Halloween at Home

Just typing out a quick post at the end of a busy but lovely weekend spent celebrating Halloween. With my due date just around the corner, we’ve been staying close to home but have still found lots of ways to have fun while we wait.

I bought a pumpkin to make a Jack O’Lantern and my daughter requested a cat. It’s a bit of an odd skill but I enjoy the challenge of carving pumpkins, though compared to some of my previous ideas, this one felt like I was resting on my laurels.

We had planned to light the firepit in the garden to toast marshmallows but rain scuppered our plans so we baked a spiced pumpkin cake instead. Lucky for us, our daughter is almost always happy to bake, paint or shape playdough so we don’t have to worry too much about being stuck inside when the weather is particularly inclement.

We haven’t been too cooped up though as there was a Halloween party at our toddler sensory group, full of themed activities and fun. We also went for wanders around parks between rain showers to let the little one burn off some energy splashing through puddles and thrashing through a thick carpet of leaves, while I admired the autumn foliage.

We’ve spent some time in our own garden too, making a note of ideas for next year and little jobs to do over the winter. I don’t bother tidying up too much and just let things die back naturally as the weeds tend to take over when the soil is left bare, but we really need to trim the hedges, thin the bamboo and mow the lawn once more before winter. Another job for winter is to paint and seal the inside of the summerhouse.

My last minute winter veg experiment has had mixed results: the winter spinach has done quite well, but slugs ate most of the rainbow chard, there’s a couple of daikon (mooli) and a single turnip growing too. I planted a row of peas to add a bit of nitrogen to the soil, and scattered some wood ash as I’d read that it can deter slugs and add potassium to the soil. I started some more chard in the greenhouse that seems to be doing reasonably well, but the cabbage and kale failed, which is disappointing as leafy greens are one of the few cravings I’ve had during this pregnancy.

I really love the “embery” months from September to February with the contrast of wrapping up in coats and boots to venture outside and making ourselves cosy at home with blankets and candles, and this Halloween weekend has been full of simple, seasonal pleasures. Happy Halloween, and have a lovely week. X

Slow Down and Coorie In

While the natural world is slowing down in preparation for winter and hibernation, it feels like family life has sped up as we prepare for our imminent new arrival. This summer and autumn have been slightly bittersweet, the excitement of our second child has been tempered by nerves about how our firstborn will cope with the transition from only to oldest, and we’ve been trying to give our daughter as much time and attention as we can, filling the last few months with experiences and memories.

We’ve been doing lots of baking together, we’ve finally tried out the bundt cake tin my husband bought me for Christmas to make a ginger cake; a spiced pumpkin loaf to rival anything you could get from Starbucks at this time of year; banana bread whenever we need to use up browning bananas; and our Christmas cake – using a recipe from the BeRo recipe book passed down from my late nanna to my mum and now to me; and whenever we’re feeling lazy and want a quick treat, we make chocolate rice crisp cakes. I have fond memories of baking with my own mum (mostly apple pies and jam tarts), and I’m really enjoying baking with my daughter, she’s a great little helper pouring and mixing the ingredients.

We’ve lit the fire on cold mornings and evenings, and spent rainy afternoons snuggled on the couch under blankets with the cat on my lap watching Disney films from classic animations like The Aristocats to more recent additions like Moana and Encanto, rediscovering some of my old favourites like Robin Hood and Lilo and Stitch along the way. We’ve also had craft sessions around the dining table, painting, handprinting and shaping playdough.

There’s been plenty of time outside too, admiring the autumn scenery on nature walks collecting pocketfuls of conkers and crisp leaves or splashing through puddles. I even found a fly agaric mushroom under one of the beech trees in our street. We had a lovely wander around the gardens at Pollok Country Park a little while ago, where the masses of kale, chard, pumpkins and whole greenhouses full of chilli plants in the kitchen garden gave me a serious dose of envy. The little one loved exploring the little fairy village there too.

