Building an outdoor area for the cats

This week we have completed a project we’ve been deliberating over since we first decided to bring home our cats almost a year ago now, and built them a secure outdoor area in the garden they can access from the house. They are absolutely loving it and thought I’d do a wee post just with the progress of it in case it helps anyone else doing something similar!

We live in quite a rural setting but on a really busy road that we’d never be happy letting a cat free roam on, so when we’d first started looking for one to join our family, we’d been looking specifically for a rescue who had already been used to living indoors and who would also be happy living with our young family. This turned out to be a bit of an ask however, and after a couple of months we started looking at whether it might be possible to have a kitten introduced to an indoor-only life from the off (and then ended up with two, but that’s another story 😬).

Theo looking out the front window over the road

I wasn’t too sure at first, always having cats freely accessing the outdoors growing up, but we found some really good articles and forums online with a lot of people who had chosen for various safety reasons to keep cats indoors, in cat-proofed gardens or with enclosures, and we started to explore it. Interestingly, we found out, this is pretty much the norm in some countries, either to protect cats and or to protect birds and wildlife; so when we started reading further we found lots of options on ways to let them out a little without letting them on the road.

Ideally we would have loved to cat proof our entire back garden, but although it’s a good space in many ways, and already had fencing we could definitely have worked with (when the kittens were little enough it was secure without us trying due to the height of the fences); the different levels in the garden and various extension and shed roofs made it too big a challenge once climbing was mastered; so we decided to go with a smaller “catio” enclosure in space just at our back door that leant itself to door and window access.

The kittens playing in the garden at a few months, before they figured out the scaling the fences thing!

We looked at a few different options – buying some panels with cat-proof mesh (which we found was recommended to be 16g) to put together, buying the mesh and posts seperately and doing it ourselves, or buying a ready-built enclosure; and in the end settled on the Omlet Cat Balcony Enclosure which fitted the space we had almost perfectly, and which we’ve made some adjustments to to attach it to the house and let the cats access freely from a small window in the kitchen.

I was worried that a small space would be too little for our Rosie, who is a big adventurer, and had already been trying to make a break for an open door at any opportunity; and also that Theo, who likes human company and is quite the opposite in terms of adventuring, wouldn’t particularly like it at all; but a few days in we are amazed at how much they love it!

Our space (spikes are next door’s and not part of our cat proofing!!)

On Thursday, we began work (overseen by the cats of course!) and started to get the enclosure itself put up. It was relatively easy to build between two of us and we were pretty impressed with it. We do plan to move in the next few years and it will be ideal for shifting to a new place, not being too permanent, and if we have a bigger space in the future it can also be added to with extension panels to any size.

By Friday morning, it was up, decorated with help from the kids and standing with all panels on and door access only; and Rosie and Theo had their first morning’s exploring – which they really enjoyed. Theo took a wee while to settle, but Rosie just sat as if all her dreams had come true chirping to the birds and enjoying the fresh air!

Later in the day, my husband did his handyman bit and began the DIY modifications to secure it to the house wall and remove a panel so that they could get in and out through the window.

This was huge hit with both of them and a game-changer for Theo who instantly warmed to it much more when he could come and go as he pleased – they have spent the entire weekend going in and out like a pair of little yo-yos and just loving their freedom.

Today some final additions have been added – a shelf to make access easier as the window was a bit awkwardly high (not that it stopped them!) and a ramp to make getting down easier too.

The result seems to be two happy cats and we’re so pleased to have done it. I’ll keep my fingers crossed the novelty doesn’t wear off and they start protesting to get further, but at the moment just having that little bit of the outdoors and their choice of in or out is making them very happy!

Theo flits between being in with us and having an explore out there, and Rosie can be found sitting out for hours on end just watching the world go by, between the deepest sleeps she’s ever had inside! (She’s also not diving for the door anymore as she knows she’s got her own route out which is a big relief!)

So far our little corner of Scotland has given them a crash course in just about every type of weather, and they’ve enjoyed zooming about in the wind and shaking their wet fur on their way back in out of the rain. One thing they’ve not yet got to do is lie in the sun, but I’m sure they’ll enjoy it when spring does come!

I still don’t know where I would land on contained vs free-roaming for them long-term – if we lived somewhere that felt safe enough in the future (and when they’re less reckless teenagers and more sensible grown cats!) I’d maybe like to see them finding their own territory, but I’m kind of a convert now to the idea of knowing they’re definitely safe, even if they could have a bit of a bigger space, and I’m relieved that for now it’s working, so we’re sticking with this for the time being!

Hope you all have a great start to the week! X

The Adventures of Pidge ❤️

This week we unexpectedly added a new “pet” to our little family here, though we don’t quite know how long she’ll stay, and we are very much winging it!

Last weekend brought some very stormy weather here, as we’ve been used to every few weeks over the winter – and this time we weren’t brought some slates from next door’s roof or a flyaway trampoline, but instead found this lovely little lady (best guess female, she may yet be re-gendered!), a racing pigeon, in Charmer’s barn, sheltering and not keen to fly off.

We weren’t quite sure what to do at first, so she spent the first night in the barn in a little makeshift corner some of the girls set up for her. We were all delighted she was still there in the morning, so having done a bit of reading the night before we agreed I would take her for some food and shelter and read her ring numbers to find her owner. She was such a good wee soul travelling and absolutely fell on the food and water I gave her in her little makeshift cage at home, so really must have been starving. We’d discovered it was very common for racing or homing pigeons to become exhausted in high winds and need food and shelter to get back to full health. She was obviously used to being handled and I managed to read her ring number easily and trace her owner within a few minutes with the Scottish Homing Union which was absolutely amazing, so I thought we would just be feeding and sheltering her for the day until they could come to collect.

