Autumn Equinox in the Garden

This weekend marked the official start of autumn according to the astronomical calendar (though I’ve always prefered the meteorological calendar as it always seems like we’re well into a season by the time the equinox or solstice rolls around), and I’m still enjoying lots of time out in the garden.

I’ve tried to fill the garden with plants that flower at different times, and one of my favourites is the autumn flowering Aster ‘Patricia Ballard’. I also really appreciate the flowers with a long flowering period like hardy geraniums that start flowering in June and carry on well into autumn and sometimes winter, long after the summer blooms have faded, and so far both ‘Blushing Turtle’ and ‘Rozanne’ are still going strong.

My favourite rose, David Austin’s ‘Boscobel’ has slowed down but is still producing the odd beautiful flower in the long border, and the most generous of my roses, ‘Crown Princess Margareta’ is still producing the odd handful of apricot blooms.

There are also still a few annuals dotted around the garden like calendula and nasturtiums, but there is a gradual sense that the garden is slowing down and preparing to hibernate.

We’ve had quite a few cherry tomatoes from plants we bought reduced, but quite a few are still green and I’m hoping they’ll ripen before the cold weather arrives. I wasn’t planning to grow many vegetables this year, but seized by a sudden whim I sowed a few seeds for winter veggies (turnips, spinach and radish) in one the square raised beds, and I’ve also started cabbage, kale and chard seeds in the greenhouse, but it feels like a race against time to grow them on enough to plant out before the first frosts.

As much as I love the coziness of autumn and winter, I do miss spending time in the garden during the colder, darker months, and I’m savouring every moment in the garden and all the plants still growing at this time of year. Have a lovely week. X

Stepping into Autumn

Autumn is upon us once more, with cool, crisp mornings, warm, sunny afternoons (more often than not!) and darker evenings, and the leaves of the trees just starting to turn in our corner of the world.

Last week, my husband and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary, and next week we’ll have been together for 14 years. I still feel very lucky to have found him; my husband is my best friend, he’s been a supportive partner through so many challenges and changes, and he’s become a devoted, hands-on father too. It hasn’t always been easy, over the years we’ve had to navigate long-distance as work and study pulled us in opposite directions across the map, interfering in-laws and family estrangements, illnesses and a hundred other hurdles. Yet there has been so much more laughter, affection and joy, and the hard times we’ve faced have always been made easier by the reassuring comfort of standing side by side, hand in hand through it all.

We managed a rare child-free evening out to celebrate our anniversary at a delicious Spanish tapas restaurant, we ate so much food, enjoyed a tasty mocktail, then ice-cream and a wee wander up to the University to see my hubby’s new office.

My husband starts a new job next week, one that involves much less travel around the UK than his previous role, which will suit our little family better. In contrast, I’ve been with the same employer for over six years now, by far the longest I’ve ever worked anywhere, and I’d like to make a change at some point in the future but I’m very lucky that my employer offers flexible working options that fit around family life.

I’m not one to count my chickens before they’ve hatched but it’s hard not to feel excited and nervous when our second child’s due date is just 7 weeks away! I had a bit of a fright a couple of weeks ago as I was involved in a 4 car accident on my way home from work, though luckily no one involved was injured and after exchanging details we all made our way home. Even so, it was a relief to see our baby at the 32-week growth scan last week, and to see everything looking healthy and normal. We also received our baby box from the Scottish government and enjoyed unpacking all the useful things inside.

We’ve finally started work on our front garden with the help of my father-in-law (and our daughter who just loves to get involved with whatever we’re doing), creating a new path that leads directly up to the front door. For the last few years the front garden has been overgrown and neglected so I’m really looking forward to doing something with this space, and my imagination is running wild with ideas of silver birch and cherry blossom trees and a pond.

I love September with the last of the summer warmth and the first chill of autumn, as it always seems like month of beginnings and endings, changes and transitions, as one season draws to a close and another begins, and I’m looking forward to lots of cosy times ahead. Have a lovely week. X

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

We’re into the season of dark, stormy nights now that are perfect for stories about witches, wizards and things that go bump in the night, and decided it’s a good time to share my review of the second part of The Scholomance trilogy as the final part is due out at the end of this month.

While the first part, A Deadly Education (reviewed here), covered just a couple of weeks at the end of term, The Last Graduate, covers El’s final year as she, her friends and allies, and her not-quite boyfriend Orion, prepare for the graduation battle they need to survive in order to return to the outside world.

