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

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Autumn going into winter

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Autumn going into winter

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Autumn going into winter

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Autumn going into winter

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Here comes the sun(rise)

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Autumn going into winter

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Scarlett and Rudolph

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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.

Log splitting aid

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Got this genius tip from Permaculture Magazine this month - use an old tyre to hold logs you are splitting. It stops them flying off in different directions and meaning loads of bending down and gathering them up again to stack, plus is supports those awkward ones that never stand up easily to be hit with the axe. This is an old quad bike tyre, once I've got some bigger logs to stand it on I'm going to try with a car tyre.

Scarlett, junior crofter

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

It gives me so much joy to see how happy this lifestyle makes Scarlett and how she thrives on it. Today she was out on the croft while we were bringing firewood up and she went and dug out her sledge, loaded a bag of logs on to it and dragged it up the hill. It probably weighed almost as much as she does. She is an amazing, confident, happy girl who makes me proud every single day.

Snowy, snowy peaks on Mainland Land today

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Friday, 8 November 2013

and Scarlett

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Davies and the cake

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Nic stirs things...

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Ady makes a wish

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Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

It's ok to be fed up

Would you rather have never had a broken heart? Or does the wonder of having been in love make a broken heart a worthwhile price to pay. How about sad? Would you choose to never be sad ever? If so then how would you be able to quantify happy?

When I was a fairly new parent, with fairly small, new and shiny children I was very guilty of trying to second guess everything, trying to fix it all in advance of them experiencing it. I wanted to remove all trip hazards, avoid all tantrum triggers, pave the way with rose petals and fairy dust and make it all smell sweet, look pretty and have no dangerous areas at all. When I used to sit over Davies' cot when he was a teeny tiny baby who refused to sleep during any hours of darkness and my mind used to drift in that sleep addled way that new parents will be only too familiar with I didn't worry about the here and now. I knew that early parenting is pretty darn easy - you only have very basic needs to meet - your baby will be at risk of being too hot, too cold, too hungry, too tired, too overwhelmed by the reality of the world outside your womb. All of these needs can be pretty much met with a cuddle, a feed, a change and some more cuddling. This was within my control, came naturally and while I would have been only too glad of a bit more sleep I was very aware that this was the easy bit compared to what the rest of my life as a mother might hold. Instead I sat there while the Winnie the Pooh cot mobile played it's tinkly tune over and over again and Davies finally drifted off to sleep and worried about what happened if he got bullied at school when he was 7? What would I do when his first girlfriend dumped him and broke his heart? How would I feel if I hated the woman he fell in love with and settled down with if she was not good enough for him and of course she would not be good enough for him, as if *anyone* would ever be good enough for him!!!

One of the ways in which parenthood, marriage and advancing years (I am nearly 40!) has made me grow up and mature is in realising that I don't get to be in charge of other people like that. I have to let go, to allow them to make their own way and that actually my role is to be there to gently support, offer unconditional love and then carry on being there no matter what happens. I don't want my children to have some wrapped in cotton wool, safe and anaesthetised existence - in the same way as I crave the technicolour rollercoaster ride of life with all it's highs, lows, peaks, troughs, dips, ups, downs and thrills I want them to have that too. Be scared, be excited, be wild, live in full colour and grab everything there is on offer. Live life every single day and experience it all. Why would I chase all that for myself and deny it to Davies and Scarlett?

It's funny how when you make a really decisive choice to live a certain way it almost shuts down your right to have your down days. It's seemingly fine to moan about your kids driving you mad in the school holidays for everyone else but if you home educate them then you lose the right to say 'actually they are doing my head in today'. It's okay to moan about your job, the traffic, the queues at the supermarket when you live on the mainland but if you decide to head for some remote island you don't get to have a bit of a whinge when the ferry doesn't come or you forget to take your torch with you and get stranded in the village because there are no street lights here.

