Life Within Four Corners – April 2017

Welcome to the second outing of ‘Life Within Four Corners’, where I share some of my favourite Instagram photos, and the stories that went along with them, from the preceding month. You can find out all about Life Within Four Corners here, and I’d love it if you joined in by sharing some of your favourite monthly photos and stories too! You can also join in on Instagram using the hashtag #lifewithinfourcorners, and at the end of each month I’ll pick a few of my favourites to post up on my feed (thanks so much to those of you who’ve already been getting involved!).

April was all about the Easter holidays here – yay!- and you can find out lots more about our Easter holiday adventures road-tripping around Scotland in my post 12 Reasons to Plan a Scottish Road Trip (you’ll even find my first foray into video-making there too!). I loved this photo of my two boys on a deserted beach in Sutherland (I admit it was a posed one as I wanted to get a close up photo of children holding hands for a post I was writing on helping children to be kind). When I zoomed out I loved the perspective of the two of them looking out silently to sea, and so I decided to grab a little snap of it before our mini photo shoot was over. I don’t often ask my kids to pose for photos (think forced grins, bribery and complaining) but in this case I was actually quite glad I did – and funnily enough we managed it without any forced grins, bribery or complaining whatsoever!

Beach Boys

This next photo was one of my more standard, au naturel shots of my family exploring and my youngest racing off into the distance and enjoying the salty air in his lungs. I love pictures that share the freedom and excitement of childhood, but I also tend mostly to use photos from behind or at angles that don’t show off my kids’ whole faces. Not that my children are too concerned about this currently – apparently their ambitions are to be You Tubers when they grow up!

Beach Freedom

There are almost always sunsets and sunrises on my feed and this month was no exception. Here’s a lovely pink one we enjoyed at the beginning of the month.

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And flowers. Flowers are also standard issue. Can you believe these roses only cost £2?

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Coffee and cake are also pretty Instagram basic. These pictures were taken at the Mountain Coffee Shop and Hillbillies Bookstore in Gairloch (great place if you ever get the chance to visit). I’m a goats milk drinker myself but I’ve yet to find a goats milk latte on offer basically anywhere. So when I’m on holiday I do treat myself to a cows milk one on occasion – and I have to say this particular latte was really very good!

Coffee and Cake

Coffee

Scenery is also a trademark of my Instagram. I caught this view of Orkney and the Hamnavoe ferry making it’s way over on a really beautiful evening at the beginning of the month.

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And I was quite jealous of this bear and his lovely view when we stayed at a campsite near Achiltibue.

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Back to the beach, and you know you’ve had a good time when your (well, your child’s) shoes are filled with sand for the best part of a fortnight.

Sandy Shoes

But, once again the end of the month is on the horizon – and I’ll be back with lots more of my Life Within Four Corners in May.

Rocky Beach

If you like this why not pop over to my Instagram and have a peek? I’m there pretty much every day – I do hope to chat with you over a hashtag or two soon!

12 Reasons to Plan a Scottish Road Trip

If you follow my blog regularly, you’ll know that I’m Scottish, and that our little family spends a lot of time touring our lovely country in our VW campervan. Few things make me happier than spending time enjoying our beautiful landscape and encouraging others to do likewise, and this Easter we completed an epic, 1100 mile west-of-Scotland road trip which once again highlighted to me what an amazing place we are fortunate enough to call home. But if you’ve yet to discover the joyful experience that is a Scottish road trip, or you just need reminding of some of the reasons why Scotland is so, quite frankly, FAB – then read on for my list of 12 reasons to plan a Scottish adventure as soon as possible. And you can scroll to the end for a little video I made of our Easter holiday road trip too!

YOU’LL FIND THE MOST MAJESTIC SCENERY

The Scottish landscape is quite literally stunning, and you’ll find rugged mountains, awesome glens, and untamed rivers just about all around you. Just look at this view pictured on the road to Applecross a couple of weeks ago. It’s enough to make my little Scottish heart go pop.

Scottish Scenery

AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BEACHES

Stunning beaches abound all over Scotland, and even in the busiest of seasons, it’s usually possible to find your own private bit of coastline, for a little while at least. How about the Silver Sands of Morar, the arced shores of Camusdarach, or the rocky beauty of Ceannabeinne in Sutherland to get you started? With so many beautiful beaches, picking a favourite can be very, very hard!

Silver Sands of Morar

Silver Sands of Morar

Beach Camusdarach

Beach at Camusdarach

Ceannabeinne Beach

Ceannabeinne Beach

YOU’LL EXPERIENCE STUNNING SUNSETS

Sunsets (and sunrises) in Scotland are genuinely breathtaking, and coupled with the fantastic scenery, it’s fair to say they really are a sight for sore eyes. Here are a couple of my favourites from our stays in Applecross and Arran recently. But don’t just take my word for it, come see them for yourself!

Applecross Sunset

The sun going down in Applecross

Arran Sunset

Sunset over Arran

YOU CAN DANCE UNDER RAINBOWS, AND LEARN TO FLY A KITE

I won’t lie and tell you it doesn’t rain in Scotland, because it does – sometimes quite a lot. But we also experience some absolutely lovely weather – much more regularly, in fact, than depictions of Scotland in film and the media would have you believe. And anyway, a bit of grey weather only adds to some extra road trip drama.  And I’ll let you into a little secret – rainy days often lead to beautiful rainbows like this.

Rainbow

It can get quite windy in Scotland, but when the wind blows, what better excuse to head to the beach and learn to fly a kite? When life gives you lemons, make lemonade folks. And remember, when you’re making lemonade, you’re usually making treasured memories, too.

Kite Flying

YOU CAN VISIT MYSTERIOUS CASTLES

Beautiful castles are everywhere in Scotland, and there can be few places shrouded in as much mystery and legend as our home here in the north. Lochranza Castle on the Isle of Arran was one of my favourite pit stops on our recent travels, but with castles virtually all over Scotland, history-seeking tourists will be quite literally spoilt for choice.

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Lochranza Castle

AND GO MONSTER HUNTING IN A LOCH

You’ve probably heard of the Loch Ness Monster, but what about Morag, her lesser known cousin who reportedly resides in Loch Morar in Lochaber? (it’s true – google it – one of my Dad’s friends saw her once). We didn’t manage to see Morag on our recent trip but my eight year old is determined to keep looking. And if you’re planning a road trip in the Highlands anytime soon, don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for monsters lurking beneath the depths.