It hasn’t been all fun and games though, the start of my maternity leave coincided with my daughter developing Croup, and there were a couple of trips to hospital for steroids, which was scary for all of us. Our second trip to the hospital was the same day we were supposed to go to the Enchanted Forest in Pitlochry, an annual tradition that I’ve really missed during the pandemic and something we’d been looking forward to, but it’s such a relief to see our little girl getting better and back to her boisterous self. Maybe next year…

We did have a surprise trip to Edinburgh that my husband booked to make up for missing the Enchanted Forest. We enjoyed evening and morning dips in the hotel pool, dinner and breakfast at the restaurant, but the real highlight was a morning trip to Portobello beach just 5 minutes away from the hotel, where we took a wander along the shore shrouded in a thick mist, chased each other across the sand, splashed in the waves and combed the beach for tiny treasures.

Between finishing up at work, taking care of our toddler and preparing for a new baby, I haven’t had much time to rest or relax and I’ve felt a bit like a leaf swirling in the wind as I’ve been pulled in different directions, but unusually for us we don’t have much planned for the winter months and I’m hoping we can all slow down and coorie-in. Take care and have a lovely week. X

Happy 7th Anniversary to Mara!

This week, on the 11th of October, we celebrated seven years since we adopted our cat, Mara. Sometimes it feels like no time at all has passed since she joined our family, but mostly it’s hard to remember life before we found Mara because she’s such a constant presence in our home, thoroughly embedded in family life and so many of our daily routines revolve around her.

Mara’s had a few health scares over the last couple of years, but at the moment she seems to be in good health, maintaining her weight with a thick, glossy coat and bright eyes, though there’s no doubt that she’s in her senior years, 12 at the youngest estimate and 16 at the older. We’ve noticed a slight limp in her hind leg and the vet had previously queried arthritis, but it doesn’t appear to be causing her discomfort or hindering her mobility as she’s still scampering around the house, jumping on windowsills, bookshelves and our bed. Over the last few weeks, she’s enjoyed hunting spiders around the house and watching squirrels at the bird feeder – trying to bop any that get too close to the window.

This week also coincided with the start of my maternity leave, though it hasn’t been very restful so far as we’ve had a couple of trips to hospital with our two year old who has croup and developed breathing difficulties (though thankfully recovering now!). It was a bit of shock to Mara when we brought the first baby home but she’s tolerated the little interloper with great stoicisim, even letting her tickle her tummy when she’s feeling particularly relaxed. Both my husband and I had cats growing up, and they were such big, beloved characters, but we couldn’t have hoped for a gentler, more affectionate or playful family pet of our own than Mara. As always, I feel so lucky and grateful for Mara and all the joy, amusement, affection, comfort and companionship she provides. Have a lovely week. X

Capturing Castles and Spotting Seals at Culzean

Back at the end of September, we took a wee day trip to Culzean Castle to make the most of a mild and sunny day. Culzean is just a few miles south of our favourite beach, Croy Shore, but is only somewhere we’ve visited a handful of times, though I can see it become another family favourite because there’s so much to see and do. It’s an NTS property so entrance is free for members, but for everyone else it’s £18.95 to visit the Castle and grounds, or £13.95 for the grounds (free for under 5’s), which is what we chose as with the adventure playpark, woodland walks, private beaches and gardens to explore, you could easily spend a whole day there.

Our first stop was at the Adventure Cove, a huge wooden fortress fulls of slides and places for children to climb and explore. During the summer holiday, I imagine this place is mobbed, but it wasn’t too busy when we visited.

We made our way through the woods to the beach, and it was really lovely to see clear views of the Isle of Arran and Ailsa Craig across the sea but from a different angle than we’re used to. While we were trying to work out what the stretch of land between Arran and Ailsa Craig was on the far horizon (our best guesses were either the Campbelltown Peninsula or Ireland?), we spotted a couple of seals swimming much to our delight – though annoyingly I didn’t have my camera with me so could only get a few zoomed-in, blurry shots with my phone.

