Lughnasadh – the first harvest

Lughnasadh – the first harvest

No matter what is happening in my life, I can look to the changing of the seasons to find touch stones to keep me centred and grounded. One of the reasons I’ve always loved Celtic lore and history is the traditional celebrations they have to mark each passing of the season. It’s a wonderful way to reconnect with the land.

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In the Northern hemisphere, the 1st of August (a half way point between the summer solstice and autumn equinox) marks the day when, traditionally, the first harvest would have been reaped. Lughnasadh, also referred to as Lammas, celebrates the god Lugh, a sun god, at the height of the summer season (though you wouldn’t be able to tell here in Scotland, where the sun has been conspicuously absent!).

Spiritual essence of Lughnasadh

This is a time for gathering in and giving thanks for the abundance that we have sown, and that the Earth has provided. Traditionally, August was celebrated with feasting, market fairs, games and bonfire celebrations to celebrate Lugh and his mother Tailtiu. So it’s rather timely that in Edinburgh, we’re rolling into the height of our festival season, a time when people from around the world gather in the city, with an abundance of food and fairs available to suit any taste.

Yet, traditionally, with the celebrations of Lughnasadh came the acknowledgement that the seasons were changing, and that the energy of the sun was waning. The time of full harvest is not long away, and it’s now an opportunity to look back at the year and the seeds we planted to see how well they’ve grown.

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Now is a good time to get back in touch with the earth, to spend time outdoors in nature, observing the wilting of the spring flowers, as they drop their seeds to ensure renewal in the year ahead. It’s also a time to look back at the seeds we have sown and consider which are flourishing and which aren’t. Which projects that we started are we proud of, and which do we wish to finish? It is a good time to sit back and express our gratitude for the blessings and gifts we are now receiving.

Some ideas on how to mark Lughnasadh

  1. Walking through the woods and spending some time meditating in picturesque surroundings is a good way to reconnect with yourself, and also with the earth. Bring your journal with you and write a list of things for which you are grateful, contemplate all the seeds you planted at Imbolc and assess where you are and where you want to go from here.1422372_10152367532421554_103496035_n
  2. If the weather isn’t cooperating for long periods of time spent outside (like it is atthe moment in Edinburgh), set up a sacred space indoors where you can meditateand reconnect with nature. Fruits such as pears and apples are traditionally used at this time, along with grains and berries. Sacred crystals at this time of the year include all yellow and orange stones, such as citrine, honey calcite and carnelian.
  3. I find cooking a deeply meditative practice, and something that I usually do when I’m feeling positive and happy in life. Given that grain the main harvest celebrated at this time of the year (Lammas means loaf-mass) making bread is a good way to acknowledge the first harvest.  I’m lafayette-true-blood-way-to-a-mans-heart-is-through-his-stomach-that-shit-true-as-gold-you-put-some-.jpga firm believer that you can taste emotion in food, and food cooked with love and gratitude tastes a whole lot better than food that’s thrown together in anger andstress. Why not try meditating on all that you are grateful for as you cook? Even if the bread tastes the same at the end, it’s a nice way to raise your own vibrations and point of attraction.

What social media won’t reveal about life as an expat

What social media won’t reveal about life as an expat

If you look at my social media pages, they are filled with happy snaps of travels and adventures that are all part of living an expat life. What it won’t show you are those quiet moments, when the cameras aren’t out, and no one is around to watch.

We don’t purposely fill our feeds with happiness to make others envious, nor do I think we exclude the sorrows on purpose either. I certainly don’t feel like grabbing my camera when I’m in my pjs on the sofa watching a sad movie on Netflix with a bottle of wine on a Friday night.

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The reality is that living as an expat abroad, especially if you don’t live in a share home, can be very isolating and lonely. Even though I’ve joined apps like MeetUp and have started to gather a circle of acquaintances and friends, these aren’t the solid, tested friendships of years worth of shared trials and celebrations.

It takes time to form bonds and connections with others. In Perth, a quick text to a friend and I’d have someone to hang out with on any night of the week, no matter what was happening – whether there was something to celebrate, or whether I wanted a chance to rant and rave.