As scathing and bad tempered as she is, El finds herself in demand as she’s sort-of-dating the school hero, Orion Lake, and is a monstrously powerful sorceress in her own right, but one of the main recurring themes of The Scholomance trilogy is who and what are the students (and by extension the Enclaves in the outside world) willing to sacrifice for safety but apparently her hippie-healer mum and heroic-to-a-fault, Orion, have rubbed off on misanthropic El who balks at sacrificing others to save herself again and again, even when it puts her in peril and at odds with the rest of the magical community.

The Scholomance itself is the antithesis of Hogwarts and other boarding schools in fiction as thousands of students are trapped inside with no way of communicating with the outside world, there are no teachers, no holidays (except Graduation and Induction day), the food is scarce and usually past it’s expiration date by years, oh, and the school itself and half the other students are trying to kill you. Yet, despite the loneliness, homesickness and constant risk of death, this is a story about love from familial and friendship to first romances and shared humanity at it’s core.

I really enjoyed the foreshadowing between the first and second parts of the trilogy and there are some interesting hints about what might be happening outside the Scholomance, a strong sense that El and Orion are destined to be star-crossed lovers, and about how the prophecy that El will be responsible for the destruction of every enclave if she survives to adulthood might come to pass. The Last Graduate is a bit less amusing than A Deadly Education, the atmosphere is tense as it builds to a heartpounding cliffhanger that makes the third and final part my most eagerly anticipated book of the year.

Have a lovely week. X

August Reading Wrapup

All the books I read in August were borrowed from the library, and all were on environmental themes from how to reduce the amount of pollution (especially plastic) we produce and consume less to nature and conservation.

How to Save the World for Free by Natalie Fee

This is a short but practical guide on what individuals can do to reduce their harmful impact on the planet, which starts off by describing a fairly bleak picture of our current situation with polluted oceans and rivers, air and soil, rapidly rising temperatures, melting glaciers and mass extinctions. However, after setting the scene, Natalie Fee provides a really inspiring, informative and thought-provoking book that provides a much needed antidote to the doom and gloom news about the environment, reminding readers that as consumers, campaigners and voters we have the power to influence politics and corporations, but she also recognises the importance of collaboration and signsposts to other campaigns and grass roots movements to get involved with. I’m no environmental angel and I really appreciated that there’s no guilt-tripping or shaming here, and no expectation that the reader needs to adopt every single suggestion to make a difference. I was pleased that I’m already doing some of the things she suggests, but there are plenty of other suggestions that I hadn’t considered, and I found this a quick, practical read that left me feeling motivated and inspired.

The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac

This is quite a different book from others that I’ve read on climate change and environmentalism, and if I’m honest I found it a bit disappointing as it focuses on the mindset of stubborn optimism that will be required if we want to prevent the worst case scenario and create a greener world. The writers argue that we need to overcome our sense of helplessness, but I found this book a bit vague and idealistic as most of the practical suggestions such as flying and driving less, eating less meat and diary, switching to renewable energy tariffs and planting trees are already well known, and this still overestimates the individual’s carbon footprint when we also need governments, businesses and fossil fuel companies to reduce their emissions and move away from fossil fuels to greener technology and solutions.

A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button

A Life Less Throwaway is another practical guide about reducing our consumption by learning to resist manipulative marketing ploys but also learning to take care of items we already own instead of accepting planned obsolescence, upgrades and seasonal trends as the norm and campaigning for more durable products. I really enjoyed the first half of the book that covers the history of advertising, when and why disposable products became normalised, and it’s a surprisingly fun read with lots of exercises to help the reader identify their own style and values to develop a bit of immunity to advertising. The second half fell into more familiar territory covering minimalism, decluttering, make do and mend, as well as a few recommendations for products made with durability in mind. A Life Less Throwaway is another informative and practical guide on how to tackle over-consumption and reduce waste that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

A gripping children’s story and the second book that’s been shortlisted for the Wainwright’s Children’s Prize that I’ve read this year (the other was October, October reviewed here) about a young girl called Julia who moves from her home in Cornwall to a lighthouse in Shetland with her scientist parents for a summer. While Julia’s dad attempts to automate the lighthouse, Julia’s quirky mum becomes increasingly obsessed with finding a Greenland shark that could provide a cure for Alzheimers and dementia, and Julia is left to entertain herself. Julia and the Shark is such a poignant story about a child navigating new friendships and bullying, nature and conservation, mental health and learning that her parents are neither perfect nor infallible.

The Summer We Turned Green by William Sutcliffe

After some of the heavier books I’d read this month, The Summer We Turned Green turned out to be a comparitively light hearted, amusing and hopeful read about a seemingly ordinary British family that find themselves on the frontlines of a climate protest when the opposite side of their street is marked for demolition to expand an airport. I really loved the family dynamics at the heart of this story, but also the optimistic message about NIMBYs and climate protesters overcoming their prejudices, uniting towards a shared purpose and creating a little community together.

