Friday, 30 March 2012

Little by little

Stuff is getting crossed off the 'to do' list and joining it's mates on the 'stuff Nic & Ady feel smug about having gotten sorted' list.

Today we walked in the sunshine to the post office and got the car taxed. Fingers crossed all the panic buying of fuel has now ceased and we are able to drive over to collect the new car on Sunday and bring it back again. We also posted the letter cancelling the old car insurance. We've got a months insurance on the new vehicle, after which the car won't be used on the mainland again and can go SORN and uninsured :)

Also on the list for today was a charity shop run (yes we really did still have some stuff left to give away) and a tip run (yes, we really did still have some stuff left to chuck out! Mostly old carpet). We spent the voucher I was given as a leaving present last year and came all around the UK with us unspent on a new airbed for Ady and I. Our camping mats which we have had for four years and have seen far more use than is fair to expect of a camping mat (many, many camping trips, being beds for the year in Willow and now beds for weeks here in our house) have finally given up. The kids are having double layer of the two camping mats which are okay for smaller lighter bodies when used together and we have a new air bed. I'm not a big air bed fan but it will suffice for the short time we have left sleeping on floors and then be a useful spare bed for the many guests we already have booking themselves to stay on Rum with us.

Also on the list were phonecalls and emails. We solved the dilemma of the chicken house by contacting Calmac ferries to discover that for about a tenner and a phonecall in advance they will take in the delivery of shed for us, bung it on the ferry and even give us a bit of a hand getting off on the other side. That is rather better than the several hundred quid we were being quote for a lorry to bring it over. We rang a local contact on Skye who is The Man for chickens and ducks and placed an order for ten hens, a cockerel, five ducks, a goose and a gander. Still to source a drake and some turkeys. Oh and cats, we want cats.

We reserved our bottled gas to run our cooker, fridge, heating and hot water in the static - just need to pay for that now. We got the vehicle permit sorted to bring our 4 wheel drive across along with our horse box on the ferry (cars are not allowed on the island without a permit).

We had another viewing on our house but it is smaller than they were looking for so it's not let yet. Ever hopeful for that happening soon though, two viewings this week shows me the agent are doing their job in getting people here to look at it at least.

The list is getting smaller, the time is getting shorter, three weeks today we'll be there!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Moving Buddy. If you haven't got one, GET ONE!

We've got a Moving Date. We also have a Leaving Date, a Getting On The Ferry Date, a Static Arrives Today Date and various dates inbetween. That's what happens when your old address and your new address are 600 miles and a ferry trip away from each other and your new address doesn't technically exist yet.

This morning we spent about an hour with a calendar trying to piece together and work backwards and forward with dates. Having got the static booked for 25th April and needing to arrive before that does we have gone for 20th April which is a Friday and there is a lunchtime ferry crossing which is preferable for getting to the port without having to be up at stupid o clock. Once we'd done that and booked the ferry we started realising how much else we had to do.

So today has been spent finding places to stay on the way up, ringing the ferry port several times to check about various things including carrying petrol, delivery of large and heavy items like sheds. Various emails whizzed through cyberspace between us and Rum, us and suppliers of jerry cans and bottled gas and chicken sheds.

It's all happening and in progress.

On the home front we had a viewing here yesterday but the feedback was that the house is lovely but the garden too small (they had 3 children). Dragon and Star disproved such theories by spending the entire day today playing out in the garden and loving every minute of it mind you. Late this afternoon we took a phonecall from the agent to ask if we'd be happy to let to someone with 2 cats and a small dog (we have a 'pets by arrangement' clause (or should that be claws?)) which we are, so fingers crossed that may result in a viewing in the next few days. It would be great to get the house let out before we leave.

At the weekend we swap our people carrier for a 4 wheel drive. I am looking forward to putting my Crofting car sticker in the window (I got it on my course but have been saving it specially!).

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Wild Camping

A friend, who is hoping to be having some amazing adventures in the not too distant future, asked for some top tips for wild camping.

Our experience of wild camping was six weeks, in a campervan, in Scotland. It was during September and October, but we saw the season turn fairly dramatically during that time from T shirt weather to snow.

Scottish law on wild camping is different to that elsewhere. We have friends who have traveled in other countries in campervans where all sorts of different considerations have to be made in terms of safety, security and ensuring you are not breaking any actual laws or codes.

Here is a list of the things that I would keep uppermost in mind when planning wild camping or touring based on our experiences:

