Happy Chinese New Year!

 

As it was Chinese New Year at the weekend, my hubby and I decided to visit the Giant Lanterns of China that have been on display at Edinburgh Zoo over the winter.

As darkness fell over the city, we wandered along the mile long circuit marveling at over 450 handcrafted silk lanterns illuminating the zoo. The beautiful displays featured elements from Chinese culture as well as various animals, birds and insects to be found in the zoo (though all of the real animals were kept inside overnight).

As with any outdoor event in Scotland, we were glad it was a dry evening, especially when we stopped to watch a twenty minute performance by Chinese acrobats who impressed the audience with their feats of strength and balance.

It was a wonderful way to spend a winter evening while learning a little bit about Chinese mythology and some of the conservation work that the zoo does. Have a lovely week. X

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Awakening from Hibernation

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I often think January is a month ill-suited to starting our New Year’s Resolutions as it’s the middle of winter and many of us are still recovering from the busy-ness and excess of the festive period. By February though, we’re usually awakening from our winter hibernation and ready to start tackling some of the goals and resolutions we’ve set ourselves.

One of our goals this year is to reduce how much food we waste. Food is a necessity but it’s also become one of our biggest expenditures after housing and transport, and I feel guilty when it goes to waste. To help us achieve our goal, we’ve been planning our meals in advance and we’ve bought a set of Pyrex dishes so we can cook some of our meals in bulk and freeze the extra portions for quick and healthy midweek suppers. We’re also going to continue growing some of our own fruit, vegetables and herbs in our little garden and composting our kitchen waste.

The gradually increasing daylight has given us a much-needed energy boost, and I’ve enjoyed getting back into our fitness routines, like swimming and my yoga class. Yoga has been a key component of my self-care over the last few years, as aside from the physical benefits, focusing on my breathing and immersing myself in physical activity helps me to clear my mind. This year I’d like to focus on improving my spine flexibility and increasing the number of sun salutations I can do without collapsing in exhaustion because I’d love to participate in a yogathon someday. I’m keeping my goals simple because as my yoga instructor often reminds us, yoga is as much about self-acceptance as it is about self-improvement. My husband and I have also signed up for salsa dancing classes. We learned how to foxtrot for our first dance, but took a break from classes after our wedding, and we’re excited to start our classes again as dancing’s a fun and romantic hobby to share together.

One resolution that’s already well under way in our home is resetting our cat’s breakfast routine with Pavlovian behavioural modification. Over the winter Mara had been waking us up earlier and earlier by pawing our faces, knocking things off our bedside tables and scrambling across our pillows, but we’ve gradually retrained her to stop waking us up at 4am, and she’s now allowing us a whole extra hour of sleep, which is a vast improvement as far as we’re concerned! After Mara’s had her breakfast, she always comes back to bed for a snuggle, which almost makes up for our rude awakening.

How are your resolutions going?

Have a lovely week. X

Winter in our Garden

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It’s snowed all through January in our part of the country, and it’s been lovely to see our garden under a thick blanket of soft, white snow, such a contrast from the colourful tangle of wildflowers in the summer. Over the last few weeks, I’ve enjoyed waking up and knowing it’s snowed without drawing the curtains as somehow the light seems diffused and a hush falls over the world. I much prefer a cold winter with frost and snow to a mild but wet one.

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Our raised beds and compost bins under the snow

This weekend my husband and I took part in the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch, and it’s been lovely to sit by the window for an hour with a cup of coffee counting the birds in our garden. Over the autumn and winter, I’ve been filling the feeders with suet balls and seed mixes, and scattering breadcrumbs and dried fruit on the ground for the family of sparrows living in the hedge as well as the blue tits, blackbirds, robins and starlings that visit our garden.

The snow has gradually melted away revealing the first shoots of our spring bulbs poking out of the soil. I’ve missed spending time in the garden over the winter, but until the weather improves I’ll savour the contrast of the cold and darkness outside with the warmth of the fire and soft glow of candlelight in our home.

Have a lovely week.

Review of ‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey

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Over the last few weeks, the long, dark midwinter evenings have given me the perfect excuse to sit by the fire and make a start on the pile of new books waiting to be read. It has been snowing on and off all week in our part of the country, making Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child seem like an appropriate story to start with.

Set in 1920, The Snow Child centres around Jack and Mabel, a married couple in their mid-forties from Pennsylvania grieving the stillbirth of their baby, and attempting to make a new life for themselves on a homestead in Alaska. Both lost in their own grief, Jack and Mabel hope it will be a fresh start away from all the reminders of their loss, but the reality proves quite different from their expectations as Alaska turns out to be a beautiful but harsh and unforgiving landscape.

One winter night, caught up in the magic of the first snowfall, they build a child in the snow – a little girl – but the very next day they find their snow child smashed and foot prints leading away from it. Not long after, they begin to see a little girl around their homestead and wandering in the wilderness. As the seasons and years pass, the reader is left wondering whether the snow child is just a feral orphan left to fend for herself or a fairy-tale brought to life by the couple’s desperate longing.

The Snow Child is split into three parts, and I found the final part – which jumps ahead several years – the weakest section as it seemed disjointed as it rushed towards the end. Despite this, I loved the descriptions of life on the homestead and the struggle to cultivate the land, making friends with their coarse-mannered but kind-hearted neighbours, the beautiful Alaskan winters and the mysterious snow child who seemed to haunt the land. The Snow Child is an ideal story to read under a cosy blanket with a cup of hot chocolate while the wind howls and the snowflakes fall outside.

Festive Tidings and New Year Hopes

Somehow Christmas Day always ends up being busier than we expect as we try to juggle seeing both sides of the family with preparing Christmas dinner, and picking up my grandmother in the morning and returning her home in the evening.