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Loch Morar

YOU CAN GO ON A MOVIE TRAIL ADVENTURE

Scotland has been used as the setting for many a well told tale, film, and television series, and you could easily notch up a Scottish road trip based on visiting film, tv and advert locations alone. Have a look at my article ‘6 movie locations to visit in the Scottish Highlands’ to get you started. You never know, you might even meet Harry Potter as he crosses the Glenfinnan viaduct on the legendary Hogwarts Express.

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Glenfinnan Viaduct

OR JUST ENJOY THE PEACE

There are peaceful beauty spots all over Scotland, and if you’re in the mood for some rest and relaxation, a day on the shore pebble hunting or skimming stones might be just the thing you’re after. I loved the relaxing shores of the Applecross peninsula during our recent visit, and the meaning of the Gaelic name for the area – The Sanctuary – seemed just as fitting for Applecross as it does for Scotland as a whole.

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Applecross

YOU CAN HAVE A DRAMATIC DRIVING EXPERIENCE

If you like driving, you might enjoy the dramatic experience of the Bealach Na Ba (near Applecross), which means ‘Pass of the Cattle’  in Gaelic, and rises to a height of 2053 ft above sea level (poor cattle!). The sign says it is not recommended for learner drivers, large vehicles, or me (even as a passenger I found it something of a jelly-leg inducing experience). But if you fancy a bit of  (responsible) Alpine adventuring in Scotland, you’ll find that the views are, to put it mildly, quite literally out of this world.

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AND SAY HELLO TO THE LOCALS

Wildlife and nature are quite simply everywhere in Scotland, and on our recent road trip, we watched deer, goats, birds of prey and seals living their lives out from the comfort of our van. There’s something about a close encounter with a stag, or an afternoon watching seals playing, that does something to feed your spirit. And when you’ve completed your Scottish road trip, you might find that intangible nourishment lingers on.

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Deer at Glen Etive

YOU CAN ENJOY SCOTTISH HOSPITALITY

There are a wealth of wonderful eateries, pubs and distilleries in which to enjoy a bit of Scottish hospitality, but you’ll also find the quiet warmth of the Scottish sprit in small ways and simple gestures almost everywhere you go. Take this sign for beach goers we found at Achmelvich Beach in Sutherland for example. If there was ever an advert on why you should visit Scotland, as far as I’m concerned, this just about sums it up.

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AND YOU MIGHT JUST LOSE YOUR HEART

I hope this article has given you a few reasons to add a Scottish road trip to your future holiday plans. And whatever you choose to do when you visit Scotland, I can promise you one thing – you’ll leave a little bit of your heart behind here when you go.

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Click here for a video of our West-of-Scotland Road Trip:

Our West of Scotland Adventure from Gail Brown on Vimeo.

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6 Movie Locations to Visit in the Scottish Highlands

OK, I may be biased, but Scotland must be one of the most beautiful places in the world, right? And with it’s dramatic scenery and enduring appeal, it’s no surprise that film makers regularly head for our little country when seeking out locations to make movie-going hearts stir.  Just the other week, in fact, locals in Skye were surprised to see Harry Styles reportedly dangling from a helicopter during filming for his latest music video. And in 2014, David Beckham described the Highlands as ‘ridiculously beautiful’ after he spent time here during filming for a Haig Club whisky advert. Using Scottish locations as film and TV backdrops is also good news for tourism, with Visit Scotland reporting that 40 per cent of potential tourists to Britain are ‘very likely’ to come north after seeing Scotland on film or television*. So where can you see some of those amazing Scottish sights you may have witnessed on the silver screen, on tv, or in adverts? Read on for a round up of 6 movie and filming locations to add to your Scottish Highlands travel bucket list today!

 

1. Camusdarach Beach, Near Morar

Camusdarach beach, near Morar, was famously used as a location for many beach scenes in the 1983 movie Local Hero, about an oil executive who visits a small Scottish village with the intention of purchasing it to make way for an oil refinery. Along the way, he befriends members of the local community and learns a few lessons about friendship and the simple things in life. It’s a timeless, life-affirming story with a backdrop of breathtaking scenery, and a fantastic soundtrack by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. Just as fresh over 30 years on from filming are the white sands of Camusdarach, with it’s turquoise waters and breathtaking views to the isles of Eigg and Rum. In fact, when we visited the beach ourselves recently, the owners at the nearby campsite told us that Harry Styles ‘people’ had been in touch about using the beach for the same music video mentioned in the opening paragraph. For whatever reason, they ended up filming in Skye instead – proof that when it comes to seeking out beautiful locations, film makers visiting Scotland are quite literally spoilt for choice.

Camusdarach Beach Sunset

Sunset at Camusdarach Beach

2. Loch Morar, Morar

Not far from Camusdarach, a shingle beach on the shores on Loch Morar was used as one location for the 1995 epic, Rob Roy starring Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange. In the film, the beach was used as the setting for Rob Roy’s family croft, which is later burned down after an attack sanctioned by a local Marquis he had found himself on the wrong side of. The setting itself is much more peaceful, and we have enjoyed several walks there over the years – in fact my Great Grandmother lived not far from here in Brinicary just a few miles further up the loch.

Loch Morar Rob Roy

Shingle beach at Loch Morar where scenes from ‘Rob Roy’ were filmed

3.  The Glenfinnan Viaduct, Glenfinnan

The iconic Glenfinnan viaduct was famously used in the flying car sequence in the 2002 blockbuster Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and visitors regularly flock there to see the Jacobite steam train crossing the viaduct on it’s journey between Fort William and Mallaig (do check timetables for up to date details and crossing times before you go). On our last visit, we noticed a couple of tourists who appeared to be leaving just before the train was due to cross over, and when we suggested they hang on for a few more minutes they were literally jumping up and down with excitement to see the ‘Hogwarts Express’ in it’s full glory. I’m not sure which we enjoyed more – watching the crossing or watching their faces as the puffing steam train chugged over. A reminder that even where wizards are concerned, magical moments aren’t just for the big screen.