  • Whatever you think you will spent on petrol is less than you will actually spend on petrol. In the highlands petrol stations are few and far between and fuel is very expensive. Going up very steep hills takes far more petrol than you'd expect. We did not budget enough really but that was the case for our entire adventure and meant we had to hang about in places and eat more cheap food in order to keep the petrol tank going. If I was planning that in advance more I would probably research petrol station locations and plot them on a map, consider carrying fuel for top ups and anticipate spending more. All of that said it would have totally taken the fun out of playing Petrol Chicken which Ady and I got hours of edge of our seats thrills from!
  • Ditto food. Supermarkets become like mirages in a desert - you start to hallucinate that you can see neon signs for a 24 hour Tesco and can almost taste sausage rolls and Fanta but then you realise that no, it's just another car coming towards you with it's headlights on and it being 100 miles and four hours since you last saw another vehicle you'd forgotten what they look like. We had grand plans to catch and hunt our food, maybe sample some roadkill, do a spot of fishing... in the end what we hunted for were places to buy it and what we pounced on were reduced to clear bargains. We still talk with wonder in our tone about the day Ady bought four carrier bags of food out of a Co Op ten minutes before closing time and we dined like kings for two days afterwards for the princely sum of £1.87. My advice here is learn 101 ways with flour and tinned goods. Some gems of meals for us included tinned steak which when topped with a suet and flour pastry lid made a very nice pie, served with tinned potatoes and tinned mixed vegetables it was a great meal. As was tuna fish cakes made with tinned tuna and instant mash potatoes. Our store cupboard included tinned meat, fish, potatoes, fruit and vegetables. Long life milk, tinned rice pudding. Dried foods include pasta, noodles, rice, flour, suet, yeast. We carried a selection of herbs and spices, stock cubes and tubes of tomato and garlic puree. We also had those part baked rolls that you can keep for months. When we could get fresh food we topped up dairy -fresh milk, butter, cheese and fruit and vegetables. It's a toss up between ensuring you are not carrying so much stuff your weigh down the van but knowing you have sufficient food to eat well and cheaply if you've blown your food budget on petrol! Oh and emergency stashes of chocolate are essential. These must be kept topped up at all times.
  • Route planning. We had a vague notion that we'd head up the east coast from Inverness (which was the starting point for our wild camping time), go across the north coast and then down the west coast ending at Mallaig. We bought a map, more or less plotted our route and timescales to get from our starting place to our finishing place and then researched all interesting looking places along the way. We had ideas of things we wanted to see - John O Groats, Falls of Shin (for salmon leaping), Applecross, Skye, Smoo Cave etc. If I had plenty of time I would probably have planned this more but then again part of the joy of that period was the sense of adventure and going where the road took us. We had a policy of definitely turning off in the direction of a brown sign if it looked interesting - that led us to Badbea village, a sheepskin rug making place, The Old Man of Storr. I think having an idea of where you are heading for every few days and then making your way there slowly with plenty of time to get distracted is the best idea. Allow more time than you'll need and then if you find yourself pulling off the road frequently to walk on beaches and gaze at sunsets it doesn't matter at all.
  • On which subject ALWAYS pull off the road to walk on beaches and gaze at sunsets! We had a policy of pulling over as often as possible to make cups of tea and enjoy the view because we could!
  • Plan in campsite stops, both into your budget and your route. Depending on your arrangement in your campervan and no matter how well set up you are for us having one night every ten days or so when we pulled off the road and into a campsite and could shower three times a day, plug everything in, empty stuff, fill stuff up and just touch base with civilisation again was great.
  • Our biggest stresses really were finding somewhere to empty our toilet and somewhere to fill up our drinking water. In Scotland there are public loos which almost always have drinking water in the sinks - unless it states it is not drinking water then it will be. We had three five litre plastic water bottles which I used to go and fill from the taps. Take a beaker as you won't fit a five litre bottle under the tap! Ady would be emptying the loo while I was doing this. We never used chemicals in our loo and used loo paper that breaks down quickly so on a couple of occassions we dug a deep hole and buried the toilet contents instead. In an ideal world you'd barely have much to empty, in our world we had four people including two children and with the best will in the world you can only coordinate your toiletting with finding a public loo so much so you will end up carrying some crap (pardon the expression!) Make sure you have plenty of loo rolls and handwash and water containers.
  • Cleaning us and our clothes was another challenge. A friend recommended carrying handwashing soap (the green bars), a lenth of washing line and some pegs. We never actually did it but you can string a clothes line between the two front windows by capturing the ends of the line in the windows and peg your pants on it to dry overnight. We had a plastic trug which we used for washing clothes and people. Boil a kettle and ensure you have plenty of flannels. Consider inside and outside clothing if the weather is wet or muddy or you are going to places where you may get grubby then you can just wear outdoor clothes for longer without having to wash them. Ady used baby wipes lots, the rest of us prefered flannels. I washed my hair in four different public loos, if the sinks had hot water I was in there with my beaker, shampoo and a flannel to dry my hair with. Pretend you are Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan in the handdryer scene - it adds glamour to what could otherwise feel like a bag lady experience. Talc is your friend.
  • Have stuff to do inside. We had packs of cards, books, a couple of travel games, pen and paper, the radio. Dragon and Star still refer lots to the time spent wild camping as such a happy one when we all sat together and talked lots. Take binoculars, spotter books for identifying birds and other wildlife. Take a camera, watercolour paints or pencils and try and capture your surroundings as best you can with words, photographs, sketches or just drinking in your fill of the view and committing it to memory forever.
  • Make best use of everything. We used to charge stuff up using an invertor that ran from the campervan cigarette lighter and charged our phones, kids DSs, cameras, my netbook. I ran the heater in the van and dried our pants and socks down by my feet on the big floor area in the footwell or put towels on the back worktop in the sunshine. We had small solar chargers which we moved around the van to keep charging too. Try and anticipate what your needs might be in advance and research some of the gadgets and gizmos available for this. If you will be without electricity then look at a small generator or power pack if you think you will struggle without it. Check out lighting options - for us the day we bought a really decent battery lantern was a life changing one as we went from 25 little led torches barely lighting the van at night to one big light illuminating everything. Consider things like shaving, electric toothbrushes and anything else you regularly plug in now and work out what you will use instead while traveling.
  • Finding your space. For us the wild camping period was the most intense in many ways as we were all together all the time. We'd already been on the road for months so were used to being in one space together all day but still had other people diluting our company for chunks of each day while WWOOFing. We had very few times when we struggled with being in that small space but knowing it could be a potential issue ensured we had ideas to deal with it should it become an issue. It's tough to flounce out of the room and slam a door on the way if there is just the one room and no doors! Being able to articulate your need to be left alone for a while, or working out ways to understand the needs of the other people with you was very important for us.
  • Record it! Take pictures, blog it, mark your location every night on a map, write about it and if the kids don't fancy writing their own diaries of the adventure then interview them and write it down for them / video them being interviewed. I promise they will thank you for doing so as the memory starts to dim of what you did each day.
In summary I would take the same approach to wild camping as I would for anything else - work out in advance what you are wanting to get from the experience and then work hard to ensure you do. If there are very specific places you want to see then plot your route accordingly. If you are wanting to see particular wildlife or other such experiences then research the best places to spot them and make sure you have plenty of time. If you are hoping for a chilled out relaxing time, pottering along with no rushed feeling and the option of changing plans to see what happens along the way then cover the basics such as ensuring you have enough food and fuel and turn the satnav off and toss a coin every time you get to a junction to see whether you should go left or right.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Good Life

