Autumn Scenes

The colder months of the year are always a mix of tugging on boots and coats for walks outside, and cosy evenings at home in front of the fire. We’re back under lockdown again and confined to our local area, however, we’re fortunate to live within walking distance of two large parks. We’ve become regular visitors at both – enjoying the late flowering roses, the autumnal trees, feeding the ducks and swans, pushing our daughter on the swings, and even meeting friends and their little ones for playdates.

Now nine months old, our daughter is a little livewire, crawling, babbling, waving and clapping, growing, learning and just so curious about the world. In September, I started taking her to Baby Sensory classes where we sang, bounced, signed, played and shook rattles, albeit at a safe distance from the other parents and infants. The activities are not dissimilar from what we’ve been doing at home, but she was fascinated seeing other babies, bouncing with excitement, smiling and shouting to get their attention. Unfortunately, in-person classes have been suspended and moved online for the duration of the lockdown, but I hope we’ll be able to return in the not too distant future.

Halloween was quiet this year, the little one had a fancy dress party at Baby Sensory, I carved a pumpkin lantern for her at home, and once she was in bed, I had a Halloween quiz with friends over Zoom – that was as educational as it was fun.

We’ve started eating lunch and dinner together around the dining table, enjoying homemade macaroni cheese, comforting casseroles, spicy bean enchiladas and smoky chillis, with the odd takeaway to support our favourite restaurants. Our daughter has taken to baby-led-weaning with great enthusiasm, chubby hands grabbing fistfuls from her bowl and happily gumming and sooking almost everything we serve her, and even our cat Mara joins us in case anything tasty falls over the edge of the high chair.

The mood in my city has been somewhat subdued this week, the move to Tier 4 and a return to lockdown was not unexepected but leaves many of us facing a long, dark and potentially lonely winter. This has been such a strange year, so different from any other we’ve experienced, yet I’ve tried to make the most of it and embrace a simpler, slower way of life – and this autumn has been one of little joys, chasing butterflies around the garden, rambling family walks, splashing in puddles, playdates at the park and making happy memories together. Take care and have a lovely week. X

The Missing of Clairdelune by Christelle Dabos

It’s been a cold, dark and rainy month, and I’ve been seeking cosy, comfort reads. A Winter’s Promise (reviewed here) was a complete delight, and I couldn’t wait to return to the Mirror Visitor series to find out what the eccentric characters were up to in the second installment.

The Missing of Clairdelune starts shortly after the events of the first book; when Ophelia starts receiving anonymous, threatening letters and the other people who received similar letters begin disappearing, she and her fiance, Thorn, begin investigating. After a slow start, it turns into a gripping mystery as Ophelia and Thorn race against the clock to rescue the missing persons and discover who’s behind the letters, and find themselves caught up in an even bigger conspiracy that spans the rupture of the world, creation of the Arcs and the history of the family spirits.

Ophelia is such an unusual heroine – she’s clumsy, mumbling and absent-minded but also brave, resourceful and determined. Meanwhile, Thorn is completely inscrutable, and their developing relationship is fascinating to follow.

There are some pacing issues as almost all the action takes place in the second half of the story, but it’s a genuinely delightful, gripping and unexpecedly thrilling sequel with some clever twists. The third book is one of my most eagerly anticipated reads because I’m so enjoying this original and quirky series. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Autumn in Big Tree Country

We’d planned to have a little getaway to Perthshire in October, our first with the baby. However, between our cat’s sudden illness in September and rapidly changing travel guidance around Coronavirus, we decided it would be safer and less stressful to cancel our reservations and have a little day trip there instead.

Travelling north on the A9 is always a bit nostalgic for me, as it was the route to Aberdeen back in my undergraduate university days, but more recently because of our annual trip to the Enchanted Forest. We managed to time our journey around the little one’s naps so she slept most of the way there (and back).

Our first stop was at Pitlochry, and no trip there is complete without calling in at the Christmas Emporium to choose a few new decorations and the independent sweet shop, Love Your Sweets, to treat ourselves to some rosy apples and soor plums.

We decided to bypass Faskally Woods where the Enchanted Forest takes place, and visited the Hermitage at Dunkeld just a few miles south of Pitlochry instead.

We followed the muddy paths along the River Braan to the charming Hermitage Bridge admiring the roaring Brack Linn Falls, stopping to investigate the so-called Wishing Trees (fallen trees and stumps that have coins hammered into them over the last few years) and taking a peak in Ossian’s Cave before looping back on ourselves, and heading back to the car and home again.

This wasn’t the trip we expected to take but it was a lovely one regardless, and as travel restrictions have tightened it’s likely to be our last trip for a while. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

I watched the film adaptation of Practical Magic starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman many years ago, but picked the book up from the library recently when I was in the mood for something witchy to read in October.

