Scenes from a Snow Day

Clusters of yellow and purple crocuses on the verges and the steadily increasing daylight throughout February had us optimistically organizing our seeds into the order they should be planted until a cold snap from Siberia submerged our garden under a foot of snow.

The Beast from the East arrived here on Tuesday evening bringing icy winds and snow to our part of the country, and causing travel chaos, school closures and widespread disruption across the UK. I chose to work from home on Wednesday rather than risk driving through the snow, and by mid-day my husband’s office had also been closed due to the inclement weather – though he had to walk half the way home as all forms of public transport were either severely delayed or cancelled. As we were effectively snowed in, we both worked from home for the remainder of the week.

This week has been a contrast of wrapping up in coats, gloves and boots whenever we venture out into the bitterly cold winds and deep snow drifts to feed the birds or stock up at the supermarket, and savouring the warmth and comfort of our home. We’ve kept cabin fever at bay by reading books, watching the birds in the garden and playing board games together with the wood burning stove lit and the radio playing in the background.

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It’s felt like a long winter, and I’m very much looking forward to spring when it arrives but I’ve enjoyed having some unexpected cosy, hyggeligt time with my husband and our cat. This week, I’ve been grateful that I have the option to work from home, the nearest supermarket is within walking distance and as always for the warmth and shelter of our little house. Hope everyone is safe and warm. X

Festive Tidings and New Year Hopes

Somehow Christmas Day always ends up being busier than we expect as we try to juggle seeing both sides of the family with preparing Christmas dinner, and picking up my grandmother in the morning and returning her home in the evening.

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Christmas morning began with a quick tour of my brother-in-law’s new home before visiting the rest of the in-laws to exchange gifts, catch up over giant mugs of coffee and fuss over their twenty-year-old cat.

As my mum has multiple sclerosis, which affects her dexterity and balance, dad has taken over preparing and cooking our family’s Christmas dinner, though the rest of us all lend a hand. The hard work in the kitchen is always worth the effort though to gather around a dining table groaning under a mountain of food with my husband, parents and grandmother to enjoy a three course Christmas feast, pull crackers and exchange gifts. The older I get the harder it is to reply when anyone asks me what I’d like for Christmas (or birthdays) as most of the things I value most cannot be bought and it is time with my loved ones that I appreciate most.

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The Kelpies on New Year’s Day

I was recovering from a cold on New Year’s Eve and my husband has never liked crowds so we stayed at home playing a board-game called Carcassonne that my father-in-law gave us for Christmas, eating a cheeseboard and sipping Champagne with Jools Holland’s Hootenanny in the background and our cat Mara snoozing in front of the fire. There was a frenzy of phone and video calls with parents, in-laws and our closest friends at midnight that took up almost the whole first hour of 2018. It was exactly the simple end to a stormy year, and joyful beginning to a new one that we both wanted.

On New Year’s Day after a lazy morning, we met up with a couple of friends in Falkirk for the Fire and Light Walk. The short trail took us past illuminated trees, paper lanterns and a choreographed fire dance in front of the Kelpies. Before leaving we scribbled wishes on strands of ribbon and tied them to a wicker clootie tree. Wrapped up in winter coats with cold hands curled around cups of hot chocolate, it was a lovely way to spend the evening.

2017 was a difficult year for us, and no doubt 2018 will bring new challenges, yet I can’t help but feel hopeful about the possibilities of a fresh start, and we have already begun setting our fitness goals and reading challenges, thinking about holidays and making plans for the year ahead.

Wishing everyone a very happy new year! X

Oh, the weather outside is frightful…

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but the fire is so delightful!

We woke up this morning to a thick frost on the ground, a deep mist in the air and a temperature of -4. It’s dark when we leave for work in the morning and it’s dark again by the time we arrive home in the evening, and with the exception of walks around the park during my lunch break to get some fresh air and absorb some much needed Vitamin D from the sunlight, life seems to move indoors at this time of year. Over the last few weeks, time in the garden has been reduced to crunching across the frozen grass to deposit kitchen waste and wood ash in the compost bins, and refilling the bird feeder, but we’ve been enjoying lots of cosy evenings in front of the wood burning stove with our cat stretched out across one of our laps or in front of the hearth.

It was just under a year ago that my husband and I moved into our little house, since then we’ve been gradually transforming it into our dream house, and I thought I’d share a few before and after photos of our living room.

I think it’s fair to say that the house wasn’t exactly a blank canvas when we moved in, and I suspect that the bold colour schemes, imposing floor-to-ceiling furniture and odd DIY features probably put other prospective buyers off as it made the rooms looks cramped and dark.