Afterwards, we headed back towards the main entrance and the castle itself. Culzean Castle is perched on the cliffs and always reminds me of Manderley from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. I would’ve liked to visit the gardens in front of the castle but by this time the little one’s energy and patience were flagging so settled for a quick glimpse through the ruined arch, then a break for refreshments at the Home Farm Cafe before the journey home. It was a really lovely day and somewhere that we’ll definitely return to. Have a lovely week. X

September Reading Wrapup

September was a good month for reading with a real mix of genres, and a couple of eagerly anticipated new releases.

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

In the concluding part of the King of Scars (reviewed here) duology (and apparently the final book to be set in the Grishaverse for a while) an old enemy has returned, armies from neighbouring countries are massing at Ravka’s borders, and Nikolai’s legitimacy as King is under scrutiny. I loved the slow burn romance between Zoya and Nikolai, easily two of my favourite characters from the Grishaverse, and how they both had to confront their personal demons (both literal and figurative), and Nina’s mission as a spy behind enemy lines was tense and thrilling too. Rule of Wolves didn’t have quite as many clever twists as I’ve come to expect from Leigh Bardugo, but still an enjoyable read and satisfying conclusion that leaves scope to return to the world and reunite with the main characters from Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows in the future.

The Joyful Environmentalist by Isabel Losada

This was a bit different from most of the other books about environmentalism that I’ve read recently as Isabel Losada sets out to prove that environmentalism doesn’t have to be about guilt, anger and grief, and shares all the joyful experiences that becoming an environmentalist has brought her from playing in Extinction Rebellion’s samba band and a cosy night in with her flatmates during an unexpected powercut to planting trees in the Scottish Highlands with Trees for Life and listening to nightingales and other songbirds while camping at the Knepp Estate. The book also covers various ways that individuals can reduce their impact on the environment but really focuses on the benefits of creating a greener world from a greater sense of community and connection to less litter and pollution.

The Final Gambit by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The final part of The Inheritance Games trilogy (reviews for The Inheritance Games and The Hawthorne Legacy) has been one of my most anticipated new releases this year, and it was worth the wait as I binge read it in a couple of days. The Final Gambit finally reveals why billionaire Tobias Hawthorne disinherited his entire family and chose Avery, a random girl he’d only met once in passing to be his heir instead, it also reveals a new enemy seeking to outwit Avery and destroy Tobias Hawthorne’s legacy and fortune. The weakest part of this story is the love triangle between Avery and two of the Hawthorne brothers, which I felt had been resolved in the previous book, nevertheless, The Final Gambit is a gripping YA mystery, and I loved how Avery grows as a character over the series and how she chooses to use her wealth when she finally comes of age and inherits the Hawthorne fortune.

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

I don’t read much science fiction but I make an exception for Becky Chambers, and yet I find her books so hard to describe because they’re character driven stories that focus on identity, relationships, culture and humanity. Record of a Spaceborn Few is the third book set in The Wayfarers Quartet and is set around the same time as the first book, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (reviewed here), though this follows a different set of characters all living and working on one of the human homesteaders, the vehicles that humans built to escape Earth and make a new life in the Galaxy. The undergraduate Anthropology student in me found the practical elements of maintaining the homesteaders and the rituals people developed on board to preserve their history and culture fascinating.I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews for this one, but Record of a Spaceborn Few is probably my favourite book in the series so far, it’s a poignant exploration of life, death, community and humanity.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

I picked up this from the library because I’d read so many glowing reviews about it but it ended up falling into that awkward category of books that I liked but didn’t love. Nevermoor follows a little girl called Morrigan Crow who was born on the festival of Eventide, believed to be cursed and bringing all manner of misfortune to the people around her and destined to die on her 12th birthday until she’s saved at the last moment by a strange benefactor who whisks her off to the magical city of Nevermoor and enters her into a competition with other children hoping to join the Wondrous Society, an elite group of people with strange and magical abilities. Nevermoor is an enjoyable children’s story about friendship, belonging, bravery and destiny.

Have a lovely week. X