Practical Magic follows sisters Sally and Gillian Owens, raised by their aunts who practice witchcraft. Sally and Gillian are as different as could be, sensible to a fault, Sally just wants to be normal, while Gillian is a free-spirited drifter, but both are trying to escape the Owens’ legacy and the family curse of doomed romances.

After nearly two decades apart, Gillian turns up at Sally’s door with her dead boyfriend in the car, and the plot revolves around what happens when he continues to haunt them after they bury him in the backyard.

I really appreciated that it captured the complexity and intensity of female relationships between sisters, mothers and daughters, and even aunts and neices, the love and loyalty, the rivalry and jealousy, and even the sense of duty and obligation that characterises so many familial bonds.

I was hooked from the first page, the prose is descriptive and atmospheric, and the story wrapped itself around me like a blanket. Practical Magic is a tale of love, heartbreak, family, superstition and witchcraft, and it was a perfect choice for October and Halloween reading. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

The Enchanted Forest ~ A Retrospective

The Enchanted Forest ~ A Retrospective

Back in May the Enchanted Forest team made the difficult decision to cancel the event due to the pandemic. It’s a shame as we were so looking forward to taking our daughter to see it for the first time but we’ve already booked our tickets and lodgings for next year as the team are optimistic that it will go ahead in 2021. However, as I’ve been visiting the Enchanted Forest for almost a decade, I thought I’d share a little retrospective of highlights from previous years.

My first visit to the Enchanted Forest was in 2010, after I saw it advertised on the Glasgow subway. The first year I went with a friend (though every year after with my husband, and we got engaged during our visit to the Enchanted Forest in 2013), and I loved it so much that I’ve faithfully returned to Pitlochry every October since.

The Enchanted Forest roughly follows the same figure of eight path around Loch Dunmore and Faskally Woods but the design team choose a different theme every year and always make the most of the natural and permanent features such as the towering fir trees, the Loch and the bridge, as well as building temporary viewing platforms for projections and synchronised light displays around the forest.

It’s an incredibly creative and innovative light and sound show, and given that it runs for the full month of October in all but the very worst Scottish weather, and attracts 80,000 visitors, I’m always impressed by how smoothly the event runs.

I’ve shared posts from our visits in 2017, 2018 and 2019, but enjoyed this little trip down memory lane, seeing how the Enchanted Forest has grown and developed – though my photos don’t do it justice at all. It’s one of my favourite events, it’s been the setting of some wonderful memories and I’m very much looking forward to returning when we’re able to. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

Despite being an avid fantasy reader, I’ve probably only read about fifteen of the 41 Discworld novels, but The Wee Free Men is the first book in the Tiffany Aching series and works well as a standalone novel (though the beloved witches Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax make an appearance in this).

The plot is a familiar one of a girl, Tiffany, having to rescue her baby brother when he’s stolen by an evil Fairy Queen. Tiffany grew up on a farm, herding sheep and making cheese, yet she aspires to become a witch, and resolves to steal her annoying, little brother back with the help of the Nac Mac Feegle – an endearing clan of small, blue warriors with Scottish accents.

Tiffany is such an appealing protagonist, with a strong moral compass, courage, common sense and determination, and this is such a refreshing fantasy tale full of autonomous, empowered women from Tiffany and her late grandmother to the Kelda who rules the fearsome Nac Mac Feegle, and even the evil Fairy Queen.

The Wee Free Men is a fun little story that plays around with fairytale tropes, and it’s a great witchy read for October. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Happy Fifth Anniversary to Mara!

My little muse and constant companion

Just tapping out a quick post at the end of an unexpectedly hectic weekend to note that it was five years ago today that we adopted our cat, Mara. It feels like we’ve been through quite a lot together in a relatively short length of time from moving out of the little, rented flat we lived in when we adopted her to our own house, nursing her back to health after cancer and having her tail amputated – and again last month when she suddenly became unwell, to the arrival of our daughter earlier this year. Throughout everything, Mara has shown such resilience and courage, and her trust in us has never wavered. Mara really is a very special cat, and I’m so grateful to be able to spoil her a little bit more than normal today.

Unfortunately, Mara is still a bit unsure and scared about the battery-powered, revolving butterfly toy we bought her (she seems to prefer her feathery wand toys) but she was much more enthusiastic about the roast chicken we gave her as a special treat.

