The story of my Christmas tree…

So, I put a Christmas tree for the first time since 2013. Every year people have asked to see my tree covered in hats, or what happened to the ‘Elmo Slippers’ after the pregnancy centre closed down. (The elmo slippers became sort of office mascots, and we put them on the office tree every year). I decided that they should be added to my tree this year. They do such a good job of being co-tree angels. For those of you who aren’t aware of the history of my quirky hat covered tree, the story is on an old blog post underneath this photo…


Originally posted on December 7th 2011…

The first year in my flat, I didn’t have a Christmas tree, as I wasn’t a big fan of Christmas – mainly I think because of my struggles with SAD each winter. However, in 2005 I was much stronger and decided to get a small tree to put up in the living room. I was a student at the time – in my Honours year – and the one I bought was a 3ft faux tree from Tesco for £2.97. In 2006, I discovered the Supergran campaign, and the wooly hats on my tree became a quirky tradition of mine…

Supergran 2006 Christmas tree

When I moved back to Edinburgh in 2007, that tree came with me on all 5 house moves and featured again in my flat in Leith. I guess it was that year that the Pooh bear dressed as Rudolph came to join the fun. I can’t remember who gave me him as a Christmas pressie!

Big Knit 2007 Christmas Tree

In 2008, my Mum refused to put up decorations as we were spending Christmas just the two of us, and she was heading to Oklahoma on Boxing Day so wouldn’t be here to take them down (she didn’t trust me to do it ‘properly’). So my tree got prominent place in her living room.

Big Knit 2008 Christmas Tree

In 2009, my tree was banished to the attic. Because of the sloping roofs it had to go in my brothers’ room…

Big Knit 2009 Christmas tree

In 2010, I’d moved the room around and basically decided that the tree would cheer me up. My photos got relegated to my brothers’ room and the tree went in their place. The Poohbears & Tigger went on my window sill that year. I only got 2 more hats because of the snow, but I sadly began to realise that I had so many hats they didn’t all fit on my wee tree anymore…

Big Knit 2010 Christmas tree

…so this year, I had to upgrade to a 4ft tree. Especially as I got 8 new hats. The new tree JUST fits, but my star won’t stay on top. Pooh bears and Rudolph are on my chest of drawers next to the tree.

The Big Knit 2011 new Christmas tree

I was sad to have my faithful little tree still in its box. Until Sarah mentioned she didn’t have a Christmas tree. So yesterday, when I took back a ton of fundraising event stuff back into the centre, I took in my tree and asked Sarah if she wanted to take care of it for me. It gave me such pleasure to see that my little tree is still bringing Christmassy joy in another new home…

photo taken by Sarah that I downloaded from her FB page!

Thanks Sarah for letting my little tree live on!! 🙂


The reality of the Christmas season…

It’s dark, the rain is splattering against my bedroom window, and I’m once again wrapped in blankets with an unhappy stomach. On my bed there are chord sheets of Christmas carols, some lush products, craft stuff for Guides, Paddy the iPad, my phone, while on the floor are three bags filled with shopping from today and throughout the past year that will be Christmas presents.

I haven’t written on here for a long while because I didn’t really know how to articulate everything.

In October, I had a breakdown. There were a lot of triggers in a short space of time and I think with stress of one of my jobs and not having friends around much it just escalated quickly and suddenly. I came off facebook and one day just got in my car and drove for hours. I didn’t really eat for several days.

Since then, I’ve been better, but still struggling with anxiety and panic attacks. I’ve not been able to be involved much with church partly because of the panic attacks, and partly because of work.

There have been a lot of things going on. I have two incredible jobs which I’ve dreamed of and had given up on hope of finding. I have been truly blessed this past summer, and I’ve now passed probation of one of them. I really, really hope that it will work out so I can stay after my contract is up because I love it so much there. The other job I’m still on probation, and it was a tough start for a lot of reasons. It’s still tough, but I hoping it’s going to be rewarding. And then there is volunteering. That’s been hard. I’m exhausted, and we are still short on volunteers which means I haven’t been able to take the steps back I wanted to.

So I’m doing lots of great stuff, and it’s all good. But it means from Monday-Friday I have no social life. Free evenings are rare. By the weekend, I’m exhausted. And everyone (including me) is busy. Most people have families they want to do stuff with at weekends. I don’t have that, so weekends have been incredibly lonely. I think I had this ridiculous dream after 3 years working pretty much every weekend of having friends who would want to go on walks, cinema trips and music gigs because that’s what it used to be like. Now I truly am that tragic spinster. I really need to get some cats.