Children of the Anthropocene by Bella Lack

In Children of the Anthropocene, youth activist Bella Lack attempts to give a voice to young people’s experience of pollution and climate change across the world. It is at times uncomfortable to read about the plastic pollution poisoning oceans, rivers, landscapes, birds, fish and animals, but this manages to strike a balance by highlighting young people across the world all participating in different forms of activism and conservation from cleaning beaches and planting trees to challenging governments in courts. I found this so inspiring and thought-provoking and really informative as it covers such a wide range of topics from reducing consumption, slow travel, how educating women can reduce climate change, rewilding, ecocide and ecological blindness, and intersectional environmentalism. I loved the manifesto with practical tips at the end of each chapter and really appreciated how broad Lack’s definition of activism is.

Have a lovely week. X

Summer Scenes and Moments

Taking some time to reflect on some of the highlights of a lovely summer as the season draws to a close before we step into autumn.

We’re an outdoorsy family and have enjoyed lots of time outside in both sunshine and the rain, with a surprisingly fun showery day at Mugdock Country Park, wrapped up in waterproofs and wellies feeding ducks in the pond, splashing in puddles and wandering the forest trails.

We made another visit to our favourite beach, this time chasing the waves at high tide with our fearless daughter charging into the sea up to her waist.

We spent a very changeable day at the Kelpies that began with us appreciating the statues from every angle, then having ice cream and hot chocolate in the drizzle, before the sun came out again and we wandered along the canal path admiring the narrowboats, my husband and I reminiscing about a narrowboat holiday with friends several years ago and daydreaming about possible future family holidays.

There have been afternoons spend in the garden, keeping cool in the paddling pool with ice lollies or thick slices of chilled watermelon, or the little one foraging for strawberries and blueberries in our little food forest, or zooming around our cul-de-sac on her scooter and bike while we chat to our neighbours.

While playgroups and sensory have been off for summer, we’ve spent sunny mornings at the park, swinging, sliding, trampolining and chasing our shadows. Oddly, these morning visits to the park reminded me in an unexpectedly nostalgic way of my maternity leave during lockdown when the parks were all that was open to us. There was also an early morning visit to the skate park at Kelvingrove where the little one rode her balance bike up and down the ramps before the older skateboarders, roller skaters and biking kids arrived.

There was another visit to Five Sisters Zoo, this time with my husband’s family to celebrate a birthday. We spent most of our time shepherding three exuberant little cousins, but still managed to catch glimpses of the red panda in the treetops, beautiful newly arrived Cheetahs, and the rescued lions – which I only recently realised are male having misread the sign the first time I visited (they were castrated when very young and never grew manes). It’s seeing the animals – especially those that were rescued – so healthy and content that makes Five Sisters Zoo such a special place to visit and a zoo that I’m happy to support.

We also had a walk around Rouken Glen Park recently too, seeing the river and waterfalls a mere trickle of what they usually are, but the woods still lush and green. We are really lucky to have so many lovely places to explore nearby.

Even though we didn’t go away for a holiday this summer (we’re saving our annual leave and money for my maternity leave later this year) and the weather has swung from scorching heatwaves to thundery downpours, we’ve had a summer full of fun, laughter and made some lovely memories together. Have a lovely week. X

July Reading Wrapup

July was a slightly slower month for reading, but a good one with lots of thoughtful books.

The Whole Brain Child by Dr Daniel J. Siegal and Dr Tina Payne Bryson

I’ve read a few parenting books this year, and I tend to prefer those that are underpinned by a solid understanding of child development. The Whole Brain Child is written by a psychologist and a neuroscientist, and seeks to help parents understand what different parts of a child’s brain do and how to integrate them to work together. I struggled to understand parts of this at times and may need to reread it to get a better grip on some of the concepts, and I also felt this was aimed at children older than my own daughter but there’s really helpful cribsheets at the back that describe how to apply each strategy for different age ranges.