I still have that tendancy to over compensate, I guess I always will. When Davies tells me he is sad today because he misses friends my instant reaction is to ask him if he wants to leave Rum. When I am feeling teary because tomorrow is my nephews's first birthday and I still have not met him I instantly start looking at the price of flights and working out ways in which I could get to Sussex for the day. Sometimes you have to suck it up and just accept that this is the sad bit, the moment that makes you cry, the tough times that make the good times all the more worthwhile. If there were no lows then the highs would just be normal and who wants normal anyway.

We made our Christmas cake today, we all took it in turns to stir the mix and make a wish. I know my wish from last year came true... because I sit here still living on Rum writing this blogpost with my family here with me all still happy and healthy and we had a wonderful Christmas 2012. I'll let you know next year if my Christmas cake wish for this year comes true.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Roll up,roll up...

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

So, it's finished, well as finished as it will get this side of spring anyway. The sides are still plain and I may well come up with something to adorn them. Davies is going to paint some pebbles to sit on top of it with various prices for eggs, jam and other produce so that we can change prices as and when.

I am really pleased with it, it looks just as I had hoped it would. 

The highest praise possible has been bestowed upon it by Ady who has suggested that I next do a similar job on the horsebox - this is practically a commisssion! And proof indeed that he has also crossed to the dark side of gypsy inspired, more is more, we're not in Kansas any more Toto excesses. 

So... an old freezer which houses free range eggs, foraged jams and jellies and croft grown fresh fruit and vegetable is one thing, just what do you paint pictures of on a repurposed horse box which is home to a composting toilet????


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

What is the grid anyway

A really interesting article popped up on facebook this afternoon - have a read of it:

It resonated with me for lots of reasons - the reasons why we live here, the reasons why it's sometimes tough, the reasons why we chose to stay and I suppose, if we were ever to make that decision the reason why we might one day leave.

We're not leaving. Just to clarify. But we do check, just between the four of us, at least once a week that we are all happy with this life. That might seem a little extreme but our lives are a little extreme and we need to be sure that just as the article talks about we are here through choice, because we are in love rather than because we are bloody minded. We certainly don't choose this life each time we re-examine because it is easy, because doing something different might be a tricky choice and hard work to make happen - oh no!

I've been thinking about the ways in which I am confident that we will not eventually conclude as the author of that article did that our time here is done. And I think it is because we have already done a lot of the transition stuff that we needed to process in order to not struggle with life here. I am watching several new Rum residents find their feet just now and prepare for their first winter, come to terms with last minute ferry timetable changes, lack of fresh milk, fruit and vegetables when deliveries don't come, the realisation that a trip to the hairdressers will mean at least two nights off island (and the associated expense of travel and accommodation). Meanwhile I feel like an old hand, even though really I am still very new myself but at least this winter we know what to expect, we did invest those hours of our days back in August and September lugging wood up the hill and chopping it ready to burn, we now celebrate the wind coming and whizzing the turbine round rather than dreading the weather forecast.

The article speaks about how going off grid in terms of power and hooked-up-ness is not actually the challenge - it is the isolatedness of being without people and just being too damn far away from things that gets you in the end. I can relate to that. I have a nephew I have never met, at least two friends who's new houses I have not seen, parents I miss at least once a week to the tune of shedding a tear (painting that freezer with gloss paint had me welling up every time because the smell of paint and brush cleaner takes me right back to being 9 and driven to school in the back of my Dad's van squished in with the paints and turps), I miss spending time with anyone, anyone who has known me for more than 18 months or as anything other than Nic who has a croft and lives in a caravan, no one on Rum has any real frame of reference for who I am other than who I am today, right here, right now.  

Rum is not like a commune - for many reasons. We are not all living here sharing one common goal or vision, we are not all chasing the same dream, here for the same reasons or necessarily working to the same agenda. Instead we are a micro society - we have many of the same replicated issues, politics and dysfunctional qualities of society at large. We are an interesting demographic with some fascinating characters - not least me and my family! But we are a community in the truest sense of the word. We share highdays and holidays and celebrations. We live each others passions, fears, victories and failures. When a card goes around to mark the birthday of someone, the birth of a new baby, the commiseration of someone falling ill it is signed by everyone. Quirks, foibles and flaws aside this is the closest I have ever lived with other people and it is this very connectedness to 'the grid' which makes me feel we might just make it.

