Welcome everyone Sandra in Spain - FlamencoI’m Sandra Piddock, and I’m a freelance writer, dividing my time between Spain and the UK. I’ll write about anything that interests and/or challenges me, and I like to focus on the lighter side of life whenever possible.. Read more
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Sandra Piddock

I'm 62, and I'm a freelance writer dividing my time between Algorfa on the Costa Blanca in Spain and Bigbury Bay in Devon. I write about anything that interests and/ or challenges me, but I'm happiest when writing about all things Spanish.

An Attitude of Gratitude is a must in times of trouble

As the lock-down due to the Covid-19 outbreak continues, our mental health is taking a bit of a hit. No matter how positive we are normally, all this isolation and bad news is sure to take its toll. Strangely enough, when things seem at their worst is the very time when we should be looking for the good in every situation.

If you think that’s a really big ask, well, yes it is. But it’s well worth the effort, because cultivating an attitude of gratitude is a very powerful self care tool. Let’s look at the practicalities – it’s impossible to feel grateful and negative at the same time. If you don’t believe it, just try saying ‘thank you’ out loud and see what happens, physically and emotionally.

For a start, you can’t say ‘thank you’ without smiling, even slightly. And just the sound of the words is enough to lift your spirits. As you say ‘thank you,’ you feel yourself standing straight and tall, lifting your head, and at the same time, you feel a positive shift in energy. That’s the beginning of gratitude.

So, how do you build gratitude into your life? It’s simple really. Whenever you feel down, upset, depressed – any sort of negative feeling – think of three things that make you happy right now. It can be as basic as a nice cup of tea, just when you need it. Maybe your child or your partner brought you tea and biscuits in bed. Look at all the things you have to be grateful for. You have a comfortable home, a family who care, and the time to enjoy your tea and biscuits before you need to do anything else.

Now we’ve covered the practical side, what are the spiritual benefits of an attitude of gratitude? Under the Law of Attraction, the thoughts and feelings you put out into the Universe attract more of the same into your life. So if you count your blessings, you will attract more reasons to be cheerful into your life. So it makes sense to send out good thoughts, and nip the negatives in the bud.

One of the best ways to do this is to use positive affirmations. This can be a simple phrase you repeat to yourself, or it can be a sort of positive prayer, where you don’t ask for help, you say thank you for the good things. You don’t need to say this out loud for the Universe to hear you – your thoughts have enough energy to carry them where they need to go. And you don’t need fancy words and phrases, or to use religious terminology. All you have to do is feel the gratitude in your heart.

I was talking with a friend a few days ago. He’s a successful businessman, but he feels for his clients, who are all worried about how their own businesses will manage to ride out the lock-down. When you’re an empath, you can worry about others as well as yourself, and it’s very draining energetically.

As I was talking him through some coping strategies and exercises to raise his vibrational energy, I was given an affirmation, channelled through Archangel Michael. I was told to share it with him, and also with others who might need to be reminded that an attitude of gratitude can strengthen your soul and help you through the dark times and bring in more success. I suggest you print this off or write it out, and read through it when you need to.

You may wish to carry it with you. Words are like crystals – they carry healing energy, and if you keep them close to you, you may feel extra benefits. When you want to read your affirmation prayer, find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed, and take a few deep, calming breaths, as if you were preparing for meditation. I like to hold a hand over my heart, and visualise the words coming from my heart, into the air around me.

Love and blessings, and I hope this beautiful affirmation prayer, channelled from Archangel Michael, brings you comfort.

Affirmation for gratitude and success

(Channelled from Archangel Michael, 19 May 2020)

Thank you, Universe, for all the blessings in my life.

I am grateful for my happy family

I am blessed with my beautiful home

I am fortunate in my friends

I am surrounded by love

I love my work, which keeps me busy serving others

I have everything I need for happiness within me

I am truly blessed

I am truly grateful

I am truly content

Thank you, Universe for the abundance in my life right now

And so it is

Home made guacamole – so easy!

Home-made guacamole – so quick and easy!

I love guacamole, and a few days ago, I came across some reduced avocados in Tesco. So I decided to have a go at making my own. I mean, how hard can it be? Pretty easy, as it happens. There are lots of recipes around – some straightforward, some with a list of ingredients as long as your arm. Since I’ve been in Spain, I’ve embraced the ethos of just using a few quality ingredients so the flavours come through loud and clear, so I chose this recipe from BBC Good Food, and put a Sandra in Spain spin on it.

This is what you need:

  • 2- 3 ripe avocados
  • 1 large ripe tomato
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • I  fresh red or green chilli,  finely chopped
  • Juice of a lime

Halve the avocados and scoop out the flesh into a bowl, Then grate the tomato into the bowl, with the spring onions, chilli and lime juice.

If you want a chunky guacamole, mash all the ingredients together with a fork or a potato masher. Or give it a whizz with a hand blender. Personally, I like a bit of texture in dips and salsas, and if the avocados are nice and ripe, it’s easy enough to get a smooth yet chunky mix.

Now season with a little pepper, and a dash of tabasco sauce, but take that one drop at a time! It’s not very Spanish, but I also added a dash of Worcestershire Sauce.

Leave it for a while for the flavours to blend together, if you can resist the lovely fresh aromas! Then serve with tortillas or crackers for a tasty, anytime snack or as part of a tapas meal.

Oh, by the way, if you’ve made guacamole before and it’s gone a funny colour before you could eat it all, here’s a tip. Place the avocado stone in the container with the guacamole to preserve the colour. Enjoy!