The previous owners had bricked up and plastered over the old fireplace, but we’d always dreamed of having a wood-burning stove, and although the stove we chose is small it really packs out the heat. Opening up the alcoves on either side of the fireplace gave us plenty of space for our books and a shelf for the TV, and I even re-purposed some of the toadstool decorations we made for our wedding as cupboard door handles. I’m a late convert to white paint, but I can’t deny that it makes the room look much brighter and more spacious.

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We knew it would be a bit of a project, but it’s been wonderful to see our ideas come together, and we feel very lucky to call this little house our home. We still have a long list of DIY projects to complete, but for now we’re savouring the warmth and cosy glow of the fire on these long, dark winter evenings. Have a lovely week!

Preparing for Winter and a Halloween Fright (courtesy of the cat)

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October has been a month of misty mornings, silvery sunlight breaking through the clouds and stormy nights in our part of the country. Over the last few weeks we’ve been racing against the decreasing daylight and worsening weather to finish tidying the garden before winter.

My husband has extended one of the raised beds to give us more space to grow some of our own vegetables again next year. I’ve composted the courgette and pumpkin plants, and we’ve bought a second compost bin to keep up with the kitchen waste, grass cuttings and ash from the woodburning stove. I’ve also planted snowdrop, tulip and crocosmia bulbs in the flower bed, and hopefully some of them will surface. I was sad to pull up the last of the wildflowers as some of the marigolds were still flowering but it is deeply satisfying to see the freshly turned soil free from all the weeds that were growing between the flowers.

Nasturtiums have been creeping along the back fence but I don’t mind as that part of the garden has been sorely neglected while we’ve been trying to decide what to do with it – we’ve discussed everything from apple trees to a zen garden or a chicken coop (if local by-laws allow). There are currently three fir trees growing at the back and though I hate the thought of cutting down trees and losing the privacy they provide, they’re almost twenty foot tall and still growing, they block out a lot of light and their lower branches take up too much ground space.

There is nothing like a visit from parents or in-laws to prompt a frenzy of cleaning inside the house, and this weekend we had back-to-back visits from both sides of the family. My in-laws live quite a distance from us and we don’t get to see each other as often as any of us would like, yet it always makes our reunions joyful occasions and we spent a lovely day chatting, laughing and playing board games together. No sooner had we waved goodbye to one set of parents than the other side of the family arrived as we wanted to treat my mum to a birthday meal and she chose a vegan restaurant near us. Afterwards, we all returned to our house and spent a few cosy hours chatting and half-watching one of mum’s favourite films with hands wrapped around cups of coffee and the fire crackling in the background.

This weekend also brought the first frosts of the season to our part of the country and we were up before dawn yesterday defrosting the car as our cat Mara was lethargic and off her food, and given the year she’s had we didn’t want to take any chances so we rushed to the emergency vet. Mara was severely dehydrated after eating something she shouldn’t have the day before and spent most of Monday hooked up to an IV drip but thankfully she was discharged in the evening. Our naughty little snaffler gave us a fright, but we couldn’t have been happier or more relieved when she woke us up at ten to six this morning whining for breakfast as usual.

Wishing everyone a happy Halloween and lovely week!

September’s Golden Glow

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There has been an avalanche of gold and amber leaves in our street over the last week, and every day the sun seems to hang a little lower in the sky on my morning and evening commute. September is always a busy month for us, and this month has swept by in a blur of happy anniversaries, birthdays and annual traditions.

Every September, one of my closest friends hosts a get-together in the countryside. Over the years, we have become good friends with the other guests despite most of us living so far apart that we only see each other a few times a year. Our annual weekend get together is something we all look forward to, and it’s always a relaxed and wonderful time spent enjoying delicious food, rambling walks along the Solway Firth and long conversations with old friends and new around the fire-pit as the stars twinkle above.

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In August, my grandmother was in hospital for a procedure that was not without risks due to her age, yet she recovered in time to celebrate her 91st birthday this month. I feel very grateful to have had my grandmother all through my childhood and well into my adulthood, and while she is still fiercely independent, I can’t help noticing that she’s slowing down a little bit more every time I see her, which makes the time we spend together very precious.

At home, the cooler evenings have given us an excuse to light the wood-burning stove. My husband – a modern man in every other respect – relishes the opportunity to get in touch with his inner caveman and takes great pride in his ability to create fire, while our normally lap-loving cat Mara has firmly established herself on the hearth.

As the calendar edges towards October, it has been a lovely month full of family, friends and cosy moments, all suffused in September’s golden glow. Wishing everyone a lovely weekend. X

Review of ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ by Meik Wiking

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We are in the midst of fairly significant renovations in our house at the moment, and with tradesmen unblocking the fireplace in the living room and scrambling over the roof to fit a chimney, I’ve retreated upstairs and out of the way with my cat and The Little Book of Hygge for company.

