Keep Calm & Carry On Counting My Blessings

Coffee with Mara

I had to take a break from blogging earlier in the month due to a sudden and unexpected bout of ill-health. Earlier in June, I woke up with blurred vision in one eye, and it continued to deteriorate over the next 48 hours. After a quick call to NHS24, I was encouraged to go to A&E who were unable to find any sign of trauma or infection and made an urgent referral to ophthalmology for the next day. After a full visual test on both eyes, including scans and eye-drops, the ophthalmologist diagnosed me with optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve), and has made a referral to neurology as it can be the first symptom of Multiple Sclerosis. M.S isn’t hereditary, but I do have a slightly higher risk of developing it as my mum has it. The good news is that I don’t have any other symptoms, and the ophthalmologist expects my vision to return fully in the next couple of months.

It’s been hard not to worry about the worst case scenarios but we don’t know anything for certain yet, and I’m trying to keep calm and carry on counting my blessings. The NHS receives a lot of criticism but I’m incredibly grateful for it, my access to A&E and ophthalmology was quick and all the staff I saw were diligent and compassionate.

Tea in the Garden

Losing vision in one eye has been humbling, unable to drive or work for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been housebound and have been grateful for simple home comforts. I’ve enjoyed spending time in the garden, and I’ve been very grateful for Mara’s companionship. Cats have a reputation for being aloof, but Mara is such a sociable girl, and she’s relished all the extra cuddles and attention while I’ve been at home. Most of all, I’ve been grateful for my husband, who has taken this latest setback in his stride, and has been an unwavering source of support and reassurance.

My vision is slowly returning, and I’m very much trying to counteract my fears with gratitude, but these last few weeks have been a reminder not to take anything for granted because life can change in an instant. Be well, and have a lovely week. X

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The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet is set in our galaxy but far in the future, when other planets have been colonized and various other sentient species have invited humans to join the Galactic Commons.

The story follows the crew of a ship called the Wayfarer, who make their way in the galaxy by creating hyperspace tunnels that allow other ships to travel from one planet to another. Perpetually struggling to make ends meet, the crew accept a high-risk, high reward job to connect a planet inhabited by a belligerent race of aliens who have only recently ceased sending messengers and ambassadors from other planets home in bits and begun communicating and trading with the Galactic Commons instead.

The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet is a slice-of-life space-opera, and it’s hard to describe the plot because not much actually happens yet is far from slow or boring. The Wayfarer’s crew is made up a multi-species cast, and the human, alien and A.I. characters are all vividly realised, and their relationships allow the story to explore the romances, taboos, prejudices and politics that would invariably exist between so many different species. The writing is also deliciously atmospheric, and right from the offset I felt like I was on board the Wayfarer, and could hear every clunk in the ship, the hum of the engine and imagine staring out of the viewport into endless space.

I don’t read much science-fiction but I’m so glad I took a chance on this, and I look forward to reading the rest in the series. Have a lovely week! X

The Ladybirds and the Bees

Bombus1

Although we live in an urban environment, we’ve tried to make our garden as wildlife friendly as possible by planting flowers that bloom at different times to ensure a steady supply of food for the insects from spring to autumn, and we’ve been rewarded with lots of winged visitors in the garden this month.

The cirsium rivulare (which is becoming a bit of the thug in the back border) is particularly popular attracting both bees seeking pollen and ladybirds that eat the aphids eating the plant.

May is typically a warm and sunny month in our part of the world, and it’s been lovely to sit outside enjoying the sunshine as the bees bumble and buzz around completely unperturbed by our presence. As always very grateful for our little garden and all the joy it brings us. Have a lovely week! X

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

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I Am Malala is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read forever and I ended up borrowing a copy from the local library. In many ways, Malala comes across as a very ordinary teenager who bickers with her little brothers and worries about her exams, and I really enjoyed her vivid descriptions of her life in Pakistan, playing with the little girl next door, listening to her father and his friends chat about politics, visiting relatives in the mountain village where her parents came from, the sense of family and community, and her dawning awareness of living in a patriarchal society.

Malala recalls being vaguely aware of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in neighbouring Afghanistan but – as I’m sure many people reading can relate – that was something happening somewhere else, until their influence slowly started spreading. Malala describes how a militant group of fundamentalists seized upon the chaos and destruction created by a devastating earthquake to extend their influence and occupy North West Pakistan where she lived, bringing terror, torture, murder and civil war to her home.

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The day that Malala was shot by a Taliban terrorist was just another day up until that event, and she recalls the confusion and disorientation of waking up in an unfamiliar place with no memory of what happened and feeling desperately worried about her family. Malala clearly expresses her humility and gratitude at being alive, reunited with her family and their new life in the U.K. with all the freedom and safety it provides, but it is also tinged with homesickness for Pakistan and all her friends there.

