A Little Gratitude List…

A Little Gratitude List…

1. We were in Fife recently visiting my husband’s cousin and his wife who have just moved there. We spent a little time catching up over mugs of coffee in their home as the four of us don’t get to see each other as often as we used to when they lived round the corner from us, but we always enjoy the time we do spend together and it doesn’t usually take long for my husband and his cousin to bring out the mischief in each other. After a tour of their new house, we all piled into the car and drove to a nearby beach where we spent a happy couple of hours strolling along the shore, chatting and exploring rock pools. I’m grateful for time with family and the chance to explore new places together.

2. On Saturday night, we had a house full of friends for a little Eurovision Song Contest Party. The Eurovision is a lot less kitsch than it used to be, and our guests were a disparate group (some of whom had only met once before at our wedding), but laughter and banter resounded round the room all evening. It was the first party we’ve hosted in our house, but it won’t be the last. I’m grateful for good times like these with good friends.

3. My husband is working away this week, something he tries to avoid as he’s a homebody at heart. We miss each other, but I’m grateful for technology (like Skype) that helps us stay in contact when we’re far apart.

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4. Luckily, I have our cat, Mara, to keep me company while he’s away. It’s almost impossible to feel lonely with Mara around, she brings so much life and noise to our home; from the impatient whine at feeding times that sounds more like “now!” than “meow” to the rumbling vocal cords when she runs up or down stairs, paws padding across wooden floors, a slurping tongue as she grooms herself and too many other distinctive chirrups, squeaks and meows to list separately. Lately, Mara has started sleeping on my pillow with her head pressed against my neck, although her whiskers tickle and she sometimes snores in my ear, she’s too cute to shoo away. As always, I’m grateful for Mara’s companionship and affection.

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5. I’ve been adding a few new recipes to my repertoire and realised that most of the food I associated with Mexico (nachos, chilli con carne and burritos) are actually Tex-Mex, so I borrowed Mexico: The Cookbook by Margarita Carillo Arronte from the local library to learn more about authentic Mexican cuisine. First attempts at making corn tortillas failed but the other recipes I’ve tried have all been tasty and I’m looking forward to adapting some of the meat dishes to vegetarian. Some of the ingredients are tricky to find here in Scotland, but I’m grateful to live in a country where food is plentiful. I’m also grateful for public libraries, they’re a valuable resource in the community.

Have a lovely week.

Pottering in the Garden

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Over the last few weeks the weather in our corner of the world has been warm and sunny, and we’ve been spending lots of happy hours working and relaxing in our little garden.

Since my husband and I moved here five months ago, it has been a pleasant surprise whenever flowers planted by the previous occupants have emerged, like snowdrops in January and most recently a cluster of bluebells, but in many ways the back garden was a blank canvas and we’ve been steadily transforming it into our own.

On a blustery day back in February, my husband and dad built three raised beds for us to grow some of our own herbs and vegetables, and another for flowers. While they prepared the ground and built the frames, I rescued earth-worms and relocated topsoil (which is currently sitting at the bottom of the garden in an unsightly mound, but will hopefully mulch down). We had four tonnes of topsoil delivered in March to fill up the raised beds, and we finally started sowing seeds in April, when the risks of late frosts had reduced in our part of the country. It’s so rewarding to see the first shoots and seedlings already peeking up out of the soil.

(Before and after photos of the garden from above)

Both my parents are avid gardeners and when I was growing up they always encouraged me to help in their garden, and I’m so grateful for their help and advice as we cultivate our own little garden. As a child I planted a bed of strawberries in my parents’ garden, that still produces fruit well over a decade later, and I’ve taken runners from those same strawberries to plant in our garden now.

Our garden is too small for us to ever be self-sufficient but my husband and I have longed for a little kitchen garden for years, and it’s lovely to see our ideas becoming reality. We’re both novice gardeners but we’re eager to learn and excited to see what – if anything – grows this year.