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The Jacobite Steam Train

4. Glencoe and Glen Etive

The dramatic landscapes of Glencoe and nearby Glen Etive provided a powerful backdrop for Daniel Craig’s outing as James Bond in the 2012 feature Skyfall, with various scenes filmed around the area. When we visited recently, (in a campervan as opposed to a swanky Aston Martin),  it was equally atmospheric – look out for mist covered hills, rugged peaks, and lots and lots of curious deer.

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Glen Etive

5.  Loch Maree from Glen Docherty

The view of Loch Maree from Glen Docherty must surely be one of Scotland’s finest, and it recently featured in one of my favourite movies, What We Did On Our Holiday, as well as in the Haig whisky advert with David Beckham mentioned earlier – in which Becks is seen driving down the road on a motorbike on his way to a rendezvous with several other whisky-loving friends. A Scottish heart cannot fail to look down upon this view and feel that familiar tugging of the heartstrings – and thanks to a bit of film making exposure, plenty of other hearts are now taking the opportunity to be tugged at by it, too.

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The view to Loch Maree (and my dog on a bench)

6. Redpoint Beach, near Gairloch

Redpoint, near Gairloch, is the setting for the beach scenes in the quirky 2014 movie What We Did On Our Holiday, starring David Tennant, Billy Connolly and Rosamund Pike, and in the film, a warring couple take their children on holiday to the Highlands to attend their Grandfather’s 75th birthday gathering. But after an eventful visit to the beach, a dose of family scandal and an ill-timed Viking funeral, they find out more than they bargained for about one another. It’s a truly heart-warming tale and one I thoroughly recommend – and though there was no sign of either Billy Connolly or David Tennant when we visited Redpoint recently, if you’re looking for something to do on your holiday, I can definitely recommend a trip.

Redpoint, What We Did on our Holiday

Redpoint, near Gairloch

 

That’s it for my round up of some of my favourite filming locations in the Highlands of Scotland. You’ll find lots more information and ideas on the Visit Scotland website at: http://static.visitscotland.com/pdf/highlands-movie-map.pdf

Happy travels, film fans!

* ‘VisitScotland welcomes football icon David Beckham’s advert in Highlands’, visitbritain.com, 20 Oct 2014.

 

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Movie Locations in the Scottish Highlands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Helping Children to be Kind

My eldest son recently had a talk on bullying at school, and it got me to thinking how important it is as parents to encourage our children to be kind. In an age where cyber bulling and feelings of social isolation amongst young people seem to be on the increase, finding ways to teach our children to have empathy with other living beings should surely be our number one priority. As Roald Dahl once said, ‘I think kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. To be kind, it covers everything. If you’re kind, that’s it’.

But how do we help children to be kinder? Are some people just born with that kindly disposition, and others not? Or is kindness something we learn along the way? It’s that old nature/nuture debate I remember vaguely from my years studying Psychology, and the truth is, I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that when I look into the faces of my young children I see them visibly shrink at the idea of ever being mean or deliberately trying to hurt someone else’s feelings.  And the idea as parents that our children could one day be bullied – or perhaps even worse, become a bully themselves – is the stuff of parental nightmares. So how do we keep our children kind?

1. Lead by Example

Children instinctively look to their parents for cues, and as role models, so it’s only natural that they will learn to mirror our behaviour when it comes to the way we treat other living beings. We all have good days, bad days and days when we could have been better people, but letting our kids see us behave nicely towards others will go a long way towards instilling kindness as the norm. When I was growing up I recall my parents being consistently well mannered and considerate towards other people, and that kindness extended to animals, aswell.  I remember once watching my father spend all afternoon untangling a sheep who had got stuck in the rocks in front of my Nana’s house before the tide came in and trapped it. Not so long ago I watched him stop some tourists who were walking by, to tell them they might be better taking a different route to get a nicer view of the coast. These small gestures had nothing to do with ‘random acts of kindness’, they were just a part of normal life – and most often it’s the way we behave when no one’s watching that will let our children – however old they may be – learn how to live their lives.

2. Help

There’s no doubt that helping, or volunteering in some manner, is a way of being kind, and whether it’s assisting with a local litter pick, bag packing for your school’s parent council, or visiting an elderly relative, teaching your children to give up time to benefit others is a great way of learning to be kind. And the bonus is that all these things make the giver feel good about themselves too – being kind really is a win-win scenario for us all.

3. Read

Reading is a fantastic way to promote empathy, and there can be few leisure activities that foster the ability to understand the feelings of another in the way that books can. Through reading, we can literally put ourselves into someone else’s shoes and see the world from their perspective, and reading about people from different backgrounds, cultures and walks of life are vital in ensuring that children grow up with the empathy for other beings from which human kindness flows.  This doesn’t just apply to children, of course, and adults can benefit just as much from broadening their horizons on the reading front. Reading both to ourselves, and to our children, helps us identify with the feelings of other people – an understanding lacking when we resort to unkind acts.

4. Love Animals

Kindness and respect towards animals are some of the things I value most in other people, and I’ve always found that children who behave nicely towards animals tend to grow up as kind, decent and compassionate human beings. Having a pet is a wonderful experience for children, and does a lot to educate them on caring for other beings – as well as teaching that sometimes the needs of others might have to come before our own. If a pet isn’t the right thing for your family (and it’s a big responsibility), there are still plenty of ways to enjoy nature – putting out feed for the birds in your garden, making a home for a hedgehog or visiting an open day at a local farm to name just a few.  Again, it all comes back to leading by example – if your children see you being kind and respectful, the chances are very likely that they will tend to follow suit.

5. Talk

There isn’t really anything better than having a talk (and a cuddle), with your kids when they feel upset or worried, and for us, after school snack time provides a great opportunity to discuss anything that has come up during the day or that might be playing on their minds. When my son told me what he’d learned about how bullying affects people, we had a long chat about kindness and about how we would feel if other people were unkind to us. We resolved that we must always try to be nice and agreed with my youngest son’s assertion that ‘when people are really really nice they get rings (halos) around their heads’.  As far as my kids were concerned, being nice is normal and being kind is cool.

Helping children to be kind?  I think perhaps the lesson comes from them.

