31 January 2015

How I did with January's List of 31 Things

"Joys" painted on a lintel in Edinburgh

At the end of last year, I wrote a list of 31 little things to do in January in place of lofty resolutions. Here's how I got on with them:
  1. Drink lots of water.
  2. I drank lots of water. Lots and lots of water. Not much more I can say about this one!
  3. Invest in new bedding.
  4. I bought sheets for the baby's crib. My mum also turned up with a couple of gorgeous crib-sized knitted blankets and we know of at least one full sized one on the way!
  5. Do that one tiny DIY job you keep avoiding.
  6. This month has been ALL ABOUT the home improvements.
  7. Put food out for the birds.
  8. We've been making a habit of this over the winter. Steve even bought them a bag of dead worms (yuck).
  9. Overdress.
  10. I wasn't entirely sure how to go about this one. My outfits at the moment are either jeans-and-a-T-shirt or jersey-dress-and-tights; I'm not leaving the house much and I don't fit into my party clothes. Eventually, I figured that adding an unnecessary belt or a necklace would do - if nobody's going to see my accessories I'm wearing them purely for my own enjoyment and that has got to count.
  11. Clear out your blog reader. 
  12. Done. Though I still seem to be following around 100 blogs?!
  13. Send a thank you card.
    I've spent a lot of this month saying thank you but haven't sent anything through the post. Do tweets count?!
  14. Make that appointment you've been procrastinating about. 
  15. My original plan was to register with a new dentist but I decided that could wait until I'm more mobile. For now, I'm going to count my midwife booking me onto my antenatal classes!
  16. Throw out your uncomfortable shoes. Life's less fun when your feet hurt.
  17. Not only did I donate five pairs of shoes I'll never wear again, I filled three carrier bags with old clothes I no longer need.
  18. Follow a new recipe.
  19. I delegated this one to Steve...
  20. Use something you usually save for best.
  21. Get some fresh air.
    I happened to have a doctor's appointment on the twelfth so I did indeed go outdoors. I've been trying to get out into the garden every couple of days, too - I walk to the end of the path, admire the primulas, breathe deeply and get back into the warmth as quickly as possible!
  22. Have an early night.
    I had several this month!
  23. Chuck out your tatty underwear.
    I did this in December so: done! 
  24. Ditch the junk emails. 
    I'm pretty on top of this, anyway, so there were only a couple to clear out.
  25. Dance like nobody's watching.
    There was some wiggling to our Party Mix during and after the Burns Supper.
  26. Stargaze.
    Out the window but: yes.
  27. Snack healthy.
    I have been eating a lot of fruit... and cake... and shortbread... I'm going to give myself a big tick for this one, anyway.
  28. Get your favourite photos printed.
    I had our annual photobook printed.
  29. Switch one caffeinated drink for fruit/mint/ginger/green tea today.
    I'm pretty much off the caffeine at the moment.
  30. Clear out your old cosmetics.
    I did this in December so, yup, the bathroom is free of dusty old bottles.
  31. Repair one of the things in your mending pile.
  32. Update your About Me page/LinkedIn profile/Etsy profile/any other online showcase of yourself.
    Sort of. I wanted to update my blog design this month but found I couldn't sit at my proper laptop and faff around with Photoshop for long enough to get anything done. Instead, I just turned everything green and fiddled around with the menus a bit. I also did a bit of rewording of the About, Contact and T&Cs sections.
  33. Look into better bank accounts. If you find one, actually apply for it.
    Done! Our joint account was fine but my personal account wasn't paying me any interest any more and I had been meaning to look for an alternative accounts for ages. It took me all of five minutes to switch to a better account online and all of my direct debits etc should hopefully have been transferred by now.
  34. Bake something tasty.
    Yip! Coconut ice
  35. Make a big fuss of your pets or, if you don't have pets, walk a friend's dog.
    The cats are LOVING having somebody at home with them all day.
  36. Get up early and make an effort with breakfast.
  37. Leave something silly for a stranger to find.
  38. Check all the best before dates in your kitchen cupboard.
    Much to Steve's horror, yes, a load of stuff which went out of date a year ago ended up in the bin. There will be some attempt to be more careful about our shopping in the future.
  39. Add some sparkle to your outfit.As with the "overdress" suggestion, necklaces and sparkly belts were worn.
  40. Write a big list of FUN things to do with the rest of the year.
I'd say that's not bad going. How did you get on?

