New Year Greetings!

The Christmas tree has started to droop, branches bowed under the weight of the baubles, and tomorrow I’ll put the decorations away for another year, but I’m still enjoying the lull after a busy festive period before work and nursery resume later this week.

This is the second year we’ve hosted Christmas, and my parents stayed with us for a few nights. Our daughter loved having her papa and grandma around to play with, and all the exciting new toys and books she received. My husband deserves all the credit for singlehandedly cooking Christmas Dinner including a turkey crown for my dad (and our cat) and Quorn roasts for the rest of us. Though in addition to the Christmas cake and Dundee cakes, I also baked Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars) for the first time when my in-laws visited for a buffet.

With the exception of my parents and in-laws, we’ve kept our socialising to a minimum to avoid Covid19, but we did have a lovely playdate with my daughter’s cousins and a wee jaunt to the Solway Coast to visit close friends, where the little one also got to pet the ponies in their field.

We spent New Year’s Eve at home sipping champagne and watching Disney’s Encanto, which was a refreshing twist on the chosen one story and I loved the vibrant Latin American setting. We were all in bed before midnight but it was a cosy way to end the year. Over the last few days, we’ve spent most of our time at home, reading, watching TV and playing on the floor with our daughter and her new toys. The excitement of Christmas coincided with a developmental leap (our daughter’s language skills seem to have exploded and she’s started stringing sentences together) which has meant her sleep has been pretty disrupted all through December, but she’s such a cheerful little person and so much fun that it’s hard to mind a bit of sleep deprivation now and then.

January is a peaceful month to recover from the hustle and bustle of the festive period, a chance to reflect on the year behind and full of the hopefulness of new beginnings. Despite everything, 2021 was a good year for us with family adventures to the beach, a few playdates, and our daughter’s first visits to the zoo, aquarium and light shows. My fears about sending my daughter to nursery 3 days a week when I returned to work were completely unfounded, as she’s settled in better than I could’ve hoped and usually rushes through the door to find her friends with barely a wave goodbye or backward glance. We also undertook home renovations that we’ve been planning since we moved in five years ago to extend the kitchen and add a downstairs bathroom. Most of all I’ve appreciated time spent with family and friends after so long apart during lockdowns.

There’s been a cold wind blowing today, but whenever it dropped I felt the warmth of the sun and noticed the first hellebores had flowered in the garden, little joys to savour while we’re in the bleak midwinter. Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year! X

Little Christmas Eve Greetings

December has been a hectic month and I’m trying to gather my thoughts on Little Christmas Eve or Christmas Eve Eve (as I’ve heard the 23rd called recently). I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed lately, there’s been so much to do but crises at work, uncertainty around the new Covid19 variant and Christmas preparations have sapped my concentration and energy.

As always, the stresses have been balanced by joyful family moments. At 22 months old, our daughter’s still too young to understand Christmas and showed a strong sense of stranger danger clinging to me at playgroup and her keyworker at nursery when Santa appeared, but she enjoyed her Christmas parties at playgroup and toddler sensory, as well as a whole week of festive activites at nursery.

We also visited Five Sisters Zoo for the second time this year (the first time back in the summer) to see their winter illuminations, which were impressive in sheer coverage, but the real highlight for me was getting a glimpse of the illusive snow leopard, as well as the lionesses and a lynx.

Apart from our trips to light shows and parties, we seem to have spent most of our time at home this month, fortunately our daughter is going through a creative phase and is perfectly content to spend hours scribbling with pencils or painting. I’m also pleased to report that our new kitchen has been fitted and we’re appreciating having more space – not to mention the dishwasher!

The presents have been piling up under the tree and there was a last minute addition to our decorations, a lovely paper star made by a crafty friend from work. Our cat has mostly ignored the tree but went wild when she caught the scent of a new toy stuffed with catnip, while our daughter has mostly ignored the presents but has menaced the tree pulling off the baubles she can reach and almost bringing the whole thing down on top of herself at least once.