 

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Reading, Watching, Listening to Lately – March 2017

I can’t believe we’re into April already, that longer Spring evenings are finally here, and the school Easter holidays are just around the corner – yay! Despite the move towards British summertime, and spending more time in the evenings outdoors, March was still a good month for me on the reading, watching and listening front, and I managed to pack quite a diverse range of books, films, tv programmes, and my new favourite – podcasts – into my little pockets of entertainment time. I’m also accumulating a healthy-looking ‘to read’ pile, and I can’t wait to share some of the books I’ve got lined up for April with you next month.  If you find yourself struggling to find the time to read, I recommend you have a look at this article from one of my favourite bloggers, Hayley, on fitting reading time into your lifestyle – I loved it. And if you’re just struggling to find a good book to read, great film to watch, or inspiring podcast to listen to, then read on….

READING

The first book I kicked off with in March was The Establishment, by Owen Jones, an unusual one for me as I tend to steer well clear of anything to do with politics. The book was however recommended by my husband and in the spirit of marital harmony and post-9pm conversation I decided to have a read. And I’m glad I did – as despite my indifference on politics, I do firmly believe in living in a society that is fair, just and which provides equal opportunities for everyone. The Establishment takes a critical look at modern Britain, and exposes an infrastructure which only seems to further the interests of a minority. This extremely well researched, thought provoking book would be a good read for people who like to post status updates on Facebook about how immigration and people on benefits are the root of all our country’s problems (just for the record I’ve never been one of those people). For my own part, it’s made me much more aware of the interlinks between government, media and other pillars in society, and also determined to seek out news sources which are as free from political bias as possible (if anyone can advise me in this area, please do let me know). All in all, ‘The Establishment’ was a fascinating read, and I can only hope that in the future, Jones’ dream of a more egalitarian society – shouldn’t that be a dream shared by all of us? – comes true.

The Establishment RWL Mar 17

After The Establishment I was in need of lighter fare for my bedtime reading, and You and Me Always, by Jill Mansell provided the perfect anecdote. I love Jill Mansell’s witty, accessible style, and this story about a young woman who seeks out her late mother’s old boyfriend, whilst negotiating a fling with a film star and a complicated relationship with her childhood friend Dan, is filled with charm, humour and heart-warming moments. I literally sailed through this novel and didn’t look back. And I can’t wait to add more Jill Mansell stories to my ‘to read’ pile soon.

You and Me Always RWL Mar 17

My last book for this month’s round up was A Song for Issy Bradley, by Carys Bray, a novel recommended by one of my other favourite bloggers, Sarah at Mostly Yummy Mummy (do have a pop over if you like all things book, fashion and yumminess related). ‘A Song for Issy Bradley’ is a story of family tragedy, faith, and looking for answers to the unfathomable. It’s a truly heart rending story – so heart rending, in fact, that at one point I wondered if I could even continue reading. But I’m so glad I did – as it’s one of those books most likely to stay with you forever. It’s a beautifully written tale which balances the portrayal of grief with a sense of hopefulness for the future. And whether you’re religious or not, it leaves you with the feeling that even when we’re falling apart at the seams, there can be a way to find home.

Song for Issy Bradley RWL Mar 17

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The kids and I have been doing lots of reading lately, and in our continuing Roald Dahl phase (which is likely to last forever), we’ve been re-reading The Twits which is always such a funny story. I love the quote which says: ‘A person who has good thoughts can never be ugly..if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.’ Roald Dahl just had a way of saying things that were exactly, completely right.

We’ve also been reading the Rabbit and Bear books by Julian Gough and Jim Field lately. They are such sweet and funny books with a lovely little moral and The Pest in the Nest is a particularly nice one for Spring. My littlest also enjoyed Schnitzel von Krumm’s Basketwork by Lynley Dodd, we love the rhyming Hairy Maclary books and this one about Hairy’s friend Schnitzel was just so sweet.

This month, we also took out a subscription to First News,  a weekly newspaper for young people aged 7 to 14. With reference to my comments about unbiased news earlier, this publication might just actually fit the bill. It’s packed full of interesting articles about news stories, animals and science, and my boys get really excited when their weekly happy mail drops through the door. It’s actually made me realise that I prefer news aimed at 7-14 year olds. And I’ll let you into a little secret – I might just have learned a few things from reading it myself!

WATCHING

Our post-kids-in-bed viewing this month has most often been The Crown, that fantastic series about the early reign of our current monarch that has made me glad I recently reinstated our monthly Netflix subscription. In between episodes, we watched The Replacement on BBC iPlayer, which if you didn’t catch it was a sort of mash up of ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’, ‘Fatal Attraction’ and a nightmarish maternity leave scenario. Last week we watched the Rio Ferdinand documentary, Being Mum and Dad, about the struggle the former professional footballer and his family have faced in coming to terms with the tragic death of his wife in 2015. The programme was beautiful, heartbreaking and ultimately very brave – and I’m sure it will have helped many people out there who are facing the daily battle of moving forwards after loss.

On a happier note, our little family went on a trip to Edinburgh to watch Joseph the Musical a couple of weeks ago, and I wrote all about it here on the blog last week if you’d like to find out more.  We also went to see the new version of Beauty and the Beast at the cinema last week and suffice to say I absolutely adored it. It’s a film I could happily watch again and again – and again. Do try and catch it if you like musicals, love and very happy endings.

LISTENING

Music-wise, it’s been all about firm favourites this month, and I’ve enjoyed listening to the new Take That album, Wonderland on Spotify and daydreaming about the time I met Gary Barlow at John O’ Groats at 5am in the morning (along with a couple of hundred other females, and the odd male, I should point out). Possibly even more exciting though, has been my discovery of podcasts thanks to a couple of well timed updates from friends over on Instagram (thankyou, Insta-buddies!) – I have to admit that until then podcasts weren’t even on my radar and I didn’t actually realise that 1) they are free and 2) there was already a built in app on my phone to enjoy them.  I’ve been loving listening away while I’m making dinner or tidying the kitchen, and so far have got through several episodes of Hashtag Authentic, an inspiring series about using Instagram, and The Worried Writer, a fascinating series of interviews with authors about their writing processes. All of this has tied in well with an online Creative Freedom course I am currently doing through author Joanna Penn, about ways to make a living from your writing. Added together, it’s all left me feeling inspired, creative and ready to start April – and you have any suggestions for podcasts that you think I might find interesting this month, please do let me know!

That’s it for my reading, watching and listening update this month. I’ll be back next month with some more reading, watching and listening highlights – I do hope to see you then.

