Monday, 30 December 2013

Out with the old

As any regular reader will know the chances of this being the last reflective post of 2013 are pretty slim but this is the Official Round Up of the Year.

It's been another rollercoaster  ride filled with innumerable highs, lows and everything inbetween. Many celebrations from anniversaries and birthdays to impromptu parties. Massive opportunities to learn, to grow, to spread our wings. As ever the turning of the seasons, the contrast from full on tourist season with hoardes of folk spilling off the ferry to the colder, bleaker, emptier Rum months when we barely scrape double figures of people on the island. Births, deaths, new faces, sad and tender goodbyes. Visiting friends and family, rare but always noteworthy ventures off the island. Adventures, opportunities, excitements, dramas. Another year passed, another year lived, another set of experiences added to our bank of memories.

I posted a photo from each month of 2013 recently. Here are some words to go with 2013 month by month.

January - seeing the year in with a communal meal in the village hall and fireworks on the TV round at a friends house, my birthday (39), a mainland trip to have Bonnie spayed, spend our winkle money, go shopping, indulge in baths and electricity and mostly just feel happy and relieved to be back home on Rum again, safe in the knowledge we missed Rum way more than we've ever missed the mainland. Our first Buns Night in Scotland, a magical evening joining in with set traditions and becoming part of Rum history. We visited the castle bar for the first - and last official - time.

February - We had some problems with Bonnie attacking ducks and then injuring a chicken to the point that she had to be killed. Harsh lessons learned. We celebrated our 'yes-iversary' of one year since we had traveled to Rum to be interviewed for Croft 3 and were told we'd been successful. The weather suddenly turned and we were eating lunch out on the sporran, all the birds (chicken, duck and goose) were laying eggs and I started working at Rum primary school four mornings a week.

March - We made it to Spring! I wrote a post which has made me all teary all over again just re-reading it. Our Croft 2 neighbours finally moved to Rum, I had a brief visit to Harris and Lewis and Skye. The community polytunnel got another step closer to being up and running and some fellow WWOOF hosts visited and brought us two drakes (one of whom escaped to live in the wild shortly afterwards, the other of whom is very at home here on Croft 3 and is the proud father of our newest duck). The helicopter took away a fellow SmallIslander who was here on Rum working after a heart attack which had us all feeling a little too remote and vulnerable. We plumbed ourselves into the river and had running water!

April - Our anniversary of a year on Rum. Barbara pig had piglets, chickens hatched chicks, the polytunnel went up, seeds were sown, raised beds were constructed. We joined in the community beach clean, we had our first visitors of the year - residential in the shape of my parents and two sets of day trippers.

May - Ady's birthday, more visitors, raised beds installed, polytunnel yielding it's first crop of the season and in full throes of sowing, transplanting and harvesting. First Sheerwater boat trip of the year, still light at 1030pm. Piglets and chicks growing well.

June - Rum's first Big Lunch, the installation of the compost loo, the arrival of more livestock - this time goslings and (to our knowledge) the First Turkeys On Rum. Our honesty tables were installed at the top and bottom croft gates and started generating income. I created a herb spiral and we harvested our first strawberries from the polytunnel. The Battle of Nic & Ady vs the Crows commenced. The Sunday Community Teashop was born and oodles of cash raised for the Village Hall.

July - Davies launched his postcard range - he sold out and earnt enough to repay his start up business loan in full, restock and keep back money for investing in Christmas cards later in the year and spend some on frivilous things too. The birth of Davies Designs. Another visit from my parents, Rum played host to the Small Isles Games which we won every single round of the Tug of War in, Scarlett came second in the hill race and a generally fab time was had by all.  Weekly Market Days were held in the hall on a Wednesday and Davies did really well on postcard sales while my Moods Of Rum scarves sold well, as did my home baked flatbreads and jars of foraged fruits jam. Our duck hatched ducklings and one of the brood made it all the way to adulthood. We had a visit from an islander bearing fish to open up and inspect the contents of it's stomach - 12 newts! We then ate it for tea. We swapped eggs for a freshly caught crab and had that for dinner later in the month. Scarlett and Davies got to lead the new Rum pony foal and it's mother from one field to another.

August - We built a wood store and set about filling it, carrying wood up the hill and chopping and stacking it. The media spotlight was on Rum for the castle, a BBC documentary filmed here including a bit here on Croft 3, bramble picking and jam making. A brief mainland visit to the dentist and lots more visitors.

September - More visitors, family and friends. Davies had a big birthday and turned 13. We had the second Blasda food festival on Rum. We walked up to the source of our water. The stags began roaring and the 2013 red deer rut commenced.

October - We installed a wind turbine, went to Kilmory to watch the rut, celebrated Halloween and I embarked on my most ambitious upcycling project yet - an Honesty Larder made from an old freezer.

November - Bonfire night, snow! Nights drawing in. Fruit cage finally stocked. Not leaving the house without a torch. Life slowing down.

December - Scarlett's birthday, more friends to visit, the very sad loss of two pigs and a cockerel. The despatch and processing of two turkeys for Christmas dinners. Christmas, carols, games, nativity, mince pies and mulled wine. The wind turbine being blown out and replaced, the installation of a washing machine, more friends visiting to see out 2013 with us and welcome in 2014.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

It works!

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Replacement wind turbine finally up and running.

It works!

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Some fine tuning to the plumbing required but it works! First wash done.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time

As in, we had a wonderful Christmas time in a very simple manner.

It's been a challenging Christmas for many thousands of people all over the UK, indeed all over the world really but specifically in the UK many people have not had the Christmas they were hoping for or had planned due to the circumstances beyond their control that the weather has thrown at them.

This has been a common theme for our family here on Rum since we arrived here.