Goodnight Sweetheart, sleep will banish sorrow

At Algorfa fiesta, July 2015

If you’re wondering about the title, it’s a line from a lyric from a song written in 1931, and also the name of a time-travelling sitcom. Goodnight Sweetheart, the show starred Nicholas Lyndhurst, who played Rodney in Only Fools and Horses, as Gary Sparrow, a music shop owner. He accidentally found a time portal which took him back to London in wartime, and ended up with two relationships, one in the 1940s and one in the 1990s.

Goodnight Sweetheart was one of Tony’s favourite TV programmes – and mine. It’s an appropriate title for this post about my personal goodbye to my estranged husband. Although we had been separated for a year, it wasn’t a case of me airbrushing him out of my life. We were together for 30 years, married for 20, and for at least 25 of those years, we were very happy together, until age and illness took my husband from me, leaving an uncaring, somewhat frightening stranger in his place.

Since Tony’s passing, I feel like I have the old Tony back – caring, happy, and sorry for the circumstances that caused our split. His energy came to me before he passed, asking for forgiveness, and since he passed, he’s been back several times as the warm, loving, husband and partner I fell in love with all those years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, he had his faults – don’t we all? – and I’m not canonising him just because he’s on the other side of life. My point here is that what those of us who are privileged to ‘talk to dead people’ already know is true has been demonstrated to me at first hand. You do leave all your pain and troubles behind when you step through the veil. We often say ‘his cares are gone now,’ when someone close dies, and it’s lovely to be reminded of that on a personal level.

The poem given to me by Spirit before the commital service

Losing someone in lock-down is surreal, as many people have sadly found out. The usual type of funeral is out of the window. You can’t have limousines, because of the risk of cross infection through close contact. Also, you’re limited with the number of people who can attend, and they must be socially distanced if they are from other households.

It was clear that there weren’t going to be many guests at Tony’s funeral – I refuse to use negative terms like ‘mourners’ for the attendees. When you’re 86 and have been ill for a couple of years, and have spend most of the last decade in Spain, there aren’t that many friends left, and those who might have come are shielding at home. Also, the thought of not being able to have a comforting hug when you need it most is just unacceptable to someone like me. I would be a strong contender for the gold medal if hugging was an Olympic sport, and they weren’t cancelled because of Covid-19. But I digress.

Someone suggested it may be better to just have a cremation with no service, and that felt better to me, but I wanted to say a personal goodbye to Tony, as I hadn’t been with him when he passed. I would have been, given the opportunity, even though we had lived apart for over a year, but it wasn’t possible. And even though I know that what’s left behind is only Tony’s shell and his soul is free, I felt his circle of life was incomplete without an earthly farewell.

Graeme at West Country Funeral Services in Saltash said he would conduct a commital service in the Chapel of Rest, for up to 10 people, but again, it would have to be a socially distanced affair. I decided Graeme would be, to quote another song lyric, Playing to an Audience of One. I invited nobody to the service on 12 May – not even Glenys, who has been such a support over the last few difficult years.

In preparation , I printed off one of my favourite photos of the two of us, taken in 2015 at Algorfa’s patronal festival. On the evening before the service, I was given a poem by Spirit which Graeme read out, as well as another poem that I feel was suggested to him, as it addressed a concern with bothered Tony quite a bit.

The poem Graeme of West Country Funeral Services

When he was well, Tony liked to be busy, pottering in his shed or the garden, making things, problem solving, you name it. He’s not the type to sit on a cloud with a harp all day, and I felt him around me at the weekend, rather agitated. He asked me what he was supposed to do now, and I explained that time was for us on Earth, it didn’t apply to him now, and he would never be bored, only happy and healthy.

One of the lines in the other poem – His Journey’s Just Begun – speaks of the other side of life as a place ‘Where there are no days or years.’ There is no such thing as coincidence in the Universe – Graeme chose that poem because Tony needed to hear that message.

The energy in the chapel was amazing, full of warmth and love. And when I told Graeme I wanted Tony’s favourite song played, there was some laughter too. The song doesn’t appear on any list of Most Popular Funeral Songs, and it’s not surprising really, given the back story.

Back in the late 1960’s, Tony went on a lads’ night out with his local social club. The highlight of the show was a stripper, dressed in full Welsh national costume. At the end of her spot, all she was wearing was the iconic tall hat and a smile! Every time Tony heard the song she performed to, he smiled, thinking of where he first heard it. It was the 1968 hit by O. C. Smith, The Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp, and although it was a solemn occasion, we both had to smile.

So, it was nothing like a funeral service, but it was everything I needed for my personal farewell to someone who was part of my life for almost half of it. We made some wonderful memories together which will always be with me, and we had a memorable ‘hasta luego.’ too. I am at peace, Tony is at peace, we have both learned valuable Earthly lessons, and we can both move on, on both sides of life.

I am content, and so is Tony. Goodnight sweetheart, and I am so pleased that sleep has banished sorrow for both of us.

A tale of two Easters …

My fabulous family – I miss them so much, but we’ve made some great memories, and we will again.

So, once more Easter is here. And just like last year the Gods – or rather the sun – has smiled on us. That’s about the only similarity though. Like many people, all over the world, it’s a very solitary Easter for most of us. The message from religious leaders, and the Queen (God bless her) is that Easter is a time of hope. After darkness comes light, after death comes rebirth, after the barrenness of winter comes the fertility of spring.

Never before has this message been one we can connect with on so many levels, across all faiths, and belief systems. Ironically, at a time all the churches and other religious meeting places are closed due to the lock-down, there are probably more people fixing on the spiritual meaning of Easter this year than ever before.

