Get Cosy – Our Favourite Christmas Books


After we got our tree and put up the decorations last weekend, Imogen walked around the house in confusion, finally demanding “WHERE ARE THE BOOKS?!”

Daddy was sent back up to the roof-space to retrieve the most important bag – the Christmas book collection. In our house it is added to at the start of December with a new Christmas book from Nana.

If you are a book-buying nana/auntie/dad/teacher/friend and you would like some ideas for this Christmas, here are our very favourite Christmas books (so far!):


How Winston Delivered Christmas (An Advent Story In Twenty-Four-And-A-Half Chapters) by Alex T. Smith


It could be fun to read this story with a grown-up, or even your whole family – get cosy and read your chapter together. Maybe have a biscuit at the same time. Books and biscuits go so nicely together, I think.

I think so too, Alex Smith! This is a gorgeous, wonderfully illustrated, hard-back book with a chapter for each day in the run-up to the 25th. Each chapter features its own (simple) Christmas activity. For children, like mine, whose love language is sticky tape and scissors, this is a total winner. Gorgeous in every way and an absolutely beautiful book to give as a present.


How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss


And what happened then…? Well… in Who-ville they say, that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!

Olivia’s favourite. This is a delight to read aloud, nobody does rhyme and rhythm like Dr Seuss. There is Grinch merchandise everywhere at Christmas but it tends to portray the grumpy, mean-spirited Grinch and not the joyus heart of the story. You can’t beat the book.


Christmas in Exeter Street by Diana Hendry

Everyone agreed that the house in Exeter Street was the best place of all to be at Christmas time. The little black cat, curled up in Mrs Mistletoe’s lap, thought he might stay until next Christmas and Lily-Lou, snuggled up in Uncle Bartholomew’s arms, waved her little curly fingers at the Christmas tree and smiled and smiled and smiled.

Lovely, funny and a joy to read aloud, this is probably my current favourite.  It’s Christmas eve and there are guests in every nook and cranny of the house in Exeter Street – wonderfully  illustrated by John Lawrence. My girls would describe this book as “the good kind of weird”.


Mog’s Christmas by Judith Kerr

One day Mog woke up and nothing was right in her house.

This was the book that introduced us to Mog, so it has a special place in our hearts. The audiobook is lovely too.


How Many Sleeps ‘Til Christmas? by Mark Sperring


WAKE UP! I think it’s Christmas Day!

Little Pip wakes Daddy Grizzle up every morning convinced that Christmas is HERE. Sound familiar?!


Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones


The One who made us has come to live with us!

A Christmas board book that captures the celebration in all of creation at the coming of Jesus. Grass and trees, robins and bees all spread the word.


CS Lewis once said “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Our favourite Christmas books are enjoyed by the whole house. What about your house? What would you add to the list?


Little Somethings

It seems dark this evening, something’s changing, and I feel like I should text my mother.  It’s the kind of thing she notices.

It’s raining hard and loud outside.  I love it.  She knows this.

“You have the gift of drinking it all in” someone told me a few Sunday mornings ago, having recently discovered my blog, giving my hand a squeeze.

I haven’t written all summer.  Is it because I’ve been drinking it all in? It seems like summer should be the season for it. But honestly?  It’s been hard to finish a cup of tea.

Liv has been singing ‘Sing Ho! for the Life of a Bear!’ in impromptu talent shows all summer long.  In the living room and in my parents’ garden and in a car park waiting for someone who thought we were somewhere else.

We love Pooh (silly old bear).  It’s been a summer of listening to Stephen Fry, Judi Dench and co. on car journeys.  For a while nobody talks to me.  We drink it all in.  Olivia sings.

Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!
Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!
I don’t much mind if it rains or snows,
‘Cos I’ve got a lot of honey on my nice new nose!
I don’t care if it snows or thaws,
‘Cos I’ve got a lot of honey on my nice clean paws!
Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!
Sing Ho! for the life of a Pooh!
And I’ll have a little something in an hour or two!

It’s been a summer of little somethings.  An ice-cream, a Lidl cookie, a sleepover at Nana’s.

