There always seems to be a mad dash in December to get everything ready for Christmas, but now that the shopping is done, cards have been posted and presents wrapped, things are finally starting to wind down and we’re very much looking forward to some time off between Christmas and New Year.
My husband and I have been trying to simplify Christmas for a few years now, gradually stripping away the stress, excess and waste to find all the peace, love, joy and wonder that the festive period holds.
Everything seems to twinkle and jingle in December, and I always look forward to the simple pleasure of putting up our Christmas decorations, and especially decorating the tree. I love unwrapping the trinkets and baubles we’ve collected over the years, and reminiscing about where each of them came from. The newest addition to our collection is a wooden nutcracker soldier that I bought from Jólagarðurinn (The Christmas Garden) outside Akureyri in Iceland, a little souvenir from our holiday in April. Our cat Mara also loves investigating the tree, though luckily she doesn’t attempt to climb it or attack the baubles.
My favourite part of Christmas though is spending time with my family, free from the distractions and time constraints that are often present throughout the rest of the year. This Christmas many of our plans will revolve around the older generation of our family, as we try to make things as easy and inclusive as possible for my 92-year-old nanna, and visit another member of the family who might be spending Christmas in hospital. Christmas is a time of love and joy for many, yet it can be tinged with loss and loneliness for others, and I always feel lucky and grateful to be able to share it with the people I love most.
Wishing everyone a peaceful winter Solstice and a very happy Christmas! X
We’ve been visiting the Enchanted Forest in Pitlochry every year since 2011 and it remains one of the highlights of our calendar, and this year was no exception with lights choreographed to music, interactive displays and a stunning projection over Loch Dunmore.
Visiting the Enchanted Forest is one of our favourite annual traditions, and we always enjoy wandering around the woods hand-in-hand, snapping photos and sipping the first mulled wine of the season, but my husband and I still always pause at the spot where we got engaged here and enjoy reminiscing about our many other visits to the Enchanted Forest over the years.
As lovely as it is having a little adventure together, staying in a hotel and not having to worry about cooking or washing up, we’re also happy to be reunited with our cat Mara when we return home. It was just over three years ago that we adopted Mara, and although we don’t know her actual age, a recent trip to the vet to have her teeth cleaned and one extraction reminded us that she is getting older, but fortunately she remains healthy, playful and full of purrs.
Have a lovely week! X
We’re just home from a wonderful holiday in Iceland (which deserves a separate post) feeling thoroughly refreshed and inspired, and enjoying a few days at home before we return to work.
This weekend it was warm enough to sit outside sipping our morning coffee for the first time this year, and it was lovely to notice all the changes that have occurred in the garden while we’ve been away.
Before we left the tulips were still green with only the tips hinting at the colours hidden within, and just a week later the first petals are starting to unfurl. Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a haphazard gardener so I forgot to write down the varieties of bulbs I planted, and the only tulip I can identify with any certainty is ‘red riding hood’ because of its distinctive leaves.
Elsewhere in the garden, the primroses are appearing, and I’ve cut some of the hyacinths that were toppling under their own weight and put them in a vase on the mantelpiece.
Of course, the best part of coming home is being reunited with our cat, Mara, who stays with my dad whenever we go on holiday. As much as we love travelling, Mara is such a big part of our little family and so many of our daily routines revolve around her that we miss her terribly while we’re away. For her part, Mara is very much a family cat who loves nothing more than the three of us being snuggled up on the couch or in bed together. Luckily, Mara is such a sweetheart that she never holds a grudge and is always full of purrs and affection when we return.
It’s good to be home again after a lovely holiday, enjoying the sunshine and preparing for the week ahead with a little spring in my step. Have a lovely week. X
Winter still hasn’t given way to spring yet in our part of the country, and another snowfall at the weekend prevented us from making a start in the garden, but I’ve been pottering around the house tending my little collection of houseplants instead.
Our house is a long way from becoming one of the lush urban jungles to be found on Instagram, and I’ve killed more plants than I’d like to admit but I’ve gradually collected and nurtured a little selection of succulents, ferns, fittonia and, of course, a seemingly infallible spider-plant. Decorating the plant pots was a rainy day project – though like all my crafts they’re a bit rough around the edges.
As our cat, Mara, is a nibbler, we only have plants that are safe for pets, and the ASPCA provide helpful lists of toxic and non-toxic plants.
I’ve had no luck at all propagating succulents, but I’ve had much more success propagating spiderettes from the spider-plant. I’ve already given one to my dad, another to my best friend, and I’ve just potted up a few more to give to a couple of friends and my husband, who wants one for his desk at work.
Baby spider plants
Determined not to repeat some of the rookie mistakes we made last year, I’ve started our courgettes and squash plants off inside. I’m also attempting to grow chilli peppers from seed; the cayenne seedlings have already surfaced, and I’m hoping the poblano will sprout soon too.
Meanwhile in the garden…
Have a lovely week! X
I can’t remember when I first heard about the ultra-marathon runner from Edinburgh who bonded with a stray dog he found while competing in a race across the Gobi desert in China, but I was delighted when I found out he’d written a book about their story.
