Anyone who knows us, or has been reading here for any length of time will know we love celebrations. We love anniversaries, birthdays, marking times. We love traditions and occasions.

We are not a religious family although we are very close to nature and celebrate the turning of the seasons, the solstices and equinoxes. We tend to shy away from consumerist capitalist celebrations where possible and aim to give memories as gifts whenever we can.

We have Megan here with us just now so for the first time we thought we would celebrate Thanksgiving. Our newly created just today tradition was our take on some of the delicious food served in America for Thanksgiving and sharing what we are thankful for.

I have yet to search for an American recipe and be able to follow it precisely as there is always at least one ingredient not easily available here (hello corn syrup, pumpkin puree, tinned cheese!). Plus I am a cooking from scratch fanatic. At least three of us are very picky eaters too and I really wanted everyone to be up for at least trying everything on the table today.

Megan’s requested menu included roast turkey, trimmings (what we’d call stuffing), cranberries, mashed potato, sweet potato, green bean casserole, bread rolls, gravy and pumpkin or pecan pie.

So this afternoon I made bread rolls and pecan pie.

Then Davies, Scarlett and Megan took over the kitchen to make some sugar cookies which they spent an hour or so decorating

while I went back in to make cranberry sauce (with apple, orange and red wine), a green bean casserole (with a creamy sauce, topped with onions, cracker crumbs and cheese), two types of sweet potatoes (one mashed with spices and topped with pecans and marshmallows, one sliced and roasted with rosemary, onions, garlic and sea salt) and stuffing balls. Ady took care of the mashed potatoes, turkey and gravy.

And then we feasted!

It was all delicious. We just about had room for pecan pie afterwards.

We finished the meal with some indoor fireworks. Which are a lot of fun, perfectly, underwhelmingly brilliant!

And with everyone’s permission I’m sharing what we were all thankful for, as it seems the sort of thing which belongs here recorded on this blog.

Megan: I’m thankful that I can even be here right now, that’s probably the thing I most thankful for. I’m thankful to have all my family and friends and all of the good things I have. Anything that makes me laugh. For life improvement in general. And cats!

Davies: I’m thankful for Megan, for being here and all the money and effort she put into getting here and for putting up with me now she’s here. I’m thankful for Mummy for helping me with study and everything else you do which is helpful and that I am thankful for. I am thankful for Daddy for his positivity and infinite hospitality to Megan and anyone else who ever comes to visit. I’m thankful for Scarlett for her enthusiasm and positivity and everything that she does. For her encouragement and just the way Scarlett is in general.

Scarlett: I’m thankful that we are all healthy in the middle of a pandemic because I know a lot of people are not. I’m thankful for where we live and how we have not been as affected as other people. I know it can be really sucky to be stuck inside and I am thankful that we still have the ability and freedom to go outside on walks and that our lives have not changed that much. I am thankful for the food because it is all delicious.

Ady: I’m thankful that the sweet potatoes with marshmallows are not too awful. I’m thankful that our family is all here and we’re all together. It’s great that we have Megan here and our children are so happy to be in our house all together. I am thankful that we have a very comfortable and very fulfilling life which I am very grateful for.

Nic: I’m thankful that we’re all here together – Davies, Scarlett and Megan too. I’m thankful that no one I love has been too affected by illness with coronavirus despite it being a very awful thing. I’m thankful that we have a groaning table full of food. I am thankful that we live somewhere where I get to be so close to nature because that means a lot to me. I am also thankful for gin.

The November Post

As it seems to have become a monthly blog just now! I guess there are only so many ways to say ‘not much has changed’.

Of course that’s not strictly true. The month has changed, the season has changed, the clocks have changed, the view from the window has changed.

I was sitting just yesterday morning observing the weather rolling past – first sunshine, then a very heavy rain shower, a rainbow, some hail. The sky went from dark to bright, grey to blue and an interesting yellowy shade just before the hail. There was at least one rainbow, probably two. All the time the wind blew, shaking the final leaves from the oak trees I can see outside and hustling the clouds on their way from the far right window to the far left at quite a pace.