However, our wee Pidge (as we’re now calling her! 😬) had an interesting story, as she’d been lost from the owner we traced since 2016 where she’d not returned from one of her first flights as a youngster, and where she’d been since then is a mystery! Her registered owner was very nice, and was willing to come and collect her, but some of the other girls at the farm had read that often older pigeons don’t have a place in a racing loft any longer when past the age for flying and when I checked with him if he would be able to welcome her back it did seem that at six years old, and away from his loft so long it wasn’t a home for her, it really wasn’t an ideal place for her to go back to.

She seems in such good health, and I could already see was such a great wee character and so tame, that I wanted to give her every chance to recuperate and live a full life… and so we agreed with her owner that we would keep her here, make sure she got her rest and recovery and take it from there. He believes she must have been with another loft nearby us all this time (though not registered so no way of knowing), which makes sense with her tameness, and there is a chance she’ll home back to there when built up enough to make the flight, but he also advised she was likely to stick around with us if she knew where to find food and water.

And so began a week of learning about these beautiful and interesting birds and finding our feet with how best to look after a pigeon!

For the first day or two we kept her in our old rat cage – the closest to a pigeon loft we could manage at short notice – but as we’re really lucky to have a very sheltered little area by our back door, the last couple of days we’ve released her by day and shut her away again at night, a routine she’s settled into beautifully. She is wandering around happily exploring her food and water and finding corners she likes to settle in but as yet no attempts at flying.

The general consensus from those that know a lot more than me still seems to be that she’s just tired and recovering. She’s bright eyed and doesn’t show any signs of pain or distress, but we do have an appointment with an avian vet booked for Wednesday if she’s not up and flying by then to check if there’s anything underlying. We really have no idea how this will pan out – if she takes off for her home then we’d have to trust she’ll make it and that’s a happy ending for her. If she turns out to be injured we can make the best decision for her at the vets, and if she sticks around – well we’ll just have to play it by ear. We know she’ll need a mate so we’ll either have to find someone with a small loft who could take her, or maybe instead of being “that time we adopted a pigeon for a couple of weeks” it’ll be “how we got into our lifelong hobby of pigeon-fancying”!!

For the time being, I am loving learning what I can, getting to know her and seeing her enjoy her food and her little space. She’s a hit with the whole family, the girls loving measuring out her seeds, visiting her in the mornings and tucking her away at night.

I’m never happier than when I’ve got a rescue animal project on the go – our pets have pretty much always been rescues (except the cats who were just farm kittens) but our Sparkle hamster and our last hamster Sandy were such well adjusted wee souls when they came to us from the hamster rescue near us that they adapted so well and it’s been years since I really had to put the work in! I’d forgotten how passionate I get about actually having to nurse and coax a wee one, it takes me right back to those wonderful days when I first started this blog when our house was full of cages and I had pet rats at various stages of warming to us and recovering from their past lives all the time, and I’m just never happier than when seeing those little faces get more and more relaxed and settle to home and routine.

We don’t know what the future holds for wee Pidge – part of me hopes she takes happily to the skies, part of me doubts she’ll make it past her vet appointment if she’s bravely hiding a wee injury, but whatever happens we’ve given her a chance and for now we are delighted to welcome her to the family. ❤️

2021 ~ My Year in Books

First things first a huge happy new year all! Hope you are all having a peaceful start to 2022 and here’s to it being one of health, togetherness and better days for us all. ❤️

📚🌟2021 ~ Year in Books 🌟📚

Have really enjoyed having a look back at my reading diary in the last couple of days and remembering everything I’ve read this year.

I read 50 books in total, and there were lots of favourite genres and authors in there. I read seven pony (or horse) books, which I just love so much – everything from the classic Jill books to some of my favourites of the nineties to “The Horse Whisperer”; – plus nine books focused on other animals (my run of seven cat books when we were getting ready to welcome our own cats, the beautiful memoir The Penguin Lessons and the grown-up return to Animal Ark that was my first book of the year ❤️). I’ve read seven of the classics I love to get so absorbed in – Jane Austen and LM Montgomery cropping up two or three times each; five mysteries; and five Christmassy books at the end of the year.

Quite a lot were new to me this year – 36 of the 50.. quite good going as I just love a re-read! I still unashamedly love children’s books, and read eight children’s books in the year, an escape I always enjoy. There was a bit of a mix of fiction and non- with 14 non-fiction books: mostly memoirs, a wonderful Sarah Ockwell-Smith parenting book and Jane Badger’s study of Ruby Ferguson’s pony books that had me savouring some in-depth analysis of Jill. ❤️ Tom Cox was my most-read author this year by a long way, between reading his four “cat books” in the early summer, the short story collection “Help The Witch” in the autumn and most recently “Ring the Hill.”