We are not at risk of flooding by rain but it frequently comes through the roof of the static if the wind blows in a certain direction. Our bed, Scarlett's floor, the area infront of both external doors and the kitchen worktop underneath the spotlight have all at some point or another had pans or towels beneath soaking up rainwater. The rain on Rum is not a simple matter of determining what outdoor clothing we wear or whether we can hang washing outside today or not, it dictates the very rhythm of our lives from if we can drive across the river or not and therefore need to carry groceries, animal feed, bottled gas, firewood and so on a lesser or further distance. It turns our croft to mud, drowns our crops and on occasion has taken an animals' life too.

The sun although almost always welcome can bring it's own causes for concern. Rum has been glowing alight from out of control fires across the island on more than one occasion, never during our time here but the regularly spaced firebeaters, warning signs that go up during the summer months and evidence of burnt out patches of land which still exist testify to the issues that the sun can bring. This summer just gone we could see burning areas out of control on the mainland from across the water.

But by far the biggest force of nature here for us is the wind. Wind cancels ferries, destroys buildings, pulls down trees, rattles our roof, wobbles our walls and keeps us awake at night. Wind gave us power and took it away again by burning out our wind turbine. Wind has blown the doors off the polytunnel, the netting off the fruit cage, tossed the Honesty Larder fridge on it's side and regularly seems to laugh at our attempts to move forward. I had a story when I was a child about a naughty zephyr, a little wind who caused trouble and made mischief and I often wonder if he has followed me to Rum.

We have been hit by storm after storm so far this winter and Christmas had become something of a landmark point to reach. Many times in the last few weeks Ady and I have quietly wondered whether we would actually see Christmas Day here in the static, whether it would still be intact. Our plans of our own turkey, all day power from the wind turbine, presents under our Rum harvested tree all felt in great jeopardy as we lurched from one crisis (dead wind turbine) to another (cancelled ferries) to yet another (more storms forecast). We seriously questioned what the odds were of us waking up on Christmas morning in our own beds might be as we kept readjusting our expectations.

In the event there was a last minute hitch in the form of a lightning strike knocking out the islands internet from Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day (when on islander superstars clambered up Hebnet Hill and fixed things to reconnect Rum to the outside world once more), always patchy mobile phone signal also disappeared and we were concerned as to how friends and family might be thinking the worst of our silence. We managed to get a few messages out to let people know we were fine, happy, safe but disconnected and just before lunch we managed a phonecall to family.

I can't say the uncertainty has added anything to this years festive celebrations, I think we have sufficient excitement and adventure in our lives of our own making without any additional layers but we have indeed had a very Merry Christmas. An off grid, way out there in the wilderness, edging closer to self sufficiency all the time sort of Christmas. A healthy mix of bought in junk food snacks along with our home made cranberry sauces, pickled onions, Rum reared and oven readied here on Croft 3 roast turkey, Christmas cake, mince pies and other goodies. A variety of presents delivered to Rum thanks to amazon, ebay and other online retailers along with some thoughtful low cost, handmade gifts. Some entertainment brought to us thanks to the newly fixed internet, BBC iplayer and radio, high profile, high budget celebrity Christmas specials combined with carols round the piano, brisk walks in the brief dry sunny spells, parlour games with friends, mulled wine and mince pies and in jokes with the community.

Our second Rum Christmas. A (relatively) quiet one at home.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas Eve Eve

Dire weather warnings continue (but that appears to be the case wherever one lives in the UK just now, our only trump card on that is our caravan dwelling status and the effect of cancelled ferries) but here at Goddard Heights we are ready for Christmas.

The solstice on Saturday saw us carolling and on Sunday we processed two turkeys - one for us and one for a fellow islander. Ady did the first by himself but I assisted with the second one. Davies and Scarlett declined to participate this time although they have previously seen the full process of both chickens and turkeys (and infact assisted in turkeys at one of our WWOOF hosts).

Ady worked at a turkey farm slaughtering turkeys for a few years way back before we met so I got a full biology lesson along with some technical teaching in plucking, processing and preparing. It was lovely to see the healthy inners of our birds and we were so impressed with the full crop of the second one that we bought it up intact to the kids to open up. The contents filled one of our large saucepans and was almost entirely fresh green grass and some corn.

The first bird was just over 3.5kg and the second slightly larger at just under 4kg - slow grown, happy, healthy birds living a completely natural life. I will always eat meat and my dream is to be consuming only our own poultry, pork and venison from Rum.

More festive food preparation with another batch of mince pies (I'm down to just two jam jars of my own mincemeat left from about 10 jars at the start of the month, these may keep over now til next year), three jars of cranberry sauce (made with fresh cranberries, orange juice and zest and ginger wine, delicious) and some ginger liqueur made from vodka infused with a pile of ginger from way back a month or so ago. The ginger which was really a by-product I was planning on throwing away is divine if very firey, so I have put that aside to do something with too. Next year my ambition is for all the fruit and veg to be Croft 3 produce for Christmas but we're doing pretty well for a self sufficient start to our second Christmas here.

My Christmas cake looks and smells delicious but the icing will require some further attention tomorrow. It turns out icing sugar does not keep well in a very damp caravan and it took quite some coaxing to turn the solid brick into glossy icing. It will need to be done in layers!

Today brought a disrupted timetable ferry and on it came all of the last things we were waiting for and a couple of things I had given up hope of getting before Christmas. We also heard from our winkle man that there is a cheque in the post on it's way to us for a good price for our winkles so that boosted morale all round. Presents are all wrapped with the exception of a last minute cuddly toy pig I am making for Scarlett (pink with black spots fluffy material being one of the items which arrived that I was not really expecting) to look like her favourite wee girl piglet we lost last week.

Davies and Scarlett spent the morning making and decorating gingerbread houses that had been bought for them by visiting friends a few weeks ago. I think it's the first time we've done them and they really enjoyed themselves and got very artistic and creative. Next year they are planning to construct something rather elaborate having worked out how the construction from panels works - there was talk of a gingerbread Kinloch Castle!

Tomorrow is our final festive film (we have watched one Christmas film a day since December 1st - advent DVDs), making Christmas stockings, a trip to the shop in the late afternoon for mulled wine and mince pies with fellow islanders and a final food shopping spree to spend the Christmas club money we have been paying in each week.

