Autumn Fading into Winter

November isn’t normally one of my favourite months, but it’s been a watershed one for us this year as we started a new chapter as a family of four.

Since our second daughter’s arrival three weeks ago, there’s been a whirlwind of visits from family, neighbours, midwives and health visitors, quiet nights spent feeding and cuddling our new baby, with trips to shops, cafes, the library, playdates and all our toddler’s usual activites filling the daylight hours, and we’re gradually trying to find a rhythm that suits everyone. Though another child brings new challenges, going from none to one was much harder than the transition from one to two, and we’re finding our way much quicker the second time around.

It’s been a much bigger adjustment for our firstborn who at 2 years 9 months has gone from only to oldest; she’s needed a bit more reassurance and attention at times but has generally been curious about her little sister, showing her caring side by helping to change and bath the baby when she wants to get involved, and I hope they’ll become playmates and friends once the littlest one is mobile and verbal.

In contrast, our cat Mara surprised us by taking another baby in her stride. Mara seemed to be in shock when we brought the first baby home but has already given the newest addition a few tentative sniffs and then carried on with her own well-established routines.

Around the middle of the month, temperatures finally dipped into single figures and I’ve noticed Christmas decorations appearing in shops, garden centres and even a few homes over the last couple of weeks. Life with two small children is fast-paced, so many moments seem to be flashing past before I can catch them but glad to have found time to gather my thoughts here before autumn fades into winter. Have a lovely week. X

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

My most eagerly anticipated book of 2022 was the third and final part of Naomi Novik’s Scholomance trilogy. Set immediately after the events of The Last Graduate (reviewed here) , El is safely back in Wales with her mum having escaped the Scholomance graduation but still reeling from Orion’s choice at the end of the previous book. The Golden Enclaves really picks up when El is invited to help save wizarding Enclaves around the world and eventually finds herself caught in between New York and Beijing – the two most powerful Enclaves in the world – as they prepare to go to war with each other.

While the first two books were set almost entirely in the Scholomance, this one really opens up the wizarding world, giving readers deeper insight into the politics and practicalities of the Enclaves.

The Golden Enclaves answers most of the questions I had from the previous books as it’s full of revelations about El and Orion, the Wizard eating Mawmouths, how the Scholomance and wizarding Enclaves were created, and El finally starts to fulfil the prophecy that her great grandmother made that El would bring death and destruction to every enclave in the world – though not in any way I could’ve predicted.

The whole trilogy very much questions what people are willing to sacrifice and justify for their own comfort and safety, there’s no central villain as such but lots of people using their power and influence to make life better for themselves and their children at the expense of others, and El is such an unlikely hero because she’s such a misanthrope and cynic who shows consistently that doing the right thing is a choice to be made over and over again even if nobody ever knows or thanks you for it.

Without giving anything away, The Golden Enclaves had a happier ending than I expected, but still a bittersweet conclusion as El has to give up her dream in order to fulfil her purpose, which is totally in keeping with her character development as someone who refuses to sacrifice others to save herself and someone who weighs the cost of every choice and action. Ultimately, this is a dark and poignant but amusing and surprisingly heartwarming YA fantasy story about family, friendship, love, sacrifice, purpose and the choices that define us.

Have a lovely week. X

A Sleepy Hello…

My last post was actually written from a hospital bed while waiting to be induced after my due date had come and gone. Back at home now, I’m tapping out a quick post to share the news that our second daughter arrived safe and well on a sunny November morning last week.

I’m lucky that I’ve had two easy, healthy pregnancies, and two fairly positive birth experiences as well – though it’s only in hindsight that I realise how difficult my first labour was as I arrived at hospital fully dilated but my daughter’s heartbeat started dropping and ended up having a forceps delivery to get her out. I’d been desperate to avoid being induced for my second child’s birth because I’d heard so many horror stories but my own experience turned out to be uncomplicated and relatively quick, albeit intense and painful at the time, and I’m so grateful to the midwives who encouraged and guided me throughout, and helped safely deliver our youngest daughter.

