Pets, Toddlers, Friends, Funds

My cat couldn't pee but at least he befriended the toddler

Last week, I had to rush Gizmo to the vet's because he couldn't pee.

He couldn't pee, it turned out, because he has spent too much time lying next to the radiator and too little time consuming water. A lifestyle of which I am in no position to judge. 

I feel the poor cat's pain, though - I've had cystitis and it was horrible. But, bless the NHS, at least it didn't cost me £736. 

Anyway, we don't currently know whether or not the insurance is going to pay out, but please do keep your fingers (legs?) crossed that they do. Because I'd quite like my family to eat this year.

In the meantime, Gizmo and Polly have launched a whole new turf war because he has been off on a big adventure which has filled him with courage and she has had two glorious days as an only cat which have filled her with a sense of entitlement. 

As if that wasn't battle enough, Steve and I now have to spend roughly an hour a day chasing Gizmo around the flat, armed with a syringe and a pill popper (super-clever plastic contraption, not 1990s trance fan), before force feeding him something which looks like a capsule full of Wotsit powder. Gizmo is big and heavy and strong and in possession of claws; the whole thing feels like a particularly idiotic game of chicken.

* * *

The hassle of trying to get Gizmo to and from the vet's was a good reminder of how lucky I am to have excellent people in my life. Carrying a yowling, struggling, one stone cat in a plastic box on a bus on a snowy day whilst trying to push a buggy might have given me a funny story to tell but it would also have been unthinkably awful. Luckily, a neighbour babysat Matilda one day, a friend the next, Emma gave Gizmo and me multiple lifts, and Steve's parents fulfilled both roles on day three. Huge thanks go out to them all.

* * *

Obviously, there are two adult cat owners in the Rooftops household. Last time Gizmo baked himself to ill health, Steve worked from home and did the vet runs; this time, he had to be at work because he was expecting to hear whether or not he was being made redundant. Same the next day. And the next. And the next. And today. And tomorrow. And possibly next month. It's dragging on just a tad...

* * *

In happier news: I met Ruth and I don't want to get all gushy but I'm ever so glad I did. It turns out she lives just around the corner, too - hurrah!

Matilda and Ruth's older son, L., also hit it off. So much so that we barely saw them for two and a half hours.

* * *

Which segues nicely into the huge change I can see in Matilda and her friends after the Christmas break. 

For one festive reason or another, we hadn't seen any of Matilda's toddler-aged friends since early December. A five week break. Which is probably another reason I was feeling so tired.

Anyway, over the past couple of weeks we've been meeting up with them again. And what a difference! Suddenly they're playing together. They're coming up with ideas together and building on them together and having fun together; it can take several hours for them to become tired and possessive and liable to shove each other off bits of furniture. 

And it's lovely.

It's lovely because my kid is having such a good time!

And it's lovely because the grown ups can have a cup of tea and multiple biscuits and a proper conversation which lasts for several hours and includes the phrase "soon we'll be able to drop them at each other's houses for a morning (and have some time to ourselves)".

* * *

Not only that, but suddenly Matilda and Gizmo have bonded, too. Ever since he came home from the vet's, he's been letting her sit squashed right up against him, bury her fingers in his fur and rest her head on his belly. I can only assume that this new friendship is based on the fact that not one of the times she's chased him out of his safe places has resulted in him having a pill shoved down his throat.

Whatever the reasons, I have a loudly purring cat and a very happy little girl.

Those things are right in my world.

What I've Been Reading Recently

What I've Been Reading Recently

The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden*
Inspired by Russian fairy tales, this is the story of spirited young woman, Vasya, who realises that the fate of her village lies in her hands. There is good versus evil, new religion versus ancient beliefs, female strength versus restrictive tradition, and a whole lot of magic. It's apparently adult fiction but, to me, it was a book for feisty girls in their late teens who want to seize control of their own lives. It did feel a little slow to me, but that might just have been down to my own life - it took me a whopping two and a half weeks to read what my Kindle reckoned was a six hour book - but I also wanted to keep going until I found out how (surely how rather than whether?) Vasya saved the day.

Hurrah for Gin: A book for perfectly imperfect parents by Katie Kirby
I bought this right after writing this post about how tired I was feeling and it was pretty much exactly what I was needing. There are quite a few books at the moment in which a parenting blogger writes with humour about how hard looking after toddlers is yet how awesome interacting with them can be. This is one of them. And it made me laugh. A lot.

