January in the Garden

Something about the new year always fills me with inspiration, and I’m itching to get into the garden – alas we’re still in deepest, darkest Winter here in Scotland. The bamboo is providing some greenery, the Winter Spinach in the raised bed is doing well too and there are tips of spring bulb stems peeking above the soil but with the temperature hovering around 0°C this week, spring still feels like a long time away.

Nevertheless, I’ve been sorting through my seed box and thinking about what I’d like to grow. We have heavy clay soil and have never had any luck growing root vegetables, and its easy enough to get carrots, potatoes and onions so I leave those to the professionals. This year the plan is to grow kale, spinach, chard, peas, pumpkins and squash, as well as tomatoes and chilli peppers in the greenhouse. I’d also like to try growing ginger and my husband wants to try growing asparagus though that’s a long term project.

The flowerbed is fairly full of hardy perennials but I’m planning to grow more wildflowers around the garden too, partly because they’re lovely but also for the pollinators and insects. I’ve had mixed success with wildflowers in the past, the first few years, the beds were overflowing with lavetera, cornflowers, poppies and calendula but they haven’t done as well over last couple of years but I’ll keep trying.

Though we’ve lived here for 6 years now, I’m still so grateful to have a garden of our own. Have a lovely week. X

The Year Ahead and the One Behind…

January is usually a peaceful month for us spent recovering from the Christmas busy-ness. We’ve been gradually settling back into our routines, our older daughter was delighted to be reunited with her friends at nursery and returning to our weekly sensory group, exploring new soft play cafes and I’m glad to have a few days at home with the youngest (now 10 weeks old) while the older one is at nursery.

I always like to take some time to reflect on the previous year, and 2022 was another good year for us with visits to Culzean Castle and Five Sisters Zoo, trips to the beach, a night away in Edinburgh and ice-skating at Elfingrove among the most memorable moments. Our oldest daughter turned two in February, then in September my husband and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary and 7 years since we adopted our cat Mara in October, but the real highlight of the year came in November with the arrival of our second daughter, who has slotted into our family so smoothly.

The low points of the year were mostly related to illness, in March we were all knocked out by the flu, and our toddler had a night in hospital with chicken pox due to a stubbornly high fever and a secondary skin infection, then we had a nocturnal trip to A&E in October when she had croup. We ended the year and started this one with illness too, thankfully nothing serious but it’s taken me a little time to bounce back.

I don’t go in for new year diets and gym memberships, which seem so out of sync with the natural world that’s conserving energy until spring, but there are some changes I’d like to make. I started going to yoga classes in 2014 and continued right up to the month before my first daughter was born in 2020, since then I’ve struggled to get back into a routine so I’ve joined a local post natal pilates class – something I’ve wanted to try for ages – and I’m determined to get back to my old yoga studio once the baby can be left for longer.

In many ways I’m feeling very content and I don’t have any burning ambitions but there’s a whole year stretching out ahead of me and I’m looking forward to time with family and friends, reading, gardening and improving my fitness. What are your plans for the year ahead? X

2022 in Books

A very belated happy new year! I decided to combine my end of year reading review with my December wrapup as I only managed to read 2 books last month between Christmas and late nights up with the baby, though just managed to reach my goal of 52 books.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna

The story follows lonely witch Mika Moon who takes on a job as a tutor for three witch children being raised in secret. This is a slow burn grumpy-sunshine romance between the children’s guardian Jamie and Mika, but it was the found family storyline that really drew me in and kept me hooked. The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches is such a cosy, comforting and heartwarming story about magic, romance, family, home and belonging.

Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year by Beth Kempton

This was an impulse purchase but appealed because it’s about creating a personal and meaningful Christmas. Kempton suggests that there are five main themes of Christmas: faith, magic, connection, abundance and personal traditions, and each of these themes will have more or less significance to us. It was lovely reminiscing about Christmas from childhood to present but also reading about how other cultures and countries around the world celebrate, thinking about ways to simplify how I celebrate Christmas so that it encapsulate all my favourite parts and eschews all the aspects I find stressful or meaningless, and for a relatively short book it covers a lot of different facets of Christmas from budgeting to coping with grief and loneliness around the festive season.

