Wednesday, 8 September 2021

our favourite autumn books

hey all, today's post is hopefully refreshingly light, inspiring and fun! i'm going to share our favourite autumn / fall children's books with you, because i love switching our books around each season, and i want to inspire you to do the same. if you already do, then i hope there's a couple on my list that you'll pop on your wishlist or buy as gifts for friends. 

let me start by saying why i love switching books up with the seasons...

firstly, there's a huge benefit to me in switching things up around the house each season, switching my wardrobe over and re-arranging the books and toys, moving around any seasonal decorations, deep cleaning and generally doing lots of organising and donating to charity shops. it clears out mental space and allows my creativity to flow, and mostly just puts me in a good mood.

secondly, i believe it's super important for my children to learn more about each season, to grow up with a seasonal mindset, to embrace each seasons for what it can offer. i love how it inspires a deeper connection to our planet and a sense of richness in the celebration of each season. 

so, now, you'll notice each book in this list offers something slightly different to the next, some are funny, some are deeply imaginative, some have grand stories, some are whimsical, some talk about mental health, some talk about different cultures... we can learn so much about being a well-rounded human from books!

we have an autumn collection, Christmas collection, winter collection and a spring collection, and i'm working on the summer list!


so without further ado, here are our favourites:

1. Thankful by Eileen Spinelli (UK / US)
 - a short and sweet book, with fabulous illustrations, detailing little things we can be thankful for, it's super sweet and funny

2. Fletcher and the Falling Leaves (UK / US)
 - a great book dealing with big emotions, talking about the loss of things and the changing seasons, this is lovely

3. The Very Helpful Hedgehog (UK / US)  
- super funny and highly requested in our home, this talks about making friends, and it makes us all giggle

4. The Very Best Pumpkin (UK / US)  
 - this is about making friends and being kind, it's also about growing pumpkins, and the illustrations are really unique, this also gets asked for a lot

5. Brambly Hedge Autumn Story  (UK / US)  
- a classic, for a reason, the illustrations are so detailed and sweet

6. A Windy Day (UK / US)  
- this makes us all laugh, visualising our tshirts going over the fence on a really windy day, it's very seasonally appropriate here in England

7. How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World (UK / US)  
- gosh we all fell in love with this book last year, it talks about where each ingredient comes from that is in an apple pie, it talks about culture and agriculture, and has a really yummy recipe in the back

8. Winnie-the-Pooh Weather  (UK / US)  
- a lovely book for younger kids, this lift-the-flap book talks about the different types of weather

9. The Jumble Bears (UK / US)  
 - another old classic, this is a long tale, and full of rich images

10. Sweep (UK / US)  
- this one is a love it/hate it sort of book, it talks about sweeping emotions away, and how instead we need to confront them - it's unusual and modern, but i like that it deals with this issue as grumpiness is a bit of an epidemic!

11. In the Rain with Baby Duck (UK / US)  
- such a sweet book, encouraging children to get out and enjoy the rain

12. The Year at Maple Hill Farm (UK / US)  
- amazing at teaching children how a farm works through the seasons, so much detail on each month, and it's a good one for slightly older little ones

13. Camille and the Sunflowers (UK / US)  
- this is a tremendous series, introducing fine art to children - in this case it's Van Gogh - and i love the storytelling mixed with the interpretations of his art

14. Wilfred to the Rescue (UK / US)  
 - another Brambly Hedge, and we love this for Wilfred being a hero and making sure no friend is left behind!

15. Usborne What Makes it Rain? (UK / US)  
 - we have a few lift-the-flap books from Usborne, because they don't shy away from detail, and they're great for all ages. the don't talk to the children like they're not capable of retaining the proper understaning of something. thankfully this one talks through science even i didn't fully grasp as an adult, so i learnt too!

so there you have it, our favourite autumn books! i would love to hear yours in the comments below, please....

Monday, 5 July 2021

am i really 'back' on social media?

Right, I’m ready to talk. About why I left social media, what I learned whilst I was away and if I’m actually “back” to regular programming now.