A Christmas Cornucopia: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Yuletide Traditions by Mark Forsyth
Why do we celebrate on 25th December? Who is Santa? Is Christmas a pagan/Victorian party mash up? Mark Forsyth answers (almost) all of your festive questions in a simple, witty style. The blurb says that everything you believe about Christmas is wrong - and, in my case (much to my surprise) that was almost entirely true. Fascinating stuff.

The Happiest Mommy You Know by Genevieve Shaw Brown*
Journalist and mother-of-two, Genny, has a theory that mothers would be a lot happier - and, by extension, better parents - if they treated themselves with the same love and care that they show to their children. In this book, she writes about her attempts to put that into practise. To be honest, other than having created offspring, I don't think Genny and I have much - if anything - in common; we're coming at parenthood from very different places and, as a result, have different strengths and weaknesses. That didn't stop me from agreeing with her premise and it didn't stop me from enjoying her (witty, honest, open) writing. She acknowledges that she's in a very privileged position - having supportive family around to help out and plenty of money to pay for things - but she also has a son with Down Syndrome and a demanding career so her life isn't entirely straightforward nor prioritising her own needs easy, and her attempts to pursue happiness made for entertaining reading.

A Girl Called Owl by A.J. Wilson*
At thirteen years old, Owl is desperate to know who her father was. Then she starts to develop amazing frosty magical powers and discovers that the truth is more incredible than she could ever have imagined. Early on in this young adult book, I was ready to roll my eyes - did Owl have to be a bit rubbish at everything except doodling owls? did her guide into the world of magic have to be a hot boy? where was the female empowerment?! - but it all fell into place as the story unfolded. I enjoyed this a lot as an adult and I would have absolutely loved it at twelve or thirteen.

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber and Julie King*
This should be handed out to parents at their kids' two year health check. So much common sense in one little book: why 2-7 year olds act in the [challenging? uncooperative? rebellious?] ways they do; why the traditional punish, reward and constantly remind approach doesn't work; and what simple measures parents can take to improve things. I've read similar pieces elsewhere but none of them laid things out in quite such a clear, persuasive manner. It also includes specific advice for looking after children with additional support needs. Parents of toddlers: read this now.


*Provided for review

Some Non-Resolutiony Thoughts at the Start of the Year

The first snowdrop of the season (and how I'm feeling about the changing of the year)

And so the holidays are over. The decorations are not just down but are stowed away in the attic; Steve is back to work; and, from next week, the toddler groups strew their primary coloured plastic balls across community centre floors once more.

I'm glad to get back into something resembling a routine. I used to tut at mums (always mums) who complained that life was harder when the dads (always dads) had time off work; I thought it was some sort of outdated nonsense about men not knowing which end of the baby was which. But I kind of get it now.

I would always rather have Steve at home with us. Always. Not just for the times when I get a lie in, but for the times when the three of us run around the garden squealing. Life is better when we're all together.

But... Matilda and I have such a calm, easy morning routine (the "Daddy go-ed to work" discussion over breakfast; a cup of tea behind her back while she watches Bing; heading out the door by half nine) that we can start our day on autopilot; having Steve here throws the schedule into disarray and that results in the cats not being fed on time (sorry, cats), Matilda clutching her outdoor things impatiently while her parents stumble around, flipping coins to see who showers first, and me having to use my brain before lunchtime. It wasn't until the very end of the holidays that any of us seemed to adjust.

Add to that a busy social calendar, more booze than usual and so many dirty dishes that we still haven't cleared the draining board and it's no wonder I was feeling so tired.

So I'm happy to be back to something more closely resembling normality.

Anyway, I blundered into this post planning to talk about toddler growth spurts (I spent Hogmanay hastily washing larger clothes and everything Matilda wears now looks comically oversized), back molar teething (bless Mini Milks and all their sugary coldness) and maybe Humans (oh my goodness!), but instead I've got the new year on my mind (because that's all that's in my Feedly at the moment).

To me, it doesn't feel like anything significant just happened.

I mean, you could argue that nothing significant did just happen. Dates are just a way for humans to organise our lives; shifting from 2016 to 2017 just means that people will spend weeks typing the wrong date and reminiscing about cheque books; blah blah blah.