Merry Christmas to all our readers - we hope your festive celebrations are peaceful, filled with love, light, happiness and magic.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The wind blows right through you

I have talked before about how the changing of the seasons and the impact of nature is so much a part of our lives. It was only really when WWOOFing that we began to be in tune with the natural world and that connection has grown ever greater. This year particularly I have been more aware of the summer and winter solstice.

December has been a tough month for us so far, the weather has been unbelievably testing with relentless gales, pouring rain and short grey day following short grey day. In so many ways this winter has been easier than last year - we have our running water, our toilet, our log burner and decent stock of firewood. In other ways it has infinitely harder. I was poorly and here on Rum being ill is cause for concern - we don't have easy access to doctors or chemists. We have had animal losses which always hits hard. This time last year we had almost daily ground frosts and the croft was hard and mostly dry and crunchy underfoot. It was cold but crisp and clear. This year is it dark, grey, wet and muddy. We have seen more cancelled ferries in the last month than in the whole of the previous 20 months we've lived here.

However, it is the time of year to take stock, to be grateful for blessings and to think of others. In these darkest days we have been shown love, kindness, compassion and caring from the community on Rum, from our wider social circle of family and friends and being the 21st century we have had outpourings of loveliness from every corner of the internet too. We have had the Rum nativity, the Rum Christmas kids party (with special appearance from Santa, who I was lucky enough to go home with afterwards!) and carol singing. There has been mulled wine aplenty, mince pies and gingerbread, tinsel and fairy lights.

Tonight I wrapped all our Christmas presents (those that have arrived - we are still waiting for a few), tomorrow we will be making a few turkeys oven-ready and we are planning the last few days before Christmas to be filled with festive baking, some Christmas crafts and plenty of seasonal tunes.

The shortest day is almost over and as of tomorrow the sun will rise that bit earlier, set that bit later and maybe even start putting a bit more of an appearance.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Winkles, snowflakes and ferries

Despite much hysterical doom-mongering about ferries probably never running again we have had a ferry every scheduled day so far this week - there has been some disruption but all the people who wanted to get off have done and all the people who wanted to get here have done so.

Today was a particularly crucial ferry for us as the winkles were booked to leave Rum and head off to get the best possible price. So this morning we were down at the beach gathering them from the various stashed places to take them along to the pier. The back door on our car is stuck shut (obviously!) at the moment so we put the sacks on the bonnet and drove slowly, which is the only speed we have anyway... Once there we put all the sacks into a second sack for safety (the sacks are very thin and could easily have split, spilling winkles everywhere) and tagged them all before putting them on a pallet to be sent off on the boat. Good luck winkles on your onward journey, fingers crossed for a good price.

That done we were able to start getting ready for Christmas and what better way to start that by taking part in the Rum Primary nativity play?! We had been cast as snowflakes, so donning an eclectic selection of white or off white clothing (in short supply up here at Goddard Heights) including inside out T shirts, a borrowed fleece and my dressing gown complete with paper snowflakes dangling off the arms we swirled, twirled and blizzarded our way through our scene. Ady was also a myrrh bearing wise man so donned the obligatory tea towel secured with dressing gown cord on his head and presented baby Jesus with a tupperware box labelled accordingly. We had a festive sing song, drank some mulled wine and I walked home (slightly after the rest of the family as I stayed for another glass of mulled wine) singing Christmas carols at the top of my voice.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas....

Thursday, 19 December 2013


Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

My winkle buddy

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

I can't think of anyone I'd rather be on a windswept beach for hours in the bleak mid winter on our hands and knees scooping up tiny seasnails with!


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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

as big as marbles! They filled up the windows this afternoon

Trees down in the village

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

wind damage from last night, adding to the trees already down from the last few weeks.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Some context

I've posted, in reverse date order, a photo a month from 2013. They are not necessarily the best photo from that month or even depicting the highlight of that month but they do evoke a memory, tell a story or illustrate perfectly something Rum specific about our lives. Either a moment of great landscape natural beauty, a captured brush with wildlife, something amazing about the land on our croft, the freedom Davies and Scarlett have in our lives here, a celebration shared with the community of people here on Rum or one of the many amazing opportunities that have opened up to us since we moved here that we would not enjoy back in our old lives.

Winter challenges continue here - the replacement wind turbine arrived but it is as yet too windy to go up a ladder and install it. We have been winkle picking and done fairly well but forecasts are not good for ferries this week to get the winkles off of Rum to where they need to be to fetch the best prices. We lost our original cockerel Dave who was ailing anyway but we thought had turned a corner and pulled through. Most devastatingly we have lost two of our pigs - the two young girls. I think they are just too small and skinny to cope with the harsh cold wet winter we are having with constant relentless wind. I am very worried about their two brothers and even Tom and Barbara and we are trying to improve their housing to keep more of the weather out but as we know ourselves it is a tough world here.

As I write the wind continues to howl around outside, shaking the walls of the static, rattling the roof and making so much noise it is hard to hear the radio, to sleep, to carry out a conversation. But we are almost at the shortest day, almost at the turn of the year and with that will come the slow journey back towards spring and all of the rewards for these short dark weeks just now.

December 2013

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Scarlett is 11

November 2013

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

sparklers, bonfires and venison burgers

October 2013

SAM_7846 by nicgee
SAM_7846, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Front row seats for the red deer rut

September 2013

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Davies, a teenager.

August 2013

IMAG0694 by nicgee
IMAG0694, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Abundance in the polytunnel

July 2013

IMAG1528 by nicgee
IMAG1528, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

The Small Isles games, hosted by Rum, winners of the Tug O War

June 2013

swimming by nicgee
swimming, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

swimming in the river

May 2013

sheerwater by nicgee
sheerwater, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Family visit and the Sheerwater boat trips become a weekly adventure again.

May 2013

sheerwater by nicgee
sheerwater, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Family visit and the Sheerwater boat trips become a weekly adventure again.