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A Weekend in Edinburgh, Joseph the Musical and La Favorita

Earlier this month, our little family enjoyed a weekend break in Edinburgh to celebrate my eldest son’s birthday. We have been trying lately to focus less on presents at birthday time, and more on enjoying experiences that give us quality time together, expand our horizons, and most importantly – are fun for us all. I’ve written here before about my love for Scotland’s capital, and last time we visited I wrote a post on 16 things to do when you have 48 hours in the capital, based on a child-free weekend in 2016 when my husband and I walked 25 miles around the city in the space of 2 days. This time the kids were with us and we wanted to enjoy our weekend at a more leisurely pace – although even they managed to rack up 8 miles according to my phone’s health app – not bad considering there were no complaints of ‘are we there yet’ (not bad going when you have a mum who thinks the best way to explore a place is almost exclusively on foot).

We stayed at a Travelodge just off Princes Street, giving us easy access to most of the city’s main attractions, and it was a delight to pop across the road to Princes Street Gardens and enjoy the daffodil-strewn display there (even if the weather was a bit grey during our stay). On our first morning, we made the 40 minute walk from the hotel to ‘Our Dynamic Earth’ – a visitor attraction telling the story of the history of the planet – the kids loved the virtual time machine and a chance to experience the big bang, the ice age and erupting volcanoes first hand (well, almost anyway). On the way there, we dropped into the Scottish Parliament Buildings at Holyrood and had the chance to visit the debating chamber (well worth a visit if you are ever in the area). On our travels we also soaked up the history of the Royal Mile, enjoyed street performers on the High Street, and popped into St Giles Cathedral for a look at the spectacular architecture (it’s worth purchasing the £2 photo permit if you’d like to get some pictures). After a quick coffee break at Patisserie Valerie – one of our favourite city pit stops – we headed back to the hotel for a well earned hour’s rest before our evening’s entertainment commenced.

St Giles Cathedral

St Giles Cathedral

 

 

Edinburgh Blossom

Spring blossom outside the hotel

That entertainment was a trip to the evening performance of Joseph the Musical at the city’s Playhouse Theatre, starring Joe McElderry – the angelic looking Tyneside lad who won the X Factor back in 2009 at the tender age of only eighteen. It was the first time our kids had been to a musical at the theatre (having only been to Christmas pantomimes before), so it was an exciting experience for all of us, and the show certainly didn’t disappoint. McElderry was perfect in the role of Joseph, and it was lovely to hear familiar songs like ‘Any Dream Will Do’ (which took me back to my fan-girl days of swooning over Jason Donovan in a long coat back in the 1990’s). McElderry himself is a fantastic singer, and his emotional rendition of ‘Close Every Door’ quite literally gave me goosebumps. All in all, it was a fantastic evening and one I hope we can repeat lots more now that the boys are getting a bit older. At ten and eight, they seem to be an ideal age for these types of experiences (although my youngest did admit he found the story a bit hard to keep track of ‘because of all the singing’).

After our show, we headed down Leith Walk to enjoy an Italian at La Favorita – a place I’d seen recommended as somewhere the locals like to eat pizza near the city centre. And the locals (as usual when it comes to travel recommendations) – were right – we loved the log-fired pizzas, and the busy, buzzing atmosphere. It was very child-friendly, in spite of it being quite late in the evening when we arrived, and there was even a pizza made of chocolate on the menu if your tastebuds were so inclined (I have to say we didn’t try it). There were several birthday parties in while we were eating and it was lovely to see the whole place erupt in celebratory sing song as the lights dimmed on several occasions. I really want to go back on someone’s birthday now just so I can watch an Italian man, arms aloft, shout ‘Everybody! One more time! Hip hip hooray!’

After a nice walk back to the hotel and a good night’s sleep our little city adventure was over and the next morning we set off on the five hour journey back to the north of Scotland.

There’s no place like home, but there’s also nothing like a little getaway now and again. In fact, I’m planning the next one as we speak!

 

Life Within Four Corners

One of the things I love above blogging is that it gives me the opportunity to indulge several of my passions, and as much as I love writing, I also enjoy taking photographs, developing creative content, and interacting with other people. I find that my favourite social media platform, Instagram, allows me to do all these things and I can regularly be found on there posting pictures of sunsets, flatlays and cups of tea and coffee (and one reason I love Instagram is because it’s absolutely ok to post random pictures of cups of tea and coffee). Instagram is also something of a mini blogging platform in itself, and I love poring through pictures from other Instagrammers and enjoying snippets and inspiration from their daily lives (even when I don’t always have time to read their actual blog posts). Anyway, I take a LOT of photos – leading not so long ago to my husband sending me an article titled something along the lines of ‘People Who Ruin Walks by Stopping Every Five Seconds to Take Pictures’ – and so I thought it might be nice to share a few of the offending pictures over here occasionally on the blog. I’ve decided to title this little series ‘Life Within Four Corners’ which happily no one appears to have thought of as a hashtag and so I’m going to go ahead and use it.  If you’d like to join in with #lifewithinfourcorners please pop over and follow me on Instagram and use the hashtag in your photos (which could be of anything life-related really – see above comment on sunsets, flatlays and cups of coffee for ideas). If anyone uses it I’ll pick a few of my favourites to share at the end of the month (the point where I end up feeling very embarrassed when absolutely no one but me posts anything whatsover). No matter – as I’m always happy to keep sharing my own life within four corners right here on my own little corner of the Internet. And here are a few snippets of my life within four corners for now:

 

We are still getting the odd frosty morning here in the North of Scotland and I do love looking out over scenes like these when I take my dog for a walk each morning. Days like the ones pictured make me feel very lucky to live in the Highlands, and also grateful to have a dog who needs walking no matter how much his Mum here has to fit in within the day!

Frosty River

Seasonal bulbs and daffodils have been making my home feel a little brighter lately. There’s nothing like bringing the outside inside to get you in the mood for Spring.

And here’s one of those random cups of coffee. This was a nice latte from one of my local favourites the Blue Door Diner (also one of the best places to visit in the North if you enjoy a fantastic burger).

Blue Door Diner Latte

I’ve also been trying my hand at a bit of food photography recently. These were our offerings for pancake day and my son’s tenth birthday – zoomed in to cleverly avoid the table top carnage that is snack time with two boys.

I also quite like taking pictures of random power equipment (you are probably now starting to sympathise with my husband).

And wall art – I love this Banksy-style graffiti I often pass when I’m out and about.