2022 was an interesting year for reading: I read 52 books, 19 of which were borrowed from the library, as one of my reading resolutions was to read at least one book from the library every month, and as it happened all the books I read in March and August were borrowed from the library.

The majority of the books I read were fiction with a mix of contemporary fiction, fantasy, mysteries from Agatha Christie to Richard Osman, and ten children’s stories from ghost stories like Bridge of Souls, Gallant and The Haunting of Aveline Jones to environmental stories like Julia and the Shark, October, October and The Summer We Turned Green.

I didn’t find as many new favourites as the year before though my absolute favourites were the gripping small town drama Beartown by Fredrik Backman and the urban fantasy Jade City by Fonda Lee, which I enjoyed so much I binge read the whole trilogy in February. I also loved the King of Scars duology, and the final books in the Scholomance and Inheritance Games trilogies.

I also read 16 non-fiction books most of which were on environmental themes or parenting, easily the most non-fiction I’ve read in a year since graduating from university, and something I definitely hope to continue in 2023.

My reading goals for 2023 will be similar to last year, though I’m already off to a slow start and I’m feeling less confident about reaching my target of 52 books by the end of the year. I’ll continue to use and support the library service, and I’d also like to make a dent in my TBR which is currently 45 books long.

What are your reading resolutions for 2023? X

Twixtmas Greetings

I’ve been reminiscing about Christmas’s past lately, from one very cosy Christmas when I was little that was just me and mum to the year there were so many extended family members that the grandkids and cousins needed their own kids’ table; the early years of marriage when we’d spend the morning with my husband’s family and the rest of the day with mine; and visiting my nanna at the care home for our last Christmas with her before she passed away… For the last couple of years my husband and I have hosted Christmas, and the benefit of having had so many different festive experiences over the years means we’re free to make our own traditions instead of trying to fit in with everyone else’s.

On Christmas Eve, we spent most of the day outside hoping our nearly 3 year old would tire herself out enough to sleep (it worked and we got a rare lie-in on Christmas morning!). We had takeaway for dinner, a little tradition that started when my husband and I used to finish work, rush home to load the car with presents before driving down to spend Christmas with our families. Afterwards we put out a mince pie for Santa and an oddly-shaped apple for Rudolph that our toddler chose instead of a carrot, and read The Night Before Christmas before settling the little ones into bed.

There was absolute chaos on Christmas morning opening presents, before gathering around the table for our Christmas Dinner, then a leisurely afternoon of adults chatting, the little one playing with all her new toys and our six week old daughter wide awake and taking everything in, before a buffet supper and an early night for all. It was a simple, lovely day of togetherness celebrating the return of the light after the shortest day, followed by more of the same on Boxing Day and a visit from my in-laws the day after.

Christmas isn’t always a joyous or peaceful time though and within my family there have been deaths and divorce around the festive period, a sobering reminder never to take the people we love and care about for granted.

The remainder of the week has been busy and we’ve had an unexpected run of bad luck from our car breaking down, my husband and kids getting conjunctivitis, and a cracked phone screen, so I’m hoping for a quieter, calmer January.

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year when it comes. X

Counting Down to Christmas

We’ve been gradually getting into the festive spirit over the last few weeks, decorating our home, shopping for gifts and counting down the days with a selection of Advent calendars. As an adult I think I enjoy the build up as much as Christmas Day itself.

Over the last few years, I’ve been gathering a collection of decorations, baubles and trinkets that remind me of people, places and moments. This year I bought a candy cane heart but I also attempted to make a few new decorations by painting slices of wood, which I did the day before our second daughter’s birth in November, and I’m planning to make more from wood slices saved from our daughters’ first Christmas trees.

