May books

Good Wives – Louisa May Alcott

May’s arrival found me still seeking out some pandemic comfort reading, and having re-read the first volume of Little Women back in March in the very first week of lockdown, I’ve now enjoyed reading the second, Good Wives, for the first time. Picking up where I’d left off with Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, I loved returning to this family’s world; these girls’ faith, resolve and determination; and watching the next years of their lives play out. This book is not without its share of sorrow, but is a testament to the endurance of a family all together – most especially to the bonds of sisterhood, and was a poignant and relevant book for now.

I recently watched the 2019 film Little Women and read memoirs by Louisa May Alcott talking of the pressure she found herself under to marry off the fiercely independent Jo. Reading this with some background in mind gave new dimension to some of the characters, but – in spite of any moulding the author may have been required to do – this book is a feminist achievement worthy of celebration all this time on; and I truly loved losing myself in the warmth and companionship of these strong women and inhabiting the Marches’ world once again.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr

This month I have re-read the first two novels in Judith Kerr’s semi-autobiographical trilogy Out of the Hitler Time.

The first, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, begins in 1933 with the election of the Nazi party and the Kerr family’s necessary escape – first to Switzerland, before later France and finally England. It was a favourite of mine in childhood, and it was wonderful to read again now as an adult with a fresh perspective on it – especially as Judith Kerr plays such a huge role in our current home life, having brought us not just the Mog books, a truly wonderful collection, but also the one and only The Tiger Who Came To Tea. While these were favourites of my childhood too from a very young age and make me feel very connected to my family too, they’ve become everything to our little unit today – they’ve been read I don’t know how many times; a cuddly Mog and Tiger make up prominent figures in our two-year-old’s toy team and we know them inside out. This made it even more special to step into “Anna’s” world, and especially to enjoy moments like the account of her first day at her new and alien school in Paris. Unable to speak the language and anxious to keep up and fit in, an art class provided a much-needed opportunity to feel on an even footing, and a picture of a cat she drew that day not only led to a turning point in her settling-in, but gave an early glimpse of the characters she would go on to create.

In this novel, Kerr captures such a huge period in history from a child’s unique perspective in nine-year-old Anna’s narrative; the most striking and moving example perhaps being the fact that her deepest sense of personal loss at the very beginning of the story, when the family home is possessed by the Nazis – all belongings seized and all of her father’s books burned – is that of her beloved stuffed Pink Rabbit, left behind when they made their swift journey across the border.

Above all else, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is a novel about the strength of family. We learn that Anna harbours a secret desire to become famous, but laments that she will never succeed due to not having had what she believes is the required “difficult childhood”. That she doesn’t view her family’s struggles as meeting this criteria is a testament not only to her spirit, but also to her parents’ incredible achievement in creating a sense of security irrespective of place – a contentment just to be together and a determination to greet every twist and turn as an adventure; and illustrates so very beautifully what is so special about this book.

The Other Way Round – Judith Kerr

The second part of the trilogy is set a few years on and finds the family in London during the Second World War. The events of this time – the rumbling uncertainty, the waves of terror, the juxta-positioning of normal struggles in relationships and work life with the vastness of the world situation – are so very real when told to us by Anna and framed by the small and solid unit of her family. By the time we have reached this book, Papa, Mama, Max and Anna feel so very well known that all that they live through is so keenly felt. As Anna grows up and learns so many lessons, I felt so much for her – and the way the family band together and flare with such a passion for protecting each other is so very moving. This is a subtly drawn insight into life during the war years, a coming of age tale as Anna faces all the ups and downs of young adulthood, and once again a story of the great triumph of this family’s togetherness in the face of their struggles.

The Girl Who Speaks Bear – Sophie Anderson

Our book club pick for this month, The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson was one we chose having read and enjoyed The House With Chicken Legs by the same author last year. Yanka lives in a village on the edge of a great forest where she was found as an infant safe and well and living in a bear cave. She has been raised ever since by a loving adopted mother but forever been unable to shake the feeling that she doesn’t quite fit in – and when she one day wakes up with a bear’s legs instead of her own she sets off to try to find out more about where she came from. This was just simply a beautiful book to read, the gentle story of Yanka’s growing acceptance of who she is and shifting understanding of the family and friends around her. Interspersed throughout with sweeping Slavic folk tales of dragons and journeys, it is a really lovely read (and another one that leant itself perfectly to reading aloud to the littlest one in the night ❤️). I very rarely find myself reading fantasy (Harry Potter the exception!) but really enjoyed this total departure from the usual and this special little story.

