Sunday, 29 September 2013

The business of busyness

A mad busy week - again.

There was lots of Rum stuff happening - venison company emails to deal with, community bunkhouse update meetings, a full board meeting of the Rum Community Trust, a liaison meeting with SNH, an evening event with the chairman of SNH coming over to visit. Lots of walking up and down to the village with my notepad, talking in meetings, agonising over representing people while doing what I believe is best for everyone and trying to strike a balance between saying what I feel and not simply being gobby. Most of the time I think I managed it!

Two dinner invites this week too - one with a bath included, bliss.

A day of trekking up and down getting washing processed. Collecting firewood from down in the village, getting the car as far up the hill as we can and bringing it on our backs the rest of the way. Hours of chopping wood into log burner sized pieces and lots of kindling. We're one pallet to the roof in the woodstore now, three sacks of kindling and reckon we have a full months supply of firewood ready to go. We're planning the same again times 3 over the coming weeks but know it will only get tougher to get it up the hill.

Many, many brambles picked. Another 8 jars of jam made today and a large amount of brambles stashed in the freezer. They are in their final weeks now though so we're out picking for an hour a day at least to ensure we have a good supply - it's these which will be our jam fodder for next tourist season and our own jam supply for the coming year. Free food and free resources for making money.

Interesting conversations with Davies and Scarlett - about communities, responsibilities, internet security and safety, about money, about what makes somewhere home.

The stags are roaring; the rut has begun.

We have a convalescing duck who got on the head at feeding frenzy o'clock and is struggling to walk. She is definitely getting better rather than worse  but we've learned a lesson about about leaving all the birds to fight over the food. We have a lot of birds these days - we're doing well in eggs still for now. The geese still show no sign of ganders among their number, the turkeys are fattening well but are so destructive and always come up to the static at night to roost. Tonight they are all perched on the horse box wobbling about and being noisy. The pigs are happy in their current spot and we are planning the dates for when the piglets become pork and quite how we go about all the logistics for it.

We're impatiently awaiting the wind turbine arriving and looking forward to the wind blowing in a constructive rather than destructive way for us.

Feeding frenzy

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Winter readying

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Old skool fun

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kids with wagon

Sunday, 22 September 2013

But the wolf's just a puppy and the door's double locked...

The weather is gearing up for winter here on Rum. We keep hearing whispers of an indian summer or one last barbecue weekend but the whispers get drowned out by the rain drumming on the roof and the wind whistling through the gaps in the windows.

We've had an extreme return to the wild weather that Rum can bring already with the river bursting it's banks spectacularly last week and washing away more of the trail than I'd seen before. There is a footbridge crossing the river down along from the bottom of our croft and I'd heard tell of times when the river rises over the bridge but have yet to see it myself. I can imagine it now though, back when I moved here last year and was told about it I didn't actually believe it. The river is changing course, large chunks of the river bank get eroded away when the river is in spate, this last time a large chunk of river bed got washed down the river and ended up near the bottom of the croft. That worries me a little as our croft line follows the river, if it change course too much we may end up with the river running through the croft! I guess that would be good for hydro power but might mean the nature trail needs severely re-routing!

There has been some high winds too - the straps keeping the roof on have been vibrating and making their noises, the walls have been flexing and things have been moving about. It wasn't even very windy today but I set down a 4 pint container of milk on the sporran it blew over reminding me that wind here is a whole different beast to what we used to encounter down in Sussex. The very notion that anything might get blown away down there was laughable, here it is a fact of life.

In the last few weeks while all has been quiet on the blogging front we've been busy. I've cleared the polytunnel, feeding failed crops and leftover bits to the pigs and emptying containers ready for the next batch of sowing. I have put about 40 strawberry plant runners in to the ground directly ready for next year. We'll see how they do in the soil here and the wet but at least they'll not need watering and they cost me nothing coming from the 18 small plants I bought off ebay at the start of this year for under a tenner.

Ady and our visiting friend J dug a v shaped trench at the top of the polytunnel to help with drainage. We need to make a path up through the middle as it is very boggy so that is a job still on the list of things to do.