29 January 2015

That Big List of Fun Things to do with the Rest of the Year

Brightly coloured pinwheels

One of the suggestions on my list of 31 things to do in January was to make a big, long list of fun things to do with the rest of the year.

My year is unlikely to feature foreign holidays and hedonistic drinking; I'm cautious about being too optimistic about what I can do with a baby to care for; but there are some things I'm excited about. They include:

The big one
  • Meet our child! 

Things to do when I'm more mobile:
  • Plant lots more brightly coloured flowers in the garden. Especially nasturtiums.
  • Feed the ducks.
  • Kick through autumn leaves.
  • Meet friends for tea and cake.
  • Go to the cinema. Even if it's just to parent-and-baby shows.
  • Go to the park. All the parks. We are surrounded by parks.
  • Look at the stars.
  • Pick brambles.
  • Eat pretzels with Elise.

Things to do at home:
  • Decorate the baby's room.
  • Eat biscuits with faces on them.
  • Watch as much of Eurovision as we can stay awake for.
  • Sew more.
  • Watch the rest of Parks and Recreation.
  • Have friends round for Christmas food.

Things to do with the baby:
  • Dress it in brightly coloured babygrows.
  • Take far too many photos of it dressed in brightly coloured babygrows.
  • Spend lots and lots of time talking to Steve about how amazing our child is.
  • Read to it.
  • Take it to meet its great-grandparents.
  • And everybody else we care about.
  • Go for big walks and show it the leaves and the birds and the butterflies and the flowers.
  • Enjoy referring to it as "he" or "she" instead of "it".

  • Cackle through a Dylan Moran show. The tickets are already booked and I'll get there if Steve has to push me in a wheelbarrow.
  • Wear skirts. And brightly coloured tights. And anything else which didn't feature in my pregnancy wardrobe.
  • Blow bubbles.
  • Drink some wine.

27 January 2015

Thoughts on Hypnobirthing

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a "Relaxation" antenatal class covering the basics of hypnobirthing.

Hypnobirthing is the use of calming breathing and visualisation to make labour quicker, easier and less painful. It doesn't stop contractions from hurting but women do seem to need a lot less drugs when they use hypnobirthing techniques. This article gives a pretty good overview of the theories and science behind it.

Relaxation is not one of the normal NHS antenatal classes but one of the local midwives is a big proponent of hypnobirthing; she's running the sessions (on the NHS) on a trial basis to establish whether there's an interest in them and whether women find the techniques useful during labour. I feel really lucky to have had the chance to attend and I hope these sessions become a standard thing, not just in Aberdeen but across the UK; I went along thinking my "The baby's coming out one way or the other - no point stressing too much" attitude was a pretty calm one but I left the class feeling so much more relaxed about labour and in control of what's going to happen.

Spider plant flower on swirly background

I don't suppose hypnobirthing is for everyone. It sounds a bit wishy-washy. Mothers love to tell me "Take all the drugs!" and scoff at the idea that labour can be anything but agonising. But I've got my fingers crossed (in a loose and relaxed kind of manner). I know women who have had good experiences giving birth.

And it makes sense to me.

In fact, some of the techniques we were taught were already familiar to me.

Having endometriosis, my periods are very heavy and used to be extremely painful. Used to be. These days, despite me being unable to take painkillers, I find them mildly uncomfortable but totally manageable. I credit that entirely to having learnt to relax my body and my breathing - if I'm focused on the pain, I tense up and the cramps get worse; if I relax my muscles, they ease.

Likewise, I used to be plagued by migraines. Although I still get the odd hormonal one, it's very unusual for me to get any others. That change occurred when I realised that, when I'm stressed or very focused, I tense my jaw on one side; learning to recognise when I'm doing that and to consciously relax it cleared the migraines right up.