And I love a fresh bunch of flowers – I adored the colours of this bouquet I got for my parents the other day for babysitting our furbaby.

Flowers

And a sunset – this is one I took at Loch Morlich near Aviemore a little while back.

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And trees – I’m a big fan of the old part-tree, part-sky combo.

And then there’s the part-sky, part-bird feeder combo – which was really just because I was still in my PJ’s and couldn’t go further than the back garden.

Pink Skies.png

And finally, my youngest and my niece walking in the sand dunes – I mean, who doesn’t love a bit of sand dune action? I just hope we don’t need our hats and jackets for too much longer!

Kids in Sandunes.png

And that’s it for my life within four corners round up. I’ll be back soon with more snippets of my life in squares (and the odd rectangle). Hope to see you again then!

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Things Ten Years of Motherhood Have Taught Me

Not so long ago, my eldest son turned 10. For me, more than him I think, this marked quite a milestone in our lives. Something about my first baby reaching double figures seemed utterly unbelievable. I mean, wasn’t it only yesterday we brought him home from hospital, clapped proudly at his first tottering steps, snapped smiling family photos as he first met his baby brother, wiped away tears as he entered the classroom for his first day at school?  It suddenly felt like I had watched these moments through a series of highlights flickering amongst the daily rituals of family life that had made the days and years go by so quickly. And suddenly, I wished I could have them all back, all the little moments that made up the last ten years, when it was just us, our little family unit, totally impenetrable against the outside world, and where every hurt or injustice could be solved in Mummy or Daddy’s arms. I found myself lying in bed at night counting the months my son would have left in primary school, fearing the rush towards secondary passing as quickly as the first five years of primary inevitably had. I found myself saddened by the realisation that our son had now most likely lived with us for longer than his years remaining, and the prospect of one day wandering through the rest of my life without two little hands to hold filled me with dread.

It turns out that realising how quickly a decade passes can make your imagination run away from you at rather an alarming rate.

So before I allowed myself to drift too far into melancholy about my son reaching a milestone birthday, I gave myself a little shake and reminded myself of all the positive things about my little boy getting older. How lovely it was to see him growing up into a kind and caring little man, how much easier life was than it had been with two rambunctious toddlers, and how much I loved watching the relationship between two brothers who were often so alike I couldn’t tell where one of them finished and the other one began. Most of all I considered gratefully all the things ten years of being a Mother had taught me, not just about being a parent, but about how to be a better version of myself. So for those of you starting out on your journey of being a Mummy (or Daddy for that matter), or like me, are a few years down the road, or in fact if you’re at any other point in your parenting journey, here are some of the things I’ve learned (and am still learning), since a little boy entered the world and changed my name to Mummy.

 

1. Mummy is the Best Word

I have never quite gotten over the novelty of hearing myself called ‘Mummy’. I honestly think it is probably the most beautiful word in the English language. And ok, I’m pretty sure that both my kids said some variation of ‘Daddy’ first, but no matter what, it still catches at my heart every time I hear a sweet small voice utter those two syllables. I do sometimes wonder how long it will be before my boys change their address to ‘Mum’ and another little remnant of babyhood is gone. For now, though, just like cuddles, bedtime stories and the tooth fairy, Mummy remains. And as you can probably tell, I’m in no hurry for her to go.

2. Children are a Great Leveller

Before I had children it’s fair to say I was a bit wrapped up in myself, worrying too much about my appearance, criticising myself, obsessing over making my home look ‘perfect’ and generally being quite a highly strung individual. Whilst I’m not for one moment suggesting that anyone who doesn’t have children behaves in this way, for me, having kids helped level out my personality, focus my attentions away from negative distractions and generally calm down my obsessive compulsive tendencies. I no longer had time to worry about my appearance – mainly because I no longer had time to look in the mirror very often – and while some people find their confidence dips after having a baby, I found myself renewed by the safety blanket of our little family unit. I became less interested in other peoples’ definitions of success and more absorbed in the simple things in life that made me happy. I’ve learned lessons from tiny humans about kindness, selflessness, tolerance and love. Oh, and humility – there’s nothing like a three year old having a tantrum in a toy shop to keep that good old fashioned pride in check.

3.  They’ll Always Be Your Baby

No matter how old your baby gets, somewhere in the back of your mind they’ll always be just that – your baby. As they get older, even the simplest of things – a rare emotional outburst perhaps, can remind you that they’re still just little people in a very big world. I’m quite sure the desire to protect and nurture them doesn’t ever really go away – even when they’re grown up and living independent lives of their own. I remember my own Mum sending me a card saying something along these lines when I got married. Mother love, it seems, is always guaranteed to stand the test of time.

4.  Comparison Really is the Thief of Joy

One thing I’ve definitely learned along the way of being a parent is never to compare your kids or your family to anyone else’s. It’s easy for new parents to fall into the trap of worrying about when everyone’s babies are sleeping through the night, crawling, walking, or saying their first words. This doesn’t really achieve anything, except to steal away the joy of precious moments, and to be honest, in a few years time no one is even likely to remember that such-and-such’s baby slept like an angel from the moment they arrived home from hospital. Treat your child as exactly what they are – an individual – and don’t waste your time or energy worrying about comparisons with others. As time goes on, you might well find the ‘big’ things now turn out to be the much smaller things later. And the little moments, well, they might just turn out to be the happiest memories of your life.

5. Trust Your Instincts

Maternal instincts are pretty powerful, and I’m sure we’ve all had those moments of knowing when something just doesn’t feel quite right. On the rare occasions when I’ve gone against my instincts in matters to do with the kids I’ve always ended up regretting it.  Don’t let anyone else tell you what’s right or wrong for your family, even if it means going against the grain sometimes.  You are the expert on your own family and the chances are, where your kids are concerned, your first instinct is likely to be the right one.

6. Keep A Journal

If I could go back and give my ten-years-ago self one bit of advice, it would be to keep a journal.  I wrote here not so long ago about starting a ‘happenings’ journal to keep track of the funny little things my kids say and do, and my only regret is not starting it much sooner. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget the little things that happen when your children are small and the days whizz by so quickly. It’s fantastic that we now have camera phones, social media (and blogging!) to keep a sort of ‘diary’ of everyday family moments, but it’s hard to beat turning the pages of a little book dedicated to memories a screen can’t always capture. That said, I’d definitely recommend spending time taking video as well as photos of your children.  I recently stumbled upon some video footage of myself singing nursery songs with my kids when they were smaller and it was wonderful to watch and listen to (minus the cringing at my tuneless performance).