The other thing that’s been going on is that my Dad has had some health issues. If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you’ll know that my Dad and I don’t have the easiest relationship. We have had months of trying to get him to a specialist here in the UK, tests and consultations and waiting. So much waiting.

The events of the last couple of months have really shown me how much I’m lacking in friends. The friends that have ‘been there’ – the ones that have checked in, who have text back when they see a missed call – they’ve all been people who are too far away to be able to do anything. However you know you have a good friend when despite being on a whole other continent they are texting you almost daily to check in.

And I get the “FOMO” thing. It is so hard at this time of year to see people happy and with friends and family. You know you’ve been replaced and forgotten when it’s there to see on social media. On the days when the anxiety and depression has really peaked, it’s just like twisting a knife in a wound to see. It makes it so abundantly clear that you are all alone, and if you weren’t here – life would go on perfectly fine without you, because it already is. It’s a really horrible thing when you feel so resentful of people that you love.

And do you know what, I know that in the past, people have contacted me saying how jealous they are of me when I’ve posted stuff on my blog and social media. It is really easy to portray this whitewashed version of our lives.

So though this post has been sitting in my drafts for a week, I am going to publish it for that reason. Because I want you to know, just in case you are feeling crappy too that you are not the only one. If you have a family that have mostly stopped speaking to each other and you only see at funerals. Solidarity with you – I’m in that place too. If you are living with mental health illness. Solidarity with you – I can empathise. If you are single and trying to navigate what life looks like when you are alone – I’d love some advice on how you deal with that.

Oh, and although I won’t be alone on Christmas Day, I will be on twitter as much as I can be to provide some company to those who are. I’ve been doing #JoinIn since Sarah Millican started it, and I can see how much it is needed more than ever this year.

Blogmas Day 11: The one about the dancing Christmas tree…

So last night, my friends unpacked and put up their Christmas decorations. Along with the gorgeous decorations they amazingly include a gift I gave them one Christmas. And so on their instagram they posted a picture of said gift.

4 years ago my Mum took a trip to see her best friend in Oklahoma. On the way home, she was wearing a new pair of boots (trips to Oklahoma always involve shopping at those American shopping malls) and the floor in Chicago airport was very slippy. She fell – the result was a sprained ankle and a broken shoulder. It was lucky that I was the manager of a pregnancy centre at the time, so I was able to plan my hours around her numerous hospital, doctor and physio appointments that were in opposite ends of the city. Sometimes there was no point in going home between them, so we found ourselves in this Discount Store in a retail park near one of the hospitals quite a lot. It was coming up to Christmas so there were a lot of cheesy Christmas toys. The Christmas Tree amused us greatly, and then one day I decided to buy it to give to my friends as a joke present.

Rockin’ Christmas Tree from Brunette Koala on Vimeo.

I wrapped it up and got them to open it one night before Christmas. I won’t lie, my friend Brian’s face was EXACTLY what I’d hoped for (utter horror). Their son, who was a toddler at the time immediately took it and for some reason put it on top of their bin and continued to press the button to make it dance.

Two years later, the tree lived on…and I got the message that the tree had to accompany all bathtimes to provide it’s cabaret entertainment.

Three years later they moved down the coast to a new house. I was for sure they’d pay the removal men to kick it off the back of the moving truck. But nope. Not even when they got their dog, did they let that tree get destroyed.

And so the tree lives on.

If there’s anyone to blame for it, it’s really Chicago airport. If they’d only put a wet floor sign down we would never have been in that shop every week in the first place.

Today in honour of the dancing Christmas tree, I found it’s cousin. The spinning Christmas Pudding…

Day 11 – the cousin of the dancing tree. 🎄😂

A video posted by Laurie Mackay (@brunettekoala) on Dec 11, 2016 at 5:20am PST

Blogmas Day 8: The one with a memorial garden on an important anniversary…

Apologies, for my Blogmas fail. What was I thinking? I work in RETAIL! It’s DECEMBER!

Yep. I was mad. I think we can determine that I have not and will not manage a post for every day of Advent!

However, though I’m not doing proper vlogmas on YouTube (just too much) I am trying to put up a very short video each day on my instagram page. And I’m taking part in the Penguin Books Christmas Challenge there too. You’ll be sick of the sight of my face and my books by 2017.