One Day in December – Josie Silver

This is the first book I’ve read this year that I really haven’t enjoyed. I’d been looking for a light and easy read and had had this on my Kindle for a while and seen it recommended by everyone from Marian Keyes to Reese Witherspoon. On paper this should be my ideal book, sold as perfect for Bridget Jones fans and set at Christmas time. I absolutely love a cosy wintry novel and Bridget and Mark Darcy’s love story is one of my favourites and one I’ve re-read over and over; but I really can’t see the comparison with One Day in December‘s Laurie and Jack’s.

First “meeting” through a bus window on a snowy December day, both remember the other though they don’t speak and don’t come across each other again until a year later when Jack is introduced to Laurie as her flatmate Sarah’s new boyfriend. The novel covers the next ten years of the characters’ lives with their stories interweaving over time. Especially in the second half it did have me turning the pages to find out where it would go next, and there are definitely some twists and turns, but I didn’t find much to root for in Laurie and Jack’s story and Jack in particular seemed unpleasant and even violent at one point. Reading this held up as the “sweetest love story” reminded me a little of the summer holiday I read all three Fifty Shades books waiting to come across the reason they were such bestsellers and instead just being left incredulous at the controlling and abusive nature of their relationship. I did enjoy the story of Laurie and Sarah’s friendship in this book, and felt for Laurie as a narrator to an extent but really did not warm to Jack at all or to the idea of them as a couple and this as a beautiful love story. I know I seem to be in the minority (although there at least some on Goodreads who seem to feel the same!) so definitely keen to hear what anyone else thought if you’ve read!

Hope everyone is well and having a good week. X

The Sunshine in Lockdown

As we come to the end of the first phase of lockdown, I look forward to being able to be with family and friends again, albeit at a distance, more than I can say. We’re reaching a time it sometimes seemed would never come and it will be beyond lovely to sit outside with the people we love most and speak in person after so long.

Being here at last, however, has had me looking back on the last couple of months. We have been incredibly lucky during these last 10 weeks we have been at home to all have been well, to have been well-connected with family and friends and to have everything we need at home to make it a positive place to be.

For us, these weeks have been time we could really enjoy as a little family, especially as our newest member arrived just a couple of weeks in. I will always look back on the bubble we had at this time as so special in spite of all the restrictions. It’s been a time span that’s covered so much for us – our second little daughter’s birth and first weeks, growing from a tiny newborn into a now 8-week-old holding her head up to take in the world and the sights and sounds around her, enjoying the breeze in the garden and giggling at the chaos of her big sister’s world of play. I’ve kept a diary for her of life in lockdown and her arrival into a world that was as far from its norm as it could have been but that we were all able to be together in while we waited to widen our circle once more.

For all of us, it’s been the beginning of a new era. Some of the things I’d been looking forward to most about family life have arrived. We’ve found our feet in a routine and taken a daily walk together every lunchtime as a four. The two girls have grown together, played together and settled into their new roles as sisters. We’ve had our first couple of family takeaway nights, our eldest’s eyes wide at the food arriving in boxes. We’ve started settling to a film all together – working our way through Disney films on quiet Sunday afternoons. We’ve had long walks gathering sticks and stones, the big little loving the exploring around our village that we often didn’t end up doing in favour of woodland or park walks further afield.

It’s been amazing how much more we’ve taken in of our own little corner of the world. A couple of months ago it seems now that we were just passing through the garden to jump in the car for busy days. Now we’re completely paused here, and are able to properly see it. At the moment we have blue tits nesting in the bird box in our back garden which is wonderful to see – they are just building their nest at the moment – and sparrows in a fir tree in the front garden whose babies have hatched already – they are very tucked away and we haven’t gone too close to see them but they are filling the garden with their tiny chorus when their mother flies in and out with food. Across the road too, a rural but normally busy one, now much more silent, deer and hares are running so much closer and more freely than ever before and are lovely to see. On our walks, just to the edge of the village usually, although once or twice slightly longer down to the shore we’re lucky to have just a couple of miles away, we’ve seen buzzards soaring and really enjoyed the wildlife and the world around us blooming even more for the lack of traffic and bustle.

Mostly we’ve been so blessed and I’ve been so grateful, but as I’m sure is the case for everyone there have been some times I’ve struggled more with being locked down and being away from my own family. In these, I’ve turned to some much appreciated rays of sunshine in this strange time. The wonderful world of video calling – Zoom, Messenger, House Party, we’ve tried them all! – has made the distance seem so much shorter, and has meant we haven’t been socially distanced at all, only physically. Week after week we’ve gathered with family and with friends too for quizzes, games nights and chats and it’s been wonderful to feel in some small way that we’re still able to sit and relax together, hanging on to all the things that are most important. We’ve managed to translate so many things across the distance – Pictionary, charades and Guess Who popping up in our increasingly inventive family games nights; quizzes and drinks with friends somehow managing to feel at least a little like the relaxed chat of pub nights; an afternoon coffee with a friend; book group analysis of our latest read; and even surprisingly successful play dates for the toddler, her and her friends loving seeing each other and amazing us by just going with it and adapting to the new normal.

