Blog birthday and a hello from Sandy hamster ❤️

It’s been 5 years this week since I started writing this blog, and I have really loved having a little outlet for all our adventures here at home and out and about enjoying the world around us. From the very beginning I’ve loved writing especially about the animal members of our family, starting back half a decade ago when we were loving looking after our rambling mischief of rats.

My lovely boys Harvey, Ty, Winston and Chae back in my very first post ❤️

Nowadays, we’re down to just one little furry resident in the house – Charmer of course a little further away! – and so it seemed a perfect time for a wee hello from our Sandy hamster, who has been with us a year and half now, unbelievably, and will be 2 years old in April.

Sandy

He is the most content of characters and a lovely addition to the household. Very happy in his own company and with his usual wee routines of reorganising his cage and keeping fit on his wheel, he also loves coming out for a ramble of a quiet evening and a cuddle on an armchair and as we find ourselves with a bit more time again, I am loving some extra time with him. He is also currently valiantly keeping the wee ones busy in lockdown, the oldest loving getting into a routine of his feeding and cleaning, and the youngest just in love with him, she could watch him scuffling about all day and he’s always happy to come up and say hello.

So a wee hello from Sandy, and a very lovely (beautifully sunny, if a little chilly!) Sunday to you all. X

Lockdown times at the farm

Just a little good morning from our corner of the world… hope you are all well despite the times we’re living in, and are finding ways to navigate through these next few weeks.

Here, we’ve been back to a life at home, trying to keep the little ones busy and happy, stay as connected to family and friends as we possibly can, and find a routine within what looks to be our new normal again for some time to come. One of the constants in life in lockdown and always is looking after my boy, and I’m very grateful that, just as last time, we have still been allowed access to the farm to look after the horses, just with separated slots to keep us distanced – and so Charmer’s schedule brings a steadying routine to this new time. At 10am and 5pm I find myself there with him, an anchor in this strange January as he has been at so many other times in the decades we’ve had together.

Our morning slot being 10am this time means I’ve had to take the girls with me which has actually ended up being wonderful – a safe, fresh-air way to get them out and bring the routine to their days that playgroup and baby classes normally do, and they’ve loved helping as much as Charmer has enjoyed having his little fans on hand.

And for me too, my dark evenings settling him in to the stable for the night, giving him a brush and sometimes reading a little in the quietness beside him, or weekend mornings like today, catching up on the barn chores and enjoying a wander just me and him; are valued even more than ever amidst all the uncertainty.

Charmer continues to be doing really well just now and amazing everyone with his enthusiasm for life and how well he is moving. I would actually be amazed at how well he was doing if this was summertime but for this to be the coldest winter we’ve had in a couple of years, coming in from nights out at -7 and weathering damp days and changing temperatures; I really can’t believe how much he is thriving. Something in amongst his medication, supplements and shoes is working more than I ever dreamed possible and I am over the moon to see him restored to such health.

I took him a walk on his rope this morning down the hill he used to really struggle with, his feet hitting the ground steadily and certainly, and let him have some grass at the bottom while I drank my coffee, read a few pages of the horsey book I’m reading, and watched some of the younger horses in the field opposite Charmer’s showing off some spectacular boisterous play.

Landing up back at the gate, time was up once again – as it is quickly now – for the farm window in the day, but I was very grateful both for it and for the strides forward C has taken in enjoying life and living it to the full.

Really hope you are all staying safe, taking care and feeling ok, as we all count down to spring and better days. X

📚 2020 ~ A Year In Books 📚

2020 has been a year like no other and through its ups and downs I have really enjoyed some anchoring and calming reading. With 55 books in total, I have read more this year than I ever have before (except maybe in the childhood years when I was flying through Famous Fives and Jill’s Gymkhanas!) – amazing what a few months of lockdown can do! I have done a fair bit of re-reading (one of my very favourite comforts) with 17 books either read for the hundredth time – proper old friends like Bridget Jones or Anne Shirley – or revisited for the first time since a distant memory, like The Secret Garden and Little Women, both of which I rediscovered this year. There have however been 38 books new to me, and among them some new absolute favourites.

I’ve read nine book club books, finding myself so very grateful for our book club finding a way to continue despite the library’s closure for most of the year. We covered such a variety of books I would never otherwise have come across, from Dolly Alderton’s memoir Everything I Know About Love to John Lanchester’s chilling dystopian novel The Wall. As well as opening me up to new types of books, it’s led to so many new favourites too. We discovered together a shared love for Sophie Anderson’s magical stories; Old Baggage had me fall completely in love with the formidable Mattie Simpkin (I now have two more Lissa Evans books now bought and waiting to read with a birthday voucher earlier in the year); and Eleanor Oliphant is a character I took so much to my heart and just rooted for so desperately all the way.