📚 Favourite New Reads 2021 📚

My top 5 books new to me this year (just in order read):

📘 The Beekeeper of Aleppo ~ Christy Lefteri. Although much of this year I have stuck to only the lightest and happiest of books and have actively avoided more upsetting topics; one of the hardest hitting books I’ve read was undoubtedly one of my favourites this year. Moving, so very important and unforgettable, this much-needed spotlight on life as a refugee is utterly brilliant and so eloquently portrayed. 💙
📕 The Thursday Murder Club ~ Richard Osman. I was late to the party with these books but read the first in March and the second as soon as it came out in the autumn, and know I’ll be pre-ordering every instalment now! I couldn’t love Coopers Chase retirement village and its team of mystery solvers any more. As full of characters as intrigue, this is just a proper cosy mystery with a lovable cast and I loved it and its sequel! ❤️
📔 The Blythes are Quoted ~ L.M. Montgomery. I had waited so long to track down a copy of this and close the final chapter of Anne’s story (written in the last months of LM Montgomery’s life but only published in 2009), and when I did I was not disappointed in this poignant, moving and beautifully tied-up last instalment of the Blythes’ tale – and their enduring legacy. 💖
📗 Stepping Up ~ Sarah Turner. I was absolutely delighted to have the chance to read this wonderful debut novel this year ahead of its publication in March 2022. I had loved Sarah Turner’s writing for years as the Unmumsy Mum and was so looking forward to this book, and I loved it even more than I hoped. There is so much heart in this special story about loss, love, family ties and “Stepping Up”, and I couldn’t recommend it more. 💚
📙 Ring the Hill ~ Tom Cox. I have always enjoyed Tom Cox’s writing so much – dotted with poetry, humour and incredible landscapes – and this lovely book full of rugged hills, adventures and homes, sweeping countryside and animal companions was just a joy to read. 🧡

Huge recommendations for all of these! 📚

📚 Favourite Re-Reads 2021 📚

(This was supposed to be a Top 5 too, but it’s impossible to choose between books I love this much, so 7 there are! 😂)

These are all books I’ve loved before, most of them read several times, but that I loved reading again this year.. the Jane Austens I never tire of, my beloved Anne, a reconnect this year with Sara Crewe who I hadn’t revisited since childhood, a festive return to Scrooge’s London, my very favourite of Tom Cox’s touching and so relatable portraits of a life with pets, and my third read of Three Things About Elsie which burst into my favourite books in 2018 and continues to be one I just savour every word of. ❤️

📘 A Little Princess ~ Frances Hodgson Burnett
📙 Close Encounters of the Furred Kind ~ Tom Cox
📗 Persuasion ~ Jane Austen
📒 Three Things About Elsie ~ Joanna Cannon
📕 Pride and Prejudice ~ Jane Austen
📗 Anne of Green Gables ~ LM Montgomery
📔 A Christmas Carol ~ Charles Dickens

“Every book in [our library] is a friend” – Anne Blythe, Anne’s House of Dreams

Lots of love for these old-friend books. ❤️📚❤️

Let me know if you’ve read and enjoyed any of these, and wishing you all the best possible start to this new year. Xxx

2021 In Pictures ❤️

Have really enjoyed in the last couple of days looking back at some pictures from this year. Seeing the early ones especially reminded me so much how shut down everything was in the first few months of the year and, even though all the snapshots here were lovely moments, how much I was struggling with it. The thing I’m most grateful for as the year has gone on is more time back with family and friends – and when I look at some of these: getting back to my in-laws to stay after months apart, drinks out with my friends for the first time in so long, I remember the soar of joy. So many returns to things we love for us all and firsts altogether for our littlest – her first birthday, first beach and first soft play all in the highlights. ❤️

There has been lots of change for us all in work, nursery, toddlers.. seasons coming to a close and new ones beginning. There’s more still even on the horizon as I already know as the new year arrives I want to make a change again at work, and for our oldest January is time for decisions on school applications and deferrals, a big topic for us at the moment. In 2022 I can already see us moving on just as in 2021.

We said goodbye to our lovely Sandy hamster this year but also a huge welcome the family to tiny Sparkle; – and of course to Rosie and Theo our little cats too, who’ve been with us six months now and fill the house with happy chaos… And Charmer throughout the year has been enjoying having the whole family running after him as much as ever, turning 25 and even toddling off on a couple of retirement-defying hacks. 🥰

As this year draws to a close it’s a big one we’re looking back on. Can’t wait quite believe it was a just-turned-3 year old and a little 9 month old who couldn’t walk yet (just! She began on day 2 of the year!) who we entered 2021 with this time last year… our 4 year old and creeping up on 2 year old seem so grown in a year.

Looking forward to lots more adventures this year, and wishing you all the very very best for 2022. A very Happy New Year one and all when when it comes. ❤️

September – December Reading Diary 📚❤️

I’ve not kept up too much with reading on here recently but have still been keeping a record as this year I’ve been absolutely loving being part of the bookstagram community on Instagram and having somewhere to easily share all my reads and share and swap book recommendations. I’m on http://www.Instagram.com/a_coffee_anda_book if anyone also happens to be on there and I do a wee review or at least a wee note of everything I read on there, but for now thought I’d do the quickest of round ups of the last few months’ books, as I’ve really found my way back to loving reading in this second part of the year.