We have Advent well and truly covered with four different calendars – including one for the cat. As mornings are often a rush in our house, we’ve been saving our Advent Calendars til the evening, which has become a lovely family ritual. We’ve eaten dinner while the candle burns down with the treat of a chocolate afterwards and reading a new bedtime story from the book calendar.

Our oldest daughter is nearly three and she’s starting to understand Christmas a bit more than previous years. We’ve snuggled under blankets to watch Rise of the Guardians and Arthur Christmas together; danced to Christmas songs (she’s been learning Spanish at nursery so Feliz Navidad has become the unexpected theme song to Christmas this year along with my favourite Winter tunes by Ingrid Michaelson), and read festive stories before bed. The Usborne book advent calendar has been a real hit with a mix of fairytales and Christmas stories, and a surprise highlight was the evening my husband and I sang the Twelve Days of Christmas as loud and fast as we could much to our daughter’s amusement and delight.

Our oldest asked for a tree in her room, and we let her choose some of her own decorations (including a felt unicorn and polar bears), decorated it together and then danced around her room by the light of the tree afterwards – though having her own tree hasn’t stopped her interfering with the tree in our living room. Our youngest is just six weeks old and oblivious to the festivities but her smiley, easy-going disposition has given me some downtime between the Christmas preparations.

We went to Elfingrove last week, where we enjoyed a bird’s eye view from the Ferris Wheel, then fueled by candy floss and marshmallows we took to the ice with our older daughter on the toddler’s rink, which she loved and didn’t want to leave, while the youngest slept peacefully in her carrier.

We’ve reached the shortest day of the year, Christmas is nearly here and I still have presents to wrap and a cake to ice. Wishing everyone a peaceful Winter Solstice and a very Merry Christmas when it comes too. X

November Reading Wrapup

Dark and stormy November nights are perfect for snuggling up under a blanket with a book but I struggled to commit to anything at the start of the month while waiting for our second child’s arrival, and then once she was here I stuck to shorter books that were easy to dip in to during late nights up with a newborn and the sleepy days that followed…

She and Her Cat – Makoto Shinkai

This quirky little story follows four loosely connected and socially isolated individuals who all adopt cats from abandoned kittens to feral strays, and the narrative switches between the human and feline perspectives. In each of the stories the cats inspire and motivate their humans to change their life in some way. She and Her Cat is an easy to read, heartwarming novella.

Gallant – V.E. Schwab

A strange and haunting children’s story about life and death, and the people caught in between. Gallant follows the voiceless orphan, Olivia, raised in an school orphanage until one day she receives a letter from an unknown uncle inviting her home where Olivia starts to learn the secrets and mysteries of the Prior family and their home, Gallant. This is a tense, mysterious and macabre story but one that gripped me.

The Haunting of Aveline Jones – Phil Hickes

As a child I loved Goosebumps and the Point Horror series, and over the last few years I’ve really enjoyed finding a few new creepy children’s stories. The Haunting of Aveline Jones follows the title character who is staying with her aunt in Malmouth, Cornwall when she finds a book of ghost stories and discovers clues to the mysterious disappearance of a local child 30 years before. Set during a dark and stormy Halloween with some very creepy local folklore and traditions, this was a really atmospheric and thrilling children’s ghost story that really drew me in and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Greenglass House – Kate Milford

This is such a strange children’s story, yet one that is thoroughly captivating and charming. The story is set in Greenglass House, an old hotel frequented by smugglers most of the year, when five unexpected guests arrive during the festive break. Milo, the adopted son of the hotel owners, becomes involved in a mystery surrounding the five guests and the hotel, and learns so much about his home and identity over the story. This was such a lovely, gentle adventure and mystery, so easy to dip in and out often while up in the wee hours of the night with a newborn or in snatches during her daytime naps.