We've moved the pigs to a smaller area than they had been on before. It includes some trees which they are enjoying the coverage from. I've been reading about mob grazing for sheep and cattle recently and have decided to try it as an idea for the pigs. The idea being that you graze the animals on a smaller area for a shorter time which leads to a total grazing of roots and all for the ground before moving them on. In sheep and cattle it replicates natural behaviour where fear of predators and need for communal shelter keeps grazers in a tight grouping. It is a more labour intensive method as it requires moving animals on more frequently but may work well for us where ground conditioning is a big part of our pigkeeping plan and leaving them on a larger area for longer means lots of rushes left behind and very little else. We're hoping to be down to 4 or maybe 5 pigs within the not too distant future too as the two wee boy pigs will be fattened for eating so working out how that will work is next on the pig planning agenda.

I've removed the netting from the crops I planted out in my raised beds. They failed, I assume due to the weather. The netting was all wind blown so a better method of protecting them from our birds needs investigating for next year. I will get down to weeding them and maybe putting some seaweed on to overwinter the beds and help condition the soil is also on my to do list. There are tatties in two of the beds ready to dig out but for now we are letting the birds rummage over the beds and do a spot of weeding for us.

We've brought up more firewood and I've split it. I'd like to have more wood split and seasoning to feel properly ready for the winter given we have already started having the log burner lit most evenings for an hour or two but we are keeping up with replacing what we're using at the moment at least.

We have invested in a small wind turbine, it should arrive in the coming week. I'll blog about it when it does and write a bit about how and whether it works for us.

Davies became a teenager. I am happy to report that other than being incapable of getting out of bed before 10am which has been the case for a while already he is showing no other signs of changing. He had a fabulous day, was fortunate to have visiting grandparents present, ate his choice of favourite foods for the day including cinnamon rolls for breakfast, pizza for lunch, Rum venison steak and chips for dinner, shared his quadruple layer birthday cake with a large crowd at the shop, was lavished with gifts from various corners, took delivery of post from family and friends wishing birthday felicitations, had two questions dedicated to him in the quiz which took place that evening in the community hall and was sung happy birthday to twice. He reckons being a teenager is not too bad at all so far... :)

We attended a storytelling walk and workshop yesterday with Tim and Malcolm who were here performing their play Shearwater. It was a fab morning of storytelling, music making, poetry, art and creativity with lots of laughter, learning and just enjoying the world around us. We made music together from found objects on the beach, wrote a poem from the point of view of something we collected from the shore, listened to a story in several parts and created art from beachcombed treasures. Magical :)

We went back to watch the actual play in our village hall in the evening and then Tim and Malcolm joined the community for our Blasda festival today - a celebration of local food and harvest time with a bring and share lunch. 25 people attended and we had a groaning table of food with soup, frittata, home made bread rolls, quiche, potato salad, venison in three incarnations (stuffed marrow, chilli and stew) herbed potatoes, cabbage, desserts including bramble crumble and goose egg custard, whisky pudding and a bramble inclusive cranachan. Tim struck up the accordian afterwards and the children danced, another visitor kept time on the guitar and various residents played spoons, tables, hand claps and foot taps to join in. Very special.

We've been trying to prepare inside for the winter too, moving things from cupboards where mold grows and airing bedding daily. The things which caught us out last year are at least known issues this coming winter and we can take steps towards prevention and staying on top of things. It won't be easy but at least we know what we're dealing with.

In the meantime the weather forecast for the coming week is almost cheerful so plenty of bramble picking and getting our full of vitamin D is in order.

I think it weighed more than she did!

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Having a go

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Bring on the blasda!

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awaiting diners

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Rum food festival

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Saturday, 21 September 2013

Scarlett,beachcomber of treasures

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Davies, a poet

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

I am a rock.
I have been loved and have been looked at by more than you could know.
I know you know me as a rock but I am so much more.
I sing a song of more like me.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Wallowing is for hippos

As in mud, mud, glorious mud :)

Until I moved to Rum I would never have attributed a personality to a place I don't think, let alone allowed a place to have control over things. Here on Rum though we all seem to accept there are Rum Fairies, Rum Trolls, that Rum accepts or rejects you. Helps you, tests you, chews you up, spits you out...

Now I live here I do find myself mentally talking to Rum, striking deals, asking favours, believing in Rum gods.

