Happy 8th Blogiversary To Me! A Year of Lockdown…

Well. A whole year in lockdown (most of it, anyway). What a strange and sometimes scary situation. Big hugs to everyone out there.

As usual, I didn’t get as much blogging (or writing) done as I’d hoped. I’m one of those people who have found it hard to be creative in these times. But I did get some things done! So here’s a mostly pictorial summary of what I got up to during this past year:

As you can see from the pics above, I discovered lots of new places to walk (photos are captioned). I’m so lucky to live where I do.

Above: I also took lots of photos of wildlife. And I bought a trail camera, and discovered that we have foxes (pictured from the trail cam).

In August, Historic Scotland managed to get my castle open (for a while, at least)! With some excellent new signage, as you can see.

Doune Castle, famous filming location since the 1970s

Hubby and I did manage a short break in September. We visited the Peak District, Yorkshire, and Newcastle. Mostly using a tent. 😉

I had my 50th Birthday in January – aargh! One of my presents was a ‘proper’ camera, ie: not my phone. The shots featured below are some of the ones I’ve taken with the new equipment. It’s much better for photographing wildlife, especially birds!

As you can see, nature has played a big part in getting me through lockdown. I’ve also learned to cook a few new dishes, read a lot of books, and discovered I really don’t care for working from home – I miss my castle and my crazy workmates! With getting back to work and possibly some sort of normality now on the horizon (I’ve also had my first COVID jab), roll on summer 2021!

Karen xx

Long Shadows (Silver Lake Series 5) is out today!


Hi Folks!

My good friend and fellow rock chick Coral has a new book out today! This rock star romance joins our Silver Lake family after the events of Book 4.

Jake and Lori return to Rehoboth Beach to pick up the threads of family life.
As they look forward to Jake’s first solo tour with Garrett, the album launch and the arrival of the new baby, life is looking good but then a cruel twist fate casts Long Shadows over the Silver Lake family.
Will life ever be the same?

Not going to give away any plot points here! BUT you WILL need tissues. As always, Coral knows how to keep you turning the pages, and crying and smiling in equal measure. Read the book to find out what happens, and if you don’t know Jake and Lori’s story so far, catch up with the rest of the Silver Lake series too.

To get your copy, follow the links below. Happy readin’ and rockin’!

There is also lots happening on Coral’s Facebook author page – just click here for a day of events to launch Long Shadows.

To buy your copy:

Long Shadows UK Edition

Long Shadows US Edition

Warlocks And Witches In A Dance

As tonight is Burns Night, and as most of you know I love witches, here’s a little piece about Robert Burns and his epic poem, ‘Tam o’ Shanter’, written in 1791.

Robert or ‘Rabbie’ Burns was born on January 25, 1759, in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland. He died on July 21, 1796, in Dumfries. He is the national bard of Scotland, who wrote poetry and songs in Scots. He covered a huge range of topics, from love and lust, to politics and morality. He was famous for his many love affairs, and some of his works contain very ‘bawdy’ language!

‘Tam o’ Shanter’ is set in Ayrshire, the area of Scotland where Burns was born and brought up. Tam is a hapless (okay, drunk) young man who comes across a coven of witches in Auld Kirk Alloway, while riding home from Ayr one night. These witches are having a ceilidh, which basically means a party with music, dancing, and usually, fighting. One of them in particular catches Tam’s eye, being young and pretty – and because she’s dancing in her ‘cutty sark’, ie: short petticoat. Tam shouts words of encouragement at her from his spying place at the kirk’s window. He then gets his just desserts for this foolishness, and is chased by the witches to the bridge over the river Doon (Brig o’ Doon). As witches cannot cross running water, he escapes, but ‘Cutty Sark’ manages to pull the tail off his horse Maggie, just as she leaps across the bridge!

Moral of this tale: don’t get drunk and get distracted by ladies in short skirts. You may get more than you bargained for.

Auld Kirk Alloway Auld Kirk Alloway

Because the poem is written in Scots, it can be a little hard to read for those not familiar with that language. It’s well worth a go, though. In it, Burns describes some extra-grisly trappings of a Black Mass: coffins standing open showing the dead within, and gruesome artefacts on the altar: murder weapons, and bodies of unchristened children. The Devil is also described as being present in the shape of a large black dog (he must like appearing in this form – see ‘The Logie Witches‘). Although at this gathering, ‘Auld Nick’ is providing the music by playing the bagpipes – a very talented dog indeed!

