All was merry and bright

Our first Christmas here in this house. It’s been a perfect Christmas house – lots of space, lovely high ceilings to accommodate a nice tall tree, lots of light so Ady has been able to have poinsettia, hyacinth and amaryllis bulbs all ready to flower for the big day. We have a stair case in the open plan downstairs living area which we have strung with lights.

It’s been lovely heading into Fort William which is our nearest big town every 10 days or so to get a dose of festive countdown madness and see the Christmas lights in the high street.

I’ve been in to the lovely local independent shop which sells fair trade, ethical and no waste items for a furohiki workshop and learned the skill of fabric wrapping so all of my gifts were wrapped with recycled fabric – mostly brightly coloured bedding sets from charity shops along with some fabric from my own stash.

All now tidying folded ready for re-using, The others all used up previously bought wrapping paper but I’ve promised to teach them all to fabric wrap too and will aim to carry on picking up suitable fabric from charity shops to wrap future gifts with. I think things like tea towels or scarves will be perfect as they will become part of the gift too.

We’ve always managed to make our own Christmas cake and mincemeat in autumn ready for Christmas but it’s been a juggling act in limited space finding room for it in the caravan. This year we had plenty of space and were able to make extra mince meat to sell at the local Christmas Fayre. I also made some festive flavours of granola to sell too. Davies had three designs of Christmas cards printed out to sell and Scarlett made some amazing festive Christmas cup cakes. I also made some little santa hats to go on my crochet midges. We had a great day at the fayre, which was held at the local community centre where I work in aid of the high school. It was fab to be feeling part of the local community, realising how many people we already had gotten to know, selling our various wares and getting in the festive groove, albeit still back in November!

We even managed to attend a couple of Christmas staff parties. We had been invited to four different ones for our various self employed, volunteer and other roles but chose just two.

It’s been fantastic to add these new things to our run up to Christmas. It’s also been lovely to continue our closely held little family traditions too and all the more special to be sharing them with Megan this year for the first time.

The first of which (after Solstice celebrations) was Christmas cracker making. In the style of The Good Life, which regular readers will know is a source of constant inspiration to us, we make our own crackers and shout ‘bang!’ when we pull them. We make the hats from newspapers, write our own festive jokes, make a small gift to go inside and stuff it all into a loo roll inner.

This year, having saved our very favourite Christmas movies to share with Megan we cleared a big floor space on Christmas Eve and laid out all the supplies. Pens, packing paper, supermarket weekly specials leaflets, loo roll inners and our badge machine to make the gifts. Davies and Megan particularly took it very seriously and were still hard at work many hours after we started creating cracker masterpieces.

Scarlett decorated the Christmas cake, going for a melted snowman theme this year. As ever she amazes me with her skills in cake decoration and her vision for her designs.

We all ushered in Christmas Day staying up past midnight with carols on the TV – which reminds me Ady and I also managed to attend a local carol service with mulled wine, mince pies and the chance to sing along – bliss!

The big day itself was beautiful with sunshine. I went for a morning swim in the loch where I found the best Christmas star!

while the others opened their Christmas stockings. Then after a festive breakfast we exchanged gifts. A fantastic mix of thoughtful and lovingly chosen presents. As ever we have gone for some experience type gifts to be enjoyed through the year – for Ady a lunch at a restaurant he is very keen to visit, for all four of us a show in the spring, for Davies, Scarlett and Megan photo calendars of some of the best memories of their 2019s to take into 2020. For Scarlett a trail cam which she set up and captured footage of a pine marten of that same evening, for Davies a set of headphones, for Ady a couple of ‘toys’ to play with including a crystal ball for photographs, for me a good supply of lovely gins and fancy chocolates and a non-leaking travel cup to replace the very unsatisfactory one which has leaked tea over me on the last few car trips I’ve taken it on.

We had replaced Scarlett’s now too small Christmas jumper and found one for Megan in charity shops over the past few weeks so once all the gift giving was complete we headed outside into the sunshine for our now traditional Christmas jumper photos.

And took Ady’s new crystal photo ball for a first try out too.

Dinner – as cooked by Ady – was delicious.

Our Boxing Day, along with many people, saw us all venturing out for some much needed fresh air and vitamin D. For Davies and Megan that was a brisk walk. For Ady, Scarlett and I it was a slightly wetter experience as Ady finally took the plunge – quite literally – and joined us in the loch!