I suspect like all gods, Rum is personal to you and who you are. Our Rum is cruel to be kind. It tests us to ensure this is really, really where we want to be. Pushes us to our limits and then when we almost but not quite hit the point of deciding it's all too much the wind changes and the clouds are blown away again. I think I have said to everyone who has visited us here that every time I question what we're doing and why we're doing it I look out of our windows or step out of our front door, look at that view and remember that that's why. Every single day something here makes my heart sing.

Sometimes it is simply the sun breaking through the clouds over one of the mountains here. Sometimes it is looking back at my wood shed part filled with logs for the coming winter. Today it has been the meaningful look that at least three fellow islanders have given me when they asked 'you okay?'.

A bigger part of knowing we are where we belong was on Saturday though when Davies celebrated his birthday and turned 13. A teenager! Two weeks ago he made a poster to put at the shop to invite everyone to come and share his birthday cake with him. Scarlett made a card and left it at the shop for islanders to sign. My parents were here to celebrate with us and so after a day with family eating all his favourite foods and enjoying his presents from us including cards and gifts sent from family and friends we headed down to the village.

Lots of people came out to sing Happy Birthday and eat cake, his card had not an empty inch of space left as so many people had signed it. He was presented with gifts from various islanders and a huge wrapped gift signed by about half the folk here which was two large Lego sets. To say he was delighted would be an understatement. He then got various other so very personal and well thought out gifts from people here. Gifts that cost more than money, gifts that demonstrate how very well known he is by people here who have taken the time and trouble to get to know our children, to understand them and put time, love and effort into coming up with gifts that are bringing tears to my eye once again just in thinking about them.

It was a fundraising quiz event on Saturday evening so we headed to the village hall to participate in that. There were two quiz questions in honour of Davies and his birthday and at the end all the participants sang Happy Birthday to him. It was a very late dinner of Davies's favourite Rum venison steak and chips but it was a magical day for him and one that will stay in all our hearts and memories for a long time to come.

I believe that these are the moments which matter, the memories that count. The mud is only good for facepacks.

Happy Birthday Davies

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wood shed

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Croft 3

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Travel sickness

I wholeheartedly believe that life is about the journey not the destination.

I think you should live for the here and now rather than focus on what might come or what has been before.

I know that were this to have been my last day I would rather have spent it meaningfully, purposefully, with a point, to the full rather than chasing some dream off in the future.

That doesn't mean that every so often we don't need to pull into a layby and stop to eat a ginger biscuit because we're going too fast and too bumpy.

Or that sometimes we get bored of the traffic jam and the feeling that it's all going just a bit too slow.

And that at times the diversion we have been sent on beyond our control leads us in a direction we didn't particularly intend to go, want to see or have any interest in seeing the scenery of.

So there we were, thinking we knew where we were going with a map plotted with all sorts of interesting things to see along the way and suddenly the destination is a bit unclear. And if the destination is unclear, well it could mean the journey is in the wrong direction. Or pointless. And that traffic could be something you don't even need to sit out, you could just take the next available exit, head off on a different junction and see where that A road takes you. Or hitchhike to wherever the person that picks you up is headed. Or catch the next bus, or get a skateboard, or continue for a bit on foot. You'd see different things travelling at a different pace, meet different fellow travellers.

Or you could just stop.

That's the thing about journeys rather than destinations. They can meander and take the scenic route or they can just faff about and delay you in getting where you are supposed to be.

It's been a busy month for us. Unsettling in many ways. The trip to the mainland is never something we enjoy. It is always expensive, stressful, rushed. I takes us back to a life we gladly left behind and do not hanker after at all. The best part of leaving Rum is always the coming back again.

Visitors are a blessing - we adore seeing family and friends, welcoming them to our world, seeing our island through their eyes. It means so much that people travel their own journey to visit us and spend time here with us. But sharing our space is hard. The added work in having people here in our home, sometimes in our beds, feeling responsible for more people, feeding more mouths, worrying about what time we eat dinner, whether we are being good enough hosts is a challenge. On a practical level ensuring we have enough of everything from milk to loo roll to apples which need to be ordered a week in advance adds a whole new level to planning ahead and anticipating needs I am unfamiliar with.