Personally, the commercial aspects of Easter have never really appealed to me. It was always a time for the family to get together, and when I was a child, that was usually at my paternal grandmother’s caravan in Blackpool. Once I had my own family, we always made sure there was time spent with other family members, and that trend has pretty much continued through my life.

With Harrison at his Christening – Easter Sunday 2015

Five years ago, my middle grandson was christened on Easter Sunday, because he was fast outgrowing the family christening gown. Again, it was a lovely family weekend. So many precious Easter memories of good times with the family!

In Spain, although I was a long way from the family, we always spent time with friends and supported one of the local fund raising events. Last year, I was in England for Easter, due to family circumstances, and it coincided with one of the best Easters ever, weather wise.

On Good Friday, my daughter and I took my two granddaughters for a girly day out to Saltram House, where we did a tour of the house, dressed up in period costume and picnicked and took part in an Easter egg hunt in the grounds. I introduced my elder granddaughter, Chloe, to the fabulous energy of trees, and we enjoyed being in Nature.

Chloe and Lauren – Young ladies of quality at Saltram House, Good Friday 2019

On the next day, again we took to the Great Outdoors, with a picnic in Central Park, Plymouth followed by a trip around the fair. On Easter Sunday, I spent the day with Glenys and her daughter and grandson at Lanhydrock House. Guess who had treated herself to membership of the National Trust for Easter!

I also purchased membership for my granddaughters, rather than getting them Easter eggs. It would have cost £8 each to take them into Saltram House, but for just an extra £2, they could have a year of entry into National Trust properties. As their aunt and uncle in Cornwall are also members, the girls have certainly had their money’s worth, as have I, and I’m extending it for all of us, although obviously at the moment, we can’t use it.

So, how has this Easter been so far? Well, we’ve spent some time outdoors, as it’s been so nice, and we’ve watched a few films, although there’s not much else of any interest on TV to be honest. We’ve caught up on some reading, I’ve tidied up the website a bit, and caught up with friends via the phone and video calls.

Easter Saturday 2019 in Central Park, Plymouth with my daughter and granddaughters.

My elder son is lucky to be locked down with his new fiance – they got engaged on Mothering Sunday – in Shropshire. Their rural setting means they can enjoy walks close to home without breaching government instructions. Thankfully, his fiance managed to leave London before lock-down – I feel happier that they are in the countryside, rather than in the nation’s hotspot of Covid-19.

My daughter is an ambulance care assistant, and she is happy. Finally there are enough masks, gloves and goggles for the team, and Derriford Hospital is as prepared as they can be for the expected influx of patients as the outbreak heads to its peak. Luckily, here in the South West, the NHS are not so challenged as in other parts of the country. We have so much to be thankful for.

My younger son is a single parent to four children, and they all went into lockdown almost a week before the rest of the country, as the youngest showed symptoms of Covid-19. Thankfully, it was a false alarm, and the family are happy and healthy, and he hasn’t lost his sense of humour – or maybe he’s descended into insanity?

Earlier today, he posted on Facebook that the Easter Bunny had been awarded Key Worker status, as long as he abided by government instructions and practiced social distancing. Adam proudly displayed an ‘official letter’ from 10, Downing Street. It was clearly authentic, as it was signed by Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Boris Johnson as he recovers from his own brush with Covid-19! I admired Adam’s attention to detail, even as I questioned his sanity.

Easter treats made from marzipan, Easter Monday in Portugal, 2016.

There’s a serious point here though – yes, we’re in a serious situation, and we can’t see an end to it right now. However, as I have pointed out all through this rambling, we have so much to be thankful for, and we are blessed with hope and humour. It’s what the British do best. It’s seen us through so much, personally and as a nation, and it will continue to do so.

So, on this rather surreal Easter Sunday, I am concentrating on what I have, not on what I am missing at the moment. I am looking back at happy Easter memories from years gone by, and looking forward to big hugs from my loved ones when all this is finally over. And I am grateful – truly grateful – to be right here, right now, experiencing life and learning lessons, so that I can be the best version of myself possible.

Stay safe and well, and remember, we will be okay. It will be okay. Have the happiest Easter you can under the circumstances, and I look forward to a few fiestas in the not too distant future.

All is NOT well at Well Pharmacy, St Budeaux Square, Plymouth!

Well Pharmacy, St Budeaux Square, Plymouth

As we keep being told, these are unprecedented times, and we should ‘Stay home and save lives.’ I have had Lupus for more than 20 years, and it mainly affects my lungs and my bowel, so although I’m not over 70, I have taken on government advice and have stayed home.

However, twice this week it has been necessary for both Glenys – who is 77 – and myself to put ourselves at risk. More of that later, in another post. This is all about Well Pharmacy in St Budeaux Square. Glenys’s grandson is 22, and has asthma. He can’t afford to be without his inhaler, but like most young people, he’s not very good at forward thinking, and many’s the time he’s borrowed a new inhaler from the neighbour until his own prescription is ready.

However, the neighbour is over 80, and is at risk because of his age and his asthma, so that’s not an option now. Grandson of Glenys was told that his prescription would be ready on Friday, so, on Friday afternoon, he headed off to queue for his inhaler, which by now was definitely needed.

He stood in the queue outside the chemist for almost an hour, only to be told his prescription was not ready, and he needed to come back in the morning! This was despite the fact that, after almost an hour of waiting in the cold, he could barely breathe, and said he really needed it. Now, Grandson of Glenys is not as good at standing his ground as we Guerilla Grannies are, so he just accepted that, and came home, knowing he was in for a sleepless night.