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Six months is a long time in kid years, but as an adult when you only really get to catch up infrequently here and there, it takes longer to form those ‘BFF’ bonds that I see kids so naturally and easily form with others, and in fact the bonds that I formed as an expat kid myself.

Loneliness is a common issue faced by most expats, but more than that it is becoming a pandemic issue according to studies from National Science Foundation which sites loneliness as the next big public health issue. 86% of millennials reported that they are feeling lonely and depressed in a 2011 study. Earlier this year it was announced that as many as one in eight adults in the UK do not have a close friend or confidant and that one in five adults felt lonely all the time.

So why, in a world that seems to be more and more connected with the internet and technology, are we feeling more isolated and alone? Science tells us that humans are naturally social creatures and we need connection for our mental health and wellbeing; Johann Hari does a fascinating TED talk on the links between lack of connection and addiction. So when we have technology to keep us connected, why is it that we are feeling more and more isolated?

One answer is that the social media connections that we have are not always connections based in the real world. Whilst your friend-circle online might say a thousand, you don’t actually know or have much in common with all those people.

When you move to a new city or country, and you’re left with a blank slate where you need to make new friends, it can be hard to always find people with common interests or beliefs. Despite the similarities in cultures between the Aussies and the Scots, there are cultural differences, and no matter how many different ‘interest’ groups you join on pages like MeetUp and others, making those connections deepen and last can be hard work.

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And it doesn’t always pay off. Adults who are already established with a friendship circle aren’t always interested in bringing new people into the group or putting effort into a new friendship or relationship.

Worse is when new friendships or acquaintances begin to break down because of a lack of shared interested and beliefs, but we hold onto them because we feel too worried about being alone to end them.

The key issue that perpetuates loneliness is technology has made us lazy and changed the social norms a little. Not so long ago it would have been natural to turn around to someone in line and start chatting, or to strike up conversations with the person next to you in your yoga class. Today, most millennials think that’s creepy. Even travelling with friends, I noticed how most of them couldn’t even stand in line without taking out their phones.

If our noses are constantly pointed downwards towards what’s going on in virtual reality, how are we supposed to make true and lasting connections in this real reality? With 7,000,000 people in the UK feeling isolated and depressed, I wonder, if we just look up and around a little more would we see the same loneliness reflected back at us from the woman sitting next to us on the bus, or the cute guy in the coffee line?

Soul-food Series: Loudons

Soul-food Series: Loudons

I adore food. All kinds of food. I love cooking it. I love eating it. There is so much you can do with fresh produce and it’s always been fascinating for me to play with different flavours and textures. As much as I love cooking, I love going out to eat, discovering new places and seeing how those in the business are combining new and unique flavours. What most people don’t realise is that Edinburgh is a bit of a foodie haven. Better priced than London, there are a number of Michelin-starred restaurants scattered throughout the city.

Given that I tend to eat out a bit, I thought it might be an idea to put some write ups on here about the new places I discover as I continue to adventure around this incredible city, as well as through my travels. Given my dietary restrictions, this will also be useful for those of you with gluten intolerance (though perhaps not coeliac disease).

Let’s start with one of my local faves and brunch hotspot, Loudons. For someone who refuses to line up, I certainly have made a constant exception to that rule when it comes to brunching at Loudons. I’ve been here 3 times in the last two months and each time I’ve been greeted with not only exceptional service, but also incredible food. Loudons has a range of dairy free, gluten free and vegan options for any one with dietary restrictions, and the staff have always been knowledgeable about the menu.

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Best of all, they serve gluten free pancakes which has been my favourite – especially since I don’t have to cook it myself. Even though the menu is extensive with everything a brunching-crowd could want, I have tended to go back to the pancakes. Below is my all time favourite, the strawberry and banana pancakes, but they also do a maple syrup and bacon pancakes which is delicious. They also have a variety of fresh, made-to-order juices available, along with their coffee and tea selection.

