Remember Me

Those of you who follow my blog regularly will know that as well as blogging, I also write fiction and, occasionally, the odd piece of poetry. Recently, I wrote a poem for a family who had experienced a very sad loss, and although I wrote with a certain set of circumstances in mind, I did also hope that the poem might be comforting to anyone experiencing the pain of bereavement, grief or loss. Grief can feel like something of a taboo in our society, especially as the loss becomes more distant, yet in reality, grief never really goes away and is something we learn to carry around with us as we live. The more I see of life the more I think the only thing that really matters is the love and care we show to others. ‘Remember Me’ is a poem about keeping the memories of loved ones alive, and it’s sent with love and care to anyone suffering the pain of losing someone dear.

 

REMEMBER ME

Remember me in the morning,
When the sun lights up the sky,
Remember me as the waves crash in,
And the seagulls swoop and cry.

Remember me in the roses,
And the flap of the butterfly’s wings,
Remember me in the rainbows,
And the morning bird that sings.

Remember me in my favourite song,
In the things I’d say and do,
Remember me in these simple ways,
And I’ll still be there with you.

Remember me in the starlight,
And remember me in the rain,
Remember me in the gentle breeze,
And you’ll feel my love again.

For I never asked to leave you,
How I wished that I could stay,
So remember me in the morning,
And I’ll never go away.

 

 

 

Gail Brown, 2017

 

 

 

 

And So It Ends….

This week marked the end of the long summer holidays here in the North of Scotland, and called a halt to lazy weekday mornings, clock-watch free afternoons, and kids playing out late on balmy summer evenings (ok, the balmy bit might be pushing it – we do live in Caithness after all). Before we knew it the start of the new school year had caught up with us, and I was back to nervously awaiting last minute uniform deliveries and losing half a morning liking all 515 ‘first day back at school’ updates on my Facebook news feed (please say it’s not just me?)

And So It Ends

But oh, I find those summer holidays hard to say goodbye to, as I watch my now not-so-little ones trundle off into the playground for their first few six-hour stints at school. I’m one of those Mums who actually loves the school holidays, the freedom they offer, and the chance to spend some quality time together without the daily routines of homework, after school clubs and designated rules. Although I do have some work (and the odd blog) to do throughout the holidays, I try to keep it to a minimum, and to date – touchwood – that arrangement has worked out quite well. At eight and ten my kids are also getting a bit more independent, meaning I can feasibly fit in the odd bit of writing while they are busy with friends, out in the garden – or playing on Minecraft (according to my eldest it’s educational, and when I have an article to write, I admit it, I’m inclined not to disagree).

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But mostly we just enjoy each other’s company, we have adventures, we do our summer reading challenge: the truth is I actually really like hanging out with my kids. They make me laugh, they get on well, and in most respects they’re very easy to be Mum to (and if you think I’m getting smug here, don’t worry, you obviously haven’t met my dog).

But all good things come to an end, and earlier this week I dropped off my two not-so-little boys at school, one rather nonchalant about the whole thing and one giddy with excitement about the prospect of finally gaining entry to the ‘big’ section of the playground. And when I picked them up, it had, according to my eldest, gone ‘better than expected’, and for the youngest had been a veritable delight with a new teacher who, in his own words, was quite simply ‘nice in every way’.

And so, with this burst of happiness they were back to normal, and by yesterday it felt like we had never been away from the familiarity of the daily school gate rotation. But for everything we enjoyed in those long weeks of July-To-The-Middle-Of-August, school holidays, we salute you, we love you and we say thankyou, and goodnight.

Back to School 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Snapshots and Scenes: Our Summer Holiday on Film

I love using my blog as a visual reminder of our family’s adventures, and over the last few months I’ve tried to incorporate a bit of film-making into my repertoire after being lucky enough to attend at Venture North Byte 17 with Nigel Camp of The Video Effect earlier in the year. At the event, Nigel showed us how to make good quality video content on a budget – and left us all feeling very inspired about what we could go away and create!

Since then I’ve made a couple of little videos, and whilst they’re by no means professional, I do love that I now have a few snippets of family life that I can go away and view time and time again. Photos are lovely, but there’s nothing quite like seeing a moment brought to life in film to take you back to a time and place and make you feel like you’re reliving it all over again.