I reflected that life in a house could very easily disconnect you from the world outside – no longer do the walls shake, the windows rattle, the roof produce an symphony of sound depending on the size and frequency of the raindrops with pitch changes depending on the wind direction. Caravan life on Rum was always a very close connection to the world outside, in fact it was never truly left outside. Leaky ceilings, condensationed windows and thin metal walls only ever kept it at a small distance rather than shutting it out.

Rum was already on my mind thanks to that reflection and then a google alert I still have set up from our time there pinged to tell me a news story was in the Scottish press about the first new residents moving there this week to take up the newly built houses. There was much press coverage and social media interest in the new houses during lockdown. A perfect storm of conditions for a frenzy of noise about island life, isolating living, getting away from it all at a time when many were feeling the isolating feelings of the pandemic anyway. There are just four houses, each one attracting interest a hundred times over with well over 400 applications for the small Community Trust to consider.

From our seven years there, starting in much the same way with an application for our croft tenancy, supported with business plan and comprehensive family ‘CV’ followed with an interview before being offered the croft we could well empathise with those looking to apply. From our jubilation at being accepted to the logistics involved in making the move and cocktail of emotions as the big move drew closer we can understand some of what those new residents will be feeling as they arrive. From our subsequent lives there we have a fairly good idea of the rollercoaster ahead of them as they settle in to their new lives, getting to know the island and the residents.

This week will mark the anniversary of the first time we set foot on Rum, November 2011. Nine years ago we stepped off the ferry and walked around the village and the perimeter of the croftland which was to become our home.

From our time on the island including my own several years as one of the directors for the community trust I can well imagine the excitement felt on island at the prospect of these new people. New faces, new energy and ideas. New children for the school, new customers for the shop, new volunteers to help get involved in the many, many aspects of keeping a small island community working. Unique to island living in a way no one who has not lived somewhere like that will ever fully understand, unique to Rum specifically. And of course, 18 months since we left, nearly a year since we last even went to Rum ourselves unique to those who now call it home in ways we won’t understand any more either.

I am in turn excited for those new residents, and for the rest of the community. Ever so slightly wistful for an adventure we once had and also even more aware that that is no longer our adventure to have and that other things are for us now. New challenges, new friends, new lives.

Life continues to move on, and away from Rum, for us. We have even had chapters closing in the brief time we have been here on the mainland. We have finished our housekeeping contracts now with keys handed back, or passed on to new housekeepers. We sold our second car as Ady now has use of a company car for his job. I have been offered a payrise and more hours for the charity I am working with. My writing work is going well with some lovely feedback from readers of the various pieces I am writing in various places. There is an opportunity on the horizon for Scarlett which is too early to share but exciting to think about. These are the life chances only available to us now we are away from Rum.

Our connections to that outside world may not keep us awake on windy nights any more but still form the bigger part of us all. We gathered outside just this week to marvel at the starry night sky spotting Uranus and a new moon. Ady is photographing sunrises and streaky November skies as he takes his coffee break watching the Mull ferry travel between the mainland and the coloured row of houses visible from miles away on Tobermory (made famous on the children’s TV show Balamory). I have been marvelling at the bumper crop of acorns this autumn all beginning to sprout in the garden and the spring bulbs in my pots already sending up tiny green shoots.

I am still swimming most days. The loch is down to single digits in temperature now and offers a huge adrenaline rush along with exercise and life affirming connection to the natural world. Last week there were otters swimming close by me. I have a close circle of local swimming friends who I often swim with, getting to know each other, sharing secrets and stories, sharing joy and swear words as we swim alongside each other.

I would be lying if I said all was well. Not having seen family or further afield friends is hard, so very hard. It was the way of life on Rum but even by our isolated island life standards we have seen less of the bright lights, big cities and people we love this year than ever before. It is somehow harder to swallow when it is not through our own life choices and a compromise we understood and accepted when we chose a lifestyle, rather a pandemic related prevention of these freedoms. But compared to so many we remain incredibly fortunate.