Loudons also does a great afternoon tea and have a selections of sweet and savoury options, though I haven’t as yet tried it out. This mid-priced restaurant is definitely worth the 15 minute line-up out the door on the weekends.

Thanksgiving at the Summer Solstice

Thanksgiving at the Summer Solstice

This week was the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s a sacred day, the longest day and shortest night of the Year. In Celtic lore, this was the night when the Holly King and the Oak King battle for supremacy as the Wheel of the Year turns. At midsummer, the Holly King defeats the Oak King, portending the start of the descent into Winter. Come midwinter, the Oak King battles the Holly King and wins the throne again.

The Oak King and the Holly King.

Midsummer has traditionally been the most powerful day in the Wheel of the Year, and as a celebration linked closely to the Sun, it is a celebration of all things fire – symbolising transformation, creativity, change, fertility. The Summer Solstice is a time to celebrate the bounty of the earth, it is a time to celebrate the fire and power within and to expand and brighten our lives. It is a time to reflect on the things growing, to have patience for the fruits of our labours not yet ready to harvest and to show gratitude for all that we have.

Photo of the Stones of Stenness stone circle, Stenness, Orkney (c) Britain-Express

I’ve always been partial to following the Wheel of the Year, finding comfort in the changing seasons, and rhythm of the land. I find it easier here in the north to ease into the earth’s rhythm, finding my own energies ebbing and flowing with the seasons. So as midsummer came and went, I meditated a lot on the last 6 months.

It’s hard to believe how far I’ve come and how much I’ve changed. I’d always been a bit of a ‘good-girl’ for the most part. I got good grades in school, I volunteered a lot, I took educated and informed ‘risks’ such as buying a house at 23. I tried to follow the expected path society layed out for me – get a good education, get a good job, find a good partner, buy a house, settle down.

I managed to do most of that. I’d always been the cautious one, following a ready-made path about where life should take me. That’s where happiness lies, right? At least that’s what they make you think in the movies. In reality, I was the walking dead, a secondary character in the stage play of my own life. Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom for you to wake up. And that’s where I found myself not that long ago. On the surface my life was fine, good even, but one thing I’ve learned is, if I’m not living my truth, nothing superficial can fill up the emptiness.

Easter travels through Tuscany.

It takes a lot of courage to own your own truth and to follow your path. It’s terrifying taking ownership of your life, and knowing that any mistakes you make are yours alone. It’s so much easier blaming others for your crappy job, failed relationship, one-sided friendships. Moving to Edinburgh forced me out of my comfort-zone, and forced me away from the easy touch-points I’d grown accustomed to relying on to fill the emptiness.

When I moved here, I had to take stock of a few things. What was it that I really wanted to do with my life? What was it that truly made my soul sing? Who did I want to be, and where did I want to go? When you have only your own company and counsel you start to listen more to that inner voice that’s always there, but not always heard. And the more you listen, the better the decisions you seem to make, then more your life seems to open up.

Life has, in no uncertain terms, opened up for me. I’ve made new friends, learned more about myself and found more inner resilience than I ever thought I’d need.

 

Manifestation in action. A spiral crystal grid.

Looking back on the last 6 months, I’m grateful that I took the leap of faith, despite all the uncertainties at the time. I didn’t know if I’d be successful in finding a job here, or if I’d like the lifestyle. Blindly stepping forward into the unknown, showing faith and surrender, has never been something that has come easily. The more I have surrendered the bigger details, the hows, and whens, the more things have been working out though.

So, as we begin to descend into the harvest season, as the Wheel continues to turn, I look back in gratitude and look forward in trust that the seeds I planted are thriving and will, in time, be ready for the harvest.

5 Things I love about living in Edinburgh

5 Things I love about living in Edinburgh

 

I still can’t believe that it’s been two weeks since I moved to Scotland. Even saying the words feels a little like playing make-belief with friends. But then I walk outside into the chilly afternoon, and find myself on cobbled streets, surrounded by Georgian builds and there…the castle looming over the city and it all starts to feel real.