If you want to have a go at reading the poem, here it is on the Scottish Poetry Library’s website: Tam o’ Shanter. It might be handy to have a Scots dictionary open as well!

The places described in the poem are real. I’ve visited all of them. Auld Kirk Alloway is a little bit spooky. My husband has seen me cross Brig o’ Doon, so he thinks I’m not a witch (ha!) But unlike the stories in some of my other posts about witches, I can’t find any evidence that a coven did meet at this kirk, or chase any drunken young men to the bridge. It seems Burns did that writerly thing of taking facts from other places, and weaving them into a fantastic story set in his home. I’m glad he did, as it’s one of my favourite poems.

Brig o' Doon Brig o’ Doon

Even though gatherings can’t be held just now, many virtual and family-oriented Burns Suppers will be happening tonight. At a typical Burns Supper, everyone enjoys a hearty feast, which includes haggis, neeps and tatties (swede and potatoes), rounded off with drams of whisky. Some of Burns’s poems and songs are recited (Tam o’ Shanter is often one of these), and tributes are made to the great bard.

Tonight hubby and I will be toasting our national bard with whisky, and eating the lovely haggis made by our local butcher. And believe it or not tomorrow is my birthday, so I may just continue the drinking right through… 😉

Say Hello to the MacTufty Clan!

We are very lucky where we live to be surrounded by a population of red squirrels.

Red squirrels are our native species and have lived in the UK for around 10000 years. (Grey squirrels were introduced by the Victorians in the 1800s).

Red squirrels are a protected species because unfortunately, they have been outcompeted by the greys for food and habitat. Greys also carry a squirrelpox virus which, when passed to the reds, often causes death. Loss of habitat due to woodland being destroyed, or reduced, so it cannot support a population of wildlife, is also a huge problem.

However, there is evidence that red squirrel populations are increasing in various parts of the UK, with the help of conservation efforts. They have always maintained a stronghold in the north of Scotland, but recently populations are increasing further south, including where we live in Stirlingshire.

I first saw a red squirrel in a tree just outside my garden in January 2019. I had my binoculars out for birdwatching and saw a flash of orange. ‘What the heck sort of bird is that?’ I wondered, focused my binoculars and was delighted to see – a red squirrel!

This is the first pic I got of one of our ‘local’ squirrels

After that, they were seen more and more, regularly passing through the garden, and in the trees and grounds around the house.

During the first lockdown, I bought a wildlife camera and a squirrel feeder, and have had them set up since, with excellent results! This is the first footage I got from the camera, before I had even set the squirrel feeder up. As you can see, they have no problem using a bird feeder! I love the way they just hang from their toes…

And here is the proper squirrel feeder in use:

We had to get a new feeder a couple of months ago, because the great spotted woodpeckers knocked through the last one! The new one is much sturdier, shown in this next vid with a rather soggy squirrel in December:

Although the squirrels still come to the bird feeders if their feeder is empty – or they’re feeling acrobatic!

What a little show-off!

I believe we have had at least four different squirrels visit our feeders, though it is a little hard to tell, due to their coats moulting twice a year, which can also change the length of their ear tufts (if they have them). The one on the bird feeder above is our most regular visitor.

If you want to know more about red squirrels and how to help them, visit Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels or The Wildlife Trusts.

Hope you enjoyed this dose of cuteness!

Karen xx

Birds, Birds, Birds

Hello! With the Big Garden Birdwatch fast approaching, I thought I’d share some of my first attempts to photograph the kind of thing I get in my garden. I’ve got lots to learn about photographing birds, and have been reading up on techniques and asking lots of advice (if anyone reading this wants to leave any tips in the comments, feel free!) Anyway, here are some of my frequent garden visitors.

Robin on suet feeder

Everyone’s favourite, the robin. There are currently at least three disputing my garden as their patch. They are territorial and can be very aggressive towards each other. This one is looking cute for my camera, though. 😉

Female pheasant pretending to be a garden bird

Okay, not a typical garden bird, but because we are rural we get these big birdies here all the time! I’ll try and get a photo of the male sometime as he is much more colourful, but he hasn’t been coming in recently – just his harem!