But we're supposed to place significance on the new year, aren't we? We're supposed to think about all the ways in which we've been rubbish over the past year, spend lots of money on the stationery, gym memberships and diet shakes we deem necessary for changing ourselves, and talk expansively about our goals and resolutions.

And, although I don't really go in for resolutions (because January seems like a particularly masochistic time to inflict perfection upon ourselves; because procrastinating about making a change until a cute date suggests that our hearts aren't really in it; because I worked in marketing long enough to resent being sold a magic bean), I have always spent a little time looking back over the past year and looking forward to the coming one.

And this year I skipped that entirely.

It didn't even occur to me until I started reading what other bloggers had to say on the matter.

But I'm happy with my attitude to life; I'm surrounded by people I care about; I like where and how I live; I don't fancy creating goals for my blog.

I spent the past year parenting, not going out to work and elbowing in time with my friends; this coming year, I expect to do more of the same. There's only so much thought I can put into continuing on as I was.

So the changing of the year, to me, was entirely nothing. And I can't be the only one who felt that way? Is anybody else entering this year not trying to change who they are?



More here: the one resolution we should ALL make (I stand by this); 31 things to do in January which won't make you feel bad about yourself; and that bit when I was still coming to terms with my "stay at home mum" status.

P.S. One thing I have done at the start of this year is switch my photo-a-day blog to private. I didn't want to be worrying about showing Matilda's face or the view from our living room window. It only had about ten readers, anyway, and I expect five of those were robots. So Elise, Emma and whoever the other three were: that's why it's vanished from your reader. I'll come up with some way of sharing my favourite photos here.

Fat.

Why You Shouldn't Call A Toddler Fat

It's that time of year when it seems that all anyone can talk about is weight, calories and diet plans. And, you know: if you'll genuinely feel better for changing your shape, I'm not here to criticise your resolutions (as long as you have a fun one on your list, too).

But I am here to complain about people saying "fat" to my not-quite-two-year-old kid.

To her.

Not in her presence (which I also disagree with, come to think of it; please don't talk about your diet in front of a toddler). But to her.

"Look at your fat little belly!" they coo. "Look at your chubby little legs!"

This is particularly confusing given that my daughter's a beanpole. She's top of the height charts and way down the weight ones; she has a typical toddler tummy but I would describe my child as slim.

But that shouldn't matter. She could be the tubbiest kid in the neighbourhood and I still wouldn't want anyone telling her she was fat.

I know it's not meant as a criticism; people think it's cute that little kids carry rolls of baby weight. And it often is. They get these dimply little arms just before a growth spurt and it can look adorable.

But. BUT. Kids should be pretty much oblivious to their appearance. They might prefer the sparkly tights to the white ones or the yellow boots to the blue, but they shouldn't be giving a second thought to whether or not the person wearing those things is cute.

The thing is, Matilda's at an age when she's starting to classify things. She can tell you that oranges are orange, stars are shiny, trains are fast and cats are soft; she listens when we use adjectives and notices what we apply them to. If people - and we're not talking one or two people of a certain gender or certain generation; we're talking lots of people, a lot of the time - are pointing at her slim body and calling her "fat", she's going to learn that that's how a healthy size should be classified, that anybody who isn't startlingly underweight can be accurately described as "fat".

And if people are constantly telling her she's "fat", she's going to accept that as a fact. Before she knows what "fat" means, she will know that "fat" is a word which applies to her. 

And it won't be long until people start telling her that "fat" is a bad thing.

And she starts looking at her body with disgust.

So please, please, stop telling my beautiful child that she's fat. Tell her that she's strong; tell her that she's determined; tell her that she makes you smile and makes you laugh; tell her that you love spending time with her; tell her that she's beautiful, too - I don't mind. 

But don't teach her the terminology of self-hatred; teach her the confidence she's going to need when she ventures out into the world and comes across other people's impossible ideals.

Tired

Tired: Life With A Toddler

I'm going into 2017 tired.

This wasn't the plan. The plan was for Steve to have two weeks off over Christmas and New Year; we crammed the first week full of social activities and intended to leave the second week blissfully empty. The second week was cancelled when redundancy loomed its insensitive head once more.

So I haven't had the refreshing break I had planned.

And I'm tired.

This parenting lark, it's the best thing I've ever done. It's the funniest and the most fun and it's more rewarding than a 2p per hour pay rise or an empty workplace inbox. I wouldn't change it for a fancy job title or all the platters of meeting room pastries in the world.

