' (ideal conditions being dry mouth, constant snacking and a predilection for sweet things) so saliva is an essential shield.

The average person produces 2-4 pints of saliva per day - I'll say that again, 2-4 pints...a day!! Being so saliva-challenged, I've lost count of how many hours of torturous root canal I have endured in my desert battle to save my teeth so when I was faced with the option to either try to save yet another badly decayed tooth (with small chance of success) or to have it extracted, I chose the latter.

I feel sorry for dentists - people always saying how much they hate them! I have managed to find that very rare gem - a good NHS dentist willing to take on new (troublesome) patients. When D Day came around I was so pleased with myself for managing to sit calmly in the chair while in my head I was freaking out. I really wanted a 'good job little buddy' acknowledgement and a sticker at the end as a medal for my bravery.  I'm not going to lie it was pretty gruesome but, incredibly, it was not really painful...until...around 48 hours later I began to experience the worst kind of agony imaginable - right up there with childbirth and gallstones. I had developed the post extraction complication of  'dry socket' - what a delightful medical term that is. I'll spare you the full details other than to say that this is another name for what is essentially a failure of the gum to clot and heal properly, leaving exposed bone and nerve endings...OUCH! 

Days and nights blurred into a kind of gummy madness with me pacing around a darkened room shovelling down various painkillers every four hours until I began to fret about liver damage as well. Typically, the worst of it peaked over the weekend when I considered, and then dismissed, a trip to A&E. First thing Monday I called the dentist and although the treatment was, in the ten minutes it took, excrutiating, the relief afterwards came quickly. I'm still recovering and - though not completely pain free - the relief at the moment from the total torment is amazing. I don't think I have a very high pain threshold but I was reassured to hear that many grown men have been known to weep from 'dry socket'; one man, a boxer no less, even called an ambulance in the middle of the night and ran, half dressed, out into road and into the arms of the attending paramedics, pleading hysterically for morphine!

One thing this little trauma has made me is truly thankful. I'm thankful for our wonderful NHS and thankful for skilled health professionals. I think of all those people who do not have access to the medical aid and supplies that they desperately need, those alone with no support and those living day in day out with chronic pain. How lucky we are. How lucky I am.

You might 'socket to me' Sjogren's but 'spit happens' and I'm determined not to be 'down in the mouth'!  

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Living on an Island

Excuse me, Status Quo fans, for stealing this song title for a blog post but it immediately sprang to mind on the morning of the 24th June. I woke up around 5am after a fitful few hours of sleep to what I felt sure was still a nightmare - but, no, it was in fact reality - the UK (or more correctly England) had voted to leave the EU. 

I sat with my head in my hands.

It still seems incredible to me that almost 52% of voters were happy to go along with Gove's glib assertion that they'd 'had enough of experts'. I had been hopeful that his past experience as Education Secretary might have been lesson enough in what happens when you don't pay heed to experts. It made no difference how many stark warnings were provided by economists, lawyers or academics, the Leave campaign were 'avin' nun of it'. 

Even more incredulous was the unquestioning amount of support given to a nationalist campaign which worked by feeding resentment until it ruptured through the country causing a chasm so wide that it's hard to imagine it ever being bridged. A certain amount of euroscepticism, I believe, is healthy and even the most hardliner Europhile could never claim that the EU was perfect but to believe that it's 'them' or 'us' and to push patriotism as the panacea for the world's ills...

'Island mentality' has won and my hopes are that the people who claimed that they wanted a fairer and more democratic Britain have their dreams answered, though I suspect that those who have suffered the most at the hands of a neglectful and detached government will, tragically, suffer even more in what will be an acrimonious divorce. Though I'm proud to be an 'adopted Scot' I'm also saddened too by what will be the inevitable break-up of the UK.  

So, more than 48 hours later, and down a few bottles of (French) wine, has my shock abated? Not really. I still find myself bewildered at the nation's choice but a certain amount of resignation has also set in. Social media shows no sign of putting the flames of blame out and indignation and accusation look set to continue for the foreseeable future. I've decided that my own Brexit manifesto is going to have to be a peaceful one; despite the worries about the immediate aftermath, and what might be in store for the younger generation in the long term, we have to respect the decisions made. I hope and pray for empathetic and diplomatic leaders who can bring about the co-operation that is needed to sort out the mess and rebuild. For myself, I'm working on getting past the disappointment, drawing a line and moving on  ___________________________________ 

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The return of the light...

“Is the spring coming?" he said. "What is it like?"...
"It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine...” 

Well, we've had two weeks of Easter holidays and I'm feeling refreshed though also a little peeved at the weather. It hasn't really felt like spring here in Scotland, more like the depths of winter. We even had a flurry of snow yesterday!

Bad weather, forcing you to spend more time indoors, extends the winter gloom and feelings of negativity.  But no winter lasts forever and there are signs that finally spring is on its way; the daffodils are still blooming even when their heads have been beaten down with the wind, buds are appearing and the birds are busy building (and re-building) their nests. Spring is definitely the most optimistic month - I feel more hopeful when the light lasts a little longer each day and the clouds disperse more frequently to afford increasingly longer appearances of the sun.

Finances (the lack of) have meant that we haven't been away but spent the time at home. De-cluttering, spring-cleaning, and establishing order again, have been very therapeutic and our youngest daughter has even been inspired to clean and tidy her room (wonders never cease). We've had time to spend as a family, playing board games, enjoying film nights and visiting local haunts. We were also able to have my mum to stay for a time. Not long ago we lost my stepfather to vascular dementia and so it was good for her to have a change of scene and be cared for after such a long time of being the carer.