Despite the frenzy in the run up to Christmas and my seemingly endless to-do list, I’m reminding myself that winter is the season to rest and recharge, providing much needed time to refocus on what (and who) matters most and reflect on the year that’s passed and the new one about to start. Take care, and wishing everyone a very Happy Christmas. X

A Wintry Spectacle of Light

I bought tickets to the Spectacle of Light show at Dalkeith Country Park last year but due to the lockdown and travel restrictions we were unable to go, I decided to risk buying tickets again this year and it turned out to be a really lovely place to visit.

Dalkeith Country Park covers over 1000 acres but the part that has been illuminated is concentrated around the permanent children’s play areas which is split into one side full of wooden forts connected by sturdy bridges, and a more traditional playpark with swings, roundabouts and seesaws opposite. I can definitely see us returning here in the summer for a day trip and lots of adventure play with our daughter, but Spectacle of Light turned out to be the most child friendly light show we’ve ever been to.

Spectacle of Light is actually held in multiple sites across England between October and February, though Dalkeith Country Park is the only Scottish location and takes place during December. The light show itself was beautiful, from the fire fields where visitors could toast giant marshmallows, and the Nutcracker garden with a spinning ballerina in the centre, to the pavillion and synchronised lights on the lawn. Unlike other light shows we’ve been to, each section is seperate and it doesn’t follow a linear route around the illuminations, which meant it never felt crowded or like visitors were caught in a bottleneck.

Much like GlasGLOW (which we visited last month), our little one enjoyed the first half of our visit but after a while, even wrapped up in her snow suit, the cold (temperatures hovered around 1°c) and the interruption of her normal evening routine (she’s normally fed, bathed and asleep by 7.30pm) started to bother her, though she soon cheered up once we’d warmed up in the car and we played peekaboo and sang nursery rhymes all the way home.

With Christmas parties cancelled, a close friend testing positive and an outbreak at my husband’s workplace (though he’s fine and well), my anxiety around Covid19, new restrictions and another long winter ahead have been increasing, but we thoroughly enjoyed a very wintry wander around Spectacle of Light. Take care and have a lovely week. X

Autumn into Winter

Time seems to be slipping away as the end of the year rushes towards us. The end of November brought nights so cold and clear that we could see the stars glinting above the city, frosty mornings and on Sunday we woke to a very light dusting of snow – barely enough for a snowball, let alone a snowman but enough to put me in the festive spirit.

I’m usually rushing right up to the last minute but this year our Christmas preparations are well under way. I’ve baked two cakes, my family have always preferred a rich Dundee cake but this year I decided to make a traditional Christmas cake too, both are bursting with raisins, sultanas and glace cherries. Presents have been bought and we’ve treated ourselves to a new decoration for the tree – a handpainted portrait of our cat, Mara, from Maggie’s Studio. We haven’t put our decorations up yet, but we’re hopefully going to get our tree this weekend, and I couldn’t resist putting up a bit of tinsel when I brought the decorations box down last night, and Mara couldn’t resist playing with it.

We’re preparing for another upheaval as our new kitchen is being fitted next week, and I’m keeping everything crossed that it’ll be finished in time for Christmas – which we’re supposed to be hosting, because I don’t fancy cooking a full roast dinner with a microwave and a toaster!

Aside from our Christmas preparations and home improvements, the last few weeks have been busy, we’ve had a family trip to GlasGLOW, I’m still taking my daughter to her sensory class but we’ve also found a local playgroup that’s a fun alternative to the park on cold, wet mornings; there’s no let up in the run up to Christmas as we’ve got a few toddler Christmas parties and at least one more winter light show on the horizon. Have a lovely weekend. X

Dark Nights and Winter Lights

We recently took a wrapped-up trip to the Botanic Gardens which had been illuminated for GlasGLOW. I’ve found it hit and miss in previous years, but I couldn’t resist the appeal of an event located so conveniently close to where we live. I’ve really missed light shows during the pandemic, and this was a welcome return to one of my favourite ways to spend a dark and wintry evening.

My husband and I have been visiting The Enchanted Forest and other light shows for a decade, but this was our 21 month old daughter’s first light show, and she was fascinated by it all. We deliberately chose an early slot (living in Scotland means it’s usually dark by 4pm in Winter) but even so it was a slightly later night than the little one was used to.