So, last summer I quit all of social media, I was burned out and bitter, and very confused by the whole thing. It had been a long time coming, the exit, and one day I just finally did it. My main concern at the time was really wanting to give my family 100% of me, rather than anything less than that.

It didn’t take long before I made a YouTube video, because gosh I love shooting videos, and it’s often the quietest platform in some ways, less interactions and fewer expectations, which unfortunately has the added backfire of people being much crueler in the comments boxes.

I quit Facebook and haven’t looked back at all, there’s nothing I really use the platform for and haven’t done really in years (seems like a great place for people to show off their holidays, children, husbands or jobs). I deleted Twitter too because I hadn't used it in probably a decade  (seems like it's just an excuse for people to be grumpy and angry, or overly political).

Instagram has been the funny one. And here’s a few thoughts as to why…

NEGATIVES (reasons I left social media)

  • Political correctness has gone completely insanely out of control - you can’t say anything or do anything without offending someone, and too many of the honest and kind voices are being quietened out of fear of saying the wrong thing
  • Consumerism is absolutely the core of the platform - there’s no getting away from anything you post being wanted, whether that’s curlier hair, nicer yarn, a fancier bathroom, a larger garden - and even if your intention of posting isn’t to sell, it’s still a massive comparison trap. It got worse a couple of years ago when it was made more brand-friendly and sponsorship-friendly. 
  • Comparison is the thief of joy - following on from that last point, too much comparison can easily steal our joy, by simply making us spend time focusing on the things we don't have rather than the things we do. Now, that does all depend on what/who we are following and how strong and solid our mindset and habits are around social media, but it's a very slippery slope from a good level of comparison that moves society forward to it being too much.
  • Social media makes you put yourself in a niche when our lives just aren’t like that! I don’t know about you, but I’m varied and have so many different interests that I’d like to share with many of my friends, things I’m passionate about and things that light me up, but the algorithms don’t like it. Not everyone gets to see everything these days and that’s sad. I guess there's a positive offshoot of that though, in that for those with a specific interest or skill have the opportunity to shine.
POSITIVES (why I returned to social media)
  • Inspiration is a big one as far as I'm concerned. I came back to Insta first to seek inspiration, to sneakily look and get ideas for my crochet and my wardrobe (the algorithm on Pinterest is pretty worn out these days). So for regular inspiration, there's nothing like it! I just needed to change the sort of things I was following to make it work for me, whereas before I was following a heap of mummy and parenting accounts, I no longer do, because I feel confident in my path there and it generally made me feel negative. Any fashion Instagrams that were doing any partnerships with brands or regularly purchasing new clothes I stopped following to, because I found it would make me really want things I didn't need. 
  • Community is the other reason I returned, because Instagram is one of the main ways I connect with my friends at the moment, and I missed all my online friends, my international friends, my old friends, my acquaintances who I love to pieces and connecting on Instagram even in small ways is SO important to me. 
  • The Diary aspect was another huge part of the reason for the return. I love keeping my memories, simply because my real memory is so poor, and Instagram is a fabulous and cute way to journal your life. And I also missed making an extra special effort to see the good in each day, instead each day blurred into the next, from one wash load to the next. With Instagram, you keep your eyes peeled for the positive things, and try and savor that moment. That way when you scroll your feed you won't see the many hours spent cleaning that day, the hours spent prepping food, or caring for grumpy babes, or tidying or weeding. Instead you see the bits that made your day special, and those are the moments that make up your life. And for me, I tried doing more regular physical junk journaling, but there just isn't the time for it each day, but there's ALWAYS a moment to take and post a quick photo, to remember the day for the good bit you had, rather than the bad. And there's nothing wrong with that!

There's a lot more to it than that, but that's a starter for ten.

When I came off social media I was really excited to spend more time speaking with family and friends. I thought I would be much more able to pick up the phone and call or FaceTime or send a really great text (at least), but all that happened is that I spiralled into a pretty bad depression (yes actually, I saw a doctor). Why? Because I realised how ALONE we all are and how sad it is that we accept this daily isolation, especially as families.

The thing is, the really SAD thing is, that our society doesn’t really know how to do real life together. We were all spread out and distanced and isolated long before COVID. 

