The Gift of Reading

There’s a box in my parents’ house that is brought down from the loft every Christmas. Inside is a treasure trove of family memories, books far older than me with dusty paperboard covers and faded colours, pages full of animal tales and winter adventures. There’s the Mole Family Christmas, complete with cassette tape ribbon well-worn from repeated listens. Or Bertie’s Escapade, the tale of an ambitious pig who goes carolling with his farmyard friends. There are some common favourites: A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Jolly Christmas Postman, a copy held surprisingly intact with its accompanying fairytale mail (evidence no doubt of our childish respect for the important missives of Little Red Riding Hood or the Three Little Pigs.)

This collection was added to over the years with neat paper packages under the tree, appreciated only after the flashier toys had been opened and all the candy eaten. These unassuming packages are the gifts that have lasted far longer than the train set or the big blue truck, still now a tiny portal in to past festive seasons.

It’s little wonder that books remain my gift of choice. It’s not only their neat shape for wrapping that makes them appealing, but also their variety and beauty. Even if never read, a book will look pretty on a coffee table or propping up a wobbly leg.

Many publishers have risen to the challenge of the e-book by printing ever more beautiful editions, reminding us that the physical object is part of a book’s great appeal; the choice of font, the end paper and paperweight all bound up with a cover design that is your own personal piece of artwork to carry with you whilst you devour the contents (or at least snap a bookstagram.)

With such variety it’s possible to find a book to suit every interest, no matter how obscure. Whatever the topic, you can be sure someone has written a book about it. It’s a pleasure to wander the rows of a well-curated bookshop, encountering unusual histories of mountains or river journeys, instructions for knitted rock stars or biographies of lesser-known physicists.

As often as I’ve made a careful and considered choice, there’s just as many books that have come to the rescue at the last minute. I suspect I’m not the only one who’s wandered in to Wighterstones on a Christmas Eve to find a good gift for that difficult cousin. There’s plenty of suggestions amongst their tables of cookbooks and calendars. Still beyond, there remains the quiet orderliness of their shelves, belying the December bustle.

One year we gave each other second hand books. It was an extra challenge to hunt through the various charity shelves to find something just right. Some charity bookshops give book plates this time of year that say where the book was bought and where the proceeds will go.

In a season of excess there is something delightful about the slow pace and simple pleasures of a good book. It’s the perfect accompaniment to most every other winter cliche, be it mulled wine by the fireside or vegging out after overeating. So, give a book a home this Christmas. The possibilities are endless.

December Came

Christmas is in two weeks. It seems to have arrived quite gently this year. Out of necessity and design we have been merrily getting our craft on. In a flurry of gifting and some magazine assignments amidst redecorating, our house has seen more hammer and nails, yarn and thread than it has in the past ten months.

The oven is working hard, churning out thanksgiving dinner, pies, cookies and ninjabread men. I listen to old crooners and think of Grama doing the same across the ocean, whilst she sends me snaps of her cat by the tree.

We bought our tree yesterday (and a replacement stand as I mysteriously misplaced ours in autumn’s enthusiastic clear-out). The extra branches are now lying in a box, waiting for one of us to muster them in to a wreath. But the fire needs tending and I’m deep in the middle of reading The Once and Future King, so that probably needs some attention before any more of this crafting business continues.

So, for now, here’s some Christmas decorations we made earlier.

Travelling Solo

Europe Collage

I’ve recently returned from a few days travelling across Europe by myself. It wasn’t until someone asked me that I realised I’ve never actually done so until now. I was surprised to feel a little apprehensive the night before my departure from Lithuania. This was partly due to the fact that my travel plans fell apart the night before departure and I had to quickly hustle an alternative route from Vilnius to Warsaw. Such small details as a train route no longer being in operation are not enough to put me off!

It’s only been in the last year that I realise how haphazard my journey plans can be. I’m simply not the most organised of travellers. The tone was set on my first post-uni adventure with Tom. Armed with bikes, tent and limitless time, there was simply no need to set a schedule. We meandered our way across Europe in perfect harmony, nosing out our route as we went. It’s my favourite way to travel; leaving room for the unexpected.