April 2013

who cleaned da beach? by nicgee
who cleaned da beach?, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

We celebrate our first anniversary of living on Rum, take part in a community beach clean and our pigs have their first litter.

March 2013

IMAG0461 by nicgee
IMAG0461, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Many hands make light work - the polytunnel goes up with the help of members of the community and volunteers.

February 2013

SAM_6585 by nicgee
SAM_6585, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Pancake race craziness on Shrove Tuesday

January 2013

last ones standing by nicgee
last ones standing, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Burns Night - a fantastic communal meal, poems, singing, dancing, haggis, whisky...

Sunday, 15 December 2013


Another week flown by. Actually I slept quite a bit of it away as I was struck down on Monday afternoon with a rather violent bout of poorliness which had me pretty much bedridden until Thursday. The less said about the whole incident the better I think and fortunately it was contained to just me (so nothing contagious) and mostly contained to the bedroom but it meant our laundry pile was even more towering than usual.

Fortunately this was the week in which Ady build possibly the most remote laundrette in the UK - photo in a post below. Thanks to our friends Dave and Naomi who brought up a preloved washing machine, the use of more ex SNH galvanised metal sheets and a water butt which suffered wind damage last winter back when we drank rain water collected from our roof and has been kicking around waiting for new employment. It is as yet untested - we are still in the middle of a very, very windy few weeks so there is no way washing can be hung out on the line without being blown across to the mainland within minutes, plus we are rationing power due to waiting for both our replacement wind turbine and more cans of petrol for the generator to arrive - we've had several cancelled ferries and are expecting several more in the coming weeks looking at the long term weather forecast.

In other news we have finally found another contact for winkles and went out picking today - the first daylight low tide, but the wind meant even at low tide there was very little beach to pick from and Ady and I between us barely covered the bottom of a sack. We'll try again tomorrow but as the last boat to catch the lucrative Christmas market is Thursday and is looking as though that boat won't come we may end up not winkle picking this year after all. It is gutty work, only really tolerable for the large sums of money sacks of winkles realise this time of year, if that is uncertain then the gamble is just too high.

It's that challenging time of year again, I remember it from last year, when you tend to lurch from birthday to Christmas to Hogmany, to birthday to Burns Night to spring when it all becomes okay again and you swiftly forget these daylight limited weeks at the turn of the year. It would be easy to feel disheartened and introspective when the weather just keeps battering at you and your reserves are low. Fortunately thanks to the need to make Christmas presents I've been reviewing photos of the past year and reminding myself of what a fabulous year we have had, how lucky we are to live here and what a rich, diverse, opportunity laden life we lead. The wind this week has blown the polytunnel doors off, but I've been looking at pictures of it groaning with salad, strawberries, herbs and tomatoes and I know that the spring clean up of the croft will have everything back in it's rightful place again and ready to perform in the same way next year. I said several times during the long happy days of spring, summer and autumn that these would be the memories and adventures that got us through the dark days of winter and sure enough I am drawing on them now in the same way as the firewood carried up the hill and chopped earlier in the year is keeping me warm tonight.

Most remote laundrette in the UK?

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

O Christmas Tree

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Testing, testing, 123

Another memorable week. Filled with challenges - from nature, from people, from ourselves, from Rum. A week of highs, lows and everything inbetween.

A week in which I came to terms, amid some tears and some bracing walks out in the wild Rum weather kicking up leaves and lobbing a stick for Bonnie, of my own limitations. Thought hard about some stuff, talked it all over with Ady and cut loose a few of the burdens of voluntary responsibility which had been weighing far too heavy and having me feeling torn and not feeling as though I was giving anyone or anyhing my best. Not easy decisions but the feeling of relief now the dust has settled demonstrates to me that it was the right choice. I'd make a rubbish martyr so I won't even try and as my Dad often says 'graveyards are full of indispensable people'. I am only irreplaceable to a select handful of people and they are the ones who deserve all my time, energy and attention.

A week in which we had new friends visiting for their second trip to Rum with an eye on one day calling it home themselves. Tough to strike the balance between realistic portrayal, honest appraisal of the tough bits, doing full justice to showing off the amazing bits and ensuring our conscience is clear in ensuring they know just what life as an islander is like while still knowing that another family moving here would be fantastic, particularly ones with skills, dreams and enthusiasm like they have. Exciting to play even a tiny part in someone else's exciting journey.

A week which saw by far the most extreme weather we have witnessed since moving here. Winds that touched on the 100mph mark, tides so high that seaweed is cluttering pathways many metres from the usual tideline, electrical storms with spectacular lightning displays, hail so vicious I have tiny purple bruises on my legs still 3 days later after walking home in it wearing thick jeans. Snow, proper settled, blizzarding snow. It was the most scared I have ever been in our static - Ady stayed up pretty much all night, I stayed in bed with the duvet pulled up over my head as stuff fell off the shelf above the bed and rained down on me and the static shook like we were onboard an express train. The clock was taken down from the wall, emergency bags were packed and an evacuation plan was discussed and gone over in detail. Damage was amazingly very little - items fell from the shelving within the horse box, we lost the roofs off a couple of animal houses, the gate from the fruit cage and all four doors came off their hinges in the polytunnel. We did lose our wind turbine though - despite taking it down and doing what Ady hoped was a repair it is no longer working, probably burnt out. A replacement is on order and we will hopefully be operational with it before Christmas. We had a cancelled ferry which delayed various components for Scarlett's birthday celebrations but they all arrived today which just meant her birthday was stretched out a little instead.

As ever my respect for the forces of nature is strengthened and while it was a scary experience which once again had us questioning our sanity we are feeling incredibly fortunate to have gotten away with no serious damage, no injuries to ourselves or our animals. Many people are experiencing their own 'power cuts' just now just like us and at least we have a generator to give us back up power while we wait for a new wind turbine to arrive. Listening to the news from various corners of the UK we feel we once again got off lightly really in our brush with the elements.