Autumn Fading into Winter

November isn’t normally one of my favourite months, but it’s been a watershed one for us this year as we started a new chapter as a family of four.

Since our second daughter’s arrival three weeks ago, there’s been a whirlwind of visits from family, neighbours, midwives and health visitors, quiet nights spent feeding and cuddling our new baby, with trips to shops, cafes, the library, playdates and all our toddler’s usual activites filling the daylight hours, and we’re gradually trying to find a rhythm that suits everyone. Though another child brings new challenges, going from none to one was much harder than the transition from one to two, and we’re finding our way much quicker the second time around.

It’s been a much bigger adjustment for our firstborn who at 2 years 9 months has gone from only to oldest; she’s needed a bit more reassurance and attention at times but has generally been curious about her little sister, showing her caring side by helping to change and bath the baby when she wants to get involved, and I hope they’ll become playmates and friends once the littlest one is mobile and verbal.

In contrast, our cat Mara surprised us by taking another baby in her stride. Mara seemed to be in shock when we brought the first baby home but has already given the newest addition a few tentative sniffs and then carried on with her own well-established routines.

Around the middle of the month, temperatures finally dipped into single figures and I’ve noticed Christmas decorations appearing in shops, garden centres and even a few homes over the last couple of weeks. Life with two small children is fast-paced, so many moments seem to be flashing past before I can catch them but glad to have found time to gather my thoughts here before autumn fades into winter. Have a lovely week. X

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

My most eagerly anticipated book of 2022 was the third and final part of Naomi Novik’s Scholomance trilogy. Set immediately after the events of The Last Graduate (reviewed here) , El is safely back in Wales with her mum having escaped the Scholomance graduation but still reeling from Orion’s choice at the end of the previous book. The Golden Enclaves really picks up when El is invited to help save wizarding Enclaves around the world and eventually finds herself caught in between New York and Beijing – the two most powerful Enclaves in the world – as they prepare to go to war with each other.

While the first two books were set almost entirely in the Scholomance, this one really opens up the wizarding world, giving readers deeper insight into the politics and practicalities of the Enclaves.

The Golden Enclaves answers most of the questions I had from the previous books as it’s full of revelations about El and Orion, the Wizard eating Mawmouths, how the Scholomance and wizarding Enclaves were created, and El finally starts to fulfil the prophecy that her great grandmother made that El would bring death and destruction to every enclave in the world – though not in any way I could’ve predicted.

The whole trilogy very much questions what people are willing to sacrifice and justify for their own comfort and safety, there’s no central villain as such but lots of people using their power and influence to make life better for themselves and their children at the expense of others, and El is such an unlikely hero because she’s such a misanthrope and cynic who shows consistently that doing the right thing is a choice to be made over and over again even if nobody ever knows or thanks you for it.

Without giving anything away, The Golden Enclaves had a happier ending than I expected, but still a bittersweet conclusion as El has to give up her dream in order to fulfil her purpose, which is totally in keeping with her character development as someone who refuses to sacrifice others to save herself and someone who weighs the cost of every choice and action. Ultimately, this is a dark and poignant but amusing and surprisingly heartwarming YA fantasy story about family, friendship, love, sacrifice, purpose and the choices that define us.

Have a lovely week. X

A Sleepy Hello…

My last post was actually written from a hospital bed while waiting to be induced after my due date had come and gone. Back at home now, I’m tapping out a quick post to share the news that our second daughter arrived safe and well on a sunny November morning last week.

I’m lucky that I’ve had two easy, healthy pregnancies, and two fairly positive birth experiences as well – though it’s only in hindsight that I realise how difficult my first labour was as I arrived at hospital fully dilated but my daughter’s heartbeat started dropping and ended up having a forceps delivery to get her out. I’d been desperate to avoid being induced for my second child’s birth because I’d heard so many horror stories but my own experience turned out to be uncomplicated and relatively quick, albeit intense and painful at the time, and I’m so grateful to the midwives who encouraged and guided me throughout, and helped safely deliver our youngest daughter.