People often like to talk about Paris as the romantic capital of the world, but I think the more discerning vagabond will see that Edinburgh can match and raise Paris in terms of romance. And of course, with it being Valentine’s Day today, I have romance on my mind. Indeed, my romantic affair with this city that managed to drag me across 14,000kms in 4 months flat. dugald-stewart-monument.jpg

The second time I visited Edinburgh was in October, 2016. Needless to say I fell madly in love. It might have been the rose-coloured honeymoon phase of the romance, as I explored the city, a lone intrepid traveller discovering the secret dips and curves of her lover. Now, 4 months on and living in the city, the honeymoon romance has faded to reality and I can still say that I am in love with this city, for many reasons, and reasons that go beyond the surface level “lust” of first love that I experienced when I visited in the autumn.

As the City teeters between the freezing clutches of winter, and the warmer embrace of spring, I have been able to learn a little more about what makes Scotland such an incredible country to live in – despite the weather.

5. What does the weather matter when you can order everything online?

From alcohol, to your groceries, from household items like food processors to bedding, you can find everything you desire online and can either mark it as a click and collect, or delivery. And some deliveries can be made the same day. Whilst I had some awful experiences that I am still sorting out with Tesco, I’ve found Argos and it’s delivery system to be absolutely flawless. I’ve managed to stock my entire kitchen without ever having to leave my home and cart things back on the bus. Convenience in a pinch for those who are newly moved to a city – especially in the middle of winter.

4. Public Transport is the bomb

Who needs a car when the buses pass by every 10 to 15 minutes? And not only that, with apps like Lothian Buses and m-tickets you don’t need to worry about pesky change and tickets. Because you need to have the correct change on the buses, it can get a bit tricky if you normally only function with card (I rarely carry cash unless I’m going to a dinner with friends). The Lothian Buses app will tell you exactly how to get from point A to point B in the city, including exactly when you need to leave the house to make it to the bus port on time to jump onto your bus. This means lower wait times out in the cold, and a smoother transport door to door, even for those of you who don’t know the city. With m-tickets, you can purchase your tickets online, and the best bit is that all tickets, no matter where you are going within the city are £1.60. An all day ticket is £4. Cheap, efficient and clean. Oh, and the buses also have free wifi so no long, boring transits. Not that any transit is long here which brings me to…

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…3. Everything in this City looks a lot closer than it appears on maps!

Most things are within a 15 to 20 minute, and that’s a big maximum. To get from my place in Lauriston in the Old Town to Princes Street in the New Town on the other side of the city is about a 10 minute brisk walk. You can saunter down, since it’s a beautiful stroll and that will take you to about 15 minutes before you hit the main shopping and dining district. Mind you, to get to Grassmarket from my place it’s a casual 5 minute brisk walk. And the scenery definitely keeps the walk interesting with old buildings and the castle from every angle available as you make your way around the city.

2. Art, art, art and all free

This might not mean much but when you’re a lover of the arts and history, finding that you live in a city where it’s all free is like walking into a candy store as a kid and being told you can have anything you want, no restrictions. I can spend days in the museums here, especially since most of the exhibitions are free as well. And not only that, a lot of movies are filmed here, so that makes life in Edinburgh even more exciting. Oh, and there are hundreds of theatres dotted all over the city, so there is bound to be something to peak your interest, and most of the shows are decently priced as well. Moving from a culture that was more focused on footy and beers, and outdoor sports, to one that values drama, theatre and the arts is a real coo. I find myself discussing intricacies of various movements or overhearing political discourse on the streets and smile. It’s not as wanky as it sounds, I promise. These folk still know how to get down and dirty in a rugby game. Speaking of which, the amount of ex-rugby players I have met is incredible – and all of them are highly intellectual as well since I’ve met them at various business meetings.