💛🍂📚September Reading 📚🍂💛 Such a wonderful reading month, all books I really enjoyed and two shooting in to the top 5 of the year so far quite easily ❤️ L.M. Montgomery’s “The Blythes are Quoted”, the long-awaited final chapter of Anne & Gilbert Blythe’s story, was a book I’ve looked forward to reading for years, and it didn’t let me down, sweeping me up in the family and community once again just as I hoped ❤️. And “Stepping Up” by Sarah Turner (aka @theunmumsymum, whose parenting books and blogs I have always loved) was one I was already counting down to reading come publication in March 2022 when I was absolutely delighted to be accepted to read an advance review copy through NetGalley. I wasted no time in getting started and just couldn’t put it down, I simply loved this so deeply warm, moving and funny novel so much. ❤️ “Ponies in the Valley” by Diana Pullein-Thompson too was an adventure- and compassion-filled pony book I thoroughly enjoyed, and Fergie and Sandy’s series one I’ll definitely look to read more in very soon; and Shirley Barrett’s “Rush Oh!”, an atmospheric telling of one summer’s whaling on the coast of Australia with some engaging characters and beautiful descriptions of the dramatic seascape. These books were all very different from one another, though both “The Blythes” and “Rush Oh!” were set in the same time period, with the First World War looming; and some common themes – loss, coming of age and the binding of family ties – came up in most or all. It was a cosy month’s reading, one I really enjoyed, and got my autumn off to a lovely start. 🍁📚

📚🍁 October reads 🍁📚 Really enjoyed reading in October as I always do when the nights draw in and there’s longer darker evenings… 🥰 Actually read a lot more than a three-book stack seems because I was part-way through three others I’d been enjoying a lot of the month too that all tipped into November. But really enjoyed the books I finished this month – first “The Man Who Died Twice” which I’d been counting down to release day for, a wonderful return to the mystery-filled Coopers Chase retirement village; followed by “Haven’t They Grown”, an absolutely gripping thriller that has me wanting to read a lot more from Sophie Hannah; and lastly Stephanie Land’s moving memoir “Maid” which I also so enjoyed. Definitely a great month for books, would recommend all! (All reviewed in earlier posts). Photo star Teddy-cat Theo who enjoyed both his first Black Cat Day and Halloween this month and very much enjoyed the season 🤩🎃🐈‍⬛

📚🌟November wrap-up 🌟📚 Read six books last month which is a bit skewed by having finished off Tom Cox’s beautiful nature ramble “Ring the Hill”, Emma Barnett‘s ground-breaking “Period” and Cressida Ellen Schofield’s festive and horsey family drama “Mistletoe and Whine” in the first week of the new month after beginning them all towards the end of October.

These were all new to me, which I only realised this month was a continuing trend, and when I looked back saw I hadn’t re-read a single book since July, very unusual for me as I usually can’t resist the old favourites over and over..

However, I more than made up for it in the rest of the month with three re-reads, my beloved “Three Things About Elsie” by Joanna Cannon, Nicholas Evans’s atmospheric and moving “The Horse Whisperer” which I hadn’t read in decades, and, my last book of the month, the one and only “Pride and Prejudice”. ❤️

It was a mixed month of books, with some fascinating non-fiction and thought-provoking learning in “Period”, the prose I just love to sink into in “Ring the Hill”, a first splash of Christmas in “Mistletoe and Whine”, such emotion and a strong challenge and message in “Three Things About Elsie”, the sprawling ranch saga of “The Horse Whisperer” and the drawing in of the truly classic “Pride and Prejudice.”

📚🎄 December reads 🎄📚 I read 7 books in December which is a lot for me, but in there were four much shorter books than normal and three were children’s which kept my month’s reading light and cosy. There were also four purely Christmas books, as well as touches of Christmas in Anne’s little world, and it was a wonderful month of reading just what took my fancy in this beautifully festive time of the year.

I started with Adam Kay’s “‘Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas”, having enjoyed “This is Going to Hurt” last year – moving and funny, I really enjoyed it, all the more for reading on my first Christmas working in a care home with all its ups and downs. Then it was to Avonlea, my very favourite of places to disappear, to my beloved Anne. ❤️ I always enjoy re reading “Anne of Green Gables” so very much and did this time more than ever. Enjoyed a wee pony book in Susannah Leigh’s “Dream Pony”, one from my childhood, and then on to a wonderfully infused-with-Christmas-cheer novel “The Christmas Invitation” by Trisha Ashley. As Christmas arrived I was re-reading another favourite and a tradition for this time especially, “A Christmas Carol”, which again I loved as much as ever ❤️❤️, and then I had an extra dose of the season in Matt Haig’s “A Boy Called Christmas”, a children’s adventure full of magic and hope. My last is not quite finished yet but as the year draws to a close I’m reading “Mad About The Boy”, Helen Fielding’s return to Bridget Jones’ world in later life – the first two books are two of my favourites I love to return to but although I read this when it came out I haven’t revisited it since – so far have lots of thoughts on how it’s aged!! But am enjoying being back with such a familiar and loved narrator.

In December I also followed a tag on Instagram #literarychristmas hosted by some lovely bloggers which saw me dip in and out of some very well-loved worlds:

Weeks 1 and 4 were east for me as I was already reading “Anne of Green Gables” as the month began, and was able to enjoy the beautiful “puffed-sleeves” Christmas it contains, and I always read “A Christmas Carol”, ticking my Victorian Christmas box. But although I didn’t read in full anything from the Prairie or New England it gave me the perfect chance to look up some favourite extracts and enjoy Laura and Mary’s mittens-and-candy-cane Christmas morning and the March ladies’ memorable generosity. ❤️

On the note of Anne, do have to share as well one of my most special Christmas presents that I think will lead to me reading even more frequently than normal! – this beautiful framed print which contains the whole novel. It’s not even found its place on the wall yet but already I’m loving pausing by it for a wee chapter as I pass by and am absolutely delighted to have such a beloved book hanging at home. ❤️

In these last few days I’ve loved having more time for reading and enjoying taking life at a slow pace. Looking forward to looking back on the year’s reading and will write another wee post when I do. For now, enjoying the peace and the slow days ❤️ Hope you are all managing to do a little of the same however the season is panning out, and enjoying the last of the year. Xx

Pony diaries: Ambling into autumn 🍂

The last few weeks have been good ones for my fluffball pony, who looks forward every year to the change of season between summer and autumn. Charmer has actually had a really good summer – he has kept his weight well, enjoyed his time both out and in and not suffered too much with the midges – and he does love the great array of grass that summertime brings!!; but between the heat, the flies and his sweet itch, it’s never his comfiest time; and it’s always a total joy when the temperature breaks, the nights draw in, that furry winter coat starts growing and he can relax into the most contented of days.

