Windowsills and Shelves

We’ve reached that point of the year when I’ve run out of room on the windowsills as a mismatched collection of plant pots and trays jostle for space. There are courgette and sunflower seedlings, and a tray of lavatera and calendula seedlings that I started inside after the wildflower mix that I sowed in the flowerbeds were mown down by slugs and snails, and even a pot of grass for our housecat, Mara.

The seedlings that I started off inside may be safe from the usual garden pests, but Mara isn’t above taking a nibble out of any leaves in her vicinity, and I lost a whole tray of sweetpeas and a courgette seedling to a curious and over-enthusiastic toddler, then snapped another courgette seedling stem myself when I was repotting it.

May is usually a fair month, but the weather has actually been quite mixed, with some warm and sunny days, some showers, and a lot of cool, overcast days, and most of my seedlings have grown a bit leggy as they stretch and strain to reach the sun which has so often been hiding behind the clouds.

It’s been a few years since I’ve posted about our houseplants and there have been some new arrivals and at least as many departures since then. We currently have seven spider plants (by far the easiest houseplant to care for), six of which are descendents from the original plant, that produced so many spiderettes that I ended up giving them away to family, friends and work colleagues. We also have a string of hearts plant that is hopelessly tangled and coiled around itself to prevent the strings from tickling our heads when we sit on the couch underneath it, but it’s another low-maintenance favourite that I’d love to try propagating.

On the stair windowsill are two burros tail succulents, which are the succulents that I’ve had the most success at keeping alive (as all the echeveria have died off and I’ve no plans to replace them), though I also love the Purple Graptopetalum that I bought at a Cactus and Succulent Sale at the Botanic Gardens a couple of years ago and that I’ve recently had some luck at propagating from fallen leaves.

I do like having a house full of plants, but very much hoping that the weather improves soon so I can start hardening off the seedlings and plant them outside, but in the meantime I’ll continue tending them inside until they’re strong enough to survive the vagaries of Scottish weather. Have a lovely week. X

Springing Out of Hibernation

April is one of my favourite months as cherry blossoms swirl around like confetti in the breeze, tulips burst into flower, the weather (usually) improves and it finally feels like we’ve shaken off another winter.

The first week of April was spent alternatively caring for and entertaining a toddler with chicken pox who was quarantined from nursery, soft play, playdates and play groups. I tried my hand at few sensory activities such as dying dried chickpeas and making pink sand (a big hit but very messy!), and we also made lots of no-bake treats like chocolate rice krispie cakes and rocky road, both easy enough that the little one could get involved with pouring and mixing the ingredients (and licking the spoon afterwards).

Then it was back to nursery, sensory group (just in time for the Easter party) and family swimming trips. We’ve also been going out for walks after dinner, and it really feels like we’re springing out of hibernation after a long, dreary winter.

We had an egg hunt in the garden for the little one at Easter, with eggs that I’d painted and a few mini chocolate eggs too. Our daughter probably got enough chocolate from her grandparents and our neighbours to last her to the end of the year.

We’ve been busy in the garden too. My father-in-law helped us moved one of the square raised beds into the back corner, a slightly shady area which we’ve struggled to fill with anything other than weeds. I treated myself to another climbing rose, James Galway, to fill the back fence alongside Crown Princess Margareta, which is already very well established. Our daughter helped me scatter wildflower seeds in the raised beds, and I’ve started off some sunflowers on the windowsill. I was very excited to see flowers on the plum tree and two of our four apple trees. My husband also found a greenhouse on gumtree, it’s a bit bigger than I had in mind but too good value to turn down.

Even though the garden is only just getting started, it’s been great to spend so much time outside pottering around, a real tonic for the mind and body. Already there are busy bees bumbling, ladybirds and even a couple of butterflies flitting around the garden – but most exciting of all is the return of the hedgehogs in the evening, we’ve counted three so far, and we’ve been leaving cat food out for them. I’m always slightly surprised and delighted by how much wildlife there is to be found in an urban environment and we try to make our garden as wildlife friendly as possible to support it.