1. The produce is incredible

If you’re a foodie like me, Edinburgh is the place to be. We have a ridiculous amount of Michelin Star rest16711672_10155125098036554_440972962125385271_naurants here in this tiny city that will have you drooling at sight of their menus. But you don’t have to wander far if you want a great bite to eat. You can make it in your own home with Edinburgh Artisan Food delivering a range of fresh produce from local producers, direct to your door. I can’t sing their praises enough, with fantastic customer service, impeccable produce and great prices. There really is no excuse not to eat healthy and local here. For someone like me who loves exploring with local tastes and flavours, I’ve managed to whip up some excellent meals with a basickitchen, which again speaks highly of the quality of the produce that is sold here.

Another thing that I negated to mention is the people. The Scots are by far some of the most helpful, friendliest and nicest people, making a massive transition like moving from a different culture and country something that has been easier to do that it might have otherwise been.

Starting afresh

Starting afresh

As I craned my neck, sprawled across the three central seats on the almost empty airplane, I hoped the guy sitting at the window cross the aisle didn’t think I was checking him out. I’d been twisting and turning trying to see out the window for awhile, and he kept catching my eye. Awkward. I really just wanted a glimpse of where I was about to land.

And it wasn’t until I caught that first hint of green and grey out the tiny oval window that it dawned on me that I had no return ticket booked. Rationally, I knew I could easily book a return ticket to Australia any time I wanted, but the fact that there was no return date, and that my landing card said “visit period: 2 years” finally made the pieces click.

Never-mind that I’d spent the previous two weeks saying goodbyes to friends and family, selling everything in my house, every piece of furniture and homeware that I’d painstakingly selected, ruthlessly disposed of in any way I could. None of it had felt like it was real until that moment.

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Landed! Exhausted and excited.

I was caught between a sense of dread, excitement and panic. I realised I must be completely mental moving to a country where I not only didn’t know anyone, but also had no job and no family close by. This was the first time in my adult life that I was without work; I had been working since I was sixteen and had never had a period where I was transitioning between jobs. And now I was moving country during a “transition” period with nothing lined up. Oh…and I made the move with two cats, just to complicate things. I’ve always loved challenges and adventures, but for some reason this felt like I was jumping out of a plane without having checked whether the backpack I was wearing really did have a parachute.

The way around the mounting panic? I kept telling myself I’m just here on a long holiday. It seemed to ease the constriction in my throat just enough so that I could breath again. The only way out of the panic was through it, so that’s what I did. One step, then another, one foot, then the next. I tried not to think beyond the next thing I had to do. Like hit the loo before the plane began its descent, then of course I needed to make sure I had my new Bose headphones properly stored, and I had to check that I had all my essentials, like my passport and visa before I got off the plane. It wasn’t until I was pressing my index finger onto the electronic scanner at Border Control, and explaining that I was going to be spending the next two years travelling and working in Scotland, that I began to freak out a little again. Thankfully my freak outs are very calm and placid events (externally). No one can really tell on the outside that inside I’m a puddle of twitching nerves and irregular heartbeats.

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View to The Meadows from my street.

The next few hours were filled with chores, signing leases, organising food, and finally checking out the place I’d blindly agreed to lease for 12 months. The first surprise was that it was a basement flat. The last time I had been in Edinburgh, the one thing I had told myself was that I could never imagine living in one of those tiny places beneath the buildings, so it was pretty ironic to find myself navigating the stairs with my suitcase and hand luggage towards a basement flat. The location however is excellent; a ten minute hike up to Grassmarket and an easy stroll down the road to The Meadows. Some things struck me as exceedingly odd – such as carpet in the entry hallway. Especially cream coloured carpet when you live in a country where it rains most of the time.

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View from my bedroom window. Blue skies and greenery!

And then trying to figure out the heating system in a house that felt like the inside of an ice cream truck was another adventure. Gas meters aren’t billed like they do in Australia…they come with a top up card that you need to take with you to top up at PayPoint locations around the city.

Torn between abject exhaustion, and excitement, as well as a continuous litany “what the f**k” have I done” on repeat in my head, I made my way through the house and tried to take everything in my stride. Thankfully, whilst the front of the house might be below street level, my bedroom is at ground level looking out onto the garden. But there is no mesh on the window…on any of the windows…The bathroom and shower were much smaller than I expected from the photos, but the kitchen was a decent size.

