Reading, Watching, Listening to Lately – June 2017

We’re inching ever closer to the school holidays here in the north of Scotland, and I for one can’t wait for the possibility of a few extra minutes with a cup of tea and a book each morning before we think about getting ready for the day. Despite the rushed mornings June hasn’t been a bad month for me on the entertainment front, but before I get started on my monthly update I do have a small confession: I started two books this month that I didn’t actually complete. This wasn’t a reflection on the books themselves (in case you’re wondering they were Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman). No, this abandonment was all about me and the realisation that this month, I just needed to focus on books that didn’t have too many characters, too many plotlines or the ability to tax my weary brain too heavily. They’re both books by authors I normally enjoy so I do hope to come back and review them at some point in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, on to what I did actually manage to read, watch and listen to this month before the last few days of June slip away for good!

My first (well technically, third) book this month was Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, a wonderful memoir about the author’s deliberate decision to make a turnaround after years of ‘busyness’, ‘hustling’, and a constant striving to achieve that left her feeling like a bystander in her own life.  I loved this book so much that it inspired a whole post from me on saying no to perfection, which you can read here if you missed it when I published it last week. Suffice to say I’d suggest this book for anyone who struggles with perfectionism, people-pleasing and saying yes to everything that’s asked of them. It’s one of the most affecting books I’ve read in years, and I’m sure at some stage, I’ll be dipping into it again.

Present Over Perfect

My second book for June couldn’t have been more different, and The Girls, by Emma Cline, is one of the darkest novels I’ve read in quite a while. I’d seen it mentioned a few times on Instagram and in the top ten at a bookstore I popped into lately, so when it was sitting on the display shelf of my local library during my last visit, I knew I had to grab it before it disappeared. Flicking between now and the late sixties, it tells the story of Evie, a teenager feeling on the outside of life who becomes embroiled with a cult populated mainly by teenage girls. As Evie sinks further into the group and the girls’ wayward lifestyle, she starts to lose sight of her own life as a series of increasingly horrific events unfold. The Girls is shocking, disarming, and ultimately utterly compelling, and Cline’s amazing command of language make the novel very difficult to put down. It would be a fantastic read for a book club or discussion group as it opens up so many questions about power, isolation and the relationships between men and women. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone seeking something a bit different this summer – but be warned, it’s about as far away from a feel good novel as you can possibly get.

The Girls.png

Onto what I’ve been watching this month, and GB and I have been steadily working our way through the latest series of House of Cards on Netflix. On the off chance you haven’t seen it, it’s a fantastic political drama about a Washington power couple who will do just about anything to maintain influence at the top of America’s political elite. In this series the couple – now the President and First Lady – are doing everything they can to incite fear in their own citizens in a bid to cling onto their increasingly fragile power. It does make you wonder what really goes on in the realms of government – fingers crossed it isn’t quite as bad as this!

Continuing the theme of contrasts, we also finished off the first season of Designated Survivor, another fantastic US political drama, this time starring Kiefer Sutherland in an (altogether more honorable) Presidential role. Most of the seasons’ cliff-hangers had us pining to binge watch in the way we might have done pre-children, but these days watching two episodes on a Saturday evening is about as rock n’ roll as our lives get.

With the kids, we’ve been enjoying getting back into Once Upon A Time (which we lost track of during a brief Netflix hiatus), a fantasy about the residents of a sleepy village who funnily enough, turn out to be Snow White, Prince Charming and the Wicked Witch. Featuring Robert Carlyle in fine form as Rumpelstiltskin, it’s an action packed romp through the story books full of adventure, romance and betrayal. We’re on season 4 now and Elsa and Anna from Frozen have just made an appearance – here’s hoping someone starts belting out ‘Let it Go’ at full volume very soon.

Onto what I’ve been listening to lately and I’ve been enjoying taking time out for the Headspace meditation app after reading about it in the Davina McCall autobiography I reviewed on here last month. It really is a fantastic introduction to meditation and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to give their mental health a boost.

I’ve also been enjoying getting back into Sarah Painter’s Worried Writer podcasts this month and reminding myself that despite my forays into other pursuits like photography, writing is still the creative equivalent of my one true love. It’s interesting to hear about other writers’ routes to publication and the methods they use within their writing process – speaking of which I think it’s time to finish up here and get some of my other writing projects done!

Worried Writer.png

So that’s it for my latest reading, watching and listening to update. I’ll be back in July with more (or perhaps a little bit less), of the same. Until then, have fun and keep reading, watching and listening (*insert jazz hands*). Let’s hope the Great British Summer is finally on the way!

Reading Watching Listening to June 2017.png

 

Saying No to Perfect

Last week I picked up a book called ‘Present Over Perfect’ from my local library and read it in the space of one weekend. I can’t remember the last time I did this – but something about this particular book resonated with me deeply, and brought to the surface a lot of things I have been thinking about for a while. It wasn’t that my life was exactly the life of the author – Shauna Niequist is a successful writer who, after years of working, travelling and exhaustion, triggered a deliberate turnaround to a more simple way of life. Neither was it the deeply religious element to the book (although raised Catholic I’m not a particularly religious person. I’m not entirely sure what I am but that’s a story for another day). What drew me in to each new chapter of the book was the underlying message that so many of us are in need of – that we’re so busy trying to prove ourselves, please others and appear endlessly productive that we’re in danger of leaving precious little for the people who matter most. We’re in danger of missing out on our own lives while we try to be valuable, to be useful, to do the things that other people expect. We’re in danger of missing the small moments while we’re too busy filling up our days with stuff.