So with summer coming to an end in the North of Scotland, here’s a roll back right to the start of our holiday season and a little highlights video of the 7-day trip we took in our campervan to the Outer Hebrides. Although it took me ages to put this video together (as a beginner, the editing is painstaking!), I’m hoping with time and practise I can get a little slicker. I’m linking this post up to the new ‘Snapshots and Scenes’ linky with Kerri-Ann at Life As Our Little Family and some of her lovely co-hosts. I do hope you enjoy this little video and maybe even get the inspiration to capture some cinematic family footage of your own!

Oh, and if this video happens to get you in the mood for a trip to the Outer Hebrides, you can find out all about our holiday, and get lots of ideas for things to do in the Western Isles in my post right here!

See you there next year?

 

Life Within Four Corners – July 2017

Welcome to the July instalment of ‘Life Within Four Corners’, where I share some of my favourite Instagram photos, and the stories that went along with them, from the preceding month. You can find out all about Life Within Four Corners here, and I’d love it if you joined in by sharing some of your favourite monthly photos and stories too! You can also get involved on Instagram using the hashtag #lifewithinfourcorners, and at the end of each month I’ll pick a few of my favourites to post up on my feed (thanks so much to those of you who’ve already been joining in!)

The Summer holidays are in full swing here in Caithness and July has been a busy month with holidays, visitors and lots of friends and playdates in the garden. We’ve had some lovely weather and some not-so-lovely weather, but virtually every day has involved at least a little bit of sunshine so we can’t complain really (but of course we still will!). The Scottish weather always gives us something to talk about, and it’s changeable nature really keeps us on our toes. We can be out in t-shirts one minute and waterproofs the next, certainly teaching us not to take anything for granted! I don’t think I’d have it any other way though – without a bit of variety, life could really be quite bland. Besides, the drama of the changing seasons often gives us sunsets like this one from a couple of weeks ago. As the year progresses, I’m sure the Caithness skies get more and more intense!

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We were very lucky to have good weather – and a distant lack of midges – for our trip to the Outer Hebrides at the start of the month, during which we visited ten islands in the space of seven days. I won’t bore you with too many more of my holiday photos – if you’re interested you can see lots of them here in a post I wrote all about our trip. I will pop in this one of a six spot burnet my youngest and I found on our travels though, we hadn’t seen one of these close up before so it was really rather something of a treat! My son was a little concerned that it was poisonous, which made for a very funny commentary to a video of it I was taking.  I think he’s been watching too much Deadly 60! Seeing this bright and colourful beauty really made my day.

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And what about this lovely bunting we saw in Ullapool? I love a bit of bunting – it always makes me think of summer, street parties and fun. At home we have bunting draped around our treehouse and in the kids’ bedrooms. It’s one of those things that never fails to raise a smile.

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I have a thing for taking photographs of doors, and ordinary objects in general – I think they make for quite artistic pictures and remind us that there is beauty in the most simple parts of life. I liked this blue door we saw while we were on our travels, and I also liked the fishing creels that were stacked beside it. There’s a bit of a blue theme going on here, isn’t there? Blue doors, blue skies – anything pastel coloured really and you can count me in!

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And I did say I wasn’t going to post any more of my holiday photos, but here’s a final one: a pretty scene at a harbour in the Hebrides from earlier in the month. Out of shot of this picture was an artist who was sitting on top of a small hill painting the scene before us. I could almost feel that sense of calm he must have been experiencing (until we turned up, at least). We didn’t stay too long in this spot, I really didn’t want to disturb him! He must have felt very lucky having a chance to paint this secluded spot on such a lovely day.

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Back to home, and we also enjoyed a lovely beach day while my brother and his family were up visiting. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of the sand between your toes (and in your sandwiches), to make you feel that summer has arrived.

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We’ve had lots of fun in the garden this month and have taken the opportunity for a few barbeques and lots of fun with bubbles. We’ve also been enjoying playing badminton with a bargain starter set we bought in our local supermarket (and when I say ‘playing’ I mean that in the very loosest sense).

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I posted this photo about my son’s penchant for ‘juicy apples’ along with a caption about my getting ready for a family party and being told by said son that the fake tan I had been applying made me smell like Playdough. Playdough, you know, that eau de parfum all women aspire to! I think I’ve had better compliments, but my boys certainly know how to make their Mummy laugh.

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Continuing the food theme and I did manage to rustle up a little bit of baking this month – a birthday cake for my husband and a batch of scones I made mainly because I didn’t have the ingredients in to make anything else for lunch! It’s amazing what I’ll do to get out of going to the supermarket (and yet despite this aversion my local Lidls store continues to feel like my second home).