7. Do It Your Way

Whether you’re a working parent, a stay-at-home one, or like me, some sort of combination of the two, be confident about your situation and don’t let anyone (including yourself) make you feel guilty. I don’t know anyone who isn’t trying to be the best parent they can be and make the most of whatever hand life has dealt them. I wrote a while back about being a Stay at Home Mummy and how peoples’ perceptions sometimes affected me.  This was nothing to do with pitting working and stay at home parents against each other, but rather about putting out there that other peoples’ choices are just as valid as our own (and recognising that in many cases ‘choices’ aren’t really choices but necessities anyway).  We all have bad days, good days, and days where we could have done better, but when our kids tell us that we’re the Best Mummy In The World, let’s just give ourselves a pat on the back and believe them.

8. Enjoy Every Minute

I’m a living breathing testament to the fact that the first ten years with your children literally flies by, and I often catch myself wondering how on earth I got to the ripe old age of 40 with a son in double figures – yikes. Even though the days (and nights), can be long sometimes, that old cliché about the years being short is true, and I feel so very grateful every day to have had the good fortune to do something not everyone is lucky enough to experience. So my last bit of advice for you would simply be to enjoy every minute with your children. And instead of worrying about my kids getting older, that’s exactly what I intend to go away and do.

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Things Motherhood Taught Me.jpg.png

You Baby Me Mummy

 

 

 

 

 

Spring-Ready Decluttering with the Marie Kondo Method

With Spring just around the corner, I’ve been having a major clear out at home, and those of you who follow my Reading and Watching Lately posts might recall me extolling the virtues of Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying back in January. I’ve been using Ms Kondo’s decluttering methodology – known as the ‘KonMari method’ – for the last few weeks to help detox my overflowing household, and it’s fair to say I’m pretty pleased with the results. I’ve managed to rid ourselves of as much clutter in one Spring cleaning episode as I have in the last three or four combined, with over 10 bin bags of stuff either dispersed around our local charity shops, donated to well-timed bring and buy sales, disposed of (the stuff that no one else would want anyway), or quite simply given away.  The whole exercise has left our home feeling much lighter and brighter, and has even given us the inspiration to revamp some of our newly streamlined spaces into much more inviting rooms.  For those of you wondering why anyone would need a book to help them tidy, though, here’s a summary of my experience of using the KonMari method to help kick clutter to the kerb.

 

the-life-changing-magic-of-tidying

THE METHOD

If you’ve ever found yourself clearing out a cupboard one week only to find yourself needing to do exactly the same thing just a few weeks later, then like me, you might find the KonMari method useful. The approach relies on decluttering by category, – for example clothes, books etc, – in one fell swoop regardless of where they are found within your home. The system advocates taking out each item within that category, laying them on the floor, the bed or whatever, and handling them to assess whether or not they ‘spark joy’  – a criteria Ms Kondo sets for the decision making process on whether or not to discard a certain item. The idea of items ‘sparking joy’ could mean different things to different people and I once saw Marie Kondo illustrating the concept on television by doing a sort of jiggle when she handled something she definitely didn’t want to throw away.  Personally, I had to give this idea a bit of extra thought, though – my cellotape dispenser, for example, doesn’t fill me with a flutter of emotion, but come Christmas present wrapping time, I know I would miss it if it was gone. I decided that for me, ‘sparking joy’, meant anything that was either useful, beautiful or precious, and continued on that basis – basically to avoid ridding myself of the many joyless but essentially necessary items dotted around our house.

Once you’ve assessed every item in a given category, the next step is to discard the items that don’t spark your definition of joy – and Ms Kondo is very strict about not starting the process of thinking about how to store things until the whole handling/assessing/discarding process is complete. For categories that are too big to handle in one session, like all the clothes you own for example, you can break things down into subcategories  (like coats, t-shirts, jeans and so on). I decided to tackle all the clothes I owned in a oner, and over the period of a wet weekend in February managed to discard over 100 items including dresses that hadn’t been worn for years, a myriad of accessories, and no less than 10 pairs of jeans I had barely ever worn (having finally acquiesced the chances of wearing longer length jeans when you are a 5’4 and a half inch tall Mum who hardly ever wears heels as zero).

THE RESULTS

When I put the remaining items back into my wardrobe I realised how little of my clothes I had actually been actually wearing – ladies, it turns out that the old line about having a wardrobe full of clothes and nothing to wear is actually 100 per cent true. I’d had plenty of going out clothes and and office wear from my pre-children days, but very little suited to a 40-year old wellie-wearing Mum of two who’d like to feel a little more stylish on the school run. I had basically been rotating the same few outfits from a very small selection for several years and it’s fair to say my wardrobe was now looking fairly empty. On the plus side, this did help me identify a few staple items I could do with (like the pair of black boots I treated myself to on a resulting shopping trip -see, this minimalism stuff’s not all bad). And I came across a few long-forgotten items that actually fitted quite well into my newly streamlined wardrobe – a lovely Whistles skirt handed down from a friend and a versatile black swing jacket I’d forgotten about were just two examples. Most importantly, I realised I didn’t need to purchase any more of those cleverly marketed ‘storage solutions’ I had been thinking about – in the end, all I needed to do was get rid of the stuff I really didn’t need.

Decluttering Kids Bookshelf

The kids’ bookshelves have been rearranged so that they can see their books more clearly.

Spring Paper Honeycombs

Adding a few touches of Spring colour to some corners of the home.

Gin and Spring

Finding ways to upcycle our empty drinks bottles for Spring. Gin and Spring go so well together, don’t you think?

Going through the same process with the kids’ toys and all the books we own also yielded good results and for the first time in a long time I feel like I can tentatively say I think I know where most things are within our household. We still have a few categories to get through – the kids’ crafts supplies and pictures, toiletries, household items, sheets, towels etc., – and there’s still that cupboard full of CDs we haven’t listened to in years.  But for the most part I’m feeling Spring-ready, and keen to get on with outside-the-house matters at the onset of British Summer Time. Our newly decluttered living space has made me feel happier, brighter and more than ever, determined not to let ourselves get overloaded with clutter in the future. With two little boys’ birthdays on the horizon soon, though, that may of course be wishful thinking……

What about you, have you been busy doing Spring-ready decluttering? How difficult do you find it to keep on top of storing all the things within your home? Or maybe having lots of stuff around just doesn’t bother you? I’d love to know your thoughts!