This week has been crazy, but in the midst of it something super special happened. My friend Holly came to Edinburgh with her Mum. And one of my days off fell during her visit (this so rarely happens, my friend Daniela was over in Scotland from Italy the week of Black Friday and I never got to see her at all). Holly has been here three times before, so rather than repeat what we had already done, we decided to get a bus to the Royal Botanic Gardens. RBGE is somewhere I spent a lot of my childhood and teenage years but now I don’t live as close by so I hadn’t been there for a long time. We walked in through the East Gate, and the first sign we saw pointed towards something I assume must be a fairly recent addition to the Gardens because I don’t remember seeing it before. A National Memorial Garden for Organ and Tissue Donors in Scotland. Nothing could have been more poignant for us to see, as it was exactly 2 months to the day that Holly had received a life saving transplant.


We took some time looking at the work they had done, and working out the words etched into stone. One of the most meaningful being these “nothing that ends in a gift ends in nothing


I’ve since looked  up the artist who was commissioned to create this wonderful space, his name is Alec Finlay. He has written about the process of contemplating and creating it on his blog. What a humble and wise person he seems.

And of course, we saw lots of squirrels. This epitomises how they felt about me trying to snap a picture of them.


Afterwards, we headed back into the city centre to get some lunch, called up Rebecca (who was on a break at work) and took a wander around the Christmas Market. And if you’ve been following my instagram feed you know we went to see one of the most important icons of Edinburgh’s Christmas: The Jenner’s Christmas Tree.

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As I look back on this last year, it’s been pretty darned sucky. But days like this make it so much better as I am reminded in a massive way of how lucky I am to have great friends. And how lucky we are that a family who lost were so generous to give a gift that has given not just to our friend, but all of us who love her.

Blogmas – Day 1: The one where I’m thinking about Mary…

So today is the first day of advent.

My stockings with mini chocolate bars are hanging down the wall.

But somehow this year, I find myself thinking about the nativity story. It might have been the rants that I edited out of my video on Christmas books that did it.

For those of you who aren’t aware, between me being a Youth Worker and a Retail worker, I studied women’s health. I spent a lot of time researching, following midwifes and OB/GYNs around. And then I spent 7 years working in a pregnancy crisis centre. I ended up running it with my friend, Sarah, until she left in 2013.

The first few years I worked there we did mostly counselling work, and practical help for some women who wanted to continue their pregnancies. Most of the time this help came from other organisations, like HomeStart. But occasionally we went in to do befriending support for families who didn’t have family close by. You see when someone has a baby the traditional cultural thing to do here is that family come in for those first few weeks to do laundry, cook meals while the mother recovers from the birth (and indeed shock) of giving birth to a small human that doesn’t come with an instruction manual.

You know what would happen every December? One of our clients who we hadn’t heard from in months would reappear, heavily pregnant needing a team to be that family. Without fail that baby would be born between Dec 25th and January 1st. It was like a little reminder of the reality of the nativity story.

Pregnancy and birth are hard. It’s hard in a hospital with all the doctors and midwives ready to step in with their expertise and medical resources. It’s hard at home with your closest loved ones to be there to support you, with all the comforts your own home can bring.

I cannot imagine doing it miles from home, without any or either of the above.

I wonder if the bible leaves parts out that the writer deemed unimportant. Did local midwives get called round to help Mary through the birth? How long was the labour? How long after the birth did the shepherds arrive?  How did Mary feel about all the visitors showing up to see her baby son?

However it happened, I don’t think Mary gets nearly enough credit for all she must have gone through. The stigma of being pregnant out of wedlock. Being a stranger in the town her son was born in. Having to traipse across the country while pregnant. Giving birth. And having a bunch of men she didn’t know appearing up soon after.

And if there was a donkey, I’m not sure I would have ridden it after giving birth to be honest. I think I’d have stuck to walking.

Though it’s unlikely the real event took place in December, we still use this time to remember. And tonight, I’m remembering Mary and thinking she was one kick ass strong woman.

BK’s Book Pouch: A Christmas Edition

Yes, I’m a terrible video maker and editor. Yes, I used my webcam because it was easier and I don’t have a tripod for my camera. No, I don’t get paid by Waterstone’s to promote the books they sell. Or any of the authors whose books are featured!

But hopefully you will survive my rambling and I’ve cut out my rant about nativity books, nativity scenes and nativity plays…

Here is me with Eliza, Olaf, Piecrust Bear and the Reindeer with No Name introducing you to my favourite Christmas reads.

The one about Airmail Christmas 2016…

Four years ago my friend Rebecca met a lady called ‘Robin’ who  wanted her Christmas wish fulfilled by sending a card to a complete stranger. It was her way of trying to spread Christmas cheer around the world before she passed away. That first year, Rebecca asked myself and our friend Holly to help make that happen. Since then we have honoured Mama MB, Anna Basso and Kylie Myers. This year the idea is the same. but with a difference.