Birthday Cake

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And on to walking – walking has been a big part of our summer (just as well considering all that eating), and the kids have been very good this year at not complaining on our daily excursions with the dog. It’s getting easier every year to get them out on the 1-1.5 hour walks our dog Brody needs to keep him happy. Thankfully we have managed to get out most days in the dry!

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And so that was the month that was, I think our entry in the July visitors book will be pretty favourable, what say you? Please come back next month to find out more about what we’ve been up to in squares and stories, and if you like what you see here, do pop over to my Instagram for lots (and lots) more!

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Our Holiday Reading Challenge and Some Great Summer Reads for Kids

One of the highlights of our school holidays each year is taking part in our local library’s Summer Reading Challenge, a nationwide initiative run by the Reading Agency to get more children reading during the six week summer break. The idea is that children aged 4-11 sign up to read 6 books over the holidays and in return collect a themed folder, stickers and at the end of the summer, attend a little awards presentation. This year’s theme, ‘Animal Agents’, encourages young readers to help catch a suspect who’s been up to mischief in the library. Those little bookworms will need all their detective skills to help catch that naughty crook!

As a big fan of all things bookish, I’m keen to get my kids involved in anything that encourages reading, and with one son who struggles with reading and writing, I’ve always tried my best to do everything I can to help. Even though my kids are eight and ten now, I still read them a bedtime story – because no matter what else is happening, it still gives us a few moments in the day where we can have a cuddle and some quiet time. We find almost all our bedtime stories at the library and visit most weeks to bring home a bundle of books that will last us several nights. Full disclosure time though: I like to have an input in what we’re reading and often slip a few of my own choices in the pile. Maybe that’s bad of me but I can’t help it – there are some fantastic children’s books out there and sometimes I’m more excited about reading them than the kids!

This summer, we’ve already read a few lovely ones together so if you’re looking for some inspiration for your little ones here are just a few:

Summer Reading Challenge

Tidy by Emily Gravett is all about a badger called Pete who is obsessed with keeping his forest tidy. So much so that his tidying goes a little bit too far! It’s a sweet story about loving things as they are and putting up with a little bit of ‘messy’. And with a wise message for children growing up in our perfect-obsessed society, it was one of my favourite summer challenge reads.

Hare and Tortoise by Alison Murray retells the classic Aesop’s fable about the fastest and slowest inhabitants of the farmyard. With lovely illustrations and a sweet message about humility, it’s a story that for me, never loses it’s appeal.

We picked up A Hebridean Alphabet by Debi Gliori because it reminded us of our summer holiday to the Outer Hebrides, and also because Debi Gliori is one of our favourite children’s authors (have you read No Matter What? Every time I read it, it reduces me to tears). This lovely book – with the most adorable illustrations, is now almost as firm a fave! It follows a little girl, a boy and their dog on a day of Hebridean adventure, introducing a letter of the alphabet each time a new part of the story unfolds. Whether or not you’ve been to the Hebrides it’s a perfect little story. I challenge you not to feel relaxed and tranquil as you turn over the final page!

Under the Love Umbrella by Davina Bell is another lovely summer story (I’d have chosen it for the beautiful cover illustration alone!). It’s all about unconditional love and helping kids feel safe no matter what the circumstances. A lovely way to remind children how much they mean to us – and a lovely metaphor to pick up whenever they are feeling insecure.

I hope that’s given you a few ideas if you’re looking for some summer reading ideas. Do let me know if you’re doing the summer reading challenge too!

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Reading, Watching, Listening to Lately – July 2017

I can hardly believe that it’s been a month since my last reading, watching and listening to post, or that our school holidays here in the North of Scotland are already half way through! We’ve had a lovely holidays so far, it’s been wonderful having my two favourite boys at home and I’m trying to make the most of lazier mornings and the chance to recharge a bit after a very busy term. July has brought a few ups and downs though and there have been several things playing on my mind. I’ve been doing a lot more writing aside from blogging and entering various writing competitions with fictional stories of my own. When my mind is full I find escaping into stories – my own or other people’s – a very welcome retreat.  With that in mind, on to what I’ve been reading, watching and listening to this month – in entertainment terms, at least, July has been a really fantastic month.

READING

The first book I kicked off with this month was The Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick. I’m a few years behind the pack with this one, and to my shame, I have to admit I only realised recently that one of my favourite films of recent years had actually started out life as a book! If you’ve seen the movie starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, you’ll know that the story follows Pat Peoples, who returns from a stay in psychiatric hospital desperate to reunite with his estranged wife. But first he has to contend with therapy, living with his parents again, and a new friendship with Tiffany, who also has a few issues of her own…. It’s a really funny, sweet novel and if you haven’t read it I’d really recommend. I have to admit I still have a soft spot for the slightly different way the story plays out in the movie – but maybe that’s just some sort of primacy effect of having watched the film version first. Slight movie bias aside, it’s a heartwarming summer read for everyone who loves happy endings. And if you like romantic novels that are also a little bit different, then I think you might love this one just as much as me.