But it's tiring.

It's twenty-four hours a day.

It's being woken in the middle of the night, albeit for ten measly minutes, because your child needs you to know that they're still wearing socks. It's getting up at whatever unreasonable hour they decide they're done with nighttime. It's having less wine than you would like in the evening because you can't deal with parenting hungover; missing films because they start twenty minutes before your child falls asleep; racing through your *ahem* couple activities for fear of being interrupted at an inopportune moment.

That's the night shift.

And now the naps have gone. Gone. Replaced by a wobbly, slightly emotional hour or two before bedtime. So there is no lunch break; there is no toilet break; there is no sneaking off for fifteen minutes when the boss isn't looking. It's all day, every day.

And that's fine. I prefer life without naps; I prefer being able to plan activities for the early afternoon and rarely finding myself pushing a buggy round and round the block in the rain because I can't get my toddler to drift off in any other way.

But I'm tired. So tired.

Matilda is a good kid, an easy kid, a calm kid, a happy kid; she's able to play by herself some of the time; she rarely throws strops; she's entertaining to interact with; and I love her more than I could ever have imagined.

But, cheesy pasta, I'm tired.

I'm tired of repeating the phrase, "Just wait a moment until Mummy's finished her cup of tea." I'm tired of reading Peck Peck Peck thirty million times a day instead of any of the hugely enticing books I received for my birthday. I'm tired of not being able to look at my phone without somebody demanding I switch it to Kids Mode. I'm tired of debating whether or not the monkey bars are safe in icy weather (they're not). I'm tired of drawing spiders in every conceivable shade of crayon. I'm tired of Justin Sodding Fletcher.

And, come the evening, I'm tired of the cats wanting their turn of my energy and attention and comfy lap because, if they'd go near the toddler, they could have all the cuddles they wanted and I could have thirty minutes to myself.

And I kind of knew all of this, when I ditched the contraception. And I don't regret it. And I feel so lucky to be in this full-time parenting position.

But I'm tired.

I'm so tired that my mum - thinking nurseries in Aberdeen would be as cheap and flexible as nurseries at her end of the country - offered to pay for Matilda to go to nursery a couple of mornings a week. Only to have to retract her offer when I laughed and showed her some local websites - a minimum of four mornings per week starting at £390 per month? a minimum of two full days per week starting at £500 per month? ho ho no!

So... playgroups? Playgroups being those groups at which children can be deposited and the grown ups can turn tail and leave (as opposed to toddler groups, at which the grown ups must stay and make exhausting amounts of conversation). Matilda is eligible for playgroup from this summer. But the nearest one would involve us spending an hour on the bus getting there, me spending two hours loitering in a strange part of town, trying not to spend any money, and then both of us spending an hour on the bus getting home again. It's not an option which offers me a break, and the city centre creche comes with the same set of problems.

So I'm tired.

Not always.

Sometimes I feel energised.

Sometimes all I need is for Steve to take Matilda to the park without me. Sometimes all I need is one of Matilda's monthly visits to our neighbour (which I feel very lucky to have). Sometimes all I need is my book group or coffee with a friend.

But today, right now, the long, dark days of January are looming and we have nothing in the calendar; I can't find a pilates class at a time or location which works for my family; I can't figure out how I'm going to get to the cinema to see that Emma Stone film; I've run out of creative craft ideas for toddlers; and I can't remember when my daughter last slept through the night.

So today I am tired.

And I'm not sure which new year's resolution I could use to resolve it.

Three New Things I've Done This Week

Trying Something New: Trapeze Class

Swung Around


I did it! I went to the trapeze class! And it was fab! 

I say "trapeze class" for simplicity but it was actually a two hour class divided between static trapeze (so: no chucking partners through the air) and aerial silks (wrapping yourself in fabric, up high). 

I loved, loved, loved the trapeze (which wasn't very high off the ground at all and had a huge crash mat underneath it). A lot of the moves were things I used to do on the swings as a kid (in fact, some of them were things Matilda already does) but, to a grown up who can't do a pull up for longer than a split second and is incapable of any kind of press up no matter how many knees I put on the ground, they all looked very daunting. But then I got up there. AND I DID THEM! And I felt like the most graceful, nimble, Swan-costume-wearing ballerina-esque sprite ever. Amazing.