And, on those rare occasions when I have trouble sleeping, I can usually send myself off by relaxing each muscle in my body in turn - starting with the top of my head and my eyelids and my cheeks and working my way down to my toes.

I fully believe that we can make pain worse by telling ourselves it's awful and we can make it easier to manage by teaching ourselves to relax.

So hypnobirthing really appeals to me.

Despite this, and despite the midwife's first hand accounts of hypnobirthing easing labour, I might have been a little more sceptical were it not for three of the other women in my class.

Two of the women happened to have had this woman as the attending midwife for the births of their first children. She had managed to teach them each enough relaxation techniques during labour to markedly improve their pain so now, both expecting their second child, they had come along to learn more.

And the third woman was in labour. During the class. She wasn't far enough along to be admitted to the maternity unit but she was having contractions roughly every ten minutes. We could see the contractions happening and we could see that she was feeling uncomfortable but, using the breathing techniques she had learned (she had been to the class previously but was back for a refresher), she was riding them all out calmly and smiling and laughing with the rest of us.

More than anything else, watching another woman experiencing labour right in front of me was really reassuring. So much of what we see on TV and in films is women screaming in agony, yet here she was breathing slowly and getting on with her life - so much so that she had made it to an antenatal class on her own.

So there we go. There are no guarantees. The birth may still be difficult or need to be assisted. I may panic and forget everything I've learned. It may be as agonising as it always looks in TV shows. But I don't feel scared. I feel like I can cope with this; I feel more in control.

P.S. My pregnancy posts have all been a bit wordy and thinky recently; next week I'm going to do another general round up post so if you have any questions let me know!

25 January 2015

Extra: Ordinary Moments

Self-portrait, low sun, dark background

I'm still all about our lighting circuit. I had hoped that at least one honest-seeming electrician would poke at the rubber wiring and scoff at the very suggestion that it needed replaced but, sadly, that was not to be.

The quotes are painful. So painful. I mean, they're not as much as the new roof was and they're not quite as much as the new boiler was but it's a four figure sum. And not one which starts with a one.

On the bright side, a bit of financial fretting was the push we needed to sort out a better deal on our life insurance and for me to get a new bank account (quickly, while I could still tick "I earn a living" and "I have no dependants" on the application form).

We won't be re-carpeting the baby's room quite as soon as we had expected but that's okay - the projectile bodily fluids may as well land on something which is already stained.

Bird on snowy wall
Sleeping black cat, Polly

Although Burns Night is technically tonight, we had our Burns Supper yesterday on the grounds that at least three out of the five people present would be consuming a little too much whisky for a Sunday evening.

Steve cooked up haggis (both meaty and veggie), mash (cheesy, oniony and neepy), stovies, sausages (for the one person who - until last night - thought she didn't like haggis) and oatcakes. Having learnt our lesson previously, we gave the cranachan a miss and made do with shortbread and ice cream for afters.

I've got to admit: neither Steve nor I paid any attention to Burns Night until a few years ago; it became A Thing in our household when we realised it was basically all about food.

Speaking of food, here are some of his recent cooking experiments:

Homemade lentil soup
Healthy pasta

Other than that, life has been about keeping cosy. A teeny bit of snow finally arrived in Aberdeen so Steve and the neighbours have been out gritting pavements and I've been... uh... drinking hot tea.

What have you been up to?

For more photos from my life visit Two Days the Same and/or my Instagram.

23 January 2015

Frosty Blue Coconut Ice

Blue and white coconut ice for frosty, frozen days

Yesterday, I was really in the mood to do some baking but I had one proviso: it had to take absolutely no effort. No beating of ingredients. No wielding of rolling pins. No kneading of dough. Definitely no attempting to take things in or out of the oven (I should upload a video of myself trying to kneel down at the moment. It invariably ends with me falling over, Humpty Dumpty style. And I'd prefer if that wasn't into the cooker).

What better, then, than coconut ice? It takes one bowl, two spoons, one baking tray and roughly five minutes of your time. It must be one of - if not the - easiest treats to make and it would sate my ongoing coconut craving.