Spring is symbolic of renewal and looking forward and so I'm determined to try and be more positive. Spring-cleaning is not just a physical process; it's good to do a little mental and spiritual spring-cleaning too, don't you think? Too often I find myself holding on to negative thoughts and dwelling on disappointment. You can end up planting little seeds of anxiety and self-doubt and they grow very quickly to become overwhelming - putting happiness in the shade and eroding confidence.

So here's to optimism, moving forward and to the return of the light!

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

You know you're (almost) an adult when...

Well, it's happened. I can hardly believe it, but my eldest has turned 18! It's quite a milestone for her, and me. She's excited to be officially recognised as an adult and I feel officially recognised as ancient!

I think most people would say that it's not until you're well into your 20s that you feel grown up and possibly not until you're earning and you've paid your own bills! For me, it wasn't until I was a mum, and completely responsible for someone else, that I felt, terrifyingly, like I'd well and truly reached adulthood.

There are earlier signs, though, that you are turning into an adult and so I thought it would be fun to share some of them (well, 18 signs to be exact):

1. You have your own shopping list for IKEA - before you just dragged along behind your parents and whined about getting a hotdog. Now you've looked online and through the catalogue, you know what's new, you've measured, you have a colour scheme and you've written down the aisle number.

2. You regularly go to bed before 11pm - you're yawning by 9pm and off to the land of nod long before younger siblings.

3. You understand light fittings - you know what a 'bayonet cap' is and you might have even changed a lightbulb.

4. You've plucked up enough courage to actually leave a message - and what's more, it made sense

5. You enjoy a trip to the garden centre - it's a serious sign of age when you catch yourself looking at bulbs and spring bedding plants

6. You're excited by a Friday night in - a wild night out just sounds exhausting - Netflix and your fluffy onesie - bliss

7. Your houseplants are alive - sometimes you talk to them

8. You consult the weather forecast before making plans - if it's going to be cold you might even wear a coat

9. You choose to eat a salad - jaffa cakes are no longer considered as part of your '5 a day' and you try to make healthy choices once in a while

10. You don't buy the cheapest bottle  - it's not cheap alcohol you're after, instead you enjoy a glass of decent wine

11. You've managed to kill a spider in your room by yourself - even if that involved throwing a shoe at it with your eyes closed

12. When you have friends round you actually prepare food - an open bag of dorritos doesn't count. You take time to present food nicely and you might even use the oven

13. You don't have to be asked to clean your room - you take pride in making your room look like the picture on Pinterest. You change your (co-ordinated) bedding regularly, know all about hoover attachments and have even been known to dust!

14. You've spent your own money on cushions and candles - you might even have a summer and winter collection

15. You start to reminise - yep, nostalgia creeps up on you and before you know it you're telling 'Do you remember when...' stories

16. You take your make up off before going to bed - you take skin care seriously and begin to worry about sun aging

17. You've scheduled your own dentist's/doctor's appointment - what's more, you don't expect a sticker or lollypop at the end

18. New socks make you happy

So, there you have it: my comprehensive checklist. Even if you can tick all of these, don't grow up too fast, my lovely daughter. Honour the child inside and do something ridiculous every so often (though please not anything too expensive or anything that involves a trip to the police station!)

Wednesday, 27 January 2016


I do loathe January. It's just a month I know, and it's entirely illogical to link mood to the calendar, but nevertheless I find myself wallowing in a mid winter gloom that's hard to shake off.

Perthaps it's the post-celebratory comedown following the highs of Christmas and New Year. Perhaps it's the extra flab piled on beneath bulge-hiding jumpers. Or perhaps it's the weather; I don't know about you but here in Scotland I've forgotten what the sun looks like. Most probably it's a combination of all of these factors. Consequently, I haven't really been feeling myself lately. I'm not depressed but I'm definitely a little way down on the happiness index.

I think of myself as generally a happy person. I'm not always resillient but I don't take myself too seriously either. Quite honestly, I'm a bit of loon most of the time - fond of acting the fool and laughing at my own jokes! I tend to view the world in an optimistic way and focus on the nice things (my husband would say I see things in a 'naive' way and I'm drawn to 'fluffy' things!)

Stuck indoors and laid low with a bit of a flare of my illness, I watched a documentary on Netflix entitled 'Happy'. I was struck by its findings about happiness. It wasn't anything really revolutionary but it was revealing. The documentary combines real life stories from people around the world with interviews from leading scientists and psychologists. The focus on the non-material aspects of happiness was uplifting and reinforced the idea of shared human experience and a sense of community as being essential to contentment.

I particularly liked the aged Brazilian surfer who talked about the importance of physical activity and trying to 'work so that you can live your life in tranquility'. Easier said than done I'm sure but that also seemed to be another message in the film: that happiness is not an end goal. There is no defintive point to happiness but instead an ongoing experience. It's gratitude for the small things, kindness and cooperation that increase our happiness as illustrated perfectly by the rickshaw driver thankful for the tarpuline cover on his home in the Kolkatta slums. For me, the most touching part of the movie, however, was the visit to the Japanese island of Okinwawa which holds the record for the highest number of 100 year olds. I think these centanarians have much to teach us about happiness. Here's a little clip:

If you're feeling the January blues too then I'd reccomend you watch 'Happy'. It is as enjoyable to watch as the name implies. And now, although surfing is out of the question, I am going to get outside and commune with nature even if that does mean walking in the rain and admiring the mud!