On balance life is good. Which is pretty much all we have ever strived to achieve. I’m pleased to report we continue to meet that aim.

A new addition

Having had all sorts of animals as pets and as livestock I can confidently say that my favourite creature to share space with is still a cat. We have had at least one cat as a part of our household for more years than we haven’t since Ady and I set up home together and bringing Kira to the croft on Rum made me very happy.

Recently a few friends online have been sharing pictures of new kittens (it seemed to be a lockdown trend…) and while I was not bothered about a kitten I did like the idea of having a second cat in our house so I have had a vague eye on cats looking for a new home as I’d always prefer to rescue a cat which otherwise wouldn’t have a home.

A couple of weeks ago late one evening a friend shared a post on social media of a cat looking for a home. I followed the breadcrumb trail back to the originator of the post as it was one of those degrees of separation type posts which had been shared and shared again by friends of friends of friends and got in touch to say we could offer the cat a home.

The story of Kitty as she was then known was that she belonged to a woman who had gone into residential care as she was no longer able to live unsupported at home. Her pet cat, who is about five was being fed by neighbours. The owner was firmly convinced that Kitty would not be able to be rehomed as she is quite skittish and she felt the best option would be to have her put down. The neighbour, although unable to take her herself thought she should be given a chance to be rehomed.

Several messages back and forth with the neighbour, via the friend who had shared the post and then a phonecall with the owners daughter who lives abroad plus a slightly last minute cobbled together arrangement of Kitty being caught and put into a cat carrier, someone bringing her part of the way towards us as they happened to be having a weekend break and Scarlett and I found ourselves, at pretty short notice, driving a 300 mile round trip to go and collect Kitty from someone in a car park.

She spent the first 48 hours under the sofa hissing and growling at us, at Bonnie the dog and very much at Kira the cat.

By day three she was on the sofa being petted.

And by day four she had ventured on to a lap.

(side note – this is a dreadful angle for photographs unless you are a cat!)

We often call Kira ‘Kitty’ so we knew that Kitty2 would need an additional name – a prefix to Kitty. So everyone got to suggest a few names, then from the long list we all chose our favourite two and ended up with a clear winner in Luna. We like the fact that just like the moon she has black and white / dark and light to her. She seems pretty happy with her new extra name and comes to it quite readily, as well as still getting called Kitty pretty often too.

Once Bonnie worked out she was here to stay she has settled into just ignoring her as she does with Kira. Kira has much the same approach to Luna and seems pretty accepting of her presence as long as she is not directly in her way. Luna is rather less prepared with this arrangement and does tend to follow Kira about a bit, but then hisses or growls at her once she gets close. There has not been any actual physical contact though and despite a high level of awareness of each other I think they have all settled in to space sharing pretty well.

One of the reasons Luna’s previous owner was prepared to let her come and try and settle with us was our rural location and access to plenty of outdoor space for her to roam. Now she is a bit more settled in the house and with us she is starting to show some interest in going outside. She smells the air around an open window and is aware of the sound of the doors in the house opening.

My plan is to let her outside in the next few days, with doors firmly open so she can run back indoors if she feels unsafe and with me out in the garden too. I want her to feel that coming back into the house is her safe space if she gets spooked rather than running away. She also needs to work out how to let us know when she wants to come back in. Bonnie taps a paw to ‘knock’ at the door and Kira jumps up to the outside windowsill . Luna is very vocal with her miaows so I suspect she will alert us with her voice when she is keen to come back in.

We were supposed to be down in Edinburgh for the week when we went to collect Luna. We had got friends due to house and pet sit here and have a bit of a Highland break, friends flying over from Northern Ireland to meet up with us for the week and plans to spend a night with more friends while we were in Edinburgh. We were all looking forward to seeing loved ones, enjoying the bright lights of the city, showing Megan round a new and exciting part of the UK and having a change of scenery.

We are consoling ourselves with the knowledge that we would not have had Luna come to live with us if that planned trip had gone ahead. It was not sufficiently consoling enough for us to consider ‘Corona’ as her new name though. Too soon, still too soon.