The aerial silks I wasn't as sold on - they didn't seem to agree with my hips at all - but my friend really enjoyed them; she was doing all kinds of fancy things by the end. I, meanwhile, can confirm that you're unlikely to injure anything other than your pride if you fall off.

I can't justify spending £15 a week on the classes but my friend and I do both plan to go back now and then - we both had a great time, and the instructors did tell me that there are people who just do one activity or the other, should I want to stick to trapeze. For any locals who fancy it, I did the class at Inverted and I highly recommend it.

Drove In


A friend and I went to a drive in showing of Elf at the local football stadium (actually: in the local football stadium car park, but that sounds a bit dodgier, doesn't it?). 

There was a screen at the front of the car park showing the film, the cars were carefully arranged in a fanned out pattern so everybody had a clear view, and we all tuned our radios to a specified frequency to hear the dialogue. It was a bit odd, watching a film with one mate in a car park - it felt more like watching TV than going to the cinema; we were completely disconnected from the rest of the audience - but we got hot chocolate from the tuck shop and worked our way through a huge bag of Celebrations so, all in all, it was a pretty fun way to spend an evening.

Actually, it was the first time I had seen Elf, so I guess this post could have been called "FOUR New Things I've Done This Week". As for never having seen Elf before: I KNOW. What sort of blogger am I?! This is particularly shocking given that Steff loaned me her copy a year ago. I wasn't all that sure if I would enjoy it (sorry, Elf-lovers) but, other than the ickiness of the Will Ferrell/Zooey Deschanel age gap (13 years), I thought it was loads of fun, largely because it made no attempt to be a grown up movie whatsoever.

Toddled to the Theatre


Matilda, my mum and I went to The Lemon Tree to see WHITE, a show aimed at 2-4 year olds.

This wasn't Matilda's first theatre trip - Steve and I took her to a baby show called Duvet Day when she was eleven months old and tottering around looking stunned by everything. But this did feel like a first. This was the first time she went to the theatre and understood the story.

To be honest, I wasn't sure we were going to make it through more than five minutes. We had had a rough night of teething and Matilda seemed to be struggling with being in a strange place surrounded by strange people for mysterious and no doubt strange reasons; she was unusually clingy in the waiting area. 

But then the show started. And she was noisily captivated ("White! Hats! Birds' houses EVERYWHERE!").

The premise was simple (the world is all white; colour starts to appear and that is scary and bad; but, actually, isn't colour rather lovely?; yes, it is!) and the dialogue was all words and phrases Matilda already uses; she seemed to understand the story and, by the end, she was positively beaming. As were my mum and I. It was wonderful. Well worth the five moments of trauma beforehand.


The Rooftops Family Garden in Autumn


It's cold outside so I'll admit: my main bit of gardening effort at the moment is reading Ken Thompson books. Matilda, on the other hand, is completely committed to keeping the plants watered and is out there, duck in hand, come torrential rain or shine.

Calendula and hydrangea

Autumn started off so beautifully. It might be my favourite time in the garden. The kaffir lilies, nerines and campanula were in full bloom; the hydrangeas were fading to chintzy glory; the geraniums had spread themselves across every potentially bare patch of earth; and there was one random yellow poppy bopping about in amongst them all. Stunning.

Family garden in autumn: kaffir lilies
Nerines

Now, as winter approaches, things are a lot barer. Some of the plants look wilted and orange; some of them have vanished; there's an awful lot of moss. The exception to the desolation is two cotoneaster plants which I'm not sure are supposed to be there (I'm pretty sure they seeded from next door) but which have sprawled out across one flowerbed, dotting the place with vivid green and red.

Cotoneaster

Here's what we've done in the garden since my end of summer update:

Hard pruned the geraniums (because geraniums grow faster than an internet scandal) and roses (because the flowerbeds my child goes stomping around in should not be full of spikes). I also tried to get rid of some of the crocosmia but their bulbs are seemingly made of concrete so they'll have to stay. For now.

Saved the sad old carnation by chopping off all of its healthy bits and poking them, gnarly end first, into the flowerbeds. They all seem to have taken root which makes me feel like the most accomplished gardener ever to wield secateurs.

Fed the birds. The birds are not very interested in our offerings. Or possibly there are no birds left to be interested since the neighbours cut down two big trees. Still: good intentions and all that.

Planted a clematis called Ken. Ken was supposed to grow up a bare trellis which was... eh... hanging around on our wall. Ken got eaten by slugs. Sorry, Ken.