This morning, Glenys decided to go down and queue, rather than let him go and maybe get turned away again. I offered to go with her, to share the queueing, because neither of us would have been up to standing for over an hour. So I sent Glenys over to Lidl for socially distanced supplies while I joined the queue, which at 10.45 am stretched back to the Co-Op corner. There were probably around 12 – 15 people in front, all at least two metres apart.

I felt safe, because I was in what I call my ‘Vera Gear,’ since several friends said that, with my hat and scarf, I looked just like Vera Stanhope. That’s the popular ITV detective, played by Brenda Blethyn. As you do, I got chatting to the people in front and behind.

The ‘Vera’ Look!

The lady in front was well in her 70s, and partially sighted, She’d queued the previous day for 45 minutes before closing, to drop off her prescription, only to be told ‘We can’t accept that from you now.’ She asked what she was supposed to do, as she needed medication for herself and her husband.

I had a job to believe what she told me, but someone else confirmed her story later. She was told to go into another pharmacy in town to get her prescription! That anyone working within health care could offer such advice, which flies in the face of government direction, is staggering in its arrogance. This poor lady was told to put herself and others in danger, to get essential medication.

And this sort of non-service is not just down to the Covid-19 outbreak. On more than one occasion, when I’ve been to collect my own medication after receiving a text message to say it’s ready, one or more items are not ready. And the last time I collected my prescription – two days after receiving the text message – it wasn’t even ready for collection, and I was told to return the next day, because ‘The surgery was late sending through the prescription.’ So why was I sent a message from the PHARMACY to say it was ready? That was a mistake, apparently.

But not the surgery’s mistake, because when I checked, this was not the first time this particular pharmacy had blamed the surgery for their incompetence. According to others in the queue who overheard me, I wasn’t on my own.

I hesitate to criticise anyone at all, let alone in these challenging times. I admire absolutely everyone in healthcare, retail or other essential services who are working hard to keep some sense of service and normality, while risking their own health, even their lives, for us.

However, the conduct of the staff in Well Pharmacy is at best negligent and disrespectful, and at worst downright dangerous. I did not need to ask for instances of inconsiderate behaviour, they came thick and fast. The second person to have been told to go into Plymouth was turned away, after queuing for almost an hour in the cold, on Friday, because they locked the door on the dot of 5.30 pm, with just three people waiting.

He came back on Saturday, only to be told they didn’t have the medication he needed! Then there was the lady who told me about her friend, whose two-year-old was also refused an inhaler. They were told to ‘Come back tomorrow, and call 111 if the child gets worse.’

In the first 25 minutes I was in the queue, just four people emerged from the pharmacy with their prescriptions. Another four – including the partially sighted lady in front of me – gave up and went home. It took almost an hour to be admitted to collect the vital inhaler for Grandson of Glenys. Yet there were three people working. So what on Earth is going on?

Another thing that seemed both pointless and heartless was that only one person was allowed inside the pharmacy at a time. This despite the fact that there is lots of room – and seats – inside, and the floor is marked out so people stand two metres apart. It was a nice warm morning, but there were elderly people in that queue who would have benefited from a seat indoors.

I will be sending a copy of this article to the local press, and to the head office of Well Pharmacy, and I urge anyone who has been in that queue in St Budeaux Square to do the same. At a time when we are all being urged to work together for the good of everyone, there is a distinct lack of kindness and compassion at this particular establishment. All is NOT well at Well Pharmacy, St Budeaux, and it’s time something was done about it.

Cutting energetic cords with Archangel Michael: A visualisation for Covid-19

Cutting the energetic cord to Covid-19, as visualised in the meditation.

There is no doubt we are living through an unprecedented situation unknown in peace time. And no matter how positive you try to be, there are always going to be times when you are anxious – for yourself, for your loved ones, and for the general situation as a whole. This is where cutting energetic cords can come in useful. I was given this visualisation by Spirit for Covid-19, but it works for any situation where someone or something is draining your energy and making you feel anxious.

Basically, cutting energetic cords can help if there is something playing on your mind, whether it’s in the present, like the Covid-19 outbreak, or in the past, but still affecting your life now. Focusing on past or present worries robs you of the joy of now, and if there’s nothing you can do to alter the situation, it’s pointless wasting energy on it. Negative energy, in thought, word or deed, has a habit of reproducing and attracting even more negativity into your life, so it’s something that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Archangel Michael is the go-to angel for cord cutting, and this visualisation will help you to do just that. When you cut the energetic cords to a person or situation, it doesn’t mean you no longer care, and it doesn’t airbrush anything out of your life. What it does do is allow you to detach from the energy around the situation, and see it for what it really is – something you couldn’t change or control, which doesn’t have an important place in your life right now.

When you cut energetic cords, you feel a lightness and clarity of thought that wasn’t there before. That’s because you set the intention to detach from it. You can’t control or change what’s happens, but you can control and adapt your response. Once you realise that you can’t do anything, no matter how much you want to, whatever you are detaching from loses its power to impact on your life in a negative way.

As someone classed as vulnerable because of an auto-immune system condition, I can’t do what I want to do, and get out and volunteer my services to those who need them. However, I can use my psychic and healing skills to help people cope emotionally and spiritually with isolation and worry.

A friend who was weighed down with anxiety because she was caring for an elderly relative, and her daughter was facing danger every day as a key worker, asked me to help. I wasn’t sure where our session was going, but I did feel that a cord cutting exercise was needed. As we talked, I was given this visualisation by Spirit. It is specifically to cut the energetic cords of the Covid-19 situation, but it can be adapted to anything that is causing you concern.