I’ve found myself reading lots in my spare time (mostly in the middle of the night just now!), books a wonderful escape. Some will forever be synonymous for me now with this period and because a lot of what I’ve been reading recently has ended up being books I’ve been sharing with or had recommended by family and friends it’s been another wonderful way to keep connected.

TV box sets have also kept me going – we had already started watching our way through Parks and Recreation together for the first time when lockdown began and had been so enjoying it, but our watching definitely ramped up from then on. Feel-good, heartwarming and hilarious, I have absolutely loved it, and when we got to the end of the seven seasons we even had the extra bonus of the April 2020 special filmed and set during the pandemic, so perfectly pitched to be a lift at this time, and with all the heart of the show and a tear-jerker finale. ❤️ I’ve also turned to some proper cosy British comedy TV – The Vicar of Dibley and Outnumbered a couple of my go-to comfort programmes; and as so many of the country have done, we have found Gogglebox more appealing than ever these last few weeks – something so lovely about finding a way of still settling into the living rooms of familiar faces on a Friday night.

One of the biggest joys has of course been the actual sunshine – it’s been so wonderful as we’ve all passed the time, played and stretched our legs to have such wonderful weather; and now it’s even more of a blessing as we prepare to welcome family to our garden over the next couple of days at last.

As we move into the new phase, I’m so grateful for all that kept us going. I know our return to normal life will be gradual and these things will keep sustaining us when needed. I am so thankful to be able to look to seeing family again, and also for the time we’ve had as a little unit in these last weeks, before we take these first steps forward all together.

Hope everyone is doing well and having a good week. Xx

May Days 🌸

Life is moving at a very swift pace as we’ve somehow made our way through April and arrived into May. Our youngest daughter has just turned 5 weeks old, and so for us these weeks have been centred around settling into life as a family of four. The first couple were undoubtedly a blur, sleep very elusive and everything a new and different whirlwind, but the last few weeks everything has hit a very steady rhythm and we’ve had time and space to settle to all our new roles and to getting to know our little girl.

Lockdown continues to be in place here and defines our days at the moment – its biggest impact on us at the moment being separation from our closest family and friends, which I really am feeling now, especially knowing how desperate they are to meet our newest addition. Very conscious however how very blessed we are just to have the health of our loved ones in this uncertain time, and how important it is to follow all advice to weather this pandemic. In the meantime trying to focus on positives, the chance to have so much focused time as our little unit here being a big one. We leave the house once a day for our walk, all together wherever we can, which serves as our exercise and fresh air and also leads us into a much-needed nap time for the oldest little one too! Other than that we’re focused at home, inside and in the garden where it’s been wonderful to have such amazing weather.

Life has returned in some ways to “normal” this week with my husband back to work after paternity leave – but as that is just at the kitchen table it’s a much gentler transition than it would have been otherwise! Finding my feet creating the day’s routines for two little ones and juggling what they both need, and been so enjoying the time with them and entering into this new chapter. Online story and rhyme sessions and at-home versions of yoga and music classes have made their return, tents and makeshift “parks” have been popping up in the garden, and we’ve had FaceTimes with my oldest’s little friends – it’s all different and unusual but we are finding our way with it all and enjoying the challenge – and the wonderful benefits too, like being able to shout my husband through yesterday to witness our baby’s first wide-mouthed smiles!

I’m so grateful to still be able to be getting along to check on the pony too, and very happy to see him looking healthy and thriving on the transition into summer. My photos in my last post of a fluffy bear of a pony in glinting winter sun seem so far away already as I arrive on May mornings at the farm with the sun already high in the sky at 7am, the smell of citronella spray in the air as I greet my short-coated fly-rug-clad boy.

These are undoubtedly very strange days and it can be an unsettling time for us all, but keeping focused here on how lucky we are to be well, have each other and have the technology to keep so well connected with family and friends while we look forward to getting together again. Hope everyone reading is safe and well, coping alright and enjoying the beautiful weather as May settles in. Take care all. Xx

Summer nights with the pony ☀️

We are well and truly back on the summertime schedules and routines at the farm, and, as every year, it’s amazing to settle into. I absolutely love coming up to the farm and seeing, instead of four fluffy feet queued up eagerly at the field gate; the boy, looking bright bay in his light summer coat, grazing half-way down the field – lifting his head interestedly when he hears me unlock the gate and either watching me pick my way down the grassy hill or ambling over to meet me half-way, perfectly relaxed and perfectly happy in his field.