A week in which our baby girl celebrated her 11th birthday. Double figures and beyond! Scarlett had a fabulous day, waking up to a fall of snow giving her her first 'white birthday'. A full birthday menu of all her favourite foods, a selection of yearned for presents and surprise gifts, home made and brought on the ferry from us, cards from friends and family and phonecalls and messages from those she wouldn't see in person. In the evening we took a triple layer birthday cake down to the village to share with friends and she was very spoilt with a HUGE selection of gifts and lots of people coming to sing Happy Birthday to her at the shop. A lovely special birthday for our lovely special girl.

A week of Christmas Fayres, selling Davies' cards, advent calendars, online Christmas shopping, planning pig and turkey despatch, venison processing, gathering articles for the community newsletter, discussing recruitment for staff for various island roles, community meetings, working at the post office, tidying up after the storm.

So that was our week. Some people probably have quieter years! Tomorrow we're off to choose a Christmas tree.

Calm between storms

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

birthday lunch

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.


Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

this goose is getting fat!

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

White birthday

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.


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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Cutting the cake

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

What time is love?

We've been watching Tudor Monastery Farm on the iplayer and really enjoying it.

Firstly it is filmed at the Weald and Downland Museum in Sussex, very near where we used to live. I went on school trips there myself as a child and we had family membership there for several years and attended various events throughout the year including Christmas Fayres, the 12 days of Christmas event over the festive period, the heavy horse shows and more. We saw a couple of plays there and the kids went along to several workshops including a Victorian Christmas where they made traditional decorations, cards and learnt about how Christmas was celebrated in the past and a breadmaking session where they learnt about making flour from the mill and baking it into bread. It's a fabulous place which we were very fortunate to live close to and make full use of over the years. So it's lovely to see it on TV being such a familiar place.

Secondly we have a lot of friends who participate in the Kentwell re-enactment events set in Tudor times. Although it has never appealed to us as something to do it is something many of our friends have got a huge amount from being part of and it always sounds like a fab day trip even if we are not keen to make our own costumes and live like Tudors for a couple of weeks....

Which brings me nicely to why I think we are most enjoying the BBC series, because actually I suspect a lot of the time we are living a bit like Tudors every day up here on our muddy hill! Tudors with many home comforts and access to BBC iplayer of course! We've picked up some great ideas from the series so far and are very keen to have a go at wattling (which we have done before on a trip to Butser Ancient Farm, another localish to us place back in our old lives which we visited several times for practical hands on history lessons) and make some brushes out of goose feathers. Mostly though I think we are enjoying the portrayal of life in Tudor times where folk worked hard, made merry and enjoyed socialising, drinking, dancing, singing and being with friends, everything had a purpose and plenty of ingenious skills were used, many of which seem sadly lost today.

In the most recent episode we have watched there is a church bell with a clockwork ringer to chime when it is time to pray. It is weighted so that the summer days and winter nights are longer than the summer nights and winter days to account for extended and reduced daylight according to the season. At a time when we have barely 6 hours of daylight in poor weather at this time of year, compared to 20 hours of daylight during the summer that strikes a real chord with us. 6pm in December and January is a very different time of day to 6pm in June or July.

The pictures below show some of what we're up to this week. The turkeys are in their final stages of fattening - we will definitely be enjoying one for our own Christmas dinner and are taking orders for preparing any more. We only have  3 more to sell really as we plan to keep one stag and all the hens for breeding / egg production next year so we have not widely advertised them. The geese, although fat, are not for eating at the moment, they are our grazers / lawn mowers and egg producers rather than meat. We have decided to dispatch our two young boy pigs fairly soon and have a tin bath on it's way to us for part of the process. Currently it all sounds rather like black magic and pagan sacrifice rituals but I'm sure it will all make sense in practice!

We've been busy sorting out produce for the Christmas Fayre this weekend - Davies has hand made Christmas cards, Scarlett has some festive home made candles, I have some scarves, some Christmas decorations and some sweets and chocolates.

My fruit trees, ordered way back in August or September finally went into their dormant state and were able to be dug up and shipped to me arriving this week. So today I braved the wind and planted them all out in the fruit cage. It is now fully stocked with 21 red, white and blackcurrants, 9 gooseberries bushes, 2 blueberry, 2 cranberry and a honey berry bush and 16 raspberry canes. Fingers crossed for a productive harvest in 2014. I need to repair the netting on the top between now and fruiting time as the turkeys tried to roost on top of it and fell through, tearing the cheap thin netting I had used but I have plenty of time to find a cheap option to do that with.

More wood collecting, splitting and stacking has been going on; we're trying to replenish what we burn each week so that if a very bad weather period came in, heaven forbid one of us got hurt or ill and was unable to carry wood up the hill or wield an axe then we would be okay for wood. Hopefully none of those happen and we just go into next winter with an excellent supply of well weathered firewood - either way we're on top of things and well prepared which is a nice feeling.

We've all been getting outside as often as possible to make the most of the limited daylight and but the days are noticeably shorter with every passing day and snuggling up inside the static with the logburner and a good book is one of the justifiable luxuries of this time of year.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Fat Geese

Like it or not the festive season is hurtling towards us. Before Christmas hits fully it's Scarlett's birthday and of course living here on Rum we are properly shielded from mainland Christmas craziness where there is tinsel in the shops from August!

We're feeling edgy about not having gotten hold of our contact from last year for winkle picking. He did tell us last year that he might not be doing it again and judging by the lack of response to several answerphone messages we've left that may be the case. Sadly we just don't have any other contacts and no real way of finding anyone else who might be prepared to collect winkles off the ferry if we send them off. That is a real shame as not only was the money we made going to kickstart our Shelter Fund I was actually looking forward to winkle picking again for a few weeks. We'll try a couple more times to get hold of Winkle Man and have put the word out that we are keen to pick but I suspect we may not do it this year. We had already started by the end of November last year.