Ordered a selection box of twelve random rockery plants (who knew plant selection boxes were a thing?!) and plonked them around our smaller, mossier flowerbed without any thought as to soil content or sun levels. Some are faring well; a couple have vanished; one got eaten by cats and thrown back up on itself. My hopes are not hugely high here.

Peacock blue exterior paint

Painted the bench "peacock blue". Which is a lovely colour. Although it looks a bit flaky and rubbish thanks to it getting rained on shortly after the second coat was done. I plan to touch it up when the weather gets better although there's a good chance I'll remember how tedious a job painting a bench is and keep on "forgetting" to do it.

Put a handle on our shed door so we can actually open it in wet weather. Who knows when we might need to get at our collection of all-but-empty tins of paint?!

Autumn garden

Other than the carnation, I realise this doesn't sound like a particularly successful season in the garden, but I feel like we're getting our head around it a bit more and have a better idea of what we're aiming for.

I'll be back with another update at the end of winter (which might just say "some snowdrops appeared" but we'll have to wait and see).

Some Things Which Aren't Christmas-Related

Highland Wildlife Park, Cairngorms

Swinging
I've booked a trapeze class. I was really hoping that not enough other people would book onto it and it would be cancelled. Because then I could be all, "Oh, yeah, I was going to try that cool but incredibly scary form of exercise despite the waiver form telling me I could fall from a great height and sprain all my limbs, but other people spoiled it for me." Instead, I'm going to have to actually go through with it. And buy some leggings. Holy crap.

Aviemore
We had our first family holiday to Aviemore last week (over Steve's birthday) - two nights in a chalet in a forest. It was mid-week off-season so almost everything was closed. We looked at owls, monkeys and puddles at Highland Wildlife Park (also assorted other things Matilda had no interest in/couldn't see from her car seat) but, otherwise, we just cosied up in the chalet or crunched around collecting fir cones. I feel like I should be able to get a whole blog post's worth of "it was so hygge" waffling out of it but... I kind of don't want to. That would be overthinking our two days of not doing much thinking at all.

Exploding Kittens
New favourite game. Except when other people win.

Second Babies
Another thing I feel like I should be able to get a whole blog post out of. But here's the short version: it seems like everyone who had a baby at the same time as we had Matilda is expecting again (or has already had their second). Steve and I have reasons we would like a second child and reasons we're hesitant (concern about my hips giving out being a big one). Every time we start to seriously weigh up the pros and cons, Steve's work announces another round of redundancies and the decision gets put on hold until we find out whether or not we can afford to pay the mortgage. So I have mixed emotional reactions to other people's pregnancy news: excitement for them; relief it's not me; grief it's not me; and resentment that external factors are playing such a role in the shaping of our family. Oh, and my period's due on Christmas Day - THANKS, SANTA.

Walls
The horrible terracotta colour of our stairwell has been replaced by a much calmer, much brighter willow tree green. And it is good.

Tell me: what's new with you?

What I've Been Reading Recently

What I've Been Reading Recently

The House of Birds by Morgan McCarthy*
Freshly unemployed Oliver volunteers to oversee the renovation of an old house his girlfriend just inherited. He suspects he's going to love pottering around in a semi-derelict building; he doesn't expect to stumble across a post-war diary or to be drawn into a family mystery. It took me a little while to warm to Oliver (who is rubbish at knowing his own mind) but I liked diarist, Sophia, from the start and was very quickly drawn into the story. One of those big, absorbing books about a time, a place and a messy set of carefully hidden emotions - if that's your kind of thing (and it is mine), this one is worth a read.

Unf*ck Your Habitat: You're Better Than Your Mess by Rachel Hoffman*
A cleaning and tidying book for people who don't have time to clean and tidy. There are no detailed itineraries or mindbogglingly time consuming schedules in this book - just simple advice for getting your home looking good enough (even if you have roommates; even if you don't know how to clean; even if you're really busy; even if you have physical or emotional factors limiting how much you can do). That's the kind of ethos I can get behind. Unfortunately for me, it's the kind of ethos I already have (basically: cleaning little and often; accepting that it's better to make a bit of effort now than have a chore hanging over me) so the book didn't tell me anything new. But it might tell YOU something new. Or somebody you know. If you want to get your cleaning act together (and don't mind quite a bit of swearing), this is more helpful than the usual overly complicated cleaning systems you see on Pinterest.