Super brave of him and he assures me he was not entirely put off and would definitely do it again. I’ll let you know if he actually does!

We continued our traditional Boxing Day dinner of bagels with smoked salmon, cream cheese and leftover turkey but this time Davies and Megan took over the bagel making duties. It felt slightly strange teaching an American to make bagels!

It’s been a fabulous Christmas so far. We’re looking forward to seeing 2019 out, welcoming 2020 in and seeing what the year ahead will bring.

To all our readers we wish you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays or whatever winter festival you celebrate (or indeed summer if you are in the Southern hemisphere!) It is so lovely for us to know that so many people are sharing our story.


One of the most amazing things in our country is our health service. We have been incredibly fortunate – so far – to have needed to call on it fairly few times but both Davies and Scarlett were born with NHS midwives in attendance, Ady obviously had his emergency operation and both he and I have had routine or non-emergency appointments over the past few years.

It can be tough to give back, outside of national insurance and income tax contributions and not using up precious resources unless necessary. On Rum we participated in a long running survey being interviewed 3 times over several years about the service the islands received. We ensured we attended any first aid and first responder training sessions and engaged as fully as possible with consultations about ways to improve the service and to take responsibility for community-led services.

When we lived down in Sussex Ady and I gave blood and we are all on the organ donation lists with Ady and I both also registered for living donor lists too. On Rum giving blood was a logistical impossibility but as soon as we were settled back here we registered for the next session in Fort William and in June we donated, along with Davies who was now old enough too. Last week we donated again and this time Scarlett was also able to donate, just 12 days after she was eligible. It was a super smooth first time for her and she loved all of the information the nurse was able to give her about the process including having a hold of the bag once it was full ‘It’s so warm. And heavy!’ So close to Christmas there were giveaways of tree baubles for donors too.

Poor Davies had a slightly less smooth experience for his second time as he stood up off the bed and promptly fainted and fell back to the floor. He managed a fairly spectacular drop with a cut to his lip and a big bump to his chin but after a lie down and something to eat and drink other than a couple of extra bruises to go with the one on his arm where the needle goes in he was none the worse for wear. It’s always good to have a heroic tale to go with a bruise I think. I’m really proud of them both for donating and hope it’s the start of a years-long habit.

We also volunteer in health service supporting services – Ady in the local hospital transport project, which offers lifts to people attending hospital appointments in our very rural community. Davies and I volunteer for a mental health helpline service and are also trained ambassadors for the local Women’s Aid charity. These services are so very important in remote areas and on Boxing Day I took a call to the helpline – a stark reminder of how difficult this time of year can be in the middle of feasting, lights and making merry.

For some few years Ady has felt that if the opportunity arose he would be interested in working in a caring type role. He really enjoys working with people, is passionate about empowering people to live independently and supported rather than ‘looked after’ and particularly likes getting to know and being around older people. He put some feelers out when we first moved here but found that not having previous experience or qualifications could prove something of a barrier. He then found work at the tearoom over the summer along with our various housekeeping contracts and so nothing more came of it.

Recently though, with no real work (both of the above roles are very seasonal) his thoughts turned again to that type of work and with a bit of research and a very well written application demonstrating how cross transferable his many varied skills could be he was offered an interview for a post a few days before Christmas. Competition was fierce and he was the only unqualified applicant granted an interview. His first interview in well over a decade, his first ever panel interview with five people on the opposite side of the table. He came out having learned more about the job and even more keen to do it. Later that afternoon he took a phonecall offering him the job!

So yet another new chapter of life is upon us with yet another new role. Loads of new skills to acquire, lots to learn, to understand and to embrace. It’s a perfect fit of a part time role which allows us to continue with our flexible housekeeping posts between the four of us and my part time jobs too, while still ensuring that time together as a family remains our top priority and that which gets most of our focus.

We are so proud of Ady, ready and willing to start anew in something completely different, something that he will love. We think he will be brilliant at it, a perfect match for his caring nature, unflappable approach, skills in getting to know and helping people.
Ady is proud to be joining and becoming part of a team of people we have long been in awe of and thankful for – our NHS.