We haven’t ventured too far from home lately, but it’s been a lovely month full of picnics and playdates at the park, and lots of fun in the garden. Have a lovely week. X

First Quarter in the Garden

We’ve spent lots of time in the garden over the last few days and I thought I’d share a little update about the first quarter of the year in the garden. I had briefly considered writing posts to coincide with the Celtic festivals of Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain but there really wasn’t enough happening in the garden in February to write about.

The first hellebore flowered at the end of December and they’ve been flowering constantly through the early months of the year, before being joined by the daffodils last month. Winter is often the season when I like to make plans for the year ahead while the garden is resting and waiting for spring. We have three raised beds in the garden, I’ve filled the long bed with my favourite perennials but I’m planning to fill the two smaller square beds with daffodil and tulip bulbs this autumn, and turn both beds into wildflower patches over the summer.

Our summerhouse has spent the winter under a huge tarpaulin protecting it from the worst of the cold and damp but on a very sunny weekend in March, my husband painted it a cheery shade of blue with white frames. We’ve already enjoyed eating our lunches in the summerhouse, our daughter loves having it open to explore and hide in, and I’m looking forward to lunchbreak reading in the shade through the summer. We’re also planning to replace our shed as the roof appears to be disintegrating, and we’d also like to get a greenhouse to try growing our own tomatoes, chilis and courgettes.

Our garden is small, oddly shaped and a real mix of different styles and ideas, but I’m grateful to have a garden and excited to get growing again. Have a lovely week. X

March Reading Wrapup

I’d set myself the goal of reading one library book a month this year, but partly inspired by local campaigns to save two library earmarked for closure and partly due to the efficiency of the library request service (which has just resumed after a two year hiatus during the pandemic) all the books I read in March were borrowed from the library.

The Secret of Happy Children by Steve Biddulph

Steve Biddulph was actually suggested to me by my husband who had read one of his other books, and I found this one by chance in our local library. The Secret of Happy Children contains practical parenting skills like activing listening and how to respond to tantrums, sulks and shyness as well as how to model expressing your own anger, sadness and fear appropriately. Biddulph really packs a lot into a short book from a brief description of developmental stages and keeping our expectations realistic to tips about self-care for parents and child-proofing your relationship. This is an easy to read parenting book that’s short but full of practical advice, though at times I felt he was trying to squash too much into too short a book and it lacked depth.

The Monsters of Rookhaven by Padraig Kenny

A creepy, gothic children’s story of a strange family of monsters who live in Rookhaven Manor and whose lives are thrown into disarray when the magic protecting them from the human world starts to fade and two human children cross over. The family soon discover that there are creatures that even monsters fear, but this is a gripping story of friendship, family, compassion and bravery.

The Gentle Discipline Book by Sarah Ockwell-Smith

In The Gentle Discipline Book, Sarah Ockwell-Smith attempts to redefine our understanding of discipline as a form of teaching instead of being a synonym for punishment. I really appreciated that so much of the book is based on a solid understanding of child developmental stages and reminding parents to have realistic expectations of a child’s age and stage when dealing with sulks, tantrums and a variety of other problematic behaviours. Similar to Philippa Perry’s The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read, there’s a real focus on understanding the cause of the behaviour rather than just trying to correct it and connecting with your child emotionally through the process. I didn’t agree with everything in the book, and I think some of her suggestions make it obvious she’s writing for a middle class audience that some parents may find cost prohibitive, but there’s a lot of useful advice in here that I’ll be applying with my own daughter.

Little Thieves by Margaret Owen

This YA fantasy took me a while to get into because there’s a lot going on in the story. This is a retelling of the Goose Girl fairy tale from the maid’s perspective and follows Vanja who was abandoned in a forest by her real mother and adopted by Fate and Death who raise her, before she becomes the servant of a noble family and befriends their daughter, Princess Gisele. When the nobles are cruel and abusive to Vanja, Gisele looks the other way, and in revenge one day Vanja steals Gisele’s identity and Gisele is cast out as a peasant. Vanja uses her newfound privilege to become a thief preying on the noble families who mistreated her until she accidentally crosses paths with a diety who curses her for her greed and threatens to turn her into jewels one body part at a time unless she gives back what she has stolen. Vanja is one of those characters who is deeply sympathetic though not always likable, nevertheless I still found myself rooting for her. Little Thieves is an enjoyable fantasy heist that kept me guessing right up to the end.