Meanwhile we are doing various Christmas making activities - Scarlett has some fabulous sparkly candles and Davies' Christmas cards arrived in the post today, I have some crocheted decorations and will make some chocolates and sweets all for sale this weekend at the Christmas Fair on Sunday. It is also Ady and my turn to do Community Teashop so we'll have a festive theme with some seasonal food and drink on offer. We are all four in the nativity play and today I spent some time making a Christmas song playlist on my phone. Davies and Scarlett asked for advent calendars (Lego and Playmobil) from Granny and Grandad as Christmas presents to be given early and they arrived a few weeks ago and are stashed ready to come out this weekend.

After several very still days the wind came back today so we've enjoyed lots of power from the wind turbine - it felt very appropriate to watch Twister on dvd this evening! We have mostly been ensuring we get some fresh air and exercise every day when the weather is kind enough to be out in, keeping the animals fed and looked after and then coming back indoors to read, craft and listen to the radio.

And ooh, rather excitingly I have just learnt a new and very relevant word:
pluviophile -
A person who takes great joy and comfort in rainy days.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Adventures on Croft 3

Way too much of the deep stuff of late and not nearly enough of the frivilous, frippery, fluffiness. So what else have we been up to in and around the angsting about this time next year, this time last year and everything inbetween?

I made some home made Baileys. It's gorgeous. I admit to being a liqueur nightcap sort of woman and Baileys or Amaretto are my tipple of choice to do that warming from within before heading to the arctic end of the static. Except I've only ever really bought store own brand versions of both and that is not an option here on Rum where despite being a fabulously well stocked shop RumShop does not stock own brand of anything.

So I found recipes online for home made amaretto which I have been doing for months now and then it occurred to me that maybe Baileys-a-like can be made at home too and sure enough it can. And I had all the ingredients to do so. So I did, and it's lovely.

I've also been steeping some ginger in vodka for several weeks. I sampled a bit tonight and it's divine - sort of fiery vodka. I'm planning to keep half as ginger vodka and the other half to be a ginger liqueur by adding some syrup solution. I might even think about making a ginger cream liqueur - oh the possibilities!

But it's not just about the booze up here. I've also made some jars of preserved ginger and two massive jars of pickled onions. And our Christmas cake is being regularly fed with brandy and my mincemeat is looking and smelling divine ready to make the first batches of mince pies as soon as December arrives.

Craft wise I have been mightily distracted by my patchwork fleece which is about half covered in autumn shade rectangles. It will be gorgeous when it is done but is very time consuming. I am torn between wanting to do that and nothing else so that I finish it in time to get some wear out of it this winter and knowing that there are other crafty makes I should be getting on with to top up supplies of home made items for sale next year.

Davies ordered his Christmas cards today - he's invested about half of his postcard profits from this year in a design of Rum Christmas cards. I've already bought some of him to send to family and friends and am confident he will sell out. We looked at speculating to accumulate, investing in stockholding, pricing to sell vs pricing to make most money and debated quality vs price. He's going for high end - that boy has luxury taste in card finishes!

Much excitement here last night when Ady popped his head out of the static and called us all to come and look at the snow. SNOW!!!! We love snow. It then gave way to heavy hail but when we all went to bed it was snowing again and this morning Rum was even prettier than usual with a heavy dose of frosting on top.

It's all of our animals first experience of the white stuff as although we saw snow on Rum last winter it was only on the higher peaks and never made it as low as the croft.

They all seemed fine with it. Meanwhile Davies and Scarlett did what any self respecting children do when snow falls overnight - wake up early, shriek, put on warm clothes and go outside to play in it until tingly fingers, rosy cheeks and pink noses drove them back indoors for hot chocolate.

They walked down to the village while Ady and I listened to Popmaster and we caught them up in the car to meet the ferry.

Lots of Rum folk were bemoaning the cold but either we are rough tough crofter types these days or the no sense no feeling idea has finally kicked in because we are staying toasty warm indoors with our log burner. We've stopped measuring the wind in mph and moved to watts generated from the wind turbine.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Rum Hacks

If you google the term 'life hacks' you will turn up pages of tips for making life easier. Some are not relevant to most people, some are geographically specific but many are the sort of useful little ideas that make your day that little bit more straightforward.

Permaculture appeals to me because it works a bit like that, it just makes sense, falls into place and all rubs along really well together. It's about making the most of what you've got, finding the easier path and living alongside what already exists wherever possible.

We are always looking for ways here to make our life that wee bit easier, find the positives and make the most of what we've got. One of our biggest expenses and faffs each week is the laundry. Back in mainland land we would have the washing machine going most days and getting the washing done was a constant concern while we were WWOOFing.

We have way less washing these days, mostly because we have way less clothes and way less reasons to wear anything other than jeans. No weekly swimming lessons, different uniforms for Badgers, Beavers,Rainbows, Sea Scouts. We all wear wellies more or less all of the time and given the first time you step outside the front door of the static you are going to get mud splatters up your legs you tend to only change your jeans because they smell or because you have actually fallen over and got properly muddy. But there is still a good couple of (laundrette sized) loads every week to do and getting it down to the village a mile away, through the washing machine and tumble drier and back up to the croft again can write off most of a whole day every week, or at least mean you are walking down to the village and back multiple times to swap loads between washer and dryer, not to mention the cost (£2.50 per load to wash, about £3.00 per load to dry).

Last week I fell over, baoth knees, in the mud. I happened to be on my way to swap over laundry so in the style of that old Levi ad I stripped off the dirty jeans and bunged them in the wash and put on a pair of clean ones fresh out of the dryer. Except they didn't actually get very clean. So I brought them back up and stuck them on the washing line where they spent the next five days getting rained on, hailed on and blown about in the wind. Today they were clean, rinsed and almost dry so we bought them in to air infront of the log burner. Which gave us the idea that instead of taking the full basket down to process for the best part of £20 we seperated it out. The pants, socks, t shirts, pyjamas have all been handwashed in the shower and then hung on the line for a final rinse, the stuff like jeans and jumpers which require more of a freshen than an actual wash have just been hung straight out on the line.

I still yearn for a washing machine and one day soon might even have one, but for now this feels a lot less hassle than slipping down the muddy hill with a load of laundry.