Solstice 2019

We began celebrating Solstice quite some few years ago and while on Rum it became a real turning point of the year when we lived so close to nature and were so dependent on natural daylight. Our days were so dictated to by what was happening outside be it weather or hours of day and night time, as were those of our animals and our crops.

After attending the amazing Burning the Clocks celebration in Brighton back in the early 2000s we have followed the tradition of lighting up the longest night with fire and celebrated the rising of the sun for the following day when it stays in the sky that tiny bit longer than the day before.

I know that solstice can move about to a day either side of 21st December, in the same way as summer solstice can do in June but we have tended to stick to that date. Two years ago we were in Glastonbury for Solstice which was a magical place to sit around a bonfire with dear friends and talk about the year gone by and dreams for the year ahead. Last year we were back on Rum for a bonfire.

This year we are a family of five as Davies’ partner Megan has joined us from America to celebrate a month’s worth of special times including Solstice, Christmas and New Year which also happens to be Davies and Megan’s anniversary.

To mark a mainland Solstice and our increased number we decided to do something special this year so took advantage of it also being the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Nevis Range centre on Ben Nevis meaning they were offering gondola passes at the same price as back in 1989 when they opened.

This meant that after a solstice morning swim for me we headed off to the foot of Nevis and took a cable car ride part way up the mountain. As we climbed higher and the ground below us began to be snowy and the view spread out it was a truly magical experience. We’ve been up a couple of times and it’s always special but this was really wonderful.

The snow was not too deep – although in characteristic fashion we deviated from the proper path and found ourselves wandering in sometimes really quite deep and often rather perilous places with at least two of us getting wet feet as a leg disappeared down a hole! We walked to a viewing point offering splendid panoramic views of snow capped mountains all around, lochs far below reflecting the pink of the sun set skies and nature truly dwarfing man. We’d taken flasks of hot chocolate to enjoy and toast the shortest day with.

Someone was blowing giant bubbles off the balcony of the centre at the top, which drifted magically by, sometimes bouncing off the snow before taking off again.

Back at home, night fell, the clock struck midnight and we took our solstice candle block cut from last year’s yule log on Rum and lit the candles on our decking. We all had a sparkler to fully light up the night and said what we were grateful to nature for. Then we stood while the breeze blew the candles out. The final flame lasted quite some while, almost going out several times and then reigniting before a gust of wind finally extinguished it.

Later that morning, once the sun had risen again I had another swim in the loch, this time with friends. Mountains, lochs, stars, sun rises and sun sets – we felt we continued our tight connection to nature as we marked the shortest day, the longest night and the turning of yet another season.

Happy Birthday Scarlett

Scarlett is finally 17. I say finally not because she was desperate to reach that milestone birthday like I was when I was her age – it was my most longed for birthday because it heralded my provisional driving licence and start of my driving lessons, followed as swiftly as possible by my first car – to this day the most exciting test I’ve ever passed and possession I’ve ever owned, filled with possibility, opportunity and adventure. No, Scarlett doesn’t really care about driving. She, like Davies when he reached 17 has her provisional licence but they are both yet to have a lesson or look at theory tests to begin the road to a full licence.

No, for Scarlett this landmark birthday meant she was now eligible to give blood, something she has been looking forward to doing since she first came with Ady and I as a very small girl.

For me it was a good birthday as for some unexplained reason I have never quite felt 16 suited her. I’ve no real idea why, I just never quite got my head around her being 16 and stumbled over it every time I had to say her age. 17 feels just right. For one whole month all four of us are odd number ages, maybe that feels tidier somehow. I’ll ruin that soon by becoming even again – I think odd just suits me better!

The day started with a birthday breakfast of french toast – always the better for using our own chicken’s eggs. This year they are laying so much later into the year and we are still regularly getting an egg or two most days. And present opening. Scarlett’s main requested gift was a waterproof camera for swimming with. There was also a selection of smaller items and a fabulous picture from Davies.

After much deliberation about how to celebrate the day itself Scarlett decided to go to Treasures of the Earth – a local crystal, fossil and gems museum. The kids and I had been before quite some few years ago but Ady had never been. It’s a small and rather tired place but has a real charm to it and was reminiscent of the places we used to go to when the kids were little. We were in there for a couple of hours and enjoyed it.

After that we headed into Fort William for lunch. A new American / Italian diner style restaurant had opened up earlier this year on the high street and we’d been keen to go and try it so in we went. Another ‘couldn’t have done that on Rum’ type treat. We had really nice food in a really colourfully decorated place.