How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

Thanks to the unexpected efficiency of the library request service, this was the 3rd parenting book I read in March (meaning I read as many non-fiction books last month as I did in the whole of 2021!) but probably the only one that I’ll be buying a copy of and would recommend to parents for kids of all ages. Published in 1982, I could see how many other parenting gurus and psychologists have been influenced and inspired by the skills and ideas in this book. How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk won’t guide you through weaning, potty training or how to get your child to sleep through the night, but will give you practical communication skills to help children process difficult feelings, encourage co-operation and problem-solving between parents and children, offer alternatives to threats and punishment, how to give genuine and constructive praise, and how to let children be themselves instead of pushing them into roles or creating self-fulfilling prophecies. This is an accessible and engaging parenting book that is packed full of useful advice and skills, and one that I’ll definitely be referring to through my own parenting journey.

Have a lovely week. X

March Microadventures

March was a bit of a mixed-up and muddled month for us. We were hit by back-to-back illnesses in the middle of the month that floored us for a couple of weeks, and then after a brief respite when we were all well enough to get out into the good weather, our 2-year-old daughter caught chicken pox on the last day of the month. I am, however, making an effort to focus on the little microadventures we enjoyed despite it all, instead of dwelling on the days spent at home (and hospital!) feeling poorly.

At the start of the month, lighter days and better weather had us seeking out places to visit just a bit further away than our usual haunts, and we spent sunny afternoons strolling along the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond at Balloch Country Park, and skimming stones (or just making big splashes) by the water at Helensburgh.

We also had our first family swimming trip, and in the space of an hour, our daughter progressed from crying and clinging to us to calmly floating around in her rubber ring and kicking her legs while we held her hands. My husband and I used to go swimming every week but this was our first time back in the pool in over two years, and a couple of years of the pandemic and parenthood have definitely taken a toll on our fitness, but it felt good to swim a few lengths and we’ll definitely be back again soon with our daughter in tow.

Back at home, we’ve been enjoying playing in the garden and eating dinner in the summerhouse on light, warm evenings, and there were surprise flowers, a homemade truffle and card waiting for me on Mother’s Day.

This weekend has been unexpectedly tiring and stressful as the little one was sent home early from nursery with suspected chicken pox on Friday (later confirmed by the pharmacist) and she didn’t seem to bothered by it, but she was very restless on Saturday night with a stubbornly high fever of 39°C, and by morning she had developed an angry, red rash that didn’t look like the ordinary chicken pox spots. We took her to A&E to get checked over, and they suspected a secondary infection and decided to keep her in overnight to give her IV antibiotics (the cannula is probably one of her least favourite things along with covid swabs), though luckily we were allowed to stay with her. With 3 hourly checks and 6 hour meds through the night, it wasn’t the most restful sleep we’ve ever had but by this morning her stats were stable and improving, and she was discharged just before lunch. It’s a relief to be home again, and see the little one slowly recovering.

Between bad weather, lingering Covid19 restrictions and bouts of illness, it’s been a long winter and I’m so glad to feel the sun’s warmth again, see daffodils flowering and to notice the arrival of spring once more. Take care and have a lovely week. X

February Reading Wrapup

We’re only just getting back on our feet after a bout of illness floored us so sharing my February reading wrap-up a bit later than planned. February was another good month for reading, and Lunar New Year had me seeking out books with Asian settings and characters.