It’s not so easy to allow for such freedom with only five days to cover over 2000km. I had my route planned and my hostels booked: a day in Warsaw and a day in Berlin, amidst days of travelling in between. Regardless of the odd travel mishap, it was marvellous. I braved my own company, heard unexpected stories from strangers along the way, ate exactly where and what I wanted and generally did as I pleased. I’m trying to overcome my people-pleasing inclinations. Travelling alone is certainly a useful way to exercise one’s selfishness.

Running shoes proved the best thing to pack (thank you to Tom for the encouragement!) Light on my feet, my tourist status hidden behind the universal runner’s lycra uniform, I explored new places in the morning light and constructed my mental map. The food was fantastic, varied and almost entirely vegetarian (bar the obligatory post-hangover bratwurst in Berlin). The hostels were clean and friendly (if not for the quietest of nights’ sleep.)

I became better at sitting at the bar by myself, beer and book in hand, happy to watch the world go by. I discovered that I am strong and not to be messed with, but that I can also make new friends and have wild times in a new place. Perhaps these are things I already knew about myself. Perhaps not. Either way, it was fun to get to know me a little better. I think we could all do with giving ourselves a little more time. Of course, I suspect that my solo travels were made all the sweeter knowing that my best friend and my crazy hound were waiting for me at home. They’re with me in my heart even when we’re miles apart.

Daily Habits

Parkhurst Forest Walking the Dog

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about daily habits.  I wish I’d stuck to my daily yoga, and I kick myself for not spending more time cooking from scratch in the kitchen. Small things I surely should be able to fit in to my day.  But, a few daily habits have managed to stick.  Black coffee for starters (there was that one time I had a nutribullet instead but is was scary green and had no caffeine.)

With Rolo’s reproachful eyes, there’s no skipping the routine of a daily dog walk.  The forest feels different every time.  Even when it starts as a chore, once I’m standing under the sway of those tall trunks, navigating fallen branches and searching for badly thrown balls, it can’t fail to improve my mood.

I’ve also been sticking to a daily diet of at least 25 pages a day.  I’ve taken to the habit easily, steadily consuming some great books. Reading Lolita in Tehran was a surprise find in Oxfam and an unexpectedly compelling read.  Look out for it; seriously good.   The Orenda was equal parts brutal and beautiful, one of those books that leaves you a little wrung out at the end.

Right now I’m reading See You Tomorrow, but cheating on it with the odd chapter of Rebecca (because this weather), The Zombie Survival Guide (essential reading, of course) and Children’s Speech Sound Disorders (for the day job).

In our days of speedy information, eyes flicking over the tl;dr summaries of endless useful articles, it feels an expansive luxury to spend time with a book, to listen to just one story.  This year I’ve challenged my die-hard digital-age brother to read a real book.  He often has to bear me harping on about the beauty of books.  I think there’s something special about holding bound paper in hand, carrying it around with you everyday, spilling coffee on it, breaking its spine or bending a corner to save that thought.

Meanwhile, Brother has inadvertently set me the challenge of knitting with cobweb lace weight yarn, thanks to a beautiful silk bundle of the stuff he gifted at Christmas.  I’ve found a pattern that suits itself to TV-watching attention levels so here’s hoping I can squeeze in another daily habit.

A Spruce Up

As January closed, I started noticing peeks of spring out and about. Underfoot, the nibs of early bluebells and daffodils in such abundance it’s almost old news. Our own garden remains in wintry disarray, while I cling on to the excuse that the winter wildlife need some weedy cover.

Indoors, I could no longer cling on to the small fur tree that held it’s fairy lights long in to last week, but equally couldn’t say goodbye to the hygge goodness that comes from a string of lights. So, they remain, with some new greenery around.

Ever since listening to Igor and Judith at last year’s Blogtacular, I’ve been wanting to bring more plants into the house. Things have improved since the days of one lovely weeping fig languishing in the corner, but there’s still plenty more room for new plants. I’ll be joining the Urban Jungle Bloggers community this year and I’m looking forward to filling a little more of every day with greenery.

Meanwhile, you may have noticed some sprucing up on my blog home. Thanks to the efforts of the brilliant Alec Rust, Rusty Rambles has had a new lick of paint for the year ahead. I’m excited to have a bright new canvas to share some of this year’s adventures.