Later back at home it was Scarlett’s favourite dinner followed as per tradition no matter where we might be by birthday brownies.

And maybe a glass or two of something cold and fizzy to toast the birthday girl.

We are very fortunate that we have always been able to make a huge fuss about birthdays. Ady and I have always taken the day off work for ours and of course neither of the children have ever needed to be at school, so the day is always all about the birthday person including food choices and how the day is spent. Of course on Rum the choices were rather more limited although we always seemed to manage something special and appropriate for the person celebrating.

It was lovely to say goodbye to 16 (which I insist never suited her!) and welcome in 17 with a very Scarlett day – different, sweet, interesting, fun, family-focussed, filled with love and laughter and all her favourite things.

Happy Birthday to our wonderful daughter.

The glorification of busy

I realised the other day I had been misrepresenting myself.

When you move somewhere new, or start a new job, join a new club, meet a new social circle, or in the case of me do all of the above at once to a degree your slate is wiped clean.

No one here really had much prior knowledge of me and so their idea of who I am is largely based on what I have told them and what I have done. Which is of course a fair measure of who someone is in many ways.

Just as many of us go through different life phases and while the essence of who we are deep inside remains the same we wear different coats, carry different external identities or play out different roles the person I am presenting here just now is rather different to anyone I have been before.

In many ways this is an accurate portrayal of me – I’m no longer a scruffy student, a stroppy teen, an ambitious young career chaser. I’m no longer a Home Educator mother of two small people (although I’ll never feel I’ve lost my Home Educator status, no matter how big those people grow…), I’m no longer an off gridder, an island-dweller (well I am, but the island is rather bigger), not a pig / sheep / duck-keeper.

Instead the two things that I am most regularly greeted with when I meet people just now are talk of swimming and talk of busyness. I seem to have become the local crazy in-the-water-most-days wild swimmer. I’m known for it. I also have the reputation of being ‘everywhere’, ‘always busy’ and ‘never at home’.

I’m more than happy with the swimming tag. I am indeed in most days and while I still wouldn’t class myself as much of an actual swimmer, more a ‘messer-about-in-the-water’ if you’re going to do something most days then it’s fair to get tagged with it. And I’ve never much minded a crazy tag (with no offence at all meant to anyone who is triggered by that term).

I am less comfortable with the ‘busy’ label.

I looked it up in the dictionary – busy is defined as ‘working hard’, ‘having a great deal to do’ and ‘overloaded, swamped’. It can also be taken to mean ‘overly decorated or ornate’. The opposite of busy is idle, leisurely or indeed free.

And right there I realise what I’m kicking against with the term busy. Because I am not particularly working because I try not to consider anything I do as work, just as what I’m choosing to spend my time doing. Various of the things I choose to do mean I earn money but in the main I actively enjoy doing all of them. There are elements of each task that can be mundane or not entirely joyous but sufficient highlights in every one to make the overall endeavour a pleasure. Whether it is finding the fun, humour or photo opportunity in a holiday cottage cleaning morning or some banter with the young people at school breaking up a shift at the community centre.

I cannot possibly be busy when I can choose to take an hour out of my day, pretty much every day, pretty much at a time of my choosing to go and swim in the loch. I cannot be busy when every day I have time to pause, look out of the window or stand and stare at the sky, the clouds, marvel at the light, spot raindrops on cobwebs and buzzards in trees.

I cannot be busy when I find time every day to do so many things which I earn nothing for but which bring me such joy, a strum of my ukulele, a curled up cuddle with a teen while watching something on TV, a half an hour snatched in bed in the morning to finish a chapter of a book rather than get up just yet, a spinning of fleece, a crocheting something on a whim because I felt like it, a baking a cake ‘just because’.

I cannot be busy when I sit here, on a Tuesday morning typing this and pondering my third cup of tea of the day.

Busy feels negative, it feels something to be bound by, as though it should almost always come with the word ‘too’ in front of it to be used as an excuse, an apology, a regret.

I won’t call myself busy any more. And when next someone asks after my swimming and then comments on my busyness I shall correct them. I’m still pondering on quite what I am instead…. fulfilled? Lucky? Fortunate? Maybe I’m just doing exactly what I want to be doing….