Festive Tidings

Festive Tidings

The last fortnight has passed in a blur of good times with good people, and I can hardly believe that we’re already packing away the Christmas decorations for another year and preparing to return to work tomorrow.

Christmas morning began with a visit to the in-law’s home, chatting and exchanging gifts while nibbling mince pies and Christmas cake. Like us, they’ve have a tough year, losing two relatives and then their cat just shy of her 22nd birthday, but we’re all relieved to put 2019 behind us and hoping 2020 will be better.

Christmas morning tea

Our Christmas lunch was quieter than usual, as it was just me, my husband and parents. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve spent Christmas without my nanna, but she wasn’t well enough to join us, so after lunch the four of us visited her at the care home to spend some time with her and help her to open presents.

Afterwards, we had a supper of cheese and biscuits, and settled down to play a board game with my parents. Our Christmas bore little resemblance to the rambunctious gatherings that are so ubiquitous on TV at this time of year, but it was calm, cosy and intimate.

Over the festive break we also managed to squeeze in catch-ups with extended family, friends from Dublin and London, and a trip to the cinema to watch the new Star Wars film.

Cosy evenings

This week we’ve had a few days to ourselves at home and we’ve enjoyed watching the BBC adaptation of His Dark Materials, tackling a 1000 piece jigsaw together, toasting marshmallows, reading and working our way through leftover Christmas cake, chocolates, cheese and crackers.

It’s been a busy break filled with family and friends, but now looking forward to the peaceful midwinter days of January and all the promise of a new year ahead of us. Have a lovely week. X

Review of ‘Soulful Simplicity’ by Courtney Carver


Before Courtney Carver was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, she thought exhaustion, stress and debt were all normal parts of life, yet her illness became a catalyst forcing her to evaluate her lifestyle and choices; since then Courtney has started a blog Be More with Less, and become an advocate of living simply to increase happiness, health and love.

In Soulful Simplicity, Courtney explores how the myth of more keeps us trapped, indebted and unhappy. Shopping becomes a distraction and a way of numbing uncomfortable emotions like boredom, sadness, frustration and disappointment, and many of us fall into the marketing trap that somehow a new phone, car or pair of shoes has the power to change our lives, change how other people see us, and change how we feel about ourselves. Yet no matter how much Courtney bought, it was never enough, and it wasn’t until she started de-cluttering, downsizing and simplifying that she learned to appreciate what she already had, and what really mattered in life.

I’ve never been someone who lives to work, and my career is well below my other priorities like family, friends, health and hobbies, yet the reality is that many of us spend as many waking hours in the office with our colleagues as we do at home with our loved ones. Unfortunately, we can’t all give up our jobs to become full-time bloggers, but Soulful Simplicity offers useful advice on how to cultivate space, time and calm in a culture that promotes the idea that happiness can be bought and confuses busy-ness with productivity.

I started reading Soulful Simplicity during a period of acute stress when both my husband and mum were struggling with ill-health, and Courtney’s message that sometimes less is more really resonated with me and inspired me to examine how I spend my own time and money. Have a lovely week.

A Safe Haven

Mara helping us pack

We are in the middle of moving, and as we pack up our belongings, I know I will miss this place. The little home my husband and I rented for three years and seven months was our first home together and the setting of so many memories and milestones in our relationship. It seems to me that a home is whatever you make it: it could be a battleground, a dumping ground or a safe haven. Our home has been all of these at different stages of our relationship.

Our home was a battleground as we clashed over money, housework and competing priorities when we first moved in together. Although we have resolved most of those early conflicts, whenever we have something contentious to discuss now, we find a neutral space like a café or a park, and the discussion ends before we step through our front door.

We used to wipe our feet on the doormat, but tramped the day’s emotional dirt through our home. It became littered with the ghosts of all of our stresses, sorrows and frustrations. Now we understand that we don’t have to bring these issues inside, and our home can be a safe haven away from our troubles. As well as the emotional detritus, we treated it like a dump for our possessions. Our home was already furnished when we moved in, and once we’d squeezed our own things into it, the cupboards and drawers were bursting and there wasn’t a single clear surface to be found. It took us a little while to realise that we didn’t need more space but less stuff, and we have been gradually downsizing and decluttering over the last few months.

We’ve become more intentional about what we keep and what we buy now. When our electric kettle broke, we replaced it with a stove-top whistling kettle; it’s a little reminder to slow down in an impatient world. We also treated ourselves to a few house plants (after researching which plants wouldn’t poison our curious house-cat); I don’t know if they purify the air but having greenery around is calming.

It seems odd, but what I’ll miss most is the scratched, old dining table (featured in many photos on this blog), around which my husband and I shared meals, wrote our Christmas cards and wedding invitations, played board games with friends, and where I typed most of these posts. I suspect our landlords would let us have the dining table and chairs if we asked, yet I’m leaving them behind, because I’m keeping all the memories.

A roof over our heads and walls to shelter us is something many of us take for granted, but others are not so fortunate. Over the last three and a half years we have learned to protect our home from physical and emotional clutter in return for the safe haven it provides from storms of all kinds, and these are the lessons we’ll take with us wherever we live. Have a lovely week.