This year Airmail Christmas wants to honour life, and specifically organ donation. Recently our friend Holly, who Rebecca and I met through blogging, had her life saved by receiving a new kidney. It was a wonderful day when we received the message from Holly that her call had finally come. Holly had to wait for her new organ, like so many people awaiting transplants on the register. The sad fact is many of those people waiting die, and this is due to a lack of people signing up to the organ donation register.

Neither of us can imagine having a world without Holly, and so far her recovery is progressing slowly but surely. So Airmail Christmas wants to get people talking through the card exchange. The topic of dying matters and as human beings we can prevent that. In the UK alone there are over 10,000 people requiring an organ transplant. But sadly just 4000 donations take place each year.

One donor can save and improve the lives of up to nine people – that’s amazing! And just that one card could open up a conversation. Then the wishes expressed in that conversation could save many lives, if a persons life sadly comes to an end. 

If you would like to participate in A Very Airmail Christmas, here’s how you can

1) Send us your name & address (it can be your home, work or anywhere else address that you’d like a card posted to you at) to the designated email address: by Monday 5th December 2016.  Your addresses will be held confidentially and not shared with anyone else apart from the person who will be sending you the card.

If you have a preference of posting a card within your own country (due to postage costs) then please note this in the email.

2) On Tuesday 6th December, Rebecca will be randomly matching Airmail Christmas participants. We will then email you the address of someone else that you can send a card to this year.

3) Write and post your Christmas Card as soon as possible, especially if it needs to go abroad. If possible talk about why organ donation is important to you in the card, or if not you can use the hashtags of #organdonation #donatelife and #airmailchristmas on the card and envelope. It is just something to trigger a conversation. 

4) Wait for your card to arrive. Feel free to send a picture of the card (please be careful not to share addresses from the envelopes!) to us to post in our Airmail Christmas gallery, or post a picture of the card on social media with the #airmailchristmas hashtag.

So lets get this Christmas card exchange started…have a wonderful Airmail Christmas season everyone.

 P.S. Please spread the word and encourage folks to sign up if you feel so inclined, by sharing this blog post on facebook, twitter, your own blog… THANK YOU!

The one where I’m thankful…

…because for the first time in ages, I’ve had two days off in a row.

Actually I think there have been other ‘two days off in a row’ but they’ve usually been for a specific purpose…like driving up to Aberdeen at 5 a.m. to meet electricians or driving through the night to go to weddings, job interviews, training days etc.

However, in some kind of wonderful all the planets aligning way, I got a whole weekend off where I ended up having nothing to do (other than the usual stuff of laundry, supermarket shops, cleaning the bathroom etc). That was exciting enough. But then a couple of days ago I discovered that on one of those work free days, my Mum didn’t need her car.

The whole weekend has been wonderful. My friend brought her kids to my work on Friday evening, and gave me (and many presents that I have bought and had hauled up in our stock room because I knew trying to get them home via public transport would be a disaster) a lift home after my shift finished. Saturday morning I was able to get all my work uniform washed  – I learned last weekend NOT to leave this to my ‘second’ day off, as I ended up being called in to cover for someone’s absence and had to wear unwashed uniform. Ewww. Sorry work colleagues! I went to the supermarket – granted I was reminded why I don’t usually go there on a Saturday, but hey! I got food in my cupboards. And more importantly….


My friend Nicola and I have a little Sainsbury’s chocolate log tradition, and get very amused by the fact they change the decor on the box for different holidays. This exact same chocolate swiss roll will be packaged for Easter come January. Anyway, such traditions have been shared with our other friends since we currently live 100s of miles apart and sharing chocolate log is only possible through instagram.

In this case, it was taken down to my friends who are planting a church community further down the East Coast. We had our traditional walk, and it was lovely to spend time not only with them, but their godson who I have gotten to know through the surf camps we run each summer. He and Miss S were at a youth event I used to be involved with on Friday night, and more than anything it makes my heart so happy to see them growing into young adults that are kind, compassionate, questioning and making the world better instead of worse. I miss my Soul Surfers family, and have for the last 9 years obnoxiously invaded their lives and self proclaimed myself an honourary member of their clan! 🙂 Oh yeah and Miss S is the same height as me if not a bit taller now. She officially has beaten my little sister, and my little brother for they didn’t manage that until they were 14 and 12 respectively. We had a lovely meal cooked by Vicky (Vicky and our friend Kathy are both amazing cooks, and I’m still hoping after almost a decade of friendship that their talents will rub off on me, but alas I’m still a terrible cook).