So, let’s work through this together. You may want to record this, so you can play it back and focus all your attention on the visualisation. Or you could copy it out, read through it a couple of times, and then try it for yourself. However you do it, it’s a very powerful visualisation. Are you sitting comofrtably? Then we’ll begin!

Cutting the energetic cords of Covid-19

Begin by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths in through the nose to the count of three, hold for three, then exhale through the mouth to another count of three. Imagine breathing in love and healing, and breathing out tension.

Now invite Archangel Michael to come into your presence and wrap his protective wings around you. You may feel a different sensation to alert you to his presence, like warmth, or the pressure of a hug, or even a sense of peace and calm. Don’t worry if you feel nothing – you can be sure he is with you, because when you ask the Angels to come forward to help, they are obliged to do so.

See before you a small black dot in the distance, something like a full stop, which as it comes closer quickly develops into a large black ball, about the size of a football. You notice that there is a thick string attached to the ball, and although you can’t touch it, you know it is really strong. You also notice flecks of red in the ball, and you feel a threat from it.

As the ball stops, a few feet away from you, level with your heart, you recognise it as Covid-19, waiting to overwhelm you with worry and fear.

Now ask Archangel Michael to cut the literal cord attached to this situation of fear and isolation with his Sword of Light. Look steadily at the black ball, and inwardly tell it you will not allow it into your mind or your life. Watch as Archangel Michael severs the connection with one blow of the Sword of Light.

Feel your spirits lift and your soul strengthen as the black ball floats slowly and harmlessly into the distance. It may have rushed towards you, but know that as it floats away, it has lost its power to rob you of your peace of mind.

Thank Archangel Michael for his help, and bid him farewell for now. Enjoy the new feeling of lightness and happiness as you bring your awareness back to the here and now.

If you are feeling really overwhelmed, you may need to do this more than once to clear your mind and heart. And of course, it’s still vital to practice caution by following expert advice on minimising the risks to yourself and others.

If you see something other than a ball, that’s okay. It’s your visualisation, and it’s the cord cutting itself that matters. And the lighter feeling you get as a result.

Another step you can take to distance yourself from the energy of Covid-19 is to draw it, as I have, in a way that makes it less threatening. I’m the first to admit I am no artist, but I deliberately set out to do a child-like representation of the visualisation. That again robs it of its power to cause anxiety, by making it look ridiculous while treating it with respect.

Let me know in the comments how you get on with the visualisation, and remember, the Angels are always there, waiting to help. Love and blessings to everyone at this challenging time. Stay safe and well, and be kind to yourself and others. This will pass, and we will all be stronger for it.

Happiness is a job, and here’s how to upgrade your career status

There’s a song called Happiness, made famous by Liverpool comedian Ken Dodd way back in 1964. The first line describes happiness as ‘The greatest gift that I possess.’ While I love the song, I take issue with the sentiment. Happiness is within us, whenever we want it, so it’s not a gift, it’s as essential to a healthy life as your heart or your kidneys.

However, while the organs work automatically for our benefit, happiness isn’t something that can run in the background. You need training to use it, so I see happiness is a job for life, with a pension that you are able to draw on from the minute you tap into your own happiness.

In his comedy routines, Ken Dodd talked about ‘exercising your chuckle muscles,’ but happiness isn’t a physical state, it’s a state of mind. so you don’t need to head off to pump iron at the gym in order to be happy. You do have to recognise that you, and only you, are responsible for your happiness though.

You won’t be happy when the Neighbour from Hell moves 100 miles away, or when your child graduates from university with a First, or even when you meet the love of your life. You see happiness does not depend on the presence or absence of people or things – it depends on your state of mind, and your ability or otherwise to live in the now. If you are constantly looking back to perceived better times, or forward to a future of happiness and hope, you are missing out on the things that would make you happy right now, in this moment, if only you brought your attention to them.

See happiness as a vocation – something you will be doing for the rest of your life, because it’s something you love to do, and something you would do, even if you weren’t paid for it. Of course, if your performance doesn’t come up to scratch, you are either sidelined for promotion, or you are sacked. So work at being happy – not by forcing it, but including it in your routine until it becomes as natural as breathing.

Employees at the top of their game are an inspiration to others, and this brings job satisfaction in its wake. So there’s a feelgood factor about being the reason that someone else is happy. Look on it as a productivity bonus – although there is no salary for the job of being happy. Other than a lifetime of positivity, of course – which is beyond price.

So, look on being happy as an astute career move, when all the work you put in is acknowledged rewarded, and the working conditions get better and better as you move up the ladder. When you find yourself having a problem maintaining happiness, examine your options. Check in on your inner Human Resources, and find help and inspiration. You are entitled to happiness – it’s your job to be happy. Remember that.

International Women’s Day: The inspiring women in my family

Me with my daughter and granddaughters

International Women’s Day has been around since 1911, and in 1975 it was recognised by the United Nations as a Big Thing. It’s a day to celebrate the women who inspire you, and to reflect on what you have personally achieved, as someone who happens to be a woman.

I don’t want equality for women – I want equality and respect for everyone, everywhere.We are all born equal, but inevitably, life intervenes, and equality gets pushed way down the ‘To Do’ list. Along the way, we deal with challenges, get through them and keep going. How do we do it? With the help of the Strength of the Weaker Sex, of course!

This Bellamy Brothers song says it all for women everywhere!

Women everywhere, all through time, have tended to solve problems with compassionate emotional strength, rather than engaging in physical conflict on what is inevitably an unequal playing field. There have, of course, been notable exceptions, such as the Amazons – the female warriors, not the online selling site – Boudicca and Joan of Arc. Generally, though, women get through life on tough love tempered with tenderness, whatever the situation.