Isn't it funny how a little TV show with just four seasons back in the seventies inspired so many people and is still talked of decades later :)

Camped in our house with just sleeping bags and one of those little portable TVs with built in video player for company we're watching a lot of episodes of The Good Life at the moment. It keeps us focussed, amuses us and provides inspiration for our future life.

I can't wait to brew some peapod burgandy but have yet to decide whether I can pull of Barbara in her dungarees or Margo in her pantsuit best.

A neighbour called round yesterday to catch up with us having noticed we were back after our travels - he was thrilled to hear of our plans and told me how he has his VW campervan lined up to go off travelling in as soon as he retires next year. I told him if he gets as far as Rum he should just get off the boat and call our names loudly - with just 30 people someone is sure to point him in the right direction to find us! He asked if we were either stinking rich or just didn't like people much when he heard what we were doing, so I explained a bit about our planned low living costs and aims for self sufficiency. He straight away asked 'oh like on The Good Life?'

We're spending time with friends this week, like everywhere in the UK we've been enjoying unseasonably warm and sunny days for the last couple of weeks and today was spent sitting in friends' gardens while the children played and the sun shone. I don't want to live in Sussex any more and we are all very keen to get heading up and across the water but it has been lovely to see the beauty of where we live again and to be making the most of these last days and weeks living here. I guess when life is good The Good Life is wherever you happen to be.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Rum minus 30

or so... not a weather forecast, a hopeful countdown to arrival :)

This week we have:
  • Had carpet / flooring fitted in various rooms of our house in preparation for it being rented out again.
  • Spent time with family and friends and arranged to head off gallivanting round other family and friends houses in the southern section of the country for the next couple of weeks.
  • Totally finished going through our belongings and categorising them / packing them up / sending them to the tip / donating them to charity / giving stuff to friends. We are utterly declutterly, I can't believe we're not cluttered.
  • Been to London IN A CAR! I know, madness, driving in the capital. We sat in traffic and discussed the Millennium Dome (it will always be that to me, regardless of it now being named after a mobile phone network!) and been all nostalgic to Dragon and Star about how Ady and I visited there, participated in time capsule Y2K stuff, bemoaned the fact that the Blackwall tunnels walls are infact not black at all (close to it, thanks to traffic pollution but not black!) We liked the contrast of driving through London one month before we hope to be driving on Rum. 
  • Attended Ecobuild which was interesting, if slightly reeling with greenwash and an over indulgence of plastic tat. The stalls were many and whilst it is hugely heartening to see a huge exhibition centre filled with people selling solar panels, biomass boilers, wind turbines and rainwater harvesting systems it is slightly disheartening to have the stalls manned by leggy blondes giving away glossy brochures and plastic promotional items none of which can be recycled... I'm still processing my feelings on it all really but I suspect my eventual conclusion will be that perhaps I was not the target audience for it. We did talk to some great people representing some great products though and are hopeful of building further contacts as a result.
Spring is fully in the air, tomorrow the clocks go forward and we have all the best of the year ahead of us, I can't wait to get digging, planting, feel the sun on my bare arms, watch the childrens' hair go from dark blonde to white blonde again and have somewhere real to refer to when I say 'let's go home'.

Chasing Happy

Is it really such an elusive emotion or state of being?