It is of course worth it to have people here but I always underestimate the headspace required to have people staying when they are so very reliant on us to make life work for them while they are here given our very unique living arrangements and the fact that guests are always 'on holiday' while we are aiming not just to give them a holiday but also to carry on as best we can with our daily lives and our usual routines.

So we have drawn to the end of our second tourist season and are winding down and preparing for the winter. We don't expect any further guests and are preparing for the more insular, introspective months ahead where the four of us retreat to our family cocoon and hatch plans for the next bit of our journey.

It's been a time of knocks for us in some ways. Our house didn't sell, our half made plans to build a cabin as a more permanent temporary dwelling while we build a slow house have been halted and we've learnt some hard lessons about livestock and crops. The polytunnel became somewhere it was impossible to spend time in during July and August as it was Midge Hell. That meant previously lovingly tended crops were all but abandoned and productivity halted. Promising saplings that were planted out were either blown about by the harsh Rum winds, drowned by the constant Rum damp or attacked by the hungry Rum wildlife and Croft livestock. My raised beds have suffered winds blowing down the netting, been feasted on by geese and trampled by chickens. My herb spiral fell prey to a mouse which was chased off by Bonnie and has been comprehensively 'pruned' by the turkeys. My willow fence has been consumed by deer who pushed through it and pooed nearby for good measure. The crows took chicks and ducklings and young turkeys. Our own inexperience helped by rats or crows or both took nearly half our litter of piglets. This is a life in which you need resilience, inner strength, reserves of confidence and the ability to roll with the punches and come back ready for more. One where the victories of today cannot be celebrated too loudly or with much smugness for they may be snatched back away at any moment.

Our journey has leaves on the line, cancelled connections, closed roads, missed flights and dense fog blocking the view.

Today after all our guests had gone and Ady and I were able to catch our breath and have a chat with Davies and Scarlett. We wanted to check once again that everyone is happy to stick out another winter in the static, to carry on working to make this dream work rather than think about changing direction and coming up with a new one. Both the children cried at the thought of leaving Rum. Actually so did I. Much though I don't want to see my children cry it helps to know that we are living through tough times for the right reasons.

So we're making plans to take things further forward here, to make this work better for us and progress and seize back some control. To take us back one last time to our journey metaphors we are putting ourselves back in the driving seat again and are not planning on being passengers.

Expect more proper posts and less of the cryptic ones very soon, we're consulting our map and will be back with you again just as soon as we've worked out the next leg of the trip.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Worth fighting for

A long time ago a friend and I had a conversation about what we'd be prepared to kill for and what we'd be prepared to die for. I have to say it is a fairly short list for me on both counts. But I have a longer list of things that I am prepared to fight for. And when I fight I do it properly, throwing every single resource I have at it until I come out bloodied, bruised but victorious.

I'll never forget the dismay I felt during a conversation with Ady about five years ago when he told me we would just have to accept something I felt very passionate about and vehemently disagreed with. We don't argue often but this was one occasion when our views were polar opposites and I insisted that I would never just shut up and put up and would march and carry banners and shout from rooftops and throw everything I had at protesting and fighting my corner. Now when I suggest I am taking a fight on he knows better and stands in my corner with me cheering and supporting because he knows I am not one for giving up easily.

At the end of our first winter here on Rum we had some very frank family discussions about whether this was the right place for us. Sure it is beautiful and has amazing views, stunning wildlife and breathtaking scenery. Yes it ticks all the boxes for adventurous, pioneering types such as us wanting to stamp our name on our world and make our mark and shape our future. Certainly it allows us autonomy and freedom in our lives to make up our own rules, be masters of our own destiny, channel our energies into the things that really matter without getting sidetracked by meaningless things. Of course it answers our dream to live off grid, outside of the system, be self sufficient, keep lifestock, have land, grow food.

But were the hard bits too hard? Do the challenges of a six month long winter knock you so far back that you merely spend the other half of the year putting yourself back together again only to face the same wall once more? Are we too old, too financially handcuffed, too idealistic to make this really work for us. Have we left it too late in life? Is Rum just a step too far down the path marked 'crazy'? Are we blindly ignoring all those signs urging us to reconsider? Did our house not selling mean we should think about moving back to it? Is every challenge here a reminder that we could just choose the easier path and settle for something a little less... extreme?