Lanterns in the Darkness (Making Space)

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” J.K. Rowling

A couple of years ago, I joined a yoga class. I’ve never been able to meditate but after an hour of yoga I felt mentally calm and physically relaxed, and the class has been a regular part of my self-care routine ever since. During one class, something my instructor said resonated with me when she described the stretch we were practising as “making space in the body”, and I realised I needed to make space in other areas of my life too.

Both at work and in our personal lives, my husband and I often felt like our lives revolved around meeting other people’s needs, and we were sometimes so busy caring for others that we had little time or energy leftover to care for ourselves.

Yet even while struggling under the weight of obligations and in the midst of turmoil, we found solace together in quiet evenings at home taking it in turns to read chapters of the Harry Potter books to each other, or ambling hand in hand along a secluded beach we found (which became our favourite escape), confiding our fears and hopes for the future in each other as the sun slipped beneath the horizon. These intimate and restorative moments sometimes seemed like lanterns in the darkness, strengthening our resolve, and guiding us towards the peace and simplicity we both longed for.


Learning to say “no” to people who were used to us acquiescing to all of their requests (and in some cases, unreasonable demands) was, and still is, a challenge, and it caused some friction as we adjusted our boundaries with them. Yet the most difficult people were always counterbalanced by all the kind and supportive people in our lives who loyally stood by us through the darkest times, and focusing on our relationships with these family members, friends and even colleagues helped us to keep the more challenging relationships in perspective.

As we began to feel less harassed, we set about tackling the numerous little jobs that had been accumulating around our home, gradually decluttering and downsizing our possessions. We felt physically lighter every time we donated a bag of clothes to a charity shop or took a box of stuff to be recycled, and our home became a more pleasant and tranquil place to inhabit.

Now, as the build up to Christmas begins, and the dates in our calendar start to fill up, it would be easy to fall back into old habits, but we’re still finding ways to simplify our lives and make space for ourselves. Have a lovely week.

Review of ‘Simple Matters’ by Erin Boyle


Erin Boyle lives in a tiny apartment in New York with her husband and daughter, and writes a blog called Reading My Tea Leaves about simple, sustainable living.

Erin’s book, Simple Matters, covers similar themes to her blog and provides practical advice on how to declutter your home, change your purchasing habits by buying less, as well as investing in items which are durable or recyclable, and other ways to reduce waste and protect the environment.

This book is full of ideas on how to simplify and style your home, how to choose natural beauty products or make your own to reduce the chemicals that we put on our bodies, as well as DIY cleaning products (white vinegar, lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda have a multitude of cleaning uses) instead of the harmful detergents and bleaches available in the shops to reduce the toxins in our homes and our impact on the world. My favourite piece of advice (which I adopted before I’d finished reading the book) was keeping food waste to be composted in a sealed box in the freezer which prevents it from going off, smelling or in our case our cat from getting into it.

The writing can be a little dry and instructional in places, but comes to life when she describes her personal experiences of moving home, travelling, parenting and living simply. I appreciated that while Erin is dedicated to reducing her impact on the planet as much as possible, her personal brand of minimalism and sustainable living is both aspirational and pragmatic, she advocates conscious consumption but she doesn’t beat herself up for eating her favourite fruit out of season once in a while.

The presentation of this book is lovely, it’s packed with photos of her home and its contents to show that simplicity and minimalism can be stylish as well as functional. This was an easy book to read which made me think about ways I could live more sustainably and simplify my home.



Review of ‘You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap)’ by Tammy Strobel


I’m only taking my first tentative steps towards minimalism and simple living, and found Tammy Strobel’s blog RowdyKittens while looking for de-cluttering advice. Tammy’s disillusionment with consumerism and desire to simplify her life resonated with me.

You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap) follows Tammy’s journey to downsize her possessions, clear her debts, find rewarding work and to design and live in a mobile tiny home with her husband and their cats. This is a short book, just over 200 pages, but it doesn’t read like a collection of blog posts, instead each chapter is fully-fleshed with research, references, interviews and personal anecdotes into a cohesive, stand alone book.

While I don’t see myself moving into a tiny home of my own anytime soon, I found Tammy’s book easy and enjoyable to read and full of inspiring interviews with other minimalists and practical advice about how to downsize and simplify your home and life. Tammy’s tone is conversational, her enthusiasm and gratitude seep through the whole book, but she avoids preaching to the reader about her lifestyle choices. I appreciated Tammy’s honesty throughout the book, she never makes the significant lifestyle changes she adopted sound too easy and she doesn’t shy away from describing her former materialistic self or the arguments and reservations she and her husband had about getting rid of the TV or exchanging their cars for bicycles.

Tammy provides a holistic approach to simplifying that goes beyond downsizing possessions and includes sections on changing our spending habits, investing in relationships, building communities, meaningful work and practicing gratitude. My only disappointment is that Tammy, a prolific Instagrammer and photographer, did not include any of her photos in this book, though she has published another book on iPhone photography. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can see myself re-reading sections for inspiration and advice as I try to simplify my own life and de-clutter my home.