Present Over Perfect.png

As a life-long perfectionist, people-pleaser and yes-girl, I’ve been trying to work on being more ‘present’ than the person I was when I was younger. Before having children I focused on the future – safe in the knowledge that life would be perfect once we got our house renovated, paid off our student loans or earned enough money to take a holiday a couple of times a year. I said yes to everything people asked of me, quietly resenting that saying yes means you’re the person people (understandably) go to if they’re looking for a yes answer. I didn’t get any better at saying no to things, but my children came along and made me focus on the here and now. Old habits die hard though and still I couldn’t help myself – ok, I’ll play, but let me finish tidying the table, put on the next washing load and get through my mental checklist before I relax, right? The thing with getting through the checklist means that by the time the checklist is completed everyone has moved on to something else. I’m trying harder to live in the moment, even the messy ones, wherever I can these days. This is my life, it’s messy, it’s breadcrumbs on the lino. When you come to visit I’ll try hard not to sweep them up before we can begin.

And then there’s the saying yes thing – as Niequist points out in the book, if you’ve always been a yes person, people don’t often like it when you start off saying no. But the thing is people who say yes all the time get exhausted, and sometimes saying no for a while is actually a road back to saying yes. Not all the time, like you once did, but when and if you’re able. As Mother Teresa said, ‘if you want to change the world go home and love your family.’ For now I know that’s where all my ‘yeses’ need to be.

And as for the endless cycle of ‘productivity’ – in the book, Niequist admits she bowed to it like a diety. How many times, especially as women, do we tell others how busy, how frantic our lives are, wearing our productivity like a badge? How did it become necessary to show everyone how many balls we can throw up and juggle, how did running around to the point of exhaustion become something to be revered? And that tendency to look at other lives and think them ‘cushy’, that they are so much easier, that they couldn’t possibly be as hard as our’s. Saying more about our feelings towards our own lives – for who’s to say a quieter way of living isn’t every bit valuable as your’s?

But what does all this mean in practical terms? Well for me, it’s meant slowing down a bit. Not letting other people dictate the pace I choose. Trying to gracefully step away from the idol of ‘busy’. Decluttering, owning fewer things. Not always rearranging the cushions. Not allowing other peoples’ priorities to become mine. Going to fewer after school clubs. Yoga. Reading more at the weekend. Being a mum, a wife, a daughter – no longer being too busy to be a friend. Saying ‘I can’t do that anymore’. Saying, ‘I did that last time, maybe someone else can take a turn’. Capturing moments, but making sure I’m in the moments before they leave me. Focusing on the four people around the table – giving my best energies to the ones I love.

Reading ‘Present Over Perfect’ gave me notice that I’m not the only person who feels this way, and that perfectionism, people-pleasing and my inner yes-girl can all be overcome. I hope I manage it with the grace and wisdom that Shauna demonstrates in this memoir.

Freer, less precise, a more intentional way of living. And in the words of John Steinbeck, ‘now that you don’t have to be perfect you can be good’.

Hot Pink Wellingtons

Finding the Time to Write

It’s ironic that I find myself giving advice on finding time for writing, when I spend most of my time complaining that I never have enough time to write. Like all mums I’m busy (I’ve yet to meet a parent who isn’t), and trying to fit creative pursuits around school runs, dog walks, kids clubs and the endless cycles of general domesticity can be a challenge to say the least (do my family really expect dinner, clean clothes and food in the freezer yet again?!) But despite this, I have managed to get a fair bit of writing done in the last year, and so this week I thought I would share some of the tips that have worked for me. They’ve been gleaned mostly from snippets I’ve picked up from self help books, podcasts, talking to other writers – and of course, the odd bit of personal experience. If you’re a writer or a blogger (isn’t every blogger a writer?), I’d love to hear some of your tips, and if any of these ideas already work for you!

1. Block out Time for Writing

It sounds obvious, but I really think it’s helpful to look at the daily time you have available and schedule in blocks of time to actually write. For me, this only really happens when my kids are at school, and once I factor in the dog walk, shopping and that endless cycle of domesticity, I only find myself with about 3 ‘working’ hours in the day, equating roughly to about 15 hours across the week.  Unfortunately I have to factor into this work I do for my self-employed husband (boring but essential), and a bit of voluntary/community type stuff (which isn’t boring but does still have a habit of eating into the day). This leaves me with about 10 hours a week in which I get to do the work I want to do for me, and I’m now in the habit of blocking these hours out – either in my bullet journal or just simply in my head (I’ve now accepted that a social life is a long forgotten thing of days gone by.) I find the process of blocking out and ‘owning’ my writing time as invaluable – I know how little of it there is, and so when it comes, I try to make the best possible use of it I can.

2. Use Opportunities as They Arise

Of course, as well as scheduled time blocks, there will always be other opportunities for writing, an unexpected play date or that half hour waiting at a kids club perhaps (I’m writing this article on a solo train journey to Inverness as we speak). Having a notepad and pen on you at all times is always handy – just having the ability to jot down ideas or thoughts when you have a spare 5 minutes can be a lot more productive than you think.

3. Use Your Writing Time Wisely

I like to think I’m pretty focused when it comes to writing, but in reality, I’m prone to distraction, procrastination and self doubt. One of the tips I picked up on one of my favourite podcasts, ‘Magic Lessons’, was to set a timer for my ‘dedicated’ writing time, and now when those precious hours come around I set my oven timer for an hour, two hours or whatever time I have. During that period I don’t allow myself to look at the Internet, or get involved with anything else that might distract me – basically I have two choices (excluding toilet breaks and the odd cup of tea) – to look at the timer running down or just to write. I heard Neil Gaiman talking about this technique recently while being interviewed by Elizabeth Gilbert, and since initiating it I have to say it really works (although Liz Gilbert recommends using a beautiful hour glass as your timer, leaving you with the equally attractive options of writing or being mesmerised by the sands of time. For now, my less-than-glamorous oven timer will just have to do).

4. Choose a Location that Works

If you’re a writer who works from home (as most of us probably do), you might find that blocking out time or using the timer technique don’t enable you to tune out the distractions that inevitably come from being in your own home. The doorbell ringing, the dog barking, that load of washing you could just pop on…or the alluring call of Wi-Fi. When all this becomes a barrier to writing I’d suggest getting yourself out and visiting a café, or your local library – preferably ones without Wi-Fi – to spend your allocated writing time in blissful doorbell-ringing, washing-pile-neglectful peace. Just try to avoid spending all your time chatting or engaged in people watching (a trap I’m often inclined to fall into). Although in my defence, you can gather a lot of writing material through chatting and people watching too!