Thinking about writing this post, and the women who have inspired me through my almost three score years and ten, there way are too many to mention. I’ve been inspired by writers such as Jane Austen, J. K. Rowling and Sylvia Plath, and actresses including those fabulous Dames, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith. I admire the singing of Cilla Black, Patsy Cline and Annie Lennox, and the dancing of Jennifer Grey (Dirty Dancing), Darcey Bussell and Ginger Rogers. And there are countless women whose intelligence, strength of character, courage and innovation skills have helped fashion the modern world and its values.

However, every single one of the women I’ve mentioned has one thing in common – their first influences, for good or otherwise, came from the family. And I realise I am fortunate to have had the most wonderful women in my life, from the day I was born. So this International Women’s Day article is dedicated to the ladies I love the most – my mother, my grandmother, my daughter and my granddaughters. It’s also for those who are still to come, so they can look back and see just how much they are loved and nurtured.

I’m going to start with myself. Why? Because I am so proud of what I have dealt with in my life, and I am even more proud of who I am now. I am more compassionate, more caring, more in tune with my inner knowing, and a stronger person. This is not in spite of what’s happened in my life, but because of the lessons I’ve learned from the challenges I’ve faced.

Enjoying lunch with my daughter

I’ve had two unhappy marriages – my first husband died, and this one won’t! There’s a serious point to this joke – which I first heard from Jethro, the brilliant Cornish comedian. I am not a victim, who blames outside forces for the bad things in my life. I know that I am not responsible for the thoughts, words and actions of other people – only my own. I can’t control them, but I can control my responses to their behaviour, and therein lies my power and my strength.

I choose to forgive them for what they did, whether intentionally or otherwise, and to forgive myself for putting myself in a position where I enabled people to hurt me. It won’t happen again. As a writer, my style is to find a lighter touch in the most serious of subjects, so the articles are balanced but not disrespectful to the readers or the subjects I write about. My little joke is my indication that I can put things in perspective and move on.

Yes, my two marriages ended before death did us part, but there were so many good times before things changed, in both cases. I didn’t fail as a wife because I didn’t stay with them when things went wrong. I succeeded as a person because I recognised that we could never put things right, and refused to live a life lacking in authenticity and happiness.

My maternal grandmother, who was a major influence in my life until she passed when I was 27 and expecting my younger son, was also a strong yet compassionate lady. She married my grandfather when he was a widower with four children, one of whom was always having health problems and passed away as a young man.

That was heartbreaking enough, but she also lost three of her own children. Identical twins Gwendoline and Marjorie passed at six months old from scarlet fever, and my mother’s twin, Michael, was stillborn.

As a family, they were always short of money, but would share anything they had with anyone who needed it. I asked how they could do that, and Nanny Jones, as I called her, replied, ‘When you are able to share what you have, there will always be someone who will share what they have when you need it most. It’s the way life works, sweetheart.’

I didn’t realise it at the time, and nor did she, but Nanny Jones was living the Law of Attraction long before it became a Big Thing. Even in her 70s, she would still do anything for anyone, and when Grandad Jones passed, she spent a lot of time with us. Rather than sit with her knitting or read stories to my brother and me, she’d work away, cleaning and cooking, to make life easier for my Mum.

I’m still learning from her even now, as well – 40 years after she passed to Spirit. She’s come through at a couple of psychic nights for me, to say she realised when I was a young child that one day I would be working with Spirit myself. She did something she never did in life too. She told the medium – Ricky Whitemore, who has since become a good friend – that it was about time I started using my psychic powers, as she was fed up with waiting. So I had a telling off from beyond the veil from someone who never criticised me in life!

My mother was very different to Nanny Jones in her approach to life. She was more direct, and she wasn’t particularly spiritual. Tellings off were common, because we were very much alike in nature, and if I wanted to do something and couldn’t, I expected a reason. For me, ‘Because I said so’ was not a reason.

Nan would try to explain why she was getting a telling off when Mum was being rebellious, but had to resort to ‘Because I said so’ in the end. Mum, unlike her siblings, was stubborn, and she passed that on to me. My daughter is now the official torchbearer for stubbornness in the family, because she would never take a telling either and still doesn’t!

Mum had to be strong and think outside the box, and she’s passed that down too. She was just 20 when she married Dad, who was 10 years older, and had come from a family of tradespeople. They were going into business themselves, and had to bring the wedding forward by six months. This was because the person they were going to rent a fish and chip shop from when he retired passed away suddenly.

They didn’t want to lose the premises, as it came with living accommodation and was well situated for both passing trade and regular customers. Back in 1949, they couldn’t just move in together before marriage, because nobody would have supported a business where the owners were ‘living in sin.’

As it was, there was lots of gossip that Mum ‘had’ to get married, so I must have disappointed a few of the local busybodies by turning up almost three years after the wedding. Mum had the last word though. When the worst offender gushed over me in my pram and said, ‘What did you have then?’ Mum replied, ‘An elephant, obviously, since you told half the street I was pregnant when I got married.’ That must be where I get my sarcasm from!

Fast forward 17 years, and I too was pregnant. Maybe Mum was still a bit of a rebel, because she told me not to get married just because there was a baby on the way. Even in 1969, that was pretty radical, and Mum was 40 years old and already a widow, so life was hard enough for her as it was. I did get married, because I was in love, and I went on to have three wonderful children.

I don’t do regrets, but I am sad that Mum never saw her youngest grandson. By the time he was born, she was blind, as a result of dangerous hypertension. Even that didn’t stop her from knitting, although I had to sew the garments up and pick up the stitches so Mum could knit the necklines.