We’ve not been doing any riding the past few months – partly because he’s been a bit stiffer and partly because I’ve put on a bit of weight myself and would like to lose some before I get back on (I’m always quite near the top end of what’s probably ok for him at his age so definitely don’t want to add any pressure to those old legs!), but the last few weeks we have been enjoying a lot of little walks on his rope.

I had actually been walking him just in and out of the barn the shortest way for a few weeks back in August, having noticed that he was moving a bit less easily and wanting to keep everything as easy as possible for him, but after a few weeks of this he voted with his feet and started dragging me the long way round, where there is lots more to see and he loves just to feel like he’s on an adventure – and, as it turns out, he’s moving all the better for stretching his legs and having his wee brain busier again. One day we even found a little free library just at a cottage on the edge of the farm, and he always likes to stop for a munch of grass and a watch of the horses in the fields across the track especially his old hacking buddies.

I also took him a bit of a longer walk last week to see how he got on, and he absolutely loved it. In October, my lovely friend who works for the ambulance service is organising a fund raiser at the yard for the Scottish Air Ambulance Charity, with a lot of the girls and horses at the yard embarking on a month of long hacks racking up the miles. Every mile counts and can be added to their running total so we thought we would join in where we’re at just now, and went for a mile-long walk in-hand last week to test the ground. We found that it was the perfect distance for Charmer who absolutely loved every second, so we will do that wee loop every few days whenever he’s up for it and see how many we can count up in the month! – (and will maybe help me shed some pounds too, maybe by the end of the month I could be doing an amble on him!)

We’ve also been enjoying a bit of messing around and watching the leaves fall in the little sand school behind our barn, which seems to be a start to the day both of us love. ❤️

… and on the rainier days, it’s just breakfast on the barn and a shelter with a huge pile of hay.

It’s getting darker and darker every night at the moment, and at the weekend after work I had both my girls with me for a just-before-bedtime torchlight visit to the field which the horses and children loved – and I did too, always enjoying so much those first nights in the bright lights of the barn with the rain hammering and the dark fields outside.

I’m really pleased with how well Charmer seems to be doing and looking forward to our month of little walks for a good cause, and to the drawing in of winter. ❤️

Hope you all have a good week. Xx

Happy (half) birthday to our wee Sandy… and big love for all the littlest ones ❤️

Our little Sandy hamster turned 2 and a half on Friday, and we decided to make a proper little fuss of him and give him a wee day of celebration! I think it’s quite hard to judge but have seen some hamster to human years “conversions” showing around 2 and a half creeping up to a very good age maybe even around 100 equivalent, and we are absolutely delighted to have little Sandy still with us and in very good health.

We brought him home at 4 months old from a lovely little hamster and small animal rescue not far from us in Fife where a couple of volunteers work tirelessly to help wee ones find their forever homes, and we’ve been lucky to have over two years of his company and counting. He’s a pottery wee soul these days, sometimes a little wobbly on his feet when he first wakes up, but he’s just doing away, enjoying life in his cage and some explores out and about with us too and he’s actually holding his weight really well which is great. He has been completely and utterly unfazed by the arrival of two curious kittens into his life who like nothing more than to watch him going about his business, and regards them with interest but no fear whatsoever, getting on with his important work of moving food around and now and then doing a wee bed reshuffle.

The kids loved making him some decorations and giving him a treat stick which he got straight to work on and is still very much enjoying a few days on!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the small pets in our lives the last few weeks as it was August eleven years ago, just as the back to school feeling was around us and the change of autumn in the air, that I decided to really start our little animal family. I’d already had a lovely wee companion for a couple of years while at uni, briefly back home, and then in my first flat of my own, in the form of my very first hamster, little Annabelle, who I’d always so enjoyed the company of. She had died a few months before and I had really missed her. I always remember so clearly the day in August 2010 I came back from a weekend at home with my family and all our assorted animal companions (always a full house ❤️) to my empty flat and realised that I wanted so much to have a pet again. That led to me bringing home Smokie and Peatie, my first rats, two such wonderful wee characters – and never having been without pets since.

Smokie, Peatie and Simba, our original wee team ❤️

I knew so little about small pets then (Annabelle never having caused me any trouble, we’d never even seen a vet!) that it took me a few weeks to realise the boys I took home (originally Smokey and Petey) were actually girls. They taught me my first lessons early on and from that day on I’ve loved and lived and learned so much with my tiny companions. Within six months Smokie and Peatie and I had moved in with my husband and his house rabbit Simba and since then we’ve had a total of 14 pet rats, 5 hamsters and the rabbit (and also two Giant African Land Snails who were more my husband’s charges, I still know very little about them!) – mostly rescued or given their second home with us and all of them bringing so much joy to our home.