5. Find Times that Work For You

None of the above will amount to much if you’re trying to write at a time when you’re just not feeling like writing, and it’s important to find a time in the day that 1) you can commit to and 2) allows you the energy and motivation to actually write. Personally I suffer quite badly with fatigue from autoimmune thyroiditis and find that trying to write any time after about 3pm is just not going to work for me. Thankfully, my ‘energetic hours’ – which last from about 9am-3pm most days – fit in quite well with the periods in which I’m available to write and do the other necessaries. During good periods I sometimes manage to get up and write before anyone in my house has woken, but for several months now this just hasn’t been an option. I try to make the best of the time and energy peaks I have available, but ‘burning the midnight oil’ on the keyboard is unlikely to become a fruitful writing strategy for me. If this works for you, fantastic! I won’t pretend not to be a little envious as I scuttle off to bed each night before it’s 10pm.

6. Acknowledge that Your Writing is Important

The final thing I would say is that it’s unlikely you’ll ever find the time for writing unless you and those around you acknowledge your writing is important. It’s all too easy for people (including writers themselves), to think it doesn’t matter, that the world won’t stop turning if an article or a book doesn’t get written, that it’s not important in the great scheme of things, that it’s just a silly hobby or a dream. Unfortunately whilst some of these things may be true (hopefully not the last one!), there wouldn’t be a lot of colour or creativity in the world if we all thought like this, and let’s face it, I think we could all do with some colour and creativity in the world right now. Treat your writing like it’s important and other people will do likewise. And with that in mind, it’s time to work out your schedule, set your timer, find the right location – and go forth and write!

What do you think, has this article helped you? If you’re a writer, how do you fit in the time to write? Do you use any of these tips already or do you have your own to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Pin this post for later:

Finding the Time to Write pin.png

Images: Canva

A Boy Made of Joy

A few weeks ago, while chatting about his day at school, my eight year old told me he was feeling happy because he had spent his day ‘spreading joy’. When I asked him what he meant by that, he told me he had said something nice to a Dad at the school gate, and written something kind about his teacher that had made her smile. In fact, the Dad he had said the ‘something nice’ to (it was a compliment on a recent business achievement), told me later that this encounter with my little boy had made his day. My little boy called himself a ‘walking joy bomb’, and I have to say I agreed he was.

When I asked my son why he liked doing things to make other people happy, his response was, quite simply, because it made other people happy. And for one other reason – because it made him feel good too.

And there it was in a nutshell – the only two reasons we ever really need for being kind. Not because being kind gets us something in return, or makes us look good, but because the simple act of doing something nice makes people happy, and helps us feel good too. At the tender age of eight many children have kindness sorted. And yet as adults, we think it’s our job to tell them how to be.

It all got me to thinking that there is so much we can learn from children. What if we all decided to be ‘walking joy bombs’ for a while, to seek out opportunities for kindness, to send away that awkwardness about giving unexpected compliments, or waving at the passengers on that passing train. Just doing the small things that make other peoples’ days a bit brighter, the simple, unexpected things that make life that little bit more fun.

Smiling and saying hello to strangers when they pass you. Offering to return the shopping trolley for the Mum who has 3 bags of groceries and a toddler on her hands. Telling someone they look nice. Making time to talk to that person you think might be having a hard time. Sending a friend a hand written letter. Checking in on an elderly relative who lives alone.

Giving a little more than people expect of us, whether that be our time, our help, or that extra bit of understanding when someone is going through a difficult time. The straightforward act of adding ‘nice’ to someone’s day – simple thoughts and deeds that make it more likely for kindness to be passed along.

And then there’s my son’s habit of responding with ‘I’m brilliant!’ when people ask him how he’s doing. He heard me talking about this after reading about it in a book lately, as a way of making yourself and others feel good in small and ordinary ways. The book said to watch peoples’ reactions when you give your ‘I’m brilliant!’ answer – I haven’t actually tried this out myself yet, but my experience of watching my son tells me it does indeed seem to be spreading around a bit of joy. Being enthusiastic and positive starts off something of a ripple, in the same way that being around people who love complaining just seems to encourage you to complain. It’s one of the reasons I love spending time with my children. I’m sure their kindness, their compassion and their positivity rub off on me – I’m sure they make me so much better than I am.

So instead of thinking about what I can teach my children, I think for a while I’ll focus on what the world can learn from them.  Children teach us to be kinder, to be more tolerant, to be trusting, to forgive, to focus on the here and now. Their latest lesson is how to be a walking joy machine.

Right now, I think that’s a lesson a few of us could use.

 

 

Reading, Watching, Listening to Lately – May 2017

May has been a good month for me on the entertainment front, and despite a lot of lovely weather lately, I’ve still managed to fit in quite a bit of reading (in the garden, mostly, while trying to ignore the pesky weeds). I’ve also stuck pretty rigidly to my reading before bed routine, which I find helps me get to sleep a lot quicker and allows me to get through a book about every 10 days or so – although I’m still pushed to finish more than 3 books in any given month. Things are all relative of course and a few years ago when the kids were tiny I would have been delighted to finish three books in a year! So if you’re struggling to find the time to read don’t fret – you’ll get back into it eventually if it’s something you really enjoy doing. In the meantime, why not read some of the recommendations from me and the other book blogs out there – that way you’ll have plenty to put on your to-read list when that happy day arrives!