My children David, Elizabeth and baby Adam. Mum never saw Adam, as she went blind before he was born.

When my daughter Elizabeth was a toddler, I mentioned to Mum that I’d been looking for a nice dress and matching cardigan, with a lovely chevron pattern that was very popular at the time. Mum said she knew what I meant, and if I got the wool, she’d see what she could do. ‘What she could do’ was to knit a beautiful dress with a matching little jacket, without a pattern – since she couldn’t read one. She worked with two colours, and an intricate pattern, and never made a single mistake. What’s more, it was exactly the right size for Elizabeth.

Mum never let anything stop her doing what she wanted, whatever was happening around her or to her. She must have worked some of that perseverance and determination into the stitches of that beautiful dress and jacket, because Elizabeth is exactly the same. It’s infuriating at times for those of us closest to her, but it’s been a lifesaver – literally!

I’ve written before about the devastating brain stem stroke, which almost killed her in 2013. It’s just about the worst stroke you can have, with a very low survival rate, and only a slightly better recovery rate. It’s a long process – or rather it is for most people. But then, my daughter isn’t most people!

For two weeks, her life hung in the balance. She couldn’t move or speak, and she had locked in syndrome. It was six weeks before she took her first steps and managed to eat something normally, but just two weeks after that she was discharged from hospital.

Elizabeth enters the Wimbledon ticket ballot every year. She’s not always successful, but in 2013, she had tickets for Number One Court on the middle Saturday of the tournament. We were going to send her tickets back, as she was still in hospital in mid June, but she insisted on going – and she did! She was in a wheelchair, but she went, and by December she was back at work as an ambulance care assistant.

She has been left with a few tiresome but not life-changing problems as a result of the stroke. Some time ago, she asked her consultant if her condition would ever improve. He confessed he had no idea, because in 30 years in medicine, he had never known anyone to make such a good recovery from a brain stem stroke!

Coming bang up to date, the next generation of women in my family are making their mark, and already showing signs that they, too will grow up into exceptional young women. At 13, Chloe is academically bright, popular among her school friends, and also wise beyond her years. She’s shown incredible understanding and maturity as my son copes with being a single parent to four children following the recent breakdown of his marriage.

Lauren is 9, and is usually away with the fairies and unicorns, in the nicest possible way. She’s not afraid to be exactly what she wants to be, and sees no need to explain her choices to others. She’s a free spirit who has already realised the importance of self care and self confidence. She will go far, and she will be happy, whatever she decides to do with her life.

I’m bursting with pride as I read through this before posting, and I realise I have so much to be grateful for. The women in my family have come through everything life has sent their way with strength, dignity and focus. Their experiences have not hardened them to the suffering of others. They have learned to show kindness and respect to those who need it most, because they have been in that position themselves.

This is for each of you and all of you, with love from me. Thank you for your guidance and inspiration, which has helped me to become the kind of person I would want for a friend. We are true soul sisters.

Making the Mediterranean Diet easy on yourself

You’ve probably heard of the Mediterranean Diet, but you may not be clear on how it works, and why.  Here in Spain, where olive oil is king and fresh fruit and vegetables are plentiful, cheap and in season, following this healthy eating plan is easy and economical. Here’s how to get started straight away.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

It’s a traditional way of eating, and it’s been a nutritional model for hundreds of years in Southern Europe. Mediterranean-style eating will increase your health and fitness, help to combat chronic disease, and help you lose weight.Globally, medical professionals and nutritionists consider the Mediterranean Diet to be one of the healthiest eating plans around.  And it also happens to be filling and flavourful.

The Mediterranean Diet is a bit of a misnomer, because it isn’t really a diet at all – it’s more like a permanent lifestyle turnaround in attitudes to cooking and eating. At its core are lots fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats. There is no room for processed foods or deep fried stuff in the Mediterranean Diet.

Health benefits

The many advantages of adopting the Mediterranean Diet were acknowledged a couple of generations ago. Researchers in the late 1940s found that the natives of Crete were blessed with healthier than average cardiovascular systems, after managing for years on a restricted diet due to wartime food shortages  This was put down to eating mainly fresh, seasonal produce. Meat was in short supply, and processed foods pretty much non-existent

More recently, it’s been demonstrated that people eating the Mediterranean way live longer, more active, healthier lives. They also have less chance of developing chronic conditions likes heart disease, diabetes and cancer. At 82.5 years, Spain now enjoys the longest average life expectancy in the whole of Europe.

The Mediterranean Diet can help you to live a  longer, healthier life. It’s rich in antioxidants, which serve to inhibit oxidative stress, thereby halving the risk of developing  Parkinson’s Disease.

A pivotal requirement of Mediterranean-style eating is regular servings of fish. The Omega-3 oils in tuna and sardines boost brain health, so the likelihood of contracting Alzheimer’s Disease in later life is also reduced.

The Mediterranean Diet is high in fibre, thanks to the fresh fruit and vegetables, and fibreevens out the body’s blood sugar levels and boosts insulin sensitivity.  This ‘two for one’  health benefit minimises the chance of diabetes. Refined carbohydrates and red meat only figure on the menu occasionally, so saturated fat content is automatically restricted. This, in turn, makes for a healthy heart.

The Mediterranean Diet in action

Mediterranean menus are built around plant foods. Fruits and vegetables are headliners, and so are chick peas, lentils and beans. Nuts and seeds are supporting actors, with whole grains, rice and pasta making up the chorus and filling in the gaps in the action.