When we talked about it in the spring the answer was a resounding No! All four of us want to stay here, make this work, carry on building our life here. The other three all did a fine job of persuading me that for their own individual reasons they all want to be here more than anywhere else in the world. And given we did see at least a fair chunk of the UK in 2011 and talked lots about whether we would want to settle in various places I think even Davies and Scarlett can speak with some authority about what they want. So back then I promised to fight for this. To throw everything I have at it, pull out all the stops, call on all my resources.

This year has not panned out how I'd have hoped at the start of the year. I wanted to have sold our house and started building one here. I wanted to be moving our stuff out of the static and into something more permanent, more secure, more Rum-proof by now. Instead we are spending time looking at ways to make the static last another winter.

I may have had doubts about now as the weather closes in, the nights draw in, the winds get up, the torches come out and the tourists huddle with worried expressions about the whether the ferry will come to take them away. But I look at my happy family, still secure and confident that this is home, where they belong. I look back at a week during which we have had two sets of friends up to the croft for dinner and been down to the village twice for dinner with friends down there along with cups of tea, crochet afternoons and general hanging out at a further three different friends. I stand at that ferry with those worried tourists and talk to my co-director of the venison company about the steaks we are sending off to other islands, laugh with the castle manager about shared in-jokes, have one fellow islander pull over with a car full of people as Ady and I walk to the pier and offer to take our empty jerry can and another pull over to offer us a lift. As we walked home to the croft picking brambles to turn into jam when we got home and watching the river running high,all the temporary waterfalls that are created down the hillsides when it rains, the way the landscape is changing from green to purple now that the heather, thistle and devils bit scabious is in bloom.

And then I had messages from both the families who visited us last week telling us how they fell in love with Rum, spotted the magic and felt the pull.

This life, our's worth fighting for.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Seasonal September

The log burner is lit and the wind is howling once more. Last night as we snuggled down in bed it was to the sounds of the static walls flexing and the roof rattling.

Back in January on our darkest day Ady and I decided we needed to make a proper decision at the seasons' worst on what happened in the coming year. We decided that we could not do another winter in the static.

Yet here we sit, making plans to do just that. So what happened?

Our house didn't sell. It was on the market from January through to May and there was just no interest. It's a nice house; Ady and I bought it when we had been together just six months way back in 1994. It was home to us for all those years, through being newly weds, new parents, learning how to be grown ups. We extended it from a bungalow to a house, returned to it after 3 years away living in Manchester and again after our year in a campervan. But it's no longer our home and while we will always remember that address fondly, we will never live there again.

While it always rents out well it simply didn't sell and after six months on the market with a mortgage to pay we were forced to put it back on the rental market again so that it is breaking even rather than costing us money. Which leaves us in the uncomfortable position of having our money tied up in one property and not available to invest in building another.

Logistics of building anything here on Rum - even a sandcastle - are tough. The weather, the climate, the access to materials, the various designations on the land from SSSI to NNR all contribute to making things very hard indeed. Add into the mix our own unique location within that rather inaccessible remote island to two miles inland along dodgy tracks with no connection to amenities or utilities and you end up with the sort of project that would prove testing even with unlimited funds and plain unstartable with no funds at all.

So what to do? Decide it's not to be and pack up and start again elsewhere? Reason that someone somewhere is trying to tell us something and maybe we should move back into that house we're paying a mortgage on and enter back into the rat race again? Or have a family discussion, lay all cards on the table and follow our hearts instead.

No one wants to leave Rum - we talked about a temporary coming off for the winter option or a permanent 'we gave it our best shot but the odds were against us' choice and the answer was a unanimous no. This is home, this is where we belong and while we are not without trepidation and concerns for the months ahead we have built a life here and leaving is not an option.

Which means another winter in the static. So we're going back on that decision made on a bleak January day and instead trying to work out what made it so bad a prospect that we decided against it and then find ways to make it better. Last winter was survival - hours spent every day collecting jerry cans of water from the river, sack fulls of firewood from the woodland. Slipping down and scrambling up the muddy croft hill with groceries and feeding the animals. We still buried our toilet contents twice a week and spent hour every day mopping up condensation.