Over the last couple of years, the Danish concept of hygge has taken the world by storm. Yet there has also been something of a backlash against it, with some criticizing it as xenophobic and the latest marketing ploy to sell mugs, rugs, all manner of knitwear and books on the subject.

While hygge is often synonymous with cosiness, especially during the colder and darker months of the year, Meik Wiking defines hygge as a feeling of safety, relaxation and contentment that can be found in any weather or season. For many of us who lead busy lives, part of the appeal of hygge is the chance to slow down, set aside our worries for a while and indulge in simple pleasures.

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The Little Book of Hygge is packed with a mix of research and personal anecdotes, which makes this book better suited to dipping into every now and again than binge-reading. There are whole chapters devoted to candles and lighting, Christmas (the most hygge time of the year), a dictionary to help you work out your hygge from your hyggeligt, a few Danish recipes (though I was a little disappointed there were more recipes for meat than cake), and various other aspects of a hygge lifestyle. The presentation of the book is lovely with beautiful photos and illustrations generously scattered throughout.

With tradesmen thudding and thumping around above and below, it’s been hard to concentrate on reading, but The Little Book of Hygge left me imagining – and looking forward to – lots of hyggeligt moments once the renovations are complete, like sitting in the garden in the sunshine over the summer, huddling around board games with friends on rainy days, and reading in front of the fire on cold, winter nights. Have a lovely week.

Peaceful Midwinter Days

December passed in a merry blur as my husband and I squeezed too many catch ups with family and friends from near and far away into too few days around Christmas, along with trips to Christmas markets and the cinema to see A Street Cat Named Bob, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

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Christmas with Mara

On Christmas Eve we drove to the little town where my parents live, singing along to Christmas songs on the radio, with our cat Mara curled up at my feet in the passenger footwell. There was no lie in for us on Christmas day as Mara woke us up bright and early demanding her breakfast; she’s a creature of routine and her body clock is unerring where feeding times are concerned.

Fortunately my family and in-laws only live a short car journey apart so we’re able to spend time with both sides on Christmas Day. We visited my husband’s family in the morning to exchange gifts and catch up over mugs of coffee, before returning to my family and Mara.

Christmas dinner has become a team effort in my family as we all do something to lighten the load of whoever is hosting it, whether it’s setting the table, preparing the starter or washing the dishes afterwards. As we gathered around the dining table, my grandmother insisted everyone wear the paper crowns from their crackers as we tucked into a three course Christmas dinner, while Mara circled like a shark under the table searching for scraps. Boxing Day was also spent surrounded by family, chatting and picking at leftovers.

It is always the cosy togetherness with family and friends that I look forward to and appreciate most during the festive season.

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The Kelpies by night

My husband and I started 2017 with a trip to Falkirk with a couple of good friends for a refreshing New Year’s Day walk around the Kelpies. It was a cold, clear evening, and I loved breathing in all the hope a new year promises in the chill air.

Back in our own home now, January tends to be a peaceful month, providing a much-appreciated lull after the busyness that precedes it. Life seems to slow down at this time of year as the world outside hibernates.

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Cosy mornings with Mara

On the coldest, winter mornings, Mara crawls under the duvet and flops down on her side between us, purring like an engine and revelling in being warm and close to us. While the short days and long evenings provide the perfect excuse to stay cosy at home together, playing with Mara or letting her snooze across our laps while we read, write thank you cards and finish off the last of the cheese selection.

Taking down the Christmas decorations seemed more poignant than usual as we are moving soon, yet with change and upheaval on the horizon, I’m grateful for these peaceful midwinter days. Wishing everyone a happy New Year!

Christmas Magic

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Merry and bright

Every year as the days of December rush towards the 25th, I hear people fretting about how much money they’ve spent, how long they queued for this years must-have sold-out-everywhere gift, and how stressful hosting Christmas dinner is. Yet sitting peacefully at home suffused in the cosy glow of the twinkly lights and glinting baubles on our Christmas tree always reminds me to slow down and appreciate all the little moments that make this season so magical and meaningful.

Putting up the Christmas decorations and decorating the tree is one of my favourite festive traditions. Unwrapping the baubles we’ve collected over the years always brings back memories and each trinket seems to have its own story. The newest addition to our collection is a simple wooden piece I found while my husband and I were on holiday in New York earlier in the year. This year I also made some simple decorations by baking slices of orange, which brighten up the tree and add a touch of traditional style to it. The combination of citrus and fresh pine needles also gives our home a subtle and natural festive fragrance. Luckily, our cat Mara doesn’t try to climb the tree or bother the baubles, though she occasionally gives the lower branches an experimental nibble.