The theme of GlasGLOW this year was gloop – a toxic substance created by an evil scientist that was polluting the city – which seemed slightly topical given that the event coincided with COP26.

My favourite parts of the show were walking through the strings of lights and the walkway over the grassy meadow that was festooned with lights leading to Kibble glass house, though one disadvantage of the one-way circuit around the park is that it discouraged us from lingering too long in one place or returning to our favourite parts of the show.

It was a well-organised event, we barely had to queue at the entrance, and it never felt too crowded. We were pleasantly surprised by food vendors that offered a decent range of vegan and vegetarian food, and my husband really enjoyed a gluten-free pizza. We also had toasted marshmallows. We had a lovely time and I loved seeing our daughter’s reaction to it all. Have a lovely week. X

Autumn Moments

It seemed like autumn was slow to start this year with the leaves clinging to the trees and remaining stubbornly green until mid-October when they seemed to skip all the shades of red and began to create a carpet of muted oranges, yellows and browns on the ground.

We’re an outdoorsy family, but it’s been too wet to play in the park most days so instead we’ve been kicking our way through fallen leaves, splashing in puddles and collecting pine cones with our toddling daughter. We’ve also had plenty of fun inside with homemade playdough, baking cakes (the little one takes her job stirring the ingredients very seriously) and reading stories together.

There’s also been playdates in the park with my friend and her daughter, watching the girls throw handfuls of leaves and chasing each other around while we chatted. Last weekend, we followed a little pumpkin trail at my husband’s cousin’s farmstead where all the kids ignored the pumpkins in favour of feeding the hens, grazing at the buffet table and generally running amok.

This weekend we’ve enjoyed some Halloween fun, our daughter has had fancy dress parties at nursery and her toddler sensory group, and carving a pumpkin lantern at home – though my imagination always exceeds my ability.

The weather this month has been wet and wild, but we haven’t let it dampen our spirits and have embraced so many simple and seasonal pleasures inside and out. Happy Halloween and have a lovely week. X

Five Sisters Zoo

Five Sisters Zoo in West Lothian was on my list of places to visit for a while but due to lockdowns and travel restrictions we didn’t have an opportunity to visit until recently, but it was absolutely worth the wait, turning out to be much bigger and with a greater range of animals than I expected from a family run zoo with a focus on animal welfare.

Five Sisters Zoo was founded by a couple who originally bought the land to open their own garden centre with a little animal rehoming centre for pets and rescued animals. While the independent garden centre struggled and eventually closed, the little animal collection, which started with rabbits, guinea pigs, goats and pigs, continued to expand until the local council granted them a zoo license in 2005.

I really appreciated the ethos of this family run zoo that has taken in animals from other zoos that have closed down, rescued and retired bears and lions from circuses and various other animals with injuries, illnesses and disabilities that would be unable to live in the wild.

We were really lucky and saw most of the animals during our visit with the exceptions of the rescued bears, the snow leopard and the wolves – all of whom were hidden away in their large enclosures. Our animal-loving daughter loved the otters, lemurs and meerkats best of all, and eventually had to be carried out of the zoo howling in protest after we’d spent a good three hours wandering around; while I was delighted to catch a glimpse of Rufio the red panda – a relatively new addition who arrived at the zoo in May.

We all thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the zoo and it’s definitely somewhere we’d return to. Have a lovely week. X

A Glimpse Under the Sea at the Aquarium

I suspect the rest of the U.K. is watching the Euro 2020 final, while I’m enjoying a bit of a peace and quiet at the end of a busy weekend and tapping out a quick post about our recent family excursions to the SeaLife Aquarium at Loch Lomond Shores now that lockdown and travel restrictions have finally ended in Scotland.