We love Pooh (silly old bear) and despite the ghastly Guardian reviews (In which Pooh rescues Ewan McGregor from a midlife crisis) Liv goes to see Christopher Robin with her Nana and Papa.  She recounts every funny bit to Imogen and I the next morning, still chuckling.


I wish I could drink it all in, or at least have a lie in, but my daughter needs 2 toilet rolls and some string and a metal pole and a voice recorder and it is only 7.05am.  This is how the summer went.

A little something that saved my life this summer? Our library card.  We discovered Mo Willems (via this podcast) and I reserved whatever was available on Libraries NI.  I thought they were going to be for Imogen, they are recommended as Early Readers, but they are A DELIGHT and the whole family loves them.  If you need a break from The cat sat on the mat, I couldn’t recommend anything more than The Elephant and Piggie books. Great characters, facial expressions and humour yet so very simple. They hit a sweet spot.

There are a zillion of these books on Amazon, but it’s worth trying the few available on Libraries NI, to see if you like them.

As the new school year rolled around, I thought about how to mark it with a little something for the girls.  I thought about scented stationary from Smiggle, truly I did, but watermelon erasers just don’t communicate the way a book does.


So for Imogen – Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Horan – a great book for developing readers AND fussy eaters!  The lunchbox struggle is real for this little daughter of mine.

And for Olivia – Lola Dutch Is A Little Bit Much by Kenneth & Sarah Jane Wright – because we don’t want her to lose her “little-muchness” at school.


I started this blog post as the summer was ending and now, already, our pockets are full of conkers and pinecones.  I guess Autumn has its little somethings too.

What I remember

What I remember, of course, is the monster munch crisps…

… from the tuck shop at the one and only summer scheme we went to, in the Arts Centre.  It isn’t there any more, but if we pass that road I’ll say something: about how it used to be an Arts Centre, about how I went to a summer scheme there, about the monster munch crisps.

It was an ordinary thing, the same old summer scheme in the same old house, that was an Arts Centre. But what it becomes is this treasured memory. This thing we always did. Remember the tuck shop? Oh yeah! Monster munch crisps.

We didn’t show much appreciation, I imagine. We just went. Years later we think, I loved that.


What I remember, of course, is how frizzy my hair would go in the sea air. How it would double in size, impossible to detangle.  It was always the same.  In Portballintrae, at the Giant’s Causeway, on the Strand, on the cliff walk past the convent, in the sand dunes, on the rocks, in the nooks and crannies.  The sea air and mizzle and big hair.  Walking, exploring, a landscape full of settings for Famous Five adventures.


What I remember, of course, is the smell of cut grass.  Practising handstands and cartwheels.  Hay fever.  Practising anyway.

I remember the rope-swing.  The tree climbing. The wasteland.

I remember the summer there were ladybirds, everywhere.

I remember the sound of the ice-cream van and the treat of being given money for a screwball.

I remember playing with our neighbours, and our cousins.


Kim John Payne says that childhood is an unfolding experience, not an enrichment opportunity.

I bear this in mind as I think about the summer, as I block off a week or 2 on the calendar, pay for a summer scheme, book a few activities.  The rest is blank space, margin.  The rest has room to unfold.

There isn’t a calendar space for cut grass or frizzy hair or monster munch crisps.  There’s just space.  I wonder what smells and snacks and places they’ll remember?  What they’ll love, in hindsight?  What will unfold now, that makes them nostalgic later?

I’m tempted to fill in July & August in coloured pen, I’m tempted by that word ‘enrichment’, I’m tempted by the opportunities that pop up on Facebook on a daily basis.  And so I’m grounding myself, in June, by rereading Simplicity Parenting, by listening to the voice of Kim John Payne – that ‘too much, too fast, too soon’ creates stress for our children.


We talk like where we live is a rubbish place in the summer, unless we get the weather.  But that’s not how I remember it.  We live in a land of settings for Famous Five adventures, where ordinary things can unfold in the mizzle and the wasteland and the queue for the tuck shop.  They don’t advertise these things in glossy brochures, but they are what we remember, of course.