I’ve read nine crime or mystery books, Val McDermid’s Insidious Intent probably top of that list, my first Tony Hill & Carol Jordan, and more reading from her to come early in 2021 as I have a short story collection already started and a retelling of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey I’m very keen to get into on the shelf.

Twelve of the books I’ve read have been typically children’s books, so often I find the most captivating of all – some old favourites including four of my beloved pony books (that actually seems low looking back on it for such a favourite escape, I’m sure will manage more in 2021!!!); but some new to me – like Sophie Anderson’s lovely The Girl Who Speaks Bear, which is set to be followed by her new book The Castle of Tangled Magic, which arrived with me at Christmas and is high on the list for the new year! I always seem to love children’s books so much and am often reminded of a quote I read by Philip Pullman:

““There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.”

There have been seven parenting books, from Sarah Ockwell-Smith and Dr Laura Markham’s handbooks to Giovanna Fletcher, Izzy Judd, Sarah Turner and Mindy Kaling’s reflective musings on their lives with their children; and eleven memoirs or biographies – Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm and Michelle Obama’s Becoming my favourites among some amazing stories; with some old-friend books of that genre returned to too, The Unumumsy Mum Diary and Tom Cox’s The Good the Bad and the Furry (my very first book of the year). And I’ve ended the year with a run of five Christmassy novels, which has been the most warming way to draw 2020 to a close.

My top five books of the year new to me have been Lissa Evans’ Old Baggage, following Mattie, a former Suffragette, adapting to older age and life after the cause; Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading, revisiting the magic of discovering books; Louisa May Alcott’s Good Wives, taking Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy into the next chapters of their lives; Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, an incredible story of resilience and strength of character; and Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing, a truly lovely novel set in the North Carolina marshlands following a young girl Kya as she grows up amongst the birds and nature.

My most-read era has definitely been the Victorian, finding myself lost in Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, The Secret Garden, Jane Eyre, Sherlock Holmes and A Christmas Carol all set within fifty years of each other around the end of the nineteenth century. Some had been long-standing favourites but I was so swept up in the ones new to me and found them so absolutely captivating and transporting that I really want to explore more in 2021, starting with Wuthering Heights on my list after making Jane Eyre my first Bronte, and A Little Princess too after loving rediscovering The Secret Garden so much.

My most-read author has been my very favourite, L.M. Montgomery, and I hope to read more from her in the new year too, returning to the Emily books which I’ve only read the first of a few years back; re-reading Rilla of Ingleside which I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and following that with The Blythes are Quoted, the final Anne book, only released in its complete form in 2009 and the only one I’ve never read.

I have had a wonderful time reading this year, and have been transported to so many different times and places in spite of spending much of the year in our own little home. Some have made me laugh, cry, feel such comfort or such inspiration – and some of the best all of those! So many of the books I’ve read too have been leant, gifted, recommended or passed on between the family and friends I’ve missed so much this year and have been a connection between us I’ve been so grateful for. I am so glad to have discovered so many wonderful books, and to have had so much fun journaling them too, and am forward to many more in 2021. A very happy new year to you all! 📖📚📚📖

December reading diary 📚

December ended up a busy month in general and so a quieter reading one than I expected, which, with lockdown fully back on now, it was lovely just to embrace while we could. I did manage to do some reading though, with our book club book, John Lanchester’s The Wall, in the first few days of the month; a couple of lovely Christmas books, Jostein Gaarder’s The Christmas Mystery and the one and only A Christmas Carol read slowly over the lead-up to Christmas, and finishing in the last few days of the year reading Laura Markham’s Calm Parents, Happy Kids which I’d been reading for a few weeks.

📖 The Wall ~ John Lanchester 📖 Really enjoyed reading and having our monthly book club virtual catch-up on John Lanchester’s dystopian portrayal of the UK after an event referred to only as The Change. A short and fast-paced but thought-provoking and certainly topical book, I found the unsettling world of the Wall and Kavanagh’s story within it hauntingly relevant and so gripping. Really enjoyed reading this and discussing it too, lovely to have a chance to gather even from afar and talk books.