How to Break Up with Your Phone by Catherine Price

I attempted to read How to Break Up With Your Phone in 2020, but given how dependent we were on technology to keep in contact with family and friends during long periods of lockdown, it just didn’t seem like the right time. Picked it up again recently as I still want to reduce the amount of time I spend staring at a screen, and this really helped me to achieve my goal. The first half of the book focuses on explaining how and why smart phones, the internet and social media are so addictive, and how they are rewiring our brains, as well as making us more distracted, stressed, depressed and tired. The second half of the book gives practical advice and a 30 day detox plan on how to break our phone habits and create a healthier relationship with our phones. One of the aspects I really liked about this is that Price recognises how useful phones can be helping us with a variety of tasks from banking and navigation to camera and keeping in contact with others, so she doesn’t advocate getting rid of our smart phones altogether, just creating boundaries around their use to help us save time, improve our relationships and end the constant state of distraction many of us are stuck in. I haven’t followed the plan exactly but it’s full of useful advice from buying an alarm clock and changing where you charge your phone to installing an app blocker, and understanding why (curiosity, boredom and loneliness, etc)
we reach for our phones in the first place.

Evil Under The Sun by Agatha Christie

Set on a secluded island off the coast of Devon, Hercule Poirot is on holiday when he finds himself investigating the murder of the seductive actress Arlena Stuart. There’s no shortage of suspects with motives and plenty of red herrings along the way. I loved this story until the reveal in the last couple of chapters, but felt a bit cheated as it’s a clever mystery and solving it relies on a key peice of information that isn’t uncovered until near the end, but Evil Under the Sun is still a thoroughly gripping whodunit.

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

A comprehensive book about how climate change and capitalism are intertwined. Split into three parts, the first part considers how we ended up in our current situation, from the invention of the steam engine and the Industrial Revolution through to neoliberalism, deregulation and free market economy, covering climate change denial largely funded by the fossil fuel industry, and how NAFTA and WTO undermined investment and trade in green technology, while the Kyoto Protocol and climate summits have balked at regulating or holding the biggest polluters to account over the years.
The second part considers all the ways we’ve tried to avoid reducing carbon emissions and Klein debunks carbon offsetting, pining our hopes on philanthropic billionaires who are often heavily invested in polluting industries (like Richard Branson and Bill Gates), and some of the scientific community’s frankly terrifying proposals about how to geo-engineer the climate to reduce global warming (seriously, look up sun dimming).
One of the most compelling arguments is that the same individuals and industries that are exploiting natural resources in their relentless quest for growth and profit, are also exploiting employees and customers as well as polluting the water, air and soil, and this really ties together how climate change and social justice are connected.
The final section offers more hope recounting how protests have erupted all over the world against the Keystone XL pipeline, Arctic drilling and fracking, often leading to legal challenges, moratoriums and bans. This Changes Everything is a little dated (published in 2014 when Obama was still president and before Brexit here in the UK) but it’s still informative, terrifying, inspiring and a great place to start if you’re interested in climate change or conservation.

Have a lovely week. X

Sixth Blogging Birthday!

I always appreciate the chance to reflect on how life has changed over the years, and my now six year old blog has become a way of recording the triumphs, challenges and all the ordinary, little moments in between.

I used to struggle a lot with comparing myself to others, and I viewed significant events like items on a to-do list instead of recognising them as achievements to be celebrated or moments to be cherished. Cutting back on social media in general, and deactivating Facebook in particular (4 years and counting!) really helped me to gain perspective, and now I prefer to compare my past with my present to measure how far I’ve come, what I’d still like to achieve and if I’m living by my personal values, and I’m so much more content as a result. Having said that, I’ve loved becoming part of the blogging community, finding some lovely, welcoming people sharing wisdom, humour and glimpses into their own lives.

It took me about a year to find my voice as a blogger and figure out the topics that really interested and inspired me, but I love having somewhere to document the little details of my life and reflect on all the changes that have taken place over the last few years.

As it happens, we’re preparing for another change and an exciting new chapter for our family as we’re delighted to be expecting our second child in November. Given that it took over two years to conceive our first child and that I’m now in my late 30’s, I was fairly pragmatic about our chances of having another baby, but life is full of surprises.

In some ways, I’m more nervous this time around as I know what to expect from birth and recovery to feeding and sleep deprivation. I’m also apprehensive about juggling the needs of a lively toddler who is used to having all our time and attention with a newborn, but I’ve no doubt our roles and routines will adjust for the newest addition when she arrives. There’s still so much to prepare, but time enough to enjoy these last few months before the newborn chaos starts all over again.

As always, many thanks to everyone who takes the time to read or comment on my blog, and have a lovely week. X

Summer in the Garden

Like most people in the UK, we spent the first half of the week trying to stay cool on the hottest days, though we haven’t had to endure the record breaking temperatures further South. Although our garden is South-SouthWest facing, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well our plants held up during the heatwave, and it’s looking really lovely right now if I do say so myself.