The first book I dipped into this month was The Year of Living Danishly, in which journalist Helen Russell tries to understand the secret behind Denmark’s consistently high performance in world happiness ranking surveys (clue: it’s not the weather – it sounds like Danish winters are even worse than our’s). During the course of a year she and her husband spend in Denmark (while he works at Lego), Russell spends each month looking at a different aspect of the Danish way of life – including hygge, work-life balance, parenting and leisure – with quite a few pastries thrown in along the way. It’s a really well written, witty book that makes Denmark, at least in the most part, sound like a very happy place to call home (in fact I saw many parallels with life in the north of Scotland). It’s definitely worth a read if you’re looking for some ideas to up your happiness quota (the sections on hygge and coping with long winters will be particularly interesting for us sun deprived Brits). And although it hasn’t got me packing my bags to leave Scotland, I can imagine this book might have some readers filling their suitcase before they turn the final pages. It’s a travel guide with a difference, and as far as Summer reading goes, I couldn’t recommend it more.

The Year of Living Danishly

My next book for May was Davina McCall’s Lessons I’ve Learned, a fantastic self-help guide/memoir packed with insights from one of Britain’s favourite tv presenters. I literally sailed through this book, in which Davina dispenses all sorts of wisdom on parenting, friendship, relationships and just about everything in between. The chapters are handily packaged into easy-to-read nuggets which make it ideal for on-the-go reading, even if you only have a spare 5 minutes at a time. I loved Davina’s chatty, non judgemental style, and came away with a list of books to read, apps to download, and even a few new life mantras for our family. ‘Give More Than Is Expected’ – Davina, we have you to thank for that!

Davina Lessons I've Learned.png

My final book for the month was And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, by Fredrik Backman, less of a novel than a ‘novella’, which actually just means that in reading terms it is very very short. It’s actually the first time I’ve read a novella and was able to finish it in one sitting while my kids were on a playdate – at less than 80 pages long it’s ideal if you haven’t got a lot of time. It’s written by the man who wrote one of my favourite books, ‘A Man Called Ove’, and tells the story of a Grandfather, losing his memories to dementia and trying to hold onto his precious relationship with his grandchild. It’s an utterly beautiful story with all of the warmth and compassion any lover of Backman would expect. And it has some of the best quotes I’ve read in any book for ages: ‘I would rather be old than a grown up’ says Noah, (the grandchild in the story). ‘All grown ups are angry, it’s just children and old people who laugh.’

Every Morning the Way Home

On to what I’ve been watching lately, and the main theme this month has definitely been emotion. We’ve enjoyed a few films that really pulled at the heartstrings, such as A Monster Calls, The Light Between Oceans and Lion – all fantastic movies which coincidentally, all happen to be based on books. Whether I will go on to read their literary counterparts is undecided – I’m often less inclined to read the book of a movie when I know the story first.  Given that the books are almost always better, though, I’m guessing these three books are literally amazing. If you have any thoughts or suggestions on this predicament, please do let me know!

TV-wise, I’ve been loving the BBC’s new series of Doctor in the House, on iPlayer, in which Dr Rangan Chatterjee is invited into the lives of people with health problems to try to find solutions to their issues. As someone who suffers from a chronic illness, I find Dr Chatterjee’s holistic approach to wellbeing really inspiring, and have loved seeing the massive improvements in the individuals he’s been working with. I’m really looking forward to future episodes of this series – and no doubt to buying his new book next year (in case you’re interested it’s due out in January ’18)!

Another thing I’ve been looking forward to is the long awaited new season of House of Cards on Netflix, that fantastic political drama starring Kevin Spacey in what has to be his finest role to date. While we were waiting for it’s release date, my husband and I started watching Designated Survivor, another fab political drama, this time with 24’s Kiefer Sutherland taking up residence in the oval office. If you like House of Cards you’ll probably like Designated Survivor – but please no spoilers on HOC until we’ve finished watching Kiefer’s President Kirkman as the opposite of everything President Underwood stands for first!

Music-wise, I have been really enjoying the new Harry Styles album this month, and I’ve also been doing quite a lot of listening to Amazon having discovered that music is included in Prime membership – quite handy when you have a husband who is always hogging Spotify.  I have to admit to not doing much other listening this month, having decided to take a little break from podcasts for a while and just enjoy my dog walks free of any ‘noise’. Does listening to the birds singing and the waves crashing count as listening? Sometimes I think that cutting out the noise means hearing that bit more.

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 reading, watching or listening to lately too!

Pin this post for later:

Reading Watching Listening to May 2017.png

 

 

 

 

 

Life Within Four Corners – May 2017

Welcome to the May instalment 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 get involved 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 joining in!).

We’ve had some lovely weather in Caithness over the last month, and as usual I couldn’t resist sharing some scenery shots from my daily walks with my canine companion. Life always seems better when the sun is shining, and it’s been lovely to see the kids playing outside, enjoying water fights, and even sampling the first barbecues of the season – it suddenly feels like Summer is finally on the way!

The nice weather also extended to a family day out in Inverness a few weeks back, and I was delighted to see this photo I took in the city centre featured across the North Coast 500’s social media channels in May.

Inverness in Spring

Food featured heavily on my Instagram feed this month, and having switched to a gluten free diet lately, I was happy for the opportunity for some food photography with my latest GF creations. Yummy!

And as always at this time of year, cherry blossom was another frequent feature. The cherry tree in our garden is a source of pure joy to me every Springtime, and I’m always quite sad to see it’s blossom go when June approaches. It always serves as a reminder to enjoy the here and now – or at the very least that 3 week window when my garden is alive with pink.

Fallen Cherry Blossom.png

Flowers in general pop up regularly on my camera roll – I loved these tulips and the roses you might remember from last month, which lasted surprisingly well when I relocated them to the treehouse in our garden!

And of course bluebells – I fell in love with these little blue wonders all over again when we visited some bluebell woods near Golspie for an afternoon out earlier this month.

Boys in BluebellsBlubell Woods

And what would a month on Instagram be without books and coffee? We recently acquired some old books from a relative which I promptly put to good use as photo props and in flatlays (I do plan to read them too!)