As an added bonus, I felt pretty chuffed when I realised that the name coconut ice and yesterday's frosty weather would make a good combination. Like I was a proper baking blogger who thought about times of the year and themes and whatnot, rather than someone who simply decided to witter on about her biannual foray into the kitchen.

Mixing ingredients for coconut ice - very easy to make

So, yes, for those of you who have never made coconut ice before, here's how you do it:

350g dessicated coconut
350g icing sugar
400g condensed milk (a 395g can of Carnation is fine - these measurements are all rough guides)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
A few drops of food colouring (usually pink)

How to make it
Mix everything except the food colouring in a bowl.
Slop half the mixture onto a baking tray in a roughly rectangular shape.
Stir the food colouring into the remaining mixture.
Slop the coloured mixture on top of the white stuff.
Bung it in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Cut it into pieces.

Could that be any easier?

Coconut ice is traditionally pink and white but I got it into my head that blue and white would look... icier? So that's what I went with.

I admit, it was a bit odd looking at a pile of blue coconut but it tasted exactly the same. By which I mean: absolutely gorgeous.

How to make blue and white coconut ice

I'm still craving coconut, though. That bit didn't work.

How to make blue and white coconut ice Frozen style

20 January 2015

Some Fights are Bigger than Others (But all People are Important)

There's a lot of talk today about the possibility of The Sun ditching page three girls (for the non-Brits amongst you: The Sun is a trashy newspaper; page three girls are glamour models). The majority of the people I interact with online are celebrating this as a step in the right direction; a handful of the people I interact with are arguing that women should be able to earn cash from their boobs in any way they like; and a tiny number are up in arms - not because they support page three but because they feel this is "privileged white girls trying to steal attention away from the more important feminist issues."

I'm not going to get into the page three debate here (although, for the record: no, I don't think it's appropriate in a newspaper; yes, I do think women's weeklies do a lot of damage, too) but I do want to question the notion that some women's rights are not important enough to spend time on.

Actually, I want to question the notion that some people's rights are not important enough to spend time on; I have seen similar statements made about the presumably fluffier varieties of racism, homophobia and other kneejerk hate campaigns.

I don't believe it matters how many elements of privilege a person has, we all deserve to be treated with respect and to have that right defended.

To be clear: I do think there are much bigger feminist issues than glamour modelling. Compared to many other cultures, the average British woman is in a good position - she can reach puberty without being mutilated; she can marry (or not marry) whomever she chooses; she has access to contraception and healthcare; she can get a good job and own property and largely determine the course of her own life. There are much, much bigger feminist fights out there than the appropriateness of page three.

But this is not a competition. We are not limited to caring about a certain number of issues. We do not have to have eradicated all the really bad situations before we start tackling the littler ones.

I am tired of seeing people's campaigns belittled because they're not "the most important one". If somebody sees a problem and addresses it, isn't that a good thing? One more issue ticked off the list is better than no progress at all.

Because the fact is: nobody is immune to difficulty.

Some of us are more or less likely to face difficulties than others. If we are (or look and sound) white and British, we're less likely to face prejudice. If we are straight (or currently in a male-female relationship), we're less likely to face prejudice. If we like the genitals we were born with (or keep our displeasure to ourselves), we're less likely to face prejudice. If we are (or have become) wealthy, our life will in many ways be less difficult.

But not even straight, white, rich men are guaranteed good fortune all the time. Anybody can develop terminal illness; anybody can lose a child; anybody can be attacked or assaulted; anybody can be bullied by schoolmates or colleagues; anybody can be surprised by difficulties at any point in their life.

I want to live in a society where women who are assaulted don't have to worry that they'll be dismissed as "privileged white girls looking for attention."

I want to live in a society where women who complain about being ogled and propositioned don't have to worry that they'll be dismissed as "privileged white girls looking for attention."

I want to live in a society where women who speak out when they're passed over for promotion don't have to worry that they'll be dismissed as "privileged white girls looking for attention."

I want to live in a society where, if somebody is treated with injustice, they have the right to speak out and be listened to, where they won't be told that they've had their share of the luck already and to get their priorities straight.

Somebody will always be in a worse situation than us, no matter what happens. It's inevitable. But we can't all wait around, suffering through our own smaller indignities, while the rest of the world catches up.