We all sit alone in the evenings, watching a screen (scrolling Instagram, checking the news updates, binge watching the latest Netflix series, catching up on a movie on Amazon Prime), sometimes not talking even to those members of our household properly. I clearly remember when I was 16, being sat in a room with someone really special to me and she was on her phone, and texting a friend, having fun, but I was the only other person in the room, and she was trying to have a side conversation with me at the same time. It was socially acceptable at the time, even cool, to be texting whilst someone else was present. I think she thought it would be rude to not text back, but I felt it was far ruder that she wasn't being present with me, the real person in the room with her. I felt really alone and second best.

Anyhow, obviously that event really scarred me, because I can remember the feeling and I remember telling myself never to let anyone else feel that way. I wish there was a book of modern etiquette around phones, because I still think it's the height of rudeness to get your phone out and scroll whilst other humans are present, unless it's to answer an important call, or book in the next date with each other. Yes, even and especially, with your partner or close family. We need to play more board games and do more crosswords and handicrafts together, and heck, maybe even read books together.

All that watching and screen time is just us comparing our lives to other lives, it's so addictive. But all it does is foster jealousy, and pretending we are all hard done by when actually so much of our life is SO simple and so richly blessed. We have so much to be grateful for! If we have a car, a driving license, good roads to drive on, access to medical care (let alone the free medical care we have in the UK), the ability to see, to talk, to walk, to think clearly, if we have a house, a garden, a garage, a bedroom (and all of those in a safe neighbourhood!), if we have a husband and children, if we have any kind of job or free education, and if we have access to fresh food and money to purchase food we can enjoy, we should be overwhelmingly GRATEFUL!!

But instead our culture around us tells us we aren’t pretty enough or our teeth aren't straight enough, or our kids aren’t smart enough or Montessori enough, or our houses aren’t clean enough or minimalist enough, or our food isn’t interesting enough or healthy enough. And it consumes us, oddly far more than those much more important things that we simply take for granted. One of the most powerful affirmations you can make in today's society is to yell loudly every day 'I AM ENOUGH!!'.

The thing that really has made my head spin is that society has got itself into quite the pickle and I cannot fathom a way back out again. A few hundred years ago we lived and grew up in the same community, we served it and it helped us in return if we worked hard and contributed and played by the community rules. People worked hard but that was (and is) how life is.

Now, we’ve all got it so easy and so convenient and our expectations are so high because we’ve seen so many different ways life can be and we’ve seen the details of them in tiny little grids. 

So, my grand plan for re-integration into real human society failed, because most other people are on their phones! Also, Coronavirus. Also, families are super separated these days and most people don't know their neighbours. Plus lots of other people I know are mamas and their energy levels are already running on low (why? because they're trying to live up to impossible expectations).

Also, during the time I wasn't on Instagram, my actual official 'Screen Time' didn't change. I was hoping it would. And the first couple of weeks it did, I didn't want to be anywhere near the thing. But after, I was just consuming different content. That's the honest truth. I listened to podcasts and made loads of FaceTime calls, I watched YouTube videos and learned about permaculture gardening, and I spend time calling and texting people. Phones are such a valuable resource for learning and communicating, we just need to create better boundaries and keep our hearts and heads safe from negative influence. 

The one thing I did a LONG time ago now, and it surprises me to see that people still do have them, is to remove all notifications, apart from texts of course and WhatsApp. I don't get any pop-ups on my phone, instead I choose to be in charge of my attention and my time, it cannot call on me to spend more time with it! I try to only use my phone in moments when my children are asleep or being cared for my someone else (my husband or my mum usually), so they have my complete attention at all times - most of the day I have zero idea where my phone is, and my husband calls on the house phone! I try to text people back at the weekends when my brain has some free space, or in the evenings if I'm not completely exhausted.

So, let me end with...