I've found happy in the last few days in various places;

  • hanging out washing on the line in the sunshine knowing it will dry and come in smelling sweeter and feeling softer that it ever would hung over radiators or having been tumble dried in a laundrette.
  • being snuggled up with both Dragon and Star shortly after waking in the morning. I can't see further than the end of my sleeping bag yet because I've not put my contact lenses in and my bladder is complaining about needing a wee but nothing compares to the giggles and cuddles from both my babies before the day has yet to properly begin.
  • a cd I left in a cd player which we'd given to friends was discovered and returned to us. It was one I made for our Bye Then party last year before we went off WWOOFing. The playlist contains songs by artists with Wonder or Wander in their names, or in the lyrics or titles of the songs. An ecclectic mix with Elvis, Wonderstuff, Mike Flowers Pops, Oasis, Status Quo, Simply Red and many other all side by side. We've listened to it several times in the car since and it makes me smile with memories of both creating the disc in the first place and of the actual party.
  • I've done baking! Bread and rolls, snickerdoodles, cookies, flapjacks. Sugary snacks for my family made with my own fair hands. I've had flour streaked cheeks and felt the rush of hot air in my face as I open the oven door. 
  • I had  a lovely conversation with Star about memories and childhood and how making dreams come true is very important indeed.
  • A moment when I realised I am sharing my life with precisely the right people when all four of shared the same sense of annoyance over some people making presumptions and silly remarks. I also enjoyed the reactions of a handful of friends to the same thing.
  • A friend ringing the same day I'd decided to ring her and arrange to visit with her usual supernatural instinct - she all but rang to ask 'when are you coming then?' as though I'd already asked the question.
  • Talking, talking and talking. I love talking (I may have mentioned this before). I love chewing the fat, setting the world to rights, discussing, debating, comparing ideas and thoughts and thrashing things out. It makes me feel alive like nothing else. I've done loads of it this last week - with friends, with new people I'd never met before, with people manning stands selling solar panels, with more friends, with Ady, Dragon and Star. It's been a good talking week.
In the past I've been accused (quite rightfully) of placing very high levels of importance on happy, of letting money slip through my fingers, of making silly decisions, of being rash. All true, guilty as charged. 

My default state is happy anyway, I'm not a worrier by nature and I look on the lighter, brighter side of life. But I refuse to subscribe to waiting and seeing, to saving for the future, to doing something I don't enjoy in the hopes that it pay off at some later stage. What if it doesn't?

So maybe this blogpost title should not be chasing happy, it should be 'Finding Happy'. I think that might just be what happiness really is, the ability to look and see it in all the small places. Happy doesn't come with a map or a guidebook, I think maybe the place to look for it is in the mirror.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The upside...

of being so very efficient in our first week back is that we have all but finished crossing off everything from our job lists. Our garage and the spare room at my parents is ready with the boxes of things we are taking to Rum. Everything else has been disposed of accordingly.

We have carpet being fitted on Friday and the letting agent coming round on Monday to take photos and start marketing the property for let.

The downside is filling our days again.

So we have made lots of arrangements to spend time with family and friends - we had a meal at one friend on Saturday night, another with family to celebrate Mothers Day on Sunday. Lunch with friends today, a party with more friends on Thursday and a catch up with family on Saturday. We have several stays with southern friends booked for the next couple of weeks and our diary is filling up quickly.

I have enjoyed baking bread and this afternoon made cookies and cakes too - we are off to London for the day tomorrow to Ecobuild where we're hoping to make some contacts and get some ideas for green building and alternative energy to put into practise once we are building our own home. It will be good to take a packed lunch with us of home baked goodies to keep us going.

On the downside it feels very odd to have no animals to look after other than Star's pet hamster Humphrey (the most well travelled hamster I know, he's been to Scotland with us and travelled everywhere we've been since he joined our family at Christmas) and no crops in or seeds germinating.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Is it really only a week?

Since we arrived back in Sussex. It has been crazily busy and it feels like we need a holiday despite the fact we've not officially worked for over a year!

It's been lovely to have use of a kitchen this week and I've baked bread and made dinners from scratch. The washing machine (which will soon become a distant luxurious memory again, we'll not have access to such technology on our croft!) has been working overtime as we have dug all our clothes out from storage, worked out what we're taking with us and washed and dried them all ready to pack for moving. Spring has sprung sufficiently to be drying clothes on the washing line which is always a marker of warmer days.

Today we bought a box of grass seed to repair the lawn where our bantams used to live and we booked the carpet fitter to come round next week. New flooring inside and out!

We have rearranged the static delivery for a couple of weeks later and I've been contacting friends to make arrangements to get together with people and take advantage of our slightly longer stay down here before we move for good. I popped into the library (where I used to work) to use the printer today so caught up with some ex colleagues too which is always nice. Star said rather loudly 'it's not as organised in here as it used to be when you worked here' which fortunately made the people who overheard laugh rather than take offence. I'm not sure it was true anyway but I certainly wouldn't have made that much difference in my 11 hours a week!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Hiccups and horseboxes

We're being very productive at the moment, crossing things off our to do lists with flourishes every day. We've now been through everything that was in storage. We have a small and methodically boxed up heap of stuff coming with us, I notice six of the boxes contain books which is a very high proportion of our belongings but a pitifully small amount of what we used to have. Ady overheard Star talking to the soft toys she was planning to put into storage, telling each of them in turn that she loved them and would miss them. It made me cry and as a result we'll find space somewhere to bring them!