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A welcome to Edinburgh present from the lovely folk at Edinburgh Artisan Food.

Then I realised there was nothing in the kitchen – no pots, pans, glasses, cups, cutting boards or knives. I was, maybe stupidly, planning on cooking my first meal in the house that evening, and had an order of groceries to be delivered later that afternoon. But the address I had been given wasn’t quite right and the deliveries kept going to my neighbours who weren’t pleased by the constant interruptions. On and on it went, with ups and downs and sideway slides throughout the day and that was just in the first six hours of landing.

My stomach, shoulders and back were in knots as well, because I had had no contact from the agnecy who were importing my cats to Scotland. And I was having issues with my phone, so had spent the next morning after I had landed running around trying to sort out internet access and a local number. I had no idea how much we rely on our smartphones until I landed and found myself without access to emails, and documents that were stored on my phone.

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I had the cats’ gear ready before I’d even sorted out my own bedroom. Priorities, right?

It’s only now, three days later with the cats happily settled in, that I’m finally begin to find my feet and make this space my own. Despite the load of extra expenses, and the ups and downs, I’ve been able to take things in my stride by reminding myself that there is plenty of time ahead, that I need to enjoy the experience, and enjoy the journey. Writing this has been a good reminder of why I decided to do this in the first place. Being an expat puts you out of your comfort zone, even when you’re moving to a place where the culture is very similar to your own. I decided to make this move because I wanted a challenge, I wanted a change. Being a stranger in a strange land isn’t new, but it is a new experience doing it without my family nearby, and without any close support system where I am. I wanted to put myself in a situation that would test my character, that would help me grow, learn and become someone who is open, accepting and kind in a world that is currently demonstrating the opposite. I wanted to give myself the space, the time and the opportunity to see who I am now, and to figure out who I want to be, who I can be on my own.

So, here’s to new beginnings, to learning acceptance and surrender, to being open to new experiences, to meeting new people and most of all, here’s to growing into the best version of the person I can be someone.

The day is finally here!

The day is finally here!

It’s been a surreal journey so far. Whilst I’ve been busy putting things on gumtree, and living on a fur throw on my living room floor, eating take out most nights, I still haven’t fully come to terms with the fact that I’m leaving the country for two years – with nothing more than two cats and one 30kg suitcase.

The reality still hasn’t quite hit, despite spending my last night in my apartment on an air mattress, with two cat crates and nothing more. As I wait for my landlord to pick up my keys with my suitcase, I’m still not entirely wanting to face the reality of good bye.

In fact, it’s not really good bye, more a ‘see you later’ but still, the seeing will now be down through Skype and FaceTime and Facebook instead of face-to-face…with an eight hour time lapse. I’m still in some sort of daze as the reality approaches. I’m excited, and I know I’m following my inner guidance and doing the right thing, but I’m still scared.

And don’t they say, every day, do one thing that scares you? I guess it had been so long since I’d willingly put myself in such a challenging position, I’m still not fully comprehending the immensity of my decision and what’s coming up. I don’t think it will hit me until I’m in the airport. Perhaps it won’t really hit until I’m on the plane.

The last time I migrated I was 11 years old and all the big decisions were left to my parents. This time I’m 30 (almost 31) and all the big decisions are left solely to me – where to work, how to live, how to create the best version of myself. There are so many opportunities when you consciously make such massive changes in your life, when you consciously embrace the opportunities for growth that the Universe yields to you. But this doesn’t mean that it’s easy, or that you aren’t going to be petrified along the way. My stomach is in knots, and I’m nauseous – both through excitement and sadness. It’s fantastic to be heading to a new life, but I’m also mourning the ones that will be left behind.

And of course it’s not like I won’t see them again, but I’ve moved around enough in my life to know that people are constantly changing, and that the place you had once will not be there when you move. So coming to terms with letting go of the way some relationships are, and allowing them to become whatever they are meant to be, is another hard pill to swallow at this point.

But here I am, writing my last post before stepping on a plane. The next post will be from the other side of the world. Now…isn’t that going to be something!