📖 A Christmas Carol ~ Charles Dickens 📖 Every year as Christmas creeps closer I look forward to re-reading A Christmas Carol, and it’s part of my little tradition to read it from my old uni Longman Anthology of British Literature too, on the tall thin pages I first discovered it on, tucked between other works of its era but so very special. I always wait to read it when it won’t be rushed and it really feels like Christmas when I do finally pull it from the shelf and begin again. This year as always I loved returning to the grey streets of Victorian London, and to the warmth, spirit and challenge to us all of this inimitable, wonderful story ❤️❤️

📖 The Christmas Mystery ~ Jostein Gaarder 📖 This is a book I have had on my shelf since childhood and had read before but could barely remember it until I picked it up again this year to read in daily instalments in December.

Divided into 24 chapters, one for each day of advent, it tells the story of Joachim, a small boy in Norway in 1992, who is given a handmade advent calendar with a small folded excerpt from a story tucked behind each door, this going on to form the second strand of the novel.

In the calendar’s tale, a young girl called Elisabet is shopping in a department store in 1948 when she runs after a toy lamb come to life, following him on what turns out to be a pilgrimage through time and place back to Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’s birth. They are accompanied every day by a growing number of angels, shepherds, sheep, kings and other players in the Christmas story. The travellers cover many countries and many eras as they journey on and the complexity of the historical and geographical changes are meticulously detailed as they do so. Joachim’s family follow along with the story in atlases and books and a reader easily could too.

I enjoyed the two stories being revealed chapter by chapter and having a different twist on the Christmas story to dip into every day – the biblical characters brought to life with vibrancy and splashes of humour – but this was an unusual story in many ways and did make me feel uncomfortable at times.

Without giving away any spoilers, there was an unexpectedly dark twist for a children’s book towards the end and an accompanying shift of focus away from the twin themes of the nativity story and Joachim’s family’s warming preparations for their own Christmas which had been so central throughout, the pivot adding a more modern, political and unsettling dimension and holding this back slightly from being the cosy Christmas story it might otherwise have been. I did really so enjoy though having a few moments every day leading up to Christmas with an advent calendar of my own in book form.

📖 Calm Parents, Happy Kids ~ Dr Laura Markham 📖 I came to the end of Calm Parents, Happy Kids (originally Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids in the US) on the second-last morning of the year on a slow start to the day, after having read it over the past few weeks on my Kindle or phone in little chapters here and there – and overall I really enjoyed it. I’ve been following parenting blogs and reading books centred around gentle parenting more and more over the past few years and had heard this book crop up a few times – most recently in a conversation on Giovanna Fletcher’s Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast – so had been keen to read it for a while.

I wouldn’t say I’d be convinced on absolutely everything in here, and I felt more than some other books of its type the tone could be a bit uncompromising in some respects (I can see from a wee browse of Goodreads I’m in the majority in finding reading it sometimes came with a side of guilt at any times the parenting ideal has been fallen short of!), but what I found so very valuable about it was the focus on connection between parent and child and the many ideas for how best to foster that in the various stages of childhood from babyhood right through towards the end of primary school, with lots of practical tips. The book is broken down into three parts: regulating ourselves as parents, connecting with our children and coaching rather than controlling them at each stage. It was really interesting to have this all laid out from a clinical psychologist’s perspective but in a way that was still very accessible, and there was lots I know I’ll remember and continue to try to put into use as our girls grow.

This will definitely join my very well-read Sarah Ockwell-Smith books, Izzy Judd’s lovely Mindfulness for Mums and SJ Strum’s catalogue of videos, as inspiring and valuable learning I will keep close and dip back into on and off as we navigate the twists and turns of the rollercoaster that is parenting!

Overall I really enjoyed some cosy December reading and have already settled into a January of life at home that will see more of the same. Hope you are all having a good week. X

✨ Happy New Year ✨

I haven’t written much in the last few weeks, but we have been wrapped up enjoying a lovely Christmas season to bring to an end the tumultuous year that was 2020!

It has been one to remember, and I’m with so many others in looking with hope to 2021 for the chance for more time with our family and friends and a return to some normality and freedom. As we stepped into the new year yesterday however, with a beautiful sunrise walk at the farm; I was very thankful, in spite of the obvious lows of last year, for all the wonderful things it brought us – our littlest member of the family first and foremost, nine months old today; lots of growing and changing of both little ones over the year; and, as we dropped off the fluffiest member of the family at his field gate, I couldn’t quite believe we were lucky enough to still have Charmer so well and healthy after such a rough patch for him earlier in the year.

We’re settling into another lockdown here, and are not quite sure when the new term, always a big part of the turn of the new year, will reach us. Everything is still very uncertain, and we haven’t quite seen the turn of the tide yet – but with vaccines approaching there is a definite ray of hope on the horizon, and I really look forward to moving into 2021 and discovering what it will bring.

A very happy new year to you all. Xxx