We all deserve respect. We all deserve to have people stick up for us when we are treated badly. We should not need to join a queue.

So, whatever your views on the feminist debate of the day, please don't use "there are worse things in the world" as your standpoint. It's not a reasoned argument and it's not a reasonable argument; it's telling people that they are unworthy of care; and one thing all feminists should be able to agree on is that all women - all people - deserve equality and dignity, no matter what their starting point in life.

19 January 2015

The Rooftops Annual Photobook 2014

The Rooftops Annual Photobook 2014

Steve and I only have a handful of annual traditions.

On our first morning in this flat, we went to the bakery at the bottom of the lane and bought smiley face biscuits; we took photos of ourselves hiding behind them. This year, on our first anniversary of moving in, we did the same. We promised to make it a yearly thing.

In July, we visit my family. We don't only visit them in July but that's when the small town they live in holds its week of (highly photographable) summer festivities - we like to catch those if we can. This year was particularly fun as we got to take our at-the-time-very-nearly-five year old nephew to the funfair for the first time.

And during the first few days of January I compile a photobook of all the previous year's memories.

The Rooftops Annual Photobook - All Covers 2009-2014
The Rooftops Annual Photobook - All Back Covers 2009-2014

The front cover of the book always has a random, vaguely arty picture on it. The back cover is always a picture of the two of us (albeit with Ben Stiller in 2009 and a friend's feet in 2010).

The picture of us from 2009 is the night we got together; 2013 is the weekend we moved into our flat; 2014 is our fifth anniversary, taken at the Love Wall in Paris.

The Rooftops Annual Photobook 2014
The Rooftops Annual Photobook 2014

There are so many places to get photobooks printed online. Personally, I always use Blurb for two reasons: last time I checked (two years ago), they were the only place which would let me print books THIS THICK (2013 and 2014 were both close to 300 pages); and habit - I know that all the books will match.

This isn't a sponsored or affiliate post but I am very happy with them. Their editing software is easy to use, their books are good quality and their prices are about average - that's all I ask.

The Rooftops Annual Photobook 2014

And I love this tradition. Receiving a book of happy memories halfway through January is such a good way to start the year; it gets me excited for the (almost) twelve months about to come.

The Rooftops Annual Photobook 2014

18 January 2015

Extra: Ordinary Moments

Polly, little black cat's ear. Face hidden by tail.
Introduction to Viv Albertine's autobiography, Clothes Clothes Clothes, with a quote from Bruce Lee. Viewed on a Kindle.

We finally got sick of the bulbs blowing in the dining room chandelier. We could never decide if it was amazingly retro or amazingly hideous but we hung onto it because it would occasionally shine rainbows across the walls and the ceiling.

Enough, though. It had to go. We had had one too many dinners by candlelight and flashing plastic animal. It was time to call an electrician.

More depressingly, if I was calling electricians anyway, it was time to be all grown up and sensible and remove a threat to Baby Rooftops's life. We knew the lighting circuit (just the lighting circuit, thankfully) was old rubber wiring; we bit the bullet and arranged some quotes for rewiring it.

We do not expect them to put smiles on our faces.

Light shining on a ribbed copper shade.
Glowing plastic animals lighting a dining room table

In other tales of the flat disintegrating, this week Gizmo managed to tear the living room blinds to pieces by falling off the windowsill.

On the bright side, though, last weekend Laura took our stack of flattened cardboard and our broken blender to the recycling point and carted a few bags of cast off clothes to a charity shop.

Yesterday, Bruce came round and helped us dismantle the spare bed (which is going to live with some friends in their brand spanking new house) and a quadruple wardrobe (which we presume the previous residents abandoned because they couldn't be bothered to take the thing apart). So at least there's some visible progress.

Gizmo, black cat, watching stormy weather out the window

The cats spent one day this week trying to catch the leaves blowing past the window. Through the glass.

Aberdeen's actually got off pretty lightly this season - we had a few wild and windy days during the storm but, over all, it's been bright and still and sunny. I was feeling a bit cheated because we've only had about an hour of snow all winter but now I'm feeling ready for the spring - the snowdrop and crocus leaves are already filling our flowerbeds and some daisies have appeared in the grass. I even gave my springtime Pinterest board some love. I'm ready for the flowers.