The good folks who call the Mediterranean home region always eat seasonal fruit and vegetables, so the vitamin content is at its peak, delivering a full antioxidant hit. In many cases, salad comes before the main course. This takes the edge off the appetite, so you’re more likely to take smaller portions of the main meal, and also eat more slowly.

There’s not much space for red meat in Mediterranean eating. The main protein sources are poultry, fish and eggs, with the occasional steak. Beans and pulses supply plant protein, with many Spanish recipes including chickpeas or alubias (white, kidney-shaped beans). Fish is  grilled, poached, baked, or shallow fried in light batter.

Some Mediterranean nationalities – notably the Spanish and the Italians –really enjoy cured hams and sausages. These products are naturally cured, and contain no chemicals. Therefore they can’t really be considered processed foods.

Herbs and spices, rather than are salt, are the main flavourings for Mediterranean recipes, and butter is only used occasionally. Mediterranean people prefer their bread served with olive oil, garlic mayonnaise, or tomato paste. These are all healthier than butter, with no saturated fat and fewer calories per serving.

On the Mediterranean Diet, wine is fine in moderation. Spirits are an occasional treat – wine and beer goes down better with the lighter way of eating. Alcohol is automatically restricted, as it’s customary to drink with food,, rather than just for the sake of drinking.

The Mediterranean lifestyle 

It’s not just the food that makes the Mediterranean Diet healthy – lifestyle is another factor. Life is for living outdoors, with no stress and no rushing around.  It’s too hot for that, and Mediterranean people are more laid back than their Northern European counterparts. 

When Mediterranean people go home after work, they dine on fresh food, cooked from scratch. They’re happy to spend two hours or more seated at table, savouring the food and chatting between courses. This leisurely approach to eating naturally reduces the intake of food.

It’s roughly 20 minutes until the brain gets the signal that the stomach is full. This is the down to the actions of the hormonal system in which neurotransmitters also play a part. If you bolt down food or eat on the hoof, these signals won’t kick in to curb your appetite. Mediterranean of eating allows plenty of time for the brain to register the ‘full’ feeling.  

The Mediterranean Diet is one of the healthiest eating plans in the world. It’s built around high consumption of plant foods, low fat proteins from fish, eggs and poultry, and smaller servings of saturated fats and processed foods. Eating this way minimises the risks of contracting various lifestyle diseases. If you need to lose weight, it’s low in calories and fat, and high in fibre and filling power.

The Mediterranean way of eating is varied, wholesome and healthy. Combined with a low stress lifestyle and a good dose of vitamin D from the sun, it’s no wonder health professionals consider the Mediterranean Diet one of the healthiest eating plans ever.

Estofado de garbanzos y patatas (chickpea and potato stew)

Estofado de garbanzos y patatas is a tasty Spanish stew which is quick, easy and economical to prepare. There’s a powerful plant protein hit, courtesy of the chickpeas, so you don’t need to add meat. However, if you prefer your stews to have at least some meat, try adding some smoked bacon lardons (taquitos in Spanish) with the onions and garlic. Or you can add meatballs or sliced chorizo sausage at the same point.

Before you get cooking, here’s a bit of insider information to help you create a stunning chickpea and potato stew that belies its humble origins. This filling, warming dish was originally developed for manual workers who needed filling power and fuel at an affordable price.

The thick gravy and unique flavour of this stew is due in part to extra starch being released from the potatoes during the cooking time. Once the potatoes are peeled and ready for slicing, cut halfway through the slices with a large, sharp knife, then just break them off. The resulting uneven surfaces allow the potatoes to release more starches into the cooking liquid than straight cuts.

The recipe also calls for grated tomato. This is a Spanish culinary technique which ensures that there are no irritating slivers of skin in the finished dish, and as a bonus, it helps to thicken the sauce and subtly enhance the overall flavour.  Don’t even consider chopping the tomato to save time!

Ingredients for 4 – 6 servings

  • 4 medium potatoes plus 1 small one
  • 1 large ripe tomato, grated
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 – 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 x 540g jar of cooked chickpeas (garbanzos)
  • Olive oil
  • Small knob of butter
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh or freeze dried parsley
  • A little fresh or dried thyme
  • 2 level teaspoons of paprika – smoked paprika gives a very different flavour. Try both versions, and see which suits your preference.
  • Small glass of red wine (optional)
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree or tomato frito. (This is similar to tomato puree)
  • Optional extra vegetables: anything you fancy or have available from the following: red or green peppers, courgettes, celery, green beans, peas, sweetcorn, squash. A word to the wise: aubergines don’t work well with this recipe.

Preparation method

Heat a little olive oil to soften the onions and garlic. Then add a small knob of butter and the red wine, if using. Add the parsley, thyme, salt and pepper.

Grate the tomato directly into the pan, then add the paprika and some water to prevent the mixture burning. Cook everything for a few minutes.

When you’re ready, add the chickpeas, together with the preserving juice from the jar. This also helps to thicken the sauce.

Now add the large sliced potatoes, tomato frito, any optional vegetables you are using, and enough water to just about cover everything in the pan. Simmer for around 45 minutes, and then grate the small potato directly into the stew to help thicken the sauce even more. Cook for at least another half hour, until everything is cooked through and the sauce is really thick.

Serve with fresh crusty bread. This dish is even better if you cook it the day before you need it, since this gives the  flavours more  time to develop and blend together.

Estofado de garbanzos y patatas can also be cooked in a slow cooker or crockpot. Adjust the cooking times according to the instructions with your appliance. It freezes well, so you can make a batch and freeze what you don’t need tonight. However you cook and serve this tasty Spanish stew, enjoy it!