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The previous owners of our house planted an ornamental cherry tree that we’ve relocated, we were worried that the roots might have been damaged when we dug it up but we were relieved when delicate white blossoms started to appear. We’ve finally planted our spindly, little Acer, which was surviving in a half-barrel planter until now, and it seems much happier being able to stretch its roots into the soil. I look forward to watching both of these trees change through the seasons and grow over the years.

We treated ourselves to a companion set, and we’re looking forward to spending lots of time in the garden over the next few months, and on days when it’s too cold or wet to sit outside, we can still enjoy the view of our back garden from our living room window. Have a lovely week.

April Showers and Spring Sunshine

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This weekend we found ourselves with an unexpected free Saturday as the tradesmen renovating our sitting room completed their work a day early, so my husband and I decided to make a spontaneous journey with no particular destination in mind. We found ourselves at St Fillans where we stopped to admire the statue ‘Still’ on the edge of Loch Earn. Designed by Robert Mulholland, ‘Still’ is a mirrored sculpture reflecting the weather and water in which it’s submerged.

Just as we arrived the clouds darkened, hiding the sun, and the wind picked up making the calm waters suddenly choppy, while the rain clouds in the distance obscured the mountains on the Western banks of Loch Earn. I love the way the weather can dramatically alter the landscape on days like this.

Driving through the rain, we found blue skies on the other side and stopped to take a rambling walk along a viaduct we spotted from the road, which turned out to be part of the Glen Ogle Trail. We left the path and scrambled down into the valley to admire the viaduct from below, it felt wonderful to literally stretch our legs after a long, lazy winter. Standing at the foot of the viaduct, with the valley channelling the wind through it, I felt as if the worries that have been clouding my thoughts over the last few weeks were swept away.

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There was no phone signal on our walk and yet neither of us missed it, instead enjoying the dramatic scenery, the changing weather and each other’s company. We returned home from our impromptu adventure with muddy boots and tired legs but feeling refreshed.

A drizzly start on Sunday gave us the perfect excuse to spend a lazy day at home, though we ventured into the garden between rain showers to sprinkle a mix of wild flower seeds and neat rows of vegetable seeds in our raised beds.

Today, we visited my parents and between cups of coffee and tea, helped them in their gardens as my dad has had backache over the last few weeks and mum is not as able as she used to be. It was a lovely, leisurely time together, laughing and chatting, watching the bees bumble around the garden and the clouds drift overhead.

Back in our own home now and with a busy week ahead, I’m grateful for the unhurried time spent outside enjoying the warmth of the sunshine, the refreshing winds and good company. Happy Easter and have a lovely week.

Springing back to Health

Every year, winter seems to stretch on for longer than it should, and I’m always relieved when I notice the first budding leaves appear on the trees. Despite this, spring is probably my least favourite season; it seems shorter and less well-defined than the others – at least in our part of the country; just a few weeks characterised by daffodils braced against the rain and cherry blossoms swirling like pink snowflakes in the breeze to separate winter from summer.

This weekend my husband and I took a wander through a local park to admire the spring blossom on the trees. There have been times over the past while when I have felt like one of those little petals tumbling out of control in the currents of life. Between moving house, nursing our cat Mara back to health, my husband being injured in a cycling accident and various other happenings, the first quarter of 2017 has left me feeling somewhat weary.

I’ve also been struggling with writer’s block; I’ve always found writing therapeutic, but it can be hard to organise my thoughts when life is turbulent. In blogs and social networks, we have the power to rewrite events and portray our lives from the most flattering and rose-tinted angles, yet writing also gives us the chance to reflect on our experiences and find meaningful lessons in our most mundane and lowest moments. Over the last few years, I’ve learned that whenever I feel weary or overwhelmed, it’s time to slow down.

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I’ve lost count of how many vet appointments I’ve taken my cat to in the last few months, but I’ve been neglecting my own health and a recent illness reminded me to stop taking it for granted.

My husband and I have always enjoyed cooking and eating together, but cooking from scratch takes planning, time and effort, and it fell by the wayside when we were rushing around or under pressure, we survived on takeaways and reheating frozen food for a while instead. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I became ill after neglecting my nutrition so we’re making more effort to cook from scratch using fresh ingredients and adding a few new recipes to our repertoire, and we’re already feeling better for it.