Fingers crossed we don't now have two months of rain... I don't believe in jinxes, I don't believe in jinxes...

And tell me: what's new with you?

For more photos from my life visit Two Days the Same and/or my Instagram.

16 January 2015

teapigs Matcha Challenge

teapigs Matcha Challenge set
Yes. Yes this is a review post. But it's about tea and we all know how important that is so bear with me.

So. When teapigs offered to send me a tin of their Matcha tea, I snapped up the offer. As previously mentioned, our flat has a whole cupboard dedicated to tea - Steve and I are not ones to turn up our noses at new flavours.

Then I had a little freak out about drinking anything even mildly caffeinated during my pregnancy (hot chocolate excluded because hot chocolate is so full of calcium that it's essential for the baby's growing bones). I did a lot of reading up, though, and had soon reassured myself that the 30mg of caffeine in a mug of Matcha is well within the recommended daily limit. Phew!

Mug of hot water, scoop of teapigs Matcha
Stirring teapigs Matcha into "Happy" mug

Then my parcel turned up complete not just with a tin of Matcha, a calendar for tracking my two week #matchachallenge (check out the hashtag - people are getting really into this) and a cute little pin badge, but with a shot glass, measuring spoon and frothy whisky thingy, too. You can buy the kit here. I mean, once I've finished telling you about it. Don't just wander off in the middle of our conversation, eh?

Anyway, I opened up the tin of Matcha and this little cloud of green dust swirled out. It looked fab. I wished I'd known to photograph it. It was like some sort of magical potion from The Wizard of Oz. I loved it.

But the Matcha was bright green, too. BRIGHT GREEN. I am suspicious of all green food and drink products. Even sweets. I will eat them but I've never quite grown out of my childhood conviction that anything green is too worthy to be fun.

When I was very little, I was once made to dress up as a brussel sprout for a village gala. There may be some lingering vegetable-related identity issues going on.

The Matcha also smelt like spinach. Check the "what have I got myself into?" doubt on my face before I took my first gulp:

About to try Matcha tea / shot of Matcha

As it turned out, though, it tasted pretty good - fresh and healthy; no bizarre aftertaste. And if you don't like mugs of green liquid, it can also be mixed into juices and milk and smoothies and food (again: see the hashtag - there are loads of people being more creative than me).

Now, Matcha sells itself as being super healthy. The bumph will tell you how great the majority of people feel after consuming Matcha daily for two weeks. They have better skin, better hair, more energy - all sorts of good stuff. That may well be true - it only occured to me after signing up for my own two week challenge that I'm not exactly the best person to go testing out health related claims at the moment. I was just hitting trimester three of my pregnancy so no amount of green juice was going to make me bouncy and glowy.

But what I can tell you is that I'm quite limited in what I can drink right now. Fruity and minty drinks are giving me rotten heartburn. Milk's making me gassy. Even water's making me feel a bit queasy. But Matcha I can drink. The flavour and the consistency somehow seem to work for me.

Which makes it a win in my blog book.

teapigs Matcha Challenge

So, yes, as I said, you can get your own complete Matcha kit here (at the time of writing, there's 20% off if you use the code MATCHA15). You can also follow the very lovely teapigs people on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for their newsletter, too.

And let me know if you like it! I'm curious to hear if you feel the benefit, too.

15 January 2015

What I've Been Reading Recently

Monday or Tuesday by Virginia Woolf
A tiny collection of stories which I read in a couple of hours. It took me a little while to get used to Woolf's style (again. I went through the same thing with her novels) and I'm not sure I was always getting the point but it was beautifully written...