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My second read for this month was Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, my holiday read for our trip to the Outer Hebrides and one that kept me up well past my bedtime on more than one occasion (something that doesn’t happen much!) It tells the story of Ruth, a black nurse left facing a homicide charge after the death of a baby – a baby she had been forbidden to care for by the child’s white supremacist father, Turk. Told from the perspectives of Ruth, Turk, and the public defender assigned to Ruth’s case, Small Great Things is an absolute must read and probably the best fictional work I have read so far this year. It’s a hugely thought-provoking story about racism – both the obvious kind and the insidious type that can seep into so many aspects of everyday life. It reminded me very much of the John Grisham novels I used to enjoy and when I mentioned it on my Instagram a couple of weeks ago I said that I could really imagine it being made into a film. Having just had a quick look at the Small Great Things website for this article I notice the picture of the novel is accompanied by the tagline ‘soon to be a major motion picture’. I for one can’t wait to see the movie. But for now, if you’re looking for a summer holiday read, this is one I really really REALLY recommend.

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My final read for this month was a lovely bit of summer escapism by Rachael Lucas, an author I really enjoy following on Instagram to hear all about her writing life (and her chickens). So imagine my delight when I saw one of her novels on the shelf on a trip to my local library (sidenote: thankyou so much to my lovely local library who supply almost all of the books you see in my reviews). Coming Up Roses is a sweet little story about gardening, romance, friendship and the fight to save a quaint village from big developers. It’s been my handbag companion on a few days out this holidays and I’ve loved dipping into the odd chapter every time I’ve had a few spare mins!

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WATCHING

On to what I’ve been watching this month, and we’ve seen several really good movies lately, including The Founder with Micheal Keaton, an interesting (and from my point of view, quite sorry) account of Ray Kroc, and how he transformed the first McDonald’s fast food joint into one of the biggest food phenomenons in the world. We also enjoyed Patriots Day, starring Mark Whalberg, a dramatization of events surrounding the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and a poignant reminder of the bravery, compassion and kindness shown by so many in the face of unthinkable violence. Over the holidays I’ve also been catching up with Outlander on Amazon, something I only watch when I’ve got a bit of time to myself (it’s not family viewing and not something that really appeals to GB either). Thankfully it’s quite easy to dip in and out of – just as well really as it’s taken me almost a year already to get to season 2! This time around, the time travelling action has shifted from Scotland to France, but biased as I am, I have to admit I preferred it where it was. I’m hoping Claire and Jamie will return to Scottish shores soon for lots more misty, atmospheric backdrops. In the meantime I’m still enjoying all the 18th century romance and the (very believable) love story between the two.

LISTENING

I’ve been dipping in and out of the Shauna Niequist podcast quite a lot lately, after enjoying her book, Present Over Perfect so much back in June (you can read the post I wrote all about it here).  I’m really enjoying Shauna’s podcasts and her interesting range of subjects. I particularly like her habit of asking every guest about their favourite books and their favourite things to eat – two ways I can always get inspired!

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I’m always on the lookout for new podcasts to listen to so please do let me know if you follow any I might like. I’m particularly interested in those about writing or creativity, or that are just generally inspirational  – please do let me know in the comments if you have any favourites you’d like to recommend!

That’s it for my round up of what I’ve been reading, watching and listening to this month. I’ve already started a few new reads for August so watch this space for next time – the month ahead is already looking good!

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Reading and Watching Lately July 17

 

 

Ten Things to do on a Family Holiday to the Outer Hebrides

Having just returned from a wonderful campervan trip to the Outer Hebrides, I honestly can’t think of many places I could recommend more wholeheartedly for a family holiday. With mile upon mile of white sandy beaches, scenery to die for, and history seeping from every single island, this idyllic setting would make for a fantastic holiday at any time of year. Whether you’re looking to relax and recharge, seek out ancient dwelling places, stumble upon wild horses, or have a kick about on a world famous football pitch, these islands will offer something for everyone. If you’re planning a trip to the beautiful Western Isles soon I’ve put together 10 ideas to get you started on your Hebridean adventure. Your only problem will be deciding which one to do first!