The rats: Smokie, Peatie, Sylvie, Lizzie, Chae, Winston, Pipkin, Harvey, Ty, Reuben, Perry, Marley, Jasper and Jet

Keeping small animals has been so incredibly rewarding for me. The rats in particular always taught me so much, there were so many health issues to learn about and absolutely fascinating behaviour to study and interactions to be had. Our hamsters too, Annabelle, Grace, Darcy, Rosie* and Sandy, have been such amazing characters. I always hear of people complaining of grumpy bitey hamsters but the five I’ve been blessed to share my home with have been such lovely wee souls.

The hamsters: Annabelle, Grace, Darcy, Rosie and Sandy

As the kittens keep us busy with new lessons to be learned (back on the back foot again after almost always knowing what the vet would say before I took the rats with a few years of experience under my belt, suddenly I realise how little we know about our new pets and I am googling and researching cat information at every turn!); and Charmer – as he has for over twenty-one years now – fills my animal world; I’m so so glad too for all the space taken up in our home and hearts then and now by the tiniest of our pets – and love having wee Sandy around so much.

Happy birthday little gent 🧡.

Hope you all have a lovely start to the week. X

*yes we have now had so many pets that we are repeating names! Little Rosie-ham who we brought home back in 2014 was our first Rosie, named for her pinky-red eyes and bright wee face, but when our oldest daughter was determined to call our girl cat Rosie from the moment the idea of getting a cat was floated we went with it, she can be Rosie-cat for long! My husband’s second snail was also called Sandy so it’s not even our first offence… But when Sandy hamster arrived to us so perfectly coloured and so in love with his sand bath he couldn’t be anything but…. ❤️

Summer Reading ❤️

This year has been quite a bitty one for me reading-wise so far – not necessarily in a bad way, there’s been lots going on to keep me busy and lots of stopping and starting with books that I’ve eventually got to the end of and enjoyed as much as if I’d raced through them. But this summer with some time off and some wonderful weather I’ve finally enjoyed a few books both powered through and taken at a slow steady pace. As the holidays draw to a close, thought I would round up the books I’ve read in these lovely summery months.

📖 Meet You By Hachiko ~ Loren Greene 📖

This was the first book I read when the nights turned lighter, longer and got so very much warmer for us here than we’re used to. Sitting out late on the longest night of the year, as the sun set, I finished this enjoyable young adult book about a teenage friendship and the journey it leads its characters on. This was the first book I have downloaded and read after stumbling across Voracious Readers Only, so a huge thank you to @voraciousreadersonly and Loren Greene for a complimentary copy of the book in return for an honest review.

Dotting between the narratives of Grace – a quiet senior high schooler in Newfoundland, Canada, longing to be able to stretch her wings and explore her passions more; and Kana – at the same stage in Japanese schooling, living and studying in Tokyo and struggling under the pressure of exam deadlines and academic future; it tells the story of how the girls’ shared love for Japanese fashion draws them together across the continents and sets them on a path together.

This book had a lovely feel to it – never having been to either Canada or Japan it was an interesting insight into the cultures in both countries that I thoroughly enjoyed – especially the elements around Christmas and New Year which I always love in any book and which were fascinating in their contrasts. One of the things that was really remarkable about this book though was that even though these cultures were so different to my own and to each other there was something very recognisable in the angst of the relationships, studying and coming of age of the characters regardless of location, as the author tapped beautifully into the universal experience of teenage life.

I really enjoyed this book, it was light and entertaining and for all the characters’ flawed navigating of these tricky years I found myself rooting for them so much as they found their way amidst the pressures around them. A nostalgic and engaging read about the universal struggles of coming of age with lovely insights into life in both Newfoundland and Tokyo.

📖 The Village Green Bookshop ~ Rachael Lucas 📖

I bought this book as a summer read before a couple of weekends off – started it on one and finished it a couple of weeks later on another – enjoying the lovely leisurely holiday feeling and becoming lost in the beautiful fictional Cotswolds village of Little Maudsley. ❤️ – And there couldn’t have been a more perfect backdrop to draw such a lovely warming story to a close than when I stepped outside in our own little village to the most beautiful sunset to read the last pages.

More and more these days I’m drawn to books that are cosy and uplifting, loving the gentle security of a book without too much darkness or focus on difficult topics, and this was just such a simply lovely book. Following Hannah, a stay-at-home mum to teenage Ben, as she takes on a small village book shop and finds how much she enjoys finding her feet in a whole new world just for her, it is a gently-paced feel-good story – and a very romantic one too, as former footballer Jake Lovatt, the village’s celebrity resident, finds his own place among the thatched cottages, book clubs and floral-lined streets, drawing closer to both Hannah and Ben.

The descriptions of the village and the larger towns around were absolutely beautiful too – it took me right back to a holiday in that very area almost a decade ago and made me really want to revisit all the prettiness of the Cotswold villages. This turned out to be the second book set in the same world, The Telephone Box Library being the first, and I’d really like to read that now and more by Rachael Lucas too as I really enjoyed her writing both in its descriptions of the beautiful places around and its journeying of the engaging characters through this lovely story. 💜

📖 A Little Princess ~ Frances Hodgson Burnett 📖


Just over a year ago I re-read The Secret Garden for the first time since childhood, in doing so re-discovering all its old magic ❤️ – and I had wanted to come back to A Little Princess ever since, which I had only a hazy memory of. Picking up the same copy as I read back then, I have so enjoyed journeying back into the world of the remarkable Sara Crewe, finding her adjusting to her new life at a boarding school in London after her years of comfortable family living in India.