  1. We NEED community, and we need to engage with community, wherever we find it
  2. You are ENOUGH!
  3. Be aware of the voices and opinions you're letting in to your head, they are influencing you one way or another, even if they're not trying to (you can't unsee things you've seen, or unread things you've read)
  4. It's cool to use Instagram as a diary to remember your happy moments and forget the parts that make each day blur into the next, especially as a mama, especially during lockdown. 
  5. When you write a message, whoever it's to, whether it's a text, a comment on a post or video, an email, make sure you read it twice and never send a message when you feel angry (when the anger goes, send a constructive criticism!), and mostly, try to BE KIND
  6. I've said this one before, but TAKE PART, be a part of your online communities - taking the time to send someone a message is kind, encouraging, heart-warming and just downright fantastic, so thank you to all of you that have ever sent me something
  7. GET OFF YOUR PHONE, especially when there are people around you, especially when it's your partner or a family member
  8. Take time to turn your phone off and create functioning boundaries with your phone. Don't let it rule your time.

If you weren't aware of my return to social media, you can find me @thealissaevelyn and @handmadeyears - my new account for all things sewing, crocheting, mending, etc ;)



Friday, 2 July 2021

A Very Average English Garden

Hi all, today I'm sharing my garden with you all, in photo but also in video, if you scroll to the end ;)

I call my garden "average" because it's not too small and it's not too big, it's just right. It's pretty average size for a garden plot in the UK, it's about 1/20th of an acre, and about 180square metres. We also have a front garden, but that's far smaller, and very much still in it's early stages. 

I felt nervous about sharing my garden with you, because it's so much in its infancy, the plants are still so little, and some just so new that the borders don't look as lush and full or as lovely as I want yet. But, there's something so miraculous about the journey of learning in any garden, that I wanted to share that today.


I've been gardening for a long time now, I had my first allotment (which die-hard fans may remember) when I was 23, and I've always longed to grow more of my own food. And then when I was 25 I got the opportunity to work with Sarah Raven, a woman and a company that I completely respect and which taught me a huge deal about growing flowers as well as vegetables. 

However, I haven't always been particularly 'green-fingered' - I used to, and I still do, kill plants on occasion, but I think that much of gardening is learnt through trial and error, through sticking your hands in the soil and moving things about. Each plant has it's own needs, and each garden also can offer something different, in terms of nutrients, water, drainage, and most importantly sunlight.

One of the things that attracted us to our home was the gorgeous old oak tree at the end of the garden, and it's a protected tree which means no-one can chop it down, including us. We have our fences built around it, and in the summer it provides the most fantastic shade to keep us all cool. However, it does present a challenge, as there's one simple strip of our garden that gets full sun, and so I have to be really picky about what plants I keep in that part. The rest of the garden is a bit of trial and error, some parts get full shade, others part shade, others bright morning sunshine, other can get very dry right under the shelter of the tree. So, it's been a fun learning journey! 


We've got quite a few pots, so I can extend the 'full sun' part of the garden a bit, and maximise what we can grow there. And there are so many things that grow so well in pots that I'm a bit spoilt for choice, but I do love my campanula and my strawberries the most!


I'm really inspired by traditional English cottage gardens, as well as permaculture principles. So, there's a bit of companion planting in there, but I'm also a massive collector of plants, so not everything is completely functional. The compost bin was a major step in the right direction last year, and hopefully next year we can get a more effective rain storage system in place.

We do love our lawn though, especially to sit and have picnics with the children, or play Kubb with our friends (it's just big enough!). 



Many of the plants have been chosen at random, based simply on how they look. There's not been much planning! I just know that with my garden most things will find a spot as long as it says semi-shade/part-shade on the label!

They are almost all perennial plants, as I don't have much space at all for starting things from seed. And as such, the garden is taking a while to establish itself. Thankfully that means if they aren't seeming to thrive in one spot, I can dig them out and move them to a different spot. The same for if I've accidentally put things too close together, or put something too tall at the front, or vice versa. Plants are very forgiving! I've learnt to be more confident and learn about the resilience of things.


I could go on and on about how much more the garden has taught me, especially things about patience and hope. But I'll save that for another post another day...

So there you have it... if you want to see plant specifics, I've named things throughout the YouTube video below, so I hope you enjoy!

Thanks for reading, I'd love if you would give me a comment below and share this with your other garden friends :)