The Birthday That Changed Everything by Debbie Johnson
Nope. Couldn't do it. I waded through about 25% of this but it was full of two dimensional, gender stereotyped, ooh-aren't-we-naughty characters, had a flimsy plot that wanted to be Shirley Valentine and, struggle as I might, I couldn't seem to muster any empathy for Whatever-Her-Name-Was-I-Can't-Bring-Myself-To-Check, the lead character, about whom "doormat" is too generous a description.

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Yes, I was totally just going through my Kindle looking for books with birthday-related titles this month. I couldn't remember what this one was; it turned out to be a collection of essays by Anna on the subjects of being one of the first generation of women expected to hold down a career whilst still being expected to keep the house and mind the kids, and of growing older (she was sixty at the time of writing). And I loved it. LOVED IT. Even when I didn't quite agree with Anna's views (and that was only ever in minor ways) (although be warned that she's writing about the life of someone with two houses; I know that would drive some of you nuts), her writing made me really think about what I do believe, how my life has unfolded as a working woman and how I'm experiencing parenthood now - and I wanted to sit down with her on a comfy sofa, coffee/tea in hand, and chat about all of these things.

The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking
One of my birthday gifts, I expected this to be full of fluff about layering your sofa with blankets and switching off the overhead lights. And some of it was that. But Meik Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Research Insitute, so he also serves up various facts and figures about what makes people happy and how to achieve more cosiness and contentment in your own life without a lot of conspicuous consumption. The brief version is good friends, slow cooking and comforting routines - but the longer version is a lot more interesting.

*Provided for review

Creating A House of Doodles (With Chalkboard Marker Review & Discount Code)

Plant pot upcycled with ChalkOla chalkboard markers

When I was a teenager, I started scrawling all over my bedroom. I painted flowers on the mirrored wardrobe doors and angsty song lyrics on my chest of drawers; I drew a whole zoo of pencil animals around the spots on my bedroom wallpaper and I sometimes wonder if the next owners noticed them before stripping the late 80s decor away.

Now I have my own home and there's nobody more senior to tut and sigh if I deface the place.

But there's me. I'd tut and sigh about anything which would take serious decorating effort to erase.

And that's where chalkboard markers come in.

You all know that I hardly ever accept review products these days. I have to really want them before I say yes. And I really wanted these ChalkOla chalkboard markers. In fact, they were already on my Amazon wishlist, awaiting some disposable income.

Plant drawn on window with ChalkOla chalkboard markers

I'll get straight to the point: I love them. I doodled all over the house with them. I had a great time.

More details? Okay. I drew on plant pots. I drew on windows. I drew on mirrors. I drew on a blackboard and I drew on chalkboard vinyl. I'm tempted to draw on the kitchen cupboards and bathroom tiles.

It was brilliant.

The pens are full of high density chalk ink - it takes a bit of squidging the pen tip in and out to get them flowing the first time they're used, but after that the ink flows really smoothly; they're lovely to draw with. The only issue I had was the ink running a little bit on very, very cold glass (see picture above: our unheated stairwell) but on all other surfaces it was perfect and it dried quickly, making it safe to use at toddler height.

The chalk ink rubs straight off non-porous surfaces with a wet cloth (it's worth noting that DIY chalkboard paint can be slightly porous; if the chalk ink doesn't wipe off easily, it can be removed with one of those super-duper Magic Sponges that pound stores sell).

Doodling with ChalkOla chalkboard markers

These chalk markers could be great for Christmas crafts - you could doodle on Christmas tree baubles, draw snowflakes and stars on your windows, or make beautiful wrapping paper by drawing on thick brown paper.

Or you could follow my example and stick with chalkboard scribbles and bad jokes.

The ChalkOla chalk markers can be used on any non-porous surface, so: chalkboards; whiteboards; vinyl; mirrors; windows; ceramics; plastic, etc. Obviously, if you're in any doubt, test them on an inconspicuous area first!

I was sent both the pack of ten neon colours and pack of eight earth colours to try out and loved both. You can also buy jumbo chalk markers and a three pack of white chalkboard pens.

If you'd like to do a bit of chalk ink doodling yourself, you can treat yourself to a sparkly 20% off by using discount code 20OFFSTR on any ChalkOla products.

Let me know what you create!

Flowerpot upcycled with ChalkOla chalkboard markers