Dismantling Forts

Lola Dutch, in some ways, was made to give encouragement and give a pat on the back to the kids that are still enthusiastic and still on fire, and still curious about the world, and just say, ‘Look, here’s somebody just like you, and we love it, and we need more people like you.’
[Kenneth Wright]


Photo by Inês Pimentel on Unsplash

This week’s epiphany: “I think I’m spending too much time dismantling forts.”

This is what I do. I dismantle forts.

I say, “This is not THE TIME for fort building”.

See also: This is not the time for dressing up, This is not the time for making things, This is not the time for reading, This is not the time for hiding from a hurricane or putting out fires. (I wanted imaginative children, the joke’s on me).

I spend the evening returning tiny lego pieces to the lego box, furniture into the playmobile house, separating dentist and school sets into their cases and binning googly eyes.  There are always so many googly eyes.

Imogen wakes early and plays quietly and purposefully.  Everything is opened and mixed in 2 seconds flat.

That’s not really true.  Everything is not mixed in 2 seconds flat. What is true is that Imogen plays quietly and purposefully.  Resulting in a purposeful mess.

(“A creative bombsite”: a phrase I sometimes use to warn my husband about the living room.)

What I really wanted, it seems, is children who would keep their imaginations segregated by brand and theme.

I want creativity to be one of the values in our home and the frustrating, and slightly embarrassing, truth is that I find this hard.  Tiring.  It does not come as naturally to me as I would like.  I would like everything tidy and quiet so I can have some Sharon-time later.

I listen to an interview with Kenneth and Sarah Jane Wright, the creators of Lola Dutch Is A Little Bit Much, on Readaloud Revival.  They are talking about giving kids creative courage – “if the parents just get out of the way.”

If the parents just get out of the way.

(Stop dismantling forts).

I hover and intervene when I should be giving them space.  I dismantle when I should be encouraging the build.

Making space matters, Erin Loechner says, in whatever way we can.  ‘Trading theories for wonder, criticism for curiosity. Kissing the precious plants and spotless sofa goodbye; heralding in an unpredictable mess. Swapping out a limited view of self care and allowing ourselves the surprise of something else. Giving up our cozy couch; receiving front row seats to a far greater show.’

I want to make space for creative courage, for forts and Princess Dogs and integrated play pieces.  An unpredictable mess.  A far greater show.

Sorry I’m Late. I didn’t want to come.


Sunday morning: Imogen stomps angrily into church, sits down with a glare and hisses “I hate church”.

A head turns in the pew in front, whispers back, kindly: “We’ve all been there.”


I see a hoodie online with the words “Sorry I’m Late. I didn’t want to come.”  An alternative Sunday outfit, I wonder?  For the outlier?


“I love my little church,” Addie Zierman says.  “I believe it is vital to my healing and to my becoming.  But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t feel fraught to me a lot of the time.

This is simply true, for some of us.


It sounds like complaining, though – the fraught feelings, the not wanting to come.

Where do you put fraught feelings?

You stuff them somewhere, usually.

You feel ashamed of them when you read motivational things from good people.


2 of my favourite people in the world don’t go to church any more.  They are wise and thoughtful and honest and brave.  Their journeys have been long and nuanced and they have involved pain.

One of them told me that, for now, she was learning from the bees who live in the hives in her garden.  The other spoke of tomato plants.

People make fun of that, don’t they? From pulpits. Online. They say it’s not ok.  They call the ex-church-goers back from their gardens.  But they call from a distance, and I don’t think that works.


I go to church and it is fraught and it is beautiful.  I am learning to show up and linger in community where I don’t fit in (but where I can belong).  Currently my journey is about choosing presence over peace and learning to let go of the crafted, curated life I want to have.  I have needed help with this, to be honest.

My friends ask me about church and how it is and how I am.  I ask about the bees and the tomato plants and the pain.  I learn from the books they read and the podcasts they love, I am changed by who they are in the world.  I count them among my blessings.


“It is hard to trust in the slow work of God”, Margaret Guenther says.

The garden can teach us, surely?


Many of us have been saved by the “me too” we hear when we share our stories, or that we feel when we hear someone else’s.

“Me too”.

“I get it”.

It’s a beautiful thing.  A healing relief.