Great Spotted Woodpecker

These striking so-and-sos have destroyed a squirrel feeder by knocking their way through the wood to get to the peanuts! (To be fair it was a flimsy feeder, and has since been replaced by a much sturdier one which has flummoxed them). This is a female. The male has a red patch on the back of his head, and juveniles have delightful red punk topknots! Here is a video from the summer of daddy feeding baby:

Goldfinch

A fairly new visitor to the garden, since they are quite fussy about what they eat. They only ever passed through briefly until I put out nyjer seed (the tiny black seeds you can see in the feeder). As you can see they are very colourful and pretty.

If you want to know more about the Big Garden Birdwatch, or take part if you’re in the UK, follow the link to the RSPB website at the top of this post. It’s fun to do and is also really useful ‘citizen science’. The website is also really useful if you want to find out more about any kind of bird. It’s where I found out what baby woodpeckers looked like, and what to feed to attract the goldfinches.

Hope you enjoyed the pics (and video) in these difficult times. I’m one of those people who has found learning more about the birds and other wildlife around me has been a real help during lockdowns. And it has now led to me trying to be a better photographer, so I’ve acquired a new hobby. Stay safe, folks!

Karen xx

Long Shadows – now available to pre-order for Kindle

Coral’s latest book now available for pre-order! If you like a bit of rock music and all the love, loss and drama that goes with it, this is for you. And it’s the last in a series so you better get reading to catch up… 😉

Coral McCallum

Long Shadows is now available to pre-order on Kindle worldwide

Here’s the pre-order links:

Amazon.com

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RR1FGLG

Amazon.co.uk

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08RR1FGLG

**Long Shadows will be released on 14 February 2021 **

And if you’ve missed the start of the series, don’t panic. Here’s the links to help you catch up

Amazon.com links –

Stronger Within – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00VXDSC1M

Impossible Depths – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01C0GS30K

Bonded Souls – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XSQHG71

Shattered Hearts – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZY8ZSDM

Amazon.co.uk links –

Stronger Within – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00VXDSC1M

Impossible Depths – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01C0GS30K

Bonded Souls – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XSQHG71

Shattered Hearts – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07ZY8ZSDM

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Happy New Year – and a Blogging Update (with Pretty Pictures)

Hello all, and Happy New Year! Seems weird to be saying it in these times. I hope you’ve managed to have some sort of festive season, if you celebrate it. For long-suffering hubby and I, it was much the same as usual, as we have very low-key celebrations anyway. Lots of crap TV and chocolate eating. Now doing that thing of trying to eat all the naughty stuff before Tuesday comes around and things go back to normal – whatever that is at the moment!

My last post on here was July 30th 2020 – aargh! After a little run of blogging during the first lockdown, I totally got out of the habit again. Excuses: well, like many people, my mental health started to suffer a bit more as time went on. I went back to work mid-September, which helped a bit, but things are still very strange with hubby working from home, and we had a few family setbacks which I’ll not go into at the moment. The upshot of all this was that towards the end of October I decided I couldn’t cope with studying this year, and gave up my Open University course for the time being. Although this was the right decision, I’m still disappointed that I had to do it. Now I’m working from home again for the third time since March 2020, as the Scottish mainland is in tier 4 of COVID restrictions. That’s basically lockdown. Again. 😦

With all of this going on, I’ve decided to give up worrying about fiction writing for the time being. (If it happens – yay!) But I’m changing my focus a bit for now. Those of you who’ve followed me for a while will know I like to take photographs, in an amateurish way, and pepper my blog with them. One thing lockdown has showed me, which has been wonderful, is how much amazing wildlife there is in my garden and surrounding area. As well as awesome landscapes I haven’t paid attention to before. I have a Big Birthday coming up at the end of this month, and hubby and mum-in-law have very kindly given me my main present early: a proper camera. So I’m going to concentrate on photography for the time being, and hopefully, improve. 🙂 I also have my wildlife camera, which I’ve already posted some videos from during the summer. Expect more footage from that, too.

So, I think this blog will be mainly photography, for a while at least. Of course there will be some blurb about the photos too! To get started, here are a few from my first trip out with the new camera, to Callander, Stirlingshire, on New Year’s Day.

Ben Ledi and the River Teith

Reflections on the river

Lots of blue and an incoming gull

Feeding the birds

Majestic Mr Swan

Duck on a mission

A rather ruffled crow

Hope you enjoyed these. Best wishes for 2021 to everyone – let’s do this!

Karen xx

Testing, Testing…With Red Squirrels

Hi all,

Been mucking round with settings and just wanted to check whether my posts are still being seen. So here’s a cute pic for that purpose. This is one of our red squirrels being very cheeky and stealing some nuts from the bird feeder right outside our bedroom window. 🙂 Like and/or comment if you can see this!

