Sunshine and Snow in the Garden

Over the last few days, we’ve had a cold snap bringing frost, subzero temperatures and a tiny dusting of snow, but it was only the week before that I spent a lovely afternoon out in the garden with my girls in the sunshine.

Our youngest was wrapped up in her bouncer watching pinwheels spinning in the breeze before she drifted off for a little nap, as I tidied up the long border removing all the dried stems from last year, while our the three year old played witch on a broomstick. It’s not easy to keen on top of gardening with two little kids underfoot so I’ve been trying a little and often approach.

It’s always lovely watching the garden waking up after winter, from the first hellebores underneath the bamboo to the tete-a-tete daffodils in the long border. I’ve also enjoyed watching birds flitting around the garden, there have been blue tits, sparrows, long tailed tits, blackbirds, Robins and tiny wrens, which we’ve never seen in the garden before.

We woke this morning to a light flurry of snow falling. Spring can be such a changeable and unpredictable season, and yet one that I appreciate more and more as a time of renewal and the return of light and life after the barren darkness of winter. Have a lovely week. X

February Reading Wrapup

February was another slow month of reading, but one where I read the sequel to one of my favourite books from 2021, as well as two translated murder mysteries, one Polish and the other Japanese.

Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn

The sequel to Legendborn (reviewed here), definitely felt like a middle book as Bree tries to learn how to use her unique powers as the Scion of King Arthur, a medium and the root magic of her ancestors, and prepares to lead the descendents of the Knights of the Round Table into battle with demons attempting to break into the human world. Bree finds herself hunted by enemies inside and out of the Order, and Bloodmarked is full of twists, revelations and betrayals. I’m not generally a fan of Chosen One stories, but I really love Bree for her bravery, loyalty and insights into race, privilege and grief. I found Bloodmarked had some pacing issues but had me hooked to the end, and I’m really looking forward to reading the concluding part of the Legendborn Trilogy.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

This is such a strange novel and hard to describe but it was absolutely gripping, creepy and atmospheric. Written as a stream of consciousness from an eccentric woman in her 60s who lives in a remote Polish village investigating the mysterious deaths of local hunters and poachers whom the narrator believes were killed by animals taking vengeance. I thoroughly enjoyed this macabre murder mystery that kept me guessing until the end about who, how and why, remiscent of Roal Dahl’s short stories and Agatha Christie.

The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo

My second murder mystery of the month, this time was a Japanese translation. The Honjin Murders follows investigation of the murder of a bride and groom on their wedding night in a locked room. Full of clues, suspects and misdirection, this was a clever and gripping mystery that reads like a Japanese take on Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie with a quirky Detective.

A Little Adventure at Mugdock Country Park

We’re no strangers to inclement weather in Scotland but this winter we’ve had more damp cold and unrelenting rain than magical blankets of snow and sparkling frosts. As daylight increases we’re getting out for more walks and little adventures, and we took a trip to Mugdock Park recently for a wander and to feed the ducks, and had a really lovely afternoon spotting signs of Spring there before dusk descended. Some of the best days we’ve had at Mugdock have been when it’s been overcast or drizzling, and we’ve just pulled on wellies and waterproofs to splash in the puddles and feed the ducks anyway.

Both of our girls preferred the carrier to the pram as babies, which has meant we’ve never had to worry too much about the terrain on our walks, and on this outing carrying our youngest gave us the freedom to venture off the path to let our adventurous 3 year old jump in puddles, paddle in the stream, scramble through scrub, explore hollows and climb trees.

Living in a city, I often worry about whether our children get enough time outside, and given that both my husband and I are outdoorsy types who enjoy everything from gardening to hiking, we really want to inspire a love and appreciation of nature in them, but our oldest daughter always enjoys woodland walks and strolls along the beach as much as trips to soft play or the local parks.