Indiscretion by Charles Dubow
You know this story already: a charming, award-winning author has an affair with a younger woman; it backfires. There's nothing new here and, to be honest, the characters are a bit lacking in... well... character. But there's something engrossing about it. It's like watching a TV movie on a rainy afternoon. But go and make a cup of tea instead of bothering to watch the end credits read the lengthy epilogue.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Oh no, I'm about to make another film analogy. What has happened to my ability to critique books as books?! I picked this at random the week before Christmas - only to discover that it's actually set the week before Christmas. Narrator, Georgie is spending the festive period away from her husband and kids - and nobody is happy about this. To make matters worse, her husband won't answer his mobile and, when she calls his landline, she finds herself being connected to him... in 1998. She can't tell whether she's having a breakdown or has a magic, time travelling telephone - and, for most of the book, nor could I. But what I can tell you is this: when I got to the end, I felt like I'd just watched the squishiest, sweetest, most perfect Christmas movie and I wanted to share it with all my friends.

Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh
I'm pretty sure I read this because of another blogger's review but I can't find the post so: thanks to whoever recommended it. 100-ish years into the future, beautiful women who die young are frozen and kept in storage for rich men to buy as wives. When a musician accidentally kills someone and lands her on ice, he and a handful of new friends become concerned about the ethics of the whole enterprise. Sci-fi blended with feminism blended with good old fashioned romantic drama, this is one I really enjoyed.

The World According to Bob by James Bowen (and some ghostwriter named Garry)
Part of my annual Christmas haul of novelty cat books. I got the first Bob book last year which told the true story of a recovering drug addict being adopted by a ginger cat and being inspired to sort his life out as a result. It was quite a touching story. This book continues to be touching although a lot less actually happens in it - mostly it's just anecdotes about how cute the cat, Bob, is. Still, there's nothing wrong with gushing about cute cats, right?

Cat out of Hell by Lynne Truss
More Christmas cat book haul. Some evil immortal talking cats are killing off any humans who find out about their abilities. That's about it. I would have liked this to have either been much shorter (it has about a short story's worth of plot) or much longer (it could have been expanded so much) but it was a quick, easy read and a break from my usual tastes.

Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse by David Mitchell
A collection of columns written in a fairly world weary but reasonable tone, rather than as rants. They were a bit hit or miss but over all enjoyable with the occasional brilliantly funny turn of phrase.

Diving Belles by Lucy Wood
A lovely set of short stories, all with a hint of the magical about them - a village where it's accepted that sometimes people turn into standing stones; women travelling underwater to visit missing sailors; spirits keeping watch over houses as residents come and go. The stories are more about feelings than plots and they're all absolutely beautiful.

The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte
Not my usual sort of book at all, I read this for an online group and tried to approach it with an open mind (instead of rolling eyes). So, on the bad side: about 90% of the book is waffle; it could have been trimmed right down into a 1,500 word blog post and still been a little bit rambly. On the good side: I agree with the premise that goals should be based on the emotional outcome you want to achieve rather than other people's definitions of success; I also quite enjoyed answering all the questions about the good and the bad in my life right now and having a bit of a think about the things which matter. But do you need to spend all that money on the book? Nah, there are plenty of blogs which cover this stuff for free.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine
I'm always a little nervous about reading the autobiographies of people whose music or films I've admired for the same reason I'm not keen on DVD extras: too often the super-cool, super-smart, super-funny illusion is shattered. That did not happen with Viv Albertine's book. She writes with what is often painful honesty about everything from her teenage years through her depression, her struggles with infertility right up to her present day life as a divorcée, mother and artist. There's no need to have any idea who The Slits were or who Albertine is to enjoy this book - if you have any interest in punk musicians and evolving lives, this is worth a read.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce
(c/o Curtis Brown - thanks, CB Book Group!)
This is the companion novel to the The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry which I haven't read; I was worried that that might be a problem but the new novel stands on its own. It's the story of Queenie, who is living in a respite centre, dying of cancer. As the end nears, she starts to write a letter to the man she fell in love with several decades earlier - she never told him she loved him and she blames herself for a tragedy which occurred in his life; she has spent the intervening years tending a garden by the sea. The younger Queenie is an interesting, independent woman who knows how to stick up for herself; in the respite centre, it's rewarding to see her open herself up to the nuns and the other patients; I was less taken with the decades in between. This is beautifully written, though, and one to pick up when you're feeling unashamedly sentimental.

*Affiliate links are used throughout this post.