And this day was followed by a Sunday off….and it was one where our church have worship services! I turned the corner to the church just as aforementioned friend above was arrived with her two amazing but very tired boys in tow. It was just nice to be worshipping God, seeing friends…including the youngest brother of a university friend who just happened to be visiting Edinburgh for the weekend.


After church, another friend found me and we headed to the cinema. For a film had come out on Friday that I’ve been waiting a long time to see. It wasn’t amazing, but I loved the creatures and think that Eddie was perfect as Newt Scamander which made up for the elements of the film and the story that frustrated me a little. I now want a Hufflepuff scarf (I am a Hufflepuff after all) and a bowtruckle.


And so we come to the end of a lovely restful weekend where my heart has been filled up with everything that work, lack of car, commuting and tiredness has kept me from. Now I’m turning to Christmas prep – I’ve promised a post about some of my favourite Christmas reads and to help Rebecca launch Airmail Christmas. It’s going to be different this year, because recent events have led us to change our cause. We’re still working out the details, and although Rebecca will be taking the reins once again, we’re going to use The Koala Tree to launch Airmail Christmas! So please do look out for posts about both books and Christmas card exchanges in the next week.

And last of all…


This reindeer, who has lovely velvety antlers, Irish green eyes, soft fur, and smells like Peppermint and Chocolate needs a name. Suggestions so far have been

  • Ashsleigh
  • Jingles
  • Charisma
  • Esmeralda
  • Rhinestone
  • Emerald
  • Emerald Mint
  • Peppermint
  • Hamilton*
  • Angelica*
  • Schuyler*

*these were suggested by my sister, who I introduced to Hamilton, and she has become almost as obsessed with the musical as I have been since I heard it for the first time early this year. Because my elf is named Eliza, she thought these suggestions would be suitable. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, Eliza is also the name of Alexander Hamilton’s wife. Eliza the elf is not named after  Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton.

If you like any of the suggestions, or have another one let me know in the comments! 🙂

BK’s Book Pouch: Refuge


Despite the fact that most of the kids in my life are getting bears for Christmas this year (because that’s what happens when I work in a shop where I stuff a lot of bears), that hasn’t stopped me from perusing and purchasing books from my favourite shop in the world.

I was on the lookout for some new Christmas books, and for many years have been frustrated about the lack of books that tell the Christmas story in a real way. Every nativity book is white-washed with blue nun Mary, pristine mansion stables, white blonde baby Jesus, white Magii wearing crowns that look like the metal versions of the ones you get in Christmas crackers…

…it drives me nuts. If I’m going to share with children the story of Jesus’ birth, I want them to get an impression of the real thing.

Then on a table next to the original Christmas book from the Mog the cat series was a book called Refuge that was published this year by one of my favourite publishers – Nosy Crow (I had the pleasure of meeting someone who works for Nosy Crow last year at University of Glasgow’s Picturebook conference).

The story tells the story of Jesus birth and the family’s escape to Egypt all from the point of view of the donkey. It is a moving and poignant telling, and I have bought a copy (pictured above) and was most upset today when I went to buy another that I couldn’t find one in either of the city centre Waterstone’s booksellers in Edinburgh.

Given everything going on in the Middle East right now, the place where most of the bible’s stories happened…I couldn’t think of a more apt book to be taking down from your bookshelf to read this December.

I do know that Hive, John Lewis and Waterstone’s (and hopefully your local independent bookshops) are selling copies. And it has my stamp of approval!



BK’s YouTube Picks – Mog’s Christmas Calamity

Ok. Sainsbury’s, a round of applause to you as you’ve officially sucked me in with your Christmas marketing. Last year I wasn’t convinced by the chocolate World War 1 advert but this year you’ve got me with Mog and children’s books. And sharing.

Yep. Hook, line and sinker. Now I’m going to have to explain to University of Glasgow that you may be in part to blame for the lack of money in my bank account to pay tuition fees because how can I not by the Mog’s Christmas Calamity book? It’s a cat, it’s Christmas, it’s promoting children’s literacies, and it’s MOG. And Mog almost got squashed by a clock and then run over by the fire brigade!! EEK!

And of course, a little reminder that there’s still time to sign up for A Very Airmail Christmas. All you need to do is send me your postal address details in an e-mail to forrobin_christmas AT hotmail DOT com. And then next (Black) Friday when I get home from building bears I’ll e-mail you with the address of another participant for you to mail a Christmas card through the post to in honour of Smiley Kylie Myers!