Not Here to be Liked by Michelle Quach

I started February with Not Here to be Liked by Michelle Quach, which is a YA romance about a Chinese-Vietnamese American girl, Eliza, who has been ruthlessly working towards becoming the editor of her High School newspaper, but whose ambitions are thwarted at the last minute by the cute baseball player Len, who only joined the paper last year but gets himself elected editor instead. Although I’ve always enjoyed stories with a romantic subplot, I really enjoyed how much depth this romance novel had as the teens wrestle with sexism and feminism, stereotypes and double standards, race and immigrations, and other issues. Romance is a new and unfamiliar genre for me but I adored Not Here to be Liked, it’s the perfect combination of adolescent awkwardness, humour, social commentary and romance.

The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

I tend to avoid grimdark fantasy and while I enjoyed The Poppy War (reviewed here), I found some of the descriptions of war harrowing to read, and it’s taken me almost a year to psych myself up to read the second part of the trilogy inspired by modern Chinese history. The Dragon Republic did feel like a middle book, as I found it a lot slower than The Poppy War as Rin and her allies deal with the aftermath of the previous war and prepare for a civil war between the Twelve Provinces, but I didn’t find the descriptions as distressing as those in the first book. Unsurprisingly for a character inspired by Mao Zedong, Rin isn’t always likable or sympathetic but she is fascinating and I’m really intrigued to see how this trilogy ends.

The Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee

My husband bought me Jade City for Christmas, and I was only halfway through it when I rushed out to buy the other two parts so I could binge read this urban fantasy trilogy. The story follows the youngest generation of the Kaul family who lead the No Peak Clan, one of the two biggest clans operation in the city of Janloon: there is Lan the eldest brother and a prudent leader, Hilo the charismatic but hot-headed middle brother who leads the clan’s military operations and their younger sister, Shae, the business mastermind of the family. This is a slow-burn story as No Peak find themselves at war with their biggest rival, the Mountain Clan, headed by the ruthless Ayt Mada, but it’s tense, gripping and I was thoroughly invested in the fate of the Kaul family. The world building is brilliant and vivid, and I loved the setting of Janloon, though the story did sometimes get bogged down in describing the politics. I also really liked the magic system where some people can wear jade to enhance their perception, strength and give them other supernatural abilities. The final part Jade Legacy was the longest book and definitely suffered from some pacing issues as it had several time skips forward to allow the children of the next generation of Kauls to grow up but was still full of suspense, heartbreak and tied up all the threads in a very satisfying conclusion to this original and gripping trilogy.

Have a lovely week. X

February Birthdays, Snow and Gratitude

Over the last few days Winter has shown some signs of surrendering to Spring with a little extra daylight at the start and end of the day, milder temperatures and a little sunshine. Through February we were battered by consecutive storms and a few snow days but luckily we didn’t suffer any storm damage or power cuts.

At the start of the month, we celebrated our daughter’s 2nd birthday. I took the little one out to choose a birthday balloon in the morning (she chose a mermaid), then we decorated the living room while she was napping. She woke up to a room full of grandparents, presents and cake. Our daughter had a wonderful time throwing and chasing balloons, tearing into her presents to find new toys and books inside, and she was singing happy birthday to herself all week.

Our daughter at two years old is already such an interesting little person with so many interests from zooming around on her scooter and splashing in puddles, caring for her dolls and soft toys, playing hide and seek with us, scribbling and painting handprints, picking out stories to read together or demanding to watch Room on the Broom or Dug Days on TV, chattering away and bursting into song with whichever nursery rhyme happens to be stuck in her head. We’ve seen a few tantrums and defiance over the last few months but over all she has a really cheerful and sunny disposition.

Our other little girl, Mara, appears to be determined to hibernate until Winter is over, in a variety of cosy nooks and beds – including a doll’s bed that my daughter got for her birthday. It’s hard to say if Mara is slowing down in her senior years as she’s always been a lazy lump but she’s got a good appetite, still cuddly and playful as ever.