And we spent a fair bit of our month scanning the sea for killer whales during this year’s local ‘Orca Watch’ (read more in last week’s article on reasons to visit the North of Scotland in Spring). Unfortunately we didn’t see any – although plenty of other lucky people did. Not to worry, I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for June!

Whale Watching.png

That’s it for this month’s round up of Life Within Four Corners. If you enjoyed this please feel free to pop over and follow me on Instagram for lots more similar-but-different updates. I’ll be back with more snippets of life within squares and rectangles next month. Have a lovely June folks, I do hope to see you then!

 

 

Six Reasons to Visit the North of Scotland in Spring

The North of Scotland is beautiful at any time of year, but Spring has to be one of the loveliest seasons in which to visit (and I freely admit, I’ll tell you that in Summer, Autumn and Wintertime aswell). I recently saw a sign in a local shop window saying ‘Spring is Nature’s Way of Saying ‘Let’s Party’, and I can’t think of a better way to describe the outpouring of beauty and wonder that surrounds us at this magical time of year. As a local of the far north, May in particular is one month when I prefer not to be too far from my home county; there’s just so much happening and I don’t want to miss a thing! But for those of you less familiar with the area – here’s a quick round up of some of the reasons you might want to come and join in with Spring’s annual party soon.

1. SPRING IS THE SEASON FOR COLOUR

As you travel north from Inverness at this time of year, the roadsides are awash with yellow fields of rapeseed. There’s something about this sunny sight that just makes you feel, well, sunny. Added to the already beautiful views from the A9 travelling north (part of Scotland’s famous ‘North Coast 500’ route), what more reason do you need to make a visit soon?

Yellow FieldsYellow Fields 2

2. AND THE WOODS ARE ALIVE WITH BLUE

There are some beautiful bluebell woods on your route to the far north of Scotland, so why not stop in to the Big Burn Walk near Golspie, or the bluebell woods just down the road at Dunrobin Castle on your way? Bluebells have that transient beauty that remind you just to breathe in and enjoy life’s little moments. New life, mindfulness and joy – all wrapped up in a forest filled with blue.

Bluebell Woods.png

3. YOU CAN MEET THE CLOWN OF ALL SEABIRDS

If you travel to Duncansby Head, near John O’Groats, at this time of year, it’s very likely you’ll get a chance to spot some puffins, those clowns amongst seabirds who’ve rooted themselves firmly in the hearts of nature lovers everywhere.  With their colourful beaks, bright orange legs and comical demeanour it’s not hard to see the attraction. A sight not to be missed if you’re travelling to the far north of Scotland anytime soon.  

4. AND THE MASTERS OF THE SEA

Spring is a fantastic time for cetacean spotting in the far north of Scotland, so good in fact that the SeaWatch Foundation are holding their annual Orca Watch event here (also at Duncansby Head) as I write! Even if you don’t see any killer whales you might be lucky enough to spot dolphins or other cetaceans, and there’s usually plenty of other marine life on display as you travel along the coast. This week alone I’ve seen seals sunbathing daily on my morning outings with my Vizsla. What better way to put a spring in your step as you prepare for the busy day ahead?

Seal

5. YOU CAN WITNESS RARITIES OF NATURE

If you visit the far north in Spring and early Summer, you might be lucky enough to spot something you won’t find anywhere but here and Orkney – the delightful Scottish primrose. Endemic to the north, it is found in just a few areas around the coastline (such as Holborn Head near Scrabster), and draws visitors from far flung destinations eager to witness it’s blueish purple flowers. You’ll need to visit in late May to early June, or during the second flowering period in late June to early July if you want a chance to spot them.  You’ll have to be eagle eyed though – with flowers of only about 8mm in diameter, they are very easy to overlook!

Scottish Primrose.png

6. AND MAKE AN ADVENTURE OF YOUR OWN

There are so many things to see and do in the north of Scotland in Spring that you will never be far away from a new adventure. Why not look out for the most northerly of Europe’s smallest butterflies, the small blue, take a boat trip to Orkney, enjoy some of the best beaches in the UK, surf world renowned waves, or just relax and sample some of our amazing local produce and hospitality. If you need any more persuading about how lovely the north of Scotland is in Spring – or in fact at any time of year, please have a look at my little video below. This is just a tiny selection of what the far north of Scotland has to offer, and there is so much more here to find, explore and discover for yourself. I hope this has given you a taster of what you can enjoy here. And whatever you’d like to do on your visit to the far north, we hope to see you soon.

(Photo of Scottish Primrose courtesy Paul Castle)

Spring in the North of Scotland from Gail Brown on Vimeo.

 

Pin this for later:

Reasons to Visit Scotland in Spring.png

Things a Year of Blogging Have Taught Me

Just over a year ago, while leafing through my copy of the latest ‘Writers and Artists Yearbook’ and trying to work out how I could turn writing from a dream into a career, I stumbled upon an article saying something along the lines that as a writer, the Internet was your friend. For me, the technologically unsavvy owner of a Facebook account I struggled to change the cover photo on, this seemed unlikely, and the assertion that blogging was a ‘simple but effective way to showcase your writing’, seemed equally absurd. I had never really heard of blogging (honestly), certainly didn’t read or follow any blogs, and didn’t really like the word ‘blogging’ anyway – it kind of made me think of something rude people did when they wanted to clear their throat.

But as I read on, I started to get more interested, and began to understand how blogging actually worked.  I started to google family blogging websites and was amazed by the quality and diversity of what was available. I soon found go-to sites on all manner of topics such as food, fashion, travel, photography and books. It was better than watching tv, scrolling through social media or reading magazines and within a short time I was hooked.

I soon got to thinking about starting my own blog after all and consulted my husband and my parents to garner their opinions. Their reaction was initial concern and hesitation – I think they had visions of me being attacked by the online trolls you often hear about (this always makes me picture a swarm of angry little creatures chasing me down the street). By this point though, I was determined to go ahead and busied myself with thinking of a blog name, developing a website, scrolling my camera roll for nice photos and writing a couple of articles to get me started. In May of 2016 Wellies on the School Run was born and I can honestly say I haven’t really looked back since.