As TV shows and social networks fill up with images of happy families in festive jumpers, it seems like there are impossibly high expectations for Christmas. Yet the reality is that life doesn’t stop for Christmas: families bicker, couples separate and people get ill, just as they do at every other time of the year. Within my own family, over the years there have been two deaths in December and one in January, which always gives the season a bittersweet edge as I remember and miss those who are no longer here, while feeling so grateful and fortunate to have my loved ones around me at Christmastime.

I can’t buy Christmas magic, but sometimes I find it in the simplest moments: wrapping cold hands around warm mugs of Gluhwein at the Christmas market, catching up with friends around a crackling fire, snuggling up on the sofa with my husband and Mara to watch our favourite festive films (It’s a Wonderful Life, A Muppet’s Christmas Carol and While You Were Sleeping), and of course, gathering around the table with my family to savour a three course feast on Christmas Day itself.

Slowing down at Christmas makes all these cosy moments with the people I love most stand out clearer in my memory, like twinkling lights set against the darkest month of the year. Wishing everyone a peaceful and very happy Christmas!

Review of ‘The Cozy Life’ by Pia Edberg

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November arrived bringing the first frosts, sleet and snow of the season to this part of the country, making it perfect weather to settle down to read Pia Edberg’s The Cozy Life with a cup of hot chocolate.

Published in April this year, The Cozy Life appears to have missed some of the attention and publicity that other books about hygge are receiving now. Hygge (pronounced hyoo-gah) is a Danish word with no English equivalent, it is often synonymous with coziness but a more faithful translation might be the sense of contentment that comes from appreciating the simple pleasures of life.

Pia was born in Denmark but moved to Canada with her family as a child, and she describes her own rediscovery of hygge as an adult in this book. Pia’s tone is conversational and enthusiastic, and I particularly enjoyed the interview with her father who remembers traditional hygge in Denmark and describes how it has changed in his lifetime.

Throughout the book, Pia offers tips on how to create a hygge home using textures, lighting and scents, simple recipes for hygge food and drinks including Jule Glogg (a Scandinavian version of mulled wine), and lots of other ways to add hygge into every moment of the day in any weather or season.

The Cozy Life is illustrated by Pia with cute little line drawings, but the inclusion of a couple of grainy photos brings down the over all presentation of the book.

The book’s greatest flaw is that Pia tries to cover too much in too short a book (140 pages), meaning she doesn’t have space to elaborate on other topics like gratitude and minimalism which she believes are relevant to hygge.

The Cozy Life is a quick read and a good introduction to hygge, but I suspect that there are other books which provide greater depth on hygge and the Danish lifestyle than Pia had space to do in this book.

Autumnal Adventures in the Dark

When the autumn evenings grow colder and darker, I’m often tempted to curl up on the couch with my cat, Mara, on my lap and a book or TV series to while away the hours. As much as I love being cosy inside when it’s chilly outside, autumn has some lovely opportunities to get outdoors during the darker evenings.

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The Enchanted Forest

Every year, my husband and I travel to Pitlochry to see Faskally Wood transformed with lights and music into The Enchanted Forest. One of the things I love most about the Enchanted Forest is that the theme is different every year, which means it always seems new and familiar at the same time.

Despite earlier forecasts predicting torrential rain, the weather remained crisp and clear as we meandered round the woods with a warming cup of mulled wine savouring all the sights and sounds of the forest together.

The Enchanted Forest holds a special place in our hearts as it is where we got engaged three years ago, and the well trodden paths around the loch and through the trees are filled with romance and happy memories for us.

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Blurry first attempt at astrophotography

On another cold, but cloudless October evening, we went stargazing at the Galloway Forest Park for the very first time. In contrast to the bustling, electronic wonderland of the Enchanted Forest, the dark sky park was almost unnaturally dark and peaceful; yet watching the stars drift across the heavens was no less memorable and romantic.

Once our eyes had adjusted to the darkness, we could see thousands of stars, the Milky Way and even a few stragglers from the Orionid Meteor Shower clearly without a telescope.

Getting outdoors and away from all the distractions of our phones, the TV and internet for a few hours gave us a chance to slow down, clear our minds and reconnect with each other.

As a mild October gave way to a frosty November, on Saturday the 5th (which is Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night here in Britain), we met friends in Glasgow to watch a fireworks display. Wrapped up in coats and scarves, crunching toffee apples and watching the colourful explosions illuminate the sky, we were every bit as cosy outside as we would’ve been inside.

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Fireworks over the River Clyde

The last few weeks have been busy for us, but we’ve returned from all of our adventures in the dark with muddy boots and many happy memories. Have a lovely week.