I’d hoped to be discharged the same day but was kept in overnight to check my haemoglobin levels and I was so glad to get home to hand the newborn over to my husband for an hour or so (he’s very hands-on and has always been willing to do his share of bedtimes, night wakings and early mornings) to catch up on some sleep.

We’re now settled in at home and getting to know the smallest and youngest member of our little clan. At the moment, she’s all wrinkles and folds, silky soft hair, button nose, dark blue eyes, squeaks, snuffles, hiccups and sneezes. The last week has been a mix of long nights up with the newborn, busy days entertaining our toddler and visits from family and friends, but it’s been a lovely way to start this new chapter of family life.

Have a lovely week. X

October Reading Wrapup

Sharing my October reads a little late but it was another good month for reading with a mix of fiction and non-fiction.

Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown

I’ve been a fan of Brene Brown for a while but found this a bit different from her previous books, though it still covers similar themes such as shame, vulnerability, authenticity and courage, but reads like a dictionary of emotions and how to navigate them. Atlas of the Heart is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, packed full of Brene Brown’s humour, wisdom and personal anecdotes.

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

I read and loved Beartown back in January (reviewed here), but have been psyching myself up to read the second part of the trilogy as they are such gripping but tense and emotional stories of small town life that often remind me why I was so eager to escape to a city. Barely recovered from the events of Beartown, the little town suffers another scandal around their ice hockey team that leads to another tragedy. While the first book took aim at rape culture and how far the local community would go to protect their star player, the second focuses on homophobia in sports and is just as absorbing. I’m no sports fan, but I was completely drawn in to this story of marriage and families, friendships and rivalries, team and community.

Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman

My husband recommended Martin Seligman to me, and this was one of those books that overlaps different spheres of my life from work to parenting and personal development too, though this definitely falls into psychology rather than self-help. The focus of the book is about the link between learned helplessness, pessimism and depression, and Seligman argues that if these are learned behaviours, then optimism can be learned too. Seligman also makes a strong argument for developing an optimistic mindset given that research suggests it leads to living longer, healthier and happier lives. This book has some profound research on how we talk about events, setbacks and disappointments with kids for parents and teachers. Some of the research may seem a bit dated (a lot is from the 70s) but still relevant, and the book is obviously written from an American perspective with whole chapters on sports psychology, military recruitment and predicting presidential elections that aren’t necessarily relevant to other cultures or nationalities. The final third of the book focuses on developing thought-challenging techniques to combat pessimism, and understanding the link between thoughts, feelings and behaviour, that will probably be familiar to anyone that practices or has had CBT.

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

My most eagerly anticipated book of 2022 was the conclusion to the Scholomance Trilogy, and I’m still trying to put all my thoughts and feelings into words about it so will give this one a full length post. Despite a slow start The Golden Enclaves is full of revelations and kept me hooked until the last page trying to work out how it would resolve itself as El finds herself saving the Enclaves she was prophesied to destroy and caught between two of the most powerful Enclaves as they prepare for war against each other. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this trilogy and The Golden Enclaves provides a very satisfying conclusion.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

My husband bought this when it first came out but gave up on it halfway through, I picked it up recently and was gripped from the start. I enjoy a cosy crime murder mystery and found this one that has four aging, amateur sleuths trying to solve a local murder kept me guessing to the very end as it’s full of clues that didn’t quite fit together with plenty of misdirection and red herrings, and the ending was clever but a bit abrupt. I loved the mischievous and determined main characters who remind us that life doesn’t end in retirement, from the relatable and lovable Joyce to the rogue-ish ex trade union leader Ron, the still sharp as a scalpel psychiatrist Ibrahim, and mysterious ex-intelligence Elizabeth who is nothing short of a force of nature. The Thursday Murder Club was an unexpected delight, and I’ve asked Santa to put the second book in my Christmas stocking.

Have a lovely week. X