We’ve spent most of the weekend isolating at home after our 8-month-old daughter came down with what we suspected was just the common cold but as she had a cough we thought we’d better get tested, and her two bottom teeth decided to make their appearence this weekend as well. No sooner had we received the negative test result than my husband took himself off to bed to nurse his own cold. I’ve had my hands full this weekend, but nevertheless, very grateful to celebrate Mara’s fifth anniversary with us. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Chasing Waterfalls at Finlaystone Country Estate

We’ve been under partial lockdown since the start of September, with restrictions around socialising indoors, but thankfully we’re still allowed to meet other households outside and to travel for leisure. We’re still enjoying getting out for our daily walks, more often than not just around the neighbourhood or to a local park, but we did venture a bit further afield recently when my husband suggested a day trip to Finlaystone Country Estate, which he used to pass on his commute to his previous job but never visited.

It costs £5 per adult to enter the gardens and grounds, and seems popular with families as there are swings, slides, a full scale wooden fort and pirate ship for children to play on. There’s also a cafe on site, though we took our own picnic of homemade quiche and a flask of coffee.

There are a few different walks around the grounds, but we followed the Burnside Path to see the waterfalls, giving me the chance to play with the aperture setting on my camera. It was a sunny day when we visited but had rained a few days before so the waterfalls were flowing.

We also stopped for a look around Hootenanny Owls, a volunteer-run social enterprise with a selection of birds of prey including a few rescue birds, which is based in the grounds. The staff were very enthusiastic and gave us a guided tour showing us the birds and telling us a bit about each of them, and I’d love to go back to handle them.

Finlaystone Country Estate was a lovely place to wander with plenty to see and do, and we all enjoyed exploring somewhere new. In contrast, we’ve spent this weekend cosy at home, lighting the fire for the first time since last winter, catching up and quizzing with family and friends over Zoom while the rain fell outside. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura

This had been sitting on my shelf for a while, and I started reading it when I wanted a comfort read while my own cat Mara was unwell (though thankfully she has recovered).

When the 30 year old narrator finds out he has a terminal illness and only days to live, he receives a visit from the devil who offers to trade one extra day of life for everything the narrator is willing to live without. It seems like an easy trade but the story considers what life would be like without mobile phones, films and cats to name just a few things the devil makes disappear in order to extend the narrator’s life – though apparently even the devil draws the line at a world without chocolate. Every time the devil removes something from the world, the narrator is left considering the impact it had on his life and how much we take for granted everyday.

If Cats Disappeared From the World is a short, strange but poignant and thought-provoking story about love, grief, family, regrets, dying and cats. Unfortunately I found it hard to connect with the narrator, and I preferred The Travelling Cat Chronicles (reviewed here), which covers similar themes, though this is still worth reading. Take Care, and have a lovely week. X

4 Years 11 Months 9 Days…

Recovering at home, September 2020

Relieved and grateful to have reached the end of what has felt like the longest week for our little family. It started ordinarily enough taking my 7 month old daughter to a Baby Sensory class on Monday and visiting my parents on Tuesday, but in the very early hours of Wednesday morning, our cat Mara suddenly became unwell with vomiting and diarrhoea, by dawn she was off her food, lethargic and hiding under our bed.

We took her to the vet who ran a series of tests but couldn’t find anything wrong, apart from a very low white blood cell count, and I spent the rest of the day handfeeding her chicken but by the evening she was no better and refusing to eat again. We took her back to the vet on Thursday morning and they kept her in overnight to give her fluids and an antiemetic by IV, as well as antibiotics and an appetite stimulant, and her condition was stable enough for her to return home on Friday evening. We’re still not sure what caused her sudden illness – an infection, gastroentiritis or even a severe food intolerance are all possibilities – and she’s still not back to full health but I’m so relieved that she’s eating, cuddling, purring and even playing a little bit, which are all encouraging signs that she’s recovering.

Me and Mara, January 2016

I was planning to share a post next month to mark the fifth anniversary of the date we adopted Mara, but this week has reminded not to take anything or anyone for granted, so I’m sharing a little Mara update today four years, eleven months and nine days after we adopted her. I always knew adopting an adult rescue cat meant there was a chance she might not be with us very long (Mara is somewhere between 10 and 14 years old now) but I won’t ever regret choosing Mara because she’s been such an affectionate, playful and constant companion, and so gentle and patient with our baby daughter too.

Mara and our daughter, August 2020

For such a small animal, she’s an enormous presence in our home from whining for food (at all hours!), scampering around when she wants to play, chirruping as she greets us at the front door, purring and padding at the foot of our bed as she settles down for the night, sunbathing on the windowsills during the summer and stretching out in front of the fire in the winter.

I’m so thankful to the vets for their diagnosis and treatment options, as well as for pet insurance (which has paid for itself again and again), but most of all, I’m grateful for Mara, who has always been so much more than a pet, bringing so much love, affection and joy to our lives. Take care, and have a lovely week. X