I’d hoped to be discharged the same day but was kept in overnight to check my haemoglobin levels and I was so glad to get home to hand the newborn over to my husband for an hour or so (he’s very hands-on and has always been willing to do his share of bedtimes, night wakings and early mornings) to catch up on some sleep.

We’re now settled in at home and getting to know the smallest and youngest member of our little clan. At the moment, she’s all wrinkles and folds, silky soft hair, button nose, dark blue eyes, squeaks, snuffles, hiccups and sneezes. The last week has been a mix of long nights up with the newborn, busy days entertaining our toddler and visits from family and friends, but it’s been a lovely way to start this new chapter of family life.

Have a lovely week. X

October Reading Wrapup

Sharing my October reads a little late but it was another good month for reading with a mix of fiction and non-fiction.

Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown

I’ve been a fan of Brene Brown for a while but found this a bit different from her previous books, though it still covers similar themes such as shame, vulnerability, authenticity and courage, but reads like a dictionary of emotions and how to navigate them. Atlas of the Heart is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, packed full of Brene Brown’s humour, wisdom and personal anecdotes.

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

I read and loved Beartown back in January (reviewed here), but have been psyching myself up to read the second part of the trilogy as they are such gripping but tense and emotional stories of small town life that often remind me why I was so eager to escape to a city. Barely recovered from the events of Beartown, the little town suffers another scandal around their ice hockey team that leads to another tragedy. While the first book took aim at rape culture and how far the local community would go to protect their star player, the second focuses on homophobia in sports and is just as absorbing. I’m no sports fan, but I was completely drawn in to this story of marriage and families, friendships and rivalries, team and community.

Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman

My husband recommended Martin Seligman to me, and this was one of those books that overlaps different spheres of my life from work to parenting and personal development too, though this definitely falls into psychology rather than self-help. The focus of the book is about the link between learned helplessness, pessimism and depression, and Seligman argues that if these are learned behaviours, then optimism can be learned too. Seligman also makes a strong argument for developing an optimistic mindset given that research suggests it leads to living longer, healthier and happier lives. This book has some profound research on how we talk about events, setbacks and disappointments with kids for parents and teachers. Some of the research may seem a bit dated (a lot is from the 70s) but still relevant, and the book is obviously written from an American perspective with whole chapters on sports psychology, military recruitment and predicting presidential elections that aren’t necessarily relevant to other cultures or nationalities. The final third of the book focuses on developing thought-challenging techniques to combat pessimism, and understanding the link between thoughts, feelings and behaviour, that will probably be familiar to anyone that practices or has had CBT.

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

My most eagerly anticipated book of 2022 was the conclusion to the Scholomance Trilogy, and I’m still trying to put all my thoughts and feelings into words about it so will give this one a full length post. Despite a slow start The Golden Enclaves is full of revelations and kept me hooked until the last page trying to work out how it would resolve itself as El finds herself saving the Enclaves she was prophesied to destroy and caught between two of the most powerful Enclaves as they prepare for war against each other. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this trilogy and The Golden Enclaves provides a very satisfying conclusion.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

My husband bought this when it first came out but gave up on it halfway through, I picked it up recently and was gripped from the start. I enjoy a cosy crime murder mystery and found this one that has four aging, amateur sleuths trying to solve a local murder kept me guessing to the very end as it’s full of clues that didn’t quite fit together with plenty of misdirection and red herrings, and the ending was clever but a bit abrupt. I loved the mischievous and determined main characters who remind us that life doesn’t end in retirement, from the relatable and lovable Joyce to the rogue-ish ex trade union leader Ron, the still sharp as a scalpel psychiatrist Ibrahim, and mysterious ex-intelligence Elizabeth who is nothing short of a force of nature. The Thursday Murder Club was an unexpected delight, and I’ve asked Santa to put the second book in my Christmas stocking.

Have a lovely week. X

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

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