I don’t remember ever fully realising just how much there was for me to love in Sara when I read this as a child. Not being at all swept up in dresses and Princess-like things, I think I may not have found Sara very relatable back then; but if so I really couldn’t have been more wrong. From her passionate assertion that “stories are for everyone”, her confession – despite her usually cheerful disposition – that “never did she find anything so difficult as to keep her temper when suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book – those who are fond of books know the irritation”; to her befriending of Melchisidec the rat (“he is just like a person”) and her declaring on rescuing the monkey from the cold, kissing him happily “Oh I do love little animal things!” Sara Crewe was a girl after my own heart, then and now.

As her story unfolds, her capacity to transform her world simply with her imagination is both inspiring and heart-rending, re-writing sad situations into fairy tales for herself – and so often too for those close to her – Lottie, Becky, Ermengarde – desperate to lift their spirits.

It’s only a few months since I read L.M. Montgomery’s The Story Girl for the first time, and I could see such similarities between Sara and the Story Girl (herself another Sara) in the transforming nature of their sparks of creativity on their own lives and those of their peers.

Sara Crewe is a wonderful heroine, her story a moving and powerful one; and I’m so glad I’ve revisited this. I loved being lost in the corridors of the old school building with all its atmosphere, and flying through the pages desperate for an upturn in Sara’s luck. ❤️

📖Ruby Ferguson & the Jill Books ~ Jane Badger 📖

I stumbled across @janebadger.books a few years ago when tracking down some old pony books, a site I was very glad to see dedicated to bringing some old classics, so many of which I’d loved, back into print. This however is one of Jane’s own books, on the subject of Ruby Ferguson, who wrote the “Jill books”, some of my very very favourites. ❤️

I thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating and in-depth exploration of this classic series, definitely a must-read for any fan of them! It was wonderful to have a chance to relive so much of the inimitable Jill Crewe, her two ponies Black Boy and Rapide and her friends, family and neighbours in the little village of Chatton. ❤️

The publishing history in particular was so interesting – shedding light on so many things I’ve wondered over the years like the quirk of Jill’s first pony, Black Boy, being depicted in some editions as black and some piebald – and discussing the artwork and printing changes in editions through the years. Several covers were included in the book, letting me find out more about the 1970s Knight series that most of my books are from, picked up from a second hand book shop – though I do have one in the older 1960s Armada – but best of all following a link from the eBook to a more detailed article on the website I was also able to find for the first time since childhood the cover of the 1990s edition of Jill’s Gymkhana – not a classic but my first introduction to these incredible books, and just took me right back to a pony-loving birthday morning unwrapping it. ❤️

Full of affection for a wonderful character and wonderful series, this is just a lovely read for any fan of Jill.

📖 Persuasion ~ Jane Austen 📖

At the beginning of August I spent a lovely week slowly enjoying a relaxed re-read of what I’m almost 100% sure is my very favourite Jane Austen novel (though might have to read Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice again just to be sure!!). I could never tire of reading any of these novels, and of the trademark moving, enrapturing writing I love so much, but there’s always been something I’ve loved most of all about Anne Elliot. ❤️

She is older than some if not all of Austen’s other heroines as the novel opens, having had eight years go by since she first came of age and had her engagement with Captain Wentworth, now long since in the past. I love that Anne knows herself well, and the steadiness and confidence that brings with it despite the constraints of the time on a woman in her situation. As the story unfolds it’s so clear what an anchor in her family and circle she is – most especially with Mary, who I also love for being the most wonderful outlet for Austen’s humour, Mary’s letters and monologues making me laugh so much. Anne is impossible not to root for, and Captain Wentworth too, as he comes back into Anne’s life after a period of separation, though less known, is a wonderful character. I just really love this romantic, sweeping story and I’m so glad to have re-read it for the first time in a few years now and loved it just as much. I don’t want to spoil for anyone who hasn’t read and might but also read for the most truly wonderful letter ever written. ❤️

I think I last read this when I was at uni studying these novels and loving every minute – I’m now looking forward to getting to do just a little of that again as have just had the loveliest birthday present of being able to join the Jane Austen society so looking forward to lots of reading and learning this year! I loved being lost in Anne’s circle and following this beautiful story unfolding again.

📖 The Authenticity Project ~ Clare Pooley 📖

This uplifting novel follows six main characters – local cafe owner Monica, elderly former artist Julian, recovering addict Hazard, struggling new mother Alice, easy-going traveler Riley and retired volunteer Lizzie – as they intertwine with each other and come to influence each other’s lives as they do.

Julian’s attempt to break out of the loneliness and invisibility he feels in his older age by leaving a notebook in Monica’s cafe, writing some of his own hidden truths within it and encouraging others to do the same, provides the catalyst for this story unfolding – taking some sometimes quite unexpected turns as it does.

Clare Pooley’s The Authenticity Project is written with compassion and great insight (she is also the author of The Sober Diaries, a memoir of her own struggle with addiction and many of the issues the intricately drawn characters encounter). I bought this book, billed on its 2020 release as the heart-warming read we all need right now, during our final stint of lockdown life earlier this year. Warm and engaging from the off, it cheered me up back then just to have it on the to-read pile and to have flipped through the first few pages, but it was just the last couple of weeks that I came to settle down to read it properly and I enjoyed it just as much as a gently thought-provoking but hope-filled summer read as I would have as a much-needed lockdown escape.