Between all the storms and snow, I’ve been feeling very grateful for the warmth and comfort of our home, and watching the news over the last week or so, I’ve been reminded how lucky we are to live somewhere relatively safe. When the world seems to be spinning out of control, it’s often the smallest moments – a hug from my daughter, a purring cat on my lap, my husband making fresh coffee in the morning, spotting the first daffodil in the garden – that stop my anxiety from spiralling and keep me tethered to the here and now. Take care and have a lovely week. X

Raising a Bookworm

We’re a bookish family and one of the parts of parenthood I’ve looked forward to most is sharing my love of stories with my daughter. I’ve been collecting books for her since birth and have given her the lowest shelf on our bookcase within her reach, but it’s only in the last few months that she’s shown a real interest in stories.

In Scotland, the Scottish Book Trust distributes free books at intervals from birth to five years old to encourage a love of reading and promote literacy. A few of my daughter’s earliest favourites were books she received from the health visitor, including a simple rhyming bed time story called One Sleepy Night and a peekaboo lift the flap book, there was also a rhyming book to help children learn to count in the most recent Bookbug bag by Julia Donaldson called One Mole Digging a Hole that my daughter really likes too.

Although I’ve read to my daughter since birth, once she became mobile she lost interest in books so I picked up a few more interactive sensory books for her from the “That’s Not My” range and a couple of Nosy Crow lift the flap books too to try to keep her interest.

As she’s gotten older, her language skills have developed and her attention span has increased we’ve been able to introduce more narrative stories. One of her earliest favourites that she demanded over and over again was Corduroy by Don Freeman, which tells the story of a bear in a department store who gets overlooked by customers because he’s missing a button on his dungarees and sets out on an adventure to find a button once the shop closes. It’s a really lovely story and one that has aged well since it was first published in 1968.

Another popular classic in our household is The Very Hungry Caterpillar (which also happens to have been one of my husband’s favourite childhood stories) which describes the life cycle of a caterpillar hatching from an egg, eating a lot of food and eventually transforming into a butterfly. My daughter practically knows this one off by heart and enjoys pointing out all the foods that the caterpillar eats.

Between Halloween and Christmas last year, my daughter discovered the wonderful rhyming stories of Julia Donaldson and has been demanding “Broom!” (Room on the Broom) and Gruffalo’s Child regularly. For those unfamiliar with these stories, Room on the Broom is about a witch who keeps losing her belongings which are returned to her by various helpful animals she meets on her journey, who all ask to travel on her broom with her and eventually team up to rescue her when a dragon threatens to eat her. It’s a fun story about helping each other and team work. While The Gruffalo’s Child is the sequel to The Gruffalo, in which the Gruffalo’s daughter sets out on a quest to find the big, bad mouse that scared her father in the original story.

I’m looking forward to seeing how my daughter’s reading tastes change and develop as she grows, and have enjoyed this chance to look back at some of the books that we’ve read together over the last couple of years. Have a lovely week. X

January Reading Wrapup

I’ve decided to try monthly reading wrap-ups instead of quarterly, and this year is already off to a strong start as I read six books this month, including one that I’m almost positive will be in my end of year Top 10.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

My first book of 2022 was Hercule Poirot’s Christmas which involves the frail but bombastic patriach of the Lee family, Simeon, inviting his relatives for Christmas dinner. The family is absolutely rife with resentment and rivalry, and on Christmas Eve, Simeon is murdered and his uncut diamonds stolen. The retired Belgian Detective, Hercule Poirot, is invited by the local police to help investigate, and discovers a multitude of secrets and deceptions among the household as everyone from his sons and daughters-in-law to the valet seems to have a motive for murdering the old man. I’ve read a few Poirot mysteries and I thoroughly enjoyed this one that had me suspecting then dismissing the murderer and kept me guessing until the end.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

I picked this up hoping for a wintry adventure but unusually for a children’s book found this a real slog to get through as it’s very slow paced and I never felt the characters were in much danger. The Dark is Rising follows 11 year old Will Stanton who finds that he is the last of the mysterious Old Ones, a group of druidic Guardians who stand against the Dark that threatens the world. I enjoyed the descriptions of the Stanton’s family Christmas and the pagan and Christmas traditions that are laced throughout the story but not enough to redeem this story for me.