Yesterday we also crossed off finding a vehicle and trailer from our list. A well connected friend managed to find both for us, coming in under our budget for the two. We'll be collecting our new 4x4 and horse box (not intending on ever using it for horses mind you) before we head up to Rum.
our new best friend!
Today we've had a carpet fitter round to measure up and quote for replacing the carpet in our house ready to rent it out again. Odd to think the carpet we've had for nearly 20 years will go and the replacement will be enjoyed as brand new carpet by someone else!

In other, slightly disconcerting news there has been a delay with the paperwork for the croft which means our arrival date is less certain. Hopefully the delay will be short and we won't be homeless and drifting for too long!

Getting all artistic

I'm fielding the question a lot at the moment about how Dragon and Star feel about moving to Rum. I'm also being asked what effects I think such a different childhood will have on them. Miles from anywhere, no same age kids to play with etc.

The long answer is I don't really know of course. But Dragon and Star have not had a conventional childhood anyway. They are, and always will be, a product of a different lifestyle, an unusual path. Their lives have never been about routine, having education delivered to them, being voiceless and having to follow the route mapped out for them by someone else. Dragon and Star have always had fairly big loud voices in comparison to many children their age. They have always had choices, played a part in decisions regarding their lives and helped to shape their own destinies as much as any of us can do.

Our approach in parenting, in education and in life is to above anything else enjoy it, get the most possible out of every day. Follow dreams, chase stars, laugh often. A favourite quote of mine is 'I hope you live every day of your life'. I strive to do just that and hope to infect our children with the same ambition. As such they approach each day as a new opportunity - to learn and grow and live. It is this mentality that led us off in the direction we are currently heading and I hope will guide Dragon and Star throughout their lives. Taking responsibility for themselves and their happiness, grabbing all there is to get and getting pleasure out of making others day a little brighter too.

So when I look at how this next life choice may affect Dragon and Star it is not with anyone else's standards or expectations in mind. It is not with an eye to how they will pass exams aged  16, to how they will socialise with children their own age, or how they may struggle without access to 24 hour electricity, mobile phones, cinemas, McDonalds or the latest trainers. It is by looking at them as two seperate individuals and talking over with them which of their needs will be met easily, which will take a little more effort and creative thinking and how we will, as a family and as individuals make that happen.

From Dragon's point of view Rum will offer so many opportunities. He enjoys building strong, meaningful relationships. Not necessarily with other children and certainly not exclusively with people his own age and gender. For him the idea of 30 odd new prospective friends is thrilling. Adults and children alike he views all the other residents of the island as interesting new people to meet and get to know. Dragon loves his bushcraft, survival and wilderness stuff - a whole island to explore and navigate. Dragon loves creating maps of places and is already looking forward to charting every inch of this new place. Dragon is a creative, artistic soul with a dreamy poet lurking inside and a flair for storytelling and illustrating. He will be inspired by this new landscape, brought alive by the possibilities of a thousand new stories to tell, characters to invent, backdrops to paint.

Star has been an animal lover pretty much since the day she was born. Our pet cats watched her birth with great interest (she was born at home) and I don't think she's been far from some creature or another ever since. Nature, wildlife and animals are her passions and she is growing to live on a national nature reserve. With rare and endangered species everywhere, rangers and wardens and resident experts on all these creatures will be her friends and neighbours. She gets to keep pets and livestock herself and meet many othre people just as passionate as her about the natural world. I can't think of any better location for her to call home.

When we first began our Home Educating journey, nearly 10 years ago I first came into contact with an online community of people with children of all ages also following a similar path. Lives have changed for all of us during the last decade, many of them have gone on to have (many) more children, some of the children have gone to school, many have tried different educational approaches, the children have grown up, the adults have shifted lives. One of the earliest friends I made back then was Merry who ran an email list, home educated her children and organised two annual Home Ed camps along with running a small business selling hama beads and other craft materials. Merry was an early source of inspiration to me both as a Home Educator and as someone managing to run her own life alongside it, combining a business she was passionate about that complimented her family life. Over the years Merry's family and business have grown and I have bought various products from her over the years - hama beads, fimo, craft kits.

Merry sent us some pens to try out from the Djeco range which are available from PlayMerrily. I handed them over to Dragon and Star and left them to it. One of my real bugbears with kids stuff is that it is so often inferior quality, so Dragon and Star have long since grown out of cheap felt tips, plastic feeling crayons and dissatisfying low pigment content watercolour paints. They have decent, proper quality art materials which are up to the job of creating decent, proper quality artwork. Quite apart from the false economy of buying cheap kiddie stuff which doesn't last anyway it feels patronising to expect them to use it. They were very pleased with the Djeco quality, it's not over packaged, a decent cardboard box and then a hard plastic case which will stand up to plenty of opening and closing. The colours are fab, a really good selection which they have used for solid colour blocks, shading, blending and Star has tried some smudgy effects too.

They both commented on how they feel like drawing with lipstick (although I can't quite think when they would have tried that!) but having had a quick go myself I can see what they mean. The pens are satisfyingly chunky to hold and glide across the page leaving a lovely vibrant colour behind. A real joy to use. They assure me that once they have used these pens up (which if they keep producing artwork at the rate they have since we opened these two days ago won't be long!) they would like to replace them so it looks like gel pens have earned their place in their art boxes.

The inspiration for their artwork has clearly come from them - I had no part in any of this. It does show a nice range of effects created with the pens, solid blocks and general shading and hopefully gives an indication of the colour range too, but mostly I think you'll agree it shows how right this next move in our lives is for Dragon and Star.