And last but absolutely not least couldn’t finish a round up of summer reading without a mention of my two little mini readers who have been the main activity of my summer! Reading with my littlest, loving lift-the-flap books and short books with good rhythm (Peepo, Feminist Baby, Oh Dear! and Dear Zoo taking the top spots ❤️), and my slightly bigger little, enjoying longer books now. Last year we read The Owl Who Was Afraid of The Dark by Jill Tomlinson together, such an utterly perfect book and one I remember discovering myself and loved discovering again with my daughter; – and this summer we have been loving another of her books, The Cat Who Wanted To Go Home. I love taking it chapter by chapter and enjoying the story unfolding together, it’s wonderful seeing the magic of stories capturing the next generation. ❤️

Hope you are all well and all enjoying August rumbling towards September. Have a lovely week.

📖 The Miniaturist ~ Jessie Burton 📖

Set in 17th century Amsterdam and infused with a haunting sense of place, Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, following eighteen-year-old newlywed Nella Brandt as she arrives at her new husband’s home for the first time, is a captivating story teased out little by little and characterised by a band of truly strong women – and a couple of wonderful male characters too.

The chilling strand of mystery unfolding throughout is so compelling in itself, but for me comes second to the relationships within the Brandt household – and also to the meticulously painted backdrop all of the action takes place to; the canals, buildings and streets of Amsterdam amidst the changing of the seasons, and most of all the house itself – once so unknown to Nella, gothic and unsettling, but as she settles in so pivotal to so much of the story.

I really enjoyed this book, found myself totally hooked and racing ahead to find out what happened next, feeling its sadnesses and injustices keenly and being so drawn to Nella, Marin and Cornelia in particular and the strengthening of their interwoven relationships.

This was a book club pick, and we enjoyed our virtual chat on it at the beginning of the month – finding lots to talk about in the themes of the book, the ways the author had shone a light so eloquently and at times painfully on the attitudes of society, the complexities of the individual characters and the imagery of the city.

I also learned in our conversation that there is a BBC adaptation of this and really want to watch it, this is definitely a story that would lend itself to being watched.

Let me know if you’ve read it or seen it and what you thought! Hope you are all having a lovely week. X

Thoughts on Home and Family 💞

I’ve written many blog posts on the subject of home and family over the years, since I first started writing so long ago about life in our little corner of the world. Back then, home was a tiny one-bedroomed cottage, just the two of us and our beloved pets making up our family unit in the house. Now, we’re in our second home, which we’ve been in for the past four years, and our family has grown and changed so much in that time, with our two girls transforming our lives beyond recognition as they’ve arrived with us and grown into a pre-schooler and a toddler who fill our world with noise and chaos and love and just so much joy.

The animal members of our family have continued to be so important to us too, all of us doting on Charmer in his older years as much as ever, loving having a house pet in the form of our dapper little Sandy hamster, and actually (which I’m looking forward to writing more about in a separate post!) the most exciting time ahead of us now, which we are all counting down to every day – as we are planning, all going well, to be bringing home our first family cats, two kittens, at the end of June. 💞

All of the twists and turns of life since we first moved in together as a couple just over ten whole years ago have taken place as we’ve based ourselves here at home, first our first little cottage and then this slightly (!) larger one! But all of them, always, until this last year, have taken place linked with so many other homes around us, and with a wider family that we’ve always been so connected with.

Between the fact that we used to live just half a dozen cottages away from my mum and dad’s – a slipper-clad walk with the family dogs at our heels to let ourselves in the back door; the fact that we gathered as a wide family, a dozen of us or more, for weekly dinners all huddled round the table, both when we lived close by each other and still once circumstances had scattered us half-hour drives away; and the fact that our door was always open, and that we’d often just hear a shout of hello as family arrived and came in – we have always been very, very blessed that as well as our wonderful little unit here we’ve had a wider unit just as wonderful too.

I could never in a million years have imagined we’d go a year without sitting round a table all together – and don’t want to dwell on any of the negatives now – but simply to write a small and very thankful post that today, at last, we reached such a hugely important day here, as we were officially safely able, once again, to return to each other’s homes – and to hug each other again.

In this past year, as a family, we’ve found ways to be there for each other and, from video games nights to garden gatherings and wrapped-up walks in every weather Scotland could throw at us, we’ve managed to keep our tightly-knitted network in place – and I still feel that the twists and turns of life have been weathered hand in hand with our families, even if it’s had to be only metaphorically.

Still, nothing compares to actually being able to sink into the sofas in those other homes that were always as much our own as the ones we’ve been limited to over all these months; actually being able to reach out our arms and be there for each other in the way we really want to; actually being able to sit together, in the most natural way, and enjoy the closeness of family life.

I know we have to move forward tentatively, and not lose all caution yet – I know there are those even in Scotland that have unexpectedly not been able to take this step just yet, when they were so close, who I feel for so much – but we are getting there, so slowly and so surely, and, as I sat in my grandparents’ house today again at long last, I couldn’t have been more grateful for our family – for the homes we’ve always shared together, and for the hope of a future where we can do that more and more until we’re back to our normal; until at last a packed and noisy dinner table is where we draw our strength from and share our stories and laugh until our sides hurt again.

I bought this sign back in our old house five years ago or so – it’s simple, but I loved it. It’s truer now than ever for our home family with the children here with us and as we’ve all grown together; but it’s true too for our wider family and friends too – what I love most about my home is who is I share it with, and now I can finally share it once again with the people close to me, family and friends, who I love so much.

Hope wherever you are you are managing to take some steps forward too, and are having a good start to the week. X