This year we have already started to stockpile firewood, we have the compost loo and are hooked up to running water from the river direct to the taps. We're looking at transport alternatives to get up and down the hill with food shopping and we know that keeping the log burner going will ease the condensation and damp. Uncertainties remain - what happens if the roof blows off, the water freezes, the static sinks into the mud? If we do a second winter are we dooming ourselves to accept a third? I don't know and it's tough to find ourselves facing the very prospect that we swore we would not consider. But I do know we have chosen this and while it is far from ideal it is our free will which should keep us warm at night and see us through the winter ahead.

Wish us luck though, I suspect we might just need it!

NOT back to school

Many years ago, in 2005 for the very first time we didn't go 'back to school' when Davies didn't start school aged 5. We didn't go back to school in September 2006 either and in September 2007 Scarlett joined her older brother in not going Back to School when she didn't start school either.

In 2009 we spectacularly didn't go back to school when we hit the local, regional and national news in not going back to school as we joined in with a network of events all over the UK by holding picnics, bubble blowing flash mob style events and other peaceful ways of marking our own Home Ed rite of passage which instead of buying school uniform and sewing in name tapes is more about celebrating freedom, following passions rather than the crowd and pursuing individuality rather than institutionalization.

Since we moved here back to school as a concept has blurred anyway - Scottish school goes back in August and so the little girls who attend the primary school here on Rum started back two weeks ago. UK schools are going back this week but it all seems rather irrelevant to us anyway. We're looking ahead to Davies turning 13 next week as our big landmark of the moment.

But that doesn't mean that somewhere deep within me there is a September stirring happening regardless of my educational philosophy. A need to buy new stationery and turn over a crisp new page in my personal life story exercise book. I recently referred to our headspace just now as 'the third age of Home Ed' and it's true. We did the early years stuff which was similar to every home within the country probably with lots of kids TV, sitting on the floor doing jigsaws, molding playdoh, sprinkling glitter, singing nursery rhymes. It's just that instead of preparing them for pre school I was preparing them to stay with me instead and knowing that those early 'why?' questions from my three year old would morph into more sophisticated why questions from a 7 year old that I'd need to answer rather than their teachers.

The second age of Home Ed was the following their passions - the field trips to museums and art galleries, the finding experts, clubs, like minded folk, resources in the shape of books, dvds, websites to assist where my own knowledge fell short. The realising that these children are not mini versions of me at all but their own little people complete with passions, interests, ideas, concepts and thought processes that I cannot possibly meet all the needs of but ensuring that we do not fall short of finding the places to satisfy those needs. I was facilitator, researcher, prompter and financier in those years.

This third age is different again. Now I am a channeller. I am suggesting ways in which their fledgling ideas and dreams and plans could come to fruition. Ways in which their passions could earn them a living, possibilities for things they can work towards doing without me by their side. I am cheerleading and supporting but more in a 'you can do this' manner than my previous 'I'll do this and you reap the rewards' role. It's daunting, scary and challenging. It's exciting, fulfilling and thrilling watching these confident young people spread their wings and test them. There will be false starts, mistakes and hiccups along the way but that is where I step in to encourage another try or suggest an alternate option just as I was there when they took their first tentative footsteps all those years ago and needed to let go of my hand to actually walk alone.

I think Home Educators generally can be even more prone than most parents to potential empty nest syndrome. To no longer knowing where their place in the world is if it is not as a home educator. For all my radical life choices and unconventional path choosing I have always had an end plan in mind which is to ensure that along the way everyone's needs were being met now and in the future. Our move to Rum - and the year of travel that preceded it was both about meeting Davies and Scarlett's needs at that time and broadening their horizons and giving them an amazing experience along with finding what Ady and I would do next. Rum met all of those objectives from being a fab place for our kids to do the third phase of their growing up and maturing and providing us with our next big thing to tackle once the children were no longer quite so dependent on us. Thus far it is meeting all of those objectives.

So Davies has not headed off on the school boat each fortnight to live at a mainland school hostel for twelve nights out of every fourteen while Scarlett does her final year of primary schooling as the only child in the school last year joined by a five year old this year. Instead they are carrying on as normal - for them, with a clear eye on what happens next and the direction they are headed off in over the coming five years ahead.