1. HAVE A BEACH HOLIDAY
You could literally spend your whole holiday in the Outer Hebrides on beaches. There are so many of them peppering the coastline that it would be almost impossible to visit them all on one trip. Some of them are tiny and some of them, like the one below at Uig, seem to go on forever. One thing they have in common are their lack of people – most of those we visited were either empty or dotted with only a few fellow visitors (and we were there at the start of July). Our favourites were at Uig, on Vatersay and on Eriskay (the last of which, coincidentally, is the beach on which Bonnie Prince Charlie landed when he arrived in Scotland in 1745). Why not explore and find your own favourites – I can guarantee you’ll enjoy lots of outdoor adventure along the way.

Boys on Uig Beach

Uig Beach

North Uist Beach

A deserted beach on North Uist

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Our dog enjoyed his holiday too! (photo taken at Port of Ness)

Butt of Lewis

At the Butt of Lewis – no sniggering at the back!

Vatersay Beach

Vatersay

Eriskay Beach

‘Charlie’s Beach’ on Eriskay

2. ISLAND HOP
During our 7 day stay in the Outer Hebrides we visited 10 islands in total, making our trip a very busy one. Despite the under eye bags, island hopping gave us the chance to experience a lot of the Hebridean landscape and culture we might otherwise have missed. Highlights included meeting the Eriskay ponies (a group of semi wild ponies who can be seen in the vicinity of Eriskay village), driving across the Atlantic on the way to the Isle of Great Bernera, passing a rather bumpy looking football pitch recognised by FIFA as one of the most unique places to play football in the world, touching an original bottle of whisky from the shipwreck that inspired the 1949 movie ‘Whisky Galore’, and delighting over the machair – the fertile land that blankets the coastline of the Hebrides with an explosion of buttercups, wildflowers and colour at this time of year. Each island has its own unique landscape, character and charm and it’s difficult to pick a favourite – if pushed, I would have to say that for me the southernmost islands had a particularly lovely appeal. Why not do a bit of island hopping and find your own favourite island hideaway? One thing’s for sure – you’ll discover much more than you expect.

Scalpay

A tranquil scene in Scalpay

Lily Pond North Uist

Lily pond in North Uist

Machair Outer Hebrides

The machair carpeted every coastline

Eriskay Ponies

Meeting the Eriskay Ponies

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Beautiful ferry views

3. STEP BACK IN TIME
There is such a lot of history in the Outer Hebrides, and almost everywhere are signs of times gone by. Why not take a trip to the Callanish standing stones, the site of a 5000 year old megalithic complex (fans of Outlander will love it), visit the impressively well preserved Carloway Broch or wander round a rebuilt Iron Age dwelling at Bosta, on the Isle of Great Bernera (bonus: there’s a fantastic beach right next door). A absolute must-see is the group of restored thatched cottages at the Gearrannan Blackhouse village at Carloway, for a taste of island life in the last century. And if all else fails, just soak up the sight of the many abandoned dwelling places by the roadsides along your travels – and let your imagination and the soul-igniting scenery do the rest.

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One of the Callanish Standing Stones

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Carloway Broch

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The well-concealed Iron Age House at Bosta

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The wonderful Blackhouse Village at Gearrannan

4. BECOME A CHESS FAN
Whether or not you’re a chess player, you’ll love the story of the Lewis Chessmen – the group of intricately carved Viking chess pieces found in the vicinity of Uig in 1831. A sculpture of one of the pieces stands guard outside the beach at Uig and six of the original pieces can be viewed at the Lews Castle Museum in Stornoway. Around the island you’ll find replica pieces on sale in gift shops and museums – with an eldest son who’s a big fan of playing, a replica chess set was definitely our one must-have holiday souvenir.

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A sculpture of one of the Lewis Chessmen outside the beach at Uig

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What a handsome chap!

5. VISIT A MAJESTIC CASTLE
While you’re checking out the chess pieces – and the many other fantastic exhibits at the museum in Stornoway – why not pop into the adjacent Lews Castle? With a beautiful wooded setting, wonderful grounds to explore and a lovely cafe and shop, it makes for a great day out in the Hebridean capital. if you’re travelling into Stornoway by ferry, you’ll also get a lovely view of the castle as you arrive and leave!

Lews Castle

Lews Castle in Stornoway

Lews Castle Interior

One of the beautiful interior rooms

Lews Castle Grounds

The gorgeous grounds surrounding the castle

6. TAKE A TRIP TO A WORLD FAMOUS AIRPORT
If a visit to Barra is on your Outer Hebrides travel itinerary, don’t miss a visit to the island’s airport, the only one in the world to have a beach runway used for scheduled flights. We spent a lovely couple of hours watching the morning flight arrive and leave again. Just make sure you don’t take a walk on the beach when the windsocks fly!