Map of Rum by Dragon. Note colour use on the sea

Map of Rum by Star, note intense colour with rather stylised shape.

It's Willow! I reckon this boy is looking forward to having a home again.

Whereas this girl is just happy wherever her hamster is!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Properly Decluttering

And I thought we did a pretty extreme job last year!

We've spent the last few days going through our remaining belongings again. This time there are 4 piles;
  • Bring to Rum - this is a pretty small pile and includes clothes and shoes that fit us now and are suitable, practical and useful for our new lifestyle. Warm, waterproof and durable mostly then! Books we cannot bear to part with, a couple of boxes of toys each for Dragon and Star, stuff to kit out the kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms in the static. Our tent and camping stuff and not a lot else. This is currently looking like about 15 large boxes.
  • Leave at Mum & Dad's until we have a larger, more permanent home. This is stuff like photo albums, home videos, first baby outfits, a few precious pieces of art work the kids have done, pictures we'll one day hang on walls and not a lot else. This is looking like about 10 boxes.
  • Stuff to sell / take to charity shop / donate to friends (some of our best friends are about to move into a new house and are only too happy to have our old beds, sofas, table & chairs etc. We get to give them something useful and they get to have some stuff to furnish their new home with - win:win). The local charity shops have had about 15 boxes from us so far - clothes that are now too large or small for us (we've all got considerably bigger or smaller this last year!), shoes I'll never wear again, toys, books and other such stuff we felt was too precious to get rid of last year despite the extreme decluttering but realised after a year without them don't mean anything really.
  • Stuff for the tip. Fortunately a very small heap but we have done two runs to the tip, which given the vast percentage of stuff gets recycled is still liberating in it's own way.
It's not a straightforward process. Dragon and Star have been watching Toy Story 1, 2 and 3 the last few weeks so getting rid of toys has a heightened emotional impact with that in mind. It's tough to be 9 and 11 and getting rid of most of your possessions. It's quite odd to think that our four combined lifetimes of  over 100 years is now contained within less than 25 boxes, an old car, an even older campervan and the equity amounting to about a third of a house. How would that make you feel? How far away from that small level of 'stuff' are you and your family?

In other news we have debated and discussed and are about to take our house off the market for sale and put it back on to let again. We've had various agents round and listened to all sorts of advice and decided that for now this is the more financially astute option. We don't need the equity from the house to build on Rum just yet so it makes more sense to take the 'wage' offered by way of monthly rent from a tenant and keep all the equity in the house. On that basis we'll need to replace some carpets and then it will be up for rent from next week.

Ady is busy researching generators, I'm busy working out where our food will come from - we intend using the shop on Rum as much as possible but will also order bulk food supplies too, along with things like loo rolls, toothpaste and contact lenses. We're looking out for a trailer and a 4 wheel drive vehicle to move us and our belongings and use as our island car and storage facility once we arrive.

The days are counting down...

Sunday, 11 March 2012

A static to call our own

There's not much in our lives that is static these days, but today we made the phonecall to confirm we want this particular static
We need to get the deposit (and then the balance!) in the post and they will be calling us back next week to confirm arrangements but we made a provisional delivery date booking of 12th April.

I know my new address, now I know what my first home there will look like!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Our Cunning Plans

Time to share some of our official business plan, as submitted as part of our croft application. The plan is already subject to tweaking but I'm aware we've not really shared it here.

To build our family home and make our livelihood on the island of Rum. To become part of the community and work alongside others to preserve the ethos of Rum as a wildlife reserve along with helping it to grow into an established and sustainable community for the future.

We will create a smallholding from the croft with land given over to growing crops and rearing livestock. Our aim is for self sufficiency in food for our family plus residual produce for sale or exchange in the community and to tourists.

We also plan to use the land to capitalise on the existing tourist market and help to grow it further from a campsite or other holiday accommodation (e.g. eco camping pods). Further potential revenue streams would come from cottage industry type arts and crafts, preserves and produce.

Our longer term plans include creating an educational centre for WWOOFers and a working holiday destination specialising in self sufficiency, alternative energy, livestock rearing and low impact living.
There, sounds like a plan doesn't it?!

If I've learnt anything (and I hope I have) about ambitious, unchartered territory, rather crazy plans it is that the only way to approach them is one step at a time, ready to make it up as you go along and change your end goal as and when necessary! The key thing is to be getting as much if not more out of the journey than the destination, infact who cares what the destination is anyway, that's the ending, let's just focus on the ride.

When we were planning to head off WWOOFing we began with a mammoth task ahead of coordinating the whole thing but by breaking it down into smaller chunks it all became feasible - one challenge at a time. The same applies here. For now the focus is on packing up the last remnants of our mainland life and getting to Rum. One step at a time.

Today we returned to Sussex, spent some time opening the pile of post that had arrived since we left nearly a month ago, caught up with family, took inventory of the food in our kitchen and had a very nice curry for dinner. Tomorrow we start the task of creating a job list, pinning some dates and prioritising to it and starting to tick things off.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Long goodbyes

The limbo is almost over.