The Dreaded M-Word Has Arrived!

Hello all! How’s everybody? What are you all up to? Back to work, or not? Out and about, or still keeping close to home? Whatever you’re doing, hope you’re all well. Which brings me to the subject of this post…

No, I’m not ‘ill’, don’t worry. But the last few weeks of lockdown brought me an unexpected present…

THE MENOPAUSE.

Aargh!

So, over the last few weeks, I have been:

Really tired, as I was waking up three or four times a night with night sweats, and needing to pee

Breaking out in hot flushes several times a day

Headachy

Just generally achy

Pissed off, with all of the above

I’d begun to suspect what all this was, but after consultation with the doctor, it was confirmed. I spent some time dealing with the symptoms with lifestyle changes, such as reducing caffeine intake, but that only worked up to a point. So I’ve now been on low dose HRT for just over a week. I’m certainly feeling a bit better. It can take 3 or 4 weeks to kick in properly, so we’ll see how things go.

Long-suffering hubby really has earned his moniker over the last few weeks! He’s being brilliant, and dealing very well with snappy and irritable me. Big hugs to him.

For anyone else struggling with this, the website Menopause Matters is very helpful. And consult with your doctor. I know it’s one of those things that people might feel embarrassed talking about, but don’t be. Ask to speak to a female doctor if that helps (I did).

Yes, I know it’s perfectly natural, I’m just having a moan. 🙂 Big hugs to the people out there who are ill with, or recovering from, or who have lost someone to this virus, or anything else.

And no, going through the menopause will not make me feel less feminine. I’ve wanted my periods to f**k off for ages. 😀 I’ve never been a ‘girly girl’, but I am definitely womanly and happy with it. But I don’t believe being feminine or a woman has anything to do with whether you ovulate. Or whether you want, or have children ( I don’t – never wanted them). Or, indeed, what body parts you were born with. (But that’s a whole other post).

There’s a whole lot of s**t going on out there just now folks, so let’s be kind to each other. (And oppose the bigots who refuse to respond to kindness. If I meet any of them right now, the M-word means I’m all out of patience, so they’ll get a right earful from me)!

Karen xx

The Foxes’ Tale

As some of you know, long-suffering hubby and I got a wildlife camera to see what was roaming around our garden at night (we knew we had hedgehogs, so we wanted to film them and anything else that might be around). Around this time, I also spotted foxes running across the field next to our house, and entering the woods behind. After using the camera for a couple of weeks, we had never seen any foxes in the garden, so we took the camera into the woods, roughly where I had seen the foxes enter. A friend who has been monitoring wildlife for years suggested putting out some cat food to encourage the foxes to hang around the camera. And so begins our tale…

On the first night, we got this:

After some adjustments of the camera position, we got this beautiful video:

This wee guy (or girl, it’s hard to tell in foxes, so we’ll say guy for now) quickly became the star of the show. We saw three foxes in total in this area, but this one seems the most bold. He has a skinny white tip to his tail, and a black smudge at the top of his tail. He is the fox we’ve seen most often. The foxes we’ve seen all look like youngsters, just becoming independent from mum and dad and foraging on their own. Next, I tried putting out food in the woods closer to our house, to see if the foxes would come. And they did!

You can see the background is different to the first two clips. This is much nearer our back gate, and saves fighting through some pretty dense woodland! I also thought if they are around when winter comes, it will be a lot easier to put out some food to help them in this new location. And that was as far as I went…until a few nights later, when we had the camera back in the garden to film the hedgehogs…

The foxes had found our garden! Although obviously wary, first our wee bold one, and then another turned up. They are snuffling up dry cat food (intended for the hedgehogs, lol) and peanuts for the birds. It’s not a problem them being in the garden, as the cats are in at night – well, meant to be. 😉 Although our cats MUST have encountered the foxes if they’ve been around in the woods a while, as occasionally one or other cat stays out all night, refusing to come in. Foxes and cats who are not competing for food rarely fight, as they are too evenly matched and anyone could come off worst, so it’s not worth the risk.

So that’s the story of our foxes! I’ll be interested to see what happens as the year goes on. Will they stick around? Will we see others? Will we see them earlier in the garden, especially as the nights draw in? There will certainly always be food of some sort out, and foxes eat pretty much anything! We also have a pond now for drinking water. Watch this space! 🙂