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The airport at Barra

7. WILD CAMP
We spent most of our time in the Hebrides wild camping (technically wild parking in a campervan) – but if you fancy trying out wild camping for the first time this is one place I’d definitely recommend. Thanks to Scotland’s outdoor access legislation, with a bit of common sense and manners you can wild camp in most Scottish locations, and with many village halls and community centres offering access to toilets and showers in return for a small charge or donation, it seemed to be something the Hebridean people actively encouraged. It all added up to a lovely experience and the feeling that tourists were not just tolerated, but welcome in this absolutely beautiful area. Why not try some wild camping for yourself on your holiday and enjoy a night out under starlit skies?

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The type of view you might expect to wake up to on your travels

Wild Camping

Keeping up with the laundry

8. BUY SOME LOCAL SOUVENIRS
Even when we’re not spending lots of money on campsites on our holidays, we’re always happy to inject a little something into the local economies of the areas we visit. The Hebrides were no exception and we settled on purchasing some Harris Gin and the replica chess set I mentioned earlier. There are plenty of other locally made souvenirs such as the infamous Harris Tweed or beautiful Buth Bheag candles to tickle your fancy. You’re unlikely to come away from your visit empty handed (unless of course, you manage to polish off your bottle of the local stuff before you depart).

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My lovely bottle of Harris Gin

9. READ SOME PETER MAY
If you’re a book lover, you might be interested in reading Peter May’s ‘Lewis Trilogy’ on your holiday, a bestselling series following a Lewis-born detective sent back to his native island to investigate a murder. While you are in the Hebrides you can seek out many of the locations from the novels, such as the harbour at Port of Ness, and St Michael’s Roman Catholic Church in Eriskay (look out for the magnificent boat-shaped altar while you’re there). If you’re lucky, you might even meet some of the local stalwarts who inspired the characters in the books!

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The Blackhouse is the first book in the ‘Lewis Man’ Trilogy

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Port of Ness is a lovely spot on the location trail

Lewis Shieling

This shieling not far from Stornoway also features in the trilogy

10. RELAX, RECHARGE AND REWIND
Whatever you choose to do in the Hebrides, you’ll find a place that allows you the chance to recharge and unwind, to enjoy beautiful scenery, relax on deserted beaches, breathe in the fresh air and just take a moment to enjoy the peace and quiet. Whatever you do, I can guarantee that you’ll enjoy it. And whatever you do, I can guarantee your mind, body and spirit will thank you for a dose of Hebridean tender loving care.

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A summer evening near Stornoway

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And relax!

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Life Within Four Corners – June 2017

Welcome to this (slightly late) June instalment of ‘Life Within Four Corners’, where I share some of my favourite Instagram photos, and the stories that went along with them, from the preceding month. You can find out all about Life Within Four Corners here, and I’d love it if you joined in by sharing some of your favourite monthly photos and stories too! You can also get involved on Instagram using the hashtag #lifewithinfourcorners, and at the end of each month I’ll pick a few of my favourites to post up on my feed (thanks so much to those of you who’ve already been joining in!)

Whilst we didn’t quite get the heatwave that some of Britain experienced last month, up here in Caithness we still had plenty of lovely weather – and hey, we’re delighted to reach the heady heights of 17 degrees! I took this photo en route to Inverness on a day trip – if you look closely and squint a bit you might be able to make out Dunrobin Castle, one of my all time favourite views.

Dunrobin Scene

I’ve been loving the cotton and the daisies this month and as usual I’ve been messing about with that blogger cliché of photographing peoples’ feet. I do have the top half of this photo of my son’s legs, but for some reason the bottom half made me smile. I love this time of year and all the wildflowers, buttercups and greenery. My dog seems to love the summer months just as much and spends most of his time cow-like, munching on the grass!

Continuing with the green theme, we’ve had some lovely family cycles recently – you might just be able to make out my kids in the distance in this one – miles ahead of Mum!

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And just to inject a bit of variety, here’s a photo of Daddy’s breakfast in bed for Fathers Day – we had to rush out and buy a tray as it turned out we didn’t even own one. I’m hoping I’ll see the benefit of this myself at some point, everyone should get breakfast in bed occasionally, right?

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And here’s a little flatlay I put together for a writing post – coffee and flowers of course obligatory (and I’ll let you into a little secret, I don’t actually drink black coffee, the black coffees you see in my photos probably belong to Dad).