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Christmas morning began with a quick tour of my brother-in-law’s new home before visiting the rest of the in-laws to exchange gifts, catch up over giant mugs of coffee and fuss over their twenty-year-old cat.

As my mum has multiple sclerosis, which affects her dexterity and balance, dad has taken over preparing and cooking our family’s Christmas dinner, though the rest of us all lend a hand. The hard work in the kitchen is always worth the effort though to gather around a dining table groaning under a mountain of food with my husband, parents and grandmother to enjoy a three course Christmas feast, pull crackers and exchange gifts. The older I get the harder it is to reply when anyone asks me what I’d like for Christmas (or birthdays) as most of the things I value most cannot be bought and it is time with my loved ones that I appreciate most.

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The Kelpies on New Year’s Day

I was recovering from a cold on New Year’s Eve and my husband has never liked crowds so we stayed at home playing a board-game called Carcassonne that my father-in-law gave us for Christmas, eating a cheeseboard and sipping Champagne with Jools Holland’s Hootenanny in the background and our cat Mara snoozing in front of the fire. There was a frenzy of phone and video calls with parents, in-laws and our closest friends at midnight that took up almost the whole first hour of 2018. It was exactly the simple end to a stormy year, and joyful beginning to a new one that we both wanted.

On New Year’s Day after a lazy morning, we met up with a couple of friends in Falkirk for the Fire and Light Walk. The short trail took us past illuminated trees, paper lanterns and a choreographed fire dance in front of the Kelpies. Before leaving we scribbled wishes on strands of ribbon and tied them to a wicker clootie tree. Wrapped up in winter coats with cold hands curled around cups of hot chocolate, it was a lovely way to spend the evening.

2017 was a difficult year for us, and no doubt 2018 will bring new challenges, yet I can’t help but feel hopeful about the possibilities of a fresh start, and we have already begun setting our fitness goals and reading challenges, thinking about holidays and making plans for the year ahead.

Wishing everyone a very happy new year! X

Counting Our Blessings at Christmas

 

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As much as I love Christmas and all our festive traditions, December is also a good time to reflect on all the achievements and lessons, the joys and sorrows of the previous year, and to start making plans for the year ahead. In many ways 2017 didn’t turn out like my husband and I hoped it would; our year has been dominated by health issues, estrangement and home renovations, and some of our dreams are still as far out of reach now as they were twelve months ago, yet it’s also been a time of counting our blessings and appreciating what we already have.

It was a year ago today that we bought our house and I’m grateful to call this little house home, it’s been our safe haven sheltering us from so many storms.

Everyone in my little family suffered some form of illness or injury this year, and there’ll be no greater gift waiting for me under the Christmas tree than having my loved ones safe and well around me at Christmastime. I may write about my own health issues in more detail another time, but taking better care of myself by eating well, exercising and resting will be high on my agenda next year.

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Our cat, Mara, has been a constant source of affection and companionship since we adopted her, and after a difficult year health-wise, we’re so relieved that she seems healthy and still full of mischief and purrs. We’re very thankful to our local vets and the oncologists at the small animal hospital for everything they’ve done for Mara this year.

I’ve written before about some of the difficulties we’ve had establishing boundaries with a few demanding individuals in our lives, and it’s taken my husband and me a few years to disentangle ourselves from the webs we were caught in. While it’s sad we were unable to reach a compromise or resolve our differences, after years of conflict and heartache, it was a relief to let go and move on. Although our circle may be smaller now, it is infinitely kinder and more loving, and I’m so grateful for the family and friends who brighten our days and lighten our burdens.

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I also feel very lucky to be married to my best friend, and over the last few weeks my husband and I have been talking about our work, hobbies, travelling and our hopes for the future.

This isn’t the Christmas post I intended to write, but I wanted to share the most valuable lesson I’ve learned this year, that life doesn’t always turn out like we hope it will, and we don’t always get what we want, yet we can still count our blessings and find reasons to smile every day. Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who takes the time to read my little blog. Wishing everyone a peaceful winter solstice and a joyful Christmas. X

Review of ‘The World According to Bob’ by James Bowen

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A Street Cat Named Bob was the first book I reviewed this year, and it seems fitting that the sequel The World According to Bob should be the last. This picks up where the first book finished, James is a recovering addict, struggling to make ends meet by selling the Big Issue magazine and living in a London tower-block with Bob, the stray cat he adopted in the previous book.

Both books really capture the unconditional love, trust, loyalty and affection that can exist between people and animals, and how healing and transformative those bonds can be. Taking care of Bob gives James a sense of purpose, routine and responsibility, it’s his reason to get out of bed in the morning, to work hard and stay sober.

James isn’t proud of his past, and although he describes his difficult childhood shuttling between divorced parents in England and Australia, and his failed attempts to become a musician that ultimately resulted in him becoming homeless and addicted to heroin in London, he doesn’t blame anyone else for his choices.

James’ humanity comes across throughout the book as he understands the desperation that leads people in a similar situation to his own resorting to intimidation, violence, theft and addiction to numb their pain and shame. When his own fortunes start to change, James sees it as part of his duty and purpose to raise awareness of the harsh realities of those rough-sleeping, battling addictions and trying to eke out a living working on the streets.

James doesn’t have much by most people’s standards, and yet he is grateful for everything he does have, and his gratitude extends to all the people that believed in him and helped him when he needed it most from the Blue Cross vets who treated Bob whenever he was sick or injured to the Big Issue organisation, his parents, friends and the publishers who gave him the opportunity to share his story. Above all, James is grateful to the little cat that changed his life and inspired him to become the very best version of himself. I don’t usually read autobiographies but I found both of James Bowen’s books thoroughly heart-warming and inspiring. Have a lovely week. X