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Reading, Watching, Listening to Lately – February 2017

With World Book Day on the horizon, it seems like a good opportunity to share what I’ve been reading in February, and if you’re a Mum like me, no doubt you’ll have found yourself scurrying around this week trying to figure out what to send your kids to school dressed up as on Thursday. We’re planning to go with one of the kids favourite books, The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt, which is easy for me and fun for the boys – as long as no one has to be peach crayon, obviously. *

Crayons.png *warning – contains scenes of crayon nudity.

It’s been a pretty good month for me on the entertainment front, and this month, inspired by a few of the other blogs I follow, I’ll also be adding in what we’ve been listening to lately (as you can see, I just make this stuff up as I go along). Before watching and listening, though, here’s the round up of my latest bedtime reads.

READING

The first book I kicked off with in February was Sixty Degrees North, by Malachy Tallack, a sort of personal memoir slash travelogue I read for my book club. In it, Malachy describes his journey across several countries sharing the same latitude as his home on the Scottish island of Shetland. The book explores our connection with places, what it means to find home, and the sometimes conflicted relationship Tallack has with the place where he was raised. As someone who also lives in a remote part of Scotland, I could identify with a lot of this book, and the deep connection between people, land and places is something I could really relate to. Tallack is a very gifted writer (he was a recipient of one of the Scottish Book Trust’s New Writers Awards in 2014), and my favourite parts of this book were those in which he delved into his emotional relationship with Shetland, his family and his past. Sixty Degrees North isn’t the type of book I’d normally go for – I don’t actually read a lot of travel writing – but overall I found that I really enjoyed it (one of the benefits of joining a book club is reading books you wouldn’t necessarily be drawn to). Think of Sixty Degrees North less as travel writing, than travel writing with emotion. And anything with a lot of heart, inevitably, is always going to get a big thumbs up from me.

Next up for February, was The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry, a novel set in the 1800’s which tells the story of widow Cora Seaborne, and vicar Will, whose lives intersect after Cora moves to Will’s Colchester parish following her husband’s death in London. The story revolves around Cora’s search for the ‘Essex Serpent’, a Nessie-like monster said to be killing local people, and explores the boundaries between faith, logic and religion, and the relationships between people with wholly opposing views. The Essex Serpent was another book I wouldn’t have chosen personally – I think my husband and kids bought it for me as a Christmas present based largely on it having a nice front cover. However once again I found I did enjoy a little departure from my usual style of novel. And I have to say, they were right – the front cover is absolutely gorgeous.

But my favourite read in February had to be Dog Medicine by Julie Barton, a beautiful story charting the author’s battle with clinical depression and her relationship with her Golden Retriever, Bunker. As a massive dog lover, stories about the special relationships between canines and their owners really grab at my heart, and Dog Medicine had been on my ‘to read’ list for quite a while. Finally getting round to reading it was a real insight, and Barton writes without any restriction about aspects of depression that many other people would have preferred to keep hidden. Despite the title, Dog Medicine isn’t just a book for dog lovers, it’s a book for anyone who suffers from depression, knows someone else who does, or just believes in the power of friendship, love and self acceptance. It is a beautiful love letter to the dog that quite literally saved Julie Barton’s life, and along the way it’s a great story about family, recovery, forgiveness and the power of moving on.

WATCHING

We had quite a good month on the movie front in February, and in recent weeks we’ve been to the cinema a few times, firstly to see the fantastic Trainspotting 2 , and later, with the kids, to see both Sing and The Lego Batman Movie which were both really funny, well made movies. At home, GB and I downloaded  Deepwater Horizon, a film based on the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which was brilliantly portrayed and also quite upsetting knowing how many people work offshore on oil rigs within our local area. To offset the sad stuff, my littlest and I downloaded Pete’s Dragon, a bittersweet film about an orphaned boy and his relationship with a lonely dragon he befriends after losing his parents. The film reminded me slightly of E.T and inevitably there were lots of tears from me at the ending – Disney, you still know how to pull on my heartstrings so very, very well.

TV wise, GB and I were glued to the latest season of Vikings, although I have to say there was a little too much gore for my liking this series and I ended up watching quite a lot of the action from behind my fingers. All was forgiven with the appearance of one of my favourite actors, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, in the final episode though, and I can’t wait to see how his character Heahmund matches up to the mighty Vikings in season 5.

On the BBC, we really enjoyed the final of Let it Shine last Saturday, and on the occasions GB was away working in February, I was glued to dramas The Moorside and Apple Tree Yard after the kids were tucked up bed. Sadly, most of the TV shows I’ve been loving have come to an end now and I’m back on the lookout for box sets to get addicted to in March. The Crown is looking like a likely contender, but any other recommendations are of course, always very welcome.

LISTENING TO

Music is a big part of life here in our household, and one of our best ever investments has been our monthly Spotify subscription – you can’t put a price on the power of music to lift the mood now, can you? GB and I both have fairly eclectic tastes in music, loving everything from Abba to AC/DC, Travis to Take That. Unfortunately there’s no alliteration involved in this month’s listening, but we’ve been really enjoying Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, and listening to some of Spotify’s own playlists you can access through the ‘browse’ menus. We spend a lot of time road tripping in our campervan and love making up our own playlists for journeys, or going with some of the ready made ones – our current favourites being Spotify’s own Afternoon Acoustic and Hot Country – which sadly bears no relation to roadtrips around Scotland in the middle of February. Nevertheless, the acoustic stuff is perfect for chilling out to, and even if you don’t rate yourself as much of a C&W fan, have a listen to the latter – some of those songs are really really good!


Before I go, how about this old record player I snapped recently in a charity shop for a bit of retro chic (alas, despite my best efforts it was not available for purchase). My son asked me if this was the way we listened to music in the ‘olden days’. Don’t seven year olds know just how to make you feel good?

Record Player.png

That’s it for this month, I hope you’ve enjoyed this round up of what I’ve been reading, watching and listening to lately. See you again next month. And don’t forget to tell me what you’ve been enjoying reading, watching or listening to recently aswell!