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And just to finish off, another green-and-flowers combo, the lighthouse at Chanonry Point on a recent visit to the beautiful Black Isle. Whilst I was really there to look for dolphins, I couldn’t resist taking a quick picture. There’s something wonderful about an array of wildflowers – quite literally a port in any storm.

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And that’s it for my round up of this month’s Life Within Four Corners – I do hope that you’ve enjoyed. I hope to see you again next month when you can join in with some more of my adventures.  Here’s to making memories in words, rectangles and squares!

Reading, Watching, Listening to Lately – June 2017

We’re inching ever closer to the school holidays here in the north of Scotland, and I for one can’t wait for the possibility of a few extra minutes with a cup of tea and a book each morning before we think about getting ready for the day. Despite the rushed mornings June hasn’t been a bad month for me on the entertainment front, but before I get started on my monthly update I do have a small confession: I started two books this month that I didn’t actually complete. This wasn’t a reflection on the books themselves (in case you’re wondering they were Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman). No, this abandonment was all about me and the realisation that this month, I just needed to focus on books that didn’t have too many characters, too many plotlines or the ability to tax my weary brain too heavily. They’re both books by authors I normally enjoy so I do hope to come back and review them at some point in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, on to what I did actually manage to read, watch and listen to this month before the last few days of June slip away for good!

My first (well technically, third) book this month was Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, a wonderful memoir about the author’s deliberate decision to make a turnaround after years of ‘busyness’, ‘hustling’, and a constant striving to achieve that left her feeling like a bystander in her own life.  I loved this book so much that it inspired a whole post from me on saying no to perfection, which you can read here if you missed it when I published it last week. Suffice to say I’d suggest this book for anyone who struggles with perfectionism, people-pleasing and saying yes to everything that’s asked of them. It’s one of the most affecting books I’ve read in years, and I’m sure at some stage, I’ll be dipping into it again.

Present Over Perfect

My second book for June couldn’t have been more different, and The Girls, by Emma Cline, is one of the darkest novels I’ve read in quite a while. I’d seen it mentioned a few times on Instagram and in the top ten at a bookstore I popped into lately, so when it was sitting on the display shelf of my local library during my last visit, I knew I had to grab it before it disappeared. Flicking between now and the late sixties, it tells the story of Evie, a teenager feeling on the outside of life who becomes embroiled with a cult populated mainly by teenage girls. As Evie sinks further into the group and the girls’ wayward lifestyle, she starts to lose sight of her own life as a series of increasingly horrific events unfold. The Girls is shocking, disarming, and ultimately utterly compelling, and Cline’s amazing command of language make the novel very difficult to put down. It would be a fantastic read for a book club or discussion group as it opens up so many questions about power, isolation and the relationships between men and women. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone seeking something a bit different this summer – but be warned, it’s about as far away from a feel good novel as you can possibly get.

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Onto what I’ve been watching this month, and GB and I have been steadily working our way through the latest series of House of Cards on Netflix. On the off chance you haven’t seen it, it’s a fantastic political drama about a Washington power couple who will do just about anything to maintain influence at the top of America’s political elite. In this series the couple – now the President and First Lady – are doing everything they can to incite fear in their own citizens in a bid to cling onto their increasingly fragile power. It does make you wonder what really goes on in the realms of government – fingers crossed it isn’t quite as bad as this!

Continuing the theme of contrasts, we also finished off the first season of Designated Survivor, another fantastic US political drama, this time starring Kiefer Sutherland in an (altogether more honorable) Presidential role. Most of the seasons’ cliff-hangers had us pining to binge watch in the way we might have done pre-children, but these days watching two episodes on a Saturday evening is about as rock n’ roll as our lives get.

With the kids, we’ve been enjoying getting back into Once Upon A Time (which we lost track of during a brief Netflix hiatus), a fantasy about the residents of a sleepy village who funnily enough, turn out to be Snow White, Prince Charming and the Wicked Witch. Featuring Robert Carlyle in fine form as Rumpelstiltskin, it’s an action packed romp through the story books full of adventure, romance and betrayal. We’re on season 4 now and Elsa and Anna from Frozen have just made an appearance – here’s hoping someone starts belting out ‘Let it Go’ at full volume very soon.

Onto what I’ve been listening to lately and I’ve been enjoying taking time out for the Headspace meditation app after reading about it in the Davina McCall autobiography I reviewed on here last month. It really is a fantastic introduction to meditation and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to give their mental health a boost.