Master Plan

There is a definite pattern emerging to this blog I think - during the spring and summer it was all doing posts - exciting things we'd seen, done, experienced. People who had visited and new leaps forward we'd made. During the winter it is clearly a time for taking stock, evaluating, thinking and planning. I was watching something earlier on iplayer which talked about the Four Seasons In Farming and it is true, I have mentioned before how much we feel the seasons here.

Many years ago I used to have a Plan, a two year plan, a five year plan, a list of things I wanted to do before I was 30. In about six weeks time I will turn 40, a bit of a landmark birthday. A few months after that Ady will turn 50, another landmark birthday. Our son turned 13 this year, Ady and I celebrated 20 years together. This week marked the two year anniversary of the first time we ever came to Rum. Lots of milestones. Many opportunities to take stock, to mark time, to measure where we are against where we thought, hoped, dreamed, planned we might be.

So where are we? Hard to say really given how many times Ady and I have moved our goalposts about in the last 20 years.... once upon a time we were planning to be mortgage free by now, maybe considering early retirement and doing some traveling. I guess we sort of achieved that in a much as we are no longer paying a mortgage, we don't work for anyone other than ourselves any more and we spent a whole year traveling the UK. Except I never thought I'd be waking up on the morning of my 40th birthday in a damp static caravan so I don't think too much self congratulation on meeting that particular goal is in order.

Let's get a bit more up to date with our life plans then - when we left Sussex in search of somewhere different to settle we had a fairly clear wish list; somewhere beautiful - tick, somewhere with a sense of community - tick, somewhere with space enough to grow food, keep livestock, not look out of every window and see a different neighbour - tick, tick, tick. We wanted to be lower impact and maybe even off grid - tick with both although the low impact is a tricky one, for all our personal green credentials we are still far from self sufficient and our geographic locations means we have a way larger carbon footprint than I'd like. Our food travels a long old way to reach us, I can no longer make ethical choices about a lot of my shopping and my preference for local seasonal food is massively compromised. We might not personally travel a lot of miles but a lot of miles are traveled in our name both in family and friends visiting and in the deliveries that come with our address on them by land and sea.

One of the ways in which Ady and I, and latterly Davies and Scarlett too, have always evaluated our current situation is to think about what we'd do instead if we weren't doing this. It's the way we shaped the educational path we have trodden with the children, jobs Ady and I have taken and how we quite literally picked our route back in 2011. We try on different scenarios to see if they'd be a better fit, discuss how we might make things work and how that might feel. We look at what we could be doing better and work out ways in which we can make that happen. We test how we'd feel if we stopped doing what we're doing now to experiment with whether this is right. Not sure whether to apply for that job? Think about how you'd feel after the closing date if you didn't apply? Relieved it's now passed and you don't have it hanging over you or kicking yourself at a potential missed opportunity?

This has been an amazing, challenging, learning experience. It has ticked every box and offered opportunities we didn't even imagine might present themselves. We are so proud of all we have achieved here and every single day we are reminded of another new reason why we are so lucky to be doing this. Whenever we re-evaluate we remain sure that for now this is the right place for us to be and there is nowhere and nothing else we would rather be investing our time, energy and lives in.

But it is time to recognise the shortcomings and downfalls of our current situation and the areas that need improving. We need to face the things that we find hard and find solutions and answers to making them better. Maybe not a Master Plan but a new wish list, a new sheet of boxes to tick, a chance to shape what my introspective blogpost for this time next year might be celebrating!

First on our list is a better shelter - not necessarily a Forever Home just yet, we recognise we are still honing that vision and learning the necessary skills to build it. But something that ticks the following boxes:
  • Bigger - we need more indoor space. We need room enough for a bath - we all miss baths. We have our long days working outside making our muscles ache or doing things in the cold and rain and feeling chilled to the bone. Water is no problem here, even hot water is no problem here but we simply don't have enough space in the static for a bath and we all want one. Davies and Scarlett need bigger bedrooms - they need enough room to have friend to come and stay in their rooms, to have all their stuff out where they can get to it all the time, space to spread out and make their own. We really want a washing machine in our house rather than a mile away in the village and somewhere indoors to dry wet things.
  • More weatherproof against Rum elements - we need a shelter which is not such a daunting place to be when the wind blows. Somewhere that the roof is sound, the doors don't whistle, the walls don't flex and you feel as though you have left the outside outside. We need better insulation so that the instant you stop burning firewood the temperature does not plummet and somewhere that the windows and walls don't run with condensation and things kept in cupboards don't go moldy.
Next on our list is more people:
  • More visitors - more family and friends to stay with us, more trips off to stay with them. We miss people. 40 people in Rum is plenty of people to have relationships with, learn from, interact with, spend time together, social with. But we lack like minded people - our family who love us simply for being us, our friends who are fellow Home Educators, people who share our passions, interests and ideas. We used to spend most of our time with people who were like us, sometimes it's hard being a minority within a minority! 
  • More new friends - we have to be very realistic about the possibilities of more people moving to Rum. There have been new people move here even in the short time we have been here and it is very exciting and we hope for more in the coming months and years. There are regular influxes of tourists and other short term visitors and we enjoy meeting them, talking to them and sharing stories with people. 
  • More help! We always planned to be WWOOF hosts, both to give back some of what we gained from our WWOOFing experience, to share our land and our island with others and to get some help with the many tasks on the croft - to get assistance with chopping wood, carrying things up the hill, feeding and tending to the animals, planting and harvesting crops.  
Third on our list is getting closer to our idelogies in low impact and self sufficient living:
  • We want to grow more crops next year - we are learning about what does and doesn't grow here and last year was a great experiment with the polytunnel and the raised beds. This coming season we are hoping for some abundance in crops and are planning in more detail what we grow. We are intending to grow some crops for animal feed, more herbs, more crops that can be sold, stored and turned into value added produce such as soft fruits for jam.
  • We have a couple more experimental poultry plans and I am still hankering after goats but it is our intention within the next year to be close to self sufficient in meat, along with Rum venison of course. Our pigs and poultry, along with some time spent fishing and our own eggs should mean our protein needs are all met here on Rum - that would be a massive leap forward in terms of our animal welfare philosophies, our food miles and of course our shopping bill.
Finally we want to carry on with our learning adventures, continue gathering new skills, new ideas and increasing our knowledge. We're looking at training courses, ways to learn more from our fellow islanders and others within our local community and to swap skills with visitors and WWOOFers too.