And so after a year, almost 40 articles, literally hundreds of photos and over 50,000 words of prose (see, inner voice, I can write a book!), it’s time for me to reflect on what a year in blogging has taught me. So if you’ve ever fancied starting a blog yourself, want some tips and ideas, or just wonder what’s actually behind those pretty websites you click into with your morning coffee – read on.

  1. Blogging Teaches New Skills

In the year that I’ve been blogging, I’ve developed new skills in areas that previously weren’t even on my radar.  I’ve developed a website (with a little help from WordPress), learned how to maintain it, tried my hand at designing my own banner, and even managed to use a little html coding (forgive me if I haven’t got the terminology here quite right). I’ve discovered that widgets aren’t just something to do with beer cans and that sidebars aren’t just another word for handrails. I’ve managed to edit and upload photos, develop graphics for Pinterest and defeated my technical demons to finally open and link to a Twitter account (although the latter still remains a bit of mystery).  None of this comes naturally to me and I’m actually quite proud of myself for managing to achieve it. And if a technical dinosaur like me can manage it, believe me, you can do it too.

  1. Blogging Isn’t Easy

I can imagine that from the outside, blogging might just look like someone posting on social media all day and endlessly blagging free stuff to review, but as a blogger (who I should point out has never received any free stuff to review – insert tiny violin emoji), I can confirm that behind the scenes there is actually quite a lot involved in running a blog, between maintaining a website, taking and editing photos, actually writing and editing articles, and sharing them on social media (the only way to increase the likelihood that anyone except your Mum will ever read them – hi Mum!). Don’t get me wrong, if it’s something you love doing then it’s not the kind of thing that ever feels like working, but if you’re thinking of setting up a blog yourself it’s worth remembering that you will probably need to put in a lot of time, effort and passion to get it off the ground. I’ve probably spent as much time on my blog in the last year as most people spend on a part time job, or at the very least their most treasured and very favourite hobby. These days it’s something I find quite hard to switch off from, and I’ll happily sneak in out-of-hours writing or photo taking without a thought for wanting to take time away. It’s a project, which if you fall in love with, can quickly become a passion. Just be prepared for that if you decide to develop your own little www-dot-com home.

  1. There’s No Such Thing as Overnight Success

It’s easy to imagine that you set up a blog, start writing some nice articles, and within a few weeks develop a lovely little readership who regularly read and comment on all your posts. Unfortunately, for most people, this doesn’t really happen, and in reality it can take some time for a blog to become established. I am only really starting to get a reasonable readership on my blog now, and that’s at the start of year 2 – 40 articles, hundreds of pictures, and approximately 50,000 words later. Like most things in life you have to put a lot in to get results, and rather than focusing too much on ‘growing your blog’, I’d suggest keeping your focus on the people who are reading, by writing from the heart and putting out good quality, helpful articles that people will hopefully want to read, enjoy, and perhaps if you’re lucky, share with their friends. These days I get a real buzz from checking my WordPress dashboard and seeing that my articles are being read by people from as far afield as Canada, the Netherlands, the United States and the Philippines (isn’t it clever that WordPress can let you see that?). I choose to let that make me happy rather than pondering why that article I wrote a year ago has only been viewed a total of 18 times (thankyou, 18 viewers!).  If you’re struggling to build up a readership for your blog please don’t get downhearted. Just keep going, keep writing, keep sharing – and keep borrowing that old Field of Dreams wisdom – ‘if you build it they will come’.

  1. But Blogging Can Be a Job

All of the above said, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t want to eventually grow my readership, and many bloggers with a decent following have been able to make a modest living out of blogging as a career. This is done in various ways such as working with brands who sponsor posts, through collaborations, working as brand ambassadors and so on – things that intersperse the posts bloggers write for themselves and others, and enable them to earn a little income for doing something that they love. I would love to get to this point one day (and I can’t help thinking my husband would rather like it also), but naturally, brands are keen to work with bloggers who have a good ‘profile’, and are therefore likely to get their products seen.  I recently checked my site’s ‘Domain Authority’ (a curious metric that has something to do with how well a website will rank on search engine result pages), and discovered that after months of going nowhere, it had suddenly jumped up to the figure of 18. I’m not a statistics person, but I remember reading somewhere that a Domain Authority of 25 was considered ‘good’, and a figure of 20 meant your website had ‘arrived’.  Hopefully this all means that my little blog is finally reaching the arrivals gateway, and you never know, I might be cracking out a mini bottle of prosecco one day soon!

  1. From the Heart Will Always Win

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from blogging, it’s that words are most powerful when they are written from the heart. The most successful of my articles have always been those that gave something of myself away, that showed vulnerability and reassured people that no, they are definitely not alone. The most popular article I have written has undoubtedly been my story of adding a puppy to our family, an article which didn’t always paint me in a very good light, but which was written with absolute honesty and truth (I do of course like to think all my articles are written honestly). This post has now been shared more than 350 times on Facebook, nothing to many bloggers, but from my little corner of the internet – that’s really rather huge. I also received a lot of feedback on an article I wrote about peoples’ perceptions of Stay-at-Home Mums last year, and more recently, for an article I wrote on my battle with an underactive thyroid. The comments, messages and conversations I’ve had with people on all of these articles mean more to me than I could ever put into words.

Just recently, I was out with my family in a local café when the owner shouted over to me ‘Hi Wellies on the School Run!’ – that really made me smile. The same day another school mum told me she was really enjoying my reading recommendations and was looking forward to finding out more about my favourite books. Later, when we visited my husband’s Grandmother in her care home, one of the auxiliaries told me she had been really enjoying discovering and reading all my blog articles. These are the things that make me happy, make it worthwhile, and make me wonder how I managed before Wellies on the School Run became such a big part of my life. Year one is over and I still have a notebook full of articles and ideas I want to share. I hope you’ll be here to enjoy year two with me. The future in wellies is definitely looking bright.