I’ve also been enjoying getting back into Sarah Painter’s Worried Writer podcasts this month and reminding myself that despite my forays into other pursuits like photography, writing is still the creative equivalent of my one true love. It’s interesting to hear about other writers’ routes to publication and the methods they use within their writing process – speaking of which I think it’s time to finish up here and get some of my other writing projects done!

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So that’s it for my latest reading, watching and listening to update. I’ll be back in July with more (or perhaps a little bit less), of the same. Until then, have fun and keep reading, watching and listening (*insert jazz hands*). Let’s hope the Great British Summer is finally on the way!

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Saying No to Perfect

Last week I picked up a book called ‘Present Over Perfect’ from my local library and read it in the space of one weekend. I can’t remember the last time I did this – but something about this particular book resonated with me deeply, and brought to the surface a lot of things I have been thinking about for a while. It wasn’t that my life was exactly the life of the author – Shauna Niequist is a successful writer who, after years of working, travelling and exhaustion, triggered a deliberate turnaround to a more simple way of life. Neither was it the deeply religious element to the book (although raised Catholic I’m not a particularly religious person. I’m not entirely sure what I am but that’s a story for another day). What drew me in to each new chapter of the book was the underlying message that so many of us are in need of – that we’re so busy trying to prove ourselves, please others and appear endlessly productive that we’re in danger of leaving precious little for the people who matter most. We’re in danger of missing out on our own lives while we try to be valuable, to be useful, to do the things that other people expect. We’re in danger of missing the small moments while we’re too busy filling up our days with stuff.

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As a life-long perfectionist, people-pleaser and yes-girl, I’ve been trying to work on being more ‘present’ than the person I was when I was younger. Before having children I focused on the future – safe in the knowledge that life would be perfect once we got our house renovated, paid off our student loans or earned enough money to take a holiday a couple of times a year. I said yes to everything people asked of me, quietly resenting that saying yes means you’re the person people (understandably) go to if they’re looking for a yes answer. I didn’t get any better at saying no to things, but my children came along and made me focus on the here and now. Old habits die hard though and still I couldn’t help myself – ok, I’ll play, but let me finish tidying the table, put on the next washing load and get through my mental checklist before I relax, right? The thing with getting through the checklist means that by the time the checklist is completed everyone has moved on to something else. I’m trying harder to live in the moment, even the messy ones, wherever I can these days. This is my life, it’s messy, it’s breadcrumbs on the lino. When you come to visit I’ll try hard not to sweep them up before we can begin.

And then there’s the saying yes thing – as Niequist points out in the book, if you’ve always been a yes person, people don’t often like it when you start off saying no. But the thing is people who say yes all the time get exhausted, and sometimes saying no for a while is actually a road back to saying yes. Not all the time, like you once did, but when and if you’re able. As Mother Teresa said, ‘if you want to change the world go home and love your family.’ For now I know that’s where all my ‘yeses’ need to be.

And as for the endless cycle of ‘productivity’ – in the book, Niequist admits she bowed to it like a diety. How many times, especially as women, do we tell others how busy, how frantic our lives are, wearing our productivity like a badge? How did it become necessary to show everyone how many balls we can throw up and juggle, how did running around to the point of exhaustion become something to be revered? And that tendency to look at other lives and think them ‘cushy’, that they are so much easier, that they couldn’t possibly be as hard as our’s. Saying more about our feelings towards our own lives – for who’s to say a quieter way of living isn’t every bit valuable as your’s?

But what does all this mean in practical terms? Well for me, it’s meant slowing down a bit. Not letting other people dictate the pace I choose. Trying to gracefully step away from the idol of ‘busy’. Decluttering, owning fewer things. Not always rearranging the cushions. Not allowing other peoples’ priorities to become mine. Going to fewer after school clubs. Yoga. Reading more at the weekend. Being a mum, a wife, a daughter – no longer being too busy to be a friend. Saying ‘I can’t do that anymore’. Saying, ‘I did that last time, maybe someone else can take a turn’. Capturing moments, but making sure I’m in the moments before they leave me. Focusing on the four people around the table – giving my best energies to the ones I love.

Reading ‘Present Over Perfect’ gave me notice that I’m not the only person who feels this way, and that perfectionism, people-pleasing and my inner yes-girl can all be overcome. I hope I manage it with the grace and wisdom that Shauna demonstrates in this memoir.

Freer, less precise, a more intentional way of living. And in the words of John Steinbeck, ‘now that you don’t have to be perfect you can be good’.

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