Back at the start of the trail, we let the oldest have a go on the swings, slide and flying fox at the play park, before returning home with rumbling tummies and stretched legs. Have a lovely week. X

January Reading Wrapup

I’m off to a slow start with my reading this year as broken sleep and back-to-back illnesses sapped my energy and attention, so only managed to read 3 books last month, but thoroughly enjoyed them all from two very different parenting books and the eagerly awaited sequel to the brilliant Ninth House that was definitely worth the wait.

How Toddlers Thrive by Tovah Klein

This book focuses on children between the ages of 2-5 years old and really changed my understanding of what motivates toddlers and how they think, feel and perceive the world, which in turn changed how I respond to my own toddler’s behaviour. As is often the case, there are some suggestions for parenting that we’re already doing but it contradicted some of the others ways my husband and I parent our daughters. It also turns some ideas on their head by suggesting that our job as parents is not to make our children happy but to help them learn how to cope with uncomfortable emotions like anger, frustration, disappointment, sadness and fear in order to develop emotional regulation, resilience and flexibility. Klein stresses the importance of realistic expectations for children in this age range, as well as the importance of routines, consistency and learning through play. How Toddlers Thrive is a really interesting and useful book and definitely one I’ll be referring to again over the next few years while we navigate the early years with our girls.

Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo

My most anticipated book of 2023 and I started reading this as soon as it dropped through the letterbox. Reading Hell Bent was like meeting up with old friends, I loved exploring the Yale campus with Alex, Dawes and Detective Turner as they tried to find a way to rescue their friend and mentor, Darlington from Hell. Alex finds herself surrounded by new and old enemies, and as morally ambivalent as ever she’s more haunted by the lives she couldn’t save than the ones she has taken. Although I didn’t find the twists quite as clever or unpredictable as those in Ninth House, Hell Bent is still a gripping, atmospheric read that adds new layers and details to the original, especially about Alex’s powers to communicate with the dead and the history of Yale’s secret societies, and the ending sets the scene for the next part of the series. This has become one of my favourite series and I really can’t wait to see what happens next.

The Unmumsy Mum by Sarah Turner

This is the type of parenting book I usually avoid preferring those based on child development to those that are anecdotal and personal, but I borrowed the ebook late one night while feeding the baby and it made me laugh out loud so many times. Sarah Turner takes an unflinching look at the realities of parenting from breastfeeding and sleep deprivation to mum guilt and so many other aspects of life with young children. The Unmumsy Mum is such an easy to read, relatable, humourous, poignant handhold of a book for anyone that loves their kids but doesn’t love every moment of parenting.

I also had a DNF, The Ballad of Never After, the sequel to Once Upon A Broken Heart, I enjoyed the first book but the sequel just didn’t hold my attention and I gave up at page 134.

Have a lovely week. X

Counting my blessings amidst change…

Our daughter turned three this week and we had a little party at a soft play cafe with her cousins (our daughters are two of seven girls on my husband’s side all quite close in age) to celebrate. Our oldest daughter can be shy, but once she feels comfortable I’m always impressed by how enthusiastically she falls in with other children and their games.

At times our oldest still seems so little but I’m often surprised by how grown up she is; she’s bright, funny, determined and kind with seemingly boundless energy (that puts my laziness to shame), and she fills our days with so much fun, mischief and laughter.

My second maternity leave has been very different from my first, most of which took place during consecutive lockdowns through 2020 and 2021. This time around I’ve been able to meet friends for lunch, and join local baby groups like the Bookbug singalong sessions at our library and a music group at our community centre too, as well as a post natal pilates class, but I’m still enjoying slow days at home playing and snuggling with the baby too. Our youngest is now 3 months old, seemingly more placid than her big sister ever was, but absorbing everything with her big, blue eyes and always quick to flash her wide gummy smile.

Life has been a bit hectic lately, and there are times when I wish I could pause the clock as our girls are growing, changing and learning so much every day. We’ve had a run of almost laughable misfortune since Christmas that has added to the usual stresses and busy-ness, and although I’m hoping our luck will improve soon, it’s been a reminder to focus on our blessings, not our burdens. Have a lovely week. X

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