And finally a request…..

If you’ve enjoyed reading my articles over the last year, I’d really appreciate it if you’d consider nominating me in the ‘Fresh Voice’ category of the Brilliance in Blogging awards from BritMums, which recognises the best of parent lifestyle blogging for bloggers with blogs of less than 18 months old. There are very few, if any, other parent bloggers in the far north of Scotland and I’d really like to fly the flag for my little area if I can. If you’d like to nominate me please click on the link below (nominations close on the 7th June at 23.59), and follow the link to the nomination form. I’d be extremely grateful!  

BritMums
Pin it for later:
Things a Year of Blogging Teach .png
You Baby Me Mummy

Tiredness, Tears and Thyroxine: My Troublesome Thyroid Gland and Me

For as long as I can remember, tiredness has been a defining feature of my life. As a child I was a keen dancer, but I struggled to maintain stamina at two hour dance sessions alongside other children. PE became a torment and I was always last to be picked for everything (instilling a lifelong wariness of sports days which I now try hard not to pass on to my own children). My pale complexion drew comments and as a teenager I recall being compared to a member of the Addams family with my long dark hair and pasty looking skin. Fake tan became a close friend of mine and we enjoyed a quite harmonious relationship until my kids were born and I got too tired to even try.

Somewhere back in my early twenties I was diagnosed as having an underactive thyroid. I can’t honestly remember how this came about (memory lapses are no strangers to thyroid sufferers), but no doubt it had something to do with my quirky habit of falling asleep for the evening after having spent a perfectly normal 8 hour day at work. I was popped on to thyroxine – the standard treatment for underactive thyroid sufferers – and that was pretty much that. I ambled along for the next ten or so years, not feeling much better but coming round to the idea that the heavy weight of fatigue was just an everyday part of normal life. I learned that people don’t really want to hear about a young, childless woman struggling with tiredness (what could I possibly have to feel tired about?), and so mostly I just kept quiet, kept putting on the mascara and mainly, kept putting on my well honed bright and breezy outward facade (oh, I can do bright and breezy very well). I continued to take my thyroxine throughout my two (very sleepy) pregnancies, through two traumatic births, breastfeeding struggles and sleepless nights. I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardise the health of my children, so like the good girl I am, I did everything I was told.

Except I didn’t feel much better, and with two small toddlers to look after, I no longer had the luxury of weekend afternoon napping or 10 hours sleep to get me through the day. For several years I went back and forth to doctors complaining about fatigue issues, mostly to be told that my thyroid test results were ‘borderline’, that I should think about drinking more water, and more recently, that I might be a little bit depressed. I spent time both on and off thyroxine – it seemed so pointless to be taking a pill every day that wasn’t making me feel any better. And yet, I was one of the lucky ones – at least I knew what was wrong with me. According to the British Thyroid Foundation, thyroid disorders affect around one in 20 people in the UK, many of whom can go undiagnosed for years.

But knowing what was wrong with me and being able to do something about it were two different matters, and as the years progressed, my symptoms only started to get worse. The most severe of these was fatigue – the type that goes down to your bones, that stings your eyes all day and renders you exhausted upon waking after a full night of what should be re-engergising sleep. As my little niece said on a particularly sleepy day recently, ‘my eyes were so tired they wouldn’t let me open them’. You get the picture. That’s me on a good morning. And then there’s the 3pm crash just in time for my little ones arriving home from school. But fatigue isn’t the only symptom and my thyroid sends me a myriad of reminders of its incompetence on a daily basis. These come in the form of muscle aches – painful knees and legs which I fear spell the start of rheumatoid arthritis – digestive problems, palpitations, mood swings, dry hair, flaky nails, foggy thinking, poor memory and ironically, on/off insomnia and an inability to get to sleep.  And then there’s the skin problems – at the age of 40, I suffer from periodic cystic acne and have recently developed eczema on my eyelids. I won’t bore you with any more of this. Suffice to say, having thyroid issues isn’t super fun.

Neither is it much fun for your family and there are the inevitable effects on a marriage when you have a wife and mother who sometimes feels she’s running on a tank that’s very close to being empty. I am lucky to have a lovely family, supportive parents and close friends who understand thyroid issues, but even with your nearest and dearest it can be hard to provide evidence that an invisible illness actually exists outside the confines of your head. I look like quite a healthy person on the outside, and don’t suffer with the weight issues that many thyroid patients sadly experience – in fact I’m actually pretty slim. ‘But you look so healthy!’ people often say to me, incredulous. Unfortunately, as most of us know by now, outward appearance doesn’t always mirror what a person is experiencing inside.

And on the inside there have been days where fatigue has got the better of me, where I’ve felt a bit desperate, and where it’s been something of an endurance test to make it through the day. This will come as a surprise to people who know me for being busy – as the sign says I’m an ‘outdoorsy mum’, I walk daily, I get through my to-do list, I don’t really ever stop. When I do stop I only realise just how tired I am – but even I can see now that never stopping might just have to stop. The turning point came a few weeks ago when it took me two hours to formulate two paragraphs for an article – it had got to the point where I couldn’t even begin to find the words. When I started to lose the ability to write – the one thing that makes me feel like me – I realised I couldn’t go on like this. I felt like I was starting to fall to pieces, slowly disintegrating, possibly going mad, and something had to change.

So over the last few weeks I’ve been working with a medical herbalist to tackle some of my thyroid issues. With her guidance, I’ve undertaken private blood tests which show my TSH – thyroid stimulating hormone, an indicator of underactive thyroid, as being well out of range, as well as thyroid antibodies indicating Hashimotos disease, an autoimmune condition in which the thyroid gland gradually destroys itself over time. I’ve started to explore new treatment options, and made some lifestyle changes including switching to a gluten free diet (there is some evidence to indicate that Hashimotos may be linked to underlying gluten intolerance). I’ve started to do my own research on thyroid problems and have discovered that the Internet is full of people whose thyroid symptoms do not improve while taking thyroxine (a 2015 research survey from Thyroid UK put this figure at 12.5% of those taking the medication). I’ve started to reach out to others with thyroid issues and have found immeasurable relief from talking to people with similar conditions, people who understand that no, I’m not just making all this up. Most of all, I’ve started to take control of my own health again. And that in itself quite simply feels really good.