After a sporadic attendance over the winter, I’ve returned to my weekly yoga class. It requires a little more effort now I live further away, but I usually feel physically and emotionally calm and refreshed after yoga. We’ve found a local swimming pool, and once my husband has healed up, we’ll resume swimming on Saturday mornings. Due to my laziness, my husband has to bribe and cajole me to go almost every week, but once I’m in the pool swimming has a meditative effect on me and I get a little sense of achievement as the number of lengths I can swim gradually increases each week. We’ve also been taking advantage of the better weather to work in our garden, chatting to our neighbours over the hedge while sparrows, blackbirds and blue tits flutter and chirrup nearby.

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Taking better care of myself means I’m better prepared to weather all the setbacks and storms of life. Spring might not be my favourite season, but I can still appreciate the gentle reminder of the cherry blossoms to slow down and enjoy the lighter evenings, the warmth of the sun and new life springing up all around. Have a lovely week.

At Home with Mara-cat

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Our evenings and weekends lately have been spent at home as my husband and I tackle various projects around the house and garden, before changing out of our muddy, paint splattered clothes to play games on the rug with our cat Mara or snuggled up on the sofa with her stretched across our laps. Mara is recovering well from her recent operation, and is almost back to her scampering, chatty and cuddly self.

So many of our daily rituals revolve around Mara: our mornings invariably start with the sound of her plaintive mewing for breakfast, and our evenings end with her wishing us “goodnight” in her own way by nuzzling her face against each of ours in turn before she settles down to sleep by my ankles. Mara is almost always there waiting behind the front door to welcome us home when we’ve been out, and she often follows us around the house like a little shadow as we go about our routines and chores.

I’ll never forget the day we brought Mara home from the rescue centre: When we released her from the cat carrier into our bedroom, after a quick exploration of the room, she jumped up on our bed and began affectionately butting heads with us. Mara was timid and unsure, but seemed overjoyed to be out of the cattery and eager to bond with us. Since then, our home has very much become her home with all her countless toys, dens and miscellanea scattered everywhere, and scratch marks on the upholstery to prove it. Many of our friends (even those with pets of their own) think we spoil Mara, but from the moment we adopted her, she has given us so much love, affection and companionship that it always seems like a fair trade.

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Hanging in pride of place on our living room wall is a framed picture of the three of us drawn by web-comic artist Li Chen. My husband commissioned it shortly after we adopted Mara and it was our Christmas present to each other that year. To us, it represents that no matter what happens or where we go, Mara will always be part of our little family and home.

We often lament that we have no photos of Mara as a kitten, though we imagine she must have been very cute given how kittenish some of her mannerisms still are. We knew so little about her when we adopted her, only that she had to be rehomed because her previous owner died, and even her age is estimated.

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Mara has had such a lot of upheaval over the last couple of years from losing her previous owner and everything familiar to being adopted by us, moving house with us at the end of last year and most recently having her tail amputated after we found a malignant tumour near the base of it. Yet throughout everything, Mara has shown such bravery and resilience, and given us her unwavering trust and unconditional love. Whatever the future holds for us all, I’ll always be grateful for Mara, and I’ll cherish every moment we’ve spent together. Have a lovely week.

Our purr-fect patient

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Mara before the operation

A little while ago, my husband found a lump about 3mm wide and 8mm long near the base of our cat Mara’s tail. Our vet took samples but didn’t seem particularly concerned. About a week later, the vet called us to advise that the lump was a malignant tumour and they recommended operating to remove it, because this type of tumour was particularly invasive and reactive; they also apologised that they hadn’t recognised it at first as they never see tumours at such an early stage. We were warned that the location of the lump meant tail amputation might be necessary. It came as a shock because in every other respect Mara seemed perfectly healthy; eating, playing, grooming and cuddling as normal.

It was painfully reminiscent of when my family’s cat Peach died of cancer. It was me who took Peach to the vet when he stopped eating, became lethargic and breathless, and I also brought his body home after the vet called to tell me Peach had died in his arms.