Our back garden has changed a lot over the last few years but is starting to look quite established with fruit trees growing tall, the bamboo clumping, summerhouse freshly painted and perennials spreading in the long border. I’ve tried to plant flowers that bloom at different times, and as Cirsium Rivulare (thistle) dies back, the Crocosmia starts to flower, while the hardy Geraniums (‘Blushing Turtle’ and ‘Rozanne’) and roses pretty much flower from June until the first frost (and sometimes beyond that). ‘Rozanne’ has become a bit of a sprawling mass, so I’ll separate and relocate some to the other beds in the autumn.

I’ve surprised myself by developing a real affection for pink roses, ‘Boscobel’ is my favourite but the climbing rose ‘James Galway’ is a close second, and I doubt I’ll be able to resist adding another rose to fill in the gap in the long border when the next David Austin catalogue drops through the letterbox.

The two smaller square beds were supposed to be wildflower patches, but calendula and one solitary sunflower were the only things to survive the slugs which devoured every other seedling as they surfaced, but I don’t mind as I quite like the dramatic, fiery orange.

We’ve been putting out a little bit of food and water for the birds, squirrels and hedgehogs that inhabit and visit our garden over the summer. It’s especially exciting to see hedgehogs snuffling and shuffling around in the evening. We know there’s more than one visiting as they’re visibly different sizes with different markings, and it’s encouraging because their numbers have been in sharp decline for a while.

We’ve constructed the greenhouse, and my husband also built a small fence around it to prevent kids from bumping into it. During the heatwave earlier this week, the thermometer in the greenhouse reached 46°C before it stopped working. The greenhouse went up a bit late late in the season, but we’ve filled it with reduced price seedlings so we might still get a handful of tomatoes and courgettes, but I’m excited about growing more of our veg next year. I’ve had some success growing lettuce in pots this summer, though I had to move them onto the kitchen windowsill as they were starting to wilt in direct sunlight. I’ve also created a little fruit forest between our apple trees planting rhubarb and strawberries underneath, and our daughter loves foraging for berries in the garden. Weeds have been a problem so I scattered some nasturtium seeds to provide a bit of competition and occlusion, but I haven’t tried eating the leaves or flowers.

Our garden is quite small and yet we’re making the most of the space we have. Gardening is one of my great passions, and I really value time spent in the garden so much, it’s incredibly rewarding and restorative to feel connected to nature. Have a lovely week. X

Lions and Meerkats and Bears, oh my!

We’re in the middle of the summer holidays here in Scotland, but just before the schools broke up we took a trip to Five Sisters Zoo. This was our third visit to the zoo, having been twice last year – including an afterdark visit to see their winter illuminations, but it’s one of our favourite places to visit.

We saw one of the rescued bears for the first time on this visit, as well as catching a glimpse of one of the wolves, but other highlights included lions lazing in the sun, the snow leopard sitting out surveying the area, the lynx snoozing, lots of curious monkeys and lemurs, snuggling otters and meerkats coming right up to the windows to say hello to our daughter.

We visited midweek, arriving just as a bus full of school children were leaving, meaning there was just us and a handful of other families wandering around. We had taken a picnic as we didn’t know if there would be anything GF for my husband in the cafe, and the little one had a great time in the playpark in the middle of the zoo, which was a great way of breaking up our visit.

For a family run zoo, I’m always surprised by how big it is and how many creatures there are to see, it’s really great value and well worth the ticket price. Have a lovely week. X

Midsummer at the Beach

A mercurial spring has finally given way to a warm and sunny summer, and a couple of weeks ago we had a long overdue visit to the beach. When it was just the two of us, my husband and I would always visit in January (if not on New Year’s Day itself) for a bracing walk along the shore letting the icy winds blow away the cobwebs of the year before and sharing a flask of hot coffee while we chatted about our hopes and plans for the year ahead, but this year was half gone before we found time to visit.

Croy Shore is a beautiful beach with incredible views of the Isle of Arran across the sea, but lacks the amenities of other beaches along the Ayrshire coast such as cafes and ice-cream vans or public toilets (closed during the pandemic and never reopened) which mean our visits here always require a bit more planning like toilet breaks on the way and packed lunches.

My husband had checked the tides before we arrived so we knew that it would be out allowing us to explore the rockpools that are usually hidden underwater at high tide, and after scrabbling across some very slippery seaweed covered rocks we found crabs, an eel and starfish.

Our toddling daughter was fascinated by all the aquatic critters but she probably had just as much fun digging in the sand and splashing in the sea.

After a lovely afternoon of picnicking, walking barefoot in the sand, paddling in the sea and exploring rockpools, we were all tired but refreshred and ready for dinner, showers and baths to wash the sand from between our toes, and an early night. Have a lovely week. X