I wish I could have written you one of my usual blog posts today with 10 reasons to do this, or that, or with a list of Pinterest-friendly pointers to cure your thyroid problems in several easy steps. Twenty years have taught me that it just isn’t going to be that straightforward. I can’t do bright and breezy today – bright and breezy will be back tomorrow. What I can do is tell you that if you are suffering in the way that I’ve been, or are experiencing any of the symptoms I’ve described here, it may well be worth getting your thyroid function checked. Or if you already know you’re suffering with a thyroid problem that isn’t getting better yet, if you’re feeling a bit desperate or like you’re going crazy, then just know that you’re not alone. Find a fellow sufferer to talk to, talk to a professional, talk to me if you want to get in contact. Just talk.

For now, I’m a work in progress. But I have a plan. And that plan includes getting better. It may take some time, it may not be easy and some days I might feel like I’m still going a little bit crazy. But I’ll get there. And so will you. We’ll get there.

One day at a time.

 

Further reading:

http://thyroiduk.org.uk/tuk/index.html

http://btf-thyroid.org/

http://hypothyroidmom.com/

https://stopthethyroidmadness.com/

http://sophielamb.com/

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com 

 

 

Reading, Watching, Listening to Lately – April 2017

The school Easter holidays and 10 days spent adventuring around Scotland in our campervan in April meant that I didn’t do as much reading, watching and listening as I planned to this month, but quality over quantity and all that, and my little eyes and ears did enjoy pretty much everything they were exposed to. Except that unfortunate incident after forgetting to put on gloves when chopping up chillies for my favourite curry recipe not so long ago – no, they did not like that at all. Note well, forgetful cooks and contact lens wearers everywhere (I’m fine, by the way, in case you were concerned).

Anyway, enough of my culinary incompetence and back to the task in hand, and I kicked off this month by reading A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart, a wonderful, witty book about Alex, a Dad who finds a way to connect with his autistic son Sam through the medium of Minecraft. Minecraft, for the uninitiated, is a hugely popular video game in which players adventure in randomly generated ‘worlds’ while dodging baddies and creating structures from Lego-style blocks and an array of other crafting materials (I speak as the initiated, i.e Mum to an eight and ten year old who appear to be experts at the game). While Alex is struggling to navigate a recent separation from Sam’s mum, he and Sam bond over online gaming and Alex finds a new way to engage with his son, his wife and the demons of his past. A Boy Made of Blocks is a sweet, heartwarming tale with a simple message about the power of connecting. And as a parent of little gaming fans, I have to say it was refreshing to read something positive about the role video games can often play. I really enjoyed the book and the observation of life from a male perspective – it even prompted a lot of engagement with my own sons who were desperate to find out the latest about what Sam was doing in the game. If you’re looking for something a little bit different I’d really recommend adding A Boy Made of Blocks to your reading pile. It’s actually given me a new found appreciation for all things Minecraft, and I’ve promised my little boys they can treat Mummy to a pick axe tutorial any time they like!

A Boy Made of Blocks.png

My second book for April was Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson, my first foray into reading anything by Kate Atkinson (I’m not quite sure how I managed to overlook her up till now). Behind the Scenes at the Museum tells the story of several generations of the same family – there’s Ruby, the little narrator, Bunty, her grudging mother, George, her philandering father and an assortment of sisters, aunties, uncles, grandparents, pet shop animals and lovers lost along the way. The novel recounts tales of their various ventures through war, marriage, holidays, family weddings and sometimes devastating losses. It’s a beautifully written family story penned in a very funny style which kept my interest from the first page to the last. I can’t wait to add more Kate Atkinson novels to my to read pile for the summer – in fact, I’m adding a copy of Life After Life to my growing bedside library as we speak.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

On to what I’ve been watching this month, and I have to confess – it hasn’t amounted to very much. The combination of school holidays, lighter evenings and two children determined to remain awake for as long as possible means that GB and I haven’t been catching up on many of our 9-10pm married-couple-with-kids engagements (box sets, for the uninformed) . We did manage to dip into the first episode of American Gods on Amazon, and watched Sand Castle, a Netflix original drama about the Iraq war, but we don’t seem to have found anything that’s really grabbed us lately and we haven’t even got round to catching up on the remaining episodes of The Crown (I can’t help suspecting Mr B just isn’t as keen on it as me). The kids and I did manage an outing to the cinema to see The Boss Baby which was actually really funny and even succeeded in supplanting my embarrassing cinema going nap habit. Here’s hoping for more viewing opportunities in May folks, I fear my watching update for April has been really rather poor.

I did manage to do rather more listening over April, thanks to the new joy in my life that are podcasts – so easily slotted into dog walks, as a cooking companion, or just while going about your daily biz. My favourite for this month has been Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons, a kind of therapy session for creative types who for varying reasons have found themselves ‘stuck’ somewhere on their journey. Gilbert (whom you might know better as the author of Eat Pray Love), has written a whole book about the subject, Big Magic, and she’s a fantastic podcast presenter – not least due to the fact that she has a really, really, lovely voice. She nurtures her podcast charges with compassion, wisdom, and advice – both from herself and friendly fellow creatives (such as Cheryl Strayed), who also feature on the show. I never fail to pick up a few snippets of inspiration when I dip in to have a listen. If you know of any similarly excellent podcasts, please do let me know!

Magic Lessons Podcast.png

That’s it for my reading, watching and listening update this month. I do hope it’s given you some ideas for your future entertainment – and I’ll see you again in June.

Pin this article for later:

Reading Watching Listening to Lately April 17.png