Water, power, sorting out what to do with our waste and eventually even growing and rearing our food are all things we can strive towards self sufficiency in and maybe one day even achieve. Meeting our social needs is something we will never manage just the four of us. Wings will need to be stretched, hearts broken, connections made, horizons broadened and ideas challenged - we humans are social animals and while we are a tight knit little family who enjoy each others company there are needs we simply cannot meet within ourselves. As with everything in our lives I am not intending to go down the conventional route to finding ways to meet these needs. School is not the only way to educate, TV not the only route to entertainment, suburban living and hustle bustle not the only way to socialise. Instead we will start to explore other options for finding ways to broaden social circles. I have some ideas - some involve bringing people here, others involve sending one, two, three or four of us off to find off island opportunities. As a Home Educator of many years one of my greatest skills is seeking out, finding and exploiting opportunities.

So for now maybe I'll settle less for off grid and more for slightly to one side of it.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Some words to go with the pictures

This time two years ago I was spending hours pacing up and down the beach on Eigg pondering just which direction our lives should go next. In the background, lit against the most stunning sunset skies I'd ever seen (and believe me I've seen a lot, we spent a year traveling the UK and saw a lot of sunsets against a lot of backdrops) loomed Rum. At times forbidding, daunting, dark and slightly dangerous at others beautiful, inviting, calling.

We'd seen a lot of places, felt a calling in lots of different locations and were confused and unsure as to what to do next. Was the island life really right for us or were we caught up in the romance of our last WWOOF hosts, the end of our adventure and a craving for somewhere to call home?

Bonfire Night on Eigg will forever be one of my most magical memories, it was like a film. There were people laughing, joking, sharing with each other. Someone brought round mulled wine, the bonfire was built by various people from the community. After the fireworks the kids all ran in a pack, the adults played music, drank beer, chatted and there was the strongest sense of belonging, of community, of peeking in the window at something special that I think I have ever felt. We were not properly part of it but for that moment we were there and included and embraced. It was that night which made up my mind that if not on Eigg then I certainly felt this was the part of the world and the lifestyle that was calling us.

Three days later we visited Rum for the first time and the rest, to coin a phrase, is history. I know I celebrate a lot of anniversaries - the anniversary of our interview for the croft in February, the anniversary of moving to Rum in April but I think this anniversary - the week including Bonfire Night and the first time we stepped foot on Rum will be forever special as a turning point - a realisation that we had come to the end of the traveling not just because that was the end of our planned WWOOF hosts but because we had found place we were supposed to be.

This week we have talked about Hallloween parties and Firework nights of the past. Halloween parties at our home, at big hired halls, a week long youth hostel camp we hired for a Halloween camp, special events we attended at museums, RSPB reserves, theme parks, organised firework displays with hundreds of people, our annual get together with cousins in their back garden, the big firework barbecue event at the pub opposite where we used to live. We've remembered them all fondly and with affection. We've talked about costumes of the past from the expensive shop bought to the creatively home made.

We went to two Halloween parties here on Rum - one at the school complete with (educational!) games and organised activities, the other at the hall with riotous games and semi organised activities - both were a lot of fun and meant Davies and Scarlett came home with massive amounts of sugar in their bloodstreams and a sack full of sweets to keep it topped up for days to come! We'll be going to two firework events too - the community one held on a weekend night for those who have to go to work or school the next day (and allowing the mainland school going children to attend aswell) complete with bonfire build by the crofters, lovely food from various quarters including Rum venison burgers, pumpkin soup and bonfire toffee and lots and lots of fireworks. We took along a steaming flask of mulled wine for us and hot chocolate for the kids which did a fine job of warming from within while the rain continued to drizzle. We'll attend the 'proper' Guy Fawkes night one on the 5th aswell.

There may not be a lot of people living here but we don't do bad for social opportunities!

Hopefully that might explain some of the pictures below.

pumpkin carving

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

Halloween fancy dress

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

Party at Rum Primary

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

Go team A

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

crofters fire

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

what matters

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

playing with fire

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


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

Community Bonfire Night

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