My husband and I took the day of Mara’s operation off work. Signing the consent form warning us that some animals don’t wake up from the general anaesthetic and about the risks of unexpected complications during surgery made leaving Mara there difficult. We spent most of the day driving, as there were too many reminders of Mara at home and it was too quiet there without her. We tried to distract each other but couldn’t stop ourselves from anxiously checking our phones every few moments. My husband answered the vet’s call, they had unfortunately had to amputate Mara’s tail as they found a second smaller lump next to the first, but she had woken up from the anaesthetic and we were able to have her home that evening. We both shed tears of relief and sorrow.

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Mara slept on me every night for a week after the operation

Our world shrunk as we wrapped ourselves around Mara to make sure she was as comfortable and pain-free as possible in the days after her operation. Mara has been a purr-fect patient, she’s a very special little lady, and she was soon back to affectionately butting heads with us (albeit awkwardly because of the cone she has to wear to stop her from licking her wound), squeaking for her food that she gobbled up despite the medication hidden in it, and sleeping stretched out on my torso every night after the operation.

It’s hard to explain to those who don’t have pets just how much love and joy they bring to a home, but also how much we worry when our animal companions are injured or unwell. Many of us consider our pets to be members of the family, and often it is the daily routines of feeding, petting, playing with them or even washing their bowls and litter trays that ground us in the here and now when other personal and global events seem overwhelming.

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Enjoying some cuddles with the cone off

We’ve been touched by the messages and calls from well-wishing family and friends, and we’re so thankful to our vets who acted quickly and decisively to give Mara the best chance of survival, and for all their advice and after-care. There are unfortunately more procedures and tests on the horizon for Mara, but for now we are just relieved and grateful to have her recovering at home with us.

Home Sweet Home

We recently moved into our new house and the last few weeks have been spent repainting, unpacking, exploring the local area and making sure our cat Mara is settling in.

(Surprise snowdrops in the garden, and Mara making herself at home)

My husband and I rented together for three and a half years but longed for a house and garden of our own. For many people in the U.K., home ownership represents security and an escape from the competitive rental market. We’ve been lucky that our landlords were decent, we’ve never had our rents increased or tenancy terminated at short notice like some of our friends, but we’ve had our fair share of maintenance issues from damp in the bathroom to mice in the kitchen and a broken boiler that left us without heating or hot water in the middle of winter.

We started looking for a house in winter because the housing market seems to slow down around Christmas, and we thought it might be harder to hide leaks, damp and drafts in the colder months of the year. We spent hours scrolling through estate agent sites, comparing floor plans, analyzing street maps and studying what often turned out to be misleading photos before we even started arranging viewings.

Eventually we chose the house we could imagine ourselves living in, which happened to be the first house we viewed and the yardstick against which we measured the others. It was a cold, rainy Saturday in November when we first visited it, yet this particular house still seemed light and cosy to us.

We worried about outgrowing the house before we owned enough furniture to fill one room. We were anxious about the stress moving would cause our house-cat. We brooded over repossession and negative equity. We worried until we ran out of things to worry about, yet both my husband and I are decisive by nature, and twenty four hours after visiting the house, we made an offer.

We had a few restless nights waiting to find out if the owners would accept our offer, then waiting for the building society to approve our mortgage, and the conveyancing caused everyone involved considerable stress as the solicitors wrangled over reports, fees and deadlines. Fortunately, it all proceeded smoothly and was finalised on the 21st of December, making our new house seem like an early Christmas present.

(The keys to our new home, and a little gift from the previous owners)

We’re relieved by how quickly Mara has settled into our new home; she can be very timid, but we tried to make the move as smooth as possible for her by making sure there were lots of familiar furniture, rugs and blankets, as well as all of her own toys and things.

I was sad to say goodbye to the home we rented for three years and seven months, but I’m so grateful for the shelter it provided, all the memories made and lessons learned there. My sadness is softened by excitement about our new house though, it is ready to live in but will be a bit of a project to make our own as the previous owners favoured dark colour schemes and added some odd features. Yet even with boxes to unpack, walls to repaint and mismatched furniture, it already feels like home sweet home. Have a lovely week.