A year ago today we arrived at our very first WWOOF host, a year ago tonight we were sleeping in a tent. It got down to minus four twice in that first week, we were in bed by 8pm, having worked the hardest we'd ever worked before in our lives carrying wood up and down hills. We lived on vegan fayre, alcohol free after a life just days previously where we drank every night, ate meat every day and had baths, beds and sofas not to mention central heating, electricity and Sky TV. It was the biggest culture shock of our entire lives and yet when we left just two weeks later I cried because it was such a wrench. Dragon and Star still cite that host as their favourite and not a week goes by without us mentioning someone or something from there.

Fast forward a year and tonight we are sleeping in real beds. We've had a dinner of supermarket purchased food, lovely warm baths and a glass of wine after dinner. But this is temporary... and for all it is lovely to be enjoying the hospitality of friends we are all itching to get started on the next chapter of our lives. We are researching, emailing, phoning, writing in notepads and planning almost constantly. With every conversation with each other and everyone else we are coming up with yet more questions, more answers and more ideas. It is such an exciting, daunting and invigorating time for us.

We still don't have firm timescales, we still have so much yet to sort out but we have some firm starting points to work from and I am very hopeful that within the next week or so we will have a leaving Sussex / arriving in Rum date to start planning everything else around. We have chosen a static but need to pay for it and arrange delivery. We have a list of things we need to get ordered and arranged ready to swing into action on. We need to make decisions on our house - do we engage another estate agent? Put it back on the rental market? Drop the price? We have the remainder of our belongings to start sorting through and make tough decisions on as to whether we should bring them to Rum with us, get rid of them or find long term storage for them. I don't want or need my wedding dress in the static on a croft but I don't want to get rid of it forever either. We are realising the need to stock up on some items (loo roll! toothpaste!) that may be costlier to get delivered to the island, working out what we can buy from the shop (which is excellent, well stocked and very worthy of our support and patronage). I know our new postcode now, just not our address!

We all have that 'end of term' type feeling I think - the end is in sight, we are excited and raring to go. This next month will be full on and intense and I imagine we'll be in need of a holiday at the end of it. Fortunately we will have the most amazing destination to relax and get used to our surroundings in.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Question Time Again

Way back at the beginning of our WWOOFing adventure I put up a post inviting questions about our plans. It was really interesting to read and answer back then and it's a post I have revisited a few times over the last 18 months.

We have spent a lot of time with real life friends and family in the last few months answering all of their questions but after a friend recently posed a load of her questions to me by email I realised it would be good to put up another post inviting questions on this next part of the adventure. So, on that basis, over to you!

Kay asked:
Will you continue to home educate on Rum? I remember reading that the island has a small school & wondered about your thoughts on that. Having made a big move ourselves from a very busy home ed community to living in the sticks with very little going on - we had to adapt. Though lots of friends came to stay, it does dwindle after a few years, as you become settled & make new friends. Are there other home ed families in the area?
Yes, it's definitely our intention to Home Educate Dragon and Star for as long as they wish to do so. The school on the island is primary only, with children heading across to the mainland for school for secondary, boarding for two weeks at a time, home for every other weekend and school holidays. Dragon will be 12 in September so would only be in the school for a term before he'd be secondary age, Star would have two years. The choice to Home Educate has always been down to the children and should they wish to try school we would support them in that choice but it is currently not one either of them is considering.

In comparing a small island school to a larger mainland school there would be pros and cons for both. It is virtually impossible to compare Home Education to either for us because our approach is an autonomous, child led one which bears little if any resemblance to a formal, structured school environment - be it large or small.

We have discussed them attending the mainland school in a couple of years if they started to feel socially isolated or wanted more in terms of resources, education stimulation etc. For now neither of them are remotely interested but as ever we'll continue to take such decisions one day / week / month / year at a time!

There is a Home Ed community (or certainly a handful of families doing it) in the Highlands and Islands so there would be the opportunity to hook up with others if we felt the need, although a ferry ride away isn't exactly local. We have already got three firm bookings of dates for friends to come and visit us and the children have friends on neighbouring small isles who we will meet up with too. I guess as with all aspects of our new life this will be a 'suck it and see' one but in the same way as we have always had to work that bit harder as Home Educators to find social, educational and entertainment opportunities we will continue to do so from this new location.
Kirsty asks:
A question for you all :) What are you most looking forward to in the coming year and what are you imagining will be the biggest hurdle to overcome?
Nic says: I am most looking forward to putting down some roots and creating a home for us again. After a year on the road I can't wait to wake up to the same view every morning. I love the idea of having a front door and a sofa and a bed all in the same place every single day. I am looking forward to having my stuff around me in permanent places again and being able to cook what I want, when I want, have quiet peaceful time to myself and do stuff like baking, jam making and crafty stuff again. I also can't wait to start growing stuff and keeping animals - I am particularly excited about the idea of pets aswell as livestock (cats! a dog!). Finally (yes I am being greedy with such a long list) I am looking forward to making friends. I love getting to know people, swapping lifestories,  sharing a cup or tea (or glass of wine) and forging new friendships.

I think the biggest hurdle will be the logistics of it all - what to do first, which decisions we can feasibly put off and make once we've got our heads round things and doing them methodically and sensibly and which we will simply have to jump in with both feet and make, mistakes and all, in order to get things moving forwards. It is all very daunting building a home, a business and a whole life literally from the ground up - looking at a bare patch of ground and trying to envisage it being our everything. I know we can do it but I also know there will be things we mess up and get wrong and then have to put right again.