Malala comes across as a young woman shaped by her circumstances, she recognizes how fortunate she was that her parents supported and encouraged her education, and how her family were ordinary people caught up in the conflict between the Pakistani government and terrorists, yet instead of being cowed and frightened into submission, Malala developed a sense of purpose and her determination and courageousness shine throughout this biography. I Am Malala is every bit as powerful and thought-provoking as I expected, and ultimately Malala chooses to define herself not as the girl who was shot by the Taliban but as an advocate for education. Have a lovely week! X

May Day Gardening

Tulips

Just tapping out a quick post at the end of another hectic week, but no matter what else is going on in our lives, we always try to find time to spend in the garden. April is usually when we sow the first seeds outside, which means the garden is at an awkward stage in early May when the first intrepid little seedlings start to peek above the soil, but there’s still too much bare earth for my liking – though the tulips are providing a lovely splash of colour.

Back Garden

One of my gardening regrets is that I didn’t take more photos of the garden when we first moved here, though in my defence there wasn’t much to photograph except for four towering, dark fir trees along the back fence, a washing line and a mossy lawn. Since then we’ve cut down the fir trees, built raised beds for vegetables and flowers, planted two little apple trees, clumping bamboo, roses and various perennials.

Seedling shelf

I recently rescued a rickety, old bookcase that has changed hands between various family members more times than I can remember but now resides in our front porch, which has become a makeshift green house to start off some of our tender plants. This year, I’m growing three different varieties of chilli (Banana, Poblano and Cayenne), but only one variety of squash called Honey Bear. My spouse has started off some Sweet Aperitif cherry tomatoes, and I’ve planted a pot of Lollo Rosso lettuce because we had surprise success with it last summer and appreciated being able to snip off a few leaves whenever we wanted to make a fresh salad. Have a lovely week! X

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman is narrated by Keiko Furukara and right from the start it’s clear that she’s a little bit odd and doesn’t fit in, but Keiko is frequently as baffled by other people as they are by her. At times Keiko is hard to relate to as she questions her humanity and there are moments when her lack of empathy and violent impulses add a sinister edge to the story.

As a university student Keiko takes a part-time job in a convenience store, where she finds a reassuring sense of routine, predictability and purpose, and she finally starts to feel like an ordinary, productive member of society. Eighteen years later, at the age of 36, Keiko is single, childless and still working part-time at the convenience store, and feeling pressure to conform as she realises that concerned family members and peers view her with a combination of curiosity and pity because they can’t imagine how she could be content when she’s deviated from the path of career, marriage and children that everyone else followed.

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Then, into Keiko’s orderly and predictable workplace, comes a new employee, Shiraha, a mid-30s slacker with a victim mentality who looks down on both the work and the other workers, but who is on the hunt for a marriage partner to support him. Shiraha is an interesting foil for Keiko, and he becomes the catalyst that pushes Keiko to choose between pretending to be normal and conforming to social expectations, or accepting herself for who she is and doing what makes her happy.

Convenience Store Woman is a short book and easy to read, but also a thought-provoking and powerful exploration of self-acceptance, conformity and societal pressure. Have a lovely week! X

A Garden in Progress

Tulip Ballerina

Winter often seems like the longest season in our part of the world, and it always feels like such a relief to see leaves on the trees again, and tulips and daffodils in full bloom in April. The Easter Bank Holiday coincided with a spell of warm, sunny weather and we’ve spent most of our long weekend in the garden. April is always a busy time of year in the garden, heralding a period of growth and change, but we’ve also enjoyed just sitting out in the sunshine taking it all in and anticipating the growing season ahead.

As much as I enjoy visiting public gardens and flower shows, I often find more inspiration from my fellow garden bloggers and I love seeing real gardens with washing lines, water butts and compost bins, as these are all signs of use and life often missing from landscaped and designed gardens. Our washing line cuts across the garden, and I’m hoping that when our garden is more established it will be less obvious, but in the meantime I’ve create little miniature flowerbeds around the base of the poles. I’ve planted tete-a-tete daffodils that I bought reduced at a local garden center in them, and I’m also hoping to train sweet peas up the trellis.

Fed up battling against the challenging conditions in the border under the hedge, we decided to move part of the L-shaped flowerbed turning it into a T-shape, it’s still in full-sun but plants won’t have to compete with the hedge roots now, and as a bonus we can trim the hedge without all the branches and leaves falling on the bed below.

Our garden will never win any awards, but it’s an eclectic patchwork of our experiments and whimsies, and it brings us an enormous amount of pleasure and fulfillment. Happy Easter and have a lovely week! X