The first step to all of these plans is the shelter. In moving out of the static we would free it up to house WWOOFers  and other visitors, it would mean we could arrange croft sitters to enable us to get away to visit family and friends or go for training. If we had more space we could have more people to stay with us more often. More people mean more hands to make the crop growing and livestock tending easier to do.

We have a few ideas of low cost shelters that might tick all of those boxes and are doing research into various options with a view to ticking that off our list as soon as we can. More on that as we firm up our plans. It feels good to have a bit of direction other than the one the wind is blowing in.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the positives

Last year I had in my head a vision of what the winter would be like. I scoffed at all the people (oh so many people) who sneered at us 'well you've not done a winter yet' during the summer of 2012 when we were filled with fresh new optimism and the first flush of love for Rum. I knew that winter here would be like winter anywhere. We'd wear more clothes, go outside less, sleep more.

In some ways we were over prepared last winter - we stocked up massively on tinned goods in anticipation of cancelled ferries, we had four gas bottles up the hill plus we'd bought a portable gas heater too. In so many other ways we had not anticipated lots of the challenges we'd face at all.

On New Years Day 2013 Ady and I climbed the hill behind the croft and stood looking down on our land, our home and the sum total of all we'd achieved since we arrived on Rum. It was the things we saw missing which shaped some of what we have worked hard to make happen this year and which mean that despite going into a second winter still in temporary accommodation we are a million times more set up and ready to face it this year than we were last year.

Last year we began the winter with gas fires, briefly warm but very fume-y and creators of even more condensation. This year we are keeping our wee log burner going 18 hours a day burning the wood we spent August and September up the hill, split and into our log store we built next to the static. We could probably be frugal and survive on the wood we already have but we are instead continuing to collect, carry up and split wood whenever the river is low enough to get the car across thanks to our wagon, new axe, dry space to store it and system of staying on top of things. Massive leap forward. We're warm, condensation is reduced, it's way lower cost than burning gas. We've just bought a stove top fan to direct some of the heat further throughout the static too to see if we can reduce the damp and condensation further. We also use the log burner to cook on whenever possible, prove bread dough, dry out wet clothes and bring bedding into the lounge each morning to air through out of the damper bedrooms.

Last year we spent a lot of time carrying leisure batteries down to the village to charge them up so we could use the water pump and lighting in the static. We burnt candles for light or used battery lanterns and relied heavily on our petrol generator for power to charge up batteries, phones, laptop, run the internet for an hour or so a day and have better electric lighting to cook dinner by. This year we have two large solar panels which are still generating charge during the 6 hours or so of daylight each day plus our wind turbine. We have internet on all day, are able to charge everything up, have lights on whenever we need them and not have to ration showers or washing up for fear of running down the water pump battery. We still have our generator as a back up for the (rare) still days but today we spent the whole day listening to radio, watching films and catching up online thanks to the power of the wind.

Last year we were still collecting water from the river in 20litre jerry cans daily. This was actually quite a dangerous business when the river was running high and while Ady built up very fine arm muscles carrying 40l of water twice a day I could only manage two half full containers and it meant showers, washing and even cooking things like rice and pasta were all done very cautiously for want of not wasting a drop. Now we are 'plumbed in' to the river with buried pipe and have a header tank to ensure decent water pressure even when the river runs low, there is no more recycling the water from last nights hot water bottles to use it again and filling the kettle with bits of green rubber!

Last year we were using two camping toilets in our bathroom and then digging a hole twice a week to bury our waste. This year we have the compost loo in the horse box which requires minimal maintenance plus a camping loo for wees and an emergency luggable loo which is a cinch to tip into the compost loo the next morning if a late night need to use it has arisen.

Other small logistical steps forward have been made - we bulk buy various things, have a freezer down in the village and an insulated cool box just outside our front door to overspill from the wee fridge, we are smarter about cooking condensation producing foods earlier in the day, we know that opening every window every day should be done whenever possible.

We are still more at the mercy of the elements than we have ever been before, I am going to reinstate the emergency clothes bag packed incase we need to evacuate in a hurry. The static is not weatherproof in terms of us being confident it can stand up to the wind and rain that Rum chucks at it or in terms of keeping all the weather on the outside rather than letting some of it in. We are far from cocky or self congratulatory or thinking that we have conquered this harsh land but a day like today when we felt cosy, warm and with many luxuries around us is a welcome reminder of how far we have come and the positives we can lay claim to.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Colours of Rum

The temperature has plummeted and it's hot water bottles all the way, we've not had many frosts but the frequent hail showers are not really melting so there is plenty of crunchy stuff underfoot. There is plenty of wet stuff too of course, just this afternoon I slipped over in the mud!

But as you can see from the photos that follow this post we have been getting some gorgeous sunshiny bits between the hail showers and it's a beautiful time of year. There is snow on all the peaks now - of Rum and of the higher peaks we can see across on the mainland, every window of the static shows a different postcard worthy scene, every direction on the croft holds another stunning view.

Meanwhile, when not standing and drinking in those views we have been busy making the most of the dry spells. We've spent this weekend moving the pigs, getting more wood up the hill and chopping and stacking it.

Home sweet home

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Autumn going into winter

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Autumn going into winter

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Autumn going into winter

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Autumn going into winter

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Here comes the sun(rise)

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Autumn going into winter

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Scarlett and Rudolph

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

This is Scarlett's favourite turkey - we're keeping him to breed from. He's been called Rudolph and she has trained him to do tricks like jump to to take pig nuts from her hand. He follows her around everywhere.