Ady: I am very excited at the prospect of a virgin piece of land to do whatever we want with. All the other opportunities we looked at were existing crofts or smallholdings with buildings, growing and rest of the infrastructure already in place. Croft 3 gives us the chance to put all of our own experience and knowledge into practise without any previous people's ideas in the way!

Getting used to the challenges of having no amenities will be the biggest hurdle I think. I know that is only temporary as we will get all of those things sorted over time and we have lived without being connected to water, electric etc. for the last year so we know we can do it but it does add a further dimension of difficulty.

Dragon: I am looking forward to living on Rum because, obviously it will be pretty cool to live on an island. I am looking forward to having lots of animals, being part of a community, making new friends. The thing I am looking forward to most is exploring the island.

Biggest challenge might be living in the static but we lived in Willow and that was quite easy. From where I am now staying with friends it sounds hard but I think it will probably be quite easy.

Star: I am most looking forward to living with lots of animals and having my own bedroom.

Star laughed and said the biggest challenge is answering questions like this one! When pushed she says (with one of those cartoon lightbulbs appearing over her head and a huge look of relief) building the house will be difficult. And then she ran off to play.

Jay asked:
I know self sufficiency in food is also agoal for you, Nic. What grows well there? Other than turnips, swedes and raspberries ;-) it looks quite exposed and presumably has a shorter growing season than further south
It's going to be an exercise in trying and seeing what works in lots of ways for food growing. The weather is fairly mild thanks to the island being within the Gulf stream so although it is wetter and windier than the south coast (where we used to be) the climate is not terribly dissimilar. There are few frosts / snow and thanks to being so much further north the extended daylight in summer makes up for the shorter days in winter. The croft is in a valley and on a south facing slope so a little protected with decent sun exposure. We will grow using polytunnels to help extend the season.

Plans are for fruit and nut trees - orchard and soft fruit and we will be researching good types for the climate, traditional Scottish apples etc. Tatties and other roots will grow well of course and nearby Eigg had great crops of berries and currants when we were there WWOOFing. Inside the polytunnel we'll be able to grow tomatoes, peppers etc. Outside should be fine for garlic, onions, brassicas, legumes. We will be getting the soil tested once we arrive and finding out what treatment it will need in terms of making it more fertile.

We've been told stuff has been grown on that land within living memory and certainly historically the island supported hundreds of crofters. The ground on the inner hebridian isles seems to be mostly machair which is nice fertile stuff.

Joyce asks:

As you would expect (!!) I'm a little fixated on toilet arrangements. I know that you will be going down the compost route, but what happens meanwhile? Also interested in the water issue - as someone who got a horrific intestinal infection from an untreated private water supply on Harris, I've felt nervous about that ever since. That aside, how are you going to get water into the static - is it going to be carrying your needs in all the time?

Really? Fixated on toiletting? ;)

Long term plans are for very decent compost loos - we've been looking at some fab places such as free range design. Short term we'll use the chemical toilet in the static to contain waste and adhere to Wild Camping principles for burying / dealing with waste. (clearly with no actual chemicals in the loo!)

Water will be brought in to the static daily to begin with, there is a chlorinated water supply in the village. We will begin harvesting rainwater from the start for uses other than cooking, drinking and bathing. Eventually we're planning to either harness water from the land or rainwater and put in a filtration system for bringing it to drinking quality (fully tested!).

As promised:

To give a better idea of where we're talking about.

Here is the map view of the croft - we are Croft 3

and the googlemaps link is over here

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Where everybody knows your name

The Boston bar of an 80s TV show might be beyond our reach to go and live in but if the last few days are anything to go by life is about to lose it's anonymity.

After a few days with friends down in Yorkshire (which we used to call 'the north', oh how we laugh at our geographical ignorance of the past...) we headed back across the border again on Wednesday, primarily for my crofting course in Inverness but also to sort out some finer details about our temporary home for the first year. Being so close (relatively) to Rum and with an unexpected free day when the ferry does a day trip we decided to head over for the couple of hours between the ferry yesterday.

Having talked to the lovely people at Mcleod's caravans and looked at several of the statics they have for sale we knew what information we needed to gather before selecting the right static.

We were greeted on the ferry by the chef who remembered us from our crossing a couple of weeks ago and brought over the Highlands & Islands paper with an article about us on page three! We caught up with a few islanders as we dashed around taking photos and eyeing up the access track and very gratefully accepted a lift to and from the pier. All too soon we were back on the boat again hoping that next month we are on the boat again on our way 'home'.

Today I have been on a crofting course run by Scottish Crofting Federation - day two is tomorrow. I walked in and was introduced to another attendee who has been reading our blog and also knows one of our previous WWOOF hosts. Always good to know it's not just family and friends who read about our adventures :) And it inspires me to get posting!

Day one of the course has been excellent - loads of questions answered and contacts made. Ady, Dragon and Star were off doing further research on getting the static sorted  and after lots of phonecalls and another visit to Macleods they have chosen one and all that remains is the phonecalls and emails to book delivery / make payments for that. Hurrah, a home!