Beartown by Fredrick Backman

Set in Beartown, Sweden, this story follows a group of characters all connected to the local ice hockey team. The junior team is preparing for the national semi-finals and a victory would put the struggling town back on the map bringing tourism and investment. The stakes are high and the pressure on the team is immense, but when one player crosses the line outside the rink, the town has to decide between seeking justice and hushing up the crime. Beartown really captures the stifling claustrophobia of locker rooms, high school and small towns, yet it’s balanced with moments of bravery, loyalty and loving, supportive families and friendships. Beartown was absolutely gripping, tense and full of suspense from start to the end, but not without humour and full of insight about families, friendships, community, wealth and poverty, growing up and growing older, and so much more. This is the first part in a trilogy and I’m really looking forward to returning to Beartown and all its characters, and I’m already predicting that this will be one of my favourite books of the year.

Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

After Beartown I was in the mood for something lighthearted and this YA fantasy follows a broken hearted young woman, Evangeline, who makes a deal with Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, to stop her beloved from marrying her step-sister in exchange for three kisses. It’s a very light-hearted fairy tale with a wicked stepmother, Prince Charming, capricious Fates and vampires but it’s far from predictable. This is the first book in the series and I’m curious to find out what happens next.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

This is the first part in a fantasy series inspired by pre-Columbian American mythology and culture. Black Sun follows four different characters in the days leading up to a solar eclipse, Naranpa, the Sun Priestess, Xiala a sailor who can control the sea with the power of song, Okoa a warrior from the Carrion Crow clan and Serapio, a human vessel for the Crow God. I really loved the setting and the characters but I felt the pacing let this story down as most of the action happens in the last few chapters so at times it felt like reading an extended prologue, but I’m invested enough to want to know what will happen next.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Eduacation was one of my favourite books last year and while I wait for the final part of the Scholomance trilogy, I decided to borrow one of Naomi Novik’s other books from the library. Uprooted is a strange fairy-tale about a young woman, Agniezska, who is chosen to live with and serve the local wizard, known as the Dragon. Agniezska turns out to be more than just a woodcutter’s daughter and has her own destiny to fulfill as she and the Dragon attempt to stop the Wood that threatens the land steadily swallowing up villages and corrupting everyone that it touches. Uprooted has a lot of interesting ideas and plays with some fantasy and fairytale tropes, and I really enjoyed the magic in this story.

What have you read recently? Have a lovely week. X

January Snow, Scooters and Self Care

I’ve always quite liked January, partly because of the hopefulness of a new year but also because my dad’s birthday falls in the middle of the month, which always gives us something to look forward to and celebrate after Christmas. This year, my dad came up to stay with us over his birthday weekend, and we took a wrapped up walk around Mugdock Country Park together. My dad hasn’t had the easiest time over the last few years, so I feel very lucky and grateful to watch my daughter and her “papa” playing and laughing together now.

Over the last few weeks, there has been a gradual return to our normal routines. Our daughter has returned to nursery, playgroup and toddler sensory, while my husband and I have resumed work, though I’m still mostly based at home with just one day in the office.

As the weather has been fairly mild, usually in single figures but rarely dipping below zero, we’ve been able to get out to the playparks and letting our toddler zoom around the cul-de-sac on her scooter. It’s quite a contrast from last January when it was so cold that we watched people ice-skating on the frozen ponds in the park and we were still under lockdown. We did have a little bit of snow at the start of the month and had fun throwing snowballs at each other in the garden before it melted.

The weekend just passed was a busy one, starting with toddler sensory which involved a bumped head and a nose bleed, lots of tears and cuddles, coffee with our neighbours in the afternoon, and a solo trip to visit my mum chatting over tea and helping her with a few odd jobs around the house and garden.

January has flown in, it’s been a busy month, but one full of family fun and togetherness. Over the next couple of months, I’ll be prioritising self-care, for me that means yoga and reading, cutting down on junk food, caffeine and alcohol, but also reducing the amount of time I spend scrolling on my phone, and spending more time with family and friends. Take care, and have a lovely week. X