One personal change the pandemic has brought about is that I used to book events well in advance (I always like to have something to look forward to) but after so many cancelled events and travel restrictions, I’m trying to be more spontaneous, so when one rainy Saturday my husband saw there were tickets available for the SeaLife Aquarium, we decided to seize the day as it had been on our list of things to do for a while. It’s not fully open yet due to refurbishments and certain areas are still closed where social distancing isn’t possible but there was plenty to see and more than enough to keep us and our inquisitive, energetic toddler entertained from clownfish (“Hello Nemo!”) to piranhas and sharks. Even though it’s relatively close (a half hour drive for us), the SeaLife Aquarium is not somewhere we’ve visited before but we had a lovely time and would definitely return. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Nine Lives

I’d planned to share a post about some of our recent travels now that restrictions have been lifted, but sharing an update about our cat Mara instead. It’s been a stressful week in our household as Mara suddenly became unwell last weekend and had to spend a couple of nights at the vet’s while they tried to find the cause of her fever and bring her temperature back down to normal.

One of the benefits of keeping a house-cat is that we’re really familiar with all of Mara’s routines and we’re always able to tell when she goes off her food, starts becoming lethargic or anti-social – all clear sights that she’s feeling unwell – and we’re quick to react when something’s not right, which I’m pretty sure has saved her life on more than one occasion.

This is unfortunately her second mystery illness in less than twelve months. All the x-rays, scans, blood and urine tests have come back normal, which should be good news but doesn’t feel like it when we can’t figure out what’s wrong with her. The sad reality is that most of us will outlive our pets, and there are never any guarantees about how long they will live. My husband and I are both cat people, having grown up with them as family pets, but my husband had just one cat adopted as a kitten who passed away one month before her 22nd birthday, while my family had three rescued kittens who lived until two, four and sixteen years respectively. We always knew that adopting an adult cat meant that Mara might not be with us for very long, and yet she has been such a lovely companion that I feel so grateful for every moment we’ve spent together.

After a week of nursing her back to health, she seems to be recovering well, and the vet is happy with all her vitals. I don’t know how many of her nine lives Mara has left but I’m relieved and thankful that she’s still with us. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Chaos and Calm

Life has been fairly hectic over the last couple of months, I returned to work in March and it’s been quite an adjustment settling back into the routine, getting to grips with a new caseload, MS Teams, lateral flow tests and various other changes that happened while I was on maternity leave. It’s a challenging time to work in Health and Social Care but I’ve returned with a renewed sense of purpose and motivation. My husband has recently changed jobs too, finding a position just ten minutes from home, but full of new opportunities and challenges.

Our daughter also started nursery in March and has settled in so well. It’s a relief given how isolated we were during her first year that she’s turned into such a curious, sociable and lively toddler. She’s had almost back to back colds, teething and most recently an ear infection (requiring a late night trip to the out of hours GP and antibiotics) since starting, but she’s a little whirlwind of energy that doesn’t let anything slow her down, and treats the whole world like her playground. We’ve been having lots of fun playing in the garden, visiting our recently re-opened library (closed since the first lockdown last year) and local parks, where dandelion clocks and splashing in puddles are almost as entertaining as swings, slides and tunnels.

Our other little girl, Mara, is also doing well, enjoying a couple of days of peace and quiet while the toddler is at nursery during the week. Mara’s actually been more playful in the last few weeks than she has been all winter, and while she’s not as energetic or acrobatic as she used to be, it’s reassuring to see her hunting and chasing her toys. Mara has slowed down as she’s aged, but she’s still the same affectionate, playful companion she was when we adopted her nearly six years ago.

Renovations have started on our home, we’re building a small extension to our kitchen and adding a downstairs bathroom. The changes are small as we don’t want to change the character of our home too much, but will make a big difference to our living space and daily routines. It does mean the temporary inconvenience of having a skip outside the house, a cement mixer and building materials in the back garden, as well as the fun of walking the plank whenever we leave or enter the house. It’s quite exciting to see ideas we’ve discussed since moving here 4 and a half years ago finally coming to fruition.

Between work, renovations and an adventurous toddler, our days have been full and busy, in contrast our evenings have been fairly calm, once our daughter goes to sleep, my husband and I usually have a quick tidy up around the house, before settling down to watch a little bit of TV, read books or sometimes do a Yoga session together with the DownDog app. We are unfortunately in the only part of Scotland still under travel and socialising restrictions, but we are looking forward to being able to travel further afield and visit loved ones again hopefully in the near future. Take care and have a lovely week. X