For my Charmer, this season is the best. He has always been an outdoor boy at heart, spending the first thirteen years of his life living out continually, and only beginning to have nights in worked into his routine in the colder months as he got into his teens and became a little arthritic. I’ve always tried to let him have as much time out as possible even as he’s got older and needed more feeding and shelter and for a native pony like him, I’ve always believed his time out is where his health and happiness comes from. 

By now, I pretty much take the lead from him on the in-or-out-at-nights question, and he’s evolved over the years from his younger days of 24/7 turnout, annually growing a winter coat as fluffy as a bear’s; to an older gent who looks forward to clopping across the yard to his stable  at the end of a dull winters’ day out (all laid out with dinner, hay and a straw bed, otherwise his very expressive face leaves me in doubt he feels the standards are slipping).

The routine suits us both in the long dark months, and he is happy with the new lifestyle, but it makes me so happy to see him return to his roots again at this time every year; adapting back to his outdoor self. As if a switch has been flicked, one day he’s just not by the gate as usual, and we go through a period of in-every-second-night on the wind-down, as for a while he does invariably opt for a night out with his friends one day, caught up in the excitement of the first few shoots of new grass, and then line up all the earlier the next night, hungry for his bucket feed and home comforts. 

And then comes the time we’ve got to now, these past couple of weeks, when the sun’s been shining non stop and all thoughts of the indoors are gone from the healthy-looking horse ambling around his field. It’s all the more wonderful to reach this time these days, after a few years of late-winter illness, and it means the world to me to see Charmer back in good condition and enjoying life. 

This week, evening visits to the farm have been just a case of sauntering towards my boy, armed with treats and fly sprays, and spending a bit of time with him relaxed in his own habitat. I’ve led him in for a couple of nights, after a few days each time of ruffling his sleepy head and laughing at his habit of never taking the same rest when out – obviously the outdoors being too full of opportunity for grazing or adventuring – to make sure he’s had a break from the grass and a proper sleep; but overall the days start to merge into one, and we both love the change of pace. 

Another lovely development in the past few days has been that when I do dip briefly into the cool of the barn, to collect headcollars and handfuls of pony nuts; my favourite visitors have returned, the swallows – beginning to scout out their old nests and prepare for another year of beginning new lives in here, nesting and then a few weeks on, teaching their little ones to fly from beam to beam, as we all watch below. ❤

Hope everyone else is enjoying some lovely weather too, and have a great week all. X

How your family can celebrate National Pet Month in May – reblogged from Spartan Echo

Now in its 27th year, National Pet Month is a celebration of the mutual benefits shared between people and their pets. For rescue-animal advocate Cheryl Smith, who founded a non-profit that assists pets in need, the May observance is a time to recognize many of the things that really matter in life. “How we treat […]

Blossom, ducklings and getting back to summer routines – Hello May! 

It’s hard to believe we are already over half-way through May already and hurtling towards half-way through 2016 – but with the weather finally holding, heat in the air from first thing and the skies blue more days than not, summer is pretty much here; and has brought with it all its usual beauty and new life.
Every year I look forward to this time, when the cherry blossoms outside our house come into their own and the street is filled with tumbling pale pink confetti every time the wind rustles by.

Inside, the pets are doing fine – little Rose having been with us two years next week, 26 months old and looking bright and well, and the boys their usual selves, still surprisingly timid souls around new sights and sounds – taking a while to warm up to the idea of the back door slung open once more at weekends and the buzz of the outdoors drifting in – but very settled in their home and enjoying tumbling plays around the living room at nights.

At the farm, the midges are swarming already in a thickening band between the sea and the hill, and as Charmer suffers from sweet itch which makes this all the worse, on my evening visits am always armed with citronella spray, mesh fly rugs and opting for shady hours in the barn when the day is muggiest – although a bit itchy he is undeterred in general and absolutely loving the new grass that has come through and the adventures we’ve had the time and daylight to go on!

I’m very lucky too to work in beauitful surroundings and to have a loch to walk around on lunch breaks – this week has been a wonderful one for that, watching the ducks, coots and swans on the water and the oyster catchers nearby – all are currently on nests with new life just around the corner, except two families of ducks whose new arrivals are with us already and impossibly fluffy and entertaining to watch find their way in life.

Looking forward to watching them grow, seeing the rest of the babies hatch, and to more of these warm temperatures and lots of time to enjoy the outdoors, nature, and our gaggle of animals.
Hope everyone is having a good week. ❤