But – currently – we are usually all in slightly different places.  It’s such a temptation to want to fast-track others along a journey that has been deep and slow and long for us.

You struggle with church? Me too! Now, here is everything I learnt, with a bow on top. (See you on Sunday morning, I’ll keep you a seat).

Or, we sweep up individuals in patronising generalisations.  We are all 5-year-olds – stamping our feet, needing to learn to behave.

Let’s give each other permission – to wear the hoodie, or tend to the garden.  I trust in the slow work of God for me, and just as importantly, I trust in it for you.




One Recipe At A Time


Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

I can only change my life one recipe at a time.

I realised this at the weekend.  I had been listening to some people talking about the Instant Pot on a podcast and I knew as I heard about it’s efficiency and it’s multiple uses that I would not be buying one.

I would have, once, not that long ago.  I would have signed up, immediately, for what works for other people.

But I have learnt this thing about myself – my soul is reset making tuna casserole – and new products and methods don’t take account of that.

On a Monday morning, or after a holiday or any busy change of routine, my soul is reset in the kitchen making the food of my childhood, with the same recipes and types of utensils that my mother used.

I am not sure how much I am enriched by multi-use.  I am not sure how much I am enriched by ‘smart’.  I am not sure if the answer to a fast-paced life is something quick.

So Instant Pot, you may be the ‘Smart Multi-Use, Programmable Pressure Cooker
designed by Canadians with the objective of being Convenient, Dependable & Safe’… but I am the slow, one-thing-at-a-time, mother of 2, raised as a Mullan on Japanese food in Ireland, with deeply engrained tastes and habits and I’m just not ready for you yet.

I have a new recipe to try this week, one that is new, but familiar, if you know what I mean?

I listen to this pitch on the Instant Pot, and I think to myself, I’d love a new saucepan.


But Mary

“The underneath. That was the first devil. It was always with me
And that I didn’t think you—if I told you—would understand any of this—”

[Magdalene – The Seven Devils, Marie Howe]


I will cling to the Old Rugged Cross.  We sing it in church on Good Friday and I think of her.  Mary.  I think of her posture. I think of her longing.  I wonder what it looks like to cling to the cross, to cling to Jesus.  It looks like Mary, I imagine.

(“Do not cling to me,” Jesus says to her on Resurrection morning.  It makes me laugh out loud.)

Later my friend Libby and I talk more about Mary over cold pizza at my kitchen table.  We had both watched the beautiful and powerful Mary Magdalene film during the week and we had All The Thoughts, especially on Good Friday.  We talked about the things that resonated with us, challenged us, inspired.  I find it helpful to engage my imagination with scripture and I am grateful for how Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett engaged theirs as they wrote this film, as they wrote Mary Magdalene right under my skin.

I think of her all weekend.  I imagine her turning up in church with her wild hair, earnest and emotional, staring longer than is socially appropriate.

There is this bit in the film, before the crucifixion, where Mary just lies down on the side of the road in the dirt and the dust.  Haven’t we all been there, at some point, in our spiritual journey?

I read John 20 aloud in my kitchen when no one is about and I honour this woman that I have overlooked in the past.  This woman who came early, this woman who ran, this woman who stayed, this woman who wept, this woman who would not stop looking for his body.

“Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.”

But Mary.

I read John 20 aloud in my kitchen and I honour the women I know who come early, who run, who stay, who weep, who persist – who are overlooked.

The film adaptation respectfully and helpfully imagines the deeper, wider story of this woman who is mentioned so briefly, yet significantly, in the Bible.  What is her story?  It helps us wonder.  I have soft spots for every single one of those disciples – denying Jesus, doubting, hiding in locked rooms.  But Mary courageous, vulnerable, showing up, bearing witness – “I have seen the Lord” – how did she end up there?  What was her story?

The poet Marie Howe talks about the dilemma that we all have of never really being known. “There’s something in that Mary Magdalene character”, she says, “and how she got embellished, and how it was read between the lines who she was.”

The film reads between the lines and it’s helpful.  It offers a story of a woman seen and known by Jesus – and if we can see ourselves reflected – perhaps that’s the most beautiful thing of all.