Something that struck me right from the start is that it was the little dog who chose Dion out of a hundred other runners, not the other way around. Mile after mile, the scruffy stray he names Gobi keeps pace with Dion, and little by little he starts to enjoy her company as she gallops along beside him, at times Gobi’s presence helps him push through the pain, exhaustion and boredom of long distance running. A real turning point in their relationship comes when Dion stops to carry Gobi across a river that is too deep and fast flowing for her to cross, even though he knows it will cost him time and probably his position in the race too. By the time he crosses the finish line, seven days and 155 miles later, Dion has resolved to bring her back to the UK with him.
Roughly the first third of Finding Gobi focuses on the ultra-marathon, and the rest describes all the challenges of trying to bring Gobi back to the UK. I don’t want to spoil it, but this story ends happily and their reunion and eventual return to the UK is that much sweeter for all the obstacles and setbacks they faced along the way.
Dion, a bit of a loner by nature with a fair bit of emotional baggage from his childhood and adolescence, is humbled by the outpouring of generosity and support from friends and strangers alike who donate money to the crowd-funding campaign he starts or give up their time to help him directly. It is Dion’s commitment to bringing Gobi home that drives the campaign, but it’s the kindness of people from all over the world who make it possible, and in turn make this story so heart-warming and memorable.
Although my own furry, four-legged companion is of the feline variety, there were so many aspects of this story that resonated with me. Human relationships can often be complex, yet our animal companions offer us their love and trust unconditionally, and no matter how we may see ourselves they accept us just as we are. Yet even more than that, Finding Gobi demonstrates that somehow animals also have the ability to bring out our very best qualities – from commitment and co-operation to kindness and compassion.
Have a lovely week. X
I often think January is a month ill-suited to starting our New Year’s Resolutions as it’s the middle of winter and many of us are still recovering from the busy-ness and excess of the festive period. By February though, we’re usually awakening from our winter hibernation and ready to start tackling some of the goals and resolutions we’ve set ourselves.
One of our goals this year is to reduce how much food we waste. Food is a necessity but it’s also become one of our biggest expenditures after housing and transport, and I feel guilty when it goes to waste. To help us achieve our goal, we’ve been planning our meals in advance and we’ve bought a set of Pyrex dishes so we can cook some of our meals in bulk and freeze the extra portions for quick and healthy midweek suppers. We’re also going to continue growing some of our own fruit, vegetables and herbs in our little garden and composting our kitchen waste.
The gradually increasing daylight has given us a much-needed energy boost, and I’ve enjoyed getting back into our fitness routines, like swimming and my yoga class. Yoga has been a key component of my self-care over the last few years, as aside from the physical benefits, focusing on my breathing and immersing myself in physical activity helps me to clear my mind. This year I’d like to focus on improving my spine flexibility and increasing the number of sun salutations I can do without collapsing in exhaustion because I’d love to participate in a yogathon someday. I’m keeping my goals simple because as my yoga instructor often reminds us, yoga is as much about self-acceptance as it is about self-improvement. My husband and I have also signed up for salsa dancing classes. We learned how to foxtrot for our first dance, but took a break from classes after our wedding, and we’re excited to start our classes again as dancing’s a fun and romantic hobby to share together.
One resolution that’s already well under way in our home is resetting our cat’s breakfast routine with Pavlovian behavioural modification. Over the winter Mara had been waking us up earlier and earlier by pawing our faces, knocking things off our bedside tables and scrambling across our pillows, but we’ve gradually retrained her to stop waking us up at 4am, and she’s now allowing us a whole extra hour of sleep, which is a vast improvement as far as we’re concerned! After Mara’s had her breakfast, she always comes back to bed for a snuggle, which almost makes up for our rude awakening.
How are your resolutions going?
Have a lovely week. X
A Street Cat Named Bob was the first book I reviewed this year, and it seems fitting that the sequel The World According to Bob should be the last. This picks up where the first book finished, James is a recovering addict, struggling to make ends meet by selling the Big Issue magazine and living in a London tower-block with Bob, the stray cat he adopted in the previous book.
Both books really capture the unconditional love, trust, loyalty and affection that can exist between people and animals, and how healing and transformative those bonds can be. Taking care of Bob gives James a sense of purpose, routine and responsibility, it’s his reason to get out of bed in the morning, to work hard and stay sober.
James isn’t proud of his past, and although he describes his difficult childhood shuttling between divorced parents in England and Australia, and his failed attempts to become a musician that ultimately resulted in him becoming homeless and addicted to heroin in London, he doesn’t blame anyone else for his choices.
James’ humanity comes across throughout the book as he understands the desperation that leads people in a similar situation to his own resorting to intimidation, violence, theft and addiction to numb their pain and shame. When his own fortunes start to change, James sees it as part of his duty and purpose to raise awareness of the harsh realities of those rough-sleeping, battling addictions and trying to eke out a living working on the streets.
James doesn’t have much by most people’s standards, and yet he is grateful for everything he does have, and his gratitude extends to all the people that believed in him and helped him when he needed it most from the Blue Cross vets who treated Bob whenever he was sick or injured to the Big Issue organisation, his parents, friends and the publishers who gave him the opportunity to share his story. Above all, James is grateful to the little cat that changed his life and inspired him to become the very best version of himself. I don’t usually read autobiographies but I found both